THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT98: Vauban Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. Comment of the week is mrjeremyfade on how companies are responding to the new tax bill – in particular, their difficulties winding down their now-obsolete tax evasion schemes without admitting they were always just tax evasion schemes.

2. New sidebar ad – this one for Mark Neyer’s book The Mechanics Of Emotion, which he describes as “an exploration of physics, emotion, money, AI, and meaning. Also, dirty jokes.”

3. And an update from another advertiser – Nectome, previous winner of the Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize, is back in the news for winning the Large Mammal Brain Preservation Prize. They don’t have a human product available yet, but there’s a waitlist which apparently includes Sam Altman. Obviously Nectome’s embalming process is 100% fatal, and not aimed at anyone except the terminally ill.

4. The Future of Humanity Institute is doing some experiments on human judgment and probability calibration, and asks me to pass on the link for anyone willing to play some online game-type-things.

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730 Responses to OT98: Vauban Thread

  1. Taymon A. Beal says:

    Now that Less Wrong 2.0 has a place for people to advertise SSC meetups, would you be interested in making upcoming meetups appear on the SSC sidebar?

  2. johan_larson says:

    Quiz time! This time, each prompt is the first sentence of a novel. Name each novel.

    1. I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before.

    2. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.

    3. When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

    4. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

    5. Call me Ishmael.

    6. To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

    7. In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

    8. The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.

    9. A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

    10. You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.

    Hint: All of these novels are often studied in American and Canadian high schools. No idea what the Brits study.

    Anyway, I expect I would have scored 2/10 on this quiz for questions 5 and 10. I might possibly have eked out another couple of points by hard thunking and good luck, but it’s a fond hope and a faint one.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      3. Gb Xvyy n Zbpxvatoveq

      4. Gur Pngpure va gur Elr

      5. Zbol Qvpx

      6. Gur Tencrf bs Jengu

      9. Gur Fpneyrg Yrggre

      10. Uhpxyroreel Svaa

    • dodrian says:

      I knew 3 and 5, and correctly guessed 4 and 10.

      I read 1, 3, 4 and 7 at school, and 5 as a personal choice (boy what a choice that was!)

    • Vermillion says:

      In addition to 5 and 10, which are gimmies, pretty sure I recognize 8 and 9 as well: Oyhr Yntbba and Fpneyrg Yrggre respectively.

      EDIT: I was wrong about 8.

      Also instead of Rot13 what about having a [Spoiler] tag that blacked out the text until mouseover?

    • a reader says:

      4. Gur Pngpure va gur Elr

      5. Zbol Qvpx

      7. Gur Terng Tngfol

      8. Ybeq bs gur Syvrf

      10. Gur Nqiragherf bs Uhpxyroreel Svaa

      5/10 – I suppose it’s good enough for a foreigner like me.

      A creative writing course I had last year helped a lot. Two more, learned there:

      11. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

      12. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness”

    • rlms says:

      3 and 8 are commonly studied in British high schools, 6 is too but Bs Zvpr Naq Zra is more popular. The rest of the ‘canon’ is here.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      4. Pngpure va gur Elr
      5. Zbol Qvpx
      10. Uhpxyroreel Svaa

      I wasn’t assigned any of these, but I read the first two on my own.

      2. That might be Gur Erq Onqtr bs Pbhentr. In andy case, it’s a lovely thing and thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      6. Sounds like it might be Gur Tencrf bs Jengu.

    • The Nybbler says:

      4, 5, and 10 I got right away. Should have gotten 3 but didn’t. Some thinking got me 2 and 6.

      2. Gur Erq Onqtr bs Pbhentr

      4. Gur Pngpure va gur Elr

      5. Zbol Qvpx, gubhtu V oryvrir Vfnnp Nfvzbi jebgr n fgbel juvpu ortna gur fnzr jnl.

      6. Gur Tencrf bs Jengu

      10. Gur Nqiragherf bs Uhpxyroreel Svaa.

      Q: _A Tale of Two Cities_ is famous for it’s opening and closing lines. Which character speaks the closing lines?

    • Pablo says:

      1. n frcnengr crnpr

      2. abg fher

      3. V jnag gb fnl gb xvyy n zbpxvatoveq

      4. Pngpure va gur elr

      5. Zbol Qvpx terngrfg obbx rire

      6. V pna whfg nobhg thrff guvf bar ohg gur gvgyr vfa’g pbzvat gb zvaq. Jnaan fnl vg’f ol jungfuresnpr jub jebgr Qrngu Pbzrf gb gur Nepuovfubc

      7. Gur Terng Tngfol

      8. gung bar obbx jurer gur xvqf ner nyy fghpx ba gur vfynaq nsgre na nccnerag ahpyrne jne naq bar bs gurz vf anzrq cvttl naq rirelbar xvyyf rnpu bgure naq unyyhpvangrf rivy obne tbqf hagvy va gur ynfg cnentencu n aniny bssvpre fubjf hc naq vf nyy yvxr ‘gur ubeebe, gur ubeebe’. V ernq guvf obbx va avagu tenqr naq jnf nffvtarq gb ernq vg va gragu tenqr. Gur gvgyr vf ba gur gvc bs zl gbathr ohg V nz zhpu zber fher bs guvf bar guna gur bgure bar gung’f ba gur gvc bs zl gbathr.

      9. V’z thrffvat guvf vf Gur Fpneyrg Yrggre ohg pbhyq or jebat. Orra n juvyr fvapr V ernq vg naq gur bcravat jnfa’g jung fgbbq bhg gb zr.

      10. Uhpxyroreel Svaa, terngrfg obbx rire.

      • Pablo says:

        Two of these I had answers for but couldn’t get the titles past the tip of my tongue. I was totally wrong about one and would have been right about the other if I had been able to spit it out.

      • Well... says:

        8. Wait, nuclear war?? I never got that from the story.

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t have a copy handy, but yeah. The catastrophe wasn’t explicitly nuclear war, but it took place after WWII and it was Real Bad.

          The story begins with the children being evacuated from [mumble] because [mumble], but by air over an ocean, so not one of the merely local evacuations of WWI/II. It takes place over a prolonged period during which the outsides world can’t be bothered to find a missing plane full of children, so either they’re really preoccupied or the circumstances are desperate enough to send planeloads of children into the sky without filing a flight plan, or both. And it ends with the children being belatedly rescued by the crew of a warship, with the author making a hamfisted point about how the children aren’t the real savages of the story.

          • Well... says:

            Huh. That’s interesting, I hadn’t noticed that.

            I recently did a similar (nuclear-war-themed) take on a Faith No More song on my blog.

    • jane says:

      So, I recall 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10. But as a child in school, and for the past thirty years teaching English, mostly in the UK, the book that is always with me begins, ‘A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.’
      Thanks for sharing these.
      Oh, 6 I read with my son, and although it sounds like the author my memory is almost non-existent.

    • John Schilling says:

      Got #1, #4, #5, #6, #8, and #10. #1, #4, and #6 were educated guesses; I never read the latter two books, really wish I had never read the first and did my best to forget it, but bits of the style and setting were enough for me to pull them out of my vague knowledge of the High School English canon.

      Of the four that I missed, #3 and #7 are books that I read and have forgotten. #2 and #9 I simply never read despite the best efforts of English Teachers everywhere.

    • Deiseach says:

      I know 5 and 10 because I’ve read them, I can guess with confidence 4 and 8 EDIT and 9 as well from seeing references to them, and I have no idea of the rest. Novels studied in Irish secondary school were “Persuasion” and “Pride and Prejudice”, have no idea what modern novels are on the curriculum today.

    • ManyCookies says:

      3. Gb Xvyy n Zbpxvatoveq
      4. Pngpure va gur Elr?
      6. Tencrf bs Jengu?
      7. Terng Tngfol
      10. Uhpx Svaa

      Knew #3,#7 and #10 for sure, (educated) guessed correctly on #4 and #6. Should have gotten #8, I’ve read it for two separate classes.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Knew 4, 5, and 10. 3, 7, and 8 are familiar but I can’t place them. No clue on the others.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Ahhh, I’ve read 3, 7, and 8 around the same time, they just didn’t stick with me.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      1. ???
      2. Ab vqrn, ohg whfg oyvaq thrffvat Erq Onqtr bs Pbhentr (jne! uhu. Tbbq tbq l’nyy.)
      3. GXNZ
      4. Pngpure va gur Elr
      5. Zbol Qvpx (naq sbe gur erpbeq V’ir arire urneq bs n uvtu fpubby ernqvat guvf obbx, naq gurl fubhyqa’g; bayl n gval senpgvba bs grrantref jvyy unir gur cngvrapr be trg nal bs gur jrveqre cnegf.)
      6. Tencrf bs Jengu (unira’g ernq vg, ohg Bxynubzn srryf yvxr n qrnq gryy.)
      7. Terng Tngfol
      8. Ybeq bs gur Syvrf (oyvaq thrff ba Yntbba, V qba’g erzrzore zhpu bs guvf obbx.)
      9. Frggvat phrf cbvagf zr gbjneqf Fpneyrg Yrggre, ohg gbar srryf jebat sbe Unjgubear. Jungrire, thrff gung; pna’g pbzr hc jvgu nalguvat orggre.
      10. BX, frevbhfyl, jub qbrfa’g trg guvf bar? Uhpx Svaa.

      Hey, 9/10!

    • Jade says:

      9/10 for me! But of course, high school wasn’t but a couple of years ago.

      I would argue that #1 is really underrated for how widely it’s read in schools – I absolutely loved almost as much as my all-time favorite school read, #7.

    • S_J says:

      I can name 5 and 10. Number 3 I’m pretty sure on.

      I have a guess at Number 9. If the list were not limited to American literature, I might not have guessed it. I think that puts me at 4/10.

      3. Gb Xvyy n Zbpxvatoveq
      5. Zbol Qvpx
      9. Gur Fpneyrg Yrggre
      10. Nqiragherf bs Uhpxyroreel Svaa

    • j1000000 says:

      I got 8 of 10. For once, being an English major pays off. Take that, all of you super employable programmers and IT workers.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Fine, next test will be about C++ corner cases. You’re allowed to look at the standard for a total of 15 minutes to find the answers.

        (I’d really do this, but the problem is that the scoring is impossible, unless you use ones where the DRs already contain an authoritative decision)

        • j1000000 says:

          Because scoring is impossible I have now given myself a 100% on the C++ corner cases quiz and will be applying to Google shortly.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Please set up a Google interview and tell them you’re a C++ expert and report back on the result. If you’re lucky there will be someone there to give you some really fiendish questions.

    • quaelegit says:

      I knew 3,4,5, and 10 for sure, and correctly guessed 6,8, and 9. Incorrectly guessed 7 (in hindsight my guess was a bad one and I should have gotten this). [So got 7/10]

      After looking up the answers: really should have gotten 7… I’ve read it in two classes I think. 1 and 2 I definitely haven’t read and I have only a hazy detail what they’re about, so definitely wouldn’t have guessed them.

      I read 3,4,7,8,9 in high school, and was familiar enough with 6 and 10 to guess 😛

    • Iain says:

      3. Gb Xvyy n Zbpxvatoveq
      4. Pngpure va gur Elr
      5. Zbol Qvpx
      6. Tencrf bs Jengu
      8. Ybeq bs gur Syvrf
      10. Uhpxyroreel Svaa

      I made educated guesses on 4 and 6.

      Edit: the only other one I feel like I should have known was 7.

    • Rob K says:

      3,4,5,6, and 10 I knew; 1,2, and 8 were successful guesses. I was nowhere close on 7 and 9, though I was assigned both of those in school. (Of these 2, 5, and 6 were the only ones I didn’t read for a class, and I read all of them on my own, although 2 was so long ago that I barely remember it.)

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      3. Gb Xvyy n Zbpxvatoveq
      4. Pngpure va gur Elr
      5. Zbol Qvpx
      6. Gur Tencrf bs Jengu
      10. Gur Nqiragherf bs Uhpxyroreel Svaa

      I looked up the five I’ve missed. I’ve read 2, 7, 8, and 9 but I guess the opening lines didn’t have much of an impact on me. 5 and 10 are gimmes. I haven’t even heard of the book 1 is from, which is kind of incredible – given its place on this list, I imagine someone is feeling the same I would if someone else said they had never even heard of Gur Tencrf bs Jengu.

      American, this is definitely a good slice of the canon. Interestingly, all of the books on the list I’ve read (9 of 10), I quite enjoyed – I only read about half of them from school, the rest for pleasure, one (Pngpure va gur Elr) almost a decade after I finished schooling. There’s a bunch of books from the same era in the Western canon I’ve read and hated. Maybe I should read 1, given it’s also on this list.

      • Urstoff says:

        I’m not quite sure why 1 is regarded as a classic, except that perhaps lots of taste-makers in the mid-20th century went to boarding schools. It’s certainly better than 4, which is just about a teenager who is so far up his own butt he can’t see straight. As someone who used to be such a teenager, I didn’t find him interesting or countercultural when I read it (for the first time) recently, although I might have at that age.

        • Nornagest says:

          I had to read 4 in high school, and every essay I wrote on it was about how much I hated the main character.

          I didn’t do as well on those as I usually did in English class, but I still stand by my opinion. I get that it essentially kicked off the 20th-century-surburban-angst genre, but that genre was an artistic dead end and there are lots of better, if less influential, examples.

          • quaelegit says:

            I also hated the protagonist in HS. [Now though (age 23) I feel a bit hypocritical about it b/c I feel like I’ve fallen into some similar traps, and maybe he’s just depressed and alienated and it’s a tragedy of the system or something. I should probably re-read it to see if my new impressions are justified in the text at all.]

            What’s weird is my similarly high-achieving, academically-oriented peers mostly loved it. I still kind of wonder why we had such different experiences with the book.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      I knew 4, 5, and 6, all books I read on my own as an adult. I did not know 7 and 8, books which I read as a student. 10 was the only one I read as a student and also got correct.

    • StellaAthena says:

      I knew 5, 6, and 10. I’ve read but didn’t get 7, 8, and 9.

    • gbdub says:

      Leaning not just a little on the hint, I got all but 2 and 7 (despite having read both and feeling kind of dumb about missing them). I got the only one I’ve never read, #4.

    • Nornagest says:

      4, 5, and 10. I’ve read most of these, but it’s been too long.

    • Urstoff says:

      Missed 2, 7, and 9. Somehow I avoided reading 7 in high school and have never really had the desire to try to read it. I did read 9 but forgot it’s opening line; I recall writing a semi-trolling essay in high school on why the villain is really the hero of the book.

    • Brad says:

      Read, got: 1,5,6,10
      Read, but didn’t get: 3,4,7,8
      Didn’t read, didn’t get: 2,9

    • holomanga says:

      2/10 for 3 and 5, and I read 3 in British secondary school.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      While first lines are cliched, I also have to say I prefer this sort of quiz to “name five Xs.” Part of that is that I’m far better at them. For one thing, I played high-level competitive quiz bowl for six years. There is surprisingly little “regurgitate N facts” in that and quite a lot of recognizing context clues and using good knowledge of the answer space to cut down possibilities.

      There is, of course, a lot of plain memorizing things if you want to get national-level good at it–I never did–but in *principle* the goal of well-written quiz bowl is to reward actual knowledge of the subject matter that a good academic practitioner would have. (Some descriptions here of the general idea.) Of course, this is often honored more in the breach (“deep knowledge” is a standard snarky description for someone’s (often your own) limited grasp of a particular topic that you nevertheless powered a tossup on due to good tactical guessing or random luck of having read the right article yesterday.)

      Quiz bowl is a really interesting culture and phenomenon, honestly. It attracts very weird, very smart people with odd habits, who end up spending a lot of time by themselves, which is pretty much how every bizarre subculture starts. There are long lexicons of QB speak, famous people and memes (for a while any answer about the insects who make honey would be delivered as “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!” in an excited high pitch that trailed off; no, I honestly don’t know why this started.) It’s the only subgroup I know where people go back to grad school for multiple unrelated degrees to maintain their tournament eligibility, though.

      Point is: quiz bowl is cool. (OK, deeply uncool.)

  3. Aapje says:

    In this comment I’ll try to explain ground effect in car racing (which is very different from what is called ground effect in airplanes).

    Racing cars tend have a high engine power to weight ratio, to allow for fast braking, acceleration and cornering. The result is that there is not much weight pressing the tires to the ground, so mechanical grip is relatively low. Mechanical grip is just the tire grip produced by the weight of the car and the suspension pressing the tire into the asphalt. To allow the engine power to actually be used effectively, especially when cornering, but also on straights, the grip should be higher than what can just be achieved with mechanical grip. You can get this with aerodynamic grip, also called downforce or negative lift. Aerodynamic grip refers to downward pressure on the tires produced by airflow interacting with the car.

    One way to get downforce is to shape the car like a wing and/or to add separate wings to the car, but this produces high drag. A much more efficient solution is to use the ground effect, which is based on Bernoulli’s principle. Bernoulli’s principle is that pressure goes down if the speed of a gas/liquid goes up. In a race car, this is done by directing most of the air that hits the front of the car upwards, which causes a fairly slow airflow over the top of the car. Then the air that goes under the car is impeded very little, allowing it to go straight and thus fast. To facilitate this, the bottom of race cars tends to be made very flat, so the airflow under the car is not impeded. The effect is stronger as the car is lower to the ground, so race cars tend to have as little ground clearance as they can get away with.

    In the picture you can very clearly see vertical fences on the bottom of the car, called strakes, that guide the airflow neatly to the back of the car. The back of the car has an upturned section, called the diffuser, which acts as an expansion chamber. The diffuser reduces drag at the back of the car, by reducing the wake. It also increases the flow speed under the car, by preventing chaotic airflow at the back of the car, that blocks a smooth airflow.

    You also see diffusers on some normal road cars, but they are often fake, to mimic the look of a race car, but without actually doing anything.

    On a Formula 1 car, the front wing, back wing and the ground effect of the bottom of the car each contribute about a third to the total downforce, for a total downforce up to three times the weight of the car. So a Formula 1 car can theoretically drive upside down. So a lot of downforce is still provided by wings. The reason is not that ground effect can’t be used more, but rather that regulations disallow the maximum use of ground effect. One reason for this is that depending on ground effect can be very dangerous, because in certain situations, the effect can disappear or weaken very much. An example is that if the car bottoms out, this blocks air flow below the car and ground effect can disappear suddenly. It can also happen when driving behind another car that causes turbulence. This can then result in horrible accidents, including cars going flying.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I’ve heard the driving upside down claim a million times: has this ever been demoed?

      (I get that a Formula Zero that ran the same cars or slightly less restricted ones, but used courses that look like a hotwheels track would be way too dangerous, but damn if I don’t want to see it ran.)

      • Tuna-Fish says:

        No, because no track for it exists. During the construction of one of the latest F1 tracks there was some semi-serious debate to build a tunnel section where the cars would drive upside down, but quite sensibly this was quickly canned. When driving upside down, a simple engine failure would almost immediately cause a disastrous crash, and engine failures in F1 are quite common.

        • bean says:

          Wait, what? What track was this? That seems insane. And you’d just have to let the Hondas bypass it to avoid problems.

      • Aapje says:

        @Andrew Hunter

        Presumably, the main issue is that you need an enormous corkscrew to flip the car over and then back again. The surface has to be relatively flat, so you can’t make the corkscrew too tight. There is no reason to build such an expensive construct, aside from such a stunt, which no one wants to pay for.

        Tuna is correct that the risk of engine failure is non-negligible (although it can probably be reduced substantially by using a conservative engine setting) and that the result would be costly, although probably not that dangerous to the driver*. The cars are designed with a roll bar-like construct, so hitting a flat surface while inverted will keep the driver safe. Since this year, there is the new ‘Halo’ cockpit protection in Formula 1 which provides substantial protection to the driver when something threatens to hit the driver’s head, although one would of course use an car from the past for such a stunt.

        My guess is that if the track would have already been there, then a team, probably Red Bull, would have done the stunt. Their marketing is heavily focused on sponsoring cool stunts.

        * Formula 1 drivers sometimes flip their cars over just to have a little chat (OK, not true, but the picture is amazing).

    • knownastron says:

      As a “car guy” this was really cool to read. Thanks!

      • Aapje says:

        Thanks.

        The tech and history of car racing is very interesting IMO. There are some amazing designs that either got banned and/or didn’t work out, like the car that sucked air out from under it with a fan or the 6 wheel car (which allowed the entire car to be shaped much more like a wing).

        There is also a very interesting blog by a guy who does statistical modelling of driver performance for Formula 1 and young drivers in open wheel classes, which is very interesting, although he posts just a few times a year.

    • bean says:

      On a Formula 1 car, the front wing, back wing and the ground effect of the bottom of the car each contribute about a third to the total downforce, for a total downforce up to three times the weight of the car. So a Formula 1 car can theoretically drive upside down.

      This isn’t quite right. I’d have to check some of my books on the distribution of downforce, but I think your numbers are broadly true. What isn’t true is that each producing a third means that you get 3x weight in downforce. Downforce levels are going to depend on dynamic pressure, which varies with the square of speed. That, and the lift (downforce) coefficient, are going to set the ability to drive upside down.
      And you’re not covering the true ground effect they had back in the 70s and 80s, either. I’d have to check exactly when they banned that. (I have a couple of technical F1 books at home.)

      • Aapje says:

        What isn’t true is that each producing a third means that you get 3x weight in downforce.

        I didn’t mean to imply that.

        The actual downforce on the track will be tuned to the track characteristics anyway, so it will vary somewhat.

        And you’re not covering the true ground effect they had back in the 70s and 80s, either.

        You are correct that I kept it relatively simple, assuming a flat bottom/undertray. By adding Venturi tunnels, one can create a bigger effect. The Lotus 79 had these.

        • AG says:

          Do you have the knowledge to write about track characteristics? I’m curious as to if they do anything special for the asphalt mix/paving procedures for those arenas, and so which arenas are considered higher quality than others for it.

          • bean says:

            I only know a little offhand, but yes, the composition of the tarmac does make some difference. When a track is resurfaced, it might knock a second or two off the lap time (a typical F1 car/track has a ~1:30 lap). Some of that is that the asphalt might be sticker, some of it is that it’s smoother, which lets you run the car a little bit lower and a little bit stiffer.
            And yes, they do special things. I think it’s the Bahrain track where they imported all of the aggregate from England. Or maybe it was Abu Dhabi. But there are also tracks made up largely of normal roads. Monaco and Singapore are prominent examples.

            Re-reading, I think you misunderstood what Aapje meant re “track characteristics”. It’s not the asphalt, it’s the track layout. (F1 doesn’t run on ovals.) A track like Monaco is run relatively slowly, so you put lots of downforce on the car, but that also means lots of drag. A track like Monza is very fast, so you’re optimizing much more for high speed and low drag. If you can find good pictures of the same car at the two events, the differences in the rear wing are pretty obvious.

          • Aapje says:

            @AG & bean

            I did mean track layout. Cars will be tuned for each track depending on how much cornering there is relative to the straights, how much braking is done on a lap and such. They are also tuned for the weather conditions. Some of this tuning is to have optimal average downforce, but another factor is cooling (of the brakes and the engine). Having extra cooling comes at the expense of drag, so they want to minimize it, while still having their car run well.

            When the car has come to a stop in the pits, they often have guys point air guns at the brakes, to prevent them from catching fire or glazing. When a car breaks down and no air gun is near, it’s not uncommon to see the brakes catch fire.

            Asphalt can differ in how ‘rough’ it is, which impacts both grip and how much the tires wear. In Formula 1, they will use softer tires for less grippy tracks, in part canceling out the asphalt characteristics.

            A bigger issue is that driving racing cars deposit a layer of rubber on the track, which greatly improves grip. A permanent circuit typically has a high deposit of rubber, so the track is very grippy and changes fairly little over a racing weekend. New tracks and street circuits that are only rarely used for racing lack this layer of rubber and are called ‘green.’ There can be huge increases in grip once the cars start depositing some rubber.

            However, street circuits typically still have very low grip during the race and thus are often considered low quality by drivers/teams (and also because the layout tends to suck, with many 90 degree corners around buildings.)

            Another issue is that race cars put huge shear stress on the road, so just like you sometimes see at lights (due to braking trucks), the asphalt can start to bunch up, creating a washboard surface. Presumably, track asphalt is made to handle this stress better than regular asphalt, in part by design and in part by more strict tolerances.

            Race track asphalt also has to evacuate water quickly. Drivers tend to get very upset when water pools on the circuit.

            Anyway, this is a (self-congratulatory) story by a company that laid the track for an F1 circuit on a site for asphalt professionals, that might interest you.

          • AG says:

            That was a great read (the asphaltpro article), thanks for linking.

          • bean says:

            @Aapje
            The asphalt article looks interesting. Thanks.

            Agree on almost everything, although you forgot to mention that rain washes off the rubber and resets the track to green. So even permanent, heavily-used circuits can have little rubber on them. Spa springs to mind here.
            Also, what do you have against street circuits? Monaco is amazing, and Singapore nearly as good.

          • Aapje says:

            Correct on the rain.

            I was probably a bit too harsh on street circuits. However, in so far that they are exciting, this tends to be because of harsh punishment for getting things wrong. Overtaking is often impossible.

  4. Tatterdemalion says:

    Is there a name for the type of fallacy that goes “You believe X, I believe that X implies Y, therefore you believe Y”?

    It’s one I see quite a lot, for obvious reasons – most people I disagree with have opinions with corollaries much worse than the things they actually believe are, but (inconsistently in my view, but not in theirs) don’t believe the corollaries, so if you want to prove that someone is and Awful Person, this trick is really, really tempting.

    When I see it, I’d like to be able to say “ah, you are engaging in the Fallacy of the Purple Walrus” or what have you, and stroke my beard knowledgeably – is it a recognised thing?

    • Mary says:

      It isn’t a fallacy in itself.

      When there is a fallacy involved, it’s whatever makes the second step belief false.

      When there isn’t, of course it’s not. If you do not believe in the necessary corollaries of something you believe, you are just being logically incoherent, and people are entitled to call you on it.

      For instance, I once witnessed a discussion of hate crimes where a supporter of their being law was reduced to incoherence because while he was willing to describe hate crimes as especially horrible, extraordinary and all that, he was furious that someone else described his position as thinking that some crimes as ordinary, run-of-the-mill, not that horrible.

      He was, of course, wrong. If you think A is greater than B, then you are logically bound to say that B is less than A.

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        “He was, of course, wrong. If you think A is greater than B, then you are logically bound to say that B is less than A.”

        Depends what you mean by “logically bound” – if you think that A is greater than B but B is not less than A then your thinking it logically inconsistent, but so is practically everyone else’s. Being logically bound to think something does *not* mean that one actually does think it, sadly.

        And often the syllogism is a lot less obvious and clear-cut than that, and the implication can be far more horrific than the premise alone is.

        • Mary says:

          And people have the absolute right to call you on it, because you, not the people calling on it, are indulging in fallacy.

          Especially when your support for the premise necessarily entails that you will be encouraging the implication.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            People have a right to point out that you’re being inconsistent in believing A but not B.

            But they *don’t* have the right to accuse you of believing B. And a lot of people seem not to grasp that distinction, I think.

          • Matt M says:

            If one believes A, and B logically follows from A, and one does not clarify why they do not believe in B or why it shouldn’t follow, then believing that they also believe B seems reasonable.

          • Mary says:

            So you really think that you can believe that hate crimes are worse than other crimes but not believe that other crimes are better than hate crimes?

            And if you do think so, are you therefore entitled to project that belief on others who don’t share it?

          • christhenottopher says:

            @Matt M,

            Doesn’t that assume that the person is capable of articulating the system they’re using to make those calls? Not all knowledge a person has is held at a level that is accessible by the talking part of the brain. I would say it’s true that sometimes people are holding inconsistent or only partially thought through beliefs. But a principle of charity towards one’s discussion partner would lead to not assuming that is the case. In which case rather than going with a response to the other person of “you say A, and logical argument X shows that A->B so therefore you believe B,” a less accusatory phrasing would be less likely to lead to you making a fallacy. For instance “you say A, and logical argument X shows that A->B, do you believe B or is there some argument Y showing that A-/->B?”

          • Mary says:

            Certainly a less accusatory framework might help rhetorically, but whether it’s a fallacy is another matter.

          • christhenottopher says:

            I don’t think this is just rhetorical. A person is making a much stronger case in my first example. Specifically “I have a logically complete argument that does not have a counter. There is no option but to say A->B.” My second point is more epistemically humble. To wit “argument X appears to show A->B, is there some argument or point I’m missing?”

          • John Schilling says:

            If one believes A, and B logically follows from A, and one does not clarify why they do not believe in B or why it shouldn’t follow, then believing that they also believe B seems reasonable.

            Only if it is reasonable to assume that most human beliefs are formed by flawless rational deduction from other beliefs of the same person. Which is so far from being the case as to be absurd folly, quite the opposite of “reasonable”.

            Don’t do this. If it really matters to you what a person believes about B, ask them about B. Or understand that you are just guessing.

          • Matt M says:

            If people want to deviate that’s fine, but I think it’s probably good for us to treat “people think logically” as the default assumption/position.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why, when it clearly isn’t true and is therefore an example of the sort of illogical thought you would have us presume isn’t going on?

          • Murphy says:

            @Tatterdemalion

            Predicated on the link between A and B actually being correct:

            It sort of depends on how complex the link between A and B is and how intelligent/reasonable they should reasonably assume you to be.

            Sometimes the logical link between A and B relies on C, D and E which, while you may not dispute them, you may simply be unaware of them at the time.

            Or you may be aware of all the facts but lack the cognitive ability to understand the link.

            Or you may have the facts and the cognitive ability but may simply have never bothered to think through it.

            So which involves the least/most charity?

            inferring ignorance, stupidity or sloth vs assuming that you’re informed, intelligent and diligent but hold at least one repugnant viewpoint?

            If the link between A and B rests on a multi-page intervening proof, no matter how correct, it’s unreasonable to assume you must therefore believe B. If the link is simple it’s more reasonable to assume you must believe B.

          • rlms says:

            “X implies Y” here doesn’t have to be (and probably usually isn’t) pure logic. It can mean “X would have consequence Y”. Reasonable people can disagree in that situation.

            But even if it is logical implication, people believe illogical things all the time. I think there’s a site called LessWrong and an associated “rationalist community” all about it.

          • Deiseach says:

            So you really think that you can believe that hate crimes are worse than other crimes but not believe that other crimes are better than hate crimes?

            But we already do this; we say all crime is bad but we treat some crimes as worse than others. Murder is worse than theft, for example; if you rob a bank of millions that is bad, but if you murder a security guard while doing so that is even worse.

            I think very few people would say “As long as you didn’t kill anyone while doing it, bank robbing is okay!”

            So there you have the belief that murder/hate crimes are worse than robbery/other crimes but not believing that other crimes/robbery is better (except in the sense of “better” where it’s the lesser of two evils, i.e. would you rather be robbed of your wallet or murdered?)

          • Murphy says:

            @Deiseach

            I think a lot of people get tangled up because both get valued as sacred values.

            So if you show some people 2 crimes, murder of a toddler and hate-crime-murder-of-10-toddlers they get all tangled up because they want to apply a value of infinity to both and they want to say that the second is worse than the first but they don’t want to give any quarter to the first by implying that it could be “better” than anything.

            I suspect it’s some kind of version of reaction to an implied taboo tradeoff since comparisons imply some kind of unit of wrongness that could be traded.

          • Matt M says:

            Why, when it clearly isn’t true and is therefore an example of the sort of illogical thought you would have us presume isn’t going on?

            Because it’s more likely to be true than any individual alternative.

            Even if one were to believe that people, on net, are illogical more often than they are illogical (which I personally do not believe, but whatever) – you can’t just predict someone will be illogical. You have to predict how they’d be illogical, and in which direction.

            Unless your position is that all information is useless or something, and that we can never infer anything based on anything else.

          • Mary says:

            So there you have the belief that murder/hate crimes are worse than robbery/other crimes but not believing that other crimes/robbery is better (except in the sense of “better” where it’s the lesser of two evils, i.e. would you rather be robbed of your wallet or murdered?)

            Your proviso in the parentheses negates what you said out of them.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Your proviso in the parentheses negates what you said out of them.

            Only if you believe that the word “better” has only a single meaning, and is never affected by context.

        • Deiseach says:

          Sure, Murphy, but it would be very unusual to have someone reply to “Hate-crime murder of ten toddlers is unthinkably wicked and awful” with “So you think murdering only one toddler is okay then, do you?”

          Whereas the original case was “He was, of course, wrong. If you think A is greater than B, then you are logically bound to say that B is less than A”. Yes, murdering one toddler is ‘less’ wicked than murdering ten, but in a case like that I think the agreement of most people would be with the guy saying “No, I think murdering even one toddler is unthinkably awful!” and not with the pure logician going “if you say B is worse than A, then you must by necessity hold that A is better than B”.

          The “toddler murder is awful” person may, perhaps, strictly be logically inconsistent, but I don’t think there’s any difficulty in understanding his point, whereas Pure Logician sounds – to be frank – like a donkey trying to make a nitpicky ‘gotcha’ argument where they can twist it to say ‘you think toddler murder is okay (so long as it’s only one toddler)’.

          • pjs says:

            “Hate crimes are worse than non-hate crimes”: What does the original person mean, and what exactly is A and B?

            Is that claiming that any hate-crime is worse than any non-hate crime (absurd). Or than any particular crime without hate, is – all other facts being equal, made worse, by adding hate. Or the average horribleness of hate crimes is worse than the average of non-hate crimes. Are you allowing for the fact that when someone expresses a belief that sounds like a universal, it’s very rare (outside mathematics or book-length expositions) that they truly mean “without any exceptions, whatsoever, and however ingeniously contrived”? &Etc.

            If you are going to abuse them for illogic, you’d start by reaching first reaching actual agreement about what they actually mean in their premise. One tricky point is that in everyday language, statements that sound like simply universal claims typically just aren’t, and the fallacy would be yours if you too quickly interpret them as such.

          • Mary says:

            The case I was thinking of was arguing that a crime otherwise identical but with “hate”* was worse than one without it, BUT that the one without it was not better than the one with it.

            * In quotes because in the actual English meaning, a lot of non-hate crimes ooze hatred.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Most people are not logically consistent. Just because someone believes A, and A logically implies B, doesn’t mean that this person believes B. Humans aren’t Vulcans.

        • Mary says:

          A person who refuses to admit that A logically entails B when it’s pointed out to him, however, is being dishonest.

          • Alphonse says:

            You may think someone is wrong, but that’s not the same as dishonest, and it’s even further from showing that they actually believe B.

            To get a bit meta here, I identify the following about this situation:
            1. You have claimed that the type of reasoning at issue here is not a fallacy.
            2. Knowingly claiming that something is not a fallacy despite being aware that it is a fallacy is lying.
            3. The reasoning here is not a fallacy (there may be issues with it, but it’s not a fallacy).
            4. That it is not a fallacy is apparent after serious consideration of the issues involved.
            5. Given the quantity of your posts on the issue, you’ve clearly given the issue serious consideration.

            I realize you disagree on #3 (obviously), and I’ll grant that I may or may not want to defend #4 if pressed (as much out of charity as because I’m uncertain about its accuracy). But since I think #3 is true, can I truthfully say: “Mary is lying”? Can I truthfully say: “Mary is advocating something despite knowing it to be false, thereby being dishonest”?

            I think not. I believe I can accurately say, “Mary has made arguments which I disagree with,” but attributing my inferential lines to your mind would result in me making false claims of fact about your mental state.

            To switch tacks to an area where I have debated with people which fits nicely into this . . . I have spoken with a number of Christians who believe in the Trinity. They accept that logically inconsistent things cannot be true. After sufficient back and forth, some of them have admitted that they cannot produce an argument for why the Trinity is logically consistent. Can I accurately describe them as believing that the Trinity is false? No. They still believe the Trinity is true. If I went around saying that these people believed that the Trinity was false, I wouldn’t be speaking accurately; I would be lying.

            (I’m not even trying to throw stones at these people. Some of them weren’t interested in these kinds of doctrinal/apologetics issues and could reasonably suspect that I was a better arguer than they were and could win the debate regardless of the ultimate truth. That doesn’t mean that I agree with them, but the real world is a bit more complex than a bunch of perfectly rational philosophers running around evaluating every argument from a blank slate. Attributing your beliefs to others despite their disagreement doesn’t make you clever — it’s just obnoxious and leads to false inferences.)

      • dick says:

        > It isn’t a fallacy in itself… When there is a fallacy involved, it’s whatever makes the second step belief false.

        I disagree. Example:

        Alice: I believe that we should outlaw GMO crops and only plant organic crops because GMO crops make people sick.

        Bob: I don’t believe we could feed the Earth’s billions on organic crops. Why do you want lots of people to die?

        The fallacy I believe OP is referring to is Bob’s second sentence. Alice might support a policy that (in her opponent’s opinion) would cause mass starvation, but she is not advocating mass starvation, not even if Bob’s opinion is correct, as long as she still believes it to be incorrect.

        I also think this is very common and would like to know the correct term for it!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This sounds like “Definition by Consequences” from Against Murderism.

          If it doesn’t have a name, I suggest we call it “The Lobster Fallacy.” As in, “So you’re saying we should organize our society like lobsters?”

          • dick says:

            I may be explaining it poorly because neither of those are the fallacy I and (I think) OP are trying to describe. Bob is not implying that Alice said billions of people should starve, he’s trying to get her to defend the wrong position as a distraction from the matter at hand. What he should have done is argued that her position would lead to starvation and challenge her to disagree, not take for granted that it would and that she agrees and go from there.

            It is kind of like a strawman, in that Bob is accusing Alice of a position she hasn’t taken; and it’s kind of like circular reasoning, in that Bob is assuming his own position to be true; and it’s kind of like a couple of other things. But I think it is different enough and common enough to deserve its own pithy name. If Alice says, “But that’s a strawman!” Bob can argue somewhat convincingly that it isn’t, and now they’re arguing about semantics, which is The Boringest Argument In The World.

        • Mary says:

          You offer a splendid example of what I was talking about. To accuse her of wanting it is to indulge in argument ad hominem.

          You can not name the fallacy until you diagnose it.

      • Alphonse says:

        I think this reasoning seriously misses the point. There is a difference between saying that “B believes Y” and saying that “B believes X, and I think B lacks a persuasive justification for why X does not lead to Y.”

        Even on its own terms, I think your argument substantially overstates the impact of its analysis. MOST arguments people actually care about aren’t purely deductive matters — there’s almost always a degree of judgment about the probabilities involved. In those circumstances, it’s clearly false to attribute your belief that X>Y to a person who doesn’t agree, regardless of how unpersuasive you find their argument against that result.

        Even in the case you described, where I agree that B’s position is logically incoherent, the statement that B actually believes that position is still . . . false. “B believes Y” is a statement of fact about the world which is not true. If nothing else, were B to accept that the two positions are logically contradictory (as I think B should, as an epistemic matter), we don’t know which position B would abandon in order to regain logical consistency. Thus, it could easily be false both now and in the future (where B accepts your argument) to describe B as believing the end result you claim.

        (I also think the point HBC raises below is a sound one, and a particularly strong rationale for not engaging in that kind of behavior. It’s much easier to, intentionally or inadvertently, elide important distinctions in degree or form when characterizing the relationships between beliefs which one disagrees with.)

        (Edited for tone.)

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Mary:
        “he was furious that someone else described his position as thinking that some crimes as ordinary, run-of-the-mill, not that horrible.”

        Actually that argument is fallacious.

        A is dangerous.
        B is especially dangerous.

        This does not mean that A is “not that dangerous”. It only mean that A is less dangerous than B. It does not imply A is not something to take precautions against or worry about or that the injuries caused by A are no big deal.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        He was, of course, wrong. If you think A is greater than B, then you are logically bound to say that B is less than A.

        Are you also logically bound to interpret “I ain’t done nothing” as a confession?

        I think this fallacy might need a name of its own. 🙂

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      That doesn’t have a name that I know of, but it should.

      There are some adjacent fallacies, like jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst of people, and assuming you can read minds.

      • Mary says:

        Nah, ’cause when it’s erroneous, it can be one of a whole slew of fallacies. It should be sorted out properly.

    • christhenottopher says:

      This seems to me to be related to strawmaning (at least in the cases where it is actually a fallacy rather than a logical necessity). “I believe that eating cows is ethical,” “Which means you think that eating puppies is ethical, who here wants to listen to a puppy-eater?” You’re using the supposed implication to argue against an easier target, hence a version of the strawman fallacy.

      • Mary says:

        Why would eating cows be ethical when eating puppies isn’t?

        • christhenottopher says:

          Depends on the person. One could just be straight up speciesist and say “Species X, Y, and Z are immoral to eat but everything else is fine.” There’s nothing logically inconsistent about that, you don’t have to use a measurable trait like intelligence. Or maybe there’s is some trait that dogs have that cows don’t that the person views as morally relevant. Or maybe they’re just scaling moral importance of a trait that varies between cows and puppies differently (for instance you view moral worth as linearly correlated with intelligence and they think the relationship is non-linear). If you’re imposing your own logic for a value structure on the other person, you are mis-characterizing their position.

          And as a quick note so this discussion does not go into a discussion of what is the correct way to measure the morality of eating animals, I’m vegetarian and I chose that example specifically because the position that “eat cows not puppies” is one I don’t hold.

        • Alphonse says:

          I think this offers another clear example of why your argument is missing the point. Even if there is no ethical distinction between eating cows and eating puppies (a debatable proposition), that doesn’t mean you can describe someone who believes that it is ethical to eat cows as also believing that it is ethical to eat puppies.

          The other person might disagree with you that they are ethically indistinguishable (even if a perfect reasoner would conclude their argument was wrong). Even if the other person agreed, he could either decide to change his views to conclude that eating cows is also impermissible or change his views to decide that eating puppies is permissible. Describing the person’s views as espousing that eating puppies is ethical is simply false.

          It’s fine to argue that, in your view, the person’s positions imply that eating puppies is ethical and you think he lacks a persuasive response, but taking the next step and concluding that the other person actually subjectively believes that eating puppies is moral is fallacious.

    • FuchsiaWalrus says:

      This is an example of the typical mind fallacy – the implication of Y by X is believed by you but you ascribe that belief to another person – it is only a fallacy insofar it is poorly supported by your priors relative to the cost of making that assumption and being wrong.

    • Mammon says:

      This could be productively restated in something approaching epistemic modal logic:

      1. A believes that B believes X
      2. A believes that X implies Y
      3. Therefore, A believes that B believes Y

      This is fallacious reasoning, and I agree that it deserves a name. I don’t think it has one.

      Note that the following, closely related reasoning is perfectly valid:

      1. A believes that B believes X
      2. A believes that B believes that X implies Y
      3. Therefore, A believes that B believes Y

      …however, A’s belief in (2) could be based on fallacious reasoning, for example the typical mind fallacy.

      • FuchsiaWalrus says:

        It literally is the typical mind fallacy – making the assumption that another mind has the information and makes the same inference from it as does yours without having a rational basis for it.

    • johnjohn says:

      It’s clearly not a fallacy for the reason Mary stated.

      If the person is willing to explain why they believe X leads to Y, then that’s how arguments are supposed to work…
      If they can’t properly explain why they believe X leads to Y, then whatever the weakness in that argument is, is the fallacy

      • Dacyn says:

        You should imagine the debate is about the beliefs of a third party, e.g. maybe Alice heard Bob say X on TV, and now she is arguing with Carol on the question of whether Bob believes Y. Alice can explain her reasoning for X->Y to Carol, who may accept it, but since Bob isn’t present then this has no effect on his beliefs.

        If Bob is present then you can imagine his beliefs may change once Alice presents her argument for X->Y, and so we need to raise the question of whether Alice meant that Bob did believe Y or that he will believe Y. In the former case it is just as though he wasn’t there, since his past self’s beliefs won’t change in response to the present conversation. In the latter case it seems presumptuous of Alice to predict how Bob is going to react to her argument.

        (incidentally, I would like to second the idea of calling this “typical mind fallacy”)

    • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

      Traditional Roman Catholic doctrine (which I do not personally accept) had some interesting related concepts that it treated under the distinction between “implicit” and “explicit” beliefs. No lay Catholic could possibly navigate the nuances of Catholic doctrine, and they would inevitably believe various things that had been anathematized as heretical. But the idea was that they believed in the infallibility of the Church and when you accept the truth of that proposition you implicitly accept the truth of every proposition that logically follows from it, including the truth of all the various doctrinal details that they have never heard, let alone understood and accepted. These postulated “implicit” true beliefs could trump even explicit contrary beliefs in things that were actually heretical since the lay believer didn’t mean to believe anything contrary to what the Church taught. This is not an answer to your question but another context in which similar issues came up.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        Although it occurs to me that the Catholics used this concept in the opposite way that you (rightly) want to use it here. In this context you would say that it is unfair to ascribe the implicit consequences of actually held views to a person, whereas the Catholics wanted to give the implicit consequences priority over actually held express beliefs for purposes of salvation.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          I like this – thank you. If no-one else has already named this, I’m going to suggest calling it the “implicit belief fallacy”.

    • gbdub says:

      “You believe X, I believe that X implies Y, therefore you believe Y”

      You imply but don’t make explicit that the final step is what really makes this fallacious: “And clearly anyone who believes Y is an Awful Person, why are you an Awful Person, you Awful Person?”

      I think it’s important to clearly distinguish between “I think X will lead to Y for reasons 1, 2, 3, how do you respond?” and “Only an Awful Person could be so callous as to support Y!”

      The former, assuming your logic for why X leads to Y isn’t otherwise fallacious, is just good debate. The latter makes two unsupportable leaps: first, that your opponent is actually convinced X will lead to Y, and second, that they don’t care about Y.

      Basically, this fallacy combines 3 fallacies into a single attack: a typical mind fallacy to (leap one), a strawman (leap two), and an ad hominem (really, the thrust of your point is just “my opponent is a certified Awful Person”).

      If this three-step fallacy needs a name, I would suggest “Ascribing to Malice” as in “ascribing to malice what can be explained by stupidity”. The stupidity could be on either side (an erroneous conclusion as to whether X implies Y) but it’s the assumption of malice that creates the fallacy.

    • beleester says:

      “Putting words in my mouth” is probably the snappiest way to describe it.

    • pjs says:

      Do you mean corollaries in the sense of strict logical implication, or in a looser “here’s a plausible-sounding line of reasoning, which makes you look a bit silly unless you can refute its conclusion” sense?

      Because if the former, I’m having a surprsingingly hard time thinking of a convincing, not-too-contrived example – do you have one in mind?

      I assume we are after a case where the first person (the believer) has been presented with this chain of reasoning and still rejects it. Maybe they can articulate why it’s not compelling (e.g. they might say “I don’t believe that X implies Y”), but even if not they’ve had time to think it over. (I stipulate that, since it’s uninteresting to catch people in casual self-contradictions.)

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      I’d like to call it the fallacy of the three monkeys, but I don’t suppose anyone would ever get the reference. 🙂

  5. hash872 says:

    Has there ever been an SSC dialogue about how to deal with the drug (and opioid) epidemic? (There may have been, I just can’t keep up with all of Scott’s articles/community open threads). Like, what public policy should the US (or, another developed country) take to deal with addicts & cocaine, heroin, various opioids, meth, bath salts, whatever. I ask because lots of people (myself totally included) think that War on Drugs is a disaster, but I rarely see practical results floated out there aside from legalizing marijuana (should be common sense), increased treatment options for addicts instead of jail, and less jail time overall for possession. I think these are fine, but kind of….. inadequate to the size of the problem?

    I’ll state my priors because I think that’s helpful. In my misspent youth I experimented with plenty of hard drugs, and also have lots of close friends and relatives who are or were addicts and went through the whole detox, rehab, 12 step program etc. My uncle was a lifelong heroin addict, my best friend growing up was (or is still, I dunno) a lifelong addict, and so on. Also, I had a good friend spend close to two years in federal prison for being part of a drug ‘conspiracy’- essentially he knew some people that were selling a lot of blow, and he sometimes did some blow with them. This is enough to warrant a ‘conspiracy’ charge- 7 years after the fact! He’s fine now and quite successful in life, but the whole experience radicalized me as to the heavy-handedness of the War on Drugs.

    I guess I’m not really familiar with any large-scale, public policy solutions to hard drugs, drug addiction & especially opioids. (Other than executing drug dealers, I suppose…..) I have to say, I am pretty skeptical of mandatory treatment or rehab programs for small-scale possession (of cocaine, heroin, opioids, whatever). I think lots of well-meaning liberal people who have no IRL hard drug experience imagine a) all users as addicts (demonstrably untrue), and b) all addicts as desperate to quit and easy to fix through a detox & rehab program. In reality, I think plenty of both casual users & hardcore addicts are quite satisfied with their lives, at least not enough to really change- and even if someone desperately wants to quit, they have to go through rehab 5 or 10 or 15 times until it ‘sticks’. While I’m generally in favor social welfare spending, I’m not sure that hundreds of thousands of addicts going through mandatory rehab programs dozens of times is exactly a great use of public funds, or any cheaper than incarceration.

    Is there other realistic drug control public policy out there? Anyone bold enough to just recommend legalizing everything? (Is that really the case in Portugal? I find it a bit hard to believe). Government-provided hard drugs for the truly addicted? Something else?

    • Taymon A. Beal says:

      There’s not an SSC literature review or anything on that particular question, but there’s this from the end of “Against Rat Park”:

      But remember: society is fixed, biology is mutable. You should work on the super-long-term project of improving society because that’s the right thing to do. But if you want to fight drug addiction now, in an effective way with some hope for helping today’s addicts, the best choices are still deregulating suboxone and legalizing research into psychedelic therapy.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’d legalize if not everything, almost everything, certainly including opioids. The opposite version, the swift sword of death for drug traffickers and other harsh penalties, seems to work for Singapore but probably would not work in the US because our criminal justice system is anything but swift and sure. Other harsh solutions might work but would be even less morally palatable (administer ODs fentanyl instead of nalaxone, for instance). Our current system of doing everything we can to “help” addicts while keeping drugs illegal is probably pessimal.

      • hash872 says:

        If you legalized everything though- would hard drugs be widely available in a retail-like setting? Like, you could just walk into x store and buy yourself some bath salts? Would the stores be private enterprise, or government run? What if every municipality wanted to keep hard drug stores out though- would you override them? The whole thing is just kinda tough for me to imagine….

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @hash872:
          To me, the War On Drugs seems obviously unconstitutional – the proper course at the federal level is to strike down all the federal drug laws and leave the question entirely “to the states or to the people”. That means if some state wants to ban drugs or regulate drugs either statewide or at the option of local counties/cities (to the degree this is constitutionally allowable under that state’s constitution) they can choose to do so. Different regions would then have different drug policies just as different regions today have different policies on gambling or prostitution or alcohol and we might be able to learn something useful from comparing the outcomes.

          What if every municipality wanted to keep hard drug stores out though- would you override them?

          “As a libertarian, I seek the staid, moderate middle ground between prohibition and compulsion.” Abandoning a terrible regulatory policy shouldn’t imply immediately mandating its opposite.

          • Mammon says:

            That means if some state wants to ban drugs or regulate drugs either statewide or at the option of local counties/cities (to the degree this is constitutionally allowable under that state’s constitution) they can choose to do so.

            This would make interstaste drug trafficking an affair of the common man, like driving under the influence, littering, and shooting bottles in the woods. Enforcement would be impossible.

          • christhenottopher says:

            @Mammon

            That strikes me as far too strong a statement. Do you mean that there would be no decrease in drug use in the states that kept the drugs illegal? While I wouldn’t call it conclusive, there is suggestive evidence that wouldn’t be true even on a county level. Consider the example of dry counties in the United States. Drinking amounts and rates ARE lower in dry counties even within the same state. Now I will grant there are potential confounders insofar as dry counties will likely be made up of more people who disapprove of drinking, but one should also consider that lowering convenient access can reduce consumption, or even that by passing a law local mores regarding alcohol could shift.

            Now having a nationwide ban on a substance should on the margin increase the inconvenience of accessing a substance, but I think it’s better to think of the effect of federal vs state vs local laws as a spectrum of disincentive rather than a binary. Smaller units of organization would likely have less capacity to block supply (just drive to the pot store the next county over), but they also could have the ability to put more resources relative to population size on the issue. The DEA has 10,800 employees for a population of 320 million. My current city (Atlanta, Georgia) has 2,000 police officers for a population of 475 thousand. There are nearly 3,000 Americans for every DEA employee. If only a fourth of Atlanta police officers are dedicated to drug crimes (500 officers), that would be 1 drug officer per every 950 Atlanta residents. That’s WAY more enforcement capacity (hence why states not enforcing federal drug laws is a Big Deal).

          • BBA says:

            @Glen

            That’s a lovely answer that doesn’t actually answer the question at all. There’s almost 200 countries in the world, which means there’s almost 199 countries that don’t have the US constitution. How would you prefer a unitary country, like France, to set its policy? And if you answer “let every commune decide for itself” then how would you prefer a city-state, like Monaco, to set its policy?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Mammon:

            Enforcement would be impossible.

            If so, so much the worse for enforcement. Are you assuming enforcement of prohibition is not merely a good idea but such a good idea that we should abandon the constitution to accomplish that goal? If it is really so important for the federal government to have this power, then let’s pass a constitutional amendment saying so. In the meantime, it’s a matter for the states.

            @BBA:

            How would you prefer a unitary country, like France, to set its policy? And if you answer “let every commune decide for itself” then how would you prefer a city-state, like Monaco, to set its policy?

            As an American, I have no say on how France or Monaco set their policies. I don’t even know what their policies are now or what problems are associated with them. I have little enough sway over my own country that I don’t need to additionally tour the world telling other countries what they should do. Obviously I’m biased in favor of freedom generally and especially biased in favor of trying freedom in areas where it doesn’t seem to have been adequately tried so if tomorrow I had to move to France and then somebody named me the King of France and then I was asked what France should do about drugs I’d say “legalize it”. But absent that circumstance I feel like France probably has some sort of representative government and people who make laws and stuff, and I would prefer that they, you know, use that stuff to try…whatever policies they favor. While we’re at it, I suppose i would prefer they record and publish lots of statistics so the rest of us might learn from their situation, whatever it ends up being.

          • BBA says:

            I’m just generally irritated at the tendency among libertarians to insist MOAR FEDERALISM is the answer to every question. Aside from the questionable applicability to the rest of the world, states can be just as authoritarian as the federal government.

            The fact is, the war on drugs was popular – even before Anslinger most states were banning marijuana and opium. Now the tide is turning on marijuana but harder drugs are still generally disapproved. If the federal Controlled Substances Act were struck down tomorrow and the DEA disbanded, you still have 50 state-level CSAs banning heroin and restricting fentanyl, and my guess is there isn’t much support in any state to loosen them.

            For the record, I support Portuguese-style decriminalization as a first step, but I know it’s not going to happen in America because it doesn’t involve shooting or imprisoning anybody.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @BBA:

            If the federal Controlled Substances Act were struck down tomorrow and the DEA disbanded, you still have 50 state-level CSAs banning heroin and restricting fentanyl, and my guess is there isn’t much support in any state to loosen them.

            Are you sure it’d be – and stay – 50? Not even ONE state might experiment with other approaches? Because my guess is that at least one state would try other approaches if they were ALLOWED to. There would be isolated pioneers. Like Nevada with gambling/prostitution, like Florida with concealed carry, like Vermont and Massachusetts with health insurance, like Montana with speed limits. Policies that are popular nationwide aren’t equally popular nationwide. Given the freedom to try different things, different things would be tried.

            I personally have a strong suspicion that complete legalization would be better than the status quo but I don’t think the entire nation is ready to try it. I’m certain that some parts of some states would be willing to move a little ways in that direction if they were allowed to and…that’s enough.

            “Utopia is not an option.” Let’s not let the best be the enemy of the good, and let’s not kid ourselves into being certain that the policy WE think is best would be best EVERYWHERE. Heck, we might be wrong! Maybe full legalization would be a complete disaster! Or maybe there’s path dependence and the order in which you decontrol things matters! That’s the sort of thing it might be possible to notice if experiments involved just a few states changing a few things at a time, whereas changing policy across the entire nation all at once pretty much destroys the possibility of figuring out whether the policy change worked.

          • Matt M says:

            If the federal Controlled Substances Act were struck down tomorrow and the DEA disbanded, you still have 50 state-level CSAs banning heroin and restricting fentanyl, and my guess is there isn’t much support in any state to loosen them.

            San Francisco and Portland would probably de-criminalize heroin if they could. If only to reflect the fact that there are already homeless people using it out in open and plain view of the police and nobody cares.

          • BBA says:

            @Glen: Unrestricted legal heroin? I honestly don’t think it’d happen anywhere. To make a grossly inappropriate comparison, right now the states are perfectly free to legalize murder, and yet none of them have. And if Raich ever goes away, it’ll be a similar situation with hard drugs.

            @Matt: Serious answer: cities can’t override state laws. Frivolous answer: they need those laws on the books so they can keep selectively enforcing them against white dudes.

          • Nornagest says:

            As low an opinion as I have of San Franciscan policy generally, the cops in the Tenderloin definitely have more important things to worry about than random junkie bums. No excuse for Portland, though.

          • Matt M says:

            @Matt: Serious answer: cities can’t override state laws. Frivolous answer: they need those laws on the books so they can keep selectively enforcing them against white dudes.

            Libertarians have no love for states specifically. States are just considered better than federal because they are smaller. If we did break up the US into 50 discrete countries – libertarians would still favor the secession of cities and counties for the same reason. See: Libertarian support for Scottish and Catalonian secession in Europe.

            My only point here is that you can find populations where full-scale drug legalization would be popular, and where it doesn’t exist only because some larger-scale political power threatens force against them if they don’t obey.

          • Matt M says:

            No excuse for Portland, though.

            Their employers don’t want them to arrest people for shooting heroin, so they don’t. That’s the only excuse they need. Cops answer up a chain of command that eventually reports to the mayor, who is elected by the people. And the people in Portland are… well… Portlandia is an exaggeration, but not very much of one…

          • Nornagest says:

            Serious question: why would doctrinaire libertarians care for smaller polities particularly? There’s some economies of scale in government output, but libertarians shouldn’t care about what the state produces, they should care what it takes, and enforcement is like 95% state and local already. Devolving policy to the states in the present-day American political setup might make exit easier, but there’s no reason to expect that to persist if the feds evaporated tomorrow and left fifty sovereign state governments.

          • Matt M says:

            Smaller polities are:

            1. Easier to exit
            2. More prone to experimentation
            3. Closer approximates to the desired libertarian order of sovereign individuals

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not seeing much exit, experimentation, or individual sovereignty out of North Korea, and it’s smaller than some American states would be if they were sovereign.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not seeing much exit, experimentation, or individual sovereignty out of North Korea

            Some states will be very bad, this is sure.

            The relevant question is, are we better or worse off that Asia consists of many states, rather than say, China owning the entire continent?

          • Nornagest says:

            Yes, that is the question. But obviously I don’t think that to ask the question is to answer it, or I wouldn’t have asked it.

          • Igon Value says:

            The relevant question is, are we better or worse off that Asia consists of many states, rather than say, China owning the entire continent?

            Many smaller states allows a widening of the distribution. Then presumably some selection occurs.

            For example, North Koreans see that the system in South Korea leads to more individual prosperity so they demand the same system (anytime now). Obviously it may take a while to get out of a local equilibrium…

            This is the same argument as to why democracy is better than tyranny. The essence of the answer is experimentation. If you can experiment, you can more clearly see what works better. But if you live in a huge unified, uniform State you may not even be aware that things could be better.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If you legalized everything though- would hard drugs be widely available in a retail-like setting?

          Yes. Private enterprise. Government would only be involved to regulate purity and labeling — no selling fentanyl as heroin or bath salts as MDMA. And legalized means legalized; all municipalities forbidding them wouldn’t be legalization. I’m not sure why this is tough to imagine; you’d go to a store, plunk down your money, maybe show some ID to show you’re of legal age, and walk out with some drugs.

          • Deiseach says:

            Government would only be involved to regulate purity and labeling — no selling fentanyl as heroin or bath salts as MDMA.

            I wouldn’t? If you’re going to get government out of regulating fun substances, then get them all the hell the way out. You want to shoot up, you pays your money and you takes your chance. I presume we are going by the example of existing recreational drugs like alcohol and tobacco where there is government regulation, but with the drive to discourage tobacco as much as possible and to reduce alcohol consumption on health grounds (not to mention things like “sugar taxes”), the tendency is indeed there to discourage use of such substances.

            That sounds very heartless of me – what about the poor customer who gets fentanyl instead of their expected heroin? – but if you want to be hardcore about ‘legalise it all’ then go hardcore. Would I let junkies die? Maybe. If it’s legal and you know all the risks and you still want to take this stuff because you’re an adult and nobody is the boss of you, it’s up to you to make sure you have naloxone on hand if you accidentally overdose. I don’t think drugs should be legalised, but if you argue for “why shouldn’t I be permitted to take this?” then take it and take the consequences as well, you can’t have it both ways: the government has no business telling me this is dangerous and forbidding it but the government is obliged to protect me from the consequences of my folly at the same time.

          • rlms says:

            @Deiseach

            you can’t have it both ways

            Why not? That seems to be the status quo for alcohol etc..

          • The Nybbler says:

            I presume we are going by the example of existing recreational drugs like alcohol and tobacco where there is government regulation

            More generally a minarchist view where the government should prevent fraud (including selling fentanyl as heroin) but otherwise get out of the way. No different than when you buy bottled water you expect the arsenic levels to be considerably less than lethal.

            The ancap view would have “you pays your money and takes your chance”, but of course there would be third-party certifiers (and third-party legbreakers to handle people forging certifications).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          In a world where you can buy inexpensive, quality controlled, accurately labelled designer drugs, would anyone buy bath salts anymore?

          • Randy M says:

            Presumably someone wants them for their baths.

          • Deiseach says:

            There will always be some idiot who wants to show off that they’re not one of the sheeple buying the government approved candy but real adventurers in the psychic experimental zone/tough guys who are real and not phonies. Or who can be coaxed by “pssst, hey yeah, try this it’s new and unapproved and way more than any of that baby stuff any kid can buy in the store!”

            Look at all the people melting their brains with combinations of nootropics – you think they’d be satisfied with sticking to purchases of the Recommended Safe Blends As Licenced By The Nanny State?

    • dhominis says:

      Specifically for opioids, medication-assisted therapy works way better than other options. I’m not an expert by any means, but AFAICT the argument for MAT is along the lines of “way fewer people die, relapse, get HIV/hepatitis/other communicable diseases associated with needle sharing, [insert negative outcome here]” and arguments against it tend to be “but are people really recovered if they’re still on opioids???”

      (the meds used do have side effects and there is a risk of abuse, especially with methadone, but it’s pretty clear that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks)

      At least in the US, doctors often need specific and restrictive licenses if they want to prescribe meds used for MAT; they don’t need a specific license to prescribe other opioids, which *can* lead to addiction. Also, the rehab programs that the US government funds/supports very frequently do not offer MAT. In terms of the current opioid addiction crisis, MAT isn’t a cure-all but is low-hanging fruit. We know it works but it’s horribly underused. Lift restrictions on prescription; incentivize rehab programs and individual doctors to offer MAT.

      More generally, you might find this survey of experts’ opioid funding priorities interesting.

      • hash872 says:

        I feel like your comment, and Taymon’s, are still stuck in the paradigm that users & addicts want to get better though. What if they, by and large, don’t? Are you arguing that we force people into these programs as an alternative for jail? I am a bit uncomfortable with the civil rights implications of that, plus the overall effectiveness. Is forcing people into rehab actually effective? How expensive would that be?

        • dhominis says:

          I’m not claiming that MAT (or anything else) can fix addiction for all people who abuse drugs. It’s one piece of the puzzle; when implemented, MAT reduces the impact of addiction.

          Can I assume we agree that some addicts “want to get better” and (at some point) want to seek treatment, whether that’s through a primary care doctor, in an inpatient rehab program, in prison, or in some other setting? Addiction treatment providers often do not suggest/provide evidence-based therapies like MAT; therefore, the subset of addicts who seek treatment are not given the best available treatment (there is little to no evidence supporting many of the widely used treatment modalities).

          Forcing casual users who aren’t experiencing serious negative consequences into treatment is wrong (is anyone seriously suggesting this?), and I also have serious reservations about involuntary treatment for addiction. My position generally is that the people who do seek help should be given evidence-based treatments, and people who are addicted but don’t currently want treatment should be informed about/given access to these treatments (e.g. paramedics recommending MAT/similar options when responding to an overdose). Again, it wouldn’t fix everything but would help.

          I don’t know what policies would best help people who are clearly suffering but are unwilling to access treatment — harm-reduction policies like needle exchanges clearly help ameliorate the effects of addiction without requiring individuals to stop using drugs, but again they don’t fix everything. Otherwise: government assistance with paying for rehab programs would reduce barriers to treatment, and some extent of decriminalization does seem better than the current state of policing.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think you have a good point about alternative therapies, but I also think that the downsides need to be recognised before suggesting widespread adoption, and unhappily it is true that some people will game the system and even in best-case scenarios some people will be on long-term (as in decades) of such maintenance treatment:

            Philip is one of more than 10,000 people provided with methadone by the State.

            It stabilises, and sometimes even saves, the lives of heroin users. People on methadone are less likely to use illegal drugs and less likely be involved in stealing to feed a drugs habit. Many hold down jobs or training courses.

            The problem is many don’t move on from the drug, which is highly addictive.

            By the HSE’s own estimate, more than 3,300 – or more than one-in-three – are in the second decade of taking the drug.

            It’s relatively cheap, but there is a lucrative and illegal street market for the drug. A single bottle can sell for between €70 and €100, according to users.

            I agree with your larger point but I do think it is very necessary to have a realistic, even pessimistic, attitude going in: some people will not want to get better, they will try to access this to stabilise themselves and then go out and get high on other drugs, or deal the methadone to get money for drugs. If there’s too rose-coloured glasses an attitude of “this will solve the problems and addicts will move on to be clean and productive citizens”, the programme won’t do anything except be legal dealing.

            The mother of a young man who overdosed on the eve of his birthday has called for stricter measures to prevent drug addicts from selling on methadone.

            The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, said her son is lucky to be alive after taking two bottles of methadone which he bought from a drug user.

            ‘He was in a coma and was on life support and I don’t want any other family to have to go through what we did,’

            She wants stricter measures to ensure that people getting methadone from local pharmacies have to consume it before leaving the premises to prevent them from selling it on to others.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @ hash872:

          [comments] are still stuck in the paradigm that users & addicts want to get better though. What if they, by and large, don’t?

          If they don’t, then let them stay addicted. If heroin addicts could reliably buy heroin in pill form cheaply at the corner supermarket, why would this be a problem? Nearly all of the negative aspects to being a heroin addict result from it being illegal; the primary long-term negative effect of regular heroin use is constipation. It’d be like being addicted to caffeine is today.

          Heroin users shoot up because under prohibition the drug is too expensive to take in pill form; those who shoot up choose to reuse needles because under prohibition clean needles are hard to obtain. Users have trouble maintaining a regular dose because under prohibition it’s hard to buy large quantities without getting busted or breaking the bank and the best suppliers tend to get arrested and you can’t hold suppliers responsible for selling a poor quality product. Users need to associate with violent criminals and risk getting arrested because under prohibition the business they transact with is illegal and contract enforcement is hard.

          Legalize it and all those problems go away. No more infections from reusing needles, fewer infections from using needles at all, no more trouble holding down a regular job while using, no more need to associate with criminals or dangerous people while using. No more need to earn large amounts of money to use, no more risk of going to prison for using or dealing with people who use. Less crime and bribery and corruption of law enforcement.

          Once all those problems are gone all that remains are the dangers actually inherent in the drugs themselves which are minuscule compared to the costs of prohibition. Just as legalizing alcohol led to less violence, less police corruption, and safer, milder forms of that drug, the same would be true for legalizing other drugs.

          • Deiseach says:

            no more trouble holding down a regular job while using

            I don’t know who all these model citizen smackheads you know are, the ones I know of/about are the “got sent to jail for stabbing someone in the stomach” type.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Deiseach:
            A popular example of the high-functioning hard-drug (cocaine and morphine) user is William Stewart Halstead, chief surgeon and one of the four founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

            (I get a lot of my ideas and examples on this subject from having read the Consumer Reports book Licit and Illicit Drugs at an impressionable age, followed by looking up most of the relevant drugs in the nearest Encyclopedia Britannica.)

          • Another example would be Sigmund Freud. In his case cocaine.

          • Aapje says:

            Note that high functioning drug users have a strong incentive to lie about their use and the more high functioning they are, the easier this is. So people’s anecdotal knowledge surely underestimates the number of high functioning drug users.

          • rlms says:

            I imagine that high-functioning users of cocaine are a lot more common than high-functioning heroin users.

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t think we’ve had such a dialog in one concentrated form, so here’s as good a place as any.

      I have a strong suspicion that long-term opioid abuse correlates with suicide, accidental death, violent death, and incarceration, and all of these together usually derive from Not Giving A Fuck. All of these are things that are easy enough to avoid in modern western civilization without great effort. But all of them save suicide all too easily come from behaviors that are loads of fun while they last and a good way to pass the time if you Don’t Give A Fuck what happens in the end. And suicide ensures that end won’t follow too much of an unbearably painful decline.

      We’ve got a lot of people in this country who Don’t Give A Fuck. People who have been told for at least a decade that their culture is deplorable, that they’ve got nothing but God and guns (see above re violent death, incarceration, and suicide), that their once-solid working-class jobs are now worthless and if they aren’t STEM they’re crap. And somehow, voting for Donald Trump didn’t make all that better. Then there’s the large subset of Black America that’s been on the wrong end of this for generations.

      I don’t think you can save people who Don’t Give A Fuck by playing whack-a-mole with specific self-destructive behaviors as they come to public attention. You’re trying to take away things that are dangerous but (to them) tolerable, and giving them nothing instead. They won’t go along with that. And note that armed revolution, or on a smaller scale various forms of outlawry, are loads of fun if you Don’t Give A Fuck.

      At the same time, actually giving these people something to care about, is a Very Hard Problem and I don’t see any easy answers.

      Until we come up with something, we can maybe try to find ways to make the self-destructive behaviors less terminally destructive. So, yeah, Naloxone all around, voluntary treatment where it looks like it will do some good, and so forth. And it’s really perverse in this context that our default social safety net is tied to Long-Term Disability and maybe we shouldn’t do that.

      Cynically speaking, providing people with fun ways to destroy their lives that minimize the harm to everyone else, including the harm of televised ugliness that makes people feel bad and incites them to stupid harmful interventions, would be better than nothing. That might mean turning a blind eye to the less-harmful sorts of opioids so people don’t turn to heroin and fentanyl.

      And I strongly doubt that any significant part of the problem comes from people who were prescribed opioids for medical pain management and became inescapably addicted. Sure, that’s often the first taste for someone who is trying out the various ways to pass the time while circling the drain, e.g. driving fast cars until an accident puts them in the hospital, and then hey, these little pills are way cheaper than fast cars. But it does no one any favors, not even the future addicts, to take away pain medications from people who are actually in pain, and that’s what cracking down on prescription drug abuse is going to do.

      • hash872 says:

        Yeah, I can broadly agree with a lot of that. It is a Very Hard societal Problem, for sure. While I think some people that are hooked on opioids or heroin or whatever are suffering from despair or Broader Societal Problems, I am a bit leery of giving that a hard-and-fast percentage there- there are lots of people who just love getting f****** high, myself totally included. I would probably recreationally do cocaine & some mild opioids on occasion if it were convenient and not a hassle legally and logistically to get them. (I’ve found kratom is a good, legal and convenient substitute for the latter- fun stuff).

        I’d be interested in the harm reduction concept of the government distributing heroin or what have you directly to hardcore addicts, as a way of breaking the cartels’ power. If 10% of users are the most addicted & use the largest quantities (tolerance is a shocking phenomena- I could easily believe 10% of users consume 80+% of the drug in a given country), then the government can break the cartels by taking over direct distribution. Life, if you’re an addict, you go to the government center (say a repurposed old jail) to get the drug and shoot up, and it’s deliberately unpleasant to discourage casuals. This way the cartels lose their best bulk customers and slowly go out of business….. just thinking out loud here

        • Wrong Species says:

          I have this idea that the government sells drugs like heroin but only to people who already positively test for it. That way the government doesn’t cause the addiction in the first place. Ideally, it would lead to less drug addiction overall since the cartels would be significantly weakened and new users probably won’t go through that much effort to get them.

          • actinide meta says:

            That’s interesting. But the dealer on the corner can now sell you a *lifetime supply* of heroin, and price accordingly? Though he will probably have to lend you the money…

      • onyomi says:

        Recently saw a commentary on the movie (and book, which I haven’t read) Fight Club make the convincing case (if it wasn’t already obvious) that the phenomenon you describe is pretty much exactly what it’s about. Arguably so is American Beauty, interestingly released the same year.

        As a cosmopolitanish, consumerist, individualist libertarian weirdo, I’ve long been skeptical about the value of group identities in general, however I think it’s becoming apparent recently how hard it is for people to function without group identities and/or big “causes/ideals” to devote themselves to or otherwise imbue structure and meaning.

        More generally, we’ve seen in the past several decades the dismantling of: religion, gender, class, race, and, to a lesser extent, many cultural and ethnic identities, including the idea of “American culture” even being a thing beyond the sum of all the different groups who happen to arrive there. It’s actually kind of surprising people have continued to function as well as they have in the absence of pretty much all the major categories that structured and gave meaning to most people for most of history.

        This almost certainly also explains the recent popularity of a certain professor/youtube sensation we’re attempting to curtail discussion of.

        • fahertym says:

          Add Office Space and the Matrix as well. Maybe even Donnie Darko? 1998-2001 culture was dominated by this sentiment.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        +1.

        I agree it’s a Hard Problem. I’m hopefully that Trump’s economic policies can bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America. If people have honest work, they raise families, and build communities, and go to churches and school bake sales and they don’t get quite so disaffected they smother themselves in pain pills.

        We’ll see what happens.

        • Matt M says:

          Why are manufacturing jobs considered generally superior to say, agricultural or service jobs?

          I know there’s a huge psychological component to it – agricultural work is considered the provence of impoverished foreigners, service work is considered feminine and demeaning, manufacturing involves BUILDINGS THINGS WITH TOOLS, etc.

          But is there anything more than that?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Service work doesn’t produce something tangible, and agricultural work is either inconsistent or mechanized away (as well as, I hear, being more physically-demanding), so that leaves just manufacturing.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Women often don’t like many of these services jobs either. The problem is that they have less dignity than manufacturing jobs(depending on which service jobs we’re talking about). Customers regularly come in and can talk down to you as much as possible and there isn’t anything you can do. It’s less authentic than the job where I put in my time, do my job and get out. Sure you might play office politics, but your boss doesn’t expect you to look happy the entire day. I would much rather have a job where I don’t have to pretend to give a shit about all these strangers that come in.

          • Matt M says:

            Okay, but everyone isn’t entitled to a job that has all of the positive characteristics they could possibly want.

            While I appreciate and am sympathetic to the fact that “shut up and learn to code” is not really an answer that properly addresses the concerns of these communities, I am somewhat inclined to say “shut up and be a waiter – or starve if that’s beneath your precious dignity – I don’t really care.”

            Yeah, who wouldn’t want a job where you make $30 an hour to operate a simple machine and not have to talk to anyone or play politics or whatever. AND you get to pretend that you’re some sort of artisan and you get the satisfaction of building things and your pay and benefits are guaranteed year round and all that jazz. Yeah, that sounds great. But the existence of that specific opportunity set is a historical abnormality. It’s the exception, not the rule. It’s not coming back, nor should it, because it doesn’t make any economic sense.

            If you want to make good money in an interesting/challenging job, you have to learn a valuable skill. And “valuable” means “cannot be done just as well by a someone in Bangladesh for 1/20th the cost.” If you’re unable/unwilling to learn a skill, then you’re going to make less, and your job is going to suck in a lot of ways. Sorry, but that’s just reality.

          • John Schilling says:

            Agricultural jobs would probably be at least as good as manufacturing for this purpose. But, despite a vigorous effort to prove otherwise, there actually is a limit to how much food the American people can eat, how much the export market can absorb, and how much land is available to farm, and there’s simply no way you’re going to get even 10% of working-class Americans working in agriculture without deliberate make-work being involved.

            “Service”, is a fairly broad category, but the sort of service jobs available to ex-auto-workers, typically involving bedpans and/or the words “do you want fries with that”, doesn’t carry a great deal of personal satisfaction for people used to pointing to the useful physical thing they just made.

            I am somewhat inclined to say “shut up and be a waiter – or starve if that’s beneath your precious dignity – I don’t really care.”

            You can say that, but they won’t do that. They’ll claim waiting tables wrecked their back, go on disability, and pop vicodin all day. Which other people demonstrably will care about, and punish all the doctors who prescribe the vicodin, and then when you wind up in the hospital in genuine physical pain you won’t be able to get enough to deal with the pain. I’m betting you’ll care then.

            Or they’ll just take their rifle down from above the fireplace and join some of the the other disaffected ex-Trump/Sanders voters who have hoisted the black flag and gone Bonnie and Clyde on the globalist bourgeoisie techbros who ruined everything for Real America(tm). That, also, is something you could wind up caring about at least briefly.

            They won’t starve, and there will be some combination of drugs, endorphins, and adrenaline to make them feel real good for as long as they can go about making you miserable. But I don’t think we’re going to let you kill them just yet. So what’s Plan C?

          • Matt M says:

            You can say that, but they won’t do that. They’ll claim waiting tables wrecked their back, go on disability, and pop vicodin all day.

            I get that. I’m mainly responding to Conrad’s “let’s bring the manufacturing jobs back!” hope.

            Like, why?

            Welfare is probably cheaper/more efficient, and a lot more honest.

          • But, despite a vigorous effort to prove otherwise, there actually is a limit to … how much land is available to farm

            I don’t think that’s a binding constraint at present. As I understand it, total acreage being farmed has gone down over the past eighty years or so, with the result that total area of forest in the U.S. has gone up.

            Of course, the land that isn’t being farmed is presumably at least somewhat less suitable for the purpose than the land that is.

          • Deiseach says:

            Manufacturing jobs in their heyday, thanks to the unions, were well-paid, secure, long-term, with great benefits. Service industry jobs (and a lot of people who work/worked retail or customer-facing jobs have war stories) were and are lower-paid*, uncertain, and often at the whim of the boss who could fire you if they didn’t like your face, plus nobody expects the guy with a socket wrench on the assembly line to act like Snow White surrounded by singing bluebirds but service jobs do force you to be the “can I help you?” type with a fake smile even when you’re dead inside (you develop the ‘chirpy uplifted phone voice’ that makes you sound like a robot not a real person).

            I’ve seen the erosion myself as things like weekend work became “part of your ordinary hours”, as culture shifted from ‘closed on Sundays’ to ‘people want something to do on Sundays and they go shopping’; where you would get time and a half or even double time for working Sunday shifts and could be only down to work one Sunday in the month, now it’s every Sunday and ordinary rates because that’s how it is now.

            I’m glad to be out of it because service jobs do often suck (unless you’re talking about someone who owns the business like a hairdresser), there’s no respect (come on, think how “burger-flipper” is used as a term for “basic loser” and how the idea is that any idiot can work a service job plus if you’re working a service job and nothing better you must be an idiot), and unless you’ve had direct experience of it, it’s an eye-opener how terrible ordinary members of the public can be. I’m glad those days are long behind me, and I’d flat-out refuse to take up a job like that ever again 🙂

            EDIT: Remember the discussion on here about childcare workers and the idea that “but anyone can look after kids, parents are unqualified and unlicensed and they do it every day, why do they need all this training and the expensive wages which push up the costs of childcare I have to pay, can’t we just have a bunch of teenagers looking after babies and toddlers for pocket money while the parents work?”

            *e.g. needing to make up wages in tips, retail workers in clothing stores who work on commission so if you come in and browse but don’t buy anything, you may get them fired:

            Don’t try on 50 things in the dressing room then leave a mess. Furthermore, don’t leave the mess and not buy anything. Most retail places work on commission and you may get us fired. FIRED

            If you know you’re not going to buy anything, watch for counters. They REALLY throw off sales. Our store has a counter so for every person that walks in, we have to sell so many things. This boyfriends, spouses, large group of friends for that one friend who wanted a necklace, that group of girls trying on dresses for funsies, and families of 8 or 9. It fucking adds up.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not disputing that service industry jobs kind of suck, and that manufacturing jobs are much nicer.

            I AM disputing that “the only jobs I am qualified for aren’t as nice as I’d like them to be” is some sort of legitimate excuse to become addicted to oxycontin or whatever.

            Because honestly, who among us hasn’t had jobs we wished were a bit nicer? Prior to 10 years ago, there were plenty of media tropes about people working in those nice manufacturing factories we all now long for who hated their jobs.

            What if we go even farther back in time? Maybe, pre-assembly line industrial revolution? When the best job you could get was “coal miner” (and when coal miner meant something a lot different than it does today) did that automatically imply everyone involved would just say “fuck it, coal mining sucks, think I’ll just lie around and get high instead?” and society reacted with “Yep, that seems reasonable.”

          • Brad says:

            Or they’ll just take their rifle down from above the fireplace and join some of the the other disaffected ex-Trump/Sanders voters who have hoisted the black flag and gone Bonnie and Clyde on the globalist bourgeoisie techbros who ruined everything for Real America(tm).

            What’s that quote about the danegeld again?

          • John Schilling says:

            What’s that quote about the danegeld again?

            Harder to implement when the Danes in question are really good honest Anglo-Saxons, and if we start casting the whole of the Rust Belt as foreign invaders then we’re going to have much bigger problems than opioid addiction to deal with.

          • Brad says:

            I’m sure it is harder for many when they are Anglo-Saxons. But nonetheless the response is the same. You don’t pay people off because they, or this case their self appointed spokesmen, darkly threaten violence if they aren’t given high paying obfuscated make work jobs — and make sure it is only “good” “honest” Anglo-Saxon men that can get them.

            The correct response is to tell them to bring it.

            That would be true even if it was a real threat. In this case it isn’t. Violence is a young man’s game and rust belt resentment over the loss of the good old days is an old man’s game. A bunch of men that can’t make it through the night without getting up to pee aren’t going to form a rebel army.

          • John Schilling says:

            Not if your friends and countrymen won’t back you up on that, it isn’t.

          • Matt M says:

            The correct response is to tell them to bring it.

            We’re basically in agreement here.

            As far as I can tell, we’re already giving these guys three quite reasonable options:

            1. Suck it up and work a slightly less awesome job
            2. Learn a new skill that’s actually in demand and get a good job
            3. Take your welfare pittance and shut up

            I think that’s a reasonable enough decision set. I have no particular sympathy for anyone who demands more and am willing to fight them off rather than concede even more.

          • Education Hero says:

            As far as I can tell, we’re already giving these guys three quite reasonable options:

            1. Suck it up and work a slightly less awesome job
            2. Learn a new skill that’s actually in demand and get a good job
            3. Take your welfare pittance and shut up

            Since we’re dealing with older workers largely unable to adapt to the changing economy, here’s an alternative suggestion:

            Subsidize current (but not future) manufacturing workers to keep their jobs economically viable until retirement, providing this final generation of workers a dignified and socially stable exit.

            Our current policies are instead doing the opposite through regulatory burden, with the expected opposite results.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think it is possible to do that without introducing pure make-work. What company is going to want to run a factory that has no future? One with a workforce that will age and shrink but is kept running until the last one retires, presumably putting out fewer and fewer goods every year.

            The government could probably pay a company enough to engage in such a farce but I don’t see any point. It’s just highly targeted, inefficient cash welfare.

          • Education Hero says:

            I don’t think it is possible to do that without introducing pure make-work. What company is going to want to run a factory that has no future? One with a workforce that will age and shrink but is kept running until the last one retires, presumably putting out fewer and fewer goods every year.

            My lay impression (please correct me if I’m wrong) is that much of the decrease in demand for manufacturing labor stems from reduced demand for industrial goods, automation, and competition from foreign manufacturers. Direct subsidies (to workers or employers) or indirect subsidies (public works projects, protectionist trade policies, etc) should thus increase the number of workers employed in manufacturing.

            Well-executed subsidies might take the form of public works projects (perhaps targeted at our aging transportation and energy infrastructure) that represent less “make-work” and more “investment”. Such projects naturally have defined endpoints, and could be designed to wind down as the workforce retires. If this sounds familiar to you, refer to Obama’s original “shovel-ready” stimulus package, before that funding was diverted by political lobbying to other causes.

            The government could probably pay a company enough to engage in such a farce but I don’t see any point. It’s just highly targeted, inefficient cash welfare.

            I agree that this might not be the most efficient economically (though there would probably be some sort of reasonable government investment multiplier and positive externalities from public works).

            However, I would argue that it would provide social benefits (by keeping aging working-class Americans in dignified work rather than stewing in resentment and opioids) and greater political viability (always helpful for subsidies targeted at the Red Tribe).

          • keranih says:

            @John Schilling –

            But, despite a vigorous effort to prove otherwise, there actually is a limit to how much food the American people can eat, how much the export market can absorb, and how much land is available to farm, and there’s simply no way you’re going to get even 10% of working-class Americans working in agriculture without deliberate make-work being involved.

            Emmm….I used to strongly agree. But over the last few years, seeing the slow (& continued) rise of the organic market, plus its expansion into locavore movements, plus microbrews and local vineyards plus the rise of Five Guys/Chipolte type “fast casual” eateries…

            I think there is a lot more room for the ag sector to adsorb productivity than I had thought. True artisan hand crafted meals require an artisan, or at least a grandma, but there appears to be more demand for slightly more expensive products than people had perhaps thought.

            We won’t produce more food than before, but we might end up refining the supply chain (think reducing field waste, or composting or rendering waste rather than landfilling it) and producing more expensive versions as the base line “only truly poor people would eat that” level.

          • Brad says:

            @Education Hero
            First, construction isn’t exactly the same thing as manufacturing. It also produces “manly jobs”, but they aren’t interchangeable — you aren’t going to take someone that has 20 years in a foundry and put him on a project building a bridge somewhere. To the extent that people could transition from one to the other, that’s just back to another form of “learn to code”. Also, while public works construction pays pretty well, mostly it should be said because of the efforts of unions 40-90 years ago, they aren’t and were never as good as factory work at comparable skill levels.

            Second, just subsiding manufacturing employment doesn’t target the “current (but not future) manufacturing workers”. The Potemkin factories will have a mix of older and younger workers. You can say when you put the policy in place that it is for two decades only and then we are definitely going to get rid of it. But there’s no way you can actually make sure that it will be eliminated in twenty years and at that point we are going to see the same complaints about how unfair it is to middle aged white man that they can’t continue to make graduate degree money with their high school diploma in a manly pursuit.

            Third, I don’t especially have any interest in highly targeted cash welfare for people that are bitterly opposed to social spending on most everyone else and who will vehemently deny that they are beneficiaries of government largess even as they collect it. At least old school labor mouthed the words about solidarity even if they often didn’t live up to it.

            I agree that this might not be the most efficient economically (though there would probably be some sort of reasonable government investment multiplier and positive externalities from public works).

            The last thing this economy needs is more stimulus. The time to do this was when Obama suggested it and all the people you want us to give welfare to mocked it because it was Obama proposing it. Luckily (?) there’s always another recession around the corner, so we can revisit the issue then.

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            There is a Dutch TV show that investigates claims by manufacturers about food and a common finding is that ‘artisan’ products come from big factories.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Re: Manufacturing jobs being more valuable.

            Back when I was reading some stuff on urban planning, some of the authors harped on “primary” vs. “secondary” jobs. “Primary” jobs reflect a city’s fundamental competitive advantage and are the raison d’etre for the city. “Secondary” jobs reflect the economic value that arises around and is supported by the primary jobs.

            Like, gold rush towns. The gold miners are the primary jobs, the guys running the shops to serve the gold miners are the secondary jobs. This distinction remains even if the bulk of measured value-add is in the secondary sector.

            Manufacturing jobs are seen by some people as straight primary jobs, so, from my recollection, places like the Economic Policy Institute will make assumptions that manufacturing jobs support additional economic development in an area. Losing a “primary” job is a lot more painful than losing a “secondary” job for a city.

            I’m not in agreement with the above distinction, but it is a distinction and explains why some people might care a lot about manufacturing jobs. It’s the same reason Saudi Arabia might care that the oil runs dry.

            Re: moving to agriculture or craft sectors.
            There’s definitely an opportunity for premium products, and it’s still growing, but can you support factory-level wages for these guys? Like, I have some experience with cost accounting at a union plant. These guys make INSANE salaries. With overtime and shift differentials, they can make damn near what divisional vice presidents make. Entry-level wages start at $22/hour which puts you at an easy $44k/year, plus benefits.
            Obviously non-union plants have lower wages, but moving all these people into intensive agriculture sounds like a big pay cut.

          • Matt M says:

            “Primary” jobs reflect a city’s fundamental competitive advantage

            With the exception of a few highly complex outputs, the US no longer has a fundamental competitive advantage in manufacturing – anywhere. Therefore, these jobs should not exist.

            Coding is now the primary job. And I get that middle aged-blue collar workers cannot reasonably be expected to make that transition. Oh well, sucks for them. But subsidizing manufacturing forever while pretending its primary when it isn’t seems like a very poor decision.

          • Brad says:

            I think that’s not quite true. The US manufactures more goods than ever. What is true is that manufacturing using un- and low- skilled labor as an input is no longer competitive in the US.

            Also, in terms of agricultural jobs–while owning a farm was pretty great at a certain point in our history, being a farm laborer was a terrible job. Sharecropper was somewhere in between.

          • Matt M says:

            I think that’s not quite true. The US manufactures more goods than ever. What is true is that manufacturing using un- and low- skilled labor as input is no longer competitive in the US.

            Fair.

            For some reason I think that the areas of manufacturing in which the US is still competitive (airplanes, computer chips, whatever) relies on labor that might more closely approximate coders than your drill press operator at the Ford plant (in terms of educational background, willingness to work with people, etc.)

          • Fahundo says:

            Service jobs involve having to smile and be nice to customers you hate. I don’t know how that appeals to anyone.

          • Matt M says:

            Service jobs involve having to smile and be nice to customers you hate. I don’t know how that appeals to anyone.

            It doesn’t. But it is marginally more appealing to many than starving to death and/or living off the government dole.

          • Fahundo says:

            Why are manufacturing jobs considered generally superior to say, agricultural or service jobs?

            This is the question I was answering.

            And it may be preferable to starving to death, but I’m not wholly convinced it’s preferable to committing armed robbery or something.

          • Chalid says:

            Hating the customers is not actually in the job description.

          • Deiseach says:

            And “valuable” means “cannot be done just as well by a someone in Bangladesh for 1/20th the cost.”

            This also applies to a lot of white-collar jobs, and there is also no reason apart from a historical blip that computer programmers, say, should be seen as deserving high pay. Clerical work used to be low-paid and relatively low-status, office work may go that way again, and if companies are arguing they need to bring in immigrants on visas because they can’t get qualified Americans to fill the jobs, then the “cheaper Bangalore* option” might be your job next, whatever it may be, Matt M.

            *”The Silicon Valley of India”, so Wikipedia tells me

          • Randy M says:

            I think modern service jobs may be psychologically harder (if maybe physically easier) than, say, a hundred years ago where you had more independent shop owners. Basically it’s a lot more artificial and controlled to work for someone else than to work for yourself.
            But like machines doing production work, it’s more efficient to consolidate into Walmart, etc. than have a dozen little stores run by the owner and the local kid, from supply chain logistics type issues to throughput and so on.

          • Randy M says:

            no reason apart from a historical blip that computer programmers, say, should be seen as deserving high pay.

            It took considerable skill to make, say, shoes by hand than it did to operate machinery that make products (it seems to me). Making code is probably higher than either, but there’s no assurance the global demand for it is going exceed the global supply of code-capable as more previously poor areas get wealthy enough for the skills to develop there, immigration, or better tools are made (software wise) to facilitate coding–say, software that auto-checks or translates from colloquial speak.
            And coding is about the easiest thing to export possible.

          • Alphonse says:

            @Fahundo,

            And [service jobs] may be preferable to starving to death, but I’m not wholly convinced it’s preferable to committing armed robbery or something.

            At the risk of merely echoing the thoughts of others, my reaction to this is simply: this is why some of my taxes pay for police. And prisons.

            If people decide that since their economically unsustainable, disproportionately remunerative manufacturing jobs are disappearing, that they’re “too good” to do service work and will turn to crime, alright. I don’t feel the need to pay them off with more generous welfare benefits, and especially not with highly targeted subsidies so they can claim that they aren’t actually on welfare. As far as I can tell, that’s just crime for other (incredibly weak) reasons, and we have law enforcement to deal with that.

            The people with now-eliminated manufacturing jobs certainly don’t get more sympathy from me than people who were raised in impoverished urban areas and barely had any chance at joining the high-knowledge economy. I don’t mind putting people in the latter group in prison when they turn to crime, and I don’t see any reason to give more lenience to the former.

            (All that said, suicide-by-opioids seems less anti-social than suicide-by-cop, so I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to legalizing / increasing availability of opioids and letting that run its course if those end up functionally being the alternatives. But I’m not going to pretend that that reaction is primarily out of concern for their well-being. I’m just not that sympathetic.)

          • Fahundo says:

            Well, I’ve never worked a service job, so I can’t in good conscience tell someone else they should have to do one.

          • Matt M says:

            This also applies to a lot of white-collar jobs, and there is also no reason apart from a historical blip that computer programmers, say, should be seen as deserving high pay. … the “cheaper Bangalore* option” might be your job next, whatever it may be, Matt M.

            I don’t know a ton about the details of the tech world.

            Personally, I work in consulting, and undoubtedly there are already tons of Indians who are just as smart as me, probably have stronger work ethics, and would do my job for less (although it’s more like 50% less rather than 90% less).

            That said, I’m not particularly worried about being outsourced, because at higher levels of work, people desperately want someone who doesn’t just speak English, but who can project confidence and understanding to clients. You have to be relateable, and Indians with thick accents are not. You also have to be present in person a whole lot of the time, and travel length + immigration barriers help me out there too.

            It also helps that I would be willing to do my job for half the salary that I make. I’m aware that the market I participate in seems to be highly distorted in my favor. I hope it lasts forever, but if it doesn’t, I won’t go crying to the state for crumbs, or will I insist they somehow protect my industry in other ways. I’ll improve my skills. Or I’ll work for less. Or I’ll change fields entirely.

            And if all that fails I’ll jump off a bridge and not bother anyone ever again. I’d rather be dead than be a parasite.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Service jobs involve having to smile and be nice to customers you hate. I don’t know how that appeals to anyone.

            Believe it or not, some people really enjoy social interaction and solving customer problems. If you’re of that sort, the pleasure of helping your good customers might outweigh the displeasure of helping your bad ones. You might also enjoy the challenge of trying to help disagreeable customers. Or if you can’t help them you still might enjoy accumulating bad-customer stories to gripe about later with friends/family/coworkers or perhaps to use as fodder for your thinly-fictionalized novel-in-progress.

            Many service jobs combine customer-facing socializing with an aspect of intellectual challenge (librarian, travel agent) while others combine the socializing with simple repetitive tasks that can induce a flow state (waitress, checkout clerk); it’s possible to enjoy those other aspects too. But mostly I think socializers like socializing.

            TL;DR: Just as an expert computer programmer enjoys getting better at programming by solving harder programming problems, an expert socializer can enjoy getting better at socializing by nicely helping harder-to-please customers. (It’s a stat; you can buff it)

          • The Nybbler says:

            *”The Silicon Valley of India”, so Wikipedia tells me

            Which makes no geographic sense; Bangalore is on a high plateau, not a valley at all.

          • Brad says:

            @Deiseach

            This also applies to a lot of white-collar jobs, and there is also no reason apart from a historical blip that computer programmers, say, should be seen as deserving high pay.

            You don’t need to posit Bangladeshi programmers in some distant future. When a programmer turns 40 he becomes too old to be a programmer, is replaced by a 25 year old, and is subsequently unemployable. He ends up having to take considerably less satisfying jobs — like as project manager or similar. Often at lower total compensation. Somehow you don’t see those guys darkly threatening to take up violence though …

          • Nornagest says:

            I think I’m the only guy on my team under forty. Tech isn’t limited to move-fast-and-break-things startups.

          • Alphonse says:

            @Fahundo,

            I had a longer reply, but the website ate it.

            My default assumption is that the world doesn’t owe me (or anyone else) a living. Welfare is an act of societal generosity, not an ex ante moral obligation. I don’t want to force anyone to work at Burger King at gunpoint, but I do object to people who could work there electing not to do so and then demanding that some of my money be taken from me (implicitly at gunpoint) to be given to them.

            Even over and above that, the distinction based on whether you’ve worked a particular job seems strange to me. Like most people, I haven’t been employed as (99.9% of job titles). I don’t feel any less comfortable criticizing a former accountant (which I have not been) than a former secretary/assistant (which I have been) for choosing not to work and instead demanding welfare. If people weren’t allowed to argue that people in profession X should work rather than collecting welfare unless they have themselves worked in profession X, then we’d end up with virtually no one in a position to criticize anyone deciding to not work at all (depending on how broadly we define a profession). I get that others could find it persuasive, but I don’t buy that line of reasoning.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I just have to say I hope all y’all saying “let’s just sic the cops on the rowdy ex-factory-workers” are right there with me when someone claims that we should provide more welfare because otherwise the poor might revolt.

          • Fahundo says:

            Even over and above that, the distinction based on whether you’ve worked a particular job seems strange to me. Like most people, I haven’t been employed as (99.9% of job titles). I don’t feel any less comfortable criticizing a former accountant (which I have not been) than a former secretary/assistant (which I have been) for choosing not to work and instead demanding welfare.

            Well, the scenario presented at one point was a choice to either work a menial service job or starve to death, and I pointed out that turning to crime is always an option. I think that for any given job, if the only option was to do that job, starve, or turn to crime, there would be some subset of people that would turn to crime. And the subset might even be different depending on what job you use. I’ve never been a movie star, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone they can either be a movie star or starve. That’s not even much of an exaggeration; I honestly think I’d prefer to be gunned down in a territory dispute than have to be famous.

          • Brad says:

            @The Nybbler
            I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve ever endorsed such a notion. Although I’m not a libertarian I have pretty much the same attitude as Alphonse towards people demanding welfare. It is something that we do because we think it is good for our society to do it, not because anyone is owed anything.

          • Nornagest says:

            Looking at crime through a purely economic lens is going to obscure the most compelling motives for it, I think. It’s a cliche that crime doesn’t pay, but it really doesn’t. This has been studied, and most of the people involved in organized crime — in petty drug-related roles mostly; think lookouts, couriers, mules — make substantially less money at it than they’d make asking if you want fries with that. As part of the informal economy it doesn’t get taxed, but that’s not enough to make up the difference.

            What that sort of thing does offer, that burger-flipping doesn’t, is a small chance of moving up to a much more lucrative though probably short and quite possibly bloody career in the higher levels of the drug trade, and a variety of cultural cues that are hard to sum up but can be approximated as “status”.

          • Matt M says:

            What that sort of thing does offer, that burger-flipping doesn’t, is a small chance of moving up to a much more lucrative though probably short and quite possibly bloody career in the higher levels of the drug trade, and a variety of cultural cues that are hard to sum up but can be approximated as “status”.

            And ultimately – that’s what the “keep manufacturing jobs in the US!” people want too, status.

            And my point here is to say F that, I don’t care about your status. As a libertarian, I reject appeals to state-managed welfare programs as a moral principle. But I’m at least sympathetic to the idea of “Hey, maybe we should give people money so they don’t starve.”

            I am not, at all, sympathetic to the idea of “Hey, maybe we should subsidize otherwise pointless manufacturing jobs so that lower-middle class blue collar workers can maintain their current level of status.” I don’t care about their damn status. They can work a low-status job and not starve. My sympathy does not reach that far.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not too fond of subsidies either, but they’re not a solution to this problem at any rate. Not a long-term one anyway. Throwing money at unprofitable industries just foists their failings off onto the productive sectors of the American economy, and there are increasingly few of those — if the entire edifice rests on music, movies, software, and high-speed pizza delivery, then it’s very vulnerable to shocks.

            The point I’m trying to make is more that making money per se doesn’t cure this type of bitter abandoned desperation, at least not until you scale it up unreasonably high, and that not making money doesn’t ensure it. Americans want things other than money, things they can’t hope to get from the service industry or from the welfare establishment but which at least some of them can hope to get from crime. There are other ways we could attack that — figure out how to make service work dignified, for example, or end the War on Drugs and invalidate 90% of the most tempting criminal careers at a stroke. And rebuilding manufacturing might not require huge direct subsidies if we can improbably get our shit together; Germany, Canada, and Japan have standards of living near our own and seem to have kept robust manufacturing sectors, to name three.

          • Alphonse says:

            @The Nybbler,

            Yes, buying off otherwise criminal groups of people with “bread and circuses” is one of the primary reasons I find our current welfare system to not be unequivocally distasteful. I’ll note that that only suggests offering enough welfare to save on otherwise more expensive policing (risk-adjusted), not generous welfare benefits — and those terms may get less magnanimous when Robocop Drone-o-cop 7.0 gets deployed in a few decades, but I guess we’ll find out. Still doesn’t mean I have to like paying the protection money.

            (Which isn’t to say that I oppose charity as a matter of principle. I just take a much dimmer view of people demanding aid than those asking for it. Realistically, I think a sense of community and charity, not indirect protection money, is the primary motivation behind modern welfare policies, so I don’t actually think Drone-o-cop 7.0 will change the terms much, although it’s still something I’m concerned about from a variety of perspectives.)

            @Fahundo,

            That’s all fair. I don’t doubt that decreasing welfare (or allowing manufacturing jobs to decrease, or whatever) will push some marginal people into criminality. I just don’t feel any sympathy for such people nor do I feel any pull to subsidize their positions.

            I’ll grant that there’s some point where I would feel sympathy (e.g. working conditions for children in early-industrial-era England were pretty horrifying), but 21st century America is a long, long, long way away from that.

            @Nornagest,

            I think you’re right as an explanatory point. That said, I pretty much agree with Matt M. If the people who used to do manufacturing jobs want me to pay money (via higher prices) so that they can keep their status, well, I understand why that’s appealing to them, but I’m not terribly interested.

            Also, I’m not sure how fair it is to compare the US disfavorably with Germany, Canada, and Japan as countries with “robust manufacturing sectors” with the implication that the US’ manufacturing sector is defective somehow. I tried to find data on country manufacturing output per capita, and the US appears to be behind Germany (#6 – $7,461) and Japan (4 – $8,536) but ahead of Canada ($16 – $5,075), and certainly in a solid position (#13 – $5,778) (source). I suspect the real problem for the people impacted here is the rise of automation, such that US manufacturing output went up even as manufacturing employment went down. I don’t think there’s a realistic way to “solve” that from the perspective of the people who lost their jobs in that industry, and I would prefer not to subsidize their jobs back into existence to assuage their feelings.

          • John Schilling says:

            My sympathy does not reach that far.

            What about your pragmatic understanding that they aren’t going to limit themselves to the choices you say are acceptable, and that you’ve got barely enough policemen and prisons to deal (at great social cost) with the subset of black Americans who have joined Team We Don’t Give A Fuck over the past century or so? Give half the white working class cause to join that team, and you’re going to need a whole lot more cops and prisons and have to deal with a whole lot more collateral damage. As a Libertarian, how does that sound to you?

            Except, oops, you mostly recruit your cops and prison guards from the white working class on account of that being one of the service jobs they are generally OK with.

            Again, this is a Very Hard Problem. And feeling morally righteous about the prospect of sending men with guns out against your own countrymen, doesn’t make it a wise solution.

          • Alphonse says:

            @John Schilling,

            I don’t speak for Matt M, but I completely agree that this is a Very Hard Problem. I found your description of the underlying issues to be superior to most I have seen.

            I certainly don’t have a comprehensive solution, but legalizing / increasing availability of opioids seems like at least a partial solution. If my alternatives are allowing people ready access to drugs with which they will (happily) slowly kill themselves or denying them access to such, causing them to turn to anti-social behaviors further stressing our police and prisons, I’m not going to complain about the former. There’s something a bit existentially sad to me about watching the Rust Belt decline in that way, but it’s their choice, and I’d rather they take that route than go a more criminally oriented path.

            (I’m not necessarily against spending larger than otherwise necessary sums if I were convinced they would be effective at improving these people’s lives over-and-above the baseline of “freely available opioids for everyone.” I feel some need to continue to insist that that would still be charity though.)

          • Matt M says:

            As a Libertarian, how does that sound to you?

            Fine, I guess. I mean, I guess it sucks for the locals, but I don’t live where they live. If the rust belt becomes a cesspool of crime and degeneracy, that affects me as much as urban Baltimore and Detroit becoming such. Which is to say, not at all.

          • Brad says:

            Let me get this straight: Black men turn to drugs -> let’s have a war on crack. White men turn to drugs -> let’s build Potemkin factories?

            Fuck that noise. Let the chips fall where they may I’m never going to support that. Never ever.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure anyone here has suggested Potemkin factories, and if so that certainly isn’t the whole of the solution space along that axis.

            I am quite sure that no one here has suggested that the war on crack was anything less than a stupid and morally reprehensible idea, so get off the high horse and stop tilting at straw men.

          • Matt M says:

            I dunno, as weird as it feels, I think I’m with Brad on this one.

            Black, urban drug use has never been discussed in mainstream media as “what can we do to help these poor people?” It has always been “How can we more effectively throw them in jail?”

            The tone of the conversation for WWC opioid abuse is entirely different.

          • John Schilling says:

            And what does “the mainstream media” have to do with this discussion?

            If you plan to discuss useful solutions to social problems, then you probably shouldn’t be listening to the mainstream media at all and you definitely shouldn’t be rejecting proposed solutions on the grounds that there would be inconsistency or hypocrisy w/re the mainstream media’s discussion of solutions to some related problem.

          • Education Hero says:

            First, construction isn’t exactly the same thing as manufacturing. It also produces “manly jobs”, but they aren’t interchangeable — you aren’t going to take someone that has 20 years in a foundry and put him on a project building a bridge somewhere. To the extent that people could transition from one to the other, that’s just back to another form of “learn to code”. Also, while public works construction pays pretty well, mostly it should be said because of the efforts of unions 40-90 years ago, they aren’t and were never as good as factory work at comparable skill levels.

            You’re right; as someone quite distant from these industries, I incorrectly used “manufacturing” as a short-hand for “manly” working-class jobs.

            Second, just subsiding manufacturing employment doesn’t target the “current (but not future) manufacturing workers”. The Potemkin factories will have a mix of older and younger workers. You can say when you put the policy in place that it is for two decades only and then we are definitely going to get rid of it. But there’s no way you can actually make sure that it will be eliminated in twenty years and at that point we are going to see the same complaints about how unfair it is to middle aged white man that they can’t continue to make graduate degree money with their high school diploma in a manly pursuit.

            Depends on the details; as noted by John Schilling, no one here suggested Potemkin factories.

            If subsidies are in some manner tied to current workers in relevant industries until retirement age but not to any new workers, then the number of subsidized workers will decline over time.

            Third, I don’t especially have any interest in highly targeted cash welfare for people that are bitterly opposed to social spending on most everyone else and who will vehemently deny that they are beneficiaries of government largess even as they collect it. At least old school labor mouthed the words about solidarity even if they often didn’t live up to it.

            There appears to be some outgroup homogeneity bias here. The demographics under discussion might be culturally Red Tribe, but many or most voted Democrat until very recently.

            The last thing this economy needs is more stimulus. The time to do this was when Obama suggested it and all the people you want us to give welfare to mocked it because it was Obama proposing it. Luckily (?) there’s always another recession around the corner, so we can revisit the issue then.

            I’m actually generally opposed to any such spending as well, but the intent of my original post was to raise a politically palatable alternative that would provide advantages over the current danegeld welfare approach, as well as point out that these sorts of jobs are also being disincentivized by current policies (implying that we could also shift away from these policies).

            That said, there’s a difference between “stimulus” that invests in public infrastructure, and “stimulus” constituting giveaways to politically powerful groups. The latter ended up as a major component of the ARRA.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Black, urban drug use has never been discussed in mainstream media as “what can we do to help these poor people?” It has always been “How can we more effectively throw them in jail?”

            Maybe among everyone else, but I’m a Millennial in Blue Tribe, so “throw them all in jail” was definitely NOT how this issue was discussed. Maybe you could still argue that drug DEALERS could go to jail, but arguing that we should put drug USERS in jail is just…I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single person in my entire generation argue that IRL.

            You were much more likely to find people thinking the War on Drugs was a complete waste of time. Even in my business classes (so keep in mind, this is a conservative leaning group of students) the general idea was that we should stop going after drug users, legalize marijuana, and tax it.

            My impression is that the “Screw Those WWC Voters!” is still minority, though there’s a healthy streak of “time is on our side” and “at least all these racist old white people are dying.” Keep in mind that it was only 14 years ago that John Kerry was decrying “Benedict Arnold CEOs” and Michael Moore’s WWC Rust Belt shtick was a heroic element of the #Resistance (or whatever they called themselves when it was W in office).

          • Brad says:

            The war on crack was declared in the mid 80s. The middle of the end of was the 1994 crime bill (Clinton’s 100,000 police officers) and by 2000 it had dissipated. If you are a millennial you and your cohort are mostly too young to remember or have participated in the very real and widespread “throw them all in jail” attitudes that prevailed even in places like NYC (Giuliani was overwhelmingly reelected in 1997 despite being an cheerleader for police brutality).

          • Fahundo says:

            Which only makes it more confusing that you act like the war on drugs is hypocrisy on the part of anyone here.

          • Brad says:

            I’m not as much concerned about hypocrisy on the part of posters here as I am about hypocrisy on the part of the would be beneficiaries of targeted, deniably obfuscated, large dollar welfare payments demanded with dark threats of violence.

          • John Schilling says:

            But they aren’t threatening violence, darkly or otherwise. That would require coordination.

            Some of them predictably will engage in violence, but at least in the early stages they won’t coordinate it and they won’t threaten it, they’ll just do it. And not to extort welfare payments, but because it is fun and they are bored. Also, the same people who sell heroin and fentanyl to the passively-disaffected WWC, will pay members of the more actively-disaffected WWC for custom violence in support of their business.

            Recognizing that likely outcome, does not constitute making a threat.

          • MrApophenia says:

            1. Suck it up and work a slightly less awesome job
            2. Learn a new skill that’s actually in demand and get a good job
            3. Take your welfare pittance and shut up

            They’re picking option 4, which is “Vote for literally any random person who even pretends they will try to break the system which took away all your options except for the 3 above.”

            The idea that we can export all the good jobs overseas and leave whole sections of the country to rot with the options listed above would work really well if it weren’t for the fact that all the people who just got screwed are eligible to vote for people who will take that frustration out on the system that just screwed them.

          • MrApophenia says:

            What’s that quote about the danegeld again?

            This seems like a weird way to frame people responding to specific policy decisions which consciously annihilated their way of life in exchange for greater corporate profit and cheaper consumer goods.

            The right and left in the US got together and decided it was in the best interest of the country for large sections of the population to be rendered economically valueless in return for significantly cheaper TVs and phones for everyone else.

            It turns out that there are unplanned-for costs to the policy decision to economically devastate large numbers of people.

          • Brad says:

            They’re picking option 4, which is “Vote for literally any random person who even pretends they will try to break the system which took away all your options except for the 3 above.”

            That’s an awful lot of extrapolation from a single ambiguous data point.

          • Brad says:

            This seems like a weird way to frame people responding to specific policy decisions which consciously annihilated their way of life in exchange for greater corporate profit and cheaper consumer goods.

            I was under the impression that a job was a trade of value for value and that if either side thought it could do better then it is entirely free to end the relationship and look elsewhere. You seem to think that a job is instead a kind of personal property that a man is entitled to keep regardless of whether or not he is providing any value. Is that about right?

          • Matt M says:

            The idea that we can export all the good jobs overseas

            There are still plenty of “good jobs.” They just don’t meet the ridiculously specific multiple set of demands that blue-collar workers seem to want. They seem to be demanding jobs that meet all of the following criteria.

            1. Pays very well (let’s say, enough to support a family of four on a single income)
            2. Requires no specialized skills (someone with a HS diploma can be trained to do it in <1 yr)
            3. Requires limited to no interaction with people
            4. Allows you the self-satisfaction of having "built things." (i.e., no office-work required)

            I'm sorry, but even if we set aside 3 and 4 for a second, a job that meets both 1 and 2 should not exist in the modern economy. The fact that it once existed is a historical abnormality. An exception to the rule of efficient markets. Made possible by an incredibly specific and non-repeatable set of circumstances that aren’t coming back (at least not here – maybe it’ll come back in China, but not likely).

            This is what originally got me going on this topic in the first place. I feel like you’re dramatically shifting the goalposts. You’re claiming “all they want are good jobs,” but that’s bullshit. There are good jobs. There are well paying jobs, but those require special skills. There are decently paying jobs that don’t require a lot of skill, but those require a lot of interaction with other people. There are even some decently paying jobs that don’t require a ton of personal interaction, but they require you to sit in an office and do desk-work all day.

          • MrApophenia says:

            That’s an awful lot of extrapolation from a single ambiguous data point.

            I’m not just talking about Trump (although, you know, that one was kind of a big deal). I’m also talking about Bernie Sanders, the general rise of economic populism in both parties, and the fact that young people in America are more onboard with socialism than any generation since before the Cold War started. There is a growing sentiment among ever larger parts of the American public that capitalism isn’t actually working for them anymore, and I find it hard to believe this is completely unrelated to the economic policy decisions which impoverished large segments of the American population.

            I was under the impression that a job was a trade of value for value and that if either side thought it could do better then it is entirely free to end the relationship and look elsewhere. You seem to think that a job is instead a kind of personal property that a man is entitled to keep regardless of whether or not he is providing any value. Is that about right?

            No, what I think is that the value of a given type of work does not arise in a vacuum. In the past few decades, the American government made a bunch of policy decisions which dramatically reduced the value of several types of work. It wasn’t some abstract principle of economics that caused this, it was specific, tangible decisions made by people in leadership (in both parties), and then economic principles acting in the new, changed environment those decisions created.

            We weren’t required to send all those manufacturing jobs to China. And it didn’t suddenly magically become more affordable due to global economic trends – or at least not wholely. It happened in large part because of a bunch of changes in American trade policy.

            These changes produced an average level of increased prosperity for the American public. Yay! But they also disproportionately impacted specific areas of the economy (and geographic areas of the country) and it turns out that when you throw whole regions of your country into economic disarray in a relatively short period of time, they don’t just bounce back overnight – it produces a bunch of messy, long-term problems which should probably be factored into the cost-benefit analysis for trade policy.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I’m sorry, but even if we set aside 3 and 4 for a second, a job that meets both 1 and 2 should not exist in the modern economy. The fact that it once existed is a historical abnormality. An exception to the rule of efficient markets.

            Why are efficient markets the terminal goal? When we had less efficient markets, we had more jobs which met both 1 and 2, and the resulting social benefits which came from that.

            If we want to optimize for maximum efficiency, then the cost is going to be making life worse for lots of people – this is basically your own argument, right? The modern economy requires you to either get a high skill white collar job, or deal with being a serf.

            But there’s no carved in stone rule that says the economy needs to be built this way, and all the people you’re saying that to were alive before we decided to go for all that increased efficiency. You can hardly blame them for not being onboard with the project.

          • Brad says:

            We weren’t required to send all those manufacturing jobs to China.

            The entire framework wherein the idea of “shipping jobs” is even possible to say is nonsense. It is exactly the kind of nonsense that comes from treating a job as property.

            What happened was that people and companies were given freedom where before they had less. They used that additional freedom to make voluntary trades most adventurous to themselves. Other people, e.g. high graduates in the rust belt, were and are never entitled in any way, shape, or form to have anyone trade with them. They certainly weren’t entitled to have the government reduce everyone else’s freedom just so they could rip everyone else off on their labor by making illegal to trade with most everyone else. If anything they should count themselves lucky they got away with pernicious rent seeking for so long. No one owed them any job and no one owes them any compensation for having lost them to people that provide more value for less money.

            I’m also talking about Bernie Sanders,

            The guy who lost. Who has returned to the Senate where he continues to get none of his agenda enacted just as he has done for decades.

            the general rise of economic populism in both parties,

            I see very little personnel or legislative actions in Congress to back up the notion that there has been any such rise.

            the fact that young people in America are more onboard with socialism than any generation since before the Cold War started. There is a growing sentiment among ever larger parts of the American public that capitalism isn’t actually working for them anymore

            You have some kind of polling data or is this just a general impression?

          • Nornagest says:

            What happened was that people and companies were given freedom where before they had less.

            That’s half the story. The other half is that people and companies were given constraints where before they had fewer, in the form of increasing regulatory and personnel overhead. I’m not saying there hasn’t been upside to that — I’ve spent time in countries that don’t have those rules, and just breathing the air in their larger cities made me feel like I was risking emphysema. But it’s mostly come in the form of unfunded mandates, and someone’s got to put in the legwork for those eventually. In China or Malaysia, no such mandates exist (though China’s allegedly working on some) and overhead is correspondingly lower. It should not come as a surprise that that’s left US manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage, as international trade’s become freer and easier to do in bulk.

            Liberals like to emphasize the laissez-faire angle, conservatives the regulatory one. But both have contributed to the relative decline in the manufacturing sector.

          • John Schilling says:

            You seem to think that a job is instead a kind of personal property that a man is entitled to keep regardless of whether or not he is providing any value. Is that about right?

            Lots of people believe that a job long held or a career committed to is something akin to personal property. They will act according to that belief, including the part where they regard it as akin to theft when their career is taken away from them. They will continue to so act no matter how many lectures you give explaining why they are wrong. And your countrymen, who are also their countrymen, will not vote for the any of the plans where you A: kill them all, B: lock them all up, C: encourage them to drug-assisted self-destruction, or D: apply brute force until they knuckle under and limit themselves to the options you say are rightfully theirs.

            What, other than complain about the injustice of it all, are you going to do about this?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            If we want to optimize for maximum efficiency, then the cost is going to be making life worse for lots of people – this is basically your own argument, right? The modern economy requires you to either get a high skill white collar job, or deal with being a serf.

            Ideally we fix this with a combination of transfer payments and tax reductions. If people don’t like the idea of welfare, there’s always the option that they can work at wal-mart and get money back through the Earned Income Tax Credit instead.

            Protectionism is definitely a second-best option. I’m not entirely opposed to it, in the same way I’m not religiously opposed to raising the rifle buying age to 21, but I still think it’s a silly policy.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Education Hero:

            If subsidies are in some manner tied to current workers in relevant industries until retirement age but not to any new workers, then the number of subsidized workers will decline over time.

            I don’t believe that strategy works, at least not in the modern US. The trouble is that once you create a subsidy the government has to hire a bureaucracy to administer the subsidy, and that bureaucracy constitutes a constituency for expanding the program. If the number of subsidized workers declined those bureaucrats would have less power and money and eventually be out of a job, so their union will lobby to tweak the law to find more classes of recipients or extend/expand the current class. The rest of us can try to hold the line, but…concentrated benefits tend to win out over diffuse costs so it’s better to avoid letting that camel’s nose in the tent in the first place.

          • Nornagest says:

            Ideally we fix this with a combination of transfer payments and tax reductions.

            Won’t solve the problem for reasons I described upthread. This is only secondarily about money.

          • Iain says:

            My understanding about the decline in manufacturing is that it has far more to do with the rise of automation than trade. Trade has an impact, to be sure, but it’s far from the whole story. For example:

            Take the steel industry. It lost 400,000 people, 75 percent of its work force, between 1962 and 2005. But its shipments did not decline, according to a study published in the American Economic Review last year. The reason was a new technology called the minimill. Its effect remained strong even after controlling for management practices; job losses in the Midwest; international trade; and unionization rates, found the authors of the study, Allan Collard-Wexler of Duke and Jan De Loecker of Princeton.

            We used to build cars with people. Now we build cars with robots. But yelling about China and NAFTA is easy, and figuring out what to do about automation is hard. So it goes.

          • Brad says:

            And your countrymen, who are also their countrymen, will not vote for the any of the plans where you A: kill them all, B: lock them all up, C: encourage them to drug-assisted self-destruction, or D: apply brute force until they knuckle under and limit themselves to the options you say are rightfully theirs.

            The evidence from history suggests otherwise. I suppose we’ll see if that changes in the future.

            What, other than complain about the injustice of it all

            I’d say that’s exactly what you are doing in your role as self appointed spokesman.

            Also, dark hints. Mustn’t forget that. Like I said, the correct response to that: bring it. I’m confident the US voting public will in the end choose that correct response.

          • Randy M says:

            What happened was that people and companies were given freedom where before they had less. They used that additional freedom to make voluntary trades most adventurous to themselves. Other people, e.g. high graduates in the rust belt, were and are never entitled in any way, shape, or form to have anyone trade with them. They certainly weren’t entitled to have the government reduce everyone else’s freedom just so they could rip everyone else off on their labor by making illegal to trade with most everyone else.

            Brad, would it be fair to assume you are against minimum wage laws and similar curtailing of employer’s freedom to trade with other people?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            My understanding about the decline in manufacturing is that it has far more to do with the rise of automation than trade. Trade has an impact, to be sure, but it’s far from the whole story. For example:

            Honestly, this might be old hat. It’s being strongly challenged. Autor et al released a big study a few years back indicating that the China Shock was WAY larger than we thought it was going to be. I remember someone (I think Matt Y over at Vox) describing it as extremely convincing, even as a hardcore neoliberal. Keep in mind, though, that Matt Y is just a commentator, and not so much a professional economist.

            Manufacturing employment falls dramatically after 2000, in a way that it doesn’t prior to 2000. Stuff like steel and coal-mining are just subsets and don’t show the whole picture. There’s at least the possibility that China’s WTO ascension really shifted trade patterns, with the 2000 recession acting as a catalyst.

          • Brad says:

            @Randy M
            Yes as to minimum wage. I’m all for social spending funded with taxes but not for inefficient Rube Goldberg devices like minwage.

            I wouldn’t commit to such a broad-based statement as your second half.

          • Randy M says:

            I wouldn’t commit to such a broad-based statement as your second half.

            That’s fair, although I don’t actually have anything else in mind to entrap you with, just the impression that there are a lot of paternalistic regulations involving employing people ostensibly in place for their own good, with minimum wage being the most discussed example.

          • in return for significantly cheaper TVs and phones for everyone else.

            And better jobs for the producers of export goods. Other countries don’t give us stuff for free.

            Sometimes they spend the dollars they get on U.S. bonds instead of U.S. goods, but that means that other people with dollars, Americans or foreigners, spend those dollars on goods instead of bonds.

            That is holding the budget deficit constant, of course.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @John,

            Lots of people believe that a job long held or a career committed to is something akin to personal property.

            I have the impression, though, that many (perhaps most) of the people in question are firmly in favour of “employment at will”?

          • John Schilling says:

            I have the impression, though, that many (perhaps most) of the people in question are firmly in favour of “employment at will”?

            The white working class has traditionally been pro-union, and while (private sector) labor unions aren’t nearly the power they once were, I don’t think their former members and supporters have flipped en masse to favoring at-will employment.

            The Republican Party, yes, has pretty much always favored at-will and related policies, but that sort of thing is why a big part of the reason the WWC was ambivalent about the pre-Trump GOP and kept delivering a good fraction of its votes to the Democrats.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Huh. I pretty much assumed that the WWC comprised the bulk of Republican voters; who am I overlooking? Or is it just that in a two-party system you don’t need to care about the views of your voter base?

          • Randy M says:

            The latter. I think when you speak of the X party, you speak of the statements and votes of the elected members and the party platform and any other official statements.
            Things get messy when the voting base manage to elect someone off message; a few years ago it would be safe to say the Republican party was generally free trade; Trump has different ideas, that reflect many of the republican voters but few other Party opinion leaders.

          • Matt M says:

            Huh. I pretty much assumed that the WWC comprised the bulk of Republican voters

            Rich capitalists or upper-class wannabe capitalists. Those are the ones who run things and call the shots at least. And speaking as one of those, I’m not sure they’re going to be down for staying allied with the WWC if they turn to “welfare queens but 10x as expensive and demanding as poor blacks are”

          • John Schilling says:

            Those are the ones who run things and call the shots at least. And speaking as one of those,

            Didn’t you just call yourself a libertarian a few posts ago? Yes, yes you did. I guarantee you aren’t one of the shot-callers of the GOP. And you won’t be getting a better deal from the Democrats, particularly on the “less welfare” front. Nor from anyone the Republican party will get to replace WWC votes if they don’t let the WWC start calling some of the shots.

            Seriously, what demographic or political coalition do you imagine is going to get even halfway to an electoral majority in the United States, with your platform and apparent unwillingness to compromise?

          • Matt M says:

            Poor phrasing, meant that I was one of the wannabe capitalists, not a GOP shot-caller.

            In any case, if the WWC is reduced to nothing but begging for welfare, but a hell of a lot more and nicer welfare than urban minorities have ever dreamed of asking for – I don’t think either party is going to be too interested in that.

          • Brad says:

            Huh. I pretty much assumed that the WWC comprised the bulk of Republican voters; who am I overlooking?

            WWC here is apparently being cabined here to current and former factory workers from rust belt. That’s hardly the core of the Republican Party. If you had to pick one single group to be that core it’d be white, regular church goers from the states that made up the CSA. I’m not exactly sure why they and plenty of Republican voters from other regions in the country shouldn’t be considered white working class since plenty are white and working class by any reasonable definition of that term.

          • Education Hero says:

            @Glen Raphael

            I don’t believe that strategy works, at least not in the modern US. The trouble is that once you create a subsidy the government has to hire a bureaucracy to administer the subsidy, and that bureaucracy constitutes a constituency for expanding the program. If the number of subsidized workers declined those bureaucrats would have less power and money and eventually be out of a job, so their union will lobby to tweak the law to find more classes of recipients or extend/expand the current class. The rest of us can try to hold the line, but…concentrated benefits tend to win out over diffuse costs so it’s better to avoid letting that camel’s nose in the tent in the first place.

            That’s definitely a fair criticism that encapsulates a large portion of my general disapproval of subsidies.

            That said, the current situation already involves some combination of welfare and expenditures on law enforcement/substance abuse treatment/etc. to deal with drug problems, which has the same sorts of effects on bureaucratic expansion. Compared to the status quo, I believe that subsidizing the WWC through investing in their industries would offer greater benefits and less bureaucratic expansion.

            While I greatly sympathize with a more libertarian approach, that seems like a political non-starter at the moment, so why let the perfect become the enemy of the good?

          • Iain says:

            Manufacturing employment falls dramatically after 2000, in a way that it doesn’t prior to 2000.

            The Autor paper estimates 2 to 2.4 million jobs lost between 1999 and 2011 due to trade with China. That includes the indirect impact on linked industries, so we can assume that less than 2M manufacturing jobs disappeared.

            The US lost 5M manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2016.

            I concede that “far more” was a bit of an overstatement on my part, but if you replace that with “as much or more”, I think my point stands. Moreover, I expect that automation will only become more important moving forward. Chinese labour isn’t getting significantly cheaper, but robot labour is.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I think the easy part of the problem is “Legalise all, or all but the most dangerous, of the non-addictive recreational drugs; tightly licence and regulate their sale, but don’t tax them much, if at all”.

      Hopefully, that will make it less likely that the guy you buy your marijuana from is also selling opium, somewhat reducing the gateway effect, and it will also reduce the amount of drug money that ends up in the hands of cartels.

      That still leaves the harder question of what to do about the really addictive stuff. I think the least worst approach is to continue to criminalise them, to be extremely lax about the enforcement of that law as far as possession goes unless there are aggravating factors (as most countries currently are with cannabis possession) but extremely rigorous about dealing, and to emphasise harm-reduction strategies like needle exchanges and doctors able to provide treatment to addicts without being obliged to report them.

      That obviously has all sorts of flaws, but I think it passes the “better than any obvious alternative” test – at least if you value minimising the number of lives ruined by drugs as a goal, and are willing to accept a degree of paternalism in achieving that, rather than taking the hardline libertarian “if people want to destroy themselves with heroin that’s their choice, even if they have dependants” line.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Here is a post that more or less argues that there is no opioid pill epidemic (in contrast to heroin), and thus there is nothing to be done, in particular that the infamous decision in the late 90s to increase use of opioids was a good decision and thus there is nothing to be done, except maybe to relax pressure on doctors not to prescribe (which may well push people to the black market). If you want SSC discussion, Scott linked to it.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Anyone bold enough to just recommend legalizing everything? (Is that really the case in Portugal? I find it a bit hard to believe). Government-provided hard drugs for the truly addicted? Something else?

      As far as I understand, that’s not anywhere near what they’ve done in Portugal. What they’ve done is make it not a criminal offence at first instance to have personal-use quantities of any drug. It is still an administrative offence, for which the state can still confiscate your drugs and require you to go before a ‘dissuasion commission’ with powers to do various things to you, including fine you, or send you to rehab under threat of other punishment; just not including the power to send you to jail. Production and supply remain criminal offences.

      That is, they have not ‘decriminalised’ drugs in the full sense of ‘the government will do precisely nothing to you for simply possessing a drug’; they have simply lowered the severity of punishment you would face. Let alone ‘legalised’, which in drug policy reform circles tends to mean that production and sale are brought under some sort of regulation in a legal market. Still, a step in the right direction.

    • Controls Freak says:

      I think lots of well-meaning liberal people who have no IRL hard drug experience imagine a) all users as addicts (demonstrably untrue), and b) all addicts as desperate to quit and easy to fix through a detox & rehab program. In reality, I think plenty of both casual users & hardcore addicts are quite satisfied with their lives, at least not enough to really change- and even if someone desperately wants to quit, they have to go through rehab 5 or 10 or 15 times until it ‘sticks’.

      I want to be even more defeatist than this. I think the core problem for coming up with public policy is that the current state of the science of addition is inadequate. The process of stepping from “user at all” to “addict” is grossly under-understood, involving economic/sociologic/biologic processes in basically unknown proportions and with unquantified interactions (I can think of no one better than Scott to do a “more than you wanted to know” on this and totally change my mind). I think this causes a lot of people to consider it to be basically a Poisson process, which is what drives the desire to simply reduce consumption across the board and reduce initial usage. This may be the wrong approach, but I don’t think we can authoritatively say that it’s the wrong approach or why, yet. [Usually, the quick test for alternate theories is to just string replace other drugs with beer. “If we just make sure people have enough money/a job/legal access to relatively cheap beer that is regulated for quality, then people will only use a moderate amount of beer and not become addicted. They certainly won’t have any reason to graduate to hard liquor.”]

      I’m also more defeatist on the treatment side of things, first influenced by this very blog discussing bad statistics in alcohol rehab programs (key parenthetical quote: “meanwhile, real rehab programs still struggle to prove they have a success rate greater than placebo”). I have since read various articles about rehab for harder drugs like heroin, and as far as I can tell, nobody even bothers to use metrics like “stops using heroin”, instead opting for some measure of “ruins your life slightly less.” So, on both counts “how does a person end up that bad” and “how can we turn them around once they’ve gotten that bad”, we have basically no clue. …I can see the attraction of, “Let’s just do what we can to reduce consumption and initial usage.”

      [There is an aside here about prohibition of alcohol (string replace with beer, right?). I don’t want to get too into it. There are a lot of political/practical reasons why alcohol prohibition failed in the US (whereas other countries still have it). It probably actually did reduce consumption, which is precisely the motive I talked about above. Most importantly, different prohibitions are different. Prohibition of alcohol is not the same as prohibition of weed is not the same as prohibition of heroin is not the same as prohibition of guns is not the same as prohibition of nuclear weapons is not the same as prohibition of asbestos. Details gon’ matter, folks.]

      So, sure, we can turn down the heavy-handedness. There are a lot of options for how to do that. None of them are great for “solving” the problem, and the more we turn them down, the more that’s likely to convert to increased usage (the people that hold on to the extreme position that even full legalization will not increase consumption simply boggle my mind). We could pull massively made-up numbers out of the netherest of our nether regions and try to do a utilitarian calculation, but frankly, I’ll probably believe their accuracy with about as much confidence as I believe economic predictions 50 years out (with or without a slow change in climate). Like John said, this really is a certified Very Hard Problem.

      As an aside, I’d be willing to bet that the case presented to the jury against your friend was more than, “[H]e knew some people that were selling a lot of blow, and he sometimes did some blow with them.” See Model Instruction 9.19/9.19A. Obviously, I can’t know anywhere near enough information to determine whether the jury got it right in your friend’s particular case, but it’s extremely unlikely that your summary is reflective of what was presented to the jury.

    • GregS says:

      I have several posts on this.

      On the opioid epidemic, here , here, here and here . Also see what Jacob Sullum has written about this at Reason, particularly this long piece

      Jeff Miron is working on a paper on this topic. I know because I’m helping to write it.

      More generally on drug prohibition, I have a longish post here outlining the case for doing nothing, or if we *must* do something moving to a tax-and-license regime rather than prohibition. If you want a book-length treatment, Drug War Crimes, Lies Damned Lies and Drug War Statistics, and Drug War Heresies are good places to start.

      I have quite a lot more to say on this, but those links are perhaps a good start if you’re curious.

  6. x50s815f says:

    I’m having a lot of difficulty balancing two sides of my personality, and I’ve been considering how they impact my epistemic standards. This line of thought started
    when I concluded that being able to find humour in the absurdity of life is a very useful ability for keeping perspective, and for my well being. I’m interested if anyone else can relate.

    When I am in what I’ll call truth-seeker mode, I can be overly serious and humourless. When I let myself reflect on things seriously, I find the epistemic standards on social media or when chatting to people to be terrible and this makes me come across as having an exasperated, superior attitude. I don’t like being dour and moralising. I start to play the role of bitter Richard Dawkins type, apparently thinking I’m defending civilization.

    So enter mode two, absurdist mode. In this mode, I still see what’s illogical in culture and people’s beliefs, but I laugh at them and almost appreciate them. Rather than arguing with “definitive take-downs”, I make jokes juxtaposing ideas, or take them to their absurd conclusion. I sarcastically state the opposite of what I believe, and let my audience piece together what I actually do.

    I am probably much happier in absurdist mode. I’m definitely more fun. The problem is that in this mode, I start to get into a kind of epistemic nihilism. I’m less Richard Dawkins and more Scott Adams, with all that involves. I’m hard to pin down, I lose track of what I find important morally. I will also generally stop probing in depth into issues since it is easy to pick fun with just a superficial understanding.

    Maybe some will doubt the stark way I have separated these, and claim they are just opposite poles of a continuum. But in my case, I mostly switch from one to the other extreme. I have yet to find a balance between these two side of my personality. I would consider Scott (our Scott) to be someone who appears very balanced in this regard. But I don’t honestly know how one gets to that point.

    • randallsquared says:

      I have no advice to offer, but did want to chime in and say your description of this dichotomy applies to me as well.

      • alef says:

        I’m curious, in truth seeker mode what exasperates you emotionally? Low epistemic standards and illogic per se, or the thought that shallow thinking creates real threats to things you value (civilization, or what ever)? Sort of in other words, what exactly do you find morally important?

        (oops, intended as direct reply to x50s815f)

        • randallsquared says:

          Not x50s815f, but:

          It’s not always that I *am* exasperated, but that I appear that way. When in that mode, I tend to want to ensure that someone I’m speaking to completely understands what I’m saying, and hasn’t made any errors that I can detect in their own work or argument. This has the effect of my asking for confirmation of understanding over and over, repeating things that I’ve said before even sometimes when the person I’m communicating with objects, and being unable to experience the humor in jokes and wordplay, though I recognize it. People often think I’m angry or upset in this mode, while I am not experiencing anger or irritation. I used to exist in this mode a lot more, to the point where I lost a potential contract because, in their words to a mutual contact, I seemed “didactic and pedantic”. In “serious mode” those do not seem like negatives.

          Again, not necessarily what the OP was talking about, but perhaps you found some use.

        • x50s815f says:

          Like randallsquared, for me entering into truth-seeker is to some extent a cognitive style rather than an emotional state, so often I only appear exasperated. Mostly through being less humourous (at other times I will have a healthy sense of humour) and more of a pedant.

          That said, often I really am exasperated: my worldview is similar to many here in that I think the corrosion of social norms about standards of evidence, being charitable to opponents, and the value of reasonable disagreement is a scary trend for civilization.

          But truth-seeker mode is less likely to keep things in perspective, when it comes to the value of truth.

          Absurdist mode is more likely to conclude that a small reasoning error in an opponent’s brain is no concern of mine. It might even find it funny. Truth seeker mode regards reason as the highest power (this is where the term I’m using, “truth seeker”, is a bit misleading, as this is just a value judgement, not a conclusion derived by me from true premises).

          In truth seeker mode, I often will be midway into stating my case, and will start to feel like the moralistic bore in a story. I feel like a thin, underwritten character, and not the relatable one. I don’t feel like someone I would find interesting or persuasive. If I can make the same point in a funny, sarcastic way, I don’t feel this way, but as I said this starts to slide into nihilism before long.

    • christhenottopher says:

      First off why be balanced? Why not focus more on determining where one mode is needed more than the other?

      Consider other parts of life where you could either have separate extremes or a “balanced” middle. Where I live there can be extreme cold and extreme heat. I have clothes I wear for the cold and clothes I wear for the heat. Would I really be making myself better off by ditching my seasonal wear for a set of clothes that average out those two extremes? Certainly not, I’d just have a useless set of clothes. The same is true in personality modes I use. At a meeting at work I’m careful with my language use, avoid any form of counter-signaling friendship via playful insults, and dress in a professional manner. When I’m with my friends, I joke, I curse, and I dress in a relaxed manner. The correct answer is NOT to get some golden mean where I dress professionally but I’m insulting friends who know it’s a counter signal and strangers who don’t, it’s just to know when to turn on the right mode.

      Even take Scott. I’ve never met him, but even with his posts there are light-hearted jokey type posts and serious number crunching posts. Within an essay you can also see parts of it that are tossing out puns mixed in with the Serious Research Information ™. He’s not going for balance, but simply going for using the right mode at the right time.

      If your problem is switching between the modes fluidly enough, then maybe the right answer is start trying to notice when other people are getting bored or annoyed with the mode you’re in. That’s a sign it’s time to break things up a bit and switch. Your goal is not diluting your serious thinking or your comedy, it’s just timing them right.

      • x50s815f says:

        You make a valuable point. But it makes me realise that I omitted to mention something important.

        The two modes I describe also apply to my own inner thoughts. So even only considering periods of isolation, I might experience for a week a very absurdist frame of mind, somehow finding peace in an ability to laugh at the general state of the world. Or I might instead be in a very truth-seeker mental state for a week, and have no inner peace until I’ve ruminated privately on whether my beliefs have solid foundations.

        So even though I emphasised the social aspect, “personality”, in my case they are also mutually exclusive cognitive styles with their own drawbacks.

        • christhenottopher says:

          I’m still a big fan of keeping different modes that specialize in different thought patterns. The key is control in timing. An important point to remember is that a human is not a unitary mind, but a series of what can be thought of as modules. Different aspects of the mind get triggered to solve different problems. What it sounds like is you might be getting stuck in one module longer than appropriate.

          So what triggers do you notice set you on one mode of thinking or the other? Are there certain environmental cues you notice tend to correlate with the start of an absurdist or a truth seeker period? Try shifting those around and see if you can’t flip the switch on that.

          When I’m in “serious office mode,” it’s not that I’m faking a personality and internally I’m thinking in friend-party-mode. I am thinking in office mode. The key is I know what to do to trigger that in me (be in the office with formal business attire). And then I know how to turn it off (my personal ritual is taking off my badge as I get in my car to go home). Maybe changes in clothing or setting could help?

          • x50s815f says:

            I probably tend to underestimate how much my daily actions are shaped by my environment. (The fundamental attribution error predicts I will only do this to others. But if anything I am more likely to credit environmental influence to other people).

            So I’ll have to mull that one over.

            I guess I was working on the assumption that one mode could (even should) be adopted permanently.

            Perhaps that assumption is because I tend to regard knowing the truth to entail certain duties, duties that don’t go away when I’m, say, sarcastically commenting on a post. And so the absurdist route feels like abdicating those duties.

            But that assumption maybe doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. Probably thinking through the outcomes in consequentialist terms would get a more balanced result.

    • yodelyak says:

      This is going to be an intensely personal thing, so specific advice won’t be much use. One thing that is helpful for me, when I’m trying to solve my own problems, is to ask myself what kind of advice or support I might offer a friend who was facing such a problem.

      So, what I’m imagining is you acting as a friend to yourself as follows. You sit yourself down and generally acknowledge the absurdity of the project, but get your truth-seeking self to take your best shot at identifying what your moral priorities are, and if possible why, (although in general I find what is much easier than why, and have learned to go easy on myself if why is hard to come by) and where those tend to provide clear guidelines for behavior, and where those tend to be wholly inadequate to decision-making, such that the whole idea of making moral decisions is absurd and more harmful/repugnant than just jokingly acknowledging the absurdity. Likewise, you can walk yourself through many of the situations (say, trying to have meaningful social relations via a comment thread, or a Newsfeed, or once-off interactions with whoever is on your bus in the a.m.) where it is somewhat more, or somewhat less, an exercise in total absurdity to try to share your values with others and build teams of people with whom you have shared values so you can achieve in alignment with those values, at scale. Then you can lay down for yourself some general guidelines for what kinds of spaces deserve which kinds of behavior (truth-seeker versus absurdist) at what times.

      For a very strong example of how certain situational landmarks shift me from one mode to the other, rot13 because trigger-warning, mentions self-harm, I almost always just completely ignore posts to facebook that offer something like “if 5 people share this post, that proves people care about ___.” Even trying to educate the random people who would share something that obviously a pyramid scheme is so futile that I am engaging in self-harm by trying to help. One exception to that is if they’re closely related to me, in which case I want to mitigate my shame-by-association by mocking them by drawing out in clear term how ridiculous they look, such that they never post that crap again. So that’s my rule for troll-level behavior: don’t engage, or if you must engage, mock. (Any amount of stupid that can’t be cured by saying “There’s no cure for stupid” somewhere the stupid person can realize is probably intended for their ears–that’s stupid for which there is no [reasonably affordable to me] cure.)

      However, one exception to the above-explained rule, is when the daughter of an acquaintance (so, normally this is safely in “ignore” land because none of these people are very close to me, although I do generally think the daughter is excellent people and lost the lottery, in terms of who her parents are) posted something like this. Gur qnhtugre vf fbzrbar jub ol dhvex bs zl cerivbhf ebyr nf n gehfgrq fgnssre gb n sevraq bs gur zbgure’f, V xabj gb or irel haunccl, va gur frafr gung V xabj fur unf nggrzcgrq fhvpvqr j/ n aba-fvyyl, irel-zhpu-fubhyq-unir-qvrq ibyhzr bs fyrrcvat cvyyf. V nyfb xabj guvf qnhtugre vf fgvyy srryvat fbpvnyyl bhgpnfg naq nf gubhtu fur vf n oheqra ba ure cneragf. Fnvq qnhtugre cbfgrq n “vs 5 crbcyr funer guvf, gung cebirf crbcyr pner nobhg fhvpvqr naq fbzrbar vf nyjnlf yvfgravat.” She was ~15 at the time of posting. I reported the comment to FB, called her mother (and explained exactly what I’d seen, and how it was probably no basis to panic, but how she should immediately educate her daughter about what chain letters are and how the only assured thing from that kind of branching communication is that for each person who shares, on average, more people do *not* get their 5 shares, than do, such that sharing a thing like that multiplies feelings of being unheard, not feelings of being heard.) I also called a mutual acquaintance of mine and the daughter who I knew to be a role-model to the daughter, and just checked in on the whole situation and nudged them to stay present in the gal’s life. All that only took me a few minutes, and it’s hard to say if I was helpful or if I was being absurd and moralizing in a near-stranger’s life; maybe all I accomplished was looking like a concern troll. But that’s an example for you of the sort of map I have not-that-formally laid out for myself for when to switch from being mocking or absurdist, and when not. I strongly recommend against trying to take the map of internet commenters, even in such a vaunted thread as this one, as your own. But maybe you can see how the map works, and look for places where your own map has major uncharted territory that causes you to flip dramatically from one mode to the other, and see if you can pin down a few helpful rules for that territory?

      Particularly if you are switching modes across all of your different spaces for a week or more at a time–if you are alternatingly a moralist or an absurdist in both your facebook feed and your relationship with children, I’d suggest that you might be evaluating something important right now, like whether or not to change careers or break up with or marry someone or something like that, where no option seems clearly indicated by your values. “Nihilism is a period of decision.” — Samzdat. If that’s right, I don’t know what further advice should follow from that, but maybe it’s helpful if you aim at that decision directly, in terms of ensuring you don’t get stuck in oscillating mode longer than necessary.

      • x50s815f says:

        Thanks for the concrete examples. They’re good ones.

        Your ability to decide when something is “so futile that I am engaging in self-harm by trying to help” vs situations you can and should be genuinely thoughtful about… did those heuristics come naturally or just as a result of trial and error over time?

        Or is it not a heuristic but rather something that still happens at the level of conscious decision-making?

        Your last paragraph is interesting. I hadn’t considered that possibility but it actually seems entirely accurate. I’m at a crossroads in my life and a lot seems to in doubt, including my value system.

        (PS for Scott, I didn’t mean to report this post)

        • yodelyak says:

          Glad you liked it, best of luck!

        • yodelyak says:

          Oh, and re: trial-and-error or consciously adopted strategies… a little of both, I guess. I mean, sticking with the Facebook example, I actively considered not joining Facebook when it first crossed my radar in fall 2004, because the Orwellian and C.S. Lewis-ian influences in my mind thought Facebook stank of dehumanization, or something like that. But I didn’t have quite a strong enough aversion, so I joined with a consciously chosen policy to try and keep my identity disconnected from whatever happens to my Facebook avatar, and adjust as needed. In other words, I intended what happens to “me” on facebook to matter to me personally about as much as what happens to “me” when I play Mario Kart. On the scale of “trial and error” that was a big, early error–I’ve found it completely impossible to maintain that level of detachment. What happens to me on Facebook *matters* to me. Losing a friend on Facebook because the algorithm ended up sharing their most obnoxious thoughts with me when I was feeling most self-righteous, and left both of us blind to each other’s body language when we argued… that happened in real life, even if I’d prefer it to have only happened to my Facebook avatar. I’ve naturally learned to both a) value facebook friends less highly, because they’re not really real the way other friends can be and b) be averse to arguing some topics on facebook because I still *do* value my friendships there. But I’m also consciously evaluating whether I should leave altogether, or what.

    • warrel says:

      x50s815f:
      For what it’s worth, your ‘absurdist’ mode is a more extreme mode of what is called’socratic irony.’

      Most of Plato’s dialogues are simply the record of Socrates going through various permutations of the situation you describe.

      • x50s815f says:

        Yeah, I had thought about that connection. Putting aside what historical Socrates believed, I guess the difference is that Plato’s Socrates managed to keep some positive view which informed his negative criticism of the absurdity of competing views. But it seems like, psychologically, the longer you spend making your point by indirect routes and jest, the less able you are to keep a concrete positive view to advocate.

    • Enkidum says:

      I suspect I’m older than you (early 40’s) but I did feel some connection to what you describe, particularly absurdist mode. It’s essentially become my default mode of self-presentation, for the simple reasons that I don’t really care about many of the things that people seem to think about a lot, and the things I do care about, I am often only interested in discussing if people are actually interested in discussing them, as opposed to signalling their group membership by highlighting acceptable positions.

      However, the absurdist mode has on several occasions I think led to seriously negative consequences for me. Constant joking, especially about sacred cows, pisses off people who tend to those cows. Also there have been various points where someone was trying to make a sincere emotional connection with me and I spent the whole time joking, and this basically ended things. Hell, it’s prevented me from getting laid more than once.

      I suppose one thing I’ve done to try to help with this is spend more time in another mode, I suppose you might call it something like “honest listener” mode, where I try to engage people and find out as much as I can about them, and make that a primary focus of my interaction with them. I dunno if that’s helpful, but it seems to have helped me a lot.

      • x50s815f says:

        I’m glad to find that other people find my description relatable.

        Yes, I definitely have the capacity for an honest listener mode, sometimes. The ability to just find anyone at all interesting and to make a project out of just learning about them.

        In a way you are engaging the truth-seeker mode but diverting it’s focus to something productive to the situation (since nobody is offended by honest interest in their views).

    • AG says:

      1. Ask yourself “What do I want in this situation?”
      2. Use truth-seeker mode to run a 5-Whys analysis on “What do I want in this situation?”
      3. Use consequentialism to determine which mode to proceed with. (Which sometimes might including switching back and forth between the two modes)

      For an example from my own experience, I’ve had cases where I encountered Really Annoying Discourse. I started composing a post, started fact-checking the research, had a fun time doing so, came up with some great zingers in the post…and then realized that getting all caught up in the ensuing discussion wouldn’t be good for me. It was good that I had educated myself and refined my own views, but I wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind’s within the context of that online conversation, as opposed to, say, posting what I had learned as a new “original” post, with a neutral tone, removing the zingers. And then I go on my merry way.

      Alternatively, start step 1 above with “What does the other person want?”
      I think that a lot of people here don’t realize how much most people are not nearly as devoted as the propaganda they quickly reblog is, or how much hyperbole is a part of their usual diction. Someone might state an inflammatory statement, but what they really want, based on an analysis of their context, would show they really just want to make small talk. (And yes, inane small talk about Culture War topics is somewhat common, and the participating people have about as much stake in the things they say during CW small talk as they do about the movies/TV shows that come up in water cooler small talk.) So then, I just redirect them away to non-CW small talk.
      Maybe the other person just wants emotional validation for something, and reblogged the first effortpost they saw that feels like it does that, regardless of if it actually does. In which case, neither truth-seeker or absurdist mode addressing the text of the reblogged thing will be helpful. Their emotional state is the thing that needs to engaged with.

      And finally, there’s the strategy of laying the foundation with truth-seeker mode, and then doing the final pass edit with absurdist mode to break up the monotony with humor. This is how most of the good educational youtubers structure their content, for example. They write the entire essay first, then inject short little gags intermittently after.

      • x50s815f says:

        I agree that consciously applying consequentialism should help.

        Your third paragraph describes something I have repeatedly encountered and yet struggle to really take on.

        Sometimes after a conversation I have known people to even say “I wasn’t really saying [proposition], I was just expressing [emotion]”.

        I think some part of me just doesn’t want to accept that people often say things non-literally outside of metaphor and lies.

        Even when it comes to small talk about movies and TV I’m pretty averse to speaking carelessly, in case I say something dumb or baseless. Which shows how far from consequentialism my decision-making is sometimes, since that is (probably) harmless.

        • AG says:

          I think that your own absurdist mode shows this. A lot of people are operating in their own kind of absurdist mode as the default. Their method of communication would primarily require more context cues than just what they say, requiring in-person presence to fully understand what they intend. Because the meat of their communication is in how they said it, they can get away with a carelessness in what exactly they say.

          These people also tend to not realize how much all of that extra-textual context is missing in their online posts, and so still are careless with their content.

          (Consider the classic “nothing happens” comedies of Seinfeld or slife-of-life anime that feature meandering small talk conversations all of the time. Sometimes they include meatier topics and the parties involved get very Opinionated, but in the grander scheme of things, those conversations carry the same weight as the fluffier ones. It’s really about the social dynamics between the people.)

  7. Daniel Frank says:

    There’s a good chance I do some backpacking in Africa next year. As of now, my plan is to spend time in Ethiopia and South Africa. I would really love to go to Nigeria, but it doesn’t seem very “legit”.

    Does anyone on here have any Africa travel recommendations/experiences to share?

    I’m a solo travelling male in my late twenties. I like hiking, interesting cities and vibrant cultures.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I’ve been to South Africa and Zimbabwe once. Safari in Zimbabwe was unbelievable, takes more planning than some places in Africa but the amount of stuff to see is overwhelming. I’ve heard lots of great things from relatives who went to Namibia.

    • yodelyak says:

      Had a good experience in Kenya in 2006. Best time to do the serengeti is timed with the wildebeest migration. I missed out on a chance to do a balloon ride high enough to see down and see the whole set of wildebeests, which is a bummer. “wonder of the natural world” and all that. I traded some Target-brand velcro sandals with a local for some made-from-car-tire-and-bike-tire sandals that looked likely to fit (don’t just get just *any* sandals!) and wore them stateside from time to time, for the coolness points but also just because they were pretty comfy once I’d worn them a bit.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      Rather different from what you have planned, but I visited Gambia a few months back. I was traveling with my then-girlfriend to visit her family over break, so while for me it was the first time I’d been overseas in ages and to a far more exotic locale than any I’d been to before, for her it was just going home to hang out with her family.

      Because we were in the main metropolitan area, we didn’t do much hiking, and indeed most of the nature-related things we did were visiting local parks. That was pretty nice though, and interestingly gave me more appreciation for the megafauna we have wandering around here in the States. Sure, monkeys are cool, but I realize that to eyes used to that set of wildlife, deer and squirrels are too! Gambia is also famed for its beaches, and they didn’t disappoint.

      It wasn’t all great. The electricity (and hence air conditioning) was unreliable, and I got munched pretty badly by mosquitoes, particularly before we started spraying indoors. By the way, you’ll need a bunch of vaccinations and an antimalarial. I took Malarone, which had no side effects and seemed to work. At times, we got kind of bored when we were waiting on her family for stuff or otherwise kinda trapped without a car. That may have been partially on us for not taking the initiative to go wandering more. The food was also surprisingly mediocre — note that a lot of places aimed at tourists are more selling resort-y ambience than actual food quality. A lot of stuff was jury-rigged or flimsy, like the drawers in our room where the handles all fell off. The city was poor in a way that only those in developing nations are, and I found the prevalence of servants discomfiting.

      In terms of more permanent mementos, I’d consider some clothes. In part because my luggage got delayed, I got quite a few shirts while I was over there, and they’re largely quite good-looking and well-fitting. A couple of these are more traditional garments like a kaftan, but the rest are just ordinary shirts with interesting patterns. They’re all now just part of my wardrobe. There’s craft markets that sell to tourists, but I found the one I visited unnerving. All the vendors sold literally the exact same things, which were possibly made in China, and were clearly made indifferently to the actual local culture in favor of some popular image of Africa. Just go for clothes. Woodin is a good brand.

      My favorite thing we did on the trip was attend a conference of the Gambian Bar Association where they discussed what to do in the aftermath of the deposal of the dictator, such as setting up a truth, reconciliation, and reparations committee, ensuring that this couldn’t happen again, and examining their own role in how it happened the first time. There were a ton of different perspectives, from the liberal modernizers to the Islamic hardliners to some crazy guy with a gold hat with a swinging Donna Karan logo on it, and the look into the high-level political and cultural debates of a very different country was great. I met one of OJ Simpson’s defense lawyers, learned about a curious project by the Dutch artist Hornsleth in Uganda, and showed magic tricks to quite a distinguished crowd.

      Ethiopia I gather is more developed, lower-temperature, and has a bunch of castles all over. It’s also somewhat totalitarian, but that probably shouldn’t affect you too much as a tourist. I can ask about some hiking recommendations.

    • I enjoyed hiking in the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa, near Giants Castle. There’s good accommodation at Giants Castle, but probably not in many other places. I don’t know what’s the story about camping. There are some old rock paintings nearby as well. I think that the only way to get there is to hire a car (we drove from Durban). I have also heard good things about hiking in the Brandberg mountains in Namibia, although I have only driven through there myself.

      There are some pictures from South Africa at
      https://goo.gl/photos/3TSrYWQyttNn8Fyv6
      The first section is Drakensberg, then there are pictures from the St Lucia wetlands and the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park.

  8. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I don’t like or trust arguments which claim something is unfair unless there’s also a policy recommendation attached.

    All too often, I see people saying Group A is treated better than Group B and that’s unfair. I can’t tell whether the person wants group A to be treated worse or Group B to be treated better, though I tend to suspect they want Group A to be treated worse.

    My other guess is that a fairness argument is easier to demonstrate correct, while policy changes are hard.

    • Brad says:

      I heard a story on the radio the other day about the glass cliff. The idea is that women are much more likely to be promoted into leadership roles in difficult circumstances than in good ones. If true, it’s a useful thing to know. But the part I objected to was the strong implication that the manager or boards promoting women into these positions were doing something wrong. They have to promote someone and I’d think as long as they are being deceptive about the circumstances they should lauded for being more egalitarian. Rather if anyone is to be attacked it ought to be the boards of the companies where things are going well.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @brad:
        There aren’t two different sets of boards, or executives, etc.

        The contention from which “something wrong” derives is that those promoting act in one way when the company is doing well, and another when the company is doing poorly.

        • Brad says:

          It may be the same board and management in the sense that these things have independent, artificial, perpetual existence, but in terms of actual people there’s some overlap but no means total. In fact, assuring the effect exists, the personal choices build on each other. Boards in charge of troubled companies are more likely to be new women board members who are more likely to pick new women CEOs who are more likely to pick new women CxOs under them. It’s hard to see blaming these new women, whatever new men came in at the same time, for the choices the older board/management made at the same time.

          And in terms of the older choices, sure you can criticize the Yahoo board for not hiring a woman CEO during the good times, but it seems more relevant to criticize boards of companies that are in the good times now rather than criticizing a board of directors that’s 20 years gone.

          • Matt M says:

            Is part of this just a turnover / precedent issue?

            Consider: Companies “in good times” have little need or urge to replace their board members and/or executives. It’s when the bad times start that heads start to roll.

            And if we concede that previously the business world was much less balanced by gender, longer-tenured executives are probably more likely to be male. Women have a better shot at getting high-level jobs today than they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, etc.

            Bad times produce increased turnover, which increases the likelihood of women being named to high-level positions. Good times lock in the current regime, which is more likely to be male.

          • Brad says:

            I’m sure that’s a part of it, but as I understand it the effect holds if you just look at new people in a particular position (board member, CEO, CxO ect.)

            For example if there were 60 new board members this year in the fortune 500 companies collectively and 15 of them were women, those women are disproportionately going on boards of struggling companies vs the 45 men.

          • Matt M says:

            So maybe you add in a psychological effect of “Person with X characteristics ran this company into the ground, therefore, we want to hire someone VERY different, even in largely superficial ways”?

            Old white male CEO retiring with the company in great shape creates no case for change. You still have to replace him, but why not replace him with his old white male CFO?

            Old white male CEO fired in disgrace for making terrible decisions and driving the stock to 20% of its former value… hell no you aren’t replacing him with his former buddy. You don’t want someone who looks or sounds like him in any way. You need “fresh ideas” which is basically a proxy for some combination of minority/female/young.

          • lvlln says:

            On Freakonomics Radio, which is where I also recently heard about the “glass cliff” phenomenon, they posited one possibility as being that men are less likely to want to take an opportunity if it looks like the opportunity is likely to end in their failure – i.e. promoted to CEO when the company is in trouble – than women are, because men can be more picky due to more opportunities for leadership positions coming their way.

            So it’s possible that every board that is promoting a woman to a “glass cliff” scenario is non-sexist and 100% egalitarian in a gender-blind way, but the proportion of men who say yes to such opportunities is lower than the proportion of women who do. Rather, it may be caused by sexism on the part of other boards which leads to women getting fewer opportunities than men in leadership roles, leading them to be less picky.

            Of course, it may be the case that there’s a perception of sexism that’s causing women to be more picky than they need to be. That is, perhaps a man and a woman have the same expected value of upcoming promotion-to-leadership opportunities, all other things being equal. But perhaps the woman has the false belief that her expected value is lower than that of a similar man, and is thus less picky about saying Yes to any given opportunity. This would cause women to be more often promoted in “glass cliff” scenarios merely from that perception, regardless of whether or not that perception reflected a true underlying reality of a woman getting fewer opportunities for promotion-to-leadership compared to a man, all other things being equal.

          • Brad says:

            @lvlln

            I think we must have heard the same radio show. Did you share my impression that the implication was that the boards/management that were promoting women were doing something wrong?

          • Matt M says:

            But perhaps the woman has the false belief that her expected value is lower than that of a similar man, and is thus less picky about saying Yes to any given opportunity.

            Or, it could be an opposite effect, let’s call it overconfidence for lack of a better term.

            If a high-achieving woman believes she could be an excellent executive even in adverse circumstances, but thus far has been kept out of high-status jobs primarily due to sexism, of course she would jump at the first opportunity. She is confident that she will succeed, even given the adversity. And perhaps the belief that the only thing stopping her from having already received such a chance was sexism is making her more confident than she should be.

            For a probably terrible sports comparison, if you think you’d be a really great NFL coach, why shouldn’t you take a job with the Cleveland Browns? Everyone will be that much more impressed when you make the most of your opportunity and turn things around! Any old schmo could coach the Patriots!

          • lvlln says:

            @Brad

            I think we must have heard the same radio show. Did you share my impression that the implication was that the boards/management that were promoting women were doing something wrong?

            I hesitate to say that the implication was strong, but I agree that the implication was there. It’s just hard to disentangle that from the general trend in media to immediately jump from “differential outcome” to “bigotry” and my own sensitivity to that. Perhaps a cynic would say that Freakonomics was very careful to count on that general media trend to cause listeners to make that leap in logic themselves without actually committing it themselves, because Freakonomics actually didn’t make that leap.

            I think the stronger sense I got was “therefore, some people somewhere along the line are doing something wrong” – i.e. the explanation of women having fewer opportunities doesn’t implicate the “glass cliff” board members but rather board members in general – rather than “therefore, the boards promoting women to glass cliff positions are doing something wrong.”

          • AG says:

            It sounds like a bit of a Molochian situation, which is also somewhat the rationale behind the micro-aggression framework. Pretty much all decisions are made without malice, and they make all sense as the “best” decision within the context of each individual decision maker, but it leads to a cumulative negative effect.

            In such a case, targeting any particular decision maker or decision making level as the culprit would be ineffective. There has to be multi-level cooperation to escape the local minimum.

    • Baeraad says:

      In principle I would say that people have a right to point out that something sucks without having to provide a detailed plan for how to reduce the suckiness. Like, if I say that the weather is awful, it’s not because I expect you to do anything about it, it’s because I’m cold and wet and whining a bit makes me feel a little better about it.

      In practice I am just as tired as you of the endless barrage of complaints and negativity that the Internet enables, and especially of the pious tone of it – the “I am doing the world a favour by Raising Awareness Of This Issue!” smugness. Sitting around and complaining is an allowed form of self-indulgence, not a public service.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        In general, I believe people have a right to complain, just as pain nerves have a right to send pain messages.

        However, fairness arguments without some hint about who should be treated better and who should be treated worse especially get on my nerves.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz:
          So you think it is unfair that people are able to make arguments about how something is unfair without offering solutions.

          OK, what is your solution to prevent people from doing this?

          Yeah, that is slightly snarky, but I think you see my point.

      • AG says:

        In a competitive debate context, the only thing the negative team has to do is convince the judge that the affirmative team’s plan should not be carried out.

        The neg can choose to only present an argument that the aff’s plan leads to negative consequences. The unspoken implication here, though, is that this is a consequence that would not necessarily occur if the plan is not carried out. The unspoken alternative is the status quo. In an online argument, the unspoken alternative is often “just don’t do thing I’m critiquing.” Like, “I hate this thing that happens in movies a lot. [Therefore people should stop making movies with that thing in it.]”
        There’s also the argument “Plan is ineffective, does not solve what it claims to solve.” The implied harm here is that resources have been spent carrying out this ineffective plan, when they could have been used on another plan. The neg could argue that they aren’t obliged to provide this said other plan, because they only need to prove that the aff plan should not be carried out.

        Of course, in competitive debate the aff counter-argument of “you need to accompany your ‘plan does bad thing’ argument with a counterplan to both avoid the bad thing AND still provide the benefits of the plan” has been well developed, so most neg teams always also read a counter-plan / alternative.

        But then again, you have the rise of the meta-level critique which still brings back the philosophical alternatives of “all solutions will inevitably fall to corruption, let’s abstain from these tainted systems and educate people by talking about our pet ideology during competitive debate” smugness. At least when I was competing, it was annoyingly effective to do, because then you can word-judo your way to make it look like your pet ideology will bring about World Peace, with a bunch of citations from philosophers while the other side has no Official Evidence saying otherwise, because there aren’t so many peer reviewed journal articles detailing how all this woo won’t work. So there’s that.

        (I advise y’all not to look up the Bartleby Kritik, for one of the worst of these.)

    • Murphy says:

      I suspect either would be accepted in many cases. And I can’t entirely fault it.

      Utilitarianism is not the norm and people have some concepts of fairness hard-wired into their brains.

      Take a monkey that’s occasionally fed a treat and then show it a peer who constantly gets rewarded more for the same thing in an unfair way and it will become resentful.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meiU6TxysCg

      There’s stories from polar expeditions about how they learned the hard way that if the humans picked a favorite sled dog and fed it better, fussed over it more and treated it more for little reason where the other dogs could see eventually it could get killed by the other dogs that could become resentful of it.

      Many creatures, not just humans, have a drive for fairness. It’s probably not unreasonable to call it a fairness drive much like a sex drive or a thirst craving. It’s a built in instinct/desire that needs to be satisfied. Not something built purely out of logic and deduction.

      Evo psych guesses are fairly crap and this is probably a just-so story but such drive allows some kind of game theory to come into play. If you’ve got a group/pack/tribe and none of the members have any fairness drive then you can marginalise the weakest constantly and they’ll just take it. If there’s a fairness drive then at some point they’ll turn around and fuck you up regardless of cost to themselves unless you satisfy their fairness drive to some extent.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        That’s an interesting point about the sled dogs.

        They would probably all like to be treated as well as the favored dog, but the resources just aren’t there– the food could be, but the human only has so much time to pay attention to individual dogs.

        The favored dog gets killed, not the human, though we might not find out about cases where the human is killed.

        I don’t think it’s bad for people to care about fairness.

      • toastengineer says:

        That doesn’t sound like a “drive for fairness,” those both sound like jealousy. I’d accept a “drive for fairness” if the monkey who gets all the treats starts handing them out to the others.

        • Murphy says:

          Try “healthy ability to recognize when you’re being treated worse than someone else for no good reason”

          Jealousy is a loaded term that implies it’s unreasonable to be resentful about getting the short end of the stick.

    • mobile says:

      The name for this is the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics.

    • Iain says:

      My other guess is that a fairness argument is easier to demonstrate correct, while policy changes are hard.

      More than that: a fairness argument is a prerequisite for a policy argument. I could provide a very detailed policy proposal for how to improve the lives of people in the SSC comment section with ugly gravatars, but nobody would care if I did not start with a fairness argument about why it matters. You can’t discuss solutions until it’s clear that there’s a problem. Establishing that a problem exists can be a valuable contribution, even if it doesn’t come packaged with a policy recommendation.

      Moreover, sometimes “establish a consensus that something is unfair” is the best available policy. We’ve previously talked about fat acceptance: specifically, the claim that a significant percentage of men are privately attracted to large women, but publicly unwilling to admit to it, and how that sucks for fat women. If we agree that this is unfair, what is the policy recommendation? As far as I can tell, it’s “reduce the stigma around dating fat women”, which in practice means “convince people that this situation is unfair”. So you make an argument about fairness, and maybe some people who read that argument will be convinced, and change their own behaviour, and if that happens often enough then you have solved the problem.

      I also question whether it matters if the person making the argument wants Group A to be treated worse or Group B to be treated better. It might affect your opinion of that person, but it shouldn’t affect your opinion of the argument (assuming you’ve verified that they aren’t, say, misrepresenting sources). If somebody makes a good fairness argument for fat acceptance, and follows it with “therefore I believe that all skinny people must be destroyed”, then their character is suspect, but their fairness argument might not be.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What the hell, this is a CW-permitted thread.

        The specific thing I’ve been seeing is complaints about white people being portrayed too well, as in a complaint that poc mass murderers are portrayed as terrorists and just plain bad, while there’s concern about the motivations of white mass murderers, and they usually aren’t called terrorists. (I’m not sure how true this is, but that’s the complaint.)

        I’m not seeing much about which way the people complaining want the balance tipped.

        • Matt M says:

          In terms of “terrorist” vs “mentally ill mass murderer” there is probably some truth to this.

          Of course, in terms of “hate crimes” there’s virtually zero.

          On the one hand, yeah, the Austin bomber is not being described as a terrorist, and he happens to be white.

          On the other hand, the police are making it a point to tell us all that they still haven’t ruled out a racial motivation to his crimes despite the fact that he left a 25-minute long confession that never once mentions race. Anyone who has ever talked to a real white nationalist can tell you, those guys can’t go 20 seconds without mentioning race.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            My tentative theory is that he didn’t have an ideology, he just liked bombs.

            Fortunately, this is a very rare preference.

          • bean says:

            My tentative theory is that he didn’t have an ideology, he just liked bombs.

            Fortunately, this is a very rare preference.

            There are lots of people who like bombs. It’s very rare to like them enough to set them off in the middle of a city.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve been thinking about the ambiguity of “like”.

            I’m inclined to think that some of Jordan Peterson’s popularity is that he likes men, while a lot of people (to a large extent inspired by feminism) don’t like men.

            But it looks like I’m talking about sex, and that isn’t remotely what I meant.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s a lot of people who like bombs in the sense of liking blowing things up. Most of them stick to blowing things up in sparsely-populated areas; they may or may not be violating explosive regulations (probably are, everything’s illegal nowadays), but they’re not killing anyone. Some of them like to blow up other people’s property just for the lulz; those do sometimes kill people by accident though.

          • Aapje says:

            There are also sanctioned ways of setting off bombs, like being on a bomb squad, doing fireworks displays, working in a quarry, 4th of July, etc.

            In my country we have a tradition of setting off fireworks on/before New Year’s Eve, a tradition which got a little out of hand with increased prosperity (many people set off hundreds of Euros worth of fireworks). It’s common for people to build and set off fireworks bombs in the months leading up to this.

          • AG says:

            He liked bombs, but there is the class-race intersection angle that he planted bombs in poorer neighborhoods that, surprise surprise, have a higher population of non-white people. Just as sometimes Islamic terrorist hatred of America isn’t strictly against just white people, but against the financial decadence and consumerist culture…but since the wealthiest Americans are disproportionately white then Islamic extremist hatred of American fat cats seems to target white people.

            Actually, does anyone know if there are Islamic extremist anti-Black screeds against hip hop culture?

        • Iain says:

          The claimed problem is that white attackers get humanizing coverage about their tortured psyches and troubled pasts, while Muslim attackers are just evil terrorists who hate our freedoms. This reinforces the narrative that Muslims are a dangerous menace and Not Like Us, leading to greater support for (say) restrictions on Muslim immigration.

          Assuming for the sake of argument that this description is accurate: why do the complainers need to commit to a side? The complaint is about the existence of a double standard. Any consistent standard — whether it’s as harsh as the claimed standard for Muslims, as generous as the claimed standard for white people, or somewhere in between — would eliminate the problem.

          In practice, people complain about the most recent event. After a white attacker, they’ll complain that white people are treated too well; after a Muslim attacker, they’ll complain that Muslims are treated too harshly. In both cases, there is an implicit “given the tenor of coverage when the circumstances are reversed”.

          Put differently: “The media should pick a standard and stick to it” is a policy proposal.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not seeing much about which way the people complaining want the balance tipped.

          From what I’m seeing, it’s “call the white guys domestic terrorists” which makes little sense because often they aren’t, they have no coherent philosophy or are ‘lone wolves’, and calling them terrorists makes a complete hash of ascribing a motivation for the crime (and for instance, if there are other members of the cell who need to be picked up).

          But the rationale seems to be much the same as calling people “fascist”; “I don’t care about accuracy, this is a bandwagon I can jump on to show how woke I am”.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, it definitely seems like most white mass murderers that they are demanding be called terrorists clearly weren’t.

            But maybe there’s a point somewhere that just because a mass shooter happens to be Muslim does not guarantee they are killing for political or religious reasons.

    • powerfuller says:

      I share your sentiment, and I think part of the reason why I do is that a policy recommendation implies a theory of what’s causing the unfairness, which implies an understanding of what’s actually unfair about the situation.

      Like if I hear somebody say “It’s unfair more men than women have good jobs in STEM,” that by itself doesn’t tell me why, according to the person, the situation is unfair. If it’s followed by “therefore, we need to have more coding classes for young women” I can guess the theory is “young men are given more opportunities to gain the skills than young women” or if followed by, “therefore, we need to pay teachers, nurses, and librarians more,” the theory may be “society undervalues the work performed by women.” Also, the recommendation implies the unfairness can be improved, and that improvement is being sought in good faith (excluding “destroy everything and rebuild society from the ground up” solutions). Just by itself, the claim of unfairness is harder to differentiate from the bullshit uses of fairness complaints (envy masquerading as justice, hatred of the out-group, demands to refashion the world to suit the complainer, etc.).

      That being said, not everybody need have a solution ready to go to voice the problem. In fact, it may be better to avoid the “Something must be done. X is something, therefore we must do X” argument. But somebody complaining about unfairness at least ought to be able to articulate what specifically is unfair about a situation (and have a coherent definition of fairness), not just that they perceived an imbalance.

      Then again, processes that are fair in every specific step but produce unequal outcomes (like a perfect meritocracy leading to divergent wealth) still really bother people and probably always will.

  9. rlms says:

    Statistics question:
    Suppose you have a dataset with elements that have similar but not directly interchangeable attributes, for example an Olympic medal table (with the number of bronzes, silvers and golds for each country), or a list of terrorist attacks (with the number of deaths and injuries for each). You might want to combine the attributes of each element into a single value so you can compare the different elements. One way you could do this is by doing linear regression for one attribute with the others, and using the actual value of the chosen attribute plus the predicted value for comparisons. Is this done? If not, what do people do?

    • Inty says:

      So you want a dimension-reduction technique with ‘1’ as the number of dimensions to output? I think usually something like this would be done with principal component analysis, but that wouldn’t preserve the existing variable. So you’d be able to say how ‘New underlying variable’-y each value was rather than how ‘Variable 1’-y each value was.

    • Izaak says:

      So, essentially, you have an N-dimensional dataset, where each dimension is orderable, and you want to reduce it to one dimension.

      Inty already mentioned PCA, which is a method that figures out which combination of variables would result in a 1 dimensional value that captures the most variation from the original dataset. This is usually a good thing; it would suck if your transformation left most of your data points on top of each other. You want the transformation to keep things as spread out as possible. However, PCA doesn’t care about the meanings of the different variables, and it might decide to weight Bronze medals higher than Gold medals, which really doesn’t make sense for this problem.

      Instead of using a statistical method like PCA, I would look into voting algorithms, especially ranked ballot voting. You could treat each Olympic event as a voter who has indicated their first, second, and third choices, and then use an algorithm like Ranked Pairs or Kemeny-Young to determine the winner.

      One interesting way of doing this is to determine a partial order, which does not satisfy exactly what you want, but still provides an interesting diagram which can rank events based on multiple criteria. Here’s an example of someone doing this for the 2008 Olympic medals. https://tartarus.org/~simon/2008-olympics-hasse/

  10. meh says:

    Scott, you’re linking to the .png of the book, not the amazon page. (in this post that is, the sidebar ad is fine)

  11. johan_larson says:

    Ad-targeting systems try hard to learn everything about you so they can give you ads you might actually respond to. But they aren’t perfect, and sometimes they get it wrong, revealing hilarious misconceptions about you.

    My thumbnail portrait, based on the most wrong-headed ads I’ve received, is that I am a French-speaking marriage-minded Muslim who teaches cheer-leading and has such pull in the Pentagon and SOCOM that his opinion of the Super Tucano aircraft for close air support duties actually matters. I’d like to meet this fellow, but I am not him.

    • Deiseach says:

      Re: getting it wrong algorithms, according to this test I am 66% beautiful which I have to say is inaccurate – I am 100% ravishing!

      Nah, solid uggo here, but it gave me a good laugh to think “complex mathematical calculations performed by a blind computer beauty calculator” could be so off the beam 🙂

      Running my fizzog through it on male setting gave the following result:

      62%
      You are good looking!
      Prominent Features
      Face too wide
      Normal forehead size
      Narrow interocular distance
      Good nose for face
      Normal mouth size
      Normal chin
      Good face symmetry

      And as a female:

      66%
      You are good looking!
      Prominent Features
      Face too wide
      Normal forehead size
      Narrow interocular distance
      Good nose for face
      Normal mouth size
      Big chin
      Good face symmetry

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      My ad targeting is usually pretty good with two exceptions, neither of which I’ve seen in a while:

      – Facebook was convinced that I wanted engagement ring ads, and not the ones with copy about what to get her, the ones with copy about what to tell him to get you.

      – A number of places, though facebook was the most common, were also convinced I wasn’t sure what kind of tampons I liked. Seriously, tons of these.

      (Yes, facebook knows damn well I’m a dude.)

      • Matt M says:

        That’s what you get for trying to catfish on Tinder, man!

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, what kind of tampons do you like? If you never say, how are they to know? 😀

        • Aapje says:

          Somehow, I never expected tampons to be a SSC discussion topic…

        • The Nybbler says:

          One of the mil-SF or technothriller series I read (can’t remember which one) recommends pads instead; better for soaking up blood from bullet wounds.

          • quaelegit says:

            Ah, but the 90s-teen-soccer version of Twelfth Night taught us that tampons are good for nosebleeds! So I guess its a question of which you are more likely to have to deal with in your day-to-day. 😛

          • The Nybbler says:

            You mean the 2006 “She’s the Man”, or the 1985 “Just One of the Guys”? Or is there a third teen movie based on Twelfth Night? (“She’s the Man” is specifically soccer, so probably that one?)

          • lvlln says:

            Pretty sure it’s She’s the Man, as I watched that movie just a couple months ago. It has a scene where Viola gets caught with tampons when she’s moving into her dorm room and quickly makes up the story that she gets a lot of nosebleeds, for which they’re useful. Later in the movie, she finds her roommate with a tampon up his nose after getting into a fight, remarking that it really works very well, as she suggested.

          • quaelegit says:

            “She’s the Man” was my guess for the title, but I was worried I had confused it with a TV show and didn’t care enough to check. So probably that one (I just checked Wikipedia and the movie poster doesn’t contradict my memory of what the actors looked like).

            Sorry for getting the decade wrong, I probably confused it with Romeo+Juliet (which was from the 90s and which I watched part of around the same time — both of these years after they made).

    • hyperboloid says:

      I also get a lot of of stuff from defense contractors; plus high end car dealers trying to sell me second hand Maybachs, Spanish language ads for ludicrously expensive real estate in Miami, and recruiting material for the CIA.

      Apparently Google believes I’m a South American dictator, or possibly some kind of drug lord.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Google claims to publish its beliefs here (previously here and here).

    • tayfie says:

      I do not know what ad systems think of me, and generally try to keep their knowledge as limited as possible. I block ads, javascript, and third-party cookies.

      This makes it quite a shock to browse the internet on computers owned by others. I find it curious people so easily accept pervasive, intrusive, and downright creepy targeted advertising as an inescapable fact of life when finding out and installing an ad blocker on requires the will to imagine such a thing might exist. I conjecture this stems from the influence of television. Ad blockers are not possible on television, so people never think it might be possible on the internet either.

      Furthermore, ads provide a net negative experience for me. They impede my ability to see the content I came for and the chance that they will inform me of a product that both interests me and I did not already know about is minuscule. I have never been persuaded to buy something from an online ad and have never heard of anyone who has. It makes me question if businesses see any increase in revenue from online ads or Facebook and Google are just effective scam artists.

      Why does anyone put up with the things? As this thread demonstrates, even targeted ads that are probably powered by all manner of cool data sifting techniques get things hilariously wrong to the point of uselessness. I understand the argument from supporting content creators, but will anyone argue the utility of online advertising to consumers or the businesses who buy it?

      • hyperboloid says:

        even targeted ads that are probably powered by all manner of cool data sifting techniques get things hilariously wrong to the point of uselessness.

        I never said Google was wrong about me.

      • johan_larson says:

        I block ads, javascript, and third-party cookies.

        I’m surprised the modern internet is usable for you at all. Or do you visit a very limited set of sites?

        Why does anyone put up with the things?

        For me, it’s a moral question. Content providers need to get paid somehow. And right now we have found only two ways that work: subscriptions and ads. If I haven’t paid a subscription, and the content provider isn’t willing to do the work for nothing, I should watch the ads because that’s what pays for the site’s operation. Now, to be sure, having one person skip the ads is a very minor bit of wrong. But that behavior does not scale: if everyone did so, the business would fail, and the content would not be available. So I watch the ads, annoying though they are.

        • albatross11 says:

          I block ads (and use Brave) for almost all sites, and things almost always work on the web.

        • Anonymous says:

          Why aren’t you buying anything? I mean, just watching the ads just shifts the issue one level up – the ad provider is wasting his money for no gain.

          • Nornagest says:

            Most advertising is not really meant to convince you to run out and buy something, although of course advertisers would be happy if you did. It’s more about building familiarity and positive associations, so that once you do discover a need for a bike helmet or a personal injury lawyer or a case of cheap beer or something, you’re fractionally more likely to pick the one you saw an ad for. You probably won’t even remember seeing the ad.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nornagest

            Yes. And knowing this makes me even less inclined to watch ads. Mere Exposure and Sleeper effects appear real, and I don’t trust these people to mess with my brain.

          • pjs says:

            > you’re fractionally more likely to pick the one you saw an ad for.

            Suppose I think that’s not true for me. Then can I block adds with a clear conscience? Or is the ethical path to forgo the non-subscription web altogether?

            Or, if you think I’m probably deluding myself about that, is there any actual science or research or even just-so reasoning that would support your suspicion over my own self-assessment? (I am skeptical, but could believe there is – you do seem fairly definite in your predictions about how ads effect me.)

          • Aapje says:

            @pjs

            The just-so explanation is pretty simple: the ads presumably store information in your brain, that gets accessed in some situations, like when problem solving.

            Furthermore, it produces familiarity and people presumably favor the familiar.

            Also, many advertisers seem to want to associate happy feelings with their products, which seems to work.

            So when you are in the supermarket and want a pleasant drink, you might be a bit more eager to choose beer over another kind of drink and Heineken over another beer brand. None of this has to be conscious, you will probably simply be more likely to notice Heineken in the first place and perhaps feel drawn to it*.

            * Unless you have a dislike of brands that get a lot of advertising, but then you probably err in the other direction, so then ads still effect you.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @johan larson

        I have similar settings with a few exceptions and it’s not -too- bad, though it has made it impossible to visit some mainstream blogs/websites (e.g. Forbes) due to aggressive “Whitelist us!!” blockers that Adblock can’t currently overcome AFAIK. On the other hand, the result of that has been that I spend less time on outrage porn and clickbait news, so, win-win?

        In terms of whether this is working, I have a question: Is the google “Ad settings” thing showing topics and/or detailed information for anyone else? Because for me all it has is my sex and age bracket.

        • Aapje says:

          I have topics. Apparently, I am interested in travel, which is surprising.

        • dodrian says:

          I don’t use an ad blocker, but have installed the EFF’s Privacy Badger, which requires me to whitelist any domains trying to track me across multiple sites. I don’t mind people advertising to me, but do have a problem with them trying to build a profile of me.

          The effect of this has actually been a large number of ads blocked. A few sites accuse me of using an ad blocker.

        • arlie says:

          I have nothing. Not even age or gender.

      • CatCube says:

        This is one of the areas where I’m hypocritical, in that I use an ad blocker. As a general rule, I’m opposed to [piracy/theft of IP/illegal downloading/whatever we want to call it here]–if you don’t want to pay what the author wants, then don’t consume the content.

        However, I’ve had a malicious ad infect my computer with a virus, which meant a good part of a Saturday spent burning the hard drive to the ground and reinstalling everything. After that, I use an ad blocker. Period. I don’t want any unnecessary code from your website running on my computer, especially since I’ve never once had an ad show me something I want to buy.

        Now, I don’t take any measures to defeat ad blocker blockers, nor will I ever do so. If you’re really that serious about wanting me to watch your ads to consume your content, I’ll respect your wishes and not consume the content. However, basic internet hygiene requires the use of an ad blocker, and I’m not willing to go without.

        • Anonymous says:

          [piracy/theft of IP/illegal downloading/whatever we want to call it here]

          I like the term ‘monopoly on copying’. Not that ad blocking is a good fit for that. Ad blocking is ad blocking. It’s exactly the same thing as going to the bathroom when commercial breaks occur on TV.

          Ad showers obviously would like to limit ad blocking, because they (sometimes, at least) are paid per view, but they don’t really care if you are gonna click anything, or make the ad provider any money. Which is why ad providers should reward conversion, not views. This neatly solves the supposed moral issue, too, since then the ad blocker is actually somewhat better to the ad provider than a passive viewer (not wasting their bandwidth) and indifferent to the ad shower.

        • Aapje says:

          @CatCube

          Exactly, I don’t feel bad for keeping myself safe.

          In a way, it’s a tragedy of the commons. All advertisers would probably be better off if they limited their ads to less intrusive and risky ones, but since there is a competition between advertisers, people keep pushing the limits.

          Unfortunately, there is no negative consequence to the individual advertiser for doing so, so you get advertisers pissing people off, who then retaliate by blocking everything, including the nicer ads*.

          * Although the ad-blockers don’t stop the very nicest ads, like those on SSC

      • toastengineer says:

        There’s a lot of sites that I’d love to turn the ad blocker off to support but whatever ad service they use slows my ridiculously powerful gaming machine to a crawl if I don’t block the ads.

        • Nick says:

          Same. Wikia is one of the worst. Patheos used to be pretty bad too; I’m not sure if it’s still as bad, I haven’t been on there in a while.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah, Wikia is so bad I had to tailor custom filters to get rid of a lot of shite that wasn’t even ads.

      • Anonymous says:

        Why does anyone put up with the things?

        Normies put up with it out of ignorance.

        A subset of intelligent and well-educated people, OTOH, have been infected with a meme that indicates to them that it is somehow immoral.

    • Murphy says:

      I actually figured out what was causing some of the misconceptions when I took a look at the list of what google thought I was interested in:

      https://adssettings.google.com/authenticated

      When I lived in a shared house with everyone coming off the same domestic line google would occasionally decide I liked things I’m fairly sure my housemates liked. Like Jazz.

      I imagine the same could happen to anyone regularly using a shared connection.

      Now that I have my own place it only seems to mix me up with my SO.

      If you share connections with a group it may decide you’re a weird mix of demographics.

    • toastengineer says:

      I consistently get Spanish language ads, as well as ads for tampons and such.

      I wish I was getting ads for war planes!

      Somehow I suspect that all these situations are more a result of advertisers having money to burn and not turning on all the targeting options.

    • Nornagest says:

      has such pull in the Pentagon and SOCOM that his opinion of the Super Tucano aircraft for close air support duties actually matters

      Do you live in the Washington, DC area? The only place I’ve ever seen ads for military equipment is on the DC Metro.

      (Which now that I think about it is kind of odd; you’d think people making purchasing decisions would be driving instead, and I haven’t seen them on billboards in the DC area. But maybe it’s some kind of inscrutable cost-benefit thing.)

      • johan_larson says:

        No, I live in Toronto. I think what happened was that I read an article in Foreign Affairs, and that was evidence of me being a DOD big-shot. Sometimes these systems just aren’t all that bright.

  12. Anatoly says:

    Coming from a Russian math club for elementary school students, today’s puzzle is geometric. The kind I really suck at, personally.

    Here’s a figure. Cut it into two identical parts. Mirror symmetry is allowed. The cut doesn’t have to be along one straight line.

    To be extra precise for no good reason, you’re required to find a way to draw lines on it so that if it was made of paper and you cut the paper along those lines, you’d end up with two pieces which after some turning and maybe flipping could be brought to coincide exactly.

    (If you solve it faster than in two hours, I hate you)

    • deciusbrutus says:

      Does the whitespace have to line up, or only the line segments? Are the two pieces both required to be contiguous?

      • Anatoly says:

        1. The two cut parts should line up exactly, as 2D figures.

        2. There’s a solution with contiguous pieces. A non-contiguous piece would still have to turn and move all of its parts together, so it doesn’t seem helpful (i.e. you can’t just slice the figure into half-cell triangles and arbitrarily divide them).

    • Bugmaster says:

      I’m not sure I fully understand the problem parameters:

      1). Is the figure to be cut defined as the area contained within the thick black lines ?
      2). How many lines are we allowed to draw ?
      3). What counts as a “line”, anyway ? Can we draw lines arbitrarily, or do they have to follow the grid ? Can the cuts be curved ?

      • Anatoly says:

        1. Correct.
        2. No limit.
        3. The lines should be straight. They don’t have to follow the grid.

      • Anatoly says:

        Correct! I hope you liked the challenge. To everyone else: the solution exists, it isn’t a trick of any kind, nor is it trivial-but-you-just-can’t-see-it. It’s just hard to find. Following the link irretrievably spoils the problem.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Is it certain that there’s only one solution?

          • Anatoly says:

            I know of only one, I think there’s only one, it seems likely due to some hand-waving arguments that there’s only one, but I don’t know if anyone proved it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Proving that would be the next challenge.

            (I have no idea myself.)

          • uau says:

            I think the way I solved it could be tightened to show that there are no alternative solutions. Here’s a proof outline:

            First, since both pieces must have the same edge length, the dividing cut has to connect to the edges of the original diagram at two opposite points.

            If the cut connects to the vertical sides, you can show that you’ll be able to identify the original horizontal sides in each piece, and they can’t be identical (one has an a wedge “out”, one “in”).

            So the cut has to connect to the horizontal sides. It should be possible to show that in each piece, you can identify the 90-degree corner between the vertical side (both pieces must contain one whole vertical side of the original) and the adjacent part of the horizontal side. Given this, there are only 2 possibilities – whether the pieces are flipped or not. It turns out that only flipping works. So you start drawing right from the bottom left corner, and draw a mirror image of the path that goes down from the top right corner. (Original path goes down 8 steps -> go right 8, original turns right 90 degrees -> turn left 90 degrees… and so on. After you’ve crossed the “wedge” in the original drawing you start following and mirroring earlier parts of the cut you’re drawing.) This gives the unique solution.

    • Glenn says:

      I didn’t time myself, but it took me around 30-35 minutes. (Not more than 40, based on the “comments since” indicator telling me when I previously opened the post.) I checked my solution against cactus head’s; it’s the same. Neat puzzle!

      • Iain says:

        I also got the same answer. Based on the timestamp on my downloaded copy of the image, it took me somewhere around 45 minutes, with a brief break to go microwave my lunch.

        It’s a good puzzle. Identifying the correct approach took most of my time. Once I had that sorted, the remaining details were pretty straightforward.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      Found the solution quite quickly, but only by guessing well. Does anyone know a systematic way to solve this (kind of) puzzle, including enumerating all possible solutions or showing uniqueness?

      • Glenn says:

        My approach was something like “try whatever feels obvious, attempt to either make it work or rule it out and move on to the next thing.” It feels like descending a game tree, with a mental map of what the tree of possibilities looks like. Almost all of it for this puzzle I was able to do in my head, with only the last part needing tools. (Had it been any harder I would have given up, in the context of “a puzzle on the web” rather than something important.) It felt a lot like trying to do a proof.

        The rest is under rot13 for spoilers.

        Gur zbfg boivbhf guvat gb gel jnf fyvpvat vg va unys nybat rnpu nkvf. Arvgure jnl jbexf, naq guvf pna or cebira cerggl rnfvyl. (Va rnpu pnfr gurer ner sbhe bevragngvbaf gb gel zngpuvat gur cvrprf; bs gur 8 guvatf lbh pna gel, 6 ner boivbhfyl vzcbffvoyr orpnhfr gur pbairk ovg fgvpxf bhg naq gurer’f abguvat gb zngpu vg ntnva; sbe gur bgure gjb, lbh unir gb gel nqwhfgvat gur obhaqnel orgjrra cvrprf gb zngpu, naq frr gung gurer’f ab jnl gb znxr vg jbex.)

        Nsgre V jnf pbaivaprq gung jnf vzcbffvoyr, V fgnegrq pbafvqrevat jung frrzrq yvxr gur arkg-fvzcyrfg jnl gb pneir hc gur ohyx bs gur funcr gb znxr vg frys-fvzvyne, jvgubhg jbeelvat nobhg gur gevnathyne cebwrpgvbaf sbe gur zbzrag. V abgvprq gung gur fvqr yratguf bs 8 naq 12 qvivqrq avpryl vagb frtzragf bs yratgu 4, naq gung n cnve bs Y-funcrf jbhyq jbex.

        Va gurbel lbh pbhyq pneir gur Y-funcrf gjb jnlf, ohg bar bs gurz vf boivbhfyl ehyrq bhg ol gur gevnathyne cebwrpgvbaf (ntnva, fgvpxvat bhg jvgu abguvat gb zngpu gur pbairk bar ntnvafg.) Fb V gbbx gur bgure jnl gb pneir gur gjb Y-funcrf (gur pbeerpg jnl, vg gheaf bhg); gurer ner bayl gjb cbffvoyr bevragngvbaf gb bireynl gurz ba rnpu bgure guvf gvzr, bar gevivnyyl qvfcebinoyr nf orsber.

        Ng guvf cbvag V sryg yvxr V jnf bagb fbzrguvat — gurer jnf bayl bar jnl gb bireynl gur gjb funcrf gung V unqa’g ehyrq bhg lrg, naq gurer jnf ab boivbhf ernfba gung vg pbhyqa’g or znqr gb jbex — ohg V jnf nyfb cnfg gur cbvag bs jung V pbhyq ivfhnyvmr va zl urnq, fb V juvccrq bhg na vzntr rqvgbe. Ng guvf cbvag, V’z whfg bireynlvat gur gjb funcrf ba rnpu bgure naq nqwhfgvat gurz gb zngpu rnpu bgure. Rnpu nqwhfgzrag vf sbeprq va ghea, naq vg’f whfg n znggre bs grfgvat gb frr jurgure vg jbexf. Rnpu gevnathyne cebwrpgvba va gur bhgre obhaqnel sbeprf bar gb or znqr va gur phg-obhaqnel orgjrra cvrprf gb zngpu vg, naq V nyzbfg gubhtug V jnf jebat ng guvf cbvag, hagvy V ernyvmrq gung rnpu bs GUBFR gura sbeprf nabgure bar va gur irel pragre bs gur phg-obhaqnel, naq obgu bs GUBFR nqwhfgzragf yvar hc jvgu rnpu bgure naq zngpu hc, fb jr’er qbar naq vg’f fbyirq.

    • StellaAthena says:

      I spent 15 minutes and couldn’t get it, gave up because I should be doing homework and looked at the answer. I was on the right track, but hadn’t worked out the details.

    • benwave says:

      Well I guess you and I are opposites then, because this took me less than five minutes but I Still haven’t figured out the problem with the n prisoners and n possible colours of hats problem from three weeks ago despite continuing to puzzle away at it during my tea breaks! : (

      • Anatoly says:

        Yeah, I actually gave up on this problem after two or three hours, and later finished it with a massive hint. I think it has to do with geometric intuition or visualization or something. Even when I look at the solution, it’s *hard* for me to see that it’s correct in my mind.

        Someone I know who also solved it quickly is also very good at Untangle, while I’m much worse at it. She does 100 and 200 point versions to relax.

        Let me know if you want a hint for the n prisoners/colors puzzle 🙂

    • b_jonas says:

      If you like this sort of problem, the forum thread “https://www.komal.hu/forum?a=to&tid=55&st=200&dr=1” has a few more.

  13. Nick says:

    Has anyone watched The Frankenstein Chronicles?

    It’s about a stitched together corpse washing up in London and the investigation into who made it. It piqued my interest, and I ended up binging the series yesterday. I think I’d recommend it, though the first series more so than the second: the mystery was nicely done, the characters were at least okay, and I liked the themes. I have to give it serious credit for handling the religious themes pretty intelligently; I was expecting to be disappointed, rfcrpvnyyl va frevrf gjb jura bar bs gur ivyynvaf vf na rivy qrna bs jrfgzvafgre, but was pleased overall. It nicely weaves all sorts of Regency Era writers together: we get some Mary Shelley, of course, but also some William Blake and Charles Dickens. The writing was uneven at times, though, with every single romance in the show feeling rushed, and the way the protagonist’s madness is handled in the beginning of series two is way more obnoxious than in series one.

    Still, I’d recommend it. What did you guys think of it?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I guess that’s a no, mate. :/

        I’ll add it to my watch list, that’s the best I can offer. Is it a TV series? Mini-series? Where did you find it? etc.

        • johan_larson says:

          Two-season TV series. Available on Netflix in Canada, and probably other places too.

        • Nick says:

          What johan_larson said. 6 episodes per season, which is how I managed to watch it in only a day. Since you’re Catholic too, if you get to it I’d be interested in whether you think the religious themes were handled well too—I might be giving it too much or too little credit. Would also be interested in opinions of the villains’ philosophies, since I wasn’t sure whether I was just reading genafuhznavfg gurzrf vagb nyy bs guvf.

  14. a reader says:

    What do you think about Che Guevara – hero, villain, both, neither? In my opinion, both: he had many qualities of a hero, but the dezastruos impact of a villain, because, to paraphrase a Nobel winner, Steven Weinberg, for good people to do evil things, that takes ideology (not necessarily religion as he said).

    He was very courageous, intelligent, very charismatic, honest, materially disinterested, totally dedicated and incorruptible. Between his 2 episodes of guerila war, he had for some years the less romantic job of minister of industry in Cuba. He tried to push the economy towards communism, following faithfully the theory, without the minimal reality concessions of the soviets, convinced that men can be morally incentivised, as himself, but it was quite a disaster. Cuba had to adopt food ratios and it stayed on ratios till today. Actually, Che Guevara just gave a solid proof that communism was impossible – because if communism were really possible, it had all the chances to succeeded there.

    An he killed people. Do you remember all those trolley moral problems? When you have, for example, to choose to push a man from a bridge to fall on the rail to stop the trolley to kill n people. Well, what if you miscalculated all that, if the trolley wasn’t a real danger, but the man you pushed (imagining that you save many others) is really dead?

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      To paraphrase Margot Asquith, he may not have been a good man, but he was a great t-shirt.

    • johan_larson says:

      Villain. An ardent and capable champion who pushed hard for bad ideas that made life worse for a lot of people. And you know, part of being capable being able to recognize that what you are trying isn’t working and being willing to try things a different way, so how capable could he really have been, all in all?

    • Sfoil says:

      courageous, intelligent, very charismatic, honest, materially disinterested, totally dedicated

      In my opinion, one of the key insights of Christianity is that these things aren’t fundamental virtues.

      • yodelyak says:

        Say more about that, @sfoil? What was Guevara missing?

        • Aapje says:

          An understanding that few people can be so virtuous?

          A (nearly) perfect person who demands perfection from others is a horrible leader of mortal men.

        • Sfoil says:

          Humility.

          • yodelyak says:

            Thanks. My best guess was you’d probably say “charity”–if he’d been more understanding of the perspectives of his opponents, rather than assuming the worst of them.

            Humility names the problem much better.

          • a reader says:

            Che Guevara didn’t have charity in the sense used in rationalist debates – he was a conflict theorist, probably he assumed the worst of his opponents. But he did have charity in the other, more frequent sense, compassion for the suffering of the poor – that compassion is what started him on his path.

            Regarding humility, it is debatable. He didn’t like honors, although he thought about his future place in history. And he was able to admit that he was wrong – his book about his expedition in Congo starts with the phrase “This is the history of a failure” – he was just unable to admit that marxism was wrong.

      • a reader says:

        Hm… at least one of these – the courage – is considered a “cardinal virtue” by the catholic church. And it can be argued that he also practiced the virtue of temperance due to his material disinterest. But there is a cardinal virtue that Che Guevara clearly lacked: prudence.

        • Deiseach says:

          But the cardinal virtues – prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude – are distinct from the theological ones – faith, hope and charity – and are not specifically religious, i.e. they do not derive from divine revelation and so are secular virtues shared even by the pagans.

          So being brave, prudent, fair-minded and strong on their own are not virtues sufficient for salvation.

          • a reader says:

            As I said above, he had charity, for the poor. And he had faith and hope – too much faith and hope – in communism. Marxism was his religion.

    • If anyone is curious about a Stalinist tankie’s take on Che, see this article at “Critique of Crisis Theory” here:

      • a reader says:

        There are a few lies there, for example that “Batista was preparing with Washington’s support to seize power illegally”(if Washington’s implication were real, it will be well known, officially admitted by now, like the interventions in Iran, Guatemala and Chile), but it seems a quite accurate descriptions of the economic disagreements between the “idealistic and utopian” Che Guevara and the soviets.

    • bean says:

      Villain. If I’d ever had a college roommate who had a Che poster, I planned to immediately procure a Hitler poster and hang it in protest. I’m not saying that Che was as bad as Hitler, merely make a point about villainy.

      • cassander says:

        Franco might have been a better choice. Same point, but more comparable body count. Actually, scratch that. The right response is clearly a Pinochet poster.

          • cassander says:

            I love it, but it’s hideous. Were the nazis really the only right wing movement with an aesthetic sense worth a damn?

          • Deiseach says:

            Were the nazis really the only right wing movement with an aesthetic sense worth a damn?

            They seem to have worked with proper fashion designers, so the answer would be yes? At least for the uniforms, I don’t think their aesthetic sense elsewhere was all that great – if big impressive chunks of concrete are your thing then yes, but the rest of it was rather turgid.

            By the third quarter of 1932, the all-black SS uniform (to replace the SA brown shirts) was designed by SS-Oberführer Prof. Karl Diebitsch and Walter Heck (graphic designer). The Hugo Boss company produced these black uniforms along with the brown SA shirts and the black-and-brown uniforms of the Hitler Youth.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s true that Hugo Boss produced their uniforms, but I don’t think they were as well-known as a fashion house at the time, and I also don’t think they did the design work.

        • bean says:

          That’s a good point, actually. I’m past the point where I have to worry about this problem, but I’ll update the contingency plan anyway.

    • Randy M says:

      So, Anti-Paladin?

    • Nornagest says:

      I think I’m leaning towards “tragic hero”, but more “tragic” than “hero”. Had many virtues, clearly wanted to be doing the right thing, but was so badly wrong about what that was that it left hundreds or thousands of people dead and contributed to impoverishing millions more. That’s more a Hamlet than an Iago, though the stage is big enough that it confuses things a bit.

      Seems to me that outside storytelling, the line between hero and villain should be drawn at “is this someone you want to emulate?” Now, there could be several answers to that question depending on what you choose to emphasize about his personality and career, but on balance it’s more likely to be a “yes, but…” than a “no” — though either one’s more likely than a flat “yes”.

      • Iain says:

        Yeah, “tragic hero” seems about right to me. Indeed, he’s a pretty good fit for Aristotle’s definition:

        There remains, then, the intermediate kind of personage, a man not pre-eminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is brought upon him not by vice and depravity but by some error of judgement. […] the change in the hero’s fortunes must be not from misery to happiness, but on the contrary from happiness to misery; and the cause of it must lie not in any depravity, but in some great error on his part.

      • a reader says:

        Yes, he is a tragic figure – I said something similar (with Nornagest) in a listicle I wrote a while ago:

        10 Little Known Facts about Che Guevara

        But he was to much a man of action to be compared with Hamlet. More like Don Quixote – he made the comparison himself, in a farewell letter to his parents, before going in the expedition to Bolivia where he died:

        Once again I feel beneath my heels the ribs of Rocinante*. Once more, I’m on the road with my shield on my arm.

    • cassander says:

      It’s not impossible to be a hero (in the sense of helping large numbers of people live better lives, not being brave) and a communist revolutionary, but it’s extremely difficult. I think Deng Xioping might have been the only person to pull it off.

      • a reader says:

        Deng Xiaoping is debatable because Tienanmen. I would propose Mikhail Gorbachev.

        • cassander says:

          I will absolutely defend Tiananmen.

          First, we must work from the baseline of the enormous increase in the quality of life of the average chinese in the last 30 years. that’s an intrinsically good case for the regime. Now, could that increase have been even better? Sure, I wouldn’t say doing better was impossible, but I think it’s improbable. When I when I look at the protesters in Tiananmen, I see a bunch of kids annoyed that the who out on their chance to be red guards, and had they been let loose, the consequence would have been chaos and disorder, not better policy.

          As for Gorbachev, I probably wouldn’t count him as a revolutionary communist because, unlike deng, he came around long after the revolution was over. and while the end of the USSR was certainly a good thing, I’m not sure how much credit he gets for trying to do the opposite and failing catastrophically, if gracefully.

          • a reader says:

            When I when I look at the protesters in Tiananmen, I see a bunch of kids annoyed that the who out on their chance to be red guards

            “their chance to be red guards” ?!? It seems you’ve got Tiananmen wrong. The young protesters were pro-reforms – they wanted the reforms to go even further, towards democracy (free press, free association etc.).

            and had they been let loose, the consequence would have been chaos and disorder, not better policy.

            The Eastern European countries abandoned comunism without descending into chaos – except Yugoslavia, who was very ethnically divided – so there is no reason China couldn’t do the same.

          • cassander says:

            “their chance to be red guards” ?!? It seems you’ve got Tiananmen wrong. The young protesters were pro-reforms – they wanted the reforms to go even further, towards democracy (free press, free association etc.).

            the red guards had noble sounding slogans too.

            The Eastern European countries abandoned comunism without descending into chaos – except Yugoslavia, who was very ethnically divided – so there is no reason China couldn’t do the same.

            China did do the same, under deng.

          • a reader says:

            So you are 100% sure that the Tienanmen protesters were Maoists ?!? Why? And why do you think that all descriptions of the events say the exact opposite – conspiracy? It seems that you project your aversion towards contemporary SJW/antifa university protesters on totally different times and cultures. Believe me, because I lived in communism (as a kid). Probably the only important difference between the Romanian and Chinese 1989 protesters was that the Romanians won, but the Chinese lost.

          • cassander says:

            @a reader says:

            So you are 100% sure that the Tienanmen protesters were Maoists ?!?

            No, I’m about 80% sure that regardless of their ideology, had they come to power in what amounted to a revolution, then the result would have been the usual result of revolutions, which is chaos and civil strife.

            Probably the only important difference between the Romanian and Chinese 1989 protesters was that the Romanians won, but the Chinese lost.

            The romanians were more interested in seceding from the soviet empire and getting rid of Ceaușescu than overthrowing their government. The chinese did want to overthrow their own government. this distinction is very important.

            Getting rid of one person runs a much smaller risk of a revolutionary situation breaking out. That person can leave without destroying the whole structure of the state, and that’s what happened in romania. Iliescu, a former high communist party official, got the leadership and the army to around him and they shot Ceaușescu and his wife. Economic changes followed, but within the pre-existing legal system.

            The tiananmen protesters did want to change the whole structure of the state, which almost by definition means creating a revolutionary situation. It meant throwing out not just one guy at the top, but whole layers of elites, and they almost certainly would not have gone quietly even if Deng had been willing. They would have fought, and the result would have been civil war or chaos as the government simply fell apart.

          • Tienanmen is an interesting case. One argument for what Deng did would be that Russia introduced both capitalism and democracy, China introduced capitalism but not democracy, and China has been much more successful than Russia.

          • a reader says:

            @cassander:

            Romania’s transition towards liberal democracy was more rapid than you think. Although the now controversial Iliescu was a former communist party official himself, the the communist party was abolished and future free elections were announced by Iliescu in the evening of Ceausescu’s fall:

            https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ro&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fioniliescu.wordpress.com%2Fmedia%2Fcomunicat-catre-tara-al-cfsn-22-dec1989%2F&edit-text=&act=url

            As I said Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland changed very rapidly, in 1989-1990, from communist dictatorships into liberal democracies (with free elections and all that), without descending into chaos and disorder. Czechia and Slovakia divorced amiably, also without descending into chaos. Only Yugoslavia had chaos and disorder – but only because it was extremely multi-ethnic. So chances for a communist dictatorship to transition to liberal democracy without descending into chaos and disorder seemed very good, more than 80% – even more so for China, the East Asians being by nature and/or culture inclined to law-abiding.

            Almost 30 years from then, China is still a dictatorship, with political prisoners and camps, with strong internet censorship, with a population less poor than in Mao’s times, but still poor enough to accept the extremely low wages for which it is famous worldwide and that made lots of manufacturing industry relocate there.

            All countries or territories that are racially/culturally similar with China but have more freedom – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong – are better in living standard, life expectancy, GDP per capita etc.

        • kaakitwitaasota says:

          Gorbachev’s legacy was the 1990s–a decade in which Russia saw inflation run up to 800% and defaulted on its debt three times while mobsters sucked the economy dry. The man currently has a 2% approval rating among the Russian electorate. The fall of the USSR might have been inevitable (though hindsight is very much 20/20–remember, nobody saw the fall of the Wall coming), but fucking it up as badly as Gorbachev did was definitely a choice.

          I would concur with Deng, though. I’m writing this from Chengdu, where I teach English to rich young things who are going to go study abroad in the Anglosphere. They, and a billion of their countrymen, would be starving or nearly so if Deng hadn’t taken the helm.

          • a reader says:

            Gorbachev was practically the liberator of all Eastern Europe. With his glasnost & perestroika, he cut the chains of communism, thinking that communism can be built without using chains (he was wrong).

            As an Eastern European, I am deeply grateful to him. Yes, we too had huge inflation in the 90s (even now I still tend to count money in “millions”). But now, my country and many other former communist countries, including some former soviet republics, are members in NATO and European Union, with a living standard we wouldn’t have dreamed during the 80s. Without Gorbachev, we couldn’t have this conversation, because between me and you all would be the Iron Curtain.

          • cassander says:

            Gorbachev’s legacy was the 1990s–a decade in which Russia saw inflation run up to 800% and defaulted on its debt three times while mobsters sucked the economy dry.

            That’s at least as much Yeltsin’s fault as Gorbachev’s. The post-soviet transition was never going to be easy, but Yeltsin’s terrible policies made it worse.

      • At the point when Deng was improving many people’s lives he was a communist, in some sense, but no longer a revolutionary.

  15. Deiseach says:

    The probability calibration quizzes are interesting, but their restricted search engine is very frustrating (whether intentional or not I couldn’t say). Loads very slowly and won’t show certain pages, which makes it hard to ferret out the information – this may be deliberate as they don’t want the quiz takers to just go “Okay, Wikipedia article says that’s a load of bullhockey, so I’ll answer 100% sure it’s false” as that would defeat the purpose, but it annoyed the heck out of me and made me stop taking the quiz before I would have given up ordinarily.

    • Owain Evans says:

      Thanks for trying the FHI calibration quiz (‘Think Again’)! We know the restricted search engine is not ideal. However, it does work for doing basic research on Wikipedia. You’ll find that fact-checking is often challenging even with (somewhat clunky) access to Wikipedia.

      If the political fact-checking task is not your cup of tea, try the Fermi arithmetic task. There’s no search engine involved at all (you just use pen and paper) and some people really enjoy the task.

      • Deiseach says:

        Thank you for the suggestion, but since (e.g. the first question) I haven’t a bull’s notion how many teams are in the NFL – three million? twelve? nine and a half if they’re playing on Sunday? – and I can’t Google to find out, this was a short batch of “fecked if I know” round 🙂

        • quaelegit says:

          Ok I don’t understand the format of this quiz, but for Fermi Arithmetic what matters is the order of magnitude (is it closer to one, ten, one hundred, etc.). So the difference between 9.5 and 12 is negligible. We can probably also toss out 3 million because if there were that many teams we couldn’t schedule games for them all and fans couldn’t keep track of them.

          To me, a reasonable range of guesses is “a handful” (10^0) up to “hundreds” (10^2). Since NFL teams are tied to major U.S. cities, how many of those are there? Less than a hundred. So I’d go with a number in the tens (10^1).

          Or, perhaps a better approach (since I could see that “major US cities” isn’t well-defined, and maybe you have no intuition on that) is to try to extrapolate from things you are more familiar with. E.g. do you have any intuition for the size of professional European football league(s?) or other sports leagues? The population of Europe as a whole is the same order of magnitude as that of the U.S., and the commercial and cultural aspects seem (from my remove) similar, so the number of teams is likely within the same order of magnitude.

          • Owain Evans says:

            That’s right. For many Fermi problems you won’t know the exact number but the rough order of magnitude will suffice.

            The Fermi tasks involves a very wide range of topics (sports, astronomy, biology, entertainment, geography, basic math). Most people will find some of the topics tricky. If you really have no idea, then say “50%”. If you only have a weak hunch, say “55%/45%” (and so on).

          • Deiseach says:

            E.g. do you have any intuition for the size of professional European football league(s?) or other sports leagues?

            Well, for example, the English Premier League has twenty teams, but there are also lower divisions, so it depends if you count all the football teams (including non-league sides) or not. So does “NFL teams” mean “the top twenty” or does the NFL work like that? Not having any idea where to start with means mostly going “50-55%, haven’t a clue mate” answers.

            But maths is not my thing anyway 🙂

          • Protagoras says:

            I don’t know what they were asking you to compare it to, and I know how many NFL teams there are, but if you figured there are probably more than the English Premier League, and that 100 seems kind of excessive, you’d know it should be smaller than any number that looks triple digit and larger than any number that looks under 20. If whatever the other number was described as being seemed to be inconveniently between 20 and 100, just give very low confidence for your guess; that’s what the test expects of you.

  16. limestone says:

    I’m starting an online forum GURPS game, aimed on the SSC readers, here is the setting and gameplay description. If someone is interested, you are welcome to join! There are already a few players from the previous SSC forum game attempt.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Interesting! How open are you to players who have RPing experience but not with GURPS? Is the system hard to get a hang of in a forum setting would you say?

      • limestone says:

        100% open! In fact, I’m kind of new to GURPS myself… My previous GMing experience was in D&D games.

        The system itself isn’t very complicated, especially considering the fact that I will run all the combat calculations (see the combat part on the game page).

  17. deciusbrutus says:

    FHI says that US Social Security Disability “went belly up” in 2016, which is news for the SSA.

    Or maybe they literally can’t tell the difference between a real person really saying a thing and the thing that was said being true.

  18. Brett says:

    1. You’d probably need to couple shutting down the tax shelter with some other layoffs and sell-offs, to make it look like you’re doing a broad restructuring of the company as opposed to a mere restructuring of your tax shelters. That could be costly, especially if your company doesn’t have a lot of “fat” to trim already.

    In any case,

    Now that I’ve finished the Silmarillion, I’ve read War of the Jewels and most of Morgoth’s Ring to try and understand it better. Some very interesting stuff in Morgoth’s Ring, especially the odd “myths transformed” section where Tolkien rewrote part of the creation myth for his fictional mythology because it really bothered him that it was a “flat earth” mythology instead of “round earth in a solar system in a universe” (before abandoning it because it would have forced rewrites on the whole Silmarillion narrative). Also, the Elvish view on aliens!

    Makes me wonder if any of this stuff is going to make it into that Lord of the Rings prequel TV series, whatever it ends up being about.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Unfortunately, no, Amazon doesn’t have the rights to the History of Middle-Earth. Or perhaps that’s fortunate.

      • no one special says:

        Do we know this? I know the Tolkien Estate was unwilling to hand out right to the Silmarillion and the History, but now the Christopher Tolkien has retired, I don’t know who is holding the reins there, or what they will hold back.

    • Deiseach says:

      that Lord of the Rings prequel TV series

      I’m groaning in dread about this because I imagine (whether or not that is how it will end out) that the series will be very much modelled on the movies rather than the book(s), and that can go so wrong. To get enough content for an entire season (at least) they will need to set up plots and I don’t want to see movie!Denethor and Aragorn-as-Thorongil butting heads in Gondor. (Movie!Denethor traduced the character of Book!Denethor so badly and I don’t expect a TV series running on ‘how much can we copy Game Of Thrones‘ to be any better at nuance of character).

      Or some bright spark will decide they need “representation” so we’ll get Haradrim and maybe even people from Khand showing up to be all rebuking of white Western colonialism – and to bump up female characters, I can imagine a feisty Harad woman riding around on horseback waving a sword while leading her people and fighting for their homeland and pointing out how the aggressive expansionist policies of Númenorian ship-kings drove them into the alliance with the Umbar corsairs and Sauron, and It’s All Your Guys Fault, you always considered us lesser beings and uncivilised and evil savages, and presenting an ethical dilemma for whoever the Ranger character (enemy turned to love interest) will be and Do. Not. Want.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        That reminds me– I think there’s a lot of anti-colonialism in the subplot with Ghan buri Ghan, but I haven’t seen it discussed much. Thoughts?

        • Deiseach says:

          There is also the fragmentary story from the mid-50s, “Tal-Elmar”, that Christopher Tolkien included in the volume “The Peoples of Middle-earth”, where we see the Númenorean colonists from the viewpoint of one tribe of “Wild Men”, and where there is this dialogue between Elmar, the war-captive bride and Buldar, who takes her as wife:

          ‘So be it,’ said Buldar. ‘But it is not to be thought that I should let thee go free. For thou art precious in my sight. And consider well: vain is it to seek to escape from me. Long is the way to the remnant of thy folk, if any still live; and thou wouldst not go far from the Hills of Agar ere thou met death, or a life far worse than shall be thine in my house. Base and unlovely thou namest us. Truly, maybe. Yet true is it also that thy folk are cruel, and lawless, and the friends of demons. Thieves are they. For our lands are ours from of old, which they would wrest from us with their bitter blades. White skins and bright eyes are no warrant for such deeds.’

          ‘Are they not?’ said she. ‘Then neither are thick legs and wide shoulders. Or by what means did ye gain these lands that ye boast of? Are there not, as I hear men say, wild folk in the caves of the mountains, who once roamed here free, ere ye swart folk came hither and hunted them like wolves? But I spoke not of rights, but of sorrow and love. If here I must dwell, then dwell I must, as one whose body is in this place at thy will, but my thought far elsewhere. And this vengeance I will have, that while my body is kept here in exile, the lot of all this folk shall worsen, and thine most; but when my body goes to the alien earth, and my thought is free of it, then in thy kin one shall arise who is mine alone. And with his arising shall come the end of thy people and the downfall of your king.’

          And the perception of the Númenorians by the Wilderlings, who (as servants of Sauron) are considered their enemies:

          Black tales come to us out of the coast-lands, north and south, where they have now long time established their dark fortresses and their tombs. But hither they have not come since my father’s days, and then only to raid and catch men and depart. Now this was the manner of their coming. They came in boats, but not such as some of our folk use that dwell nigh the great rivers or the lakes, for ferrying or fishing. Greater than great houses are the ships of the Go-hilleg, and they bear store of men and goods, and yet are wafted by the winds; for the Sea-men spread great cloths like wings to catch the airs, and bind them to tall poles like trees of the forest. Thus they will come to the shore, where there is shelter, or as nigh as they may; and then they will send forth smaller boats laden with goods, and strange things both beautiful and useful such as our folk covet. These they will sell to us for small price, or give as gifts, feigning friendship, and pity for our need; and they will dwell a while, and spy out the land and the numbers of the folk, and then go. And if they do not return, men should be thankful.

          For if they come again it is in other guise. In greater numbers they come then: two ships or more together, stuffed with men and not goods, and ever one of the accursed ships hath black wings. For that is the Ship of the Dark, and in it they bear away evil booty, captives packed like beasts, the fairest women and children, or young men unblemished, and that is their end. Some say that they are eaten for meat; and others that they are slain with torment on the black stones in the worship of the Dark. Both maybe are true. The foul wings of the Sea-men have not been seen in these waters for many a year; but remembering the shadow of fear in the past I cried out, and cry again: is not our life hard enough without the vision of a black wing upon the shining sea?’

          The history of the entire work is complicated and not as simple as the “white supremacist” notions floating around – because the movie gave some of the Orcs dreads, apparently at least one idiot has got it into his head that Tolkien meant “Orcs = Africans” and tah-dah, racism!

          What with the dark skin, broad faces and dreadlocks, it’s a wonder Tolkien didn’t give his baddies a natural sense of rhythm, says John Yatt, examining Middle Earth’s suspect racial undertones

          The “dark skin, broad faces and dreadlocks” are the movie design choices (the character who “wore his long dark hair in great plaits braided with gold” is Fingon, one of the Elves and one of the ‘heroes’ by this measure), but Tolkien gets the rap. This is the Edmund Wilson Oo Those Awful Orcs school of criticism, which has never died, which looks down its nose at fantasy and even more so at fantasy that dares to be popular and successful rather than proper literature, so it gets skewered on “I can’t be bothered to actually read the wretched trash but I can look down on it because of my impeccable literary theory credentials so watch me go” grounds.

          Though to be fair to Wilson, he had more stuffiness and pedantry but less head-up-his-backsideness.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Thanks.

            I was thinking more about Ghan buri Ghan knowing numbers and refusing to be patronized, and that the reward for his people was Gondor (and Rohan?) staying out of his lands rather than them being integrated into Gondor.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I read “Tal-Elmar” just last month, and I’m not sure we can take that description at face value. The Wilderlings are servants of Sauron (thanks to fear) and under his influence; it’s very possible he spread lies about the Numenorians to discourage his servants from seeking them out. Tolkien’s notes imply that if he’d continued the story, our protagonist would’ve found the Numenorians more friendly when he sought them out himself.

            On the other hand, maybe Buldar’s(?) description is exactly right. The story’s so fragmentary – and there’re so few other sources about that era in Middle-Earth – that we don’t know.

      • Brett says:

        “Arwen and Aragorn” does say he went pretty far into the south and east of Middle-Earth (“where the stars are strange” in the case of the former), so if they do that particular overarching story then there’s a lot of potential for us to see the Haradrim and Easterlings in areas other than the battlefields in Lord of the Rings.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’ve read the fanfic about Aragorn going South and having a romance with a Haradrim woman – well,, not read, but was made aware of, back in the days of the explosion of new fandom that came out during the first movies 🙂

          So while I might trust fanfiction writers to do a good job, I sure as heck don’t trust a TV show where – if current indications are anything likely – there will be a vocal minority getting on Twitter and other social media platforms to look for a token figure to behave in certain ways, and while there’s room for critiques of underlying assumptions in the work, I have not got the patience any more to sit through the paint-by-numbers “Tolkien was an anti-Semite because he deliberately based the Dwarves on stereotypes of the Jews” SJ nonsense that I’ve seen out there. Knock yourself out with your non-binary trans queer gender role-nonconforming half-Human, half-Elven, half-Dwarven female Harad commander coerced by threats to xer family by the Black Númenoreans into fighting the imperialist white-skins, guys, but leave me out of it.

          Look at this lady’s comment with her “Pics of your perfect race of Nazi-approved beings” *insert eye-rolling emoji here*.

          A TV series is not going to be the Silmarillion anyway, it’s going to be Game of Thrones with the movie characters slapped on. I would be interested in seeing, for example, Elladan and Elrohir going out on their Orc-killing vengeance patrols and having that looked at (the psychology of vengeance), I would not be interested in Elladan and Elrohir giving lectures to Elrond and the rest about sitting in safety doing nothing while the Mortals fight (“at least we’re doing something, going out fighting with the Dúnedain Rangers!”) which is what ended up giving us Haldir marching a contingent of the Lothlórien Elves to fight at Helm’s Deep.

          tl; dr – I don’t think we’ll get an intelligent adaptation for a series, I think we’ll get an unholy mess of a mash-up between movie action scenes and finger-wagging lecturing that’s generic fantasy series world with generic 21st century woke American attitudes.

          • AG says:

            Wouldn’t “Game of Thrones with the movie characters slapped on” be an adaptation of The Hobbit that gets into all of the backstory subtext of the factional politics, and foregrounds them? Rather than considering the conflicts as based on race/species, base them in politics (albeit the racism would still influence said politics).

          • engleberg says:

            @Rather than considering the conflicts as based on race/species, base them in politics-

            I’d like to see a TV version of Gilliland’s Wizenbeak. Gilliland was a better writer than George RR Martin, and his grasp of high politics, labor politics, and administrative politics was so much better it’s embarrassing. Also, his dragons and troll-bats were better. Again, his sword-fights were wildly better. His sex scenes were gamier, but also better. His battle scenes were better. His magic rituals were better and wildly evocative. He ripped off Shakespeare better. Finally, the rights are bound to be cheaper.

          • rmtodd says:

            Never read Wizenbeak, but I fondly remember Gilliland’s foray into SF with the Rosinante trilogy, with fun bits like the assassination of the governor of Texas with a cruise missile and Senator Gomez’s posthumous press conference.

  19. Atlas says:

    Imagine that a runaway trolley was speeding down some train tracks. If it continues on its present course, it will foreseeably create a chain of events resulting in the death of 500 million people. (I cordially invite readers to come up with their own hilarious and convoluted scenarios describing how exactly this will happen in their responses.) You could divert the trolley onto a track where it will kill only one person instead. Which choice do you think would be the most ethical here?

    Of course, the real question I’m asking is, does this strike your intuitions/reasoning differently than the usual trolley problem where a smaller number of people would be killed by allowing the trolley to run on its course? If you have different judgements in the cases, is there some threshold where you think that diverting the trolley becomes the correct choice?

    • Mary says:

      Chains of event are inherently less reliable the longer they get. More factors intervene, raising doubts about whether the train would cause them (either whether they would occur, or whether they would have occurred regardless of whether the train went).

      • Atlas says:

        Well, that’s orthogonal to the issue I’m trying to raise here—you can rewrite the dilemma as you like, as long as you have absolute certainty that taking no action will kill over two orders of magnitude more people than the equivalent of diverting it would.

        • John Schilling says:

          as long as you have absolute certainty

          There are exactly two things you can be absolutely certain of. That you exist, in some form. And that you do not have absolute certainty about anything else at all, period, full stop, ever.

          Therefore you are in error, and I should suspect you of lying for the purpose of convincing me to murder someone for reasons I haven’t figured out yet. I’ll be working on that. In the meantime, and if I have to make a snap judgement, the person highest on my kill list is the one telling me about this alleged trolley and the five hundred million innocent bystanders.

          • That seems unecessarily hostile.

            Edit> less sarcastic

          • Robert Liguori says:

            This seems fairly outside the scope of the problem, though. Like, if we replace the trolley with a hijacked sub full of nuclear warheads on which a hostage has been left behind, set to automated launch in a few moments, and we can torpedo the submarine or not, then we’ve got a very close analogue to the scenario.

            And it’s entirely possible that when the nukes detonate, every single neutron emitted happens to miss a fissile atom and all of them fizzle, and no one would have died if we didn’t torpedo the sub. But that’s far enough on the outside of probability that I’m comfortable treating the odds against that happening as basically certain.

          • John Schilling says:

            And it’s entirely possible that when the nukes detonate, every single neutron emitted happens to miss a fissile atom and all of them fizzle,

            It is vastly more likely that whoever told you the submarine was set for automated launch and/or was carrying a hostage, was lying. If you find yourself trying to calculate the infinitesimal possibility of a neutronic fizzle, you’re solving the wrong problem. The right problem is the one clouded by unreliable information.

            You may wind up torpedoing the submarine anyway. But you need to be really damn suspicious of the person who “informed” you of that necessity.

        • DocKaon says:

          I disagree. Morality is about what rules you should follow in living your life. Those rules should reflect our inability to predict outcomes with a high degree of certainty. The ends don’t justify the means, because rarely do the means actually achieve the ends. One should be highly suspicious of training your moral intuition on problems that ignore that reality and why talk about hypothetical scenarios other than to train your intuition?

          Generally, I find people who talk about hypothetical moral scenarios are trying to con me by taking an intuition from a contrived scenario into a real scenario where the unrealistic assumptions aren’t applicable. For example, see every ticking time bomb justification of torture and preventative war trotted out by the Bush administration.

    • Wrong Species says:

      What Mary said. If you’re postualitng that this will happen with 100% certainty, then sure I’ll kill the guy. But in any real world scenario I can’t ever imagine making a choice like that.

    • christhenottopher says:

      The trolley, if it is allowed to run it’s course, will not run over anyone and arrive at it’s destination, continuing the normal transportation and commerce of the region. The person who it would have run over is an agronomist on the cusp of a break through. This new series of techniques enables an expansion of the food supply that allows the population to grow by 1 billion people (EDIT: this scenario assumes that the population growth is people deciding to use less contaception/abstinence rather than lowering mortality). Half of these people, 500 million, will die before the median life expectancy (by definition). In which case, yeah I’m pretty cool with letting that trolley continue on it’s course and letting the 500 million die.

      Now if you force me to say “500 million currently living people will foreseeably die early deaths” yeah of course divert the track. But you weren’t specific in the beginning so I stand by the scenario of paragraph one!

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      You should divert the car, be tried for murder, convicted, and serve the entire sentence.

      Comity?

      • The Nybbler says:

        A moral system which indicates that one should be punished for doing the thing it prescribes is for chumps. If I’m to be tried, I want the jury to be chosen from the 500 million, and my reasons better be allowed in evidence. Otherwise the 500 million can die for being the kind of people whose legal system would destroy the life of someone for saving them from catastrophe at relatively modest cost, and me and the guy I (through inaction) saved can go find a surviving bar and get good and drunk.

        • Deiseach says:

          If I’m to be tried, I want the jury to be chosen from the 500 million, and my reasons better be allowed in evidence

          And if I’m one of the 500 million on that jury, I’m sending you to prison.

          Because in another scenario when I’m the person on the tracks, you have shown you are prepared to murder me. In fact, you have shown you are prepared to murder when you consider the stakes high enough or the reason important enough.

          Today it’s “save 500 million lives”. But tomorrow it could be “that damn noisy neighbour”.

          saving them from catastrophe at relatively modest cost

          Sending you to prison is a relatively modest cost, also. Why wouldn’t you pay that cost to save the 500 million? You think of it as punishment, but put yourself into the experiment – if you’re not the guy on the track saying “Divert the trolley, I will sacrifice myself!”, then imagine this:

          Same trolley, same stakes. Brian can choose to pull the switch and send the trolley down the track where Cathal will then have to choose to divert the trolley onto the track where it kills one person and saves 500 million, but if he does then he goes to prison, or let the trolley continue on to the chain of events which ends up with 500 million dead.

          Should Brian listen to Cathal’s whining about how it’s not fair that he gets punished for his ethical choice, and not divert the trolley down to Cathal? Why wouldn’t Brian pay the relatively even more minor price (imprisonment for Cathal rather than death) in order to save 500 million?

          Sorry, Nybbler, you’re going to jail any way it gets sliced!

          • uau says:

            Because in another scenario when I’m the person on the tracks,

            But unless there’s a very specific way the people are selected, you should consider the odds about 500 million to one that you’ll be one of the saved people, not the person on the tracks. Hence, for your own interest, you should want others to kill the single person in such scenarios.

            Today it’s “save 500 million lives”. But tomorrow it could be “that damn noisy neighbour”.

            This seems to rely on very particular unstated assumptions about psychology…

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m betting on the other 11, then.

            Sending you to prison is a relatively modest cost, also. Why wouldn’t you pay that cost to save the 500 million?

            It’s not a cost of saving the 500 million. I save the 500 million by killing the one; whether I go to prison or not, the 500 million are saved. If I think those ingrates are going to send me to prison for saving them, I’m not going to. They don’t like it, they might want to change those incentives before I’m standing there with a trolley switch in my hand.

            I’m not sure how this Brian and Cathal thing works. If you’re saying both Brian and Cathal have to pull their switch to save 500 million, but it’s Cathal’s switch that kills the guy, I’m not sure why Brian is any less culpable than Cathal. Brian isn’t paying _any_ cost; Cathal going to jail is not a cost to Brian.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Consider it a difference between morality and ethics, then.

          While I deeply don’t care about absurd thought experiments, I do think that, for example, highly politically powerful people should be prepared to make some unpleasant choices that are immoral but practical and necessary, and also that the pragmatic necessity of those choices should not be celebrated or confused with morality.

    • Deiseach says:

      To move away from the heavy ethical discussions, trolley problems always remind me of this children’s song (well, it did end up as a children’s song; original from the 30s, another version from the 50s, revived again in the 60s and for British and Irish people of a certain vintage this was played on the radio all the time for children’s programmes).

      Ah, the innocent days when “like hell” was an expletive to be bleeped out for radio play! And what I suppose would be called casual racism about the porter being so scared, he turned white (the implication being that the porter was African-American).

      Oh, the runaway train went over the hill and she blew,
      The runaway train went over the hill and she blew,
      The runaway train went over the hill,
      And the last we heard, she was goin’ still
      And she blew, blew, blew, blew, blew

  20. johan_larson says:

    Let’s suppose there was an organization called the “Tolkien Society”, and one of its duties was to test people’s understanding of the works of J.R.R Tolkien. Let’s further suppose they awarded several tiered diplomas certifying such knowledge. What works would the lowest of their tests cover?

    I’m thinking it would cover the truly basic works — The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — and one slightly esoteric one, The Silmarillion. That last one is going to keep out a lot of the riffraff. But at least a third of the questions would be about the LOTR appendices.

    • cassander says:

      ask questions about things that were in the movies but which aren’t, or are different from, the books. That’ll eliminate most of the filthy casuals.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I think that’d be the second-lowest diploma. The actual lowest one would be focused on Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, with questions specifically focused on the points where the book and movie differ.

      The third-lowest one would also add in Unfinished Tales, Children of Hurin, and Beren and Luthien. It might also include several of the philosophy questions answered in Letters.

      Around #4, you’d get into the more interesting History of Middle-Earth – though it’d be a couple more levels before you’re expected to know details about Trotter the Hobbit, Aragorn’s marriage to Eowyn, Bingo Bolger-Baggins, and other things in the various early drafts of Lord of the Rings.

      • johan_larson says:

        As I imagine it, there would be four levels: a low and a high one for amateurs, and a low and a high one for professionals. The low/pro test would be aimed at graduate students of English literature.

        Maybe
        low/amateur: the common works of fiction
        high/amateur: + the uncommon works of fiction (and adaptations)
        low/professional: + the critical literature addressing Tolkien’s work
        high/professional: + Tolkien’s drafts, academic work, and correspondence

        • Evan Þ says:

          I guess we’re coming at it from different perspectives, then. As a very interested amateur, I consider Tolkien’s drafts and correspondence – very conveniently collected in History of Middle-Earth and Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien respectively – to be easier to access than the very vague-sounding “critical literature addressing Tolkien’s work.” They’re written by the man himself, they’re a defined canon, and they’re a closed canon now that Christopher’s retired.

          And also, as someone who only just finished reading all the History volumes, I’d put them on different levels because there’s some good fiction and essays in there among the various drafts. I don’t think something as foundational as “Athrabeth” from Morgoth’s Ring should be put on the same level as “Draft #Whatever Notes: Wherein Trotter Is To Be Revealed To Secretly Be Bilbo” from Return of the Shadow.

        • Creutzer says:

          Where does knowledge of his invented languages and scripts fit into the picture?

    • keranih says:

      I’d question the motives of the people who wanted to exclude people whose sole exposure to Tolkien was the movies.

      Yeah, yeah, Tom Bombadli, Arwen at the ford, Tauriel, I GET IT. But the lowest level should include people who came to Tolkien through the movies, and still love them best.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I’m not sure we need a totally different test for them, though, considering how much Peter Jackson original material is in those movies. How about structuring the “LOTR + Hobbit” book test so that you can get a solid 50% or so off having watched and appreciated the movies, but to get higher, you need to have read the books?

  21. tatarerike says:

    I’m a soon-to-be-grad student planning to rent a house/apartment/??? and trying to decide how to decide. People who’ve already done this (especially if you were very satisfied or unsatisfied with the results), what did you consider? What do you wish you’d considered? What ended up mattering most to how much you like where you live?
    I’ll probably come back later with more details about what I particularly want, but just to start I don’t want to constrain things too much.

    • christhenottopher says:

      This will depend somewhat on how much you can afford. But first and foremost are you doing this with a roommate? I have exclusively had excellent roommates since leaving my college dorms and given my friends who have not been so lucky have had far worse experiences than me, my first point is if you have a roommate or roommates make sure they are good ones. I did this by only rooming with people I was dorm-mates with in undergrad or with people who had roomed with people I had roomed with. I’ve never dealt with problems scheduling sleeping, chore disagreements, or late payments. Where I’ve lived has been secondary to that.

      But, assuming you’ve got that covered, my next criteria tend to be the following in order:
      1. Low commute time (20 minute low traffic max, 40 minute peak max, I tend to have work hours that help me dodge peak traffic)
      2. Cost of the apartment
      3. Resident parking availability (if you really want to know what this is like, stop by in the evening after people are back from work)
      4. Walk-ability of the neighborhood (the position of 3 and 4 depend on what city you’re going to be living in. I live in a sprawl heavy city that makes owning a car very important. If owning a car is not important to your situation then drop 3 off the list entirely)
      5. Visitor parking (dependent on whether you have car driving friends you plan to host at your place)
      6. Cell phone reception (you can live with bad reception even if you do use your phone so this is pretty low priority but you want to know)
      7. Noise (this is really low for me because I’m a heavy sleeper, I’ve had roommates whoever who are not so if you can’t handle noise at night, bump this up)

      EDIT: Oh and if you have any pets, the apartment/house policy might be very highly rated on the list (depending on how important keeping your pet is to you).

    • Bugmaster says:

      In addition to what christhenottopher said:

      * Network connectivity. Try to land in a FIOS-covered area if you can.
      * Neighbours. Try to meet them, to see how noisy/annoying they are likely to end up being. Stay away from families with small children.
      * Plumbing. Make sure to test all the faucets and the showers. Fixing this after the fact is going to be expensive and frustrating.
      * Laundry. Try to aim for an in-unit washer/dryer, if possible.
      * If you do not own a car, proximity to public transport.

    • yodelyak says:

      Your choice of living space will affect your grades, possibly significantly. If grades matter and your school is competitive, then live close to campus (walking distance if possible) and somewhere quiet, where you can cook, exercise, study, and sleep on your own schedule without interruption by anyone who’ll intrude on your focus without invitation.

      • christhenottopher says:

        My experience in grad school (for history) was no one cares about your grades as long as you mostly show up and actually turn in assignments. Most likely you’ve got a terminal degree so no one will be looking at your grades going forward. Passing final comprehensive exams is important, but more of a one shot deal.

        That said, I agree with being concerned about those traits, but mostly for personal happiness reasons.

        • yodelyak says:

          Right. Although for some careers (law, medicine, business?) grades do matter for finding that first job/matching/high-prestige finance. Hence “if grades matter” in my answer. But yeah, choice of living space also affects happiness.

          If you can, you might try moving to the relevant place *before* classes/whatnot officially start, and just get used to living there.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Another thing to consider is how committed you are, i.e. whether you have to sign a lease or you can go month to month. If don’t have a lot of stuff and you can easily move out, then unpleasant surprises are less of a concern.

    • Eltargrim says:

      As a graduate student, you are unlikely to be making very much. Avoiding car ownership can save you a lot of money, possibly enough to avoid roommates.

      When I was hunting for graduate student accomodations, I prioritized transport. 35 minute walk, 12 minute cycle, 15 minute bus, with multiple bus stops for multiple routes within a 5 minute walk. Don’t neglect distance for other necessities, e.g. groceries, health services, the pub. I had a grocery store on my cycling and walking route home. Extremely convenient, would recommend if at all possible.

      I second optimizing for minimal strife. I moved in with my now-fiancée, no other cohabitants, and having a quiet, personal space to come back to after a long day in the lab was excellent.

      While I agree with christhenottopher that your grades are less likely to matter than in undergrad, I’m more on yodelyak’s side. While grades will matter less (except perhaps for scholarships/grants), if you’re in STEM your real productivity will start to matter. An optimum environment for grades will look very like an optimum environment for productivity. Emphasize sleep and sleep-preventing concerns. Personally, that includes smoking neighbours and loud parties late at night.

    • Error says:

      Location. In particular, if you can live literally right across the street from your work or school, do it. That extra 1-2 hours of life in a day really adds up over time.

      • Matt M says:

        I very much agree that location is the single most important thing, but I think it goes beyond that.

        Everyone thinks of “proximity to work/school” but consider other location-based factors as well. Proximity to grocery stores/fast food. Proximity to public transit (even if you own a car, it has its occasional uses). Ease of parking. Proximity to noisy places (I once had a second-floor condo right across from a community pool – that was a mistake). Who are the neighbors and what are they like (this is hard to judge before you move in – but make an attempt at trying). Proximity to where your friends are/hang out. Etc.

      • This, this, a thousand times this. Didn’t experience the walk-to-work scenario until I was well into middle age and now I can’t even imagine going back to any sort of commuting. That’s despite my commutes having been mostly quite easy and pleasant (i.e. via reliable transit). It’s not the hassle of the commute it’s the time. Such a positive change in daily life quality that I can’t even believe it.

      • keranih says:

        With the caveat that if you’re only going to live there for 2-4 years, at a cost of 3x what rent would be at a place further out, to keep in mind that you will have a better quality of life if you aren’t in debt after school.

  22. wimpledapple says:

    Has anyone done a detailed analysis of the altruistic value of having kids?

    The most obvious argument in favor is that you’re producing a (lossy) copy of yourself, so if you produce $2m of value through means unrelated to childbearing and your kid costs you $200k, then, even assuming your kid is a genetic dead end, you’re still creating another $1.8m by reproducing.

    The EA arguments against having kids probably strongly rely on discounting or regression to the mean (e.g. say at this special moment in time you can produce $2b in value because there’s so much low-hanging fruit, but a version of yourself that’s delayed by 30 years might only be able to produce $20m of value, and a lossy version of yourself might be more nihilistic and reject EA ideas entirely.) Another counterargument, which is more robust to assumptions about discounting, is that you could spend your money and energy on encouraging other people to have more kids, but, even then, it seems like you’d be a lot more convincing if you practiced what you preached…

    • Wrong Species says:

      I guess this is why I’m not an EA because this framing is completely alien to my own. Having a child is probably the most meaningful thing you will ever do. I think that’s more important than the ephemeral happiness of any person.

    • I’d assume the greatest factor to this calculation would heavily depend on your opinion of how well the environment is doing, and whether other species have value beyond our use of them. At the very least, breeding more people is mostly good up to a point where ecological problems and reduced resources per person begin to have a serious negative impact on survivability and wellbeing of those people. But of course, because the opposing political echo chambers have politicized the issue, having a reasonable discussion about that is near impossible.

  23. SteveReilly says:

    There weren’t any warnings about avoiding culture war stuff so I assume this question’s ok. Also I’m not sure if animal rights stuff is a part of the culture war, but here goes.

    Here’s a weird question I’ve been wondering about. From an animal rights point of view, is lion hunting good? I mean, assume you want to limit the amount of suffering in the animal kingdom, and assume that lions and their prey suffer the same amount from injuries. Would killing lions actually lessen the amount of pain that animals face?

    • christhenottopher says:

      Really depends on what angle a person is coming to animal rights from. For instance a sort of virtue ethics position along the lines of “not harming animals is a virtue” may only apply that argument to beings capable of understanding virtue (aka humans). In that case, lions doing what lions do is normal and fine. From a utilitarian animal rights perspective, you’d have to dive into the numbers. Factors to consider wouldn’t just be what you pointed out, but the effects of disrupting the ecosystem. Prey populations would grow and more may suffer from starvation than the number that suffered from death by lion and that effect could swamp the considerations about reducing the number dying of predation. In the absence of good data on these effects, a pre-cautionary principle of “avoid changing ecosystems you don’t fully understand” would seem to be the most straight forward answer.

      Also we should consider the possibility that the suffering from injuries is not the same between prey animals and predator animals. Predators tend to need more complex behaviors and therefore neural capacity than prey. That could mean more capacity to suffer. Of course this could be counteracted by the type of kills that happen. A gunshot wound could be a quicker, less painful death than having your windpipe crushed in a lion’s jaws.

      Personally, I go with the precautionary principle. Human hunting is unreasonably effective, especially in the modern world. Since I’m not sure what the total impact of killing off predators is, not doing so and keeping an imperfect ecological balance (from a pure amount of suffering perspective) is the best call.

    • alef says:

      The prey animals die eventually, and is there any reason to think that is materially more pleasant on net that being killed by a lion (no doubt awful, but probably quick)? After all, we tend to view it as humane to put a sufficiently old/ill pet down.

    • Animal rights stuff is definitely a part of the culture war. It’s been shoved a ways down the ratings in terms of attention but, oh yea.

      Full disclosure: I am a lifer in the conservation bidness, meaning the preservation and/or restoration of natural communities. We’re the people who burn forests and prairies on purpose, attempt to trap and/or kill invasive plant and animal species at scale, etc. My first personal experience of PETA was years ago when they invaded a board meeting of the large organization I worked for and threw blood all over everybody in protest of our sinful slaying of a particular invasive critter. The fact that said invasive critter was destroying the essential habitats of literally dozens of species of native critter cut no ice with them. (To be clear the animal rights movement is not just PETA and many people in it are much less childish than that.)

      The dilemma you bring up is quite real. A domestic U.S. version of it has to do with household cats — the birders and the cat lovers are these days their own special little culture war. That’s no hyperbole, I’ve been in those meetings, yikes.

      From a conservation point of view it’s not about any individual lion, it’s about having lions. If you take away the top layer of any ecosystem it will go into some version of collapse sooner or later. And we know now that for instance automobile predation (roadkill) doesn’t come close to replacing natural predation on white-tail deer, not even in built-up areas like the northeastern USA.

      If we kill off all the lions that will eventually be very bad for all the prey animals; they will end up suffering greatly just in a different way. (Basically Malthus’ nightmare come true but for four-legged critters instead of two-legged ones.) So no, lion hunting isn’t ultimately good for anybody including the gazelles.

      • The Nybbler says:

        And we know now that for instance automobile predation (roadkill) doesn’t come close to replacing natural predation on white-tail deer, not even in built-up areas like the northeastern USA.

        Let homeowners hunt the hoof-rats in their backyards, with a pistol or a knife or a bow or a club with a spike in it, and allow venison-lovers to dispose of the carcasses in exchange for the meat, and we’ll take care of the problem.

        Either that or re-introduce the grey wolf. I’m down with either one.

    • keranih says:

      Also I’m not sure if animal rights stuff is a part of the culture war, but here goes.

      You could probably talk about quirks of specific species of non-human animals with no problem, or about the history of domestication or agriculture, or general food preferences with no problem at all. Modern conservationism, veganism, support for modern agriculture and even IFLS type praise of Norman Borlaug is probably not appropriate for CW free threads. But that’s just the X.5 threads. Visible OT are X.0, and all is fair game.

      I mean, assume you want to limit the amount of suffering in the animal kingdom, and assume that lions and their prey suffer the same amount from injuries.

      Everything gets eaten by something else eventually. Things that don’t die of direct predator attack die slowly of disease (including infection and internal predators like gut parasites, as well as cancers.) Then they fall down (or can’t get up) and die either before or after the scavengers (vultures, crows, maggots, beetles) start eating them.

      Apex predators are just as lazy as anything else, but have the capability to take down healthy animals in near prime condition. So removing apex predators means that fewer individual animals die relatively quickly without much suffering.

      However – two caveats. First, a relatively stable ecosystem (because they are always in flux) will be stable because of the relationship between income and outgo. Remove one of the outgoes (an apex predator) and some other species will be healthier (and so grow in numbers) while others will decline. This frequently causes a ripple/rebound effect. (See: deer over eating the forest, snowshoe hare/lynx populations, and the expansion of coyotes for some familiar North American examples.) Its hard for me to say that these larger fluctuations cause more suffering than “normal” flux.

      Secondly – all of this is happening in a human society context. Who is hunting? What are the ramifications of that? In the USA and around the world, hunting fees & hunting related costs represent a substantial amount of the support for wilderness areas and for the rural communities who live there. Day packers don’t tend to bring in the same income. I don’t think its possible to separate out all human suffering from the equation. (And this ought to include the people who experience suffering just knowing that someone else out there is enjoying a experience of a two day hike/camping trip that includes shooting a bear, a lion, or catching salmon. I don’t think the answer is to stop shooting bears or catching salmon, but that doesn’t mean that their suffering should be ignored. )

  24. maximiliantiger says:

    If anyone else is a rock climber in the SF Bay Area I’m looking for partners for outdoor climbing. I lead sport up to 5.10C (pretty certain I could go higher) and plan to lead trad this year. Could probably lead multipitch sport though I’ve just followed before. Previously climbed at: Toulumne, Devil’s Tower, Bishop, Pinnacles, J Tree, Ten Sleep, Wild Iris, Pine Canyon, and a few others.

    I’m pretty chill about climbing and try to focus on safety (love Accidents in American Climbing/The Sharp End).

    • ProfessorQuirrell says:

      Not in the Bay Area, but wanted to congratulate you on an excellent hobby choice. The transition to trad is not easy, but once you get good at trad you will never want to go back to clipping bolts again (at least, I didn’t).

      Good job being focused on safety. Most newer climbers these days aren’t.

  25. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have recently set the Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes to midnight, which hasn’t happened since 1953. The risk of a new great depression, significant conflict or a major global disaster seems much more plausible now than in the 90s where the world seemed like it could realistically be quite optimistic. On the other hand, doomsday thinking tends to rob people’s ability to act sensibly in their present circumstances, and at times looking at some extreme preppers it’s hard not to wonder if its a soft form of Pascal’s Mugging.

    So, my question is, should grey tribe rationalist nerd-types be doing more preparation for disaster and long-term serious economic depressions? It seems like many nerds would be particularly poorly prepared for such situations. Especially, I’d be interested in the following:

    * Is this stuff overblown? Should we really spend time worrying about it? Has the Bulletin got it wrong? Or is it a rational concern?
    * Are there any groups in the rationalist-grey tribe sphere that talk about this stuff? (no political groups please – only family-friendly stuff)
    * What are the optimal strategies to survive in a long term economic downturn? What skills or goods are most tradable in a collapsed economy? What did people do in the great depression that worked well? How would it be different today?
    * How can we contribute to helping others or our community in such circumstances?
    * What’s some sensible precautions to be taking for disaster preparation that don’t involve having to build fallout shelters in Antartica and the like?

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Looks to me like another case of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

      As far as preparing for disaster goes, in theory I think this is a good idea but as a practical matter it’s easy to spend lots and lots of valuable time and energy preparing for some sh*tstorm which is pretty unlikely.

      I haven’t done the analysis, but I’m pretty confident that your biggest threats of premature death or disability don’t come from nuclear war or tidal waves but from heart disease or diabetes. Probably your typical prepper would be a lot better off taking the time spent prepping and using it to exercise regularly and eat carefully.

      • Noah says:

        Sure, if your goal is to maximize your expected lifespan. I think my personal survival is more important in a doomsday scenario than in normal life, since it contributes more to the survival of humanity/civilization. I am glad at least some people are making these preparations.

      • Alphonse says:

        Looks to me like another case of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

        If the reasoning is as stated, I agree that this seems like the right assessment. Trying to justify shifting the Doomsday clock based on notions by the people running it that we’re particularly close to another “great depression” seems especially absurd to me. There is an enormous industry of very smart, well-compensated people trying to figure out that exact type of question. If these people think they’re ahead of the curve, why aren’t they rich shorting stocks.

        • Iain says:

          “Great depression” was editorializing on the part of citizensearth. The actual update doesn’t say anything about depression or recession — indeed, it doesn’t mention the economy at all except in the context of the economic viability of dealing with climate change.

          • Alphonse says:

            Thanks for the clarification. That’s helpful to know.

          • Yeah apologies my intention was for “general bad stuff, including doomsday clock” to be the topic of my question rather than for those other sentences to look like “doomsday clock, which now includes these other things”. Poor wording on my part. Although apparently they have actually recently started to include other factors like climate change as contributing factors in their calculations.

            Judging by the comments it probably wouldn’t have changed the general sentiment of the answers though. The SSC consensus seems to be the topic isn’t worth much investment of time or worry.

          • Aapje says:

            There is absolutely no objective standard by which one could measure/judge this, so the actual doomsday clock is more of a gimmick for the purpose of activism. Its use in itself is indicative of the people using it favoring a deceptive, but persuasive meme over making a far more defensible argument.

    • a reader says:

      The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have recently set the Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes to midnight, which hasn’t happened since 1953.

      That sounds extremely worrying – before we think that they did the same in 1953, and in spite of this, no Doomsday happened in the next 65 years. Or am I an incurable optimist?

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Doomsday Clock had some conceptual value when it was about global nuclear war, though I doubt the Bulletin really set it according to true risk or even their best estimate of it; it’s a lobbying tool, not an informational one. With the scope creep to other things, it’s completely pointless.

    • Matt M says:

      The risk of a new great depression, significant conflict or a major global disaster seems much more plausible now than in the 90s

      I disagree with all of this.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t believe that the Doomsday Clock conveys useful information, especially when it’s adjusted in small increments– no one has enough information about nuclear war and other disasters to make good predictions.

      This being said, there can be good reasons to worry about various developments, it’s just that the Doomsday Clock gives an impression of unjustified precision.

      • albatross11 says:

        You can imagine an actual careful estimate someone was making of the probability of global nuclear war, but I don’t know of anyone who publishes such an estimate, and if they did, there would be:

        a. A huge incentive to game it, as with the doomsday clock, for political purposes. Goodheart’s law strikes again!

        b. No way to calibrate it, since we’re looking at events that have never occurred. If Alice says the probability of a global nuclear war next year is 1/10,000, and Bob says it’s 1/100, there’s not a huge amount of data to choose which one is more trustworthy after five years of failing to have had a global nuclear war.

    • John Schilling says:

      Two minutes to midnight is nonsense, for any plausible definition of “Doomsday”. I mean, yes, it’s a gross exaggeration to suggest that the White House is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Kremlin, but the odds of Vladimir Putin finding himself backed into a corner where he feels the need to launch an all-out nuclear attack on the United States any time in the next 3-7 years are pretty slim. Meanwhile, replacing Tillerson and McMaster with Pompeo and Bolton two months before a summit with North Korea greatly increases the odds of a nuclear war between the USA and DPRK, but on a global scale that would be more of a dimsday than a doomsday. Unless you happen to live in Korea or Japan, of course.

      One should always be prepared for local, transient emergencies. Which could now extend all the way up to a North Korean thermonuclear missile devastating the city you live in(*), but if it’s only that city and maybe one or two others, that puts you in the same risk category as e.g. earthquakes or hurricanes. Maybe you die in the first five minutes. If not, there will be relief from the unaffected areas sometime in the next five days; you’ll want enough to hold you over until then and a plan for how you’ll rebuild.

      For long-term catastrophe, the only plausible near-term threat is fiscal collapse, which probably won’t happen this year or next but we really have no clue where the cliff lies so it makes sense to be prepared. As doomsdays go, fiscal collapse is pretty soft – think original “Mad Max”, not “Road Warrior” et seq.

      As I think I have said here before, what will make the difference is not your very own certified Burt Gummer Survival Bunker, but a network of friends, family, and neighbors who will help you out as you help them out. That, and explicit, rehearsed plans for what to do when things go badly wrong. In the course of coming up with those plans, you may wind up with a list of stuff that you’d like to have stashed in your basement, car trunk, and/or backpack. Go get that stuff no matter what the Atomic Scientists say, because earthquakes and hurricanes are always around. And check in with your friends; that’s always good advice.

      * Particularly if the city you live in is Honolulu, San Francisco, San Diego, Shreveport, Washington, or New York. But North Korea’s ICBMs are going to remain unreliable and inaccurate until they complete their test program, currently on hold pending the summit, so your odds are still pretty good.

      • Matt M says:

        Shreveport

        Wait what?

      • bean says:

        I think you left Minot off the list, but other than that, 100% endorsed. I’m not a BAS fan (I loathe all nuclear abolitionists) and in this case, they have no plausible basis to suggest that we’re at the most dangerous point since 1953.

        • John Schilling says:

          The North Koreans have identified six specific US targets for nuclear strikes, and perhaps not coincidentally have six ICBM-class missile transporter-erector-launchers. Shreveport/Barksdale made the list(*), Minot didn’t. Shreveport is home of the USAF Global Strike Command, which is probably a higher-value target military terms. If you can’t take out all of your enemy’s weapons, you go for the C3I nodes. And if you’ve got the enemy’s top commanders and their staff concerned that they personally are liable to wind up as greasy radioactive soot if the balloon goes up, their wives and children as collateral damage, that’s worth more than one B-52 squadron more or less. House Kim has to take this threat personally; they’re going to make sure our people do too.

          And possibly they’ll surprise us by nuking a completely different city full of Americans, but it’s not like they lose anything by being honest (and presumably willing to retarget if we move the Pacific Fleet to San Pedro or something).

          * Probably Shreveport; some general’s hat got in the way when they “accidentally” showed us the map. New York and San Francisco were targeted in separate threats. Oh, and stay away from Guam, too.

          • bean says:

            Ah. Makes sense.
            Wait, GSC is at Barksdale? I really should have known that, but I assumed it was at Offut for some reason.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      This is wayyyyyy overblown. We got much closer to the balloon going up multiple times during the Cold War. There’s the obvious incidents like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the slightly less obvious ones like Yom Kippur War, and the possibly exaggerated ones like when the USSR wanted to Brezhnev the Chinese.

      To say nothing of “minor” incidents like the Berlin Crises, or a collection of minor incidents like the Tet Offensive combined with NK trying to assassinate the South Korean President AND seizing the USS Pueblo (all of which happened in the span of 10 days).

      The US is pre-positioning some equipment in Eastern Europe, but it’s nothing like Reforger. There’s just no signs that there’s anything like Cold War tensions. Maybe specifically in Korea, but then you gotta remember that India-Pakistan look at lot more peaceful than they did in 2000.

      As for survival planning? Me, I think it might be a good idea to have a month’s worth of supplies in case of an earthquake, but my planning for nuclear war involves Jack D and coke.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Also, a few more things come to mind:

        1. Water, water, water. People vastly underestimate the amount of water they need to survive a crisis. You need at least 1 gallon per day per person. That means your 40 gallon water heater can give you 10 days for your family of 4.
        That means if you have a family of four, you might want 80 gallons of extra water (besides your water heater). More if you live in a hot area.
        I think I pay like 80 cents for a gallon of distilled water at my local grocery store. Maybe Costco has it cheaper.

        2. You need to know how to get home from your work in case of emergency.

        3. You need back-up communication with your loved ones in case of emergency.

        4. People overrate the likelihood of economic collapse. What you should be worried about are your skills becoming less marketable, and only finding out when a recession puts the final nail in your coffin. This will be a huge hit to your living standards. The Great Depression will never happen in the United States ever again. To get something like it, you need to be like Greece and utterly surrender your monetary authority to Germany. Even then, there are still transfer payments that exist in the 21st century that did not exist at the time of the Great Depression.

        • The Nybbler says:

          2. You need to know how to get home from your work in case of emergency.

          I work in Manhattan and live in NJ. On the one hand, this means there’s no way I can get back home in the case of emergency. On the gripping hand, North Korea related emergencies are likely to kill me outright anyway. (There is no “other hand”)

          Even then, there are still transfer payments that exist in the 21st century that did not exist at the time of the Great Depression.

          But what good are transfer payments if the money’s hyperinflated?

          • John Schilling says:

            On the gripping hand, North Korea related emergencies are likely to kill me outright anyway.

            Given that a perfectly-targeted North Korean ICBM strike on Manhattan would kill less than half of the island’s population, and that North Korea’s ICBMs are not accurate enough to reliably hit Manhattan in the first place, that’s not the way to bet.

            OTOH, a missile aimed at Manhattan would probably hit somewhere in the Five Boroughs or Jersey City/Newark, it’s probably worth the thought exercise of coming up with 2-3 escape routes separated by at least 4km over most of their length. Expect to have to walk across a gridlocked bridge. And you don’t want to know what Uber’s surge pricing is going to be on That Day.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            There are emergencies OTHER than nuclear war. Like, I dunno, maybe the electrical grid gets knocked out again or something. Or the subways are shut down due to terrorist threat. Or the terrorist blow up one of the bridges.

            As for death and dismemberment, I work near the Trump Tower, and with a 200KT weapon, pretty sure anything within 5 miles is going to make me WISH I were dead. Thankfully, Chicago doesn’t seem to be an A-list target!

            But what good are transfer payments if the money’s hyperinflated?

            In an advanced Western economy? Honestly I think it’s more likely Russia will nuke us than we’ll go through hyperinflation without some other equal calamity happening to spur said hyperinflation. Even if it happens, they’ll just issue a new currency and then issue reduced benefits based on that. You may see a drastic decrease in living standards, but it will still be wayyyyyy above Great Depression America.

          • The Nybbler says:

            it’s probably worth the thought exercise of coming up with 2-3 escape routes separated by at least 4km over most of their length.

            Forget about it. I work in Times Square, roughly 42nd street and 7th ave. The nearest bridge — the ONLY bridge — to New Jersey is the George Washington Bridge, about 9 miles north. The first thing the authorities are going to do in an emergency is prevent any civilians from using it so they can use it exclusively for official purposes. If the tunnels aren’t destroyed, they’ll close them for “safety” too. Any boats will be long gone before I can get there, and non-official air traffic will be grounded. The next bridge is the Verrazano Narrows to Staten Island, but it will be for official use only also.

            This leaves options as attempting to swim the Hudson (not bloody likely even in the summer, though if I’m lucky I might wash up on Governors Island or Staten Island; if the nuke was to the south this is no good anyway), sneaking through one of the tunnels (slightly more likely if I start right away), or flapping my arms and flying.

          • Brad says:

            Your best bet would probably be to just start walking north. If you couldn’t cross over one of the several bridges to the Bronx you could try swimming across. Tell your family to start heading north too. Maybe you could meet up by Poughkeepsie.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Assuming the nuke didn’t go off to the north, certainly north is the best answer. But it won’t get me to New Jersey for the duration of the emergency. Getting to the Tappan Zee, 30 miles north, might be possible but it’s a hell of a walk (traffic being completely jammed where the roads are open at all). And that might not be open either.

          • johan_larson says:

            A packraft and a folding bicycle are what you need.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packraft

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are some people who commute across the Hudson by kayak; I suppose it would be a possibility, but I’m not sure I’m ready to keep one in the office (the oar is the biggest issue, though I guess they make collapsable ones), nor am I sure I could paddle one across the Hudson.

            Even assuming the authorities didn’t stop me and confiscate the raft, which is always a possibility.

          • gbdub says:

            I’m guessing in a major disaster, if you’re stuck in the middle of Manhattan, you’re probably better sheltering in place for a few days, assuming you’re not in immediate mortal danger.

            Isn’t that the current advice for someone who survives a nuclear attack anyway? The nastiest kill-you-right-quick radiation dissipates a lot over a day or two, and sheltering in almost any structure until the worst of that is gone is a better bet then immediately attempting to flee in the open.

          • Chalid says:

            FWIW, I work a couple blocks from you and live in NJ (Jersey City) too.

            I figure we’ll get a few minutes warning if a nuke is coming. My personal plan is to grab a couple bottles of water from the pantry, then get into a subway (across the street from me) and get as deep underground as possible. I’m near Grand Central so there’s lots of deep underground tunnels. I think I’d have pretty good chances.

            Your building might actually have a bomb shelter. My old building did, and no one told us about it. I only discovered it when taking the stairs one day.

            The family plan is that we don’t try to meet up if a nuke hits. My wife will likely be near home (she works from home most days) and she just sits tight with the kids, at first in the core of our building until the blast hits, then holing up in our apartment. We each individually do whatever it takes to stay safe. The region will very soon be crawling with aid workers, military, etc. and there’s no reason for me to take chances getting back. Ditto for most other disasters; my family will be fine at home, they’ve got weeks of water and food and excellent shelter, so in this situation my job is to keep myself safe.

          • Matt M says:

            I think that Nybbler’s instinct of “in a major disaster, the authorities will basically lock down the island and not allow anyone to leave” is probably largely correct.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s 4 million people on this island during the day. Not sure how many days of food for 4 million people, but probably not many, and anyway distribution is going to have broken down. What distribution will be available… well, male office workers from NJ will be way beyond the back of the line. Not that a few days of not eating would kill me directly, but the weaker I get the less likely escape will be possible. A few days of shelter-in-place is not such a good idea; there’s going to be riots by nightfall. Getting off the island would be top priority; that probably means north, if the nuke wasn’t north (otherwise east, but Long Island is still an island). Grab whatever food and water I can carry, steal a Citibike if possible, and head for Marble Hill. Alternative plan would be to try to get to the Lincoln Tunnel (entrance very near the office) before they close it down.

          • Chalid says:

            According to Wikipedia, after 9/11, the bridges and tunnels were closed except for emergency vehicles, but PATH to NJ from 33rd street was reopened by afternoon and ferries and ad-hoc private boats helped people to get people off the island. I don’t see any mention of Metro-North or LIRR so I’d guess they were unaffected.

            So, no, I don’t think the authorities would lock the island down.

          • Brad says:

            My dad was waiting to get into 26 federal plaza (way downtown) when the second plane hit. He started walking from there to Penn Station (midtown) immediately, but it no trains ran out to Long Island until the late afternoon.

          • John Schilling says:

            According to the Port Authorty, bridges were closed to all but emergency and pedestrian traffic starting at 9:15 AM on 9/11.

            Reserving vehicular lanes for official use is a fairly common practice, but forcibly preventing one’s own refugees from walking out of a war zone or disaster area is extremely rare. I can’t think of any historic examples that don’t involve the refugees being someone’s outgroup.

            So, OK, maybe when Chris Christie was governor of New Jersey he’d have tried to seal the bridges. Otherwise no. And as Chalid notes, there will be ferries. The people in question will be more of a nuisance in Manhattan than they will be anywhere else; the authorities will gladly see them leave so long as they don’t insist on driving their private cars through the chokepoints.

            So, be prepared to walk across a bridge if you want to get home to NJ

          • Chalid says:

            You can last a month without food if you’re not doing heavy physical activity (like, say, fighting to be the first one off the island). The effect on the median Manhattanite of three days without food would probably be to make them healthier. A day without food is barely unpleasant at all.

            Water’s an issue, but the Hudson’s right there and is mostly fresh almost all the way to the ocean depending on the tide and while not exactly healthy it’ll keep people alive for a few days. You could increase your chances by keeping some water purification tablets at your desk.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Nybbler, I think it’s unlikely that the authorities will close bridges if there’s a disaster in NYC. It seems politically impossible, if nothing else. What’s your line of thought?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            The first thing authorities like to do when something bad happens is to assert their authority and control _everything_. Lock down the school or airline terminal, shut down the roads, etc. When that guy drove a car down the 7th Avenue sidewalk the cops blocked the street to my office (which is between 7th and 8th) to all traffic including pedestrian traffic. So a nuke goes off somewhere in or near Manhattan, first thing they’ll do is SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING.

          • John Schilling says:

            the first thing they’ll do is SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING.

            Do you have any evidence whatsoever to support that assertion, in light of the fact that “they” conspicuously did not shut down pedestrian traffic on the bridges on 9/11? Or is shouting all you’ve got?

            Yes, cops will block off actual crime scenes, e.g. to gather evidence, but not generally to the extent of making it impossible for people to leave on foot. Your expectation on the behavior of authorities is, in this respect at least, almost entirely opposite to the actual behavior of authorities. Authorities are almost always in favor of your walking away, going home, and getting out of their way, and the exceptions mostly involve cases where going home would mean going into danger from which they would have to rescue you.

          • BBA says:

            the Hudson’s right there and is mostly fresh almost all the way to the ocean depending on the tide

            Eh? The Hudson can be brackish up to around Poughkeepsie, which is an hour away by car.

          • Chalid says:

            “Brackish” is a very broad term, and doesn’t necessarily mean too salty to drink.

            But on the other hand, I just spent a while googling and couldn’t find a simple answer to how salty the Hudson is (too many variables – season, weather, tide) and also to how salty water has to be before it’s undrinkable.

            At any rate, no matter what the answers are, the Hudson was a kind of stupid idea, with the obvious water solution in the absence of external aid being the reservoir in Central Park. Though fallout of course would make that something to be saved for when you’re desperately thristy.

        • WashedOut says:

          That means if you have a family of four, you might want 80 gallons of extra water (besides your water heater). More if you live in a hot area.
          I think I pay like 80 cents for a gallon of distilled water at my local grocery store. Maybe Costco has it cheaper.

          You should not be drinking distilled water, unless you and your whole family have been poisoned and you plan to start drinking regular water again very soon.

          • Enkidum says:

            What’s wrong with distilled water, out of curiousity?

          • Montfort says:

            @Enkidum
            Not all that much, it just doesn’t have the (small quantities of) useful minerals one finds dissolved in tap water. Sure, you can (and do) get minerals through food, but there’s no real benefit to drinking distilled water that I’m aware of.

          • quaelegit says:

            Clarification: distilled water vs. de-ionized water. What ADBG can buy at the store for 80 cents is probably “distilled” in the sense that some solutes* have been removed from it, but it’s not completely de-ionized like the stuff you would use in a chem lab.

            *The box of my off-brand Brita-like filter says it reduces “Chlorine taste and odor, Copper, Mercury, Benzene, Limescale and other elements”. My guess is the store-sold stuff is probably filtered similarly but I’m not sure.

          • gbdub says:

            At my store, there is “drinking water” (regular ol’ tapwater run through an industrial scale equivalent of a Brita filter, often with extra minerals added back in) and “distilled water” (regular ol’ tapwater boiled and recondensed to remove all salts and minerals). There’s nothing wrong with drinking distilled water, although mineral water is better for you. I use distilled water in my coffee machine, because it avoids building up mineral deposits.

            Deionized water is something else entirely, and shouldn’t be used for drinking water because it is corrosive.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Good to know, thanks for sharing. Right now our drinking water consists of a much smaller supply of conventional water bottles. They get mostly used when we have snobby people coming to our house that refuse to drink tap water.

          • John Schilling says:

            but there’s no real benefit to drinking distilled water that I’m aware of.

            The benefit to drinking distilled water is that you can be very confident that it doesn’t have anything actively harmful in it, like pathogenic bacteria or lead or arsenic or whatnot. There are other ways to get that confidence, but they may be more expensive to arrange or outright unavailable in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and the lack of trace minerals isn’t going to be an issue in the short term.

          • Montfort says:

            @John Schilling,

            Yes, that’s the benefit of distilling water of uncertain safety yourself. But in this case, we’re comparing drinking distilled water you bought at the store in a sealed jug and kept in the basement to drinking non-distilled water you bought at the store in a sealed jug and kept in the basement. Your risk level will be the same.

      • CatCube says:

        …my planning for nuclear war involves Jack D and coke.

        Whenever I see this, I try to post a reminder for people that there was a guy in Hiroshima who was 560 feet from ground zero and lived into the 1980s.

        Why is this relevant? Because there is a very real chance that you’re not going to be in the “instant kill” region of a nuclear weapon, and taking even small steps can dramatically increase your chances of survival. Yes, if you happen to be in the (relatively) small region where the bomb will knock every building flat, you can’t do much besides get into the basement (which you should still do, because as I said, a dude in a basement survived 560 feet from ground zero in Hiroshima). However, everywhere else the things that are likely to kill you are probably getting caught outside and exposed to prompt radiation causing burns, partial destruction of a building resulting in something falling on you, or glass from a window getting blown in and killing you with shrapnel.

        It’s become fashionable to sneer about the duck and cover advice of the ’50s, but notice that all of the things that are likely to kill you are much less likely to kill you if you’re under a desk. A careful observer will notice that this is similar to the advice for an earthquake, by the way.

        As John pointed out, you still want to have plenty of food and water, because if you survive the immediate blast (which you probably will) then supplies will be the issue. However, this is the same preparation you need for other natural disasters which are much more likely, so this isn’t wasted effort.

        One caveat I’d give to John’s advice is that if you’re on the coast in the Pacific Northwest, I’d have two weeks of supplies, at least. From what (little, tangential) I know of the planning for the Big One from the Cascadia subduction event, the current response plan is, well, pretty optimistic, especially given that we only discovered the extreme seismic loading possibilities in the mid-80’s and a lot of bridges in the Coast Range were never designed for it. There seems to be an assumption that US Army Engineer units will reopen lines of communication, but I don’t think there are enough bridging assets in DoD inventory to open them as fast as they hope. And even then, much of what does exist will have to come from the Midwest, which won’t even arrive in the devastated area for 4-7 days, much less getting set up. Don’t count on seeing the Government for at least a week and a half. Maybe they’ll beat that timeline, but I’d advise against betting your family members’ lives on it.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          In the case of North Korea attacking us randomly, sure, maybe.
          In the case of Russia attacking us? There’s enough targets in my general vicinity that I am feeling pretty good about the JD and Coke. Even if I survive, you have a lot of concern about food, water, and disease following the war.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      On civilizational decline (the author doesn’t consider sudden collapse the most salient possibility), and how to prepare for it, check out this (archived) and this (current). Includes “Alternatives to Nihilism”, “Salvaging Learning”, “Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush”, and “The Butlerian Carnival”. The author predicted Trump victory 1 year in advance, BTW.

    • yodelyak says:

      Right. It’s been said already, but the B.A.S. are full of it; this is all noise, no signal.

      I do think there are other global-bad scenarios besides conventional macro-econ-type financial collapse and nuclear war that should factor in how likely you find “prepping” to be useful. And below I name a few. But I agree with John Schilling that what you should be doing for earthquake/flood/hurricane–the things that wipe 1/2 of your city to rubble… there’s more worth doing on that front alone than you are going to do, so why stress yourself out? Some great things: Have 10 days of drinking water and some kind of food for your whole household stored somewhere so if your city loses its drinking water, and the rest of the world isn’t air-lifting relief within hours because of some problem, you don’t have to take to the streets to keep yourself or your family hydrated or fed for a week or so. Have a way to deal with the power being out for 24 hours. Have a plan for what you’ll do if you are separated from family/key friends and cell phones do not work, and are not expected to work for 24 hours or more. Learn helpful medical knowledge specific to your family (esp. if someone has diabetes or carries an epipen or etc) and see what can be done to plan for a week without power, refrigeration, resupply, or doctors. Learn C.P.R. All of these things are so useful in terms of risk/reward that there’s lots to do. And in general, any of these things is worth about as much to your survival if a close friend has it as if you have it, so network effects and building community is paramount. Socializing is hard, and unpleasant if it doesn’t go well, but who doesn’t like having friends?

      Some other reasons prep-mindsets (that focus on earthquake-like disaster readiness) are not crazy overestimations of the likely chance of YourCity having some kind of Disaster.

      1. Misc. high-tech disaster: AI risk is impossible to predict, and although our best guess may always be that it is a decade away or more, our best guess is that it is a decade away or more. But lesser dangers, like assassination-via-data, i.e. “snowcrash” or undetectably good counterfeit video, or swarms of flying micro-quadcopters, or Zuckerberg and Page and Musk and Bezos (or whoever) end up in some kind of four-way cooperative-competitive (and quickly very much negative-sum) scorched-earth efforts to undermine each other’s empires of data-infrastructure, with unavoidable real-world infrastructure-crippling results, or there turns out to be some kind of unsustainable velocity to the entire world data economy as it currently backs-up-and-restores itself, with a sudden cliff causing infrastructure blackouts, https://xkcd.com/1718/. Call this entire category “weird tech shit happens, banks are confused, or power plants shut down, or nothing ships for 3 weeks, or otherwise shit gets weird.” I mean, we’re in the dream time, and dreams can change fast.

      2. Epidemic.

      3. Outer space does something unexpected to us, e.g. interaction of charged particles with the atmosphere screws with electronics over much or all of the planet.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        That xkcd, being an excellent example of “whichever resources we obtain we’ll find a way to waste”, is pretty relevant to the *general* social collapse theme, not just Internet fail.

    • arlie says:

      Several topics here:
      1) whether this specific threat estimate is useful
      2) whether there are serious risks
      3) “should grey tribe rationalist nerd-types be doing more preparation for disaster and long-term serious economic depressions?”
      4) “Are there any groups in the rationalist-grey tribe sphere that talk about this stuff? ”
      5) what strategies make sense?

      My (brief) answers:
      1) damnedifIknow
      2) yes
      3) probably
      4) don’t know; I’m not really part of the rationalist community, and don’t even know what “grey tribe” connotes in that context
      5) It rather depends on which risk(s) you judge most serious. Also on your age, location, financial situation, health, etc.

      I’m most interested in (5). But each risk is different.

      In the event of nuclear war, I am toast – I live on a natural target. Unless I’m willing to move, which would likely result in reduced quality of life (via income, etc.) and still might not save me – preparing for nuclear war is a waste of my time.

      OTOH, I expect the economy to be worse in the next 40 years than it was in the past 40 years, for anyone living in an economy that counted as “developed” 40 years ago … except possibly for those who count as “owning class” – especially the wealthier among them. Even if macro indicators improve at the same rate over the whole period (which I don’t expect), fewer people will receive a larger share of the gains, and more people will be unemployed, underemployed, ill paid, and extremely insecure. That’s something I can plan for.

      I’m also expecting considerable disruption due to climate change. I can’t predict where the new good places to live will be, but I can identify a lot of places which will definitely experience reduced quality of life, and corresponding reductions in property values, life expectancy, etc. I’d avoid buying property anywhere that already has heat waves severe enough that it’s essentially unsafe to be outdoors, or at elevations reasonably expected to be at risk from storm surges, never mind flooding. And if I were a resident of a country where most of the land area fits this description, getting myself and my family out would be a priority.

      Etc. etc. This gets very complicated very fast, and like all forms of insurance, the risk insured against may not happen – or something else may happen first – leaving you out the costs of insurance.

      Some forms of “insurance” are generally useful. If you live comfortably within your means, you have resources to deal with things that happen to you. If you have lots of solid relationships, you’re more likely to have people working with you in the event of misfortune. If you know a lot of things, some of them may prove useful. Ditto if you have a lot of skills.

      I would be interested to see what a group of rational people could come up with, using evidence-based methods of evaluating risks and potential remediations. I suspect their/our humanity would get in the way, and it would just be the usual knee jerks. But hopefully I’m being unduly cynical here.

  26. ast ron says:

    I asked in the last open thread about mental models of evolution, and talked about ‘gradient descent’ being one possible way of thinking about it (at the expense of considering how environment changes, and coevolution, and presumably lots of other things).

    In gradient descent it’s possible that there’s a local optima that’s surrounded by a region where the fitness is very low, and so gradient descent with small steps will never reach it. Are there examples we know of in evolution of adaptations that would likely be very helpful, but never appear because there’s no route to get there without first losing fitness?

    • Enkidum says:

      So this is controversial, and probably not the example you’re looking for, but I think the evolution of extremely high (i.e. human-level) intelligence almost qualifies. As far as we can tell, we are the only species on the planet to have evolved it, in all of evolutionary history. Furthermore, we know of massive fitness-impacted corrolaries of our high intelligence (heads so big they tend to kill women in childbirth, 20+ years of childhood, total helplessness of children for multiple years, etc). This suggests that the circumstances under which evolution selected for our level of intelligence are very, very weird.

  27. skef says:

    (Moving to the top-level …)

    johan_larson says:

    Content providers need to get paid somehow. And right now we have found only two ways that work: subscriptions and ads. If I haven’t paid a subscription, and the content provider isn’t willing to do the work for nothing, I should watch the ads because that’s what pays for the site’s operation. Now, to be sure, having one person skip the ads is a very minor bit of wrong. But that behavior does not scale: if everyone did so, the business would fail, and the content would not be available. So I watch the ads, annoying though they are.

    Suppose you are only very rarely susceptible to advertising. If everyone were like you, advertisers would no longer buy advertising and content providers would not get paid as they do now. Does that mean:

    1) You should buy advertised products occasionally anyway, so as to be like other people who keep content providers in business.

    2) It is OK for you to block ads if you find them annoying, whereas it would not be OK for someone else to.

    3) The moral duty to view the ads is what is important regardless of what one will do in response (why?)

    4) Because people fool themselves about their susceptibility to advertising, you shouldn’t trust your sense that you are less susceptible to advertising and display the ads anyway.

    5) Perhaps advertisers are deluded about the influence of advertising. The moral good is their belief that it works, which in turn supports content providers. (But then why couldn’t you use an ad blocker that loads the ads and just doesn’t display them.)

    6) Something else?

    • johan_larson says:

      The deal is you get the content, the advertiser gets a chance to persuade you to buy their product, and the content provider gets money. If you are literally ad-blind, and advertising has no effect on you, then I think you can in good conscience block ads, because they literally have no effect. And there is nothing moral about doing the truly useless.

      But I think most people who say they pay no attention to ads are fooling themselves. Advertising in general is not very effective; few people remember what was advertised in the show they just watched. The effect of ads is accumulative, and much of the battle at least in consumer advertising is simply getting your product remembered by consumers. So I think you have an obligation to watch the ads, and give the advertisers a chance to persuade you, even if you think they are useless, because you are probably wrong.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        An interesting suggestion from Elephant in the Brain is that advertising is mostly effective not because of its individual effect on the observer but rather because of the observer’s estimation of its effect on everybody else. I personally don’t believe that buying Corona will literally put me on a beach with a pretty girl, but if I’m buying a six-pack to take to a party, or to entertain friends, I might buy the one that I think other people will like best, and I know they’ve all seen that same ad.

        If this is true, a few things follow. Your “susceptibility” may be happening on a different level than the level you are denying. Accordingly, simply observing the ad with the knowledge that other people are seeing it too may well be more than enough to fulfill your hypothetical “deal”, even if you never ever see an ad and say, “Cool, I should try that.”

      • arlie says:

        But I think most people who say they pay no attention to ads are fooling themselves.

        One thing I notice about myself, is that when somebody wastes my time, I get angry. One local ISP – that I almost switched to – has sent me so much SPAM since my inquiries that I’d really hate to ever use them. And the clothing company that proudly emblazoned its name on a new local arena, which routinely caused traffic tie ups near my prior workplace, is now primarily associated with traffic jams in my mind, even though I used to buy their products. Several car companies have been telling me about all their sales and offers ever since I bought a car last year; I really hope some company that was not on this year’s short list has an attractive product at the time I next need to buy a car, because I’d rather not buy from any of them.

        Sure, I’m aware of all these brands – so if “brand awareness” is their goal, they’ve got it. But OTOH, I’d already heard of them before the advertising activities that made me dislike them, so it’s really unclear what they might think they have gained.

        Possibly I’m unusual here. But I’d rather waste time e.g. posting here, than sifting through my mail looking for anything that might be meaningful. and every once in a while I miss something important, because of the deluge of spam – paper or electronic. Arguably the root cause of every late fee I’ve ever paid has been competing spam, causing me to miss the important invoice until too late.

        And then of course there’s the rational approach. Company X regularly wastes my time, and I’m not even a customer. What kind of service should I expect from them?

    • Matt M says:

      Suppose you are only very rarely susceptible to advertising.

      I would predict that it’s very difficult to accurately measure this, and that most people’s self-perception is wildly off on this dimension.

      ETA:

      Perhaps advertisers are deluded about the influence of advertising.

      I think the delusion is in the other direction. The public is deluded about the influence. Everyone considers themselves not-very-susceptible. And yet, the companies continue to spend a lot of money on it…

      • Error says:

        It’s a bit like how everybody thinks they’re an above-average driver.

        Datapoint: I consider myself not-very-susceptible, but with low confidence. I treat advertising as a form of mental assault, an exploit attempt against my brain. I employ multiple forms of firewall against exposure. If something penetrates my shields in a particularly odious way, I’ll sometimes boycott the company involved — indefinitely in some cases. If I become aware that my awareness of a product was generated by advertising (as opposed to word of mouth or deliberate googling), I will avoid buying it even if it is something I want, so as not to reward advertisers for poisoning my mental space.

        In spite of my hard-line hostile opinion on the subject, I still have low confidence in my ability to resist those ads that make it through. I think I’m less susceptible than most, but only in the same sense that I’m less stupid than most. The human average is not a good standard. The most reliable way to ensure you’re actually not influenced by advertising, as opposed to signaling it to others, is to arrange matters so you never see it in the first place.

        • Matt M says:

          The most reliable way to ensure you’re actually not influenced by advertising, as opposed to signaling it to others, is to arrange matters so you never see it in the first place.

          Generally agreed (although I think much more favorably of advertising in general than you seem to).

          My prior on anyone who says something like “I don’t need an adblocker because ads don’t affect me” is that this person is most likely more affected by ads than the average person, not less.

          It’s sort of like how the majority of people who think they can count cards end up doing worse at blackjack than someone just playing basic.

        • Aapje says:

          @Error

          I will avoid buying it even if it is something I want, so as not to reward advertisers for poisoning my mental space.

          At that point you are still effected, just not how advertisers intend.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            Relatedly, there was this site called something like FreeCreditReport.com that did not in fact offer free credit reports. They got sued over this, lost, and were impelled as part of the settlement to prominently place a message on their site saying something along the lines of “We do not offer free credit reports. For your free credit report, go to “.

            This seems like it would be bad for their business? What they did to mitigate the effects wasn’t to hide the message in small text, but to dress it up as a banner ad, complete with large text, bright colors, and flashing patterns. People were so used to ignoring that sort of advertisement that they just glossed right over this one.

  28. bean says:

    Also, it looks like this thread wasn’t tagged as “open”, so the “open thread” link doesn’t take you to it. That’s why I didn’t post the Naval Gazing link until now, because my usual method is checking the Open Thread link.

  29. bcg says:

    In cosmic inflation theory, there’s a rapid metric expansion of space. Did the time dimension expand as well? Is this a “not even wrong”-style question?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The question can be made precise enough to answer: No.

      “Rapid” means with respect to the time dimension. Something like: parameterize by time passing at a constant rate and look at the derivative of the spatial metric with respect to time. You could also look at the derivative of the temporal metric, but since I parameterized by time, the derivative is zero.

      Relativity is coordinate invariant. All that matters is the metric. If I take a model and scale the coordinates, both space and time, by a factor of 2, then I get a physically equivalent model. Scaling the coordinates is, locally, the same as (inverse) scaling the metric. So growing time cancels out growing space.

      Thus if I follow a time-like curve with a weird parameterization, it is possible that all dimensions grow together. But this is an arbitrary description the model, from a stupid choice of coordinates. That scaling the metric is meaningless means that this is actually flat, to first approximation.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I answered the question I thought you were asking, but I guess I could just as well have said:
        This can be made precise enough to answer: Yes.
        Inflation (or the cosmological constant) is symmetric between time and space.

        For example, consider a sphere. This has positive curvature, whereas inflation is about negative curvature, so it’s deflation, not inflation, but that’s just a sign change. As we head up a longitude line, the latitude lines become smaller. Latitude contracts, while longitude doesn’t contract. But that’s not an inherent difference between latitude and longitude, just from our point of view. We can rotate the sphere to approximate interchange latitude and longitude at that point. You can’t rotate space-time to interchange space and time, so inflation can’t be perfectly symmetric between them, but the math works out pretty much the same.

  30. onyomi says:

    Random thought on the sorts of bureaucracy everyone loves to hate:

    We know about the error of confusing effect for cause. A prominent example might be thinking that, because rich people sent their children to fancy schools, and children of rich people often become rich, therefore, going to fancy schools makes you rich (enough people thinking this can make it something of a self-fulfilling prophecy due to signalling, in addition to the networking that goes on). Or even if you don’t agree with this example, most probably agree this sort of mistake happens.

    What are some of the effects of working hard to solve an Important Problem? Delegating tasks for people to do. But what if you have an unnecessary job as part of an ill-advised scheme to look like we are Doing Something about impossibly complex Important Problem? In that case you would make up pointless tasks to justify your existence and the existence of those who take orders from you, whose existence also seems to justify your job’s existence.

    Put more simply: Doing Something looks like the cause of problem solution, but just because real problem solvers are often seen to be Doing Something, that doesn’t mean that those who are Doing Something are solving problems.

    Not exactly an original observation, but it struck me recently in a rather direct way as I prepared to comply with the latest reporting requirements for my job.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I see your point, but mostly people hate bureaucracy because it ISN’T doing something, rather than doing something. Like, calling your insurance company, or your cellphone company, and getting passed through 6 or 7 different departments before you finally find someone who can help you (or get told you cannot be helped because you didn’t list your mother’s maiden Blue Moon as per Article 7, Section 8, sub-clause B of the Agreement dated April 1st, 1965).

      I’ve been on both ends of this nonsense. Virtue of Fortune 500 healthcare. My favorite was a certain California PBM reversing thousands of Medicare claims for no apparent reason. I’d call them and ask why, and they’d tell me that the claims were reversed by the pharmacy. Yes, I am sure my 3,000 pharmacies all got together at 9:45 on a Friday night and agreed to simultaneously reverse 10,000 claims. That sure makes a lot of sense.

      Anyways, with companies of sufficient size come communication problems, and segregation of responsibilities. Like, I work in a company with 1500 people at corporate and another 10,000 or so in the field: there’s absolutely no way that I can know what everyone else is doing. If you contact me asking me to do something, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to help you. Also, when I do something, it can possibly change something critical for someone else, and they’ll have no idea why THEIR crap is all jacked.

      Plus, you gotta be hesitant about picking up extra work. Because you might easily pick up, like, 10 people’s work if you absorb another function. Even if I could help you with marketing’s crap, I’m not going to help, because I don’t want to be responsible for doing marketing’s job.

      With YOUR problem, the stupid reporting? Yeah, that’s an error of over-active bureaucracy. Different category of error, but still an error. Management needs to do oversight, and oversight requires certain metrics. When you sign a contract, you have definitive KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that must be met, so that’s going to get reported and watched like a hawk.

      These reports and KPIs don’t always reflect the reality on the ground, and to some extent you’re always going to lose some of the narrative when you start looking at a forest instead of the trees. But to a much greater extent, I think this is just a matter of crappy company culture. Reports aren’t necessarily bad, but sometimes management is obsessed with the wrong metrics. For example, the example often used is the military obsessing with Enemy Killed during the Vietnam War. This does not measure the actual buy-in for the South Vietnamese government. A better metric used in Afghanistan is “percentage of IEDs reported by local populace.” If you’re coming across 90% of your IEDs because someone in the tribe told you about them, then you’ve got a tribe with buy-in. That’s a good metric.

      There are obviously other problems with management-by-numbers. You start focusing on maximizing the metric, which means the metric loses its value. But overall, you still need metrics and you still need reporting.

      • onyomi says:

        Well, I recently encountered related problems attempting to cancel an internet subscription package early, and I feel it’s related:

        “What, we can’t accept your equipment return here in the store. You need to fill out a form and then the equipment people will come to your home to pick it up. No, we don’t have the form here, because yours was a business plan and we only handle individual plans in this store. You do realize you have to pay a penalty for early cancellation right? Okay, but no, you can’t just pay us now. You have to call the billing department at xxxx. We are not the billing department…”

        This still feels to me like make-work on some level because an intelligent approach to this problem (which can’t be that infrequent–someone cancelling his two-year contract early) would be to streamline the process (which process includes me giving them money!) by empowering any of the customer-facing employees on phone or in store to handle whatever is involved without fifty forms and involving ten departments. (Yes, I know that e.g. Comcast intentionally makes it hard to cancel so as not to lose subscriptions; this doesn’t feel quite like that to me, since signing up with this company was equally difficult.)

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          There’s most likely a reason they need those fifty forms and ten departments, though. “Streamline” can just as easily mean “remove important check in the process” that ends up causing unforeseen errors down the line. This happens all the time in my departments, where some new whiz-kid thinks he has developed some amazing time-saving efficiency, and ends up screwing up a reconciliation process or some crap like that.

          It might not make sense for customer-facing employees to handle disputes for businesses. Those typically command some healthy revenues that are important to the bottom line. It doesn’t make sense to have first-rung techs handle anything but the simplest issues. As a manager, I certainly don’t want to come in one day and see one of my biggest customers leaving because some minimum wage front-line idiot cancelled their order without directing them to customer retention, and I certainly don’t want $100,000 of equipment going missing or otherwise not in the company books because the minimum wage front-line idiot didn’t fill out the proper forms to get it entered.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          My assumption is that it isn’t make-work, they just want to keep getting money from you. Am I too cynical?

          • Matt M says:

            To support onyomi’s point, I’ve definitely had that happen before – where I was trying to purchase or upgrade something and it involved an extremely difficult, lengthy, and byzantine procedure. It’s like “I AM TRYING TO GIVE YOU MONEY – WHY CAN YOU NOT MAKE THIS EASY???”

          • cassander says:

            @Matt M

            An old friend of mine had a very good line. Judge an organization’s incompetence by looking at how hard it is to give them money, and their evilness by how hard it is to stop giving them money.

    • cassander says:

      this phenomenon was best explored as Parkinson’s law: which is stated as “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

    • vrostovtsev says:

      I’ve been noticing similar things recently around me, and they all seem to fall under this pattern: “It cannot be found by seeking but only the seekers shall find it”.

      “It” is “enlightenment” or simply “understanding” in original reading, but it seems to me that it can be generalized to all desirable side-effects of complex systems: ‘running the system’ is necessary to get the effect, but never enough.

  31. Murphy says:

    mild annoyance with google:

    I want to do a slightly more advanced search of the google play store. Specifically I’d like to do a search which, if I was searching for a non-google web page would be done by using the “not” modifier.

    -“Contains ads” -“Offers in-app purchases”

    because I’m sick of apps that kick me into ads every 3 seconds or which have been crappified in order to try to sell the premium version.

    I know there’s often apps which are simple ports of open source tools on the play store. But google seems to have redesigned their search to prevent me from finding what I want to search for. Often there’s a good version of an app but google sticks the crappy version that begs for my credit card at the top and the good version on page 200.

    I gave up on that idea and thought I might be able to search some kind of 3rd party listing. I mean surely *someone* has scraped the play store and whipped up a CSV file simply listing all apps with metadata…. google wouldn’t have a copyright on a simple list.

    apparently not.

    I see lots of people asking on forums about such things but the only things which come close appear to be extremely expensive pay services aimed at companies trying to gather market data for their apps.

    I completely understand that google wants to restrict access to this information to some extent but even using other search engines all the “information wants to be free” stuff seems to fall flat for something as simple as a listing of mobile apps. There are people who’ll spend years cracking copy protection of complex systems… but nobody seems to have so much as compiled a list of play store apps.

  32. sclmlw says:

    TL;DR – Anecdotal observations supporting a predictive processing model of ADHD, in which people who have ADHD give stronger weight to priors and have difficulty taking in new information.

    A friend with ADHD recently stayed at my home as a guest. My wife and I were discussing some of the annoying things she sometimes does, and they all fell under the category of, “she doesn’t pay any attention to what we’re doing; she just assumes her way is right and we should adopt that.” And it occurred to me that this fits nicely into a predictive processing model, where the autism spectrum generally skews toward giving little weight to priors but instead heavily relying on new information, and attention disorders generally skew toward giving too much weight to priors and often ignoring new information. After all, when you sit down to read a book you’re taking in new information without applying priors. Or at least you are analyzing your priors and whether or not to keep them. This is maddening for someone like my friend, who would rather apply her priors than analyze them and reject them. That said, what follows are some of my observations that support this hypothesis. I’m interested if this is the case more broadly with ADHD in general, and not just with my friend.

    This person was diagnosed late in life. Her previous job was doing market research, but when she talked about her strategy for doing the market research it mostly boiled down to, “I have an insight and then go looking for only the evidence that supports that insight. I then work hard to persuade decision-makers that my insight is correct.” She often did well when she was able to follow her own trail. However, her manager once asked her to follow a specific hypothesis, “The CEO thinks XXX is the next big thing. Can you look into that for me?” She balked at the suggestion, and proceeded to “find” a bunch of evidence that there was no market for the product (through very biased research methods), and passionately persuaded decision-makers that the whole thing would be a boondoggle. She was convinced it was all a scam by Walmart to get distributors to do market research for them, and that the product wouldn’t sell.

    A couple months later I saw a new product hit the shelves (some other company beat this one to it). Soon every other major company working in this space launched similar products, but her company still hadn’t launched this product, and they were last to market with it. I have friends who swear by the product, and are glad to have them. I talked to my friend about how big this product was, and to this day, my ADHD friend maintains the product is a bad idea that nobody is interested in, and the people who buy them are going to realize that in the not-too-distant future. In direct contradiction to all available evidence, she still believes the product is a bad idea that will fail – even though it has already succeeded!

    Meanwhile, she left her market research position to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer. Needless to say, she struggled in law school. It wasn’t until she got in that she was diagnosed with ADHD. People were skeptical of her late-onset condition. How did she make it to this point without being diagnosed earlier? Well, she graduated college by going part-time, and asking for extensions on every major (and minor!) paper, project, and assignment. She used the same strategy to get through law school. She was literally negotiating with a professor to get an extension on some term paper that was due at the end of the semester over six months earlier. She argued, six months later, that she needed another month to turn it in. He gave her the extension, and she turned it in 5 weeks later (a week after the extended, extended deadline). So yeah she has a hard time focusing, but she really wants to be a litigator. She loves those lawyer shows on TV (that most lawyers I know hate, because they’re so unrealistic) and she formed a prior that being a lawyer is a matter of imposing your theory of the case on the judge/jury. She’s good at that. But what she is terrible at is anticipating the best arguments of the opposition. They don’t fit into her prior of what she thinks happened, so she can’t incorporate that thinking into her strategy. She admitted this to me openly, as “something I still struggle to do.” Any lawyers reading this will note that this is a critical skill needed to be a lawyer. That, and being able to sit and read all day long, which my friend can’t stand. She likes finding an obscure rule and invoking it to make her case. In her mind, once she has an idea of who “should win” a case, it’s a matter of figuring out how to apply the law to make that happen. She doesn’t like having to follow other rules that dictate what will happen in the present case (following the thread to its logical conclusion is not her strong suit).

    Lots of these observations fit an explanation of strong priors overcoming sense data:
    1. Her priors are generally arrived at through instinct, or intuition.
    2. She doesn’t tend to formulate priors by analyzing available evidence. The more evidence, the more likely she is to formulate a prior early and interpret all new evidence according to that.
    3. When faced with evidence that contradicts her priors, she chooses her priors, and sometimes formulates convoluted explanations for how the evidence must be wrong.
    4. In the 10 years I have known this person, I have never seen her reject a prior because of evidence, even when she is clearly wrong!

    So when my friend stayed at my house, we made some new observations that put this all in context with the predictive processing model. They were little things, but also obvious things that come to most people instinctively. As this is already getting long, so I’ll share just one petty example: she has a habit of loading the dishwasher in exactly the worst way possible. In my experience, every dishwasher is unique, with no standardization, and every company designing the next dishwasher to be completely different from the last. So if you take what you know about how to load your dishwasher and apply it to a new one, you generally end up with inefficient loading. This is why, when I’m visiting someone’s house, I try to take their template and apply that, instead of trying to enforce my own dishwasher’s template. Well, my ADHD friend can’t do that. She consistently loaded the dishwasher according to how she would do it at home, regardless of whether there were already dishes in the dishwasher establishing a template. And since she is single and goes through dishes more slowly, her template is designed to maximally spread the dishes as much as possible, to both justify running a sparsely-filled dishwasher, and to ensure everything gets really clean. I have three young children, so we go through lots of dishes. No matter how many dishes were piled up in the sink, my friend would load as inefficiently as possible and run small loads, completely ignoring the mounting number of dishes in the sink. This also applied to emptying the dishwasher, where she decided where she wanted things to go and put them there, as opposed to trying to figure it out herself, or doing what most people would do and leaving it alone if you don’t already know where things go. In her mind, her prior was, “The place I put this thing must be the best place to put it; therefore, they will appreciate me reordering their kitchen in a better way”. It’s nice that she tries, as a house guest, to be helpful. But her inability to take in new information is entirely frustrating. It wasn’t until my wife and I started talking about these frustrations that I realized they all fall along the same vein: she has very strong priors, and struggles to apply new sense data to a situation. The stronger her prior, the more difficulty she has applying sense data. And she tends to form very strong priors.

    In this context, much of her erratic behavior started to make a LOT of sense. So did the late ADHD diagnosis, the trouble in law school, etc. This would also explain why so many successful CEOs have ADHD. If ADHD is a condition where you formulate strong priors and rigidly apply them, even in contradiction to all available evidence, this perfectly describes many entrepreneurial efforts. The CEO has a vision. Implementation of that vision, imposing their will to make that vision a reality, is their job. Although they do take in new information, they don’t have long to spend analyzing that information to make a decision. They function best when they can pass the implementation details along to subordinates, and make decisions based on what will get them to their vision. The vision is the strong prior, and sometimes it can be oddly specific. For example, Steve Jobs’ insistence that the inside of a computer be aesthetically pleasing. He had a strong prior in his head, and was imposing that to bring that prior about. He was not carefully looking at market research that suggested people will pay more for a computer that looks nice inside, then taking that information and forming a strategy around it. He looked around and said, “I think we could do XXX. The world would be a better place with XXX in it. We will do XXX.” The same with Elon Musk.

    One benefit of this insight is that it could help direct people with naturally high prior biases toward activities where they are likely to be naturally successful, and away from those where they will naturally struggle. “Congratulations! You son has ADHD. He would make a great entrepreneur. He could open a business, start an eBay company, become a CEO, etc. He should avoid becoming a neurosurgeon or theoretical particle physicist.

    Anyone else have ADHD, or ADHD friends? Does this match your experience?

    • bean says:

      I am so strongly ADHD that I’ve joked I should be declared the type specimen, and this doesn’t sound like how my mental processes feel at all. My usual model is that the voice that says “are you sure this is a good idea?” is a lot quieter, and medication is like giving it an amplifier. Which, now that I write it, does sound like having strong priors. But it doesn’t feel like that from the inside. Unmedicated me is much less consistent than medicated me, and it feels like weak priors, but in a different way from autism.
      It’s entirely possible that ADD/ADHD has multiple subtypes that we haven’t worked out, and that your friend, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk have one type, and I have another type. I’m generally pretty good about admitting I’m wrong based on evidence, and this just does not feel like the inside of my head.

    • knownastron says:

      Interesting analysis. My teacher suspected that I had ADHD in grade 4 but my dad vehemently opposed it. So I went undiagnosed for over a decade until I went and got diagnosed by a doctor myself. I would consider myself a “high-achieving” (relatively speaking) ADHDer, so I totally understand how your friend can get so far without medication. But at the same time, I’ve only had to ask for an extension once, maybe twice in university. So maybe my condition isn’t as bad as your friend’s. The fact your asking on SSC also means you’ll get responses from ADHDers that value sitting down to read (something I struggle with admittedly) and think through things.

      So with that in mind, on initial read I don’t think this matches my experience. But one thing I do want to discuss is that sometimes we (ADHDers) just do things without thinking about it (because we’re thinking of 10 other things at the same time?). So when your friend loads the dishwasher the way she does, it may not
      be because she has a “vision” that she’s trying to impose, she just can’t be bothered to think about it. Is not thinking about things and acting the same as following your priors?

      • bean says:

        So when your friend loads the dishwasher the way she does, it may not be because she has a “vision” that she’s trying to impose, she just can’t be bothered to think about it. Is not thinking about things and acting the same as following your priors?

        This is a very good point. I might load the dishwasher poorly out of habit because I was busy thinking about battleships instead of how to load the dishwasher. (Or not, because I grew up loading the dishwasher for my family.) But I’m not going to load it the way I always do because it’s the objectively right way to do it. That’s almost an anti-ADD thought. And this is definitely what happens late at night when I get annoying. I’m not deliberately ignoring what other people are thinking. It’s just not crossing my mental radar. If you point it out, I will try to change my behavior. Of course, the drivers that made it stealthy in the first place are still working, so who knows how long it will be before it slips back off the radar and I go back to whatever I was doing. I agree that this might look rather similar from the outside, but it’s not the same from the inside.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think the kind of very forceful ADHD you describe might be ADHD plus something else (narcissism?), while deeply incapacitating ADHD might be more common.

    • yodelyak says:

      Yep. Seconded @Bean. This isn’t me, and I’m definitely ADHD. (I’m sometimes depressed enough that I can write it off as depression-related-attentional-deficits, but really even when I’m up, I’m ADHD.) For me, the problem seems to be more on the lines of bottom-up processing over-powering my top-down processing. I dance with the gal in front of me, not the gal I brought to the dance, if that makes sense. I get flow-like states too easily, over things that aren’t worth a flow state, or in directions that won’t be productive.

      I could see that causing some problems of failure to update priors from evidence (particularly if her bottom-up process is just not good at taking anything to be discouraging). But in my case, I’m pretty open to new evidence and struggle mostly with underconfidence and excessive self-criticism.

    • sclmlw says:

      Looks like the typical response is, “this does not describe me as someone with ADHD, nor does it describe others I know who have ADHD.” I knew that in posting this to SSC comments section I would get a subset of people who are inclined to read articles multiple times the length of the median internet blog entry, but I’m inclined to believe that the small sample represented here is closer to the typical experience of someone with ADHD than my friend is. Which suggests Nancy’s explanation (that what I observed is some sub-type of attention disorder that isn’t formally delineated from ADHD) may be what’s happening with my friend.

      If that’s true, this would be an interesting case where many symptoms are the same, but where the underlying etiology is fundamentally different.

      • bean says:

        If that’s true, this would be an interesting case where many symptoms are the same, but where the underlying etiology is fundamentally different.

        Why is this surprising? One of the problems with regular medicine is that lots of different problems have similar symptoms. The difference with psychiatry is that we’re still in the stage we we have to go solely on gross symptoms. I could see what you describe sounding a bit like ADHD if you’re not looking closely. Do you know if she’s medicated, and if so, how well it worked?

        • sclmlw says:

          I said it was interesting (this is not my field). It’s actually not surprising. My graduate work was in asthma, which you would think is about solid diagnosis of underlying etiologies. We know so much about pathogenesis of the disease! But Asthma, IBD, etc. are really no different from ADHD, depression, etc. Every year we get more evidence that they are spectrum diseases, with important treatment implications for different etiologies. But we continue to just treat patients by cycling them through test medications, much to patients’ detriment. What is surprising is how much of medical diagnosis is based on symptoms and not underlying pathogenesis. Even in places where we know we can do better physicians prefer a symptom-based approach, probably because it’s easier and requires less expertise.

          For example, when you go to the doctor and they give you amoxicillin or azithromycin, they’re giving you broad-spectrum antibiotics hoping to shotgun whatever you’ve got. Compare to a quirky microbiologist professor I had. When his son got sick, he cultured the offending microbe and went to his doctor saying, “He has XXX bacterial infection. Give him YYY, which is a class-2 beta-lactam. He should take it on a full stomach, of course.” He had to do it himself, because doctors don’t do any of that. The symptom-based approach is too strongly ingrained in medical practice and history. It’s insane that evidence-based medicine is NOT a tautology, but an ongoing and often poorly-implemented initiative. And yes, I know it takes longer to identify the infective agent, but once you do it routinely, you end up doing confirmatory tests because you know what’s going around. And besides, it’s better for patients and liability because you get fewer adverse impacts with targeted antibiotics than with broad-spectrum. *Off soapbox*

          My friend is on adderall. She says it works quite well, though sometimes she complains it is still difficult for her to concentrate. Not sure to what extent this is due to severity/efficacy, and to what extent medication can only do so much when you’re studying for the bar.

          • rahien.din says:

            What is surprising is how much of medical diagnosis is based on symptoms and not underlying pathogenesis. Even in places where we know we can do better physicians prefer a symptom-based approach, probably because it’s easier and requires less expertise.

            You’ve got it backwards.

            Just running a bunch of tests doesn’t make any sense. Medical decision-making is an exercise in Bayesian updating. If you just run a bunch of tests without considering the patient’s symptoms, you have nothing to update. You are literally trying to generate a posterior in the absence of a prior. It is utter nonsense.

            Moreover, the prior consists entirely of the physician’s clinical suspicions. The most reliable and important source of information about the patient’s illness is the clinical history, followed distantly by the examination (there is evidence for this in the medical literature). The symptom-based approach is not in conflict with medical testing – in fact, determining your patient’s symptoms is an absolute necessity for deciding if medical testing is even sensible.

            For example, bacterial infections. Depending on the tissue involved and the patient’s health status, there is a limited range of potential pathogens. And that range of pathogens can usually be covered by one particular agent. When your doctor prescribes amoxicillin for, say, acute otitis media, that is because amoxicillin should kill the common pathogens : strep pneumo, moraxella, and H. flu. It would be meaningless and unhelpful to culture the pus from someone’s inner ear.

            I run into this problem all the time as an epileptologist. People do EEG’s for spurious reasons and discover epileptiform discharges (ED), and then refer them to me on an ill-informed suspicion of epilepsy – even if the patient has never had a seizure. We know the marginals here. P(ED|epilepsy) is about 50%. P(epilepsy) is about 1%. P(ED) is about 4.5%, of which 0.5% is contributed by the epileptics, and 4% is contributed by the non-epileptics who have abnormal EEG’s but will never have a seizure (we know this from large studies of airline pilots). In this circumstance of randomly-obtained-EEG, the posterior likelihood P(epilepsy|ED) is 11% – meaning, P(not epilepsy|ED) is 89%. This is unhelpful, and only increases uncertainty. The EEG should never have been performed.

            Another example : the patient with headaches who believes that they have a brain tumor. If a good history does not uncover red flags, and a thorough neurologic exam is normal, their chance of anything dangerous/actionable inside their skull is effectively 0. Imaging is then a bad idea because the only thing it can do is uncover things that don’t matter and that just cause more worry (developmental venous anomalies, UBO’s, arachnoid cysts). This is the opposite of information because it increases uncertainty without aiding care. Imaging in that circumstance is purely an informational hazard.

            It’s insane that evidence-based medicine is NOT a tautology, but an ongoing and often poorly-implemented initiative.

            What do you think “evidence-based medicine” actually means? You have described something very different from evidence-based medicine.

            it’s better for patients and liability because you get fewer adverse impacts with targeted antibiotics than with broad-spectrum.

            The spectrum of action of an antibiotic doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with its potential to cause adverse reactions.

            What do you consider to be targeted antibiotics?

            Compare to a quirky microbiologist professor I had. When his son got sick, he cultured the offending microbe and went to his doctor saying, “He has XXX bacterial infection. Give him YYY, which is a class-2 beta-lactam. He should take it on a full stomach, of course.”

            A competent pediatrician would have taken the history, done an exam, and prescribed an appropriate antibiotic, far more swiftly than the cultures could have been resulted.

            Your quirky micro professor delayed his child’s care, either so that he could play at medicine, or, so that he didn’t have to personally feel inferior to his child’s physician. This was an entirely selfish action.

  33. Igon Value says:

    [pedantic]
    The image is that of Fort Bourtange in the Netherlands and was NOT built by Vauban, even it does have that specific shape we attribute to him.

    Funny anyway.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I was wondering what fort that was, so thanks!

      Do you have a favourite Vauban fort?

      • Igon Value says:

        Too many to choose from. I love those star-shaped forts, but I also like some of the weirder shapes, like le fer à cheval.

        I was also born not far from Sedan, Rocroi, Givet, and the influence of Vauban is everywhere in that area.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I tried googling le fer à cheval but it just gave me images of horseshoes. I’m intrigued; surely a horseshoe is not a good shape for a fort?

          • engleberg says:

            Horse-killing booby-traps, arranged tastefully.

          • Igon Value says:

            Sorry, I should have put a link. Try googling for Fort Chapus or Fort Louvois.

            That’s probably not a very effective fort, but the shape is pretty original.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Huh, fascinating. Sure enough, a horseshoe-shaped fort.

            I understand the theory behind the star shape, but this baffles me.

          • John Schilling says:

            Coast artillery forts. No need to worry about infantry trying to scale the walls or sappers undermine them, so no need for every wall to be aligned with a bastion to deliver enfilading fire. But you do need stable firing positions in every direction an enemy ship might park to fire on the fort. The water “behind” the fort is too shallow for ships, and needs only a light curtain wall and a protected landing.

          • Tenacious D says:

            @Igon Value: That fort is an island at high tide, I guess? Pretty cool.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @John Schilling,

            Ah, I see. Thanks!

    • Aapje says:

      Note that these designs evolved in response to the age of gunpowder. It became more important to keep cannons and such away from the fort, as the walls were not capable of withstanding sustained cannon fire, rather than to not have pointy weak spots.

      Such designs incorporate defense in depth and maximize defensive cross-fire.

  34. toastengineer says:

    Is it possible to have a useful coordinate system with no origin point?

    Like, say we’re in an infinite version of the Library of Babel; hexagonal rooms connected each to 5 other hexagonal rooms, extending forever. Assuming we aren’t willing to just pick an arbitrary origin point (for political reasons, say, because we want the system to be universal but everyone just keeps proposing their own home base as the ‘center’) is there a way to label every room such that knowing the label of a room tells you its position relative to all other rooms whose label you know, but without picking some “center point” that everything is defined relative to?

    • Randy M says:

      You could label everything in reference to it’s neighbor (Room a, NE of room C) but you can’t use numbers, because numbers implies an origin point.

      • beleester says:

        That doesn’t give enough information to serve as a coordinate system. If all you know is that Room A is northeast of room C and room B is southwest of Room D, you don’t have enough information to navigate from A to B. Unless the two rooms you’re moving between share a reference point, but then you’ve just created an origin point by another name.

    • uau says:

      More generally, if the labels can be expressed as strings in some finite alphabet (as opposed to say real numbers), then even if there is no clear single “origin point”, you at least have some kind of “origin area” where all the minimal-length labels are. Or generally all labels below any given length. So you’ll have some finite area which contains all the labels no longer than one million characters, and the rest of the infinite library will have to deal with labels over a million characters.

    • smocc says:

      A map where the label for each room is the same map with the current room highlighted?

    • Iain says:

      If you have an origin-free number system, it’s pretty easy to extend it to a hexagonal grid. So really the question is whether you can come up with an origin-free number system.

      The real numbers between 0 and 1 are infinite and don’t have an origin. The minimal-length labels for real numbers in any given base are evenly distributed, avoiding uau’s argument about an “origin area”. For any finite subset of the library, it’s easy to assign numbers. In the infinite case, though, the obvious approach means that adjacent rooms need to have adjacent real numbers, which is not a well-defined proposition. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to build the axis.

    • littskad says:

      It would depend on what you mean by “coordinate system”. The standard way to coordinatize manifolds, for example, uses what’s called an “atlas”. This is a collection of mappings from pieces of the manifold to pieces of Euclidean space that are compatible with each other in a well-defined sense. There’s no overall origin in this case, and you could use this concept for your library example.

      On the other hand, if you want to insist that each point have exactly one n-tuple of coordinates, then what would the origin be except the point whose coordinates are all zeroes? It would be easy enough to avoid such a point (for example, replace each coordinate x by exp(x)), but why would you?

  35. proyas says:

    Does anyone have an estimate of how smart Stephen Hawking was? What is left in terms of IQ scores, other test scores, or any kind of empirical metric?

    I know this sounds harsh, but I suspect Hawking got a lot of publicity thanks to his disability and its discordance with his high intellect, and it makes me wonder how his theories and work stacked up against his contemporaries in theoretical physics and cosmology. Can anyone speak to that?

  36. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Not sure if we’ve discussed this here, but I’ve seen it discussed elsewhere.

    Common Wisdom: The Treaty of Versailles was unduly harsh to Germany and practically guaranteed WWII.

    How would you have changed the post-WWI settlement to prevent WWII? From where I sit, it seems this is a fantasy produced by people who think war is a moral aberration, that could only have been produced by an equally aberrant Adolf Hitler. But it seems like the war is simply inevitable: the removal of Austria and diminished of Russia makes Eastern and Central Europe practically open for the taking, and there’s no obvious way to stop this BESIDES the kind of retributive policies embraced by France in the 1920s.

    • John Schilling says:

      Not sure the annexation/conquest of Eastern Europe was as sure a thing as you are suggesting. Note that the conquest of Czechoslovakia was a hard enough problem that the German General Staff considered resigning over it (*). Poland is geographically harder to defend than Czechoslovakia, but has a seacoast that would make for easier Western intervention.

      I think it might have forestalled war if there had not been ethnic-German territories in bordering nations that revanchist Germans could quasi-legitimately aspire to reclaim by force and intimidation and which the Allies could quasi-legitimately allow Germany to so reclaim. This would have created a hard boundary between “Germany is being a peaceful nation” and “Germany is invading and conquering other nations for no good reason” that would have made Munich a much harder sell in the west. Absent something like Munich, Allied intervention in the event of war in Czechoslovakia/Poland/Whatever looks much more probable, and I think probable enough that Germany doesn’t pull that trigger at least prior to 1944.

      Ideally, you’d want to back that up with explicit defensive alliances, though of course those had fallen out of favor after The Great War. And it wouldn’t have hurt to refrain from trashing the German economy in the name of reparations that would never be payed, or humiliate their military with armaments restrictions that ultimately wouldn’t be enforced.

      The problem is, a major geopolitical conflict between Soviet Communism and Western Democratic Capitalism was probably inevitable some time in the 1940s or 1950s, and if Stalin decides to get uppity before Not-Hitler, that just gives us a different flavor of World War II.

      * Before being neutralized by possibly the most consequential sex scandal ever.

      • quaelegit says:

        > and I think probable enough that Germany doesn’t pull that trigger at least prior to 1944.

        Why 1944? (As in, what would cause them to change policies and go to war in that specific year?)

        • dndnrsn says:

          Prior to the war actually starting, there’s examples of Nazi higher ups talking about a war in the mid-40s being a necessary next step for their long-term plan. Himmler, at least, was talking about ’43-’45. Pretty sure (I’d have to look at Wages of Destruction to doublecheck) the reason is that’s the amount of time they figured they’d need to rearm as much as they had wanted.

        • John Schilling says:

          As dndnrsn says, there was long-term planning that said total war was inevitable and that the rearmament programs necessary to win that war would not be complete until well into the 1940s. I’m going by memory for the 1944 date figuring prominently in those plans.

          The German general staff figured they’d lose decisively if they fought the British and French in 1938-1939. Munich convinced enough of them that they could get the rest of Czechoslovakia without a fight that Hitler was able to sideline the rest and roll those dice. Czechoslovakia convinced them that they could get Poland without a fight and, oops, that didn’t work as planned but then Plan B worked surprisingly well.

          I think we can redesign Versailles to avoid temptations like the Sudetenland. It’s not clear whether Versailles Lite still leaves the Germans thinking total war in the 1940s is inevitable. And it’s a moot point if Stalin doesn’t play along.

          • quaelegit says:

            Thanks for the explanation (thanks to @dndnrsn too), this makes a lot of sense.

            Apparently the Red Army was in the middle of a major re-org/modernization when Barbarossa started, which hurt the Russian’s ability to respond effectively. If Germany waited a few years to attack the Eastern Front might have turned out very differently. Although a different Versailles (using it to refer to the post-WWI settlements in Eastern Europe too) would mean very different development for the USSR as well, and I don’t know enough to speculate here 😛

          • dndnrsn says:

            I recommend Ivan’s War by Merridale. I can’t recall who here recommended it, but I ended up reading it. It seems to have been a combination of that and of the effects of the purges – I seem to recall reading there was a shortage of officers at certain ranks, presumably because of the purges at least in part. Plus, some tactical concepts were condemned, at least early in the war, due to having been thought up by Trotsky-supporting fascist wrecker spires, and at least early in the war political officers got too much of a say, and the professional officers got a bit too little. The Red Army got dramatically more effective over the course of the war, and a significant part of that was Stalin listening to his generals more and a decline in the influence of political officers. Russian generals of WWII are underrated. The ones who made to the end of the war were generally pretty tough customers.

        • dndnrsn says:

          For some reason, I’m remembering Wages of Destruction having ’42 as the earliest date that Nazi bigwigs bandied about as when the Death Star would be complete when they would have enough trucks, up-to-date tanks, planes, ships, etc. I might be wrong on that. But their plan definitely had the ideal start date as the mid-40s.

          Longerich cites Himmler talking in the mid-to-late 30s about a major conflict within the next 10 years, do-or-die, but also the first conflict in a longer struggle (demographic as much as military) that would play out over a century or so – he was talking about a hundred million Germans engaged in agricultural labour in conquered lands to the east, etc.

          @John Schilling

          If Versailles Lite (or alternately Versailles Heavy-Duty) kept the Nazis out, would any other possible German government have gone to war? The social democrats and so on probably would have tried to become an economic power (which, postwar, Germany has done pretty well, or West Germany at least). The other nationalist parties might have tried to cla