THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 98.75

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

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539 Responses to Open Thread 98.75

  1. bean says:

    Naval Gazing’s detailed history of battleship design continues with a look at the Early Dreadnoughts, the 12″ ships of the US and Britain that followed Dreadnought herself.

    • cassander says:

      Just out of curiosity, was there ever a ship that managed to get the “firing across the deck” idea to work correctly? IIRC, even the guns on lexington and saratoga were considered pretty much useless for firing to port.

      • bean says:

        Not that I’m aware of, no. I’m going to discuss this more later in the month when I talk about main guns.

      • bean says:

        IIRC, even the guns on lexington and saratoga were considered pretty much useless for firing to port.

        Thinking it over more, I wonder if this is more to do with the blast effects on the planes than on the ships themselves. I don’t have figures for blast-hardening of airplanes of that era on hand, but up through the mid-30s, I expect it was pretty low. And this kind of thing often scales with the square or cube of gun size, so an 8″ is going to have relatively low blast. I haven’t heard of blast being nearly as much of a problem on cruisers as on battleships. On the other hand, if you have to move planes around to fire guns over the deck, that’s going to get really annoying, and easily rounded to “we don’t fire guns across the deck because of blast”. I think that there was even some concern about 5″ blast on planes on the Essexes, but a 5″/38 isn’t that dangerous to structure.
        There’s also the distinction between messing up paint and actually breaking things. I’ll have to try to run this down more, but the relevant Friedman is at home.

        • cassander says:

          One issue might have been the wooden decks. Lexington had wooden flight decks, the basic theory being that if you couldn’t make the deck strong enough to keep out bombs, you might as well make it out of something that was easy to repair. I’m not sure of the exact mix of wood to metal, but it might have caused issues with blast that a normal deck wouldn’t have.

          • bean says:

            I know you know that wooden decks were universal on battleships. Actually, IIRC the Lexington and Saratoga had some deck armor, although I’d have to check the relevant books to be sure. The US didn’t shift towards assuming it was impossible to protect the flight deck until after they were built. And even US wooden decks were over metal.

            On the gripping hand, I could see a wooden flight deck being more vulnerable to blast than a battleship deck. A few displaced planks on a battleship are mildly irritating until the deck apes get it sorted out. A few displaced planks on a carrier’s flight deck are an accident waiting to happen. As I said, I’ll check the relevant Friedman when I get home.

          • cassander says:

            yeah, I wasn’t clear. I meant that the ratio of wood to steel might have been different for carrier decks than non-carriers, specifically the carriers might have more wood.

          • bean says:

            Friedman’s US Carriers wasn’t totally clear on this, but based on some passages when he’s talking about the decision to remove the guns, the main concern seems to have been blast on the aircraft. Even firing cross-deck when the planes were aloft seems to have been thought OK, although the obvious problem was how short of an interval that was.

            Fighters Over the Fleet suggests that Lex and Sara had a steel deck with wood covering (I tracked down photos to confirm the presence of the wood), and that Ranger had the first repairable wooden deck, which would lead me to suspect that the ships of immediate relevance had decks very much like those of contemporary battleships. I’m more certain now that the main concern was the airplanes, not the ship.

    • bean says:

      For Friday, I’ve put together a Links Index, to the best websites for naval matters. Not sure why I didn’t do this months ago.

  2. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Interrogating Professor William Dyer of Miskatonic:

    “Let me start by assuring you, Dr. Dyer, that I’m not here to accuse you of fabrication or hallucinations. Dr. Starkweather and I have some cause to believe that a man of sound mind could claim what you are claiming.”
    Dyer nodded, visibly calming from his nervous state.
    “So let’s go through the claims in your open letter. First you reprint your bulletin of 23 January, 1931 of the fourteen organisms you claimed to be of Archaean provence.”
    “Not the organisms; half their footprints. The organisms themselves obviously lived in an epoch of ice.”
    “Regardless, Dr. Dyer, evidence in Archaean slate is wholly irreconcilable with civilized beings existing until the glaciaton of Antarctica with little change other than the ‘decadence’ you alude to.”
    I paused before continuing. “Your first sighting of the archaeological site of cubic and conical buildings with pinnacles is laced with references to obscure superstitions: the medieval Arabic Necronomicon, Pnakotic Manuscripts, etc. I pass quickly to the direct evidence of your senses in the archaeological site, only drawing your attention to how these occult books would have biased your interpretation of the evidence.”
    Dyer frowned, digging his unsteady fingers into the arms of his stuffed office chair. “Continue to your point.”
    “I next pass over the tragedy at the Lake camp, as the cryogenic preservation of some higher organism with no close relationship to vertebrates and their ability to kill men after revivification is all too plausible. During your fieldwork in Australia, the American biology journals have published a paper on the freezing and revivication of scorpions.”
    “So you and the grad student Danforth flew to the mountain site. You wrote of ‘the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of years it had brooded there amidst the blasts of a bleak upland’ – you thereby admit that what you found proves nothing about the organisms’s city lasting more than perhaps two million years?”
    “We collected evidence from the mural motifs. There were the domesticated pterosaurs, world maps showing the continents in all stages of drift…”
    “I grant the pterosaurs, but if Wegener’s theory of continental drift is true, they could have discovered it independently.”
    “So we have an above-ice archaeological site extending, by your estimates, forty by unknown miles, and the images you and Danforth made came from a single multi-story building and adjacent ones you may have wandered into. Your letter says all the bas reliefs found there can be dated to perhaps two million years ago ‘as checked up by geological, biological, and astronomical features’. Such is consistent with a terminal Pliocene glaciation of the polar region where the city was built. Then you and Danforth crossed a covered bridge to a rock-cut edifice that you as a geologist identified as ‘Eocene or Cretaceous’. Its bas reliefs were much less decadent than the others, and from this you infer a single Spengler-like cycle of civilization taking from the Eocene or terminal Cretaceous until the Ice Age to go from its springtime to decadence?”
    “It seems absurd in human terms, but the cycle of civilization from birth to decadence could scale with the lifespan of the intelligent organism, and we inferred that the Old Ones were nearly immortal.”
    “Quite a leap of logical inference from bas reliefs, Dyer!” I calmed myself before continuing. “You inferred from these images that the organisms had science and industry more advanced than modern man’s, with which they created the first multi-cellular life on Earth, in the form of food and their ‘shoggoth’ tools or slaves. While I find this conclusion unsupported by your facts, we cannot escape the conclusion that these pre-human intelligences did use a science beyond ours to create the shoggoths.”
    “And shoggoths still live in those mountains of madness, which is one reason there must be no more exploration.”
    “And elsewhere, as you must have inferred from depictions of the sea as their preferred habitat, which you touched on in describing ‘the War of Resubjugation’ and depiction of land animals rather than shoggoths as domesticate creatures. So you should not find it beyond belief that we’ve encountered shoggoths without having to invade Antarctica.”
    I sympathetically watched Dyer turn pale.
    “When– what context?” he sputtered.
    “February 1928 off the coast of Massachusetts. You recall the cry civil rights groups raised about the concentration camps later that year?”
    “I do.”
    “Well the reason they stopped talking about the issue is that the people in the camps were an amphibious offshoot of man, who had either allied with or enslaved shoggoths in their undersea habitat.”
    Dyer looked like he was about to faint.
    “It’s because Starkweather and I believe your report, minus logical leaps about the species and city’s length of existence, that we secured federal funding and liaisons with the Federal Bureau of Investigation branch that has dealt with shoggoths.”
    After having spent some time completely limp in his chair, Dyer leaned toward me while tightly gripping the armrests.
    “It’s still mad! There’s no need to go back there, and taking a couple of G-Men on dogsleds–”
    “I’m afraid we don’t have a choice, Dr. Dyer. American embassy personnel in Berlin have passed on circumstantial evidence that the German government has created an archaeological department for researching your ‘Old Ones’.”
    I withdrew a folder from my briefcase on his desk and slid it across to him. “Society for the Study of the History of Primeval Thought, an organization within the Schutzstaffel branch of Chancellor Hitler’s National Socialist Party. Founded 1 July of this year with an official goal of ‘promoting the science of ancient intellectual history’. You want to learn German to try to discourage them? And what about when Soviet scientists start believing your findings?”

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yeah, I know. I’ve never read even a summary of the “A Colder War” spin-off novels, though (I don’t like Charlie Stross), which should reduce the risk of rehash or response. I’m more interested in the epistemology issues At the Mountains of Madness raises.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Laundry Files are not spinoffs of A Colder War, technically. They’re a different setting (which also considers the real world implications of Lovecraftian tropes, though more as a homage than precise facts.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, I figured it dealt in homage rather than precise extrapolation from the texts based on “A Colder War” (R’lyeh in the Baltic?). But OK, different setting.

        • Nornagest says:

          They’re not really spin-off novels; they share the Lovecraftian-spy-fiction theme, but they take place in different worlds and the novels are far less bleak. Mostly because they adopt more of a Delta Green/BPRD approach to the source material, rather than taking the remarkably stupid tack of using sleeping alien gods as terror weapons. Well, the Nazis tried in the backstory, but they’re Nazis.

          “The Atrocity Archive” (short story): Cultists bore a hole to a dimension where the Nazis won WWII by allying with powers beyond the ken of man, with predictable consequences. Those wacky cultists! Those wacky Nazis!

          The Jennifer Morgue: the villain from Tomorrow Never Dies wants to recover a chthonian war machine, and it’s up to our protagonist to stop him. Also, what do you think a Bond girl would look like in a Lovecraftian universe? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

          They’re better than I’m making them sound; the first few, at least. The series started going downhill somewhere around The Apocalypse Codex, although I didn’t give up on it until after The Nightmare Stacks. I do like Charles Stross, though, or at least did until the Discourse ate him.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            @Nornagest: Delirium Brief was considerably better than Annihilation Score or Nightmare Stacks, if you’re considering returning to the fold. It helps that it wasn’t about Stross’s fetishes (TAS) or a protagonist Stross actively despised (TNS.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            They’re not really spin-off novels; they share the Lovecraftian-spy-fiction theme, but they take place in different worlds and the novels are far less bleak. Mostly because they adopt more of a Delta Green/BPRD approach to the source material, rather than taking the remarkably stupid tack of using sleeping alien gods as terror weapons. Well, the Nazis tried in the backstory, but they’re Nazis.

            Ha. Stross’s Marxism is muted in “A Colder War” by the way he treats the Soviet leaders as breathtakingly stupid (I think he’s a Trot?).

            The Jennifer Morgue does sound intriguing. What would a Bond girl look like? Lovecraft’s characters are so chaste, even on the occasions he wrote women, that you’d probably have to look to Clark Ashton Smith’s weird tales for clues. 😛

            I do like Charles Stross, though, or at least did until the Discourse ate him.

            I’m not sure what “the Discourse” means, though I’ve seen him use that ominously postmodern term. I remember him being an old-school Marxist more than a postmodernist/SJW. I just found his writing intolerably cocky and smug, like the John C. Wright of SF’s mainstream tribe.

          • johan_larson says:

            The Jennifer Morgue does sound intriguing. What would a Bond girl look like?

            Don’t get too excited. I’ve read the book, and it’s mostly about the male protagonist being sent on an idiot mission and then getting rescued at the last minute by Bond-girl.

            Perhaps I’m being unfair; I read the book years ago.

            IMHO, “A Colder War” is the best bit of weird/spy stuff Stross has written. His later novels contain the same poison, but in more dilute doses.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not sure what “the Discourse” means, though I’ve seen him use that ominously postmodern term. I remember him being an old-school Marxist more than a postmodernist/SJW.

            Oh, I’m just alluding to how his recent work is, if not exactly more political, then more conventionally political and more aligned with talking points in the broader media. A lot of what hacked me off about The Nightmare Stacks is how the narration takes time out every so often to deliver rote third-wave feminist critiques of its repressed nerdboy protagonist — who then, without apparent irony, manages to pull a manic-pixie-dreamgirl girlfriend. There’s some details that suggest she’s probably supposed to be subversive in some way (she’s a literal manic pixie, for example; long story), but mainly it came off as Stross trying to have his cake and eat it too.

            It sounds like you’ve read more of his blog or other nonfiction work than I have, but in his earlier fiction he struck me as somewhere between Noam Chomsky and Burning Man’s Ten Principles, or like that guy in the corner of a Portland bar wearing a T-shirt from Lightning in a Bottle or the Folsom Street Fair and talking about deploying censorship-resistant peer-to-peer texting protocols for a protest at the next WEF summit. Too anti-authoritarian to be a commie as such, but on board with most of the Marxist critiques of Western capitalism. Which I was basically okay with; I don’t agree with it, but it’s an unusual perspective and I like reading about weird politics. Conventional politics, not so much.

          • sfoil says:

            Very little good has ever come from my reading the blogs of authors whose fiction I like. Although not as bad as interviews of musicians.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Don’t get too excited. I’ve read the book, and it’s mostly about the male protagonist being sent on an idiot mission and then getting rescued at the last minute by Bond-girl.

            Can’t really give this response without big spoilers, so Rot13:

            Gur npghny Obaq Tvey va gur fgbel vf gur cebgntbavfg. Ur fcraqf zbfg bs gur obbx guvaxvat ur’f gur npgvba ureb, ohg ur unf npghnyyl orra sbyybjvat gur cybg nep bs na nepurglcny Obaq Tvey gur jubyr gvzr, naq va gur raq trgf erfphrq ol uvf tveysevraq, gur npghny Obaq svther va gur fgbel.

          • I used to interact with Stross on Usenet a very long time ago, and I have read a couple of his books, which didn’t strike me as either very good or very bad.

            At least one of his books has an A-C society in part of its background. That’s interesting because my conclusion from the online interaction was that he knew essentially nothing about the actual intellectual movement–did not realize I had something to do with it and did not recognize Rothbard’s name. That, I should add, is all from my memory of online interactions a very long time ago.

            My conclusion was that he was getting it all at second hand, had read people like Vinge who do know about the subject and gotten enough from them to do a reasonable job of faking it. I wonder how often that pattern occurs in fiction–writer A using a historical or cultural or intellectual background that he has gotten entirely from reading authors B, C, and D who set stories in that background.

            I suppose one could, in principle, identify that process by observing a sort of memetic draft. Author B makes some mistake in the historical facts, gets a name wrong or matches up the wrong king/queen pair. Author C makes a different mistake, author D yet another. Then author A writes a book which includes all three.

          • Iain says:

            IMHO, “A Colder War” is the best bit of weird/spy stuff Stross has written. His later novels contain the same poison, but in more dilute doses.

            Have you read “Missile Gap“? It’s the other good example of Bleak Stross, which is my favourite Stross.

          • Nick says:

            Have you read “Missile Gap“? It’s the other good example of Bleak Stross, which is my favourite Stross.

            “Missile Gap” is a little sillier than “A Colder War,” unless my memory of the latter fails me, but it’s definitely good too. Well, when I say silly I’m thinking of things like Tntneva’f zvffvba nf n ersrerapr gb Fgne Gerx naq gur vafcvengvba sbe Tertbe Fnzfn, gubhtu V tenag gurfr pbhyq whfg or vfbyngrq rknzcyrf. Gubhtu sbe nyy V xabj, gur nagf be gur ahefr ghearq fpvrapr nvqr be jungrire ner fvyyl ersreraprf gbb.

            One thing I give Charlie Stross a lot of credit for is trying to hammer home the idea that small changes for your setting can have unexpected consequences that either threaten suspension of disbelief or leave serious problems unexplained. I think “Missile Gap” is an excellent example of this, where a change to the setting has surprising implications for US-Soviet relations.

      • Nornagest says:

        Why not “The Atrocity Archive”? Same theme, and it focuses on the actual Nazis.

    • Nick says:

      This is relevant to my interests. 😀

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I sat down in the college library. There was no point in continuing to reason with Dyer after the shock I’d given him about the Massachusetts fishmen and their shoggoths. I’d let him sleep on it before offering a last chance to join the expedition.
      I opened the file in my briefcase stuffed with copies of his photographs and open letter. The stapled sheaf of pages was folded to where I’d left off. “The builders of the city were wise and old, and had left certain traces in rocks even then laid down well-nigh a thousand million years… rocks laid down before the true life of earth had advanced beyond plastic groups of cells…” I began writing in the margins. The geologist contradicts himself… true multicellular life dates to earliest Cambrian. If Old Ones created earliest multicellular organisms as food, how did they live for the hundreds of millions of years separating Archaean from Lower Cambrian?
      Old One civilization had begun in the sea… this was difficult to prove from the bas reliefs. The photographs rarely show marine animals. Life underwater was demonstrated by images of the beings swimming with cityscapes in the background, a swimming phosphorescent invertebrate, etc, but who knows which came first? “They hunted game and raised meat herds—slaughtering with sharp weapons whose odd marks on certain fossil bones our expedition had noted.” Why have we found no such marks on fossils from other continents? Unless we can find such marks on fossils from more than one epoch, this is evidence against Old One land civilization enduring millions or hundreds of millions of years. Yet mix of land animals depicted complicates assigning the civilization to one geologic period: primitive reptiles, giant pterosaurs and proto-simian.
      “Their original place of advent to the planet was the Antarctic Ocean, and it is likely that they came not long after the matter forming the moon was wrenched from the neighbouring South Pacific. According to one of the sculptured maps, the whole globe was then under water, with stone cities scattered farther and farther from the antarctic as aeons passed.” Absurd time scale; no justification. Man needed only six thousand years to scatter cities across Earth from a start on the Euphrates. Alternate explanation for map showing Earth entirely underwater marked with cities and also map with continents in their known positions?
      Numerous depictions of octopus-headed intelligent reptiles have no connection to map of ‘Pangaea’ from continental drift theory that Dyer connects to their arrival from outer space. Period impossible to infer, and creatures could furthermore be creation of Old Ones like shoggoths. ‘Pangaea’ sketch does show city marks around the world, if marks not misinterpretation by Dyer. He places shoggoth war of re-subjugation between wars with octopus-heads and “Jurassic” wars with para-crustacean beings images associate with Pluto. Chronology is again hard to justify; most that can be said is that “Plutonian” war images do show advanced dinosaurs. Dyer speciously identifies beginning of racial decadence with losing knowledge of space travel to confront para-crustaceans before they could conquer the continents, yet is certain they continued to exist without change to terminal Pliocene. Final, “Pliocene” map sketch has “no land cities except on the antarctic continent and the tip of South America, nor any ocean cities north of the fiftieth parallel of South Latitude.” Curious how marine cities were lost if the para-crustaceans were unable to colonize sea: destruction by shoggoths?
      I paused in my marginalia. Dyer’s film had been used up when they found the map room, so from this point all images he made inferences from were only sketches. So until scientists returned to those sites, we were dealing with a layer of cognitive bias between us and the direct evidence of Dyer’s senses. He was a sadly irrational fellow outside his field; he couldn’t help peppering his open letter with allusions to the Necronomicon and Pnakotic manuscripts. The former I knew by reputation, though so minor a medieval occult book that it had never had a print edition. It was either an Arabic grimoire or the scripture of an abortive Middle Eastern religion, apparently so unappealing to either Arabic intellectuals or the common man that we lacked records of Islamic authorities burning it. The handful of manuscripts, which this very library had one of, were all in Greek. The fact that Greek was still a required subject at Miskatonic would explain why enough of the faculty had read the manuscript to make it a school in-joke. But Dyer had neurotic tendencies and seemed to take the stupid thing seriously, as more sober men might take the Bible or Hindu scriptures. I chuckled at the thought of what English-reading Indians would soon make of a scientist’s claims of civilized beings existing from the beginning of life on Earth.

      “Dr. Moore?”
      It was Dyer’s voice. I craned my neck around in the chair. “Hello. I didn’t expect to see you again today.”
      He was holding a folder in one hand and a mug of steaming liquid in the other. Said hands looked steadier than they had during our interview. “I have unpublished notes from my recent Australian fieldwork corroborating the existence of the Old Ones no later than the Lower Triassic. And there was another civilization with them, one more mechanically inclined. If I cannot dissuade mankind from invading Antarctica, we should at least mention to your sponsors in the federal government that it seems prudent to block the Germans from this site first.”

      • Nick says:

        Did Dyer have his full notes on the bas-reliefs published as promised in the story, or was that interrupted by Moore? And tell me they’re bringing a linguist this time. I’m curious what you end up making of the “cartouches and dot-groups” language. 😛

        And if you want to throw some shade on Dyer’s account, take a look at this line:

        They seemed able to traverse the interstellar ether on their vast membraneous wings—thus oddly confirming some curious hill folklore long ago told me by an antiquarian colleague.

        Credulously believing a report of the beliefs of some hill folk on interstellar travel. Come on, Dyer.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @Nick:

          Did Dyer have his full notes on the bas-reliefs published as promised in the story, or was that interrupted by Moore? And tell me they’re bringing a linguist this time. I’m curious what you end up making of the “cartouches and dot-groups” language.

          I’m assuming he published all the photographs and select sketches with captions (“Our flashlight photographs of those carvings will do much toward proving the truth of what we are now disclosing, and it is lamentable that we had not a larger film supply with us.” … “Let others judge when they see the photographs I shall publish.”) ASAP after the open letter that forms AtMoM, but not the monograph for scientific journals yet.

          And yes. I don’t yet know what I’ll make of “the cartouches and dot-groups language”, but he’ll be there.

          Credulously believing a report of the beliefs of some hill folk on interstellar travel. Come on, Dyer.

          Haha, definitely adding a comment on that line.
          I’m assuming Dyer is an honest man rather than doing total revisionism, but he sure is credulous, huh? That’s the interesting epistemology layer. I have to keep all these straight:
          The Truth.
          How a 1935 rationalist (Moore) would interpret the evidence.
          How William Dyer’s cognitive bias influenced his evidence.
          And what others would make of evidence for pre-human civilizations. That line about the Nazi “Society for the Study of the History of Primeval Thought”? IRL, its name was prefixed by Deutsches Ahnenerbe (German Heritage), which gets left off because Those Wacky Nazis are still biased but no one sane enough to function would try to interpret the primeval tentacle barrels as Germanic. 😛

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      So guys, The Shadow Out of Time being in continuity with At the Mountains of Madness makes things complicated!
      Here’s what narrator Peaslee says he learned while trapped in the body of a cone-shaped person:

      Chapter III: “With suitable precautions, and in exchange for suitable services, it was allowed to rove all over the habitable world in titan airships or on the huge boat-like atomic-engined vehicles which traversed the great roads, and to delve freely into the libraries containing the records of the planet’s past and future.”
      “The beings of a dying elder world, wise with the ultimate secrets, had looked ahead for a new world and species wherein they might have long life; and had sent their minds en masse into that future race best adapted to house them—the cone-shaped things that peopled our earth a billion years ago.”
      IV: “Beyond the wide, warm ocean were other cities of the Great Race, and on one far continent I saw the crude villages of the black-snouted, winged creatures who would evolve as a dominant stock after the Great Race had sent its foremost minds into the future to escape the creeping horror.”
      “All [animals] were wild; for the Great Race’s mechanised culture had long since done away with domestic beasts, while food was wholly vegetable or synthetic. Clumsy reptiles of great bulk floundered in steaming morasses, fluttered in the heavy air, or spouted in the seas and lakes; and among these I fancied I could vaguely recognise lesser, archaic prototypes of many forms—dinosaurs, pterodactyls, ichthyosaurs, labyrinthodonts, rhamphorhynci, plesiosaurs, and the like—made familiar through palaeontology. Of birds or mammals there were none that I could discern.”
      [The presence of flying vertebrates and absence of mammals lets us pin the period Peaslee was transported to as the Late Triassic, no earlier than the Norian stage.]
      “Warfare, largely civil for the last few millennia though sometimes waged against reptilian and octopodic invaders, or against the winged, star-headed Old Ones who centred in the Antarctic, was infrequent though infinitely devastating. An enormous army, using camera-like weapons which produced tremendous electrical effects, was kept on hand for purposes seldom mentioned…”
      “The basis of the fear was a horrible elder race of half-polypous, utterly alien entities which had come through space from immeasurably distant universes and had dominated the earth and three other solar planets about six hundred million years ago. … When these things had come to the earth they had built mighty basalt cities of windowless towers, and had preyed horribly upon the beings they found. Thus it was when the minds of the Great Race sped across the void from that obscure trans-galactic world…”

      So 600 million years ago, half-polypous aliens colonized the Solar system. Long after, the Great Race transferred their minds from Yith to Earth’s sapient cone-things (which had been around since a billion years ago?!) and may have entirely conquered its surface from both them and the Old Ones, as implied by “rove all over the habitable world” and “Beyond the… ocean were other cities of the Great Race” He also mentions half-reptilian, half-polypous (octopodic) invaders, which echoes the reference to “The Call of Cthulhu” in AtMoM and also sound suspiciously similar to the half-polypous, half-material Elder Things.
      Strangely, Lovecraft has Peaslee refer to yet another sapient race dominating Earth once the Great Race abandon the bodies of the cone-shaped people to be killed by Elder Things… despite the fact that AtMoM makes clear reference to the Old Ones coexisting with early monkeys, and the Fungi from Yuggoth extirpating them from the land.
      Note also the Great Race making war on the Old Ones and having the manufacturing base to build airships, nuclear-powered surface craft and submarines, while the Old One art Dyer and Danforth saw depicted them living a pre-industrial lifestyle supplemented by bio-tech. Of course that art was made epochs later, so the Late Triassic Old Ones might have had a large industrial base.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Probably of interest: Winter Tide, a novel which includes Lovecraft’s sentient species in one timeline.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @Nancy: Thanks! I recognize the author from Tor.com, where she published “Litany of Earth” and the “girl cooties” Lovecraft reread.

          • Iain says:

            Winter Tide is a sequel to Litany of Earth. My ebook copy of the former tucks a copy of the latter at the end of the book.

          • Nick says:

            Ah, you’ve already read “Litany of Earth?” I was considering recommending it, given your interest above in how the Yithians fits into this. What did you think of it? I know Ada Palmer loved it, and while I didn’t have the fits of ecstasy over it, I thought it was an okay take on the Mythos, and definitely appreciated the sense of deep history it evoked.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nick: “Okay” sums it up. I don’t hate it, but the way she edits the cone-shaped beings and Elder Things out of Earth’s Deep Time (making the Old Ones “faces of Yith” like the Beetles) unsatisfying. More importantly, the deep meaning is hackneyed postmodernism: all Cthulhu cultists are benign (except the Louisiana group) and white Americans Othered them, which makes us literally Nazis. It can never be true that the Necronomicon preaches nihilism, that Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth worship is about opening gates that will enable mankind’s genocide by outer things, etc. “Unreliable narrator” can be invoked to make everything fit Standard-Issue Blue Novelist Morality.
            That said, doing a sequel to Shadows Over Innsmouth does call for confronting the fact that the US government creates concentration camps and that Deep Ones recoil from swastikas (Zadok tells the narrator that’s what the Elder Sign heroic Polynesians carved on a Cthulhu-tainted island as magic wards looks like).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I liked “Litany of Earth” quite a bit, which goes to show that I can like a good tale of victimization now and then.

            I didn’t like Winter Tide as much, even though it was a much more sensible “no one (including the Deep Ones) has clean hands, but we live as we can anyway” attitude. I’m planning on rereading it when the sequel comes out in July.

            If you want some “justice, though the heavens fall”, there’s Mishell Baker’s Borderline series.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            On further reflection, Cthulhu being a nice god isn’t a wholly mendacious reading: In “The Mound”, the Native American civilization that’s been living underground since the Flood worships Tulu “as a spirit of universal harmony” (and the Catholic narrator finds Shub-Niggurath obnoxious for being a more sophisticated Astarte!). It’s Emrys’s take on the Necronomicon that’s mendacious and hackneyed: the longest references to it are in “The Dunwich Horror”, where Wilbur Whateley wants its spell for “the extirpation of the entire human race and all animal and vegetable life from the earth by some terrible elder race of beings from another dimension”, which AtMoM corroborates with a reference to the Necronomicon insinuating that Earth life has no value because the Elder Things created it “as jest or mistake.” It’s the worst sort of nihilism, hence my/Moore’s reference to it possibly being the scripture of an abortive religion unappealing enough that Islamic authorities didn’t bother to burn it. 😛

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        So what do y’all think of this revised timeline? It’s my attempt to thread the needle between “ridiculous but faithful to the texts” and “hard SF but makes Lovecraft an unreliable narrator of his own world”.

        600-575 million years ago: Elder Things colonize Solar system and create its first multi-cellular life (“as jest or mistake” according to the nihilist Abdul Alhazred [AtMoM Chapter II]).
        ??? MYA: Barrel and cone-shaped radial organisms evolve large brains, tool use. Barrel-shaped “Old Ones” are first autochthons to become sapient.
        252 MYA: Earth’s dominant species industrializes. Shoggoths created. Greenhouse gases cause worst phase of Permian-Triassic extinction.
        227-209 MYA: Cone-shaped beings get rational souls from Yith. They fight wars with the Elder Things and Old Ones.
        “Jurassic”: Cone-shaped beings killed off by irruption of Elder Things. Old Ones encounter Mi-Go (either extraterrestrials coming from the Kuiper Belt, or the biological bodies of AIs the Old Ones recklessly created), who drive them from all continents save Antarctica.
        34-33.5 MYA: Decadent Antarctic Old Ones domesticate proto-simians found during their coastal exploration. They immigrate to nearby seas not long after.
        ??? thousand years ago: Proto-humans get rational souls. Deep Ones appear. A furry race worships Tsathoggua in Greenland.

        • dndnrsn says:

          There’s a lot of stuff that makes HPL an unreliable narrator. Take the events in Dunwich: by the book, practically every man in town went over to the Sentinel Hill area to see what was going on, lots of people knew about and saw the monster, etc. Which seems implausible, if it’s supposed to be something weird and mysterious.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            That’s true. OTOH, I’m not touching “The Dunwich Horror”: just AtMoM, the stories it references (“The Call of Cthulhu”, “Whisperer in Darkness”), The Shadow Out of Time where Dyer reappears, and The Shadow over Innsmouth (a judgment call, because shoggoths reappear).

          • dndnrsn says:

            Oh, Dunwich isn’t specific to this stuff; it’s more that Lovecraft was, after all, a pulp author writing for a living (and often not a good living). Nerds after him have definitely put a lot more work into figuring his stuff out than he put into writing it.

          • Deiseach says:

            practically every man in town went over to the Sentinel Hill area to see what was going on, lots of people knew about and saw the monster, etc. Which seems implausible, if it’s supposed to be something weird and mysterious

            Well, that could be explained by the attitude Nick describes in an earlier comment:

            Credulously believing a report of the beliefs of some hill folk on interstellar travel.

            Dunwich was a backwards and degenerate settlement; the locals may have sworn that they saw giant footprints and unnatural lights and the rest of it, but the educated city types can discount all that as peasant superstition and hysteria. Wilbur Whateley’s peculiarities can be put down to the natural result of generations of isolated, inbred families marrying too closely among themselves (and maybe a hint of incest along the line). When the outside world does take an interest in the goings-on in Dunwich, it’s the kind of media sensationalism that nobody outside takes seriously and which the papers themselves treat as amusing, if worrying, nonsense from the backwoods:

            It was the publicity attending this investigation which set reporters on the track of the Whateleys, and caused the Boston Globe and Arkham Advertiser to print flamboyant Sunday stories of young Wilbur’s precociousness, Old Whateley’s black magic, the shelves of strange books, the sealed second story of the ancient farmhouse, and the weirdness of the whole region and its hill noises. Wilbur was four and a half then, and looked like a lad of fifteen. His lips and cheeks were fuzzy with a coarse dark down, and his voice had begun to break.

            Earl Sawyer went out to the Whateley place with both sets of reporters and camera men, and called their attention to the queer stench which now seemed to trickle down from the sealed upper spaces. It was, he said, exactly like a smell he had found in the tool-shed abandoned when the house was finally repaired; and like the faint odours which he sometimes thought he caught near the stone circles on the mountains. Dunwich folk read the stories when they appeared, and grinned over the obvious mistakes. They wondered, too, why the writers made so much of the fact that Old Whateley always paid for his cattle in gold pieces of extremely ancient date. The Whateleys had received their visitors with ill-concealed distaste, though they did not dare court further publicity by a violent resistance or refusal to talk.

            After all, if they took seriously these tales of witchcraft and black magic and creatures from outer space – impossible!

            When Wilbur is killed trying to steal the Necronomicon from Miskatonic University, there may be three credible witnesses to what his corpse looked like, but there is no hard evidence to persuade a sceptical outside world:

            When the medical examiner came, there was only a sticky whitish mass on the painted boards, and the monstrous odour had nearly disappeared. Apparently Whateley had had no skull or bony skeleton; at least, in any true or stable sense. He had taken somewhat after his unknown father.

            There are also strong hints of official cover-ups; people don’t want to know more than they need to, so they don’t investigate matters too closely, and those in authority want it all hushed up to prevent public panic.

            The monster is invisible and so can’t be perceived until the very end of the story (when it is revealed by means of the magic powder, and again, only one person gets to see what it looks like) and when people do try to get the outside world to take an interest, this is the result:

            Someone telephoned the news to the Aylesbury Transcript; but the editor, accustomed to wild tales from Dunwich, did no more than concoct a humorous paragraph about it; an item soon afterward reproduced by the Associated Press.

            How seriously would you take a funny story in the Sunday papers about a sighting of the Loch Ness monster? The outsiders think this is just wild tales out of a poverty-stricken backwater where illiterate, degenerate hillbillies are probably off their heads on moonshine and superstition and are engaging in local feuds and property damage. The only people outside of Dunwich and the surrounding countryside who believe what is going on are the Miskatonic professors who saw Wilbur’s corpse and its dissolution, and the one of them who pieces together what is going on immediately has an attack of brain fever and what he says is treated as the ravings of delirium.

            Fortunately, he recovers in time to get his colleagues and the materials and magic formula to banish the monster together, but can you imagine going to the police to report that there’s an interstellar monster rampaging in the hills and you need to stop it using magic? You’d be sent away as a time waster or lunatic! And when the being is finally defeated, there is a cover-up as mentioned at the very start:

            In our sensible age — since the Dunwich horror of 1928 was hushed up by those who had the town’s and the world’s welfare at heart — people shun it without knowing exactly why.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Deiseach: 1928 was a big year for US government cover-ups, wasn’t it? The Dunwich Horror and the Innsmouth raids, and I can’t remember if the Mi-Go who sat around in human clothes told Wilmarth if his species had already contacted the US government, or if that only happened two years later when they let an American discover Pluto.
            Was Lovecraft the first to write US government cover-up stories?

        • Nornagest says:

          The Old Ones are clearly echinoderms (stalked bodies with appendages at each end, five-point radial symmetry), most likely related to crinoids. That dates them to circa the Ordovician at the oldest. Coincidentally, that falls neatly between your dates for Elder Thing colonization and the creation of shoggoths.

          The closest things IRL to shoggoths are probably the xenophytophores, a widespread class of deep-sea macroscopic foraminiferid amoebae. They’re unicellular but multinucleate and their tests can reach 20 cm. I don’t know how far back their fossil record extends, but other Foraminifera are mid-Jurassic. Soft-bodied animals don’t fossilize well, though, so similar non-testate creatures could have been much older.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      It was just after four when I got back to my Arkham hotel room. There was still time to call Higger about Dyer’s Australian material before he left FBI Headquarters. I sat down on the edge of the bed, next to the nightstand with the phone. I unbuttoned my collar, then picked up the receiver as I slipped off my shoes, stretching my toes.
      “Hello, operator? I need to place a long distance call to Washington.”
      Once she connected me, the phone rang four times, then he picked up.
      “Subdirector? This is Moore. Dyer has neither consented nor refused; I’m letting him sleep on it and taking a late afternoon train back to Washington tomorrow.”
      “Is that all you called me for?”
      “No, sir. He gave me copies of photographs and notes from his spring-summer fieldwork in the Western Australian desert this year. Manufactured Triassic sandstone, the interior of a structure, hieroglyph-like writing…”
      “Is it the same architecture and writing as Antarctica?”
      “No… that would be circumstantial evidence of fakery. Blowing smoke to prevent us focusing on the trail he doesn’t want followed. No, it’s different, and he claims the civilization that built it had airships and atomic-powered surface vehicles.”
      “You believe that?”
      “No. That part comes from a book by Peaslee, a local alienist with a history of psychotic breaks. You ever read The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria by Scott-Elliot, the Theosophist? Just an attempt to outdo him, I think. Dyer is a credulous sort outside his field of geology… we need to try to look at the photographs and other scientific evidence without his bias.”
      “Of course, Dr. Moore. Still, if reports reach me from the embassy in Berlin of a German plan to excavate that site, we’ll encourage the Australian government to either refuse or block them by funding their own academics.”
      “Noted, sir. Goodbye.”
      “Goodbye.”

      John Higger hung up the phone. He had enough to keep straight without the eyewitnesses to pre-human ruins turning out to be Arkham asylum cases. He needed straight answers to the big questions, like who were the good guys in this story? Dyer’s paper treated the “Old Ones” as such, Cthulhu and the Plutonians as their enemies. Moore was aware that the Innsmouth detainees claimed Cthulhu worship was about universal harmony and recoiled from the Old Ones, but was unaware that the United States government was in contact with the Plutonians. And how much were they hiding from Higger and his superiors?
      He wanted there to be a simple answer. Let the Plutonians be honest people, so to speak, and the Old Ones the bad guys. That would make Cthulhu a good guy too, right? Then he could let the fishmen go free… that’s what the Founding Fathers would have done, wasn’t it? The First Amendment said no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Nothing said that included only purebred humans.
      Then again, he didn’t have a shred of evidence that Cthulhu cultists were benign. Law enforcement had first encountered them in connection with ritual homicide in rural Louisiana, and the risk to human life shoggoths implied made that seem mild by comparison.

      • Deiseach says:

        I like how neither Moore nor Higger are aware of their own bias against Dyer’s interpretations, because they want clear-cut “guys/entities we can ally with for the interests of the USA versus enemies we can blow up”, and they want a nice, tidy universe where the thingies are merely Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and all this magic stuff is peasant superstition and credulity of academics outside their field. And I think in Moore’s case, to treat it as ordinary “criminals and law enforcement” terms, to make it more understandable. So “airships and atomic-powered surface vehicles” are out of the picture since that would mean the US is not dealing on level terms and is out-gunned from the start, and they neither of them want to contemplate that right now.

        This is the attitude that ends up with your brain in a jar being transported to Yuggoth 🙂

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @Deiseach: Well Moore is trying to be a rationalist, and yes, copping the attitude that ends up your brain taking a separate vacation to Yuggoth.
          Higher is more biased and more harried by the weight of information. 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            I think that writing off Dyer as credulous for believing folklore reports gets the wrong end of the stick; Lovecraft wrote it as Dyer hearing some interesting anecdote from a fellow academic at Miskatonic, though in a different field – the kind of scholarly gossip about “So over the summer I was doing fieldwork in the back hills, and wait till you hear this kind of yarn about flying monsters from outer space that the locals like to spin”, and he wrote it off as the same thing as Moore would do: nothing more than folklore from backwards peasants.

            Then he encountered something real which worked in a way very similar to what those backwoods stories said about flying monsters from outer space, and it was corroboration for him that what he had seen was not merely a hallucination or could be rationalised away in the way that an outsider (like Moore) would do upon hearing the story. So Dyer mentioning the story is not “I heard and believed a tall tale and then went looking for flying outer space monsters”, it was “This is something that is attested to elsewhere, in another time and place, where I had no input as to what the report would be”.

            So if Moore goes into field investigations with the attitude of “simply more wild tales from Dunwich, we know better”, he’s likely to be led astray at best, and end up walking right into danger at worst. Being too credulous is bad for the sanity, but dismissing everything that doesn’t fit your worldview is also bad for the health.

  3. a reader says:

    I’ve just read some articles about the alleged collaboration of Hans Asperger – the Austrian psychiatrist who discovered what would be named later Asperger’s syndrome – with the Nazis:

    The Doctor and the Nazis

    The Nazi History Behind ‘Asperger’

    He wasn’t a Nazi party member, but he had the beginning of his career under Nazi regime, after annexation of Austria. For some of the accusations – seemingly occasional lip service to the Nazi regime – I could accept mitigating circumstances, because I lived myself under communism, as a child. But other accusations are more serious: he seemed to have sent a few children to a Spiegelgrund, a “hospital” that practiced euthanasia:

    Herta was then 2 years old, the youngest of nine children—of whom five still lived at home—and she had been sick all spring since contracting encephalitis. Her condition did not appear to be improving, and in June her mother had brought her to be seen by Asperger at his clinic.

    The letter contained an assessment of Herta’s condition. It was apparent that she had suffered some sort of major insult to her brain: Her mental development had halted, her behavior was disintegrating, and she was having seizures. Asperger seemed unsure of his diagnosis. He noted several possibilities: severe personality disorder, seizure disorder, idiocy. Then, in plain prose, he offered a decidedly nonmedical opinion: “When at home, this child must present an unbearable burden to the mother, who has to care for five healthy children.”

    Having expressed his empathy for Herta’s mother, Asperger rendered his recommendation: “Permanent placement at the Spiegelgrund seems absolutely necessary.” The letter was signed “Hans Asperger.” Everyone in the audience grasped the meaning of Asperger’s letter. It was a death warrant. Indeed, Czech confirmed that Herta was admitted to the Spiegelgrund on July 1, 1941, and killed there on September 2, 1941, one day after her third birthday. Records state that she died of pneumonia. Notes from the hospital archives quoted her mother as agreeing, through tears, that her daughter would be better off this way, rather than living in a world where she would face constant ridicule and cruelty.

    The NYT article says that:

    We should stop saying “Asperger.” It’s one way to honor the children killed in his name as well as those still labeled with it.

    Do you agree? I think it’s a pity, because “Asperger” was a useful term – “autism spectrum disorder” may be to vague/generic. But it is hard indeed to use it after you know it originated from a man who sent a 2 year old to death.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Agreeing with infanticide of the severely disabled certainly shows moral turpitude, but Asperger also did a lot to protect children on the autism spectrum from the T4 euthanasia program. Euthanasia is a recurring issue in secular modernity, and on that spectrum Dr. Asperger was not a complete monster. No 20th century scientist was a saint, but it’s kind of ridiculous to say “supporting late-term abortion and some euthanasia with next of kin’s consent is ethical, but this adjacent situation makes a man pure evil.”

      • Protagoras says:

        Yeah. It seems to have been a horrible situation. I can see someone saying it was the wrong decision, even holding it up as a vivid exemplar of wrong decision-making, but I don’t see treating him as an irredeemable monster on the basis of that one decision.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

          Essentially everyone living more than 50 years ago held and acted on beliefs that modern progressives currently find problematic or worse. The further back you go, the more this is true. It’s not possible to know or understand any history without accepting that sometimes people who were otherwise admirable also had ideas you really strongly disagree with and did or supported things you strongly disagree with.

        • Deiseach says:

          I could easily see the NYT running a modern pro-euthanasia article on the heroic Dr Asperger who is so experienced in this field and who is an authority on the subject, using this same case, but spinning it slightly differently: little Herta who has no hope of a normal life, is suffering, her mother loves her dearly but agrees that it would be more merciful and humane to let her go, the needs of the other children, how Dr Asperger has done everything he can but his judgement is that yes, this is a genuine case of real suffering and no, the mother isn’t trying to rid herself of an inconvenient burden and no, Herta can never be helped to have anything approaching a normal life, finishing up with “shouldn’t a caring and humane doctor like Dr Asperger have the right, when faced with suffering like this, when asked by the family, to give a patient a death with dignity?”

    • Anatoly says:

      I thought Asperger’s was difficult to distinguish reliably from high-functioning autism even before I learned that DSM-5 did away with the Asperger’s for the same reason. But if you think the label useful, just continue to use it.

      > But it is hard indeed to use it after you know it originated from a man who sent a 2 year old to death.

      I don’t really understand why. I mean, I can probably roleplay a supporter of this opinion and say the appropriate words, but at a deeper level I don’t really understand it. It’s a label. 99.99% of the people using it will never care about the person Asperger and his life, and those who do care can read the facts about what he did and is accused of doing on Wikipedia after you add them there. Carrying out a renaming campaign seems like a lot of fuss over nothing.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I’m not big on name policing, intersectionality, or any of that jazz, but I’ll selfishly invoke them anyway: I think people on the spectrum get dibs on choosing names for people on the spectrum. (In left circles, I think the right term is “reclaiming” potential slurs.) I have met some people who prefer to describe themselves as aspies. I have met people who don’t like that term for themselves. I have not met anyone on the spectrum who strongly objects to someone else on the spectrum using that term for themselves, and if I did, they can fuck themselves.

      (As someone mildly on the spectrum, I don’t particularly care for the term myself and I’d never use it to describe me. That said, I also mostly avoid labels entirely for reasons along the lines of Paul Graham; unless we’re actually having a discussion about the facts of being autistic, or I’m actively in the act of explaining Why I Am Weird, I don’t like to call myself an “autistic person” or talk about it.)

    • keranih says:

      Firstly, I am against memory-holing people on principle, just as I am against denunciation campaigns. Neither practice exemplifies a tolerant society.

      Secondly, I think that so long as we don’t forget or whitewash a person’s faults, it is a fine and good thing to laud their virtues.

      Finally, I can not *wait* to find out what our great-grandchildren are going to despise us for, the ungrateful brats.

      • quaelegit says:

        “Can you BELIEVE how they REPEATED DEFINITE ARTICLES on purpose?! THE MONSTERS!” 😛

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        Agreed. If you erase from history everyone who achieved extraordinary things, but was not a complete saint under difficult circumstances… your history books will be pretty slim, and a complete misrepresentation of what actual people do in the actual world.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t know very much about medical school curriculum, so if someone more familiar could answer this question it would be very enlightening:

      How much do medical students and residents learn about the physicians who discovered their eponymous diseases?

      On the scientific side, it’s just so much trivia. An interesting source of annecdotes to mention during a talk, sure, but unless you’re talking about a true titan of their field nobody really cares. Then again medicine is very different from science.

      If Asperger’s medical practice is being held up as an example for future physicians to follow, then there’s a strong argument for tossing him down the memory hole. I don’t think any of us would want to go to a doctor who thought that murdering their patients was exemplary behavior. But if it’s just a contextless label for a disorder that’s easier to remember than “299.00 (F84.0),” then why bother?

    • John Schilling says:

      Do you agree? I think it’s a pity, because “Asperger” was a useful term – “autism spectrum disorder” may be to vague/generic.

      “Autism Spectrum Disorder”, particularly if it is stretched to include what the medical community used to call “Asperger’s Syndrome”, is definitely too vague to be useful. Vague enough to be actively harmful, maybe.

      So this,

      We should stop saying “Asperger.” It’s one way to honor the children killed in his name as well as those still labeled with it.

      needs to propose an alternative, and “Autism Spectrum” isn’t it. Otherwise, it looks kind of like the NYT is suggesting that socially-inept nerds who want to talk about a medical explanation for their Obvious Loserdom can now be dismissed as the moral equivalent of Nazis. The extra special super-evil babykilling kind of Nazis.

      And maybe that’s just the nerd paranoia talking. But as keranih notes, when authority figures get around to memory-holing the Wrong Sort of People, it’s maybe not so paranoid to wonder who else they have on their list.

  4. Eric Rall says:

    I am in the process of selling a house in which I have considerable equity, and I’m considering my options for investing the proceeds. I’m currently invested mostly in stock index funds.

    One consideration that’s inclining me to vary from my past investment strategies is that my new house (I bought the new house, then sold the old one) has a 7/1 ARM at 3%. Unless interest rates go way down by the time the rates start adjusting (Dec 2024), I will very likely want to pay off the mortgage by then. That will take a large portion but not all of the proceeds of the sale of my old house (the new house is quite a bit cheaper, as a consequence of moving from Sunnyvale to Gilroy), so I’m inclined to prepare for that by making sure most of the payoff amount is available in liquid and relatively safe investments.

    The thing is, I’m having trouble finding relatively safe investments with that time horizon that pay much more than 3%. The best I’ve found so far is individual corporate bonds in the bottom tier of the “Investment Grade” bucket yielding a bit under 4% and coming mature before Dec 2024 (so I have the option of holding to maturity and getting my principal back even if interest rates go up, so I’m only exposed to default risk). Or I could take the safe option and just pay off the mortgage immediately. Anyone have better ideas?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The point in waiting until 2024 is that you are exercising an interest-rate option, yes?

      I’m going to pretend that the balance due in 2024 is $200,000 for simplicity.

      If interest rates fall to 0%, and you pay it off early, you are giving up a $6000 income stream. But 1) market rates definitely won’t be 0%, so the loss will range between $0 and $6000. And 2) if they do go to 0%, you can recoup some of your “loss” by refinancing.

      As an alternative, I’d see if you can get a lower rate by taking a 10- or 15-year mortgage, since cash flow will not be an issue.

      Also, consider taxes, both on your house interest (do you itemize? at what point does the dropping balance of your mortgage cause you to stop itemizing?) and on your investment returns.

      • Eric Rall says:

        The point in waiting until 2024 is that you are exercising an interest-rate option, yes?

        I was thinking of it as arbitrage: I locked in an interest rate through 2024 last fall when I bought the house, and interest rates have gone up since then. By waiting until the locked rate expires, I have the opportunity to lend money at current market rates that I borrowed at a potentially lower rate.

        As an alternative, I’d see if you can get a lower rate by taking a 10- or 15-year mortgage, since cash flow will not be an issue.

        10 and 15 year refinance rates seem to both be around 4% right now, so I’m probably better off keeping the ARM so long as I’m in a position to pay it off in 2024.

    • Protagoras says:

      Hmmm. I have my doubts that you have a better option than those you’ve considered, so for me it would come down to whether in your circumstances the mortgage interest will significantly reduce your taxes. If so, go with the bonds, if not, I’d probably take the pay off now option myself.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I need to run the numbers, but if I’m still in a position to itemize post tax-reform, the taxes would be a wash: bond interest is taxed as ordinary income, while mortgage interest is deductible.

        • Protagoras says:

          Er, yes, obviously, should have thought a few seconds longer on that one. So I guess that simplifies things; pay it off. Leveraging is generally something that can make you more money if you’re willing to take on additional risk, and it sounds like you feel that you are at the correct amount of risk currently with the index funds you’ve invested in. So it doesn’t seem like you’re in a place where you should effectively be using borrowed money to invest.

        • Eric Rall says:

          It looks like net of the new, higher standard deduction, I get to deduct $5.5k out of a total of $19.5k in mortgage interest (in year 1: it’ll be less than that each successive year because I’m paying down principal). And if I were to invest the float, I’d be getting taxed on the whole amount, so I’d need something like 4.1% interest just to break even on taxes.

          That pushes me pretty hard towards paying off the principal. Thank you Protagoras and Edward Scizorhands for reminding me to check that.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I need to run the numbers, but if I’m still in a position to itemize post tax-reform, the taxes would be a wash: bond interest is taxed as ordinary income, while mortgage interest is deductible.

          Only if you can itemize wholly without the benefit of the interest deduction. To the extent you need these deductions to be able to itemize, that portion of deductions are not really deductible.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Risk free long term liquid investments paying 4%? Yeah, the market is all out of those. The instrument you’re describing is a T-bond (to be picky, the exact cashflow you want would best match a stripped bond) and the going rate, if I read this right, is about 2.7% return. (I’m a little surprised it’s that high!)

      If I were you, I’d make a decision on my own risk tolerance and then either pay it off now, or hold tthe mortgage and a Bogleheads 3-fund portfolio with some ratio of your choice. As it happens, I am in your situation; I have an ARM I will need to either refinance or pay off in a few years, and a pile of cash larger than the balance. I have chosen to invest it, mostly in stocks (I can’t remember my overall portfolio ratio right now, but probably close to 85-15) and take the chance of a market downturn and simultaneous interest spike. I made this choice because I’m single, have strong earning potential, and can afford to eat a very large financial hit if I absolutely have to. I would not blame you at all for makign a different choice.

      But I don’t think you’re going to find a magic investment that’s risk free and has great return. You pays your money and you take your chances.

      (Not an investment professional, own risk, etc.)

      • Eric Rall says:

        I’m willing to accept some risk, which is why I’m considering Baa-rated corporate bonds. I’m looking for a lower risk than stock index funds (which I consider a bit too high for my tastes over the 6.5 year investment window), enough of a return to justify the risk, and for the risk to be relatively uncorrelated with my stock investments.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          I would be extremely leery about buying low rated corporate bonds, or any individual corporate bonds, from a weak-EMH standing; you are not informed money, and you’re boldly predicting that you can, if not beat the market, at least beat adverse selection for who’s gonna default.

          The traditional answer for the characteristics you named are bond index funds, and Vanguard has both investment grade funds and even riskier things.

          But really, I wouldn’t buy either. I think you are attempting to outsmart the market.

        • mfm32 says:

          The standard answer for lowering risk is holding more cash, not searching out assets with lower risk / return ratios. That gives you the benefit of diversification at whatever your desired risk level is.

          Wanting an asset that’s relatively uncorrelated is also good, but if you’re appropriately diversified in your main holdings, such an asset would be exceedingly difficult to find anyway. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that part.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Part of the issue is that I’m underdiversified at present, since I cashed out of my bond fund investments (Vanguard’s intermediate-term corporate bond fund) to make the down payment on the new house. Almost all of my money apart from home equity is now in stock index funds (mostly my 401k) with a chunk in my employer’s stock (holding incentive stock grants and ESPP shares for 1 or 2 years respectively for tax reasons).

            But it looks like paying off my mortgage gives me a 3% guaranteed return, mostly tax-exempt, with zero default risk. I’d be giving up liquidity and the option of strategically defaulting on my mortgage balance if the bottom falls out of the housing market, but even so that’s pretty hard to beat as a safe investment to hedge against the inherent risk of the stock market.

    • Chalid says:

      I’m not sure I have a good positive recommendation beyond what’s already been covered, but I wanted to say that individual investors should basically never buy individual corporate bonds. Leave bond trading to the professionals and buy a bond mutual fund or ETF.

      The usual diversification argument that you get for stocks applies here. But also bonds have a downward-skewed payoff profile that you probably don’t want, you’ll incur enormous trading costs relative to stocks, and bonds can have weird embedded features that you’re likely not sophisticated enough to even be aware of, let alone value properly.

      • Eric Rall says:

        The reason I was considering individual bonds was the ability to tailor the maturity dates to my investment horizon.

        Basically, there’s two major risks involved in bond investments: default risk (losing principal because the issuer can’t make payments) and interest rate risk (market interest rates go up, making the bond less valuable relative to newly-issued bonds at current rates). If I need to cash out of a bond investment before maturity, interest rate risk means I might take a hit to my principal because I’d be selling at a discount to compete with newer bonds with a higher coupon rate.

        If I invest in an intermediate-term bond fund, their portfolio will at any given time have bonds with a range of maturity dates over the next ten years or so, so whenever I cash out, I run the risk of having to take a principal hit because interest rates went up between when the fund bought the bonds and when I need to cash out of the fund.

        But if I were to invest in individual bonds, I could pick bonds that mature around when I’d be cashing out. Interest rate risk wouldn’t go away entirely, but it would be more in the nature of an opportunity cost (I’d be getting less interest than I could have if I’d magically timed the market), not a risk to my principal balance. In return, I’d be assuming more default risk because I’d be less diversified than a bond fund and I wouldn’t have the same tools as an institutional investor to assess which bonds might be more or less risky than their official ratings imply.

        There’s also a minor benefit of being able to fine-tune the default risk by looking for particular ratings of bonds more finely than the buckets of ratings that most bond funds target. But a safer way to accomplish that would probably be to hold a mixed portfolio of bond funds (e.g. split my investment between an investment-grade fund and a junk bond fund to get a similar risk/return combo as bond on the line between the two categories).

        • mfm32 says:

          There are target maturity ETFs that accomplish the timing function you want while achieving diversification. I don’t know how attractive they are, but perhaps worth a look. Vanguard has a white paper: https://personal.vanguard.com/pdf/ICRDMB.pdf

          • Eric Rall says:

            That’s interesting. Thank you.

            I probably won’t use them this time around (I’m trying to thread too fine a needle on risk/return combo, especially after taking a closer look at my tax situation), but it’s good to know they’re there in case I have a future portfolio planning need (e.g. college savings for my daughter) that they’re a good fit for.

  5. johan_larson says:

    Here is a famous phrase translated (by Google Translate) into ten languages. Find the languages.

    1. Je crois que cette nation devrait s’engager à atteindre l’objectif, avant la fin de la décennie, de débarquer un homme sur la Lune et de le ramener sain et sauf sur Terre.

    2. Acredito que esta nação deve comprometer-se a atingir o objetivo, antes que esta década termine, de pousar um homem na Lua e devolvê-lo em segurança à Terra.

    3. Jag tror att denna nation bör förbinda sig att uppnå målet, innan detta årtionde är ute, att landa en man på månen och återvända honom säkert till jorden.

    4. Rwy’n credu y dylai’r genedl hon ymrwymo i gyflawni’r nod, cyn i’r degawd hwn ddod allan, o lanio dyn ar y Lleuad a’i ddychwelyd yn ddiogel i’r Ddaear.

    5. मेरा मानना है कि इस देश को लक्ष्य हासिल करने के लिए खुद को प्रतिबद्ध करना चाहिए, इससे पहले कि यह दशक समाप्त हो गया, चंद्रमा पर एक आदमी को उतरने और उसे पृथ्वी पर सुरक्षित रूप से लौटाना।

    6. Saya percaya bahwa bangsa ini harus berkomitmen untuk mencapai tujuan, sebelum dekade ini keluar, untuk mendaratkan seorang pria di Bulan dan mengembalikannya dengan selamat ke Bumi.

    7. میں یقین کرتا ہوں کہ اس ملک کو اس مقصد کو حاصل کرنے کے لۓ خود کو کرنا چاہئے، اس دہائی سے پہلے، چاند پر ایک آدمی اترنے اور اسے محفوظ طریقے سے زمین پر واپس لوٹنا ہے.

    8. Bu milletin, bu on yıldan önce, Ay’da bir adama iniş ve onu Dünya’ya güvenli bir şekilde geri getirme hedefine ulaşmaya kendini adaması gerektiğine inanıyorum.

    9. 私はこの国がこの十年が終わる前に、月に男を着陸させ、彼を地球に安全に帰還させるという目標を達成することを約束するべきだと考えています。

    10. Ngiyakholwa ukuthi lesi sizwe kufanele sizibophezele ekufezeni umgomo, ngaphambi kokuba le minyaka eyishumi iphume, ngokufika umuntu ngomNyanga nokumbuyisela ngokuphepha eMhlabeni.

    My score on this would have been 3/10 for sure. I may have been able to guess another couple.

    • The Nybbler says:

      1. Serapu

      2. Cbeghthrfr

      3. bar bs gur Fpnaqvanivna ynathntrf (pnyy vg Fjrqvfu),

      4. Jryfu

      5. Uvaqv

      6. Ghexvfu

      7. Nenovp

      8. Qhgpu (V ernyyl gubhtug n Treznavp ynathntr)

      9. Wncnarfr

      10. Fjnuvyv (ohg fnzr ynathntr snzvyvl)

      6/10, all guesses except the first three (the third was a guess among four possibilities)

    • a reader says:

      I’m sure only about the first.

      1. Serapu 100%

      2. Cbeghthrfr 90%

      7. Neno?? 60%

      8. Ghexvfu? 70%

      3/10

    • christhenottopher says:

      OK I’m putting all my guesses up then checking with google translate to see which are right:

      1. Serapu – Correct
      2. Cbeghthrfr – Correct
      3. Qnavfu – Close, but wrong
      4. Jryfu – Correct
      5. Gunv – Wrong
      6. Znynl – Given the mutual intelligibility of these languages, I’m giving myself a half point here
      7. Nenovp – Wrong
      8. Ghexvfu – Correct
      9. Wncnarfr – I didn’t even have to check this one really, correct
      10. Fjnuvyv – Wrong

      I’m tempted to give myself another half point on 3, but at 5.5 I’m pretty happy with my result!

    • johan_larson says:

      The answers:

      1. Serapu
      2. Cbeghtrfr
      3. Fjrqvfu
      4. Jryfu
      5. Uvaqv
      6. Vaqbarfvna
      7. Heqh
      8. Ghexvfu
      9. Wncnarfr
      10. Mhyh

    • albertborrow says:

      4/10

      1. Serapu – V xabj rabhtu bs ubj Serapu vf jevggra gb qrqhpr guvf.
      2. Cbeghthrfr – V xarj vg jnfa’g Fcnavfu, ohg gung vg ybbxrq pybfr.
      3. Fjrqvfu – Guvf jnf n jvyq thrff gung ghearq bhg gb or npphengr.
      9. Wncnarfr – Wncnarfr vf rnfl orpnhfr “の” vf uventnan

      Bguref V pbhyq unir thrffrq ohg tbg jebat vapyhqrq Uvaqv naq Heqh. Uvaqv V qvqa’g znxr gur pbaarpgvba hagvy vg jnf gbb yngr, naq Heqh jnf gbb pybfr gb Nenovp sbe zr gb chmmyr bhg. Mhyh V xarj sbe n snpg jnf na Nsevpna ynathntr, vg jnf whfg n znggre bs juvpu bar gung jnf gebhoyvat zr. V’q fnl zl xabjyrqtr bs sbervta ynathntrf vf nobir nirentr sbe zl ntr tebhc, ohg V fgvyy unir n ybg V’ir orra zrnavat gb yrnea va guvf nern. V’ir nyfb fcrag zber gvzr yrneavat gur qvfgvapgvbaf orgjrra inevbhf Rhebcrna naq Nfvna ynathntrf guna V unir Nsevpna

    • rlms says:

      Thrffrf:
      1. Serapu
      2. Cbeghthrfr
      3. Abejrtvna?
      4. Jryfu
      5. Uvaqv
      6. Vaqbarfvna?
      7. Nenovp
      8. Ghexvfu?
      9. Znaqneva
      10. Fjnuvyv?

      6/10

      Cyrnfrq gung V tbg Ghexvfu, pyrneyl V jnf birepbasvqrag nobhg Znaqneva.

    • rlms says:

      Here’s a second round for anyone who found that too easy:

      1. Na faighnich dè as urrainn do dhùthaich a dhèanamh dhut. Faighnich dè as urrainn dhut a dhèanamh airson do dhùthaich.

      2. Ez galdetu zure herrialdeari zer egin dezakeen. Galdetu zer egin dezakezu zure herrialdean.

      3. No preguntis què significa el teu país per tu. Pregunteu què podeu fer per al vostre país.

      4. Ne petu, kion via lando povas fari por vi. Demandu, kion vi povas fari por via lando.

      5. Mande pa sa peyi ou ka fè pou ou. Mande sa ou kapab fè pou peyi ou.

      6. Weydii waxa dalkaagu kuu qaban karo adiga. Weydii waxaad samayn karto dalkaaga.

      7. Не попитайте какво може да направи вашата страна за вас. Попитайте какво можете да направите за вашата страна.

      8. Nfx abg jung lbhe pbhagel pna qb sbe lbh. Nfx jung lbh pna qb sbe lbhe pbhagel.

      9. Mai nīnau i ka mea e hiki ai i kou’āina ke hana noʻoe. E noi i kāu mea e hana ai no kou’āina.

      10. Bixwazin kîjan welatê we dikare ji we re bikî. Ji bo ku hûn ji bo welatê xwe dikarin bipirsin.

      Bonus point if you can work out the quote.

      • christhenottopher says:

        1. Vevfu – Close but no
        2. Qhgpu – Nope
        3. Pngnyna – Correct
        4. Ebznafu – Nope
        5. Pmrpu – Not even close
        6. Wninarfr – Nope
        7. Orybehffvna – Nope
        8. Pguhyuh fcrrpu – Dang it
        9. Unjnvvna – Correct!
        10. Xnmnxu – Nope

        Bonus, I got it right.

        2 correct plus the bonus.

      • johan_larson says:

        1/10 for me. (Unjnvvna)

      • a reader says:

        3. Pngnyna 80%

        4. ? fbzr Ebznapr ynathntr (Ebznafu?)

        7. Ehffvna 70%

        Gur dhbgr vf:

        Qba’g nfx jung lbhe pbhagel pna qb sbe lbh, nfx jung pna lbh qb sbe lbhe pbhagel.

        1/10 + bonus

      • rlms says:

        The answers in Rot13:
        1. Fpbggvfu Tnryvp (Vevfu vf gur gevpx nafjre)
        2. Onfdhr
        3. Pngnyna (Fcnavfu/Serapu ner cbffvoyl gevpx nafjref vs lbh bayl ybbx ng gur svefg/frpbaq fragraprf erfcrpgviryl)
        4. Rfcrenagb
        5. Unvgvna perbyr
        6. Fbznyv
        7. Ohytnevna (Ehffvna vf gur gevpx nafjre, be znlor Hxenvavna vs lbh jrer gelvat gb frpbaq thrff)
        8. Ebg13 (nygubhtu Tbbtyr Genafyngr thrffrf Vtob)
        9. Unjnvvna
        10. Xheqvfu

        Gur dhbgr jnf “Nfx abg jung lbhe pbhagel pna qb sbe lbh. Nfx jung lbh pna qb sbe lbhe pbhagel.”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        1. Tnryvp

        2. Svaavfu

        3. Rfcrenagb

        4. Pngnyna

        5. Gunv (abg rira pybfr)

        6. Fjnuvyv

        7. Freovna

        8. Pna V ohl n ibjry?

        9. Unjnvvna

        10. Gvorgna

        A poor showing at 2, even stretching it and scoring a full point for the first one. I did get the quote, from 3 (despite getting the language wrong)

      • add_lhr says:

        Woohoo! These seem to be the only quizzes I am reasonably competent at. 8/10 on the first one and 6/10 on this one, as I’m only giving myself 0.5 pts each for #7 and #9, as they were both lucky guesses.

        Couldn’t get #3 (how do you separate it from its 3 identical neighbors??) or #7 on the 1st one; I figured #7 was going to be a trick but couldn’t recall which other languages used that script (not that it would have helped!)

        The second one is fiendish – I’ve never encountered #4 or #10 in any form and I fell for the trick on #1.

        Of the less-common languages, what were the patterns / clues that gave it away for you? I find #4 in the first one and #6 in the second to be completely unmistakable (it’s the Xs and AAs in #6 that give it away). #10 in the first one is easy to narrow down to the country due to the mid-word capital letters, and #6 in the first one also jumps out of the page due to all the “k”s, although it’s more the total package that is so recognizable.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          In the second, the clue for #7 is the case ending -та which I think is unique to this language among those written in this alphabet.

          #2 is fairly unique. #3 I worked out based on similarity to a related language and some word endings, also #5 as it clearly sounds like Serapu but with very simplified orthography. #4 the giveaway was the Germanic words “lando” with that -o ending.

      • James says:

        I was going to joke “Well, 8 is clearly just X!”, but then I checked and it really was.

        Anyway, do I get bonus bonus points for managing to get the phrase without getting any of the languages or, really, any of the words? I got it from the structure of the sentences.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        1 – Fpbgf Tnryvp
        2 – Onfdhr
        3 – Ebznapr, ohg abg n anzrq-pbhagel Ebznapr ynathntr. Pngnyna? Yes, and this is the one that made it obvious what the quote was.
        5 – Fbzr fbeg bs Serapu-onfrq perbyr. Unvgvna?
        6 – No idea. Wild punt: Fjnuvyv Nope, Fbznyv. Correct coast of the correct continent at least 🙂
        7 – Ohytnevna
        8 – Ratyvfu (V frr jung lbh’ir qbar gurer). Gubhtu nzhfvatyl, Tbbtyr Genafyngr ‘erpbtavfrf’ gung nf Vtob, ohg qbrfa’g npghnyyl gel gb genafyngr vg.
        9 – Pna’g or zber pbasvqrag guna ‘fbzrguvat Cbylarfvna’, ohg V’z tbvat gb thrff Unjnvvna.
        10 – No idea. Wild punt: Znygrfr Nope, Xheznawv Xheqvfu. I had forgotten that some variants of Xheqvfu use the Roman script.

        So I make that 8/10. Finally some SSC quizzes I can handle 🙂

      • AlphaGamma says:

        1. Fpbggvfu Tnryvp – correct
        2. Onfdhr – correct
        3. Pngnyna – correct
        4. Rfcrenagb – correct
        5. Unvgvna Perbyr – correct
        6. Fbznyv – correct
        7. Ohytnevna -correct
        8. Ybwona – wrong, gung jnf rivy. Incidentally, Google Translate thought it was Vtob but didn’t try to translate it.
        9. Unjnvvna – correct
        10. Kubfn – not even close, but was guessing here

        8/10 plus the bonus.

      • Deiseach says:

        First quiz I guessitmated I could identify about six. This one I can identify the first one off the bat – Fpbgf Tnryvp engure guna gur Vevfu irefvba – and even have a good idea what it is 🙂

        I’d be guessing another four after that.

    • a reader says:

      Third round – very simple phrase, only European languages:

      1. Nossa nova casa é verde.

      2. La nostra nuova casa è verde.

      3. Nuestra nueva casa es verde.

      4. La nostra nova casa és verda.

      5. Casa noastră nouă este verde.

      6. Nia nova domo estas verda.

      7. Domus novus est viride nostrum.

      8. Notre nouvelle maison est verte.

      9. Unser neues Haus ist grün.

      10. Új házunk zöld.

      • add_lhr says:

        1. Cbeghthrfr
        2. Vgnyvna
        3. Fcnavfu
        4. Pngnyna (?)
        5. Ebznavna
        6. Ebznafpu (?)
        7. Yngva
        8. Serapu
        9. Trezna
        10. Uhatnevna

        • a reader says:

          9/10 Impressive! The only one you’ve got wrong was a little tricky – although I think it could be argued that it’s an European language, because it was created in Europe (and I too thought of Ebznafu when rlms used it in the second round).

          • add_lhr says:

            Well, it seems that I have discovered my party trick! 23/30 in these three rounds. Although to be fair, I’ve been to the homes of pretty much all of these languages, so I guess it’s an expensive party trick to become good at.

    • johan_larson says:

      Goodness. This is really taking off.

      Here are some words by Tolkien translated into eight Germanic languages. Name the languages.

      1. Een ring om ze allemaal te regeren. Eén ring om ze te vinden. Eén ring om ze allemaal te brengen en in de duisternis te binden.

      2. Einn hringur til að ráða þeim öllum. Einn hringur til að finna þá. Ein hringur til að koma þeim öllum og í myrkrinu binda þá.

      3. Ien ring om har alles te regearjen. Ien ring om har te finen. Ien ring om har te bringen en yn it tsjuster te binen.

      4. En ring for at styre dem alle. En ring for at finde dem. En ring for at bringe dem alle og i mørket binde dem.

      5. Een ring om hulle almal te regeer. Een ring om hulle te vind. Een ring om hulle almal te bring en in die duisternis te bind.

      6. En ring for å herske dem alle. En ring for å finne dem. En ring for å bringe dem alle og i mørket binder dem.

      7. Ein Ring sie alle zu knechten. Ein Ring um sie zu finden. Ein Ring, um sie alle zu bringen und in der Dunkelheit zu binden.

      8. En ring att härska över dem alla. En ring för att hitta dem. En ring för att få dem alla och i mörkret binda dem.

      • johan_larson says:

        The answers:

        1. Qhgpu
        2. Vprynaqvp
        3. Sevfvna
        4. Qnavfu
        5. Nsevxnnaf
        6. Abejrtvna
        7. Trezna
        8. Fjrqvfu

      • James says:

        These all look great (unsurprisingly) especially number 2.

        I thought that one was old english, which is arguably kinda close.

      • a reader says:

        I’m only sure about one in eight:

        7. Trezna

        6 seems to be one of the Fpnaqvanivna languages, but I have no idea which one.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        1 – Qhgpu
        2 – Vprynaqvp
        3 – Fvzvyne gb Qhgpu, ohg fb vf 5. V’z tbvat gb thrff Yhkrzohetvfu Ab, Sevfvna.
        4 – Qnavfu
        5 – Nyfb fvzvyne gb Qhgpu. V’z tbvat gb thrff Sevfvna. Ab, Nsevxnnaf. V fubhyq unir xabja gung vg jnf n yvggyr *gbb* fvzvyne gb Qhgpu 🙂
        6 – Abg pbasvqrag gung V unir guvf naq 8 gur evtug jnl ebhaq, ohg nz thrffvat Abejrtvna
        7 – Fgnaqneq (‘Uvtu’) Trezna
        8 – Abg pbasvqrag gung V unir guvf naq 6 gur evtug jnl ebhaq, ohg nz thrffvat Fjrqvfu.

        So, 6 out of 8 for the Germanics.

      • add_lhr says:

        This is quite interesting – I would really appreciate if Scandi expert could tell us some common markers to look for to differentiate 4, 6, and 8 – I’m completely stumped whenever I see one of these languages.

        1 & 5 are not too bad when seen together because the aa, and ui screams out “Qhgpu”, but #5 is clearly more simplified / regularized, and thus must be Nsevxnnaf

        2 can be spotted thanks to the funny letters, 7 can be spotted due to the capitalization of nouns, and 3 I got thanks to process of elimination – if you remember all your Germanic languages, just think of the one you’ve never heard or seen written before 🙂

        • Aapje says:

          My go to heuristic is that Danish tends to have few diacritics, so if if the sentences look ‘naked,’ I guess Danish.

          I just recognized that the diaeresis seems to be far more common in Swedish, so one seems to be able to use that to distinguish Swedish from Norwegian.

        • johan_larson says:

          I would really appreciate if Scandi expert could tell us some common markers to look for to differentiate 4, 6, and 8.

          The extra letters Swedish uses are a very good source of clues. Swedish uses the 26 letters that English uses, plus ä, å and ö. The ä and ö are not used in Danish or Norwegian, so if you see them in the text, you know it’s Swedish. That assumes you have already ruled out Finnish and German, which also use those two letters.

          The letter ø is very distinctive. It is used in Danish and Norwegian, and I’ve never seen it in any other language, so it’s presence is a good sign the text is in one of those two. Unfortunately I don’t know a good way of distinguishing the one from the other. 🙁

          • Aapje says:

            Dutch too (and probably other languages as well, like Russian?).

            In Dutch, the diaeresis is used when a word has successive vowels that are also a diphthong, but which shouldn’t be read or pronounced like that.

            For instance, ‘poëzie’ means poetry. The diaeresis results in a pronunciation of the first part that is the same as in English, while leaving out the diaeresis would result in a pronunciation like ‘pussy’.

        • b_jonas says:

          There’s one more clue that distinguishes 8 in addition to what johan_larson says about the spelling of “ä/ö” vs “æ/ø”. 8 uses the spelling “och” for the conjunction “and”, whereas 4 and 6 use “og”. This is a very common word, so it’s worth remembering the spelling.

      • Aapje says:

        1. Qhgpu
        2. Vprynaqvp
        3. Sevfvna
        4. Qnavfu
        5. Nsevxnnaf
        6. Fjrqvfu
        7. Trezna
        8. Abejrtvna

        Aargh, I keep mixing up Fjrqvfu and Abejrtvna.

        Also, I might have a little advantage here given that I speak 1, parts of my family speak 3 and 5 is an amazing language to Dutch people (as it seems a highly simplified version of the language).

    • Zl thrffrf:

      1. Serapu
      2. Cbeghthrfr
      3. Fjrqvfu (ohg pbhyq or Abejrtvna be Qnavfu)
      4. Jryfu, be cbffvoyl Pbeavfu
      5. Ivrganzrfr
      6. Vaqbarfvna, ohg gung’f n jvyq thrff
      7. Nenovp
      8. Ab thrff
      9. Puvarfr, cebonoyl Znaqneva
      10. Fjnuvyv

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      1. Serapu
      2. Cbeghtrfr
      3. Fjrqvfu
      4. Jryfu?

      7. Nenovp
      8. Ghexvfu
      9. Wncnarfr?
      10. Xvfjnuvyv?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Okay. My best guesses are:
      1 – Serapu
      2 – Cbeghthrfr
      3 – Fjrqvfu
      4 – Jryfu
      5 – Uvaqv
      6 – Vaqbarfvna
      7 – Heqh (gubhtu V haqrefgnaq vg’f xvaq bs pbagragvbhf jurgure gung ernyyl vf n qvssrerag *ynathntr* sebz 5, nf n bccbfrq gb n qvnyrpg bs gur fnzr ynathntr fcbxra ol n qvssrerag eryvtvbhf pbzzhavgl)
      8 – Ghexvfu
      9 – Wncnarfr
      10 – Kubfn Dang, it was mhyh. Close though.

      • johan_larson says:

        Wow. That’s an impressive performance.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Thanks. For the record, I don’t actually speak any of them apart from a lower-intermediate level of of 1 and 2 of your main quiz and 1 and 7 of your Germanic-only round (and have learned and forgotten a tiny smattering of 1 and 7 from your second round), but for whatever reason, I like reading *about* languages, so one gets to recognise them.

    • S_J says:

      My first thoughts. (Based on the fact that I studied language 1 in High School, and the other two have very distinctive character-sets.)

      1. Serapu
      5. Gunv
      7. Nenovp

      I’ll add a guess, at about 33% probability:
      9. Xberna

      Looked up the answers, and I was right on only one. I badly missed items 5,7. Item 9 was a simple one-in-three guess, so I’m not surprised I got it wrong.

    • Aapje says:

      1. Serapu

      2. Cbeghthrfr

      3. Abejrtvna

      4. Jryfu

      5. Fnafxevg (I’ll count this one)

      6. Vaqbarfvna

      7. Nenovp

      8. Ghexvfu

      9. Wncnarfr

      10. Mhyh

      So 8/10 or 7/10 if 5 doesn’t count.

    • Iain says:

      1. Serapu
      2. Cbeghthrfr
      3. Svaavfu
      4. Jryfu
      5. Uvaqv
      6. Znynl
      7. Nenovp
      8. Ghexvfu
      9. Puvarfr
      10. Fjnuvyv

      Looks like … 5/10.

    • onyomi says:

      7/10

      4, somewhat ironically, is the only one I was way off on. 7 I sort of got the writing system right, but not the language.

    • A1987dM says:

      8 out of 10 (I guessed Nenovp instead of Heqh and Fjnuvyv instead of Mhyh — and I was undecided between Fjrqvfu and Abejrtvna but I picked the right one).

    • Well Armed Sheep says:

      1. serapu

      2. cbeghthrfr

      3. fjrqvfu

      4. jryfu

      5. fnafxevg/uvaqv

      6. vaqbarfvna

      7. nenovp

      8. ghexvfu

      9. znaqneva

      10. fjnuvyv

      This was a very interesting quiz — essentially how well you are able to pick out graphical or phonemic quirks of other languages. Thanks!

      8/10 — got thrown off by gur puvarfr punenpgref va xnawv!

      • onyomi says:

        Having seen more than one such answer, I’m going to point out re. 5 and 7:

        Fnafxevg/Uvaqv vf yvxr “Yngva/Vgnyvna.” V qba’g ernyyl guvax gurl fubhyq pbhag nf gur fnzr. Lbh’er evtug gung gurl obgu hfr antnev fpevcg, ohg vs whfg erpbtavmvat gur fpevcg pbhagrq, V srry yvxr V fubhyq trg ab. 7 sbe cvpxvat Crefvna/Snefv jura vg jnf npghnyyl Heqh, n ynathntr gung zbfg jbhyq pbafvqre gur fnzr ynathntr nf 5 vs abg sbe gur Crefvna-onfrq fpevcg.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          May I be a terrible pedant? You can tell Heqh and Crefvna apart because the former uses a diacritical mark that is a mini version of the letter ط which they use to mark the retroflex consonants such as ٹ‬ or ڈ‬ ) that are common in South Asian languages but not among any other languages (that I know of) that tend to use versions of the Arabic script.

    • b_jonas says:

      You’ve included some surprisingly hard ones in this.

      1. serapu, 2. cbeghtrfr, 3. fjrqvfu, 4. jryfu be fbzr bgure prygvp ynathntr, 5. vg’f va gur qrinantnev fpevcg, naq lbh fnvq Tbbtyr genafyngr bhgchg vg, fb V’yy thrff uvaqv, 6. ab vqrn jvgubhg ybbxvat vg hc, ohg nsgre ybbxvat vg hc V hapregnvayl thrff vaqbarfvna, 7. V qba’g xabj, ohg vg’f va nenovp fpevcg, fb vg zhfg or fbzr nenovp be crefvna ynathntr, 8. ghexvfu, 9. wncnarfr, 10. ab vqrn jvgubhg ybbxvat vg hc, thrffvat mhyh nsgre ybbxvat vg hc

      Although it’s not complete, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Language_recognition_chart is a good starting point for questions like this.

      (Update: after reading other people’s answers, it turns out I guessed 7 wrong.)

  6. Andrew Hunter says:

    Since people have been doing a bunch of film & TV reviews lately:

    I recently started watching Supergirl. To contextualize the review, I’ve seen neither Arrow nor Flash, the CW shows it shares continuity with, though I might do so later. To be honest, I’m only doing this because there was a musical crossover between Supergirl and Flash, and that sort of thing is my jam, but I don’t like watching things out of order. I don’t read comics (never have) but have general Nerd Culture Osmosis knowledge of the DC comics universe and have historically spent a reasonable amount of time on the internet reading people discussing them. I’m about 7 episodes in.

    TL;DR: I like it. It’s flawed, deeply, in several ways, but this is a good show about the right things done well.

    The basics are great. The actors are good, especially Jeremy Jordan, who is criminally underused. (It’s particularly interesting to see him in a character coded low-status/attractiveness; I know him as a Broadway leading man.) The dialogue is, well, okay. It doesn’t produce quotable moments or anything as gripping as Buffy or West Wing or The Wire, but it doesn’t actively bother me. The production values are great; I was expecting iffy fx from a cable show, but Supergirl flying looks good, her heat vision looks great, all the villains (even one-offs) are detailed. I also like the color palette a *lot*: it’s a bright, sunny show (set in LA National City for a reason) and they’re not embarrassed that their main character struts around in bright red skirts with gold trim. Yes, this is important. How a show is shot and the colors it’s willing to use directly speaks to, and influences, the themes, and this is a show about inspiring people (see below.)

    This is a genre I wish I had a better name for other than Teenage Melodrama (not least because there isn’t a single teenager in it), but you know the type: it’s a drama with some amount of funny parts, a lot of interpersonal conflict (often with romantic undertones), and plots that are smoothly mixed between crisis-of-the-week and ongoing arc. Honestly, this stuff is like crack to me (I love Gossip Girl, the OC, Buffy, all that sort of thing.) It’s done reasonably well; the arc plots are a bit overdone to not-quite-campy levels (villains practically cackling through monologues at episode end) but given that this is a superhero comic, I’m honestly fine with that.

    While I don’t know comics deeply, it seems like the writers’ room does. They seem to be going quite deep in Superman’s rogues’ gallery, and referencing a lot of classic pieces of Superman. One of my favorites scenes was an adaption of the hostage scene from this comic, which I saw a few years back and really liked; Supergirl does the same thing. (At least as a non-fanboy, Superman for me is really well summed up by the phrase “Lbh guvax V bayl fgrc va sebag bs thaf orpnhfr V’z ohyyrgcebbs?” Hell, since reading that it’s been in the back of my head as a way to act in real life crises.) Despite my complaints about the show, one thing it definitely gets very right is a respect for the material and the genre: this isn’t like new Star Trek or Star Wars, which are entirely about destroying the entire ethos and theme of the originals to score culture war points. The show is about Supergirl using Kryptonian powers to be, well, super: fight villains, inspire everyone around her…I’m pretty sure the writers would be embarrassed to use the phrase in the Current Year, but this show is about someone fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. There’s nuance, and there’s conflict, but that’s the core point. As it damn well should be.

    What I don’t like: plots, “science”, and the culture warring.

    The episode plots are…well. The basic outlines are paint-by-numbers story construction, but on reasonably good topics. I’m fine with that. What I don’t like is that every character knows simultaneously what the showrunner has decided today’s theme is. The episode where Supergirl unf natre vffhrf (abg nf qhzo nf vg fbhaqf) is a good example: she screws up because of that right at the beginning in a minor way, and of course the entire city starts complaining about that from her. In wildly unreasonable ways, honestly. There are a lot of idiot balls being held. This villain or that authority figure just decides that of course Supergirl is dumb or useless or whatever, and spends the episode berating her like an ingrate while she helps him. There are better ways to generate conflict, guys.

    I also want the show to decide if we care enough about the other characters to have B-plots that don’t involve Supergirl or not. Right now it appears to be waffling between her having to be a major part of every plotline and the exact opposite. Both are fine with me, but pick one.

    The science is cringeworthy. OK, this is a show about comic book heroes, I know. But multiple groups of characters are supposedly helping her via science and tech, and the technobabble/hacking/whatever is worse than Trek. Any Trek. Bad enough that I actively wince when a plot depends on parts of it, which keeps happening. Also, and I know every fucking superhero movie does this but it still bothers me, IT IS NOT THE FALL THAT KILLS YOU, IT IS THE SUDDEN STOP. CATCHING SOMEONE TWO FEET ABOVE THE GROUND STILL FUCKING KILLS THEM.

    Last: there’s a enormous Girl Power theme, which I don’t begrudge them the existence of, but gets tiresome. I’m already a bit sick of villains who just happen to hate all women, or people saying “She can’t do it?” and getting the response “BECAUSE SHE’S A GIRL???” No, because we just saw evidence it was beyond her power. Yes, she’s going to transcend that, because that’s how the genre works, but not everything is about sexism. And at the same time, we see people dismissing her as not possibly superstrong because she’s a girl, when this is manifestly stupid. For Christ’s sake.

    (Perhaps the nadir here was when a Kryptonian-level-ish strong villain had cornered a totally unpowered human (Xnen’f fvfgre), stopped to gloat about something sexist, and then unpowered human beat him up in unaided hand to hand. Yes, you kicked him in the nuts. I’ve still landed punches on someone after they caught me in the balls, and I don’t even have superpowers. Seriously, every human in this series should be pink goo at this point given how often they go toe to toe with powers.)

    Look: this isn’t rationalist (in Eliezer’s sense) fiction. At all. The characters make bad decisions, don’t respond well to choices offered, and the internal consistency is mediocre, both in technical “science” ways and pure social situations. You have to be OK with that, or you won’t like this.

    But that’s my biggest class of complaints, and if I didn’t like this show, I wouldn’t have written six paragraphs of complaints, I’d have stopped watching and walked away. Supergirl is pretty good. It’s not great. It’s not going to change how I think or speak or be in my mind much. But I enjoy watching it, it releases stress, and I feel good about these good people doing good things.

    Recommended.

    • keranih says:

      I used to have a metric for deciding if fellow sff fans had tastes close to mine or not – I’d ask them if they preferred Buffy or Angel. (My *real* kind was the sort who liked Firefly.) I was too old to ever really get into Buffy. Supergirl strikes me as much the same sort of thing.

      I have friends who are deeply into Supergirl, so we are working our way through the series. Had it not been for my friends I would have given up on it long ago, just based on the CW/whiny girl-child stompyfoot moments.

      Having said that, it generally seems to be getting better, it has had some genuinely stellar moments, and I am very much digging the older sister. I won’t say I love it but get me a beer and I’ll watch a couple eps with you.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        I used to have a metric for deciding if fellow sff fans had tastes close to mine or not – I’d ask them if they preferred Buffy or Angel. (My *real* kind was the sort who liked Firefly.)

        How would you classify Buffy vs. Angel fans?

        I can see not liking the Teen Melodrama aspects, though this is much more a superhero show than it is a Gossip Girl show. As I said, I just actually like that sort of thing. The whiny girl-child stuff bothers me more.

        I also have been told it improves over time, which is good.

        • keranih says:

          How would you classify Buffy vs. Angel fans?

          Eh. One was more likely to be similar to me?

          I used it as a “like vs unlike” metric, not (honestly) as a “better vs worse” metric. (ok, there were days when I was ready to drop kick everyone who thought Buffy was all that into the next time zone, but that was mostly because they had priorities and values that I did not share.)

          Angel had a tone/texture of “won’t quit fighting” vs BtVS’s “always will win”. Buffy was often written better, but I liked watching Angel more.

          Haven’t decided on checking out any other CW shows yet.

      • quaelegit says:

        (My *real* kind was the sort who liked Firefly.)

        My people!

        (Ok, that’s probably most of the SSCers. Well, we already knew we were a strongly-selected group) 😛

        • AG says:

          On that note, I recently finished Syfy’s Dark Matter (cancelled on a cliffhanger end of S3, now on Netflix). It’s like Firefly, but the fact that space corporatism is gonna suuuuuuuck is a little more of a front and center theme.

          Just slog through the annoying CW-ness of S1 (or cherry pick your way through, there are some parts worth watching), and there are some real classics in S2 and S3.

      • Tarpitz says:

        It makes me sad that Dollhouse doesn’t even feature in your rankings…

        For me, it’s Buffy>Dollhouse>Angel>Firefly, but they are all freakin’ great.

        • keranih says:

          Dollhouse had well done production values, but I could not get past the concept.

          (Different strokes for different folks – I love post apoc and Westerns, but can’t manage Dexter, Dollhouse, or Breaking Bad.)

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I thought the Dollhouse concept was fine, even interesting, I just thought the execution was crappy. For me it was Eight Deadly Words, straight up and down. (Not least because the acting was…iffy.) I forced myself, as a Whedon fan, to watch all of season 1, but I just didn’t want to see more.

          • MrApophenia says:

            For what it’s worth, season 2 is dramatically better than season 1. They found out early in the season that they weren’t getting renewed, and basically pack the entire planned remaining 4 seasons of story arc into one season.

            It sounds like this could be a recipe for disaster, but the actual result is a very tightly written story without all the flabby “case of the week but with creepy hooker subtext” stuff from the first season. It becomes totally focused on what the show is actually about, which is about what unethical people would do if they got access to mind uploading technology.

          • J Mann says:

            If you can make it through the first season and a third, most of the rest of Season Two of Dollhouse is really good. And some of the actors are amazing.

            IZombie is worth mentioning in this context – it’s basically a blend of Buffy and Veronica Mars, with zombies. Recent seasons have dragged, but it’s still fun when viewed as an actor’s showcase, which reminds me of Dollhouse.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I love iZombie, actually. I took a break after finishing season 2, but definitely coming back (I hear it goes off the rails, at least in terms of being a supernatural police procedural.)

            I totally agree about it being an actors’ showcase. Rose McIver slays. In some sense it’s a dumb idea (“Hey, through contrived circumstances, she inhabits a different caricature every week!”) but she does a damn good job of it and it’s a joy to watch her be a grumpy old racist coot or slutty cheerleader or…just about anything.

    • shakeddown says:

      That’s about my reaction to it too, though I kinda stopped watching halfway through season 2.

      One thing I really like is how they did Superman. In season one, as this off screen presence who’s face you never see but is always there and supportive (and one of the best lines is when Kara’s feeling insecure and he tells her “hey, you managed x – even I never managed that”. It’s a great bit about being fundamentally humble rather than insecure). In season 2 you start getting him on screen, and overall I like how they did him – the actor’s an okay Superman but a fantastic Clark Kent.

      Mostly, I like that they never feel the need to use the girl power theme to bash Superman (or the other male protagonists, iirc).

      Otoh, there’s the episode where the NSA or someone kidnap a protagonist because he’s the best python 6 hacker around. I still cringe about that one.

    • entobat says:

      For your own sake, don’t watch season 2.

      • AG says:

        Yeah, from what I’ve heard there was a CBS executive who kept a lid on some of the more “teen drama! :D” elements for S1, but of course the subsequent seasons went all in on the CW brand nonsense.

    • quaelegit says:

      Thanks for this review! All I heard about it previously was that one roommate didn’t like it (I think the overdone “girl power” stuff annoyed here even more than it annoyed you).

      I barely ever watch TV and my appetite for superhero genre is currently satisfied by Ward/Worm, but I’ll add it to my To Watch list. I’m particularly intrigued by your praise of their respect for the genre and use of color to convey theme.

      • shakeddown says:

        If you do want to try a superhero TV show, I’d say the first two seasons of the flash/arrow are a step above supergirl (which is about even with the later seasons of those shows), with the flash being more bright/optimistic and arrow being more dark and brooding.

        • J Mann says:

          Seasons Two and Three of Legends of Tomorrow are glorious.

          • AG says:

            LoT is like “what if Doctor Who but with a dumpster fire of a team.” It works because the team (in S2 and S3 anyways) fully embrace and own that they’re all garbage.

            As far as an actual American equivalent show to Doctor Who, I’d say The Librarians comes closest. (They even poached a few DW writers!)

    • Glen Raphael says:

      @ Andrew Hunter:

      [Supergirl has an] enormous Girl Power theme, which I don’t begrudge them the existence of, but gets tiresome.

      I think you’ve already gotten through the worst of that one. Some of it in the first season was probably necessary to justify the name they’re stuck with and position the character in her world for the intended demographic. There are other cringeworthy themes that will replace it as the series goes on. The culture-warring gets worse but both that and the technobabble are *so* hamfisted as to cross over into so-bad-it’s-good territory.

      Some of the worst culture-war arcs you still have to look forward to involve “illegal aliens”, meaning literal from-another-planet aliens. “Say, did you know that people who dislike illegal immigration are bad people? It’s true! And did you know that illegal aliens are people too? And that some illegal aliens had a difficult childhood and only engage in criminal activity because they have no other choice? Really! It’s so unfortunate! It sure is a good thing that we right-thinking-people would never elect a politician who didn’t love illegal aliens – Hint, hint.”

      Or: “Hey, what if Supergirl herself turned out to be irrationally bigoted against some never-previously-mentioned alien race, so she’d have the opportunity to see the error of her ways and learn a valuable lesson!”

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Also, and I know every fucking superhero movie does this but it still bothers me, IT IS NOT THE FALL THAT KILLS YOU, IT IS THE SUDDEN STOP. CATCHING SOMEONE TWO FEET ABOVE THE GROUND STILL FUCKING KILLS THEM.

      I add to this characters with super strength imbuing anything they’re trying to carry or catch with structural integrity fields. That is, the entire weight of a falling jumbo jet is supported by the aluminum at the point of contact with Superman’s hands. Or Superman carries an apartment building away from a mudslide, and the rest of the building doesn’t break away from the one concrete block Superman’s holding.

      • Protagoras says:

        Superman has telekinesis, but has to be touching some attached part of whatever he’s moving with his mind powers.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Does every other super hero who does the same stuff have this power, too?

          Also, why does he have to fake holding it then? Why can’t he just fly above the plane and keep a finger on it?

          • Protagoras says:

            OK, fine, a typical comic character’s super strength has about as much to do with what strength can actually accomplish as Magneto’s powers have to do with what magnetism can actually do. In his case you could also use the dodge that what he really has is some strange metal-only telekinesis, but also in his case that would only eliminate some but not all of the problems.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a funny scene in Empowered, IIRC, where the eponymous superstrong heroine tries to throw a car at somebody and just ends up ripping out the rear axle.

          • J Mann says:

            Because in his mind, he has superstrength. One of the Marvel Superman stand-ins (the one with the blue mohawk) has the same thing, and there’s a great Byrne Fantastic Four where that is the key point of the issue.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s a funny scene in Empowered, IIRC, where the eponymous superstrong heroine tries to throw a car at somebody and just ends up ripping out the rear axle

            Didn’t Emp literally write her master’s thesis on why that’s the wrong way to use a car as a weapon?

            OK, no, looks like that was just a term paper.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Meh. This was a show I watched with my Wife. Most of my problems come with the season finale of Season 1, which made me not want to watch Season 2.

      I hate Rot13, but since it is the standard here:
      Vs gur onq thl pna zvaq-pbageby Fhcrezna, jul qbrfa’g ur whfg beqre Fhcrezna gb orng gur penc bhg bs fhcretvey? Orggre lrg, fvapr ur unf na RAGVER NEZL bs Xelcgba-rdhvinyragf, jul gur uryy qbrf ur obgure qerffvat hc Fhcretvey’f Fvfgre va n Xelcgbavgr Fhvg gb 1i1 Fhcretvey? Whfg xvyy Fhcretvey jvgu lbhe INFG NEZL BS VAQRFGEHPGVOYR QBBZ!

      CW-type shows seem to suffer from nonsense involving normals taking on superpowered creatures a lot. What pissed me off in Supernatural was having fights against Angels or Demons always degrade into fist-fights, and somehow Sam and Dean were able to hold their ground. Anna, Uriel, Michael, Castiel, etc…they can all travel through time. The more powerful angels can snap their fingers and disappear your lungs or give you stage 4 cancer. Why the hell are they trading fisticuffs with a bunch of unemployed 20-something drifters?

      Think of it this way. Brezhnev hates you. You, personally. He rolls up with the whole Red Army, all 300 divisions worth, and aims 50,000 nukes at you.

      And then you walk up and punch him in the face. And somehow that causes you to win WWIII and then your brother gets sent to Hell because reasons, but he’s going to be back in 10 minutes because the secret Lucifer cage has a secret backdoor because God apparently outsourced construction to Equifax, and then you spend the next 5 seasons deciding who will rule Heaven because God is now living as a writer that for some reason is too scared to talk to women and probably peruses R/redpill in his free time or something.

      To me that’s the CW.

      I do admit they have some decent drama and nail down the genre of teen-melo-drama pretty well. Which is why my wife loves all these shows, and I can at least tolerate them. She likes Flash and Green Arrow more, though.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        CW-type shows seem to suffer from nonsense involving normals taking on superpowered creatures a lot.

        Yep! Like, the Flash apparently can’t just run into a room and immediately disarm a normal if that normal wields a “cold gun” or a bomb with a “deadman switch”. Flash really ought to instantly win quite a lot of fights in which the writers just don’t seem to be taking his powers seriously.

        Damien Darhk has the same problem as a villain – he ought to win far more often and decisively than he does, given the magical powers and motivations he is alleged to have.

        The best part, though, is when a group of normals faces such a character and somebody says “okay, sure, this guy’s super-speed is enough to beat ONE of us, but he can’t fight ALL OF US AT ONCE!” [Facepalm]

      • John Schilling says:

        Supergirl is, unsurprisingly, a comic book superhero show. Just as it is a requirement of the romance genre that two people must fall in love by the final act, it is a requirement of the superhero comic book show that the central dispute must be resolved in the final act with a really spectacular fistfight. That’s more common than it should be in Hollywood productions generally, but with comic-book superheroes it’s pretty much absolute.

        This, on top of the general silliness of the comic-book superhero concept, is why I gave up on the genre after Wonder Woman. It doesn’t look like I should make an exception for Supergirl.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m really hoping for a decent Worm adaptation at some point. I’d pay an embarrassing amount of money to see a superhero TV franchise where this sort of shit doesn’t fly (because Skitter has filled your lungs with wasps).

        • AG says:

          I heard that “The Gifted” and “Black Lightning” have been doing some smarter powered fighting, although the former has iffy writing otherwise.

          The My Hero Academia anime is inconsistent about it, but has tactical superpower fighting.

          • Nick says:

            My Hero Academia is good, but I don’t watch it for the smart use of powers. That’s a much bigger part of Worm’s appeal (at least for Nornagest and me apparently).

    • Deiseach says:

      IT IS NOT THE FALL THAT KILLS YOU, IT IS THE SUDDEN STOP. CATCHING SOMEONE TWO FEET ABOVE THE GROUND STILL FUCKING KILLS THEM.

      After forty-five years does it still qualify as a spoiler? Just in case: SPOILER ALERT

      This was actually a relevant plot point in a Spiderman comic when a major character died (okay, they wanted to kill this character off to pair Spidey up with another major character) and was the nearest to realism in a comic up to then.

      Naturally, they then forgot all about real-world consequences when it was no longer necessary for the plot and went back to Spidey being able to zap people/things with webbing and save them with no damage (not just Spidey, all comics do this with all characters because dang it, you can’t have Superman or Batman killing someone when rescuing them, you just can’t – unless you’re doing a movie reboot in grimdark that nobody much likes because you’ve screwed around with the character, the universe and the canon that bit too much).

      • lvlln says:

        I always thought it was a shame that movies/shows/video games/etc. didn’t take a more realistic approach on this. It seems like it’d be far more exhilarating to have Spidey or some hero save someone by both catching them mid-fall THEN find a way to decelerate at a rate that won’t kill them anyway, than to just have a simple “catch them before they hit the ground” = “perfect safety” formula. It would put greater time pressure since they have to catch them earlier in the fall in order to have enough space to decelerate, and the time of uncertainty could feel more dangerous, because the hero would be carrying the person they’re trying to save while also struggling to decelerate at a rate that’s high enough so that they don’t hit the ground too fast but also low enough so that the person doesn’t get killed anyway, rather than just chasing the falling person to get under them before they hit the ground. And there would be room for partial successes, where they do hit the ground very hard and the person does get hurt and perhaps seriously injured but not killed.

        • Aapje says:

          Spiderman seems especially suitable for this, because spiderwebs are in part built to catch and neatly decelerate fast moving flies, so they could do the same for people when bigger webs are used.

    • Jiro says:

      Don’t forget the president who is illegal immigrant Hillary Clinton, and the fact that they can keep making jibes at Trump even though the phrase “Make America Great Again” probably never existed in this world, certainly never became prominent, and doesn’t apply to alien invaders anyway.

      • Nick says:

        Don’t forget the president who is illegal immigrant Hillary Clinton

        I didn’t believe you at first so I looked the character up, and wow, this is cringeworthy.

        • Aapje says:

          So she actually got elected as president by pretending to be human, violating the constitution in the process and then got a law passed helping her own species (while still not being honest)?! And this Manchurian candidate narrative is supposed to be inspirational and evidence that the aliens are good ‘people’, rather than evidence that they abuse their powers to deceive Americans and get laws passed that favor their own species?

          This is like having a book like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but then from the perspective of a philosemite, who thinks it is a great idea if Jews run the world for their own benefit. :O

          Ironically, you can also read this as a defense of Putin’s meddling in US politics.

      • J Mann says:

        It’s also gilding the lily a bit to have Miss Martian be a former conductor on the Martian Underground Railroad instead of a confused kid.

    • AG says:

      For the spiritual successors to Buffy, I’d recommend both the Teen Wolf MTV show and the Syfy series Lost Girl. (Warehouse 13 is more episodic and less of the Relationship Dramz)
      You’ve got genre and melodrama, with less (overt) culture war stuff. Wynnona Earp is also fun.

  7. christhenottopher says:

    So there are of course a bunch of people who professionally code here. I’m considering learning programming but I’m pretty new at this so I’m not sure I even know exactly the right questions to ask. So I’ll go with the following:

    1) Is Code Academy a good starting place or a waste of time for someone just getting into coding? Is there any place better?

    2) Is there still a decent norm of “prove you can code, degrees are secondary” in the programming job market? I REALLY don’t want to go back to school (especially undergrad since I already have a degree), so if there are particular types of programming that emphasize “prove your ability” more than “do you have a CS degree” that would be good to know. Also are there any relatively cheap to get certifications that help with signaling on a resume?

    3) I know python and java script get talked about as good languages to know, in a private sector business/tech company setting are these languages to focus on or are there others? How many programming languages would a typical programmer need to know (and if this varies on job type, is there a place I could go to check and see what’s in demand)?

    4) Does anyone have an estimated time frame for an adult to go from near zero (I hang out with programmers sometimes) coding ability to hire-able at least at an entry level skills?

    This isn’t a real time sensitive or desperate thing, I’ve got a perfectly OK job in a fine city, but adding coding as a skill set seems like a career booster with potentially low capital requirements and where being a bit of an autodidact can work. Plus seems useful if I do ever decide to move to one of the really expensive cities (starting at you Bay and NYC), seems like the kind of skills that could help me land a job that can actually pay rent. At the very least, hopefully you all can give me a few pitfalls to avoid!

    • skef says:

      I have an undergraduate degree in engineering (with a computer concentration) from one of the best schools in the country, a masters in CS from a top-ten university (on the way to a PhD — a program I left with only the dissertation and one minor credit unfinished), was employed at three high profile technical companies, and worked on at least one very sophisticated project that was, at least at the time, generally well regarded.

      More recently I have been involved in a different pursuit, and although I mostly supported myself by programming, it was in an unsophisticated context.

      As a result of this break, I take it that my past credentials and job experience are now basically meaningless.

      This isn’t exactly a vote for “you don’t need credentials”, but it’s in the same general family. What you need to do is somehow overcome the deep skepticism that hiring groups have towards just about everyone, absent some networking-based connection*. Three or four weeks in, in my experience, your background will be entirely irrelevant. Credentials are one imperfect contributor to that first step, but not a necessary one. There is no easy answer.

      * Strangely, the networking-based connections really do work best even though they don’t seem to be much more reliable than anything else in practice.

    • johan_larson says:

      You have a college degree? In what? How long ago?

      Could you tell us a bit more about what you have been doing professionally recently?

      To give very general advice, credentials definitely matter, particularly in the crucial matter of getting that first job. When the internet bubble was at its hottest, anyone with a smattering of skill could get a job, but the market is more selective today. If you want someone to give you a chance in even an entry level job, you need to convince them you know what you are doing. Anything official-looking is going to help in that.

      If you have years to spend, I suggest enrolling for credit in some sort of night or weekend courses in programming given by a university or community college. If you’d been doing that for two years, with six or so courses under your belt, you might be able to snag some sort of job in the software industry, particularly at companies where your previous experience counts for something. Consider applying to QA (testing) jobs, rather than developer jobs. QA struggles for recognition, and is therefore thirstier for talent.

    • Brad says:

      #1 I just looked at Code Academy’s website. I hadn’t heard of it before. They have a slick website that makes it look useful. Hard to say without actually taking a course. I will say that once you have some basic coding skill (in any language) under your belt I highly recommend wherever Tim Roughgarden is doing his MOOCs these days.

      #2 I wouldn’t say credentials don’t matter, in a lot of places they do and they help get you i the door everywhere, but if you are quite good then there are still opportunities out there even without them.

      #3 You only really need one language to get a job and some people stick with one for their whole career (+/- DSLs). If you want to do front end work (including “full stack”) you need to know javascript so I’d concentrate on that. If not, and especially if you could see yourself working for a big, not necessarily in the technology business, company I’d consider java and c# as well as python. There are other options (there seems to be a surprising, to me, number of ruby jobs out there still), but if I were in your shoes I’d look at one of those four for a first language. I guess c if you had your heart set on embedded but I don’t think the embedded job market is very hot in the US.

      #4 The overall goal is to become familiar with: 1) the syntax, idioms, and standard library of at least one programming language, 2) a decent set of algorithms and data structures, 3) the preferred program design paradigm in your language of choice as well as at least a few of the most popular design patterns in that language, 4) at least one framework / set of libraries in your language of choice and area of concentration (e.g. angular if you want to be a front end dev or spring if you want to be a java backend dev), and 5) development and collaboration tools that are popular within your targeted industry and language. A nice to have shading into need to have in some notion of architecture that is how the code you write fits into overall picture and at least know the names and functions of the other moving parts.

      That’s a lot and is going to take some time. You don’t have to have extreme depth on any one of those to get a first job but you have to have something for each of those points. I’ve read that some of the bootcamp graduates are having luck after 4-6 months of very intensive work. If we call that 1000 hours that doesn’t seem like a bad Fermi estimate to me.

      Good luck.

    • sharper13 says:

      Your job odds are going to heavily depend on:
      1. Can you convince a resume reviewer that you can code? (i.e. add the right buzzwords relevant to some actual work)
      2. Can you convince someone during a technical interview that you can code?

      Your problem is going to be that you have neither right now.

      #1 is helped by a CS degree, but if you go look at various job requirements in reality, very few of them are going to require a CS degree. Even now, you’re likely to see a lot of “Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent experience”. Go look on job posting boards to see the actual requirements for various positions and make a plan of action based on that.

      My recommendation would be to start with a book or online course along the lines of “Teach yourself X language in Y days!” and see if you can do and enjoy the process. If not, stop there.

      If you do, then get yourself to the learning point where you can contribute to or start an open source project, or a hobby project (website/app) of your own. Once you can point to your github contributions and/or the app/site you created on your resume, while you won’t qualify for every junior programmer job, there will be some you can pass #1 for. At that point, all you have to do is be able to answer questions in #2 and you’re in.

      Some additional hints:
      1. Just because you can code in a language doesn’t mean you will pass #2. You also need to learn some theory related to how the language works, standard software-development lifecycle things (coding practices, version control, testing, etc…) and what it’s all good for compared to other languages.
      2. It may take you 3x as long to find a job as someone with a CS degree and more programming experience, but you’ll eventually (6 months?) find one and once you’ve been working as a programmer for a few years, only #2 matters after that and you can leverage that into a better job.
      3. If all else fails, if you can automate testing, you may be able to enter sideways via a QA job and then transition into more and more programming as you take on automating the QA and build process for your employer.
      4. Depending on your other skills, many times you can get a job which is 1/2 programming and 1/2 something else you are already skilled at, in which case you can later move to more of a programming job based on that experience.

    • Garrett says:

      This question has a lot of nuance and unstated assumptions. To unpack some of them, “learning programming” is a very non-precise term. As a comparison, imagine someone saying they want to learn how to write. That could mean anything from “I’ve never held a pencil before and would like to acquire the skills of writing grocery lists, etc.” all the way to “I want to be an author more financially successful than JK Rowling and have more impact on English literature than Joyce, Dickens and Poe, combined”. With that having been said:

      1). No idea. Looking at their web site, it at least looks like they have a free version. That’s probably at least worth some time to see if you are really interested in things and have an aptitude for it.

      2) Yes. No. Maybe. It depends. Some of the best folks I’ve worked with have been college drop-outs. Some of the best I’ve worked with have masters’ degrees. The problem is that large-scale software engineering and architecture isn’t something that we really know how to teach very well yet.

      In reality, the best way to signal on your resume is to work on OpenSource projects. This is because prospective employers can quickly look at your code and associated solutions to see what you are capable of and how you think. If you are working on something with a significant team, it shows that you are able to work well with other people. Those are the two main elements which are important in the field.

      I’ve read that there are 3 steps along the way of developing mastery of material at which people tend to fail: imperative statements, pointers, and concurrency. If you can do the first you are unlikely to do well as a programmer overall, but might be able to leverage those skills into something like IT/DBA/business analyst. If you can handle pointers you can probably handle most routine development tasks. But the ability to handle concurrency in your head is what’s required for all of the advanced stuff and working in programming at places who’s names you’d recognize as being involved in technology.

      3) This is vaguely like asking “what language should I learn to write poetry”. It depends more on the specific goal than anything else. If you are trying to pass a throw-away class in poetry, do it in your native language. If you are trying to woo an Italian model you are infatuated with, you probably want to use Italian. Etc.

      In-general, the skills are transferable between languages. The specifics, idiosyncrasies and best-practices of each can be picked up fairly easily if you have a good foundation. Smart employers will generally ignore your particular language background when interviewing (or will give you a wide selection of languages to choose from).

      In general: if you want to do web front-end work you’ll need to know JavaScript. Python is a great language to start with, and it’s also becoming the most popular “glue” language. If you are working on iOS devices Objective-C is almost certainly a must. Systems programming will require knowledge of C and likely C++. Java has become incredibly popular in Android and Enterprise development.

      I’d suggest getting a good bit of experience with Python and then once you’ve figured out what kind of area you want to specialize in, learn the language(s) used there.

      4) Anywhere from about a year to never. Once you get the hang of some language, pick up a book/self-study course/whatever on data structures and algorithms. That’s substantially the core of useful computer science right there. A separate bit on operating systems fundamentals mostly completes the set.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      1. Many decent places to start, codeacademy is one of them, there’s also decent books to get you started (I personally got my first real start with the now-probably-outdated http://ruby-doc.com/docs/ProgrammingRuby/ after half-failed attempts at learning in C++ and Python, but that was before web-interactive teaching methods existed much, if at all).

      My take is two-fold:

      a) It doesn’t matter what you use to learn at the start, as long as it works for you. You’re not yet at the stage where you can learn “wrong” habits. Try different languages, different tutorials, different presentation styles. You’re just trying to get past the initial learning cliff that claims most people trying to get started.

      b) No matter how good, these tools can only get you so far. The second hard transition is going from following instructions to solving problems by yourself (goal-setting, architecture, debugging, knowing-how-to-find-help-on-stack-overflow-and-how-to-google-a-stack-trace). This is a much larger set of skills that mostly only improves with self-directed practice, but it tends to be less cliff-like.

      2. We don’t look at degree, we don’t do any resume-based prefiltering (beyond the fact that no-work-experience means you get interviewed for Junior Developer). Our only filter in front of the in-person interview is a code-challenge similar to what you’d find on hackerrank. Bigger companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Google) with dedicated HR departments will run differently. Triplebyte does skill-based placement with some of them though, so there’s a way to bypass the degree-checking even then. It’s a seller’s market overall, the industry is starved for talent, so there’s always at least some companies willing to spend the time to interview you in person in case you turn out to be awesome. Other thing that can make up for no formal degree is having open source projects/contributions.

      3. Javascript is maximally versatile, with Python/Java you have coverage of 75% of open job position requirements or thereabouts (check the stackoverflow community survey if you want hard numbers). Breadth has its own depth: learning more languages (especially very different ones) isn’t just a job placement thing, it also just makes you a better programmer, by expanding your understanding of what the tradeoff-space looks like. Almost no job will let you write in just one language, but many don’t mind if you don’t cover everything the job will require (as long as you have the main ones).

      4. 1000 hours? I have a hard time estimating this because it varies so much, and false-starts at the very beginning can set you back. It’s probably more like (time-to-get-over-the-initial-cliff + 600 hours of practice), where the first component has huge variance, and may not be brute-forceable (may need to take a break between each attempt, and try a completely different angle each time).

    • tayfie says:

      I work as a programmer now, started in high school and four year degree from a well respected but not famous college.

      1) Code Academy was the first place I went. I found it very hand-holding. It didn’t teach me much, but it got me comfortable with the first steps like learning basic language constructs and trying stuff out for myself. The second part is key. Trying new things on computers is cheap. Everything you need is right in front of you. Don’t be afraid to attempt anything yourself.

      2) Its better than any other upper middle class livelihood about avoiding credentialism. I think you can mostly credit that to being a very young and unregulated field. You can certainly break in without going back to school. On convincing employers, it really helps if your current job/degree/hobby is heavily abstract and analytical and you have a concrete way to demonstrate those skills on your resume and in person. It’s doubly good if you look for programming jobs in an industry you are already familiar with because you go in already knowing the domain. Avoid jobs that ask for certs because you will be working with people that are complacent with collecting certs. The industry is varied and the only other advice I can give is to reach out to people whose jobs are most similar to the job you want and learn from them. Ask them for help.

      3) You have to be careful to differentiate trendy from widespread. Languages that are talked about the most are rarely the languages that are used the most. Even stuff like programmer surveys are overly biased towards trendy things because the responders are mostly programmers who do it in their free time. The oracle of truth is what employers ask for on the ads you see, and this will change with where you look for jobs.

      As far as languages, pick two languages to learn well. One language is for working on existing or large projects. This will be something like Java or a C derivative, almost certainly a compiled language. The other is for small, new, or personal tasks. This will be something like Python or Ruby, almost certainly a scripting language. JavaScript is absolutely required for web development, but you can ignore it otherwise. Learn how to use the shell language for your platform of choice (PowerShell for Windows or Bash for everything else). It can greatly speed up many otherwise tedious tasks that aren’t worth writing a separate program for. In addition, have at least passing familiarity with a few other languages and what they offer. Learn the ins and outs of using your chosen text editor/IDE, compiler/build system, debugger, and version control system effectively.

      4) Depends on the employer and your abilities, but I’d estimate learning for two years at 3 hours / week to perform an entry level job competently.

    • Chalid says:

      Much of the advice in this thread seems specific to subindustries that you might not care about.

      For #3 (and to a lesser extent #2 and #1), my generic advice for this class of questions (from someone who doesn’t know tech very well) is to find a type of job that you are particularly interested in, and then spend a few hours looking at job application websites for companies in that field and see what they want. If they all want Python, then go learn Python and don’t waste your time with anything else.

      (You might find other useful things by doing this, e.g. you might find that your target subindustry likes bootcamps.)

    • dick says:

      Not a freqeuent commenter, but this is in my wheelhouse (Dev manager, have hired entry-level programmers including from bootcamps) so I’ll chime in.

      1. Code academy is a pretty good boot camp, whether there’s a better one depends on where you live. As you evaluate them, you should remember that what you want from your bootcamp is not just to learn, it’s assistance in placement, so ask to see their job board, inquire about internship programs or companies they partner with, etc. But you should absolutely try to learn some coding for free before you go this route. Most bootcamp enrollees already have some programming ability, and are going there to learn other aspects of professional software development. If you have never even tried to make a webpage before you will be at a disadvantage.

      2. Briefly, yes – a lack of CS degree will not hold you back. What will hold you back is lack of breadth of experience – you just can’t learn enough in a bootcamp to offset what someone who has been programming casually for several years, or what someone who has worked in tech support a while, has absorbed. This can be overcome but it will be your biggest obstacle in landing your first job. Once you have two years of professional experience, no one will give a shit whether your degree was in CS or Ancient Greek.

      3. There is no correct answer to this. Learning one language deeply and exclusively will help you with some jobs and not others, learning several languages shallowly will do the same. It’s more important that you develop a genuine interest in it and follow it where it leads you. I agree with the person below who suggest Javascript as a good first language, but if the programmer friend who you will be pestering with newbie questions only knows Python, by all means, start with Python.

      4. Four months for a savant, more than a year for someone who is only doing it half-heartedly.

      Unsolicited advice: you don’t sound like this is for you. Programming is heavily populated by people who really, really like programming, and it’s hard to compete with them if you’re not one of them, and having been around it tangentially without ever getting your curiosity piqued suggests you’re not. I mean, by all means, try it out! Maybe you’ll like it. Pick a small project (e.g. an Android app to help you and your spouse pick which restaurant to dine at, or a webapp for your philately club to schedule their meetings, or whatever) and go for it. But if you find after a month that you’ve lost interest, don’t pursue it professionally.

      It’s hard to explain why. You might get the impression I think programming is super-difficult, that’s not what I’m saying. (I know some truly dumb professional programmers). So here’s a metaphor for what I am saying:

      Imagine that “Pokemon Tournament Judge” was a highly sought-after job that routinely paid six figures. And imagine there was such a dearth of qualified PokeJudges that Congress had a special visa program for it, and that PokeBootcamps had sprung up in every major city. And imagine that you, despite having no prior interest in Pokemon, decided to attend a bootcamp and go for it. Could you become a PokeJudge? Sure, maybe. But you would have an enormous hurdle, which is that everyone you’re competing with LOVES Pokemon and you don’t. They all memorized the names of the various Pokemen(?) when they were eight, and you memorized them a month ago with flash cards. They find the lore fascinating and can talk about it for hours, you find it pointless and silly. They can play Pokemon for 8 hours a day and still go home and play it some more, and you are thoroughly sick of the stupid game, but play it you will, if you want to get hired over those people.

      That’s pretty much what it’s like for people with no particular interest in programming to work in this field. It can be done, but it’s hard, and you will have to feign that interest, especially at first. But like I said, try it out before you give up. Even if you don’t find your new calling, a little light scripting ability can be hugely useful in many other contexts, professionally and otherwise.

  8. rlms says:

    Inspired by the Slate Star Codex Political Spectrum Quiz, a very short political quiz:

    1. Suppose you are in a country where same sex civil partnerships that are functionally equivalent to marriages exist but gay marriage does not, like the UK in 2013[1]. Which of the following would best describe your opinion?
    a) It is important that gay marriage is legalised for symbolic reasons.
    b) It is important that gay marriage is not legalised for symbolic reasons.
    c) It doesn’t matter whether gay marriage is legalised since civil partnerships are functionally equivalent (regardless of whether you think their existence is good or bad).

    2. Suppose you are in a country that has a law that punishes men being made to penetrate the same way as forced intercourse, but only the latter is called rape (like the UK currently[2]). Which of the following would best describe your opinion?
    a) It is important that the definition of rape be changed to include the former crime for symbolic reasons.
    b) It is important that the definition of rape not be changed to include the former crime for symbolic reasons.
    c) It doesn’t matter whether the definition is changed.

    [1] If civil partnerships required exchanges of vows and were permitted to have religious content
    [2] If sentencing guidelines were equal

    • christhenottopher says:

      1) c (plus same sex unions are good)

      2) c (on the assumption that actual sentences given are equivalent since, depending on the jurisdiction, judges are given some leeway in deciding the severity of punishment. If the “not-rape” perpetrators get uniformly the low end of the guidelines while the “rape” ones get the high end, assuming similar circumstances/chances of recidivism, then a).

      Which I suppose puts me on the “symbolism is overrated” end of the spectrum.

      • BBA says:

        I’m basically in the same place, though I’d prefer there be one neutral legal term to be used for both – “civil unions” in the first case and “sexual assault” in the second, let’s say – so they really are legally identical.

        Legal and colloquial terms don’t have to match up. In the laws of the state where I live, the concept of “alimony” was abolished decades ago when the divorce laws were overhauled. Now the money divorced people are ordered to pay their ex-spouses is called “maintenance” instead. Outside of court practically everyone still calls it “alimony” regardless.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The problem with having “sexual assault” as a one-size-fits-all crime is that people will take it as being shorthand for rape. The phrase “so-and-so has been accused of sexual assault” will generally lead people to the assumption that so-and-so has been accused of rape, even though rapes are a minority of sexual assaults. Often this is unintentional; sometimes it is intentional obfuscation.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve seen a suggestion to have degrees of sexual assault the way there are degrees of physical assault.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Nancy, In many places, the law has such degrees; the problem is getting any terminology for such distinctions into everyday discussion of the issues.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I think in Canada (not a lawyer) that the punishments escalate, not by the sex act, but by the factors surrounding it – there’s “sexual assault”, “sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or bodily harm”, and “aggravated sexual assault” – the last is the most serious, and involves the most serious harm. There’s also extra punishment if a firearm is used or if the victim is under 16.

            Personally, although I’m not 100% sure on this, I think a lesser charge of “negligent sexual assault” should be included. There was a case sometime late last year, I think, where an underaged boy had sex with a more-underaged girl at a drinking party; the judge convicted him (sexual assault trials never see juries here, I’m pretty sure; not sure whether this is custom or rules) on the basis that she was too drunk to consent (the bar for this is high in Canada; not sure about the US or US jurisdictions) and he should have known. How does one handle cases where there’s no mens rea, but the perpetrator acted with serious disregard for the consent of the victim? A lot of these reddit anecdotes might fall into that area.

            @Protagoras

            Yes. The issue is that two separate problems – there are people who think it is OK to grope other people, and there is a smaller group of people who think that other people’s consent to sexual acts doesn’t matter – get collapsed into only the former problem. If you ask people – male or female – “have you been sexually assaulted” by the standard definition of sexual assault, who hasn’t been? Some people more than others – I’ve been unwantedly groped in a not-just-bros-joking-around way at least two or three times; plenty of women have it happen a lot more than that (and are more threatened by it, when it’s a guy, usually, due to the size/strength difference). But when you show those results, and everyone thinks it means rape…

            More broadly, a problem is that the social standards are very different from the legal standards. For example, the social standards I hold for calling someone a “rapist” and avoiding having anything to do with them are less than the Canadian legal standard: by Canadian law, someone has to be so wasted that they are more or less unaware what is going on, and that they can decline, before they are deemed too drunk to consent. By my standard, someone who intentionally targets drunk people who wouldn’t consent to sex with them sober is a rapist, or at least, is a terrible person – even though they probably wouldn’t get convicted in a court of law.

            I’m within my rights to avoid such people, not invite them to my parties so people can get drunk without fear of that person, to mention “hey did you know so-and-so is an utter piece of shit” to others, etc. At the same time, it’s not a failure of the legal system that they wouldn’t be convicted in a court of law, and it would be better for us to halt the movement into a binary division between “100% A-OK great person” and “criminals”. Someone can be a bad person without being a criminal, and getting rid of that space really messes things up. “Vulgar sex positivity” (“everything 2 consenting adults do is good and OK!”) has had the unfortunate result of erasing that difference (with the corollary that anything not good must not really have been consensual). A similar thing has been happening to the area between “100% great person to be with” and “abuser”.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            A lot of the incidents (but by no means all of them) involve heavy drinking.

            Anyone who likes drinking care to take a crack at what a reasonable approach for self-protection would be?

            If it were up to me, I’d say “never take it past mildly buzzed” but may not be reasonable to ask people to give up heavier drinking.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I used to drink heavily, and have to keep a watch on myself; I am definitely an alcoholic, although I am doing a good job right now of not drinking much at all. This all goes for keeping onesself safe from harm, not putting yourself in a situation where you might cause harm to others, not embarrassing yourself, etc. I have been lucky enough that only the third happened to me, but I know people unfortunate enough to have the first happen to them, and people shitty enough to do the second and keep on drinking.

            -have an alcohol tolerance. One thing that shows up in the better studies of sexual assault on campuses is that first-year students are a disproportionate % of victims. The explanation often given is that they are more socially isolated, but this doesn’t ring true to me. I think a better explanation is that first year students tend to have the bad combination of not knowing how to drink and not having an alcohol tolerance. If I had kids going to university, I would make sure they could get several drinks in them without getting loopy. Maybe not the best parenting, but better than the worst case scenario if they don’t have a tolerance, in my opinion.

            -further to that, know how to drink. Know how to pace yourself, know what it feels like when you’re starting to get too much booze in you, eat something with some fat in it first, drink a pint of water after each drink. Not going past buzzed is indeed a good choice. I have learned that if I must drink, I should stick to ordinary-strength beer: I can drink a lot of it over the course of an evening and be mostly fine. Anything higher-octane is a bad call, besides maybe a glass of wine or a shot here and there.

            -it’s better to have people around who you trust, and preferably, only people around who you trust. Don’t go get drunk alone at a club, have friends. It’s better to only drink with friends, so you’re not relying on other people who are drinking too to keep you safe. The most enjoyable parties are the ones where everyone knows everyone else. Drinking alone by yourself is better than drinking alone at a club, if you’re going to go past 2 or 3 drinks. You shouldn’t be around people where you have to keep an eye on your drink, and you shouldn’t be drinking somewhere that it’s only safe to have the bartender give you bottles you’ve seen opened.

            -if you must be a heavy drinker, be a functional alcoholic rather than a binge drinker. I’ve noticed that men are more likely to fall into the former category, women into the latter: it’s mostly guys who end up having several drinks in the afternoon every other day, and mostly women who every week or two take a ton of shots and end up losing their phone and their friends have no idea where they are. (Of course, both are binge drinkers by the medical standard; I’m using the colloquial definition).

            -if you’re going to drink, plan to drink. Don’t go out not planning to drink when you suspect you will. The former is more likely to see you have a plan to drink relatively safely; the latter is more likely to see mysterious fate somehow lead to you drinking a dozen plus drinks and getting lost trying to find a subway station that is somehow open at 3am (from my personal experience, none are, and you won’t find one open by wandering over to the next station on the line). It’s like how guys who admit they’re gay or bisexual are more likely to practice safe sex than guys who are 100% straight and yet somehow they keep having random sex with other guys in public washrooms.

            -further to the last one, bring your own booze; coming with your own six or twelve pack is probably going to end better than showing up, cadging drinks, until someone says “hey there’s 2/3 of a bottle of tequila in the fridge; you can have it”.

            -keep your friends safe and don’t cover for predators. The guy who women don’t want to drink around because he’s a known sexual predator? Don’t invite him to parties. It doesn’t matter that he’s charming. He’s a sexual predator and should be ostracized.

            -don’t victim-blame. Keeping yourself safe is a practical issue, not an issue of legal or moral responsibility.

          • John Schilling says:

            +1 to all of dndrsn’s advice, and an elaboration

            it’s better to have people around who you trust, and preferably, only people around who you trust.

            If you’re going to have a mix of people you trust and people you don’t trust, which is probably a necessity for clubbing or other public entertainments, at least some of the people you trust need to be sober. No more than mildly buzzed, if that, else they won’t be able to protect drunk-you from the people you don’t and shouldn’t trust.

            One of the side benefits of the MADD-style anti-drunk-driving campaigns is that being the sober member of a drinking party is somewhat more reputable than it used to be. But it can still be hard to find people who will reliably do that job, particularly if you’re not actually driving to the party and don’t have that excuse.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ve seen a suggestion to have degrees of sexual assault the way there are degrees of physical assault.

            Using the same base phrase for everything from minor groping to brute-force vaginal penetration strikes me as a blatant invitation to Motte-and-Baileyism that isn’t going to be effectively countered by everybody being precise about which degree of “sexual assault” they mean.

            I’d much prefer to extend “rape” to cover all the nonconsensual sexual activity that most people recognize as having about the same moral impact as forcible vaginal penetration (e.g. forcing a woman to engage in fellatio), and then be clear that anything we call “sexual assault” is a significantly lesser crime.

            At which point, yes, we need (and in most places have) degrees of sexual assault. And maybe we need degrees of rape as well, but I think we want to maintain the distinction just as we distinguish between various degrees of murder and other not-murder stuff you nonetheless shouldn’t have done that wound up with someone dead.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I think it depends greatly on the person, as people can behave very differently for the same level of inebriation. For example, the one and only time I got so drunk that I fell off my bike later, I merely engaged in very overt flirting. The drinking was actually also in part flirting, because we were doing a drinking game where she was losing a lot and I offered to drink her drinks.

            This probably says something about my inhibitions, that very heavy drinking makes me flirt in ways that women notice 😛

            Anyway, I felt quite capable of staying within the boundaries of morality and to say no to others. However, other people may not have the same capability.

            Of course, you can advise everyone to stay way on the safe side, but I don’t think that people will heed that, so it seems unrealistic to expect people to follow that advice.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @John Schilling

            If you’re going to have a mix of people you trust and people you don’t trust, which is probably a necessity for clubbing or other public entertainments, at least some of the people you trust need to be sober. No more than mildly buzzed, if that, else they won’t be able to protect drunk-you from the people you don’t and shouldn’t trust.

            Periodically, in times where I wasn’t drinking, I’d go to parties or go out with friends. It’s really dramatic how different drunk people seem – how they act, the decisions they make – when you’re not drunk. Definitely it’s a good idea to have someone who is sober or at least not-drunk around.

            I’d much prefer to extend “rape” to cover all the nonconsensual sexual activity that most people recognize as having about the same moral impact as forcible vaginal penetration (e.g. forcing a woman to engage in fellatio), and then be clear that anything we call “sexual assault” is a significantly lesser crime.

            Isn’t forcible, coerced, etc penetration of any orifice, mouth included, considered rape in most jurisdictions that still have “rape” as a crime of its own? I know that “were you raped?” surveys usually don’t say “rape” but instead have as one of the questions basically “did anybody use force, coercion, or intoxication to put an appendage in you?”

            @Aapje

            I think it depends greatly on the person, as people can behave very differently for the same level of inebriation.

            This is the bit where it all gets tricky. Booze can do all the following things:
            -mess up memory formation (this is what causes “blackouts”, where someone may still be walking, talking, not even seem that drunk, but be only aware of things in the moment)
            -cause emotional volatility
            -mess up motor control
            -seriously mess up decision-making, at least for impulsive decisions
            -reduce emotional inhibitions
            -make people more anxious
            -make people less anxious
            -make people happy
            -make people sad
            -make people friendly
            -make people mean

            And this can vary from time to time, or within an incidence of drinking depending on the intake: someone can go from happy and laughing to mean and sad if they have a few more.

          • John Schilling says:

            Isn’t forcible, coerced, etc penetration of any orifice, mouth included, considered rape in most jurisdictions that still have “rape” as a crime of its own?

            Not in e.g. California, where “rape” is specifically sexual intercourse (yes, PiV only per the courts) and forced oral or anal sex may be a felony but isn’t rape under the law. Some jurisdictions do use a more expansive definition, but not all. And if California dissents, you’ll have a hard time making it the default usage.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            dndnrsn

            Thanks. I’ve read almost all of the reddit thread, and I’ll add one general piece of advice. If you’ve broken up with someone because they’re scary or worse, don’t be alone with them and don’t get drunk with them.

          • I have a possibly odd question: Why do people get drunk at all?

            I have consumed enough alcohol so that I could see that it was having some effect on me, although my guess is that a random stranger would not have noticed the effect. I think I’ve only done that once.

            My prejudice against people getting drunk comes not from the sort of seriously scary problems people have been discussing but the repeated experience of getting into what should be an interesting conversation with someone and eventually realizing that the reason it was so frustrating was that he was half drunk and so not following the argument.

            I find it hard to see any good reason why I would choose to get drunk. And yet obviously some people, probably most people, at least sometimes do.

          • soreff says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I have a possibly odd question: Why do people get drunk at all?

            I’d like to hear an answer to that too.

            At one point there was a tentative medical consensus that one drink a day gave enough cardiovascular protective effects to be a net positive. I never did succeed in making that a habit, and eventually the consensus shifted again…

          • Brad says:

            @DavidFriedman

            It’s a social lubricant in the form of lower inhibitions. Particularly useful for people that are somewhat uptight and/or social phobic.

            It’s also helpful in terms of helping break out of negative thought spirals (at the cost of them coming roaring back while hung over).

            @John Schilling

            Not in e.g. California,

            Not in NY either. Rape is PIV only. However there is a separate set of crimes — “criminal sexual act” for “oral sexual conduct or anal sexual conduct” that have otherwise identical definitions and penalties.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DavidFriedman, @soreff

            I don’t know about everyone who drinks too much, but at least some of us fall into the category of people who experience a noticeable calming and mild euphoric effect from alcohol. I’m not one of the people who needs to drink to loosen up – being socially inhibited isn’t one of my problems – but a few drinks really makes me feel happy.

          • soreff says:

            @Brad, @dndnrsn
            Many Thanks!

            (re social lubricant – I keep imagining wd40-flavored vodka… 🙂 )

          • @dndnrsn:

            I’m not puzzled by why people take one drink. I’m puzzled by why they get drunk, which I think is more than what you are describing.

          • skef says:

            I have a possibly odd question: Why do people get drunk at all?

            In my experience — and I’ve had the discussion frequently over the years, partly because of my own lack of enthusiasm about alcohol — people who don’t have much experience with a wide spectrum of recreational drugs are terrible at answering this question. The reasons almost always amount to “lowered inhibitions” or “lower anxiety”, which other substances also accomplish even though people have very different responses to them.

            Part of the reason people get drunk is, of course, that alcohol is a central aspect of the culture. But the main reason seems to be that for most people (with some differences in percentage depending on genetic background) alcohol is a mild euphoric — “mild” enough that people tend to attribute the the pleasant feelings to their environment rather than the direct effect of the drug. (This appearance is amplified by the fact that for a subset of those people drinking alone isn’t all that pleasant, either because of the private thoughts it leads to that overwhelm the effect, or because of boredom related to decreased cognition.)

            People for whom the euphoric effect is stronger tend to have more of a problem controlling their intake, either in a chronic way (alcoholism), or the more common acute way (getting counter-productively drunk). For some people there is a “cliff” beyond which the experience becomes unpleasant, and a subset of those people get abusive or violent. Staying on the right side of that cliff is especially tricky given the increasingly impaired judgment that is the more consistent effect of the drug.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Some people get a nice buzz on after one drink; it varies from person to person – for me it’s usually in the 3-6 range. For many people the point of being nicely buzzed is also the point at which drinking more seems like a great idea. It’s like that thought experiment with the murder pill – at 0 drinks, I know that stopping at 3 is great. At 3 drinks, 6 sounds good. At 6 drinks…

            Of course, your body processes alcohol. So someone who paces themself, drinks water, doesn’t drink on an empty stomach, can put back more than x drinks over a night, but never reach the x+1 drunk state.

            Still not healthy but better than drinking a whole bunch of hard liquor at once and being wasted.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I enjoy the sensation I get from drinking–a mild euphoria and lowering of inhibitions–but don’t have any desire to get drunk.

          • Aapje says:

            People can also get drunk as a coping strategy, for example if they have high stress.

    • Well... says:

      Yay fun!

      When you say “suppose you are in a country” I take it to mean “suppose you were born and raised in a country or are comparably assimilated into one”.

      1. b) It is important that gay marriage is not legalised for symbolic reasons which are important links in a chain made of other kinds of reasons.

      2. I’m not sure I understand this question as worded. Do you mean if a man is forced [How?? Does this actually happen?] to penetrate someone else, rather than do it of his own accord, then he is not called a rapist? Isn’t it obvious he’s not a rapist in that situation? With what I understand of the question now, I’d answer b) It is important that the definition of rape not be changed to include the former crime for symbolic reasons and common sense reasons.

      • Montfort says:

        Question 2 is asking about the receiving partner (e.g. a woman who forced a man to penetrate her). It asks you to imagine this hypothetical women would not be charged with “rape” but “aggravated sexual assault” (or something), but face the same potential consequences if found guilty either way.

        As to whether this happens, it does, and it happens in the usual ways: blackmail, incapacitation, threats of violence, physical force (though perhaps in different ratios than people raped by being penetrated against their will).

        (My apologies for linking news articles describing studies instead of the studies themselves, but I think some other commenters here have much more comprehensive sources on the subject.)

        • Well... says:

          I’m still puzzled by the mechanics. Under those conditions, how could a man possibly become … and maintain … enough to … ? Well, whatever, I believe you that it happens, even if I can’t fathom how.

          Anyway, given that it happens and that that’s what the question was asking, then the juxtaposition of the two questions is somewhat more interesting. I suppose I would repeat my answer to question 1, verbatim:

          b) It is important that the definition of rape not be changed to include the former crime for symbolic reasons which are important links in a chain made of other kinds of reasons.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            For the one case I know of, I assume it was a matter of gauging the right amount of drunkenness.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Well…

            People can have very idiosyncratic responses to alcohol, and even for the same person, its effects can vary for all sorts of reasons. That’s my experience, at least.

            Some people get obviously hammered really, really quickly, but remember what happened, or most of it. Others seem mostly fine, but stopped forming new memories early on due to the sauce, and have been blackout drunk – but not noticeably so – for some time.

          • Well... says:

            Ohhh, so it’s not really analogous to the “guy rapes a girl at knifepoint in a dark alley” cliche. It’s more like the “girl picked up at the bar too drunk to resist” cliche.

          • fion says:

            Perhaps I’m just hornier than you (or less???), but I can easily imagine being in a situation where I have an erect penis but don’t wish to have sex with the person causing the erection.

            Perhaps a better way of putting it is that sexual arousal does not equal consent.

          • Well... says:

            I can easily imagine being in a situation where I have an erect penis but don’t wish to have sex with the person causing the erection.

            I can imagine that too, but once the unwanted intercourse gets closer to starting, and efforts on her part really get underway, I don’t see how I could maintain that …er, posture… if intercourse really wasn’t something I wanted any part of, at all.

            The most plausible scenario where this could happen is if I meet a really attractive woman who clearly, desperately wants to have sex with me. Suppose she corners me in a secluded area, and “puts the moves on me” hard, unzipping clothes and pressing parts of our bodies together in ways meant to achieve maximum arousal.

            A large part of me (pun…not intended) might want to succumb to temptation, but the fact that I am married (this encapsulates everything from plain intellectual awareness of my marital status to memories and thoughts of my wife, the emotional and social significance of my marriage, etc., even thoughts of my children) would cause me to resist — strongly enough so that penetration did not happen and afterward I could confidently say I resisted. (My wife and I have even talked about this hypothetical scenario!)

            But suppose this woman turns out to be unusually strong, or a skilled grappler or something (plus maybe I’m drunk in this scenario) and she overpowers me and manages to grab hold of this and slide it there and make what she wants to happen happen.

            If she is able to do that — and she would only be able to if she had managed to keep me physically aroused throughout the whole ordeal, and normally I am turned off by dominant female sexual behavior — then I would say what she did was still clearly seduction, not rape or anything close.

          • Well... says:

            A less plausible scenario but one that better fits the parameters in the OP might be one where a really unattractive woman has somehow managed to tie me down and get my pants off, then injected me with some chemical that produces an erection regardless of mental state. Then this woman proceeds to “force” me to penetrate her. (Or maybe a better way to put it is she proceeds to forcibly envelop me?)

            While I might find this physically uncomfortable and potentially emotionally traumatizing, I find it hard to imagine this would involve the kind of horror that male-on-female rape entails, even when the raped female is pretty drunk and is mostly just having trouble saying no. I would not want the two scenarios to be legally conflated.

            To make the case for female-on-male rape being equivalent, it seems like you have to start to lean on the idea that sex you later regret counts as being raped. This idea has never made sense to me, maybe because I still envision sex primarily within the context of a relationship, rather than as a recreational activity strangers may take part in.

          • gbdub says:

            Do we seriously have to have the “involuntary physical response does not equal voluntary consent to an activity” argument again?

            I’m baffled that anyone in possession of a functional penis could ever think this way, to be honest. You’ve never in your life had an “awkward boner”? If it gets stimulated physically, or hell even the right sound or smell or image, a penis might become erect. This emphatically does not correspond one to one with “times the owner wants to have sex”.

            And that completely ignores other types of non physical coercion, where you really don’t want to have the sex but do it for blackmail, or to temporarily stop verbal abuse, or whatever, where you’ll get the physical senstpations of sex and arousal but hate yourself for it all the time.

            And why do you think that sex is somehow so special and sacred for a woman that “forced to have sex” is uniquely traumatizing for them in a way that no man could feel? Sex can’t be special for men?

            This is just a gender flipped version of “well if it’s real rape you can’t get pregnant” and is equally offensive and ridiculous. Hell women often (usually?) have physical arousal responses to actual no-one-would-question-it forced rape. There is no mental superpower that guarantees you can suppress a hard on when you don’t consent to sex.

            Hell, if you put your finger down my throat I’ll vomit – does that mean I’ve consented to puking?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Seems to me that a scenario where a woman, over your verbal and physical resistance, sticks tab A into slot B, is pretty darned clearly “rape” unless you arbitrarily limit the definition to exclude it. That tab A is physiologically aroused doesn’t enter into it; rape is about overriding the will, not the lizard brain.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Well…, your imagination really isn’t adequate for the issue.

            For one thing, people aren’t equally traumatized by the same experiences. There’s some evidence that amount of previous trauma is a predictor for who gets PTSD, which means that someone who’s been at war and dealing with it might see one thing too many and get damaged by it.

            You may be bewildered at people whose experiences are very different from yours, but I don’t think you should be so sure that you’ve got a handle on the human range.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @Well…

            A less plausible scenario but one that better fits the parameters in the OP might be one where a really unattractive woman has somehow managed to tie me down and get my pants off, then injected me with some chemical that produces an erection regardless of mental state. Then this woman proceeds to “force” me to penetrate her. (Or maybe a better way to put it is she proceeds to forcibly envelop me?)

            While I might find this physically uncomfortable and potentially emotionally traumatizing, I find it hard to imagine this would involve the kind of horror that male-on-female rape entails, even when the raped female is pretty drunk and is mostly just having trouble saying no. I would not want the two scenarios to be legally conflated.

            Would you care to elaborate on this idea? The situation you describes sounds exactly like the one that would give someone long term mental and emotional issues. There is 1) Forced restraint 2) Unwanted sexual intercourse. I am having a hard time imagining how the fact that female-on-male instead of male-on-female makes it any less traumatizing for the victim.

            One thing that I don’t know how you would respond to is male-on-male rape. I think you could consider it rape if the victim was penetrated but does it suddenly not count as rape if the victim is enveloped?

          • Well... says:

            @gbdub:

            Obviously the “awkward boner” situation can happen, it’s the “maintaining it through the initialization if not completion of totally unwanted intercourse” part I’m having trouble taking seriously. That part requires some buy-in from the upstairs office, as it were. It doesn’t work like the gag reflex.

            Speaking of “haven’t you ever in your life”, haven’t you ever in your life suddenly been turned off or even just been thoroughly distracted during foreplay? If you don’t take corrective action when that happens it’s no more than 30 seconds to go from baseball bat to gym sock. And that’s just for turned off or distracted! Now imagine being traumatized or intimidated.

            You bring up a blackmail scenario in which I suppose a man might be able to close his eyes and think of an attractive woman so he can maintain an erection in order to have coerced sex with the unappealing woman blackmailing him. That still doesn’t seem like rape to me.

            And yes, if a woman being forcibly penetrated were to close her eyes and think of a desirable man as a way to get through the ordeal, she is still being raped! I don’t know if I’d say sex in general is more sacred and special for women, but I would say that intercourse is asymmetrical in nature, and that this means the trauma of unwanted intercourse is also asymmetrical.

            women often (usually?) have physical arousal responses to actual no-one-would-question-it forced rape

            What?! Once in a freakish while I’d believe, but often or usually?? Come on. What kind of responses? How often exactly? How do they know?

            There is no mental superpower that guarantees you can suppress a hard on when you don’t consent to sex.

            This is a non-sequitur. You shouldn’t have to suppress anything, it should go away on its own if you actually don’t consent.

            Do I just have a stronger mind-member connection than most guys??

            @The Nybbler:

            Define physical resistance then. Tab A doesn’t easily go into slot B (and partway out and back in and partway out and back in, etc.) unless tab A is reinforced and that reinforcement is maintained.

            @da both a yas:

            If the body can be entirely disconnected from the mind as you claim, then a man having sex with a woman could simply say “no” to her, continue to have sex, and then later say she raped him. It’s absurd.

            @veeloxtrox:

            Yes, I suppose you could say I think there’s something about being penetrated that is inherently different from doing the penetrating.

            @Nancy Lebovitz and beeloxtrox:

            I don’t think I’m equating trauma with rape exactly. A given man can be just as traumatized by a sexual incident as a given woman, but classifying the incident as rape depends on other things.

          • Protagoras says:

            Well.., if I’m hungry, mouth watering, stomach grumbling and readying itself, the whole nine yards, it is still quite possible for me to want to not eat, and under those circumstances it would still be possible for someone to force-feed me (and it would be wrong, as coercion in general is). Even apart from the fact that others have noted that one can have erections without even any particular craving for sex (perhaps that happens less to you than to others, but trust us, it happens to most men), one can also feel horny while wanting not to have sex, just as one can feel hungry while wanting not to eat.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @Well…

            I don’t think I’m equating trauma with rape exactly. A given man can be just as traumatized by a sexual incident as a given woman, but classifying the incident as rape depends on other things.

            Would you be willing to outline what other things are needed for you to consider a given sexual incident as rape?

            @everyone else

            There are a lot of us giving questions to Well… should some of us give (Well…’s preferred singular pronoun) more space?

          • skef says:

            There are a lot of us giving questions to Well… should some of us give (Well…’s preferred singular pronoun) more space?

            What about the folksy “aw shucks, that idea sounds awful silly to me!” tack Well… has taken to this subject indicates a need for “space” from your perspective?

          • veeloxtrox says:

            The motivation for that comment is that we want to encourage people to express there opinions here even if they are really really different than what we individually accepted or think is reasonable. There is a line that should not be crossed but I don’t think Well… is across that line and so in hopes of being able to have a productive discussion on this really odd topic it might be best for only 2 or 3 people to engage with Well… instead of 5+

          • Well... says:

            This is just a discussion, people.

            The hard part is responding to everyone. The fact that I’m so outnumbered is merely odd as I would expect at least one or two people to agree with my basic position, since my position is reflected in social norms around how we tend to think and talk about rape. (Fem-dom BDSM porn notwithstanding.)

            Anyway, y’all keep ignoring the fact that an erection has to be maintained to engage in intercourse. Pardon the crudeness, but I don’t care how hard you are, if you turn around and some ugly demonic bitch you have zero interest in is trying to grab at you and stuff you into her crotch you’ll go soft in no time flat.

            I acknowledge that erections can be conjured fairly easily without mental buy-in and even regularly happen on their own (who doesn’t just wake up with one?), but while it might be possible in some extremely rare circumstances for an erection to also be maintained during a truly unwanted sexual encounter without mental buy-in, I find it generally very unlikely.

            Protagoras, your food analogy doesn’t work. Either you have to resort to force-feeding, in which case see what I said to Veeloxtrox and others about penetration, or else you have to say that someone put a plate of sizzling fajitas under your nose and spread a napkin across your lap and stuck a knife and fork in your hand and THEN you just couldn’t resist and dug in, in which case they were food-seducing you, not force-feeding you.

            Also, I know there’s a difference between being horny and wanting to have sex, but in this kind of scenario where there is close physical intimacy throughout which a man must maintain an erection, I don’t see how that difference can remain meaningful.

            @skef:

            Your deliberate mischaracterization of my arguments is noted.

            @veeloxtrox:

            Would you be willing to outline what other things are needed for you to consider a given sexual incident as rape?

            I think I would say that in all but the most rare and unlikely of scenarios there must be penetration by the rapist into the rapee.

            Even then, I would not call it rape if a woman somehow stuck her finger into a guy’s dickeye. I’m also not sure I’d call it rape if a woman raped a man with a strap-on (because she might as well have used a broom handle or something), though that’s at least pretty darn close. But it would be rape for a man to take a knife and cut a hole in a woman’s stomach and penetrate her through that hole with his penis.

            (BTW this is pretty dark and violent, but the OP did flat out ask a question about rape.)

            [umpteenth edit to add:] I want to restate that if it’s true that a man’s body and mind can be as disconnected as people here are claiming, then a man merely has to say that any sexual encounter with a woman is unwanted for that woman to be considered a rapist. It’s ridiculous.

          • gbdub says:

            “The motivation for that comment is that we want to encourage people to express there opinions”

            The difficulty is that Well… is promulgating not just an opinion, but a falsehood (that men cannot maintain an erection during sexual assault). And a dangerous one, since “arousal = consent” has been used against both genders to discredit accusations of assault.

            Men can get and stay erect through all sorts of traumatic, unpleasant, or awkward situations, regardless of their “mind to member” connection (which can’t be that perfect, else Viagra wouldn’t exist and no one would ever lament “whiskey dick”). Apparently heightened emotional states (positive or negative) can also heighten physical responses such as erection.

            On the female side, researchers (Levin and van Berlo, Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, 2004, if someone can find a non-paywalled link I’d appreciate it) found that 5% of women report orgasm during rape, and 21% report other physical arousal (e.g. lubrication). They suspect the numbers are substantially underreported, since women also report shame and feeling “betrayed by their bodies” in those scenarios.

            As for Well…’s opinion – I’ll second veeloxtrox’s question: if you’ve already allowed for equally traumatic “sexual incidents”, what is left to distinguish rape? After all the mental trauma is really the distinguishing feature between rape and consensual sex (physical trauma is possible but not necessary).

          • Nornagest says:

            There is a fair amount of variation in, ah, physical responsiveness.

          • Randy M says:

            Congratulations on picking a user name that makes everyone responding to you sound ambivalent. =P

          • Well... says:

            I allowed for some uncommon exceptions. One of them might be that rare guy whose response to trauma is to become and remain erect.

            There’s a reason the phrase “that made my dick shrivel” is typically used after witnessing something horrifying.

            The quoted study about raped women helps to establish that people’s bodies can “betray” their desires, but doesn’t change the penetrative dynamics implied by male-on-female vs. female-on-male rape.

            @Randy M: Hah, yeah someone pointed that out a while ago. It’s an unintended but hilarious consequence of a username that was actually me poking fun at my own tendency to be ambivalent.

            @gdub:

            if you’ve already allowed for equally traumatic “sexual incidents”, what is left to distinguish rape?

            Well, penetration for one. It’s not rape if Louis CK masturbates in front of one of his assistants, even though that would be considered a traumatic sexual incident for her.

            After all the mental trauma is really the distinguishing feature between rape and consensual sex (physical trauma is possible but not necessary)

            I would say “unwanted penetration” is up there too. Maybe it should be “the trauma of unwanted penetration”.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @Well…

            Looking at your response, it seems that to be that you want to define rape strictly as the unwanted insertion of a man’s organ. If I understand your position than it is possible for a man to rape another man but only if the victim is penetrated but it is only sexual assault if the victim is enveloped. Do you agree?

            Part of the strong response you received is that how you presented your case made several of us think you were saying a male equivalent to the following very offensive statement “It’s not rape if she orgasmed”.

          • Well... says:

            @veeloxtrox:

            Yes, I agree that would be sexual assault.

            Part of the strong response you received is that how you presented your case made several of us think you were saying a male equivalent to the following very offensive statement “It’s not rape if she orgasmed”.

            You’re the first person to make that rebuttal. If someone else made it they did so unclearly and I missed it.

            In response I would say the difference is that if a man gets and maintains an erection enough to participate in sexual intercourse, it is a far stronger indicator of his at least partial consent to participating in that intercourse than is the fact that a woman lubricated or orgasmed. It is so much stronger an indicator, and the likelihoods of the two scenarios so different, that I would not want the law to treat the two scenarios as if they were interchangeable.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Anyway, y’all keep ignoring the fact that an erection has to be maintained to engage in intercourse. Pardon the crudeness, but I don’t care how hard you are, if you turn around and some ugly demonic bitch you have zero interest in is trying to grab at you and stuff you into her crotch you’ll go soft in no time flat.

            That wasn’t your story, though. Your story was a “really attractive woman”. A man can easily be physically aroused by a woman but not be willing to have sex with her.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @Well…

            I think everyone that was responding saw the connection but that you missed it. Please keep this connection in mind if you discuss your opinion elsewhere because you could possible deeply offend someone.

            Let me give you four scenario named A, B, C, and D.

            A) A female goes to a party, gets drunk falls asleep upstairs alone in a bedroom. When she wakes up the next morning she has no clothes and can clearly tell* a male violated her.

            B) A male goes to a party, gets drunk falls asleep upstairs alone in a bedroom. When he wakes up the next morning he has no clothes and can clearly tell a female violated him.

            C) same as B but male was penetrated by a male.

            D) same as B but male was enveloped by a male.

            *Say there is video evidence if you don’t think physical evidence would be enough.

            According to your definition, A and C would be rape but B and D would not be. I would say that we should use the same word for all four situations. Part of the reason I think it should be the same word is that society currently cares much less about situations like B and I think that hurts the victims of those situations. Because society is getting more serious about situation A I think if we use the same word for A and B it will help victims of B. Furthermore, I think the law should treat the A, B, C, and D the same. If they are treated the same by the law we should use the same term.

          • Aapje says:

            @Well

            Your insistence that the legitimacy of a man complaining about being forced to penetrate is based on the ability to maintain an erection during a traumatic experience is weird, since:
            – The legal definition of rape of women merely requires any amount of penetration against her will. If a man stops raping before he ejaculates, it is still rape. A single thrust is sufficient for it to legally be rape. Similarly, if a woman has sex with a man against his will and he loses his erection partway through, that is still ‘forced to penetrate.’
            – There is decent scientific evidence that erections are not merely psychogenic, but can also be reflexogenic (caused by stimuli, rather than arousal). Morning erections seem to typically be of the latter sort. Many men with spinal cord injuries seem able to get reflexogenic erections, but not psychogenic erections.
            – It seems pretty common for men and women to have conflicting feelings during sex without consent, which can cause psychogenic arousal. For a man specifically, there may be a strong encultured belief that he should always enjoy sex, causing mixed feelings. Many women seem to get aroused by submissiveness and quite a few get off on rape fantasies. The overall outcome of an actual (not fantasized) rape can nevertheless be very traumatizing. Arguing that any psychogenic arousal, including the subconscious kind, is consent, fundamentally ignores the issue that people can have a (partial) conflict between the conscious and the subconscious & that others should not have the right to violate our conscious choices because our subconscious conflicts with it.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            @Well…

            So…I hesitate a bit to talk about this (not because it’s traumatic, just lurid and feels attention seeking) but I have actually been in this kind of scenario. Without going into too many details: a woman I knew invited herself back to my house, then refused to leave unless I slept with her. And no, she wasn’t kidding. I spent an hour arguing with her that no, I didn’t want to do that, and stopping her from climbing on top of me. It became abundantly clear that my choices were sleep with her or call the cops, and the latter choice almost certainly ends with me in cuffs, not her. So I slept with her.

            Should this be “equivalent” legally to a more traditional story of rape? Hell if I know. I was not traumatized by the experience, though I certainly didn’t want any part of it and wish she had gone away. My biggest worry was an accidental pregnancy or STD, because, well, I don’t really trust the judgment of someone who does shit like that. But I am quite certain that what she did should be illegal, even if I know prosecuting her for it would be a lost cause, and that the fact that I was able to have sex with her was not a defense.

            This sort of thing really does happen. (The above is not my only story along this theme.)

          • Barely matters says:

            To save everyone the trouble of having to imagine scenarios in which this might be relevant, here is a front page askreddit thread with a bunch of guys telling their stories. Giving it a quick skim for examples might be helpful for getting everyone onto the same page as to what we’re all talking about.

          • Anyway, y’all keep ignoring the fact that an erection has to be maintained to engage in intercourse.

            It only has to be maintained for a few seconds to engage in penetration, which is all that is required to classify involuntary intercourse as rape.

            I don’t find implausible a situation where the man’s cooperation is coerced. Suppose the woman starts taking off her clothes and says “if you don’t have intercourse with me I’ll yell that you are raping me,” in a context where the accusation would have terrible effects for the man—ruin his career, say. At my present age I probably couldn’t perform under those circumstances, but at twenty I probably could have.

          • what is left to distinguish rape?

            In terms of our intuitions, the fact that women can get pregnant and man can’t. It’s less relevant in a modern society with reliable contraception and safe legal abortion, but that’s a recent development that a lot of our moral intuitions have not yet caught up with.

            The case of male on male homosexual rape doesn’t quite fit that, although its similarity to PIV rape helps explain our feelings. But it has another element making it seem particularly bad—the fact that for an ordinary heterosexual male, engaging in homosexual intercourse seems like a polluting activity he would never engage in with anyone.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @DavidFriedman

            In terms of our intuitions, the fact that women can get pregnant and man can’t. It’s less relevant in a modern society with reliable contraception and safe legal abortion, but that’s a recent development

            Indeed, in today’s society that difference plausibly makes rape of a man by a woman worse than the reverse, in that if a woman is raped and pregnancy results she at least has the option at her sole determination to end the pregnancy or put the child up for adoption whereas if a man is raped and pregnancy results he does not have those options. Rather, this man who has been raped by a woman is likely to have his wages garnished by the state to provide his rapist with the money to raise a child for the next 18 years. This happens; the law is clear on the subject (Kansas court case). When the man is severely underage it sometimes makes headlines – here’s a case in California and one in Phoenix – but if the man isn’t severely underage it’s not even newsworthy.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I don’t find implausible a situation where the man’s cooperation is coerced. Suppose the woman starts taking off her clothes and says “if you don’t have intercourse with me I’ll yell that you are raping me,” in a context where the accusation would have terrible effects for the man—ruin his career, say.

            In the links thread, the Aella twitter questions actually have this one:

            What is your gender? || Would you rather be raped or falsely (but convincingly) accused of rape?

            55% Male Raped
            27% Male Falsely accused
            7% Female Raped
            11% Female Falsely accused

            So 2 out of 3 men who took the poll believe that being falsely accused results in a worse outcome for them, while 2 out of 3 of women think that being raped is worse.

            Note that I’ve heard stories about women who went along with the rape, rather than fight back, out of fear that doing that could result in severe physical harm or death. Similarly, a man may decide that going along with it may cause far less severe social harm* than resisting.

            * Which is not necessarily better than physical harm or death, since people have committed suicide after experiencing severe social harm

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            In terms of our intuitions, the fact that women can get pregnant and man can’t. It’s less relevant in a modern society with reliable contraception and safe legal abortion, but that’s a recent development that a lot of our moral intuitions have not yet caught up with.

            That women can get pregnant doesn’t only impact female victims negatively, but also male victims, because a raped man can be held responsible for child support if the woman gets pregnant and keeps the child.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Glen Raphael, abortion isn’t always available.

            Barely Matters, thank you for the link. In addition to the obvious, I would really love to live in a culture that had a norm of not abusing drunk people.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            A lot of the abusers of drunk people are probably also drunk. Alcohol tends to greatly lower inhibitions.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            No doubt, but culture shapes behavior even when people are drunk.

          • Well... says:

            I guess you learn something new every day. Today (or in the last few days) I learned that it’s possible for a sexual act to occur that even I would agree counts as a woman raping a man, AND that these acts actually occur, and there are a whole bunch of guys who claim it has happened to them.

            To relate this back to the question in the OP, the lesson I take away is that rape has to be very carefully defined, in the law at least. It’s better if it’s carefully defined in the broader culture too, though that might not be possible.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Well…, thank you for changing your mind and saying so in public.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Barely Matters, thanks again for the reddit link, and this is something to explain why I get aggravated at men who describe rape accusations as a result of sex that women regret.

            That apparently happens, but so do traumatic experiences that resemble sex, and sometimes it takes people (and I mean both men and women) time to figure out they’ve been mistreated.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            It’s interesting that Well changed his mind based on this discussion, but the discussion moved me closer to Well’s original position. I read several of the experiences guys had on this thread and in the reddit. Yeah sure, objectively speaking these woman had sex with an unwilling man, so perhaps you could call it rape. But when I think of this happening to me, it is much closer to being a fantasy to me than a nightmare. Wow, a woman wants to have sex with me enough that she starts it up when I’m unconscious? I find this very hard to think of as a bad thing.

            Yeah, I’m not all guys, but it’s hard for me think of this as equivalent to forcefully penetrating a woman. It is true that this is because I am heterosexual, as I would be pretty disgusted if a guy did that to me. So I can imagine it being nasty for some people, but again, not like forcing oneself on a woman. This is my emotional self speaking, not the rational one, but emotion matters somewhat.

            One more thing. A question to the guys reading this: how would you compare a woman riding you when you’re asleep to some guy forcefully plugging you up the butt? To me the latter is equivalent to raping a woman. The former is at worst disgusting.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Mark V Anderson

            A fantasy is fun, but it could be leaving out a good bit of the real world, like STDs and child support.

            For all we know, that scenario might would out well for some men in the real world, it’s just clear that is unnerving or worse for some men.

            Also, that’s just one of the things in the reddit thread, though it might have been as much as half of the stories. There was a lot of overt coercion of various sorts.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Mark V Anderson:

            The former is at worst disgusting.

            Are you ignoring the financial aspect? Imagine that a woman you don’t know well and probably wouldn’t like has unilaterally chosen to risk getting pregnant by you. If she gets pregnant, you are on the hook for child support (plus interest and court costs) for the next 20 years. Somebody who doesn’t even respect your physical autonomy has committed you against your will to a risk of spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and a great many hours dealing with the legal system at substantial risk of going to jail and/or going bankrupt. Is that not…bothersome to you?

            Both scenarios you give are gross and involve disease risk. The male option seems worse in that regard due to the way HIV is transmitted so a larger immediate disgust reflex seems justified. But if raped by a guy, at least I wouldn’t be afraid of that guy accusing me of rape (and being believed by society) nor would I be afraid of that guy getting pregnant with my kid or, heck, getting pregnant with someone else’s kid and claiming it was mine (and being believed by society, and sticking me with the bill). So…I’d say they’re pretty evenly matched, overall.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Are you ignoring the financial aspect? Imagine that a woman you don’t know well and probably wouldn’t like has unilaterally chosen to risk getting pregnant by you. If she gets pregnant, you are on the hook for child support (plus interest and court costs) for the next 20 years. Somebody who doesn’t even respect your physical autonomy has committed you against your will to a risk of spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and a great many hours dealing with the legal system at substantial risk of going to jail and/or going bankrupt. Is that not…bothersome to you?

            Yes of course it is bothersome. The points you bring up are real legal issues. These issues are completely different from the issues that come up when a man forcefully penetrates a woman. Should we call both of these situations by the same word of rape when they are so different?

          • Aapje says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            But should the forceful penetration of a woman in the West then still still be called rape as well?

            After all, the consequences were different for women in the past than today. Abortion was way more risky & less available and the social mores often prohibited it. I think that raped women would often be forced to have the baby, but then give it up for adoption. In more traditional societies that exist now, you also see that raped women are often forced to not only keep the baby, but also marry their rapist.

            I think that it’s a bit weird to argue that ‘forced to penetrate’ of men is too different an experience to be called rape, yet not argue that we should use different terms for when modern Western women are violated vs Western women in the past or vs (rural?) Indian women right now.

            Frankly, my perception is that a refusal to use the term rape for ‘forced to penetrate’ is generally a way to have the valence of terms match the sympathy for the victims, but the level of sympathy with men is highly screwed up because of gender roles. So I think that this approach is wrong/sexist.

            I would argue that a more rational way to decide what terms to use is to first decide what minimally has to be the case to make the term applicable. Then you then apply it in a gender-neutral way.

          • @Aapje:

            Expanding on your point, and getting back to one I made some time back …

            I think our intuitions about rape are heavily influenced by past circumstances that no longer hold. One, as you mention, is that rape could lead to pregnancy with serious negative consequences in past societies. Another was that virginity was an important asset on the marriage market, so the knowledge that a woman had been raped, in many societies, seriously reduced her marital prospects, and marriage was very nearly the only reasonably attractive career option open to most women.

            Neither of those is true now. If we based our judgement of rape on modern circumstances, seriousness would scale down for the probability that a woman will be on the pill, for the availability of abortion, and for the negligible effect on her future marriageability. And the fact that DNA testing plus modern law puts a male victim of involuntary intercourse at risk of having to support a child he did not choose to father would scale up the seriousness of involuntary envelopment of men by women.

            That would make the two more similar than they were in the past.

            Perhaps things will eventually change in that way, but they have not as yet.

    • The Nybbler says:

      None of the above on both; I’ll argue with the premise. If you call them different things, they will be different things; if they’re truly the same at the moment, that situation is precarious.

    • quanta413 says:

      Don’t like any of (1). You left out the libertarian “The government has no business constraining allowed contracts of this sort between consenting adult parties.” Presumably, polyamorous marriages are banned by the government, and you also can’t make temporary marriage contracts or other nonconventional arrangements. I don’t think these things are a great idea in principle, but I also don’t think legally banning them is a great idea. If I had to pick one, I guess (c), but I still think it’s wrong. The closest to what I want without legalizing temporary marriage contracts and polyamorous arrangements would probably be more like “end real marriage as being recognized by the government too”. Everyone legally gets something called “civil partnerships” and nothing else.

      For (2) I’m not sure. I can see arguments for any of them or arguments for the current unofficial status quo where women are probably less likely to be punished than men and punished less severely.

      • Deiseach says:

        You left out the libertarian “The government has no business constraining allowed contracts of this sort between consenting adult parties.”

        The minute you start putting in “allowed”, “consenting” and “adult, you’ve already introduced constraints on “contracts of this sort”, at which point it doesn’t make very much difference if it’s The Government Passed A Law Statute Law or Judge Jones Ruled From The Bench Common Law you’re leaning on as “law governs contracts”.

        • quanta413 says:

          Allowed was poor phrasing. I mean that if people are adult and consent to some contract, there should be a strong presumption in favor of letting them do so. You can’t have a valid contract between people without consent. And children aren’t independent enough to form contracts.

          This holds for almost every type of contract. There’s no need for additional rules for this specific contract like “Can only be between one man and one woman”.

          The government has no control (or shouldn’t) over things like religion and sacrament so everyone is free to have their own thing. The government only need worry about how the contract affects legal issues.

          • Deiseach says:

            You can’t have a valid contract between people without consent.

            Sure. And then you have all the people who were “we don’t need a piece of paper to make our love official” falling out of love and splitting up and going to court to sort out who gets what.

            And then you have one state saying “sure you’re entitled to palimony” and another saying “it’s not our business if you were living in sin”,and then there are calls for the government to do something about it, which generally means ‘pass a law’.

            Because they may be consenting adults, but few of them ever sit down and draw up a proper contract about “Okay, Snookums, if we ever break up, I get 50% of the joint bank account and the car, you get the house and the goldfish”, but when they do break up and can’t agree, they then go running to court to sort things out for them.

            And as we saw before the same-sex marriage decision, one state might recognise “this is a marriage”, another might not, and few thought this was satisfactory so they did want government to get involved and make decisions.

          • quanta413 says:

            Well, I agree common law marriage is a terrible idea that we shouldn’t encourage and that probably shouldn’t have ever seen the light of day. If people find written contracts to be unromantic, the problem is on their end. We tend to require witnesses/registration/etc. for any significant contract for good reason.

            I’m not sure what this has to do with my point exactly.

            I mean I see a sort of historical path dependence here, but I don’t think it’s a particularly sticky one.

    • My answer to your question 1 is both a and b. Legalizing gay marriage in your situation is a purely symbolic act, and it is a symbolic act that is bad from the standpoint of some people, good from the standpoint of others.

      I had a blog post on that subject some years back. My conclusion was that the government should not impose its choice of symbolism in either direction, that same sex couples should be free to call their unions marriage and people who did not believe in same sex marriage should be free not to treat such unions as marriages.

      • gbdub says:

        ” free to call their unions marriage” vs. “free not to treat such unions as marriages.”

        Perhaps this was unintentional, but if not, why do you make the distinction? Given that gays are a small minority, “treatment” from the majority is going to have a disproportionally large impact compared to labels from their fellow minority members.

        And that’s the crux isn’t it? The label ought to be meaningless, but the fact that there is any desire to keep the labels distinct indicates that theoretical legal equivalence is not likely to create practical equal treatment.

        • I don’t believe people have a right to equal treatment. To my moral intuition, it’s freedom of association, the rule that we interact only if we are both willing, that’s the primary, and nondiscrimination rules, which come down to “A must interact with B (hire B, be hired by B, buy from B, sell to B) unless his reason for not doing so is one the state approves of” are a severe violation of individual rights.

          Getting back to this particular case, I don’t assume that gays are the only people who will recognize same sex marriages, just that there will be some people who don’t.

          To me, the case is analogous to a situation where some people believe in a religion that doesn’t permit divorce and remarriage. From their standpoint, if a man has divorced his first wife and married again, the second couple are living in sin. Whether that couple are married isn’t a fact of reality to which everyone must be forced to conform, it’s a judgement that each person interacting with them gets to make for himself.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve been told that the AIDS epidemic was what made gay marriage into a big issue, because hospital visitation is sometimes dependent on marriage.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’ve been told that the AIDS epidemic was what made gay marriage into a big issue, because hospital visitation is sometimes dependent on marriage.

            Then it seems it would be easier to change the hospital rules, because even with same-sex marriage, this means that couples (same-gender and other-gender) who are not married but are cohabiting, engaged, dating or the like would still be refused visiting rights.

            If the distinction was applied unfairly – “we only permit spouses to visit” “but she is not his spouse and you let that couple visit” – then it makes sense to demand same-sex marriage. But I think the problem in the days of the height of the AIDS epidemic was family members not wanting a gay son’s boyfriend to visit, and using “he’s not family” on the hospital to keep him out. In that case, not being a spouse meant no right to visit and not being able to over-ride the wishes of the blood family.

          • skef says:

            If the distinction was applied unfairly – “we only permit spouses to visit” “but she is not his spouse and you let that couple visit” – then it makes sense to demand same-sex marriage. But I think the problem in the days of the height of the AIDS epidemic was family members not wanting a gay son’s boyfriend to visit, and using “he’s not family” on the hospital to keep him out. In that case, not being a spouse meant no right to visit and not being able to over-ride the wishes of the blood family.

            I don’t understand your use of “But” in this paragraph. Spouses couldn’t be kept out of hospital rooms by close relatives, and other partners could be. Gay couples couldn’t be spouses, no matter what their actual relationship status.

            Unless you’re just stipulating that no one kept from seeing their partner at that time was more than “just a boyfriend”, in which case you don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s plenty of documented history on this stuff.

            (This is in addition to the many more “boyfriends” kept from rooms that “girlfriends” would not have been, by parents disgusted by or in denial about their son’s homosexuality — a great source of suffering that gay marriage itself doesn’t address.)

          • keranih says:

            The AIDS epidemic also likely made it possible for gay marriage to be a popularly acceptable option for homosexual men, as it disproportionately selected against those most promiscuous and unlikely to support traditional monogamous marriage. With those voices silent, it became easier for the minority in favor of more traditional lifestyles to get traction.

            And again – it wasn’t “the evil hospitals barring close friends and loved ones from the death bed, so the poor stricken man was left to die alone” so much as it was “the blood relatives who traveled cross-country to be at the side of the dying loved one wanted to shut out representatives of the culture that had pulled their loved one from them years before and who had arguably been responsible for infecting their loved one with the disease that was killing him.”

            It wasn’t charitable, I don’t think, for the grieving families to do so, but it was understandable. I also completely understand hospitals wanting *some* rule to shut down the screaming fights about who was to blame for what.

            (Also this was before health insurance as as much a thing as it is now, and a non-trivial number of the gay partners were not wealthy enough to pay the huge hospital bills that come from dying slowly in America, so the long-abandoned relatives were also footing the bill, which made the decision easier for the hospital on who to support.)

            It was not just one thing.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Deiseach

            The problem is that changing the hospital rules (and having them followed) is hard when homosexual relationships are considered to be bad.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @ Nancy and @Deiseach, one other problem is that even if activists are successful in changing rules for a lot of hospitals, there’re almost certainly going to be others who keep the old rules, people worrying about “what if the ambulance takes me to an Old Rule Hospital?”, and photogenic stories of people who do end up in one of them and have their partners denied entry.

            Wanting a consistent rule is totally understandable.

          • Deiseach says:

            The problem is that changing the hospital rules (and having them followed) is hard when homosexual relationships are considered to be bad.

            Nancy, it’s also hard to introduce gay marriage when homosexual relationships are considered to be bad. Getting hospitals to change rules so that “all partners, gay or straight, are treated as family for the purpose of visitation without needing to be married” seems like a smaller obstacle to overcome than changing the entire definition of marriage.

            I get the point about where gay boyfriends had to pretend to be “just a friend” and that meant they weren’t permitted the same rights as family, whereas if they had been able to say “I’m his spouse” that would have been different, but again – if someone isn’t a spouse, even if they’re living together, then unless the attitude changes that “significant others, married or not, are considered family”, this won’t help “my partner but not spouse” cases.

            I don’t understand your use of “But” in this paragraph. Spouses couldn’t be kept out of hospital rooms by close relatives, and other partners could be. Gay couples couldn’t be spouses, no matter what their actual relationship status.

            skef, that was the entire point of the “but”. Gay or straight partners not spouses could be kept out if the family objected. If the hospital winked at allowing straight partners but rigorously enforced the rules about gay partners, then you can claim this is unfair discrimination. If the hospital enforces the rules for everyone, you can’t. And if it’s not the hospital but the family members who are barring the partners, that is a different matter again – and no, I am not “just stipulating that no one kept from seeing their partner at that time was more than “just a boyfriend”, and I don’t appreciate the condescension there. The entire point is that partners had to pretend to be “just a concerned friend” in cases where they or their partner wasn’t openly out, or where the attitude was condemnatory, or where the families didn’t know that their son was gay and living with another man. That means that a campaign to change societal attitudes is necessary, but it does not mean that it’s easier to get gay marriage so you can have visitation rights before you have done a lot of work on having non-spousal partners of all orientations accepted.

            You may well argue that “they hate our guts but they can’t throw me out because we’re married” is a good reason to change the law to permit same sex marriage even when attitudes are still condemnatory, but even you admit “a great source of suffering that gay marriage itself doesn’t address” can still exist then.

            Would you prefer (a) gay marriage and the attitude of condemnation in society or (b) civil partnerships and tolerance/acceptance? If (a), then the push for gay marriage is about more than “give us equal rights to the straight couples who don’t have to be married to visit each other in hospital”.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Deiseach, it’s complicated because changing the rules about marriage and an effort to get respect and consideration are entangled.

            Married people get some social perks, and it’s because they’re considered to be especially normal members of society.

          • skef says:

            Deiseach –

            People are responding to you as they are in this thread because it isn’t clear what point you’re trying to make.
            This conversation started out as a debate over the symbolic relevance of marriage, and whether, as the OP stipulated, it can really be separated from more practical considerations*. Nancy’s point about hospital visitation factored in by complicating David Friedman’s “live and let live” libertarian stance. People in hospitals are often incapacitated in various ways, so they are a context in which social conventions weigh more heavily.

            You responded with an apparent non-sequitur about what would be “easier”, and in responding to it people have different theories as to why you brought it up. My own goes something like this: You would prefer that there not be gay marriage (and possibly that there not be civil unions either), and think it would be much easier that hospital rules and the like be individually adjusted instead. You also think that many or perhaps most people agree with you.

            Let’s grant the latter point for the sake of argument. Two questions remain: 1) Do you, and those people with similar outlooks, actually want hospital rules and the like to be adjusted that way? And 2) If so, would you have wanted that to happen if the changes that have lead to the legalization of gay marriage had not already happened?

            These questions are relevant because the situation you would prefer now wasn’t necessarily one that was on offer. (This is, I believe, a more long-winded way of putting Nancy’s point.)

            I don’t appreciate the condescension there

            Heal thyself.

            * Accordingly, my own view on the original question is that it is under-specified. I can imagine scenarios in which I would answer a and those in which I would answer c. If the different terminology was not specifically established for symbolic reasons, and just an accident of history, I don’t see why there would be a need to change it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Deiseach, it’s complicated because changing the rules about marriage and an effort to get respect and consideration are entangled.

            For the specified purpose of ensuring hospital visitations, I’m not sure how “effort to get respect and consideration” is entangled. If there’s a law that says hospitals get sued and lose if they don’t allow the person with the signed Medical Power of Attorney to make the visitation decisions, then hospitals don’t need to respect gay couples to get the desired outcome, they just need to respect or fear lawyers. And I think we locked in that one a long time ago.

            In lots of other contexts, yes, there’s real benefit to the sort of respect and consideration traditionally attached to marriage. But “we want a law that says you have to respect us or we can sue you” seems a bit off, and what you get may not be actual respect no matter how nicely decorated the cake is, so that’s not the argument that was usually put forward.

            And when pinned down to “It’s about the hospital visitation rights”, then yes, they absolutely could have got that(*) in a less controversial and less disruptive way.

            * Except in cases where the head nurse rolls her eyes and says fine, the patient is now officially too sick to have any visitors, but that can still happen under the present regime.

          • Deiseach says:

            You responded with an apparent non-sequitur about what would be “easier”, and in responding to it people have different theories as to why you brought it up.

            How is it a non sequitur? The example that is often brought up is “hospital visitation rights” , as in, “only spouses and family were permitted to visit”. This is part of the consideration “is civil partnership as good as marriage?” when considering what rights the civil partners have as compared with spouses.

            Which is easier to do:

            (1) Change the rules in a hospital so that “significant others/cohabiting partners” are accepted on the same level as “spouses” (which, by the bye, most of society has now moved on to do: you can put down a partner to whom you are not married on your health insurance, for instance).

            (2) Change the law about marriage so that same-sex spouses are now possible, but this would still leave non-marital partners of whatever orientation not permitted visitation rights. John can visit Roger because they’re husbands, Jane can’t visit Phil because they’re living in sin. In practice, hospitals and other bodies have accepted that Jane can visit Phil, and will have had to accept that John can visit Roger whether they’re spouses or not, but I will concede that if there is Legal Piece of Paper giving a particular status to John and Roger that makes it easier to say “You have to permit this or else you’ll hear from my lawyer”.

            (1) sounds to me simpler, because it’s acknowledging a social phenomenon: people don’t wait until marriage anymore to have sexual/romantic partners, and this applies to straight couples as well as gay couples. So it’s an alteration of existing rules in line with changing social mores.

            (2) has a lot more upheaval, and we’ve seen this in the cases brought to court and things like DOMA and suing bakeries/florists and the necessity for wholesale changes in national law.

            A civil partnership that says “for the purpose of hospital visitation/inheritance/whatever, a civil partner is on the same terms of consideration as a spouse or family member” is as good, in practice, as marriage.

            Now, if your civil partnership law does not give those rights, sure, I can see the push for same-sex marriage. But the question was not “same-sex marriage or nothing, we stay stuck in the Bad Old Days”, it was “civil partnership versus marriage for same-sex couples”.

            If “people can have various theories” as to why I brought it up, I reserve the right to have various theories about why people are so eager to jump around speculating about homophobia.

          • skef says:

            It’s a non sequitur in that Nancy brought up the subject as part of a multi-level conversation and you seem to be responding to just the very top and bottom levels in a way that doesn’t really track that conversation.

            Now, if your civil partnership law does not give those rights, sure, I can see the push for same-sex marriage. But the question was not “same-sex marriage or nothing, we stay stuck in the Bad Old Days”, it was “civil partnership versus marriage for same-sex couples”.

            Except that David Friedman’s point makes it clear that it isn’t this simple. Indeed, there may be no useful line between symbolic and not.

            Say you pass a civil partnership law that grants all of the legal rights to civil partners previously granted to spouses. Does that cover the hospital case? Are there actually government-established visitation rights, or just conventions that have been at best partially backed up in a common law framework? If the latter, does adding civil partnerships really change that common law, seeing as how in the past the relevant aspects have been established in terms of marriage? Why, if the government then moves to codify what was only partly formal in order to extend the policies to same-sex couples, isn’t it “trying to legislate personal attitudes”?

            There wasn’t going to be even rough equality on the ground absent telling a bunch of people to do stuff they didn’t want to.

            I don’t have any strong opinions about your degree of “homophobia”. I do suspect you may be the very common sort of person for whom any “upheaval” to help a group you don’t much care about would be, in practice, too much to bother with.

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, we’re arguing two different things here:

            (1) Civil partnerships versus marriage – legal practicalities
            (2) Symbolism in the service of social change

            I’m trying to tease out the implications of (1) – there were civil partnerships in Ireland and the UK before same-sex marriage, for example, so if there are a set of legal rights that spouses possess, and that unmarried but cohabiting partners want access to, does civil partnership permit this? If so, what is the greater advantage of marriage?

            You’re arguing (2), which is all about “We need this in order to get full recognition as human beings, it’s not about the legal nitty-gritty that a civil partnership would give me the same rights, I want marriage because of the entire weight of tradition behind it as an institution which means it’s a fast short-cut to forcing equality in action and not just principle!”

            So naturally we’re both getting annoyed with the other. I’m not interested in the power of symbolism, that’s a different question. I’m not saying “people who want to get married should be forced into civil partnerships instead”, I’m saying that it’s possible for an intermediate status to give many of the same legal rights that the persons in question claim are denied them.

            You want to argue the symbolism is the important part that no legal part-fix can address and that this is the vital part of getting marriage. I see your point but that’s not what I’m addressing.

            And please stop ascribing motives to me based on some model of “typical straight selfishness” that you have worked out for yourself; you have no idea what my opinions are (other than those I have stated on here before) and why I might think taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut is excessive.

          • skef says:

            You want to argue the symbolism is the important part that no legal part-fix can address and that this is the vital part of getting marriage. I see your point but that’s not what I’m addressing.

            No, that is not at all my point.

          • Deiseach says:

            skef, I think we’re not going to understand one another. I mentioned hospital visitation in reply to Nancy Lebovitz raising that, and really what I’m getting at is “certain things were held up as examples of unequal treatment/lacking rights, was there an intermediate or faster way of getting those things?”

            If you get hospital visitation rights by means of civil partnerships, but still agitate for same-sex marriage because civil partnership is not equal enough (which many in the UK argued), then the examples being used (“I can’t visit my boyfriend/partner in hospital and a straight couple can”) are not the primary issues, they’re wedge issues. The basic issue under all this is “we want homosexuality to be recognised by society as normal”.

            In which case, pushing for things like marriage is the way to go because you need to make huge changes in society and force things as normal practice. You may not convince opponents, but if they are constrained by law to treat you as the same as everyone else, you have successfully imposed your values and worked towards making the opposing views vulnerable to time, fashion, and what is considered everyday behaviour. You need to force uniformity since an intermediate solution still permits a two-tier set-up and permits opposing views to survive.

            My argument was along the lines of imagine a company or business or organisation, where on one floor there is a bathroom which is for the use of the Head of Department/CEO/whatever layer of management you like only. Nobody else can use it, they have to use the staff bathrooms on another floor.

            Now, suppose those bathrooms are out of order, or otherwise unavailable. The staff want to be able to use the bathroom on the floor where their department is. There are two ways of addressing this:

            (1) Okay, we change the rules: now everyone in this department can use the bathroom, not just the boss

            (2) We make everyone in this department the equivalent of the boss; everyone gets promoted to Head of Department/CEO, they get the salary, perks, and so forth of that position

            Now, which of these hypothetical solutions do you think is easier, simpler, more intuitive, and more likely? Do you think a business would be more inclined to change the rules about who can use the boss’ bathroom than to make seventeen people all Head of Department?

            And if solution (1) is offered but people continue arguing for solution (2) to be implemented, you have to think that there is more going on than merely “we need to use this bathroom”, even though that is the ostensible reason being given.

            Do you get what I’m saying? You don’t have to assume some kind of “Huh, you simply don’t want to give people promotions!” or “You are pro-hierarchical bathrooms!” on the part of someone who thinks solution (1) is satisfactory, or that they are being unreasonable to think that people looking for solution (2) are asking for a great deal more change than merely using a bathroom.

          • skef says:

            and really what I’m getting at is “certain things were held up as examples of unequal treatment/lacking rights, was there an intermediate or faster way of getting those things?”

            The original question was about which of three scenarios would be preferable to respondents.

            With respect to this question — I would say that one fairly consistent observation about the fight for civil equality for gay and lesbian people is how quickly it’s all happened.

            Your suggestion seems to be that an equivalent civil point could have been reached faster and easier absent the rhetorical work done by the assertion of equality. Instead of a unified push, there could have been many independent requests for equal treatment in specific domains (such as hospital visitation), argued for on their own individual merits.

            On that point I would say that you are entirely wrong, for reasons are obvious once examined. One of those is the fact the supposedly harder thing has largely happened anyway, and isn’t obviously in any more risk of reversal than a pile of individual accommodations would have been — less so, I would think. So if it was indeed harder it wasn’t much.

            Here is a somewhat different point that would make more sense: If things had gone the ad-hoc route, many people would be less pissed off about civil equality now. Is this perhaps the actual point that you wish to make? Your almost absurdly question-begging analogy sure makes it sound that way, with its uppity gay clerks all up straight-people’s executive business. It’s almost as if you’re one of those pissed-off people …

          • John Schilling says:

            Instead of a unified push, there could have been many independent requests for equal treatment in specific domains (such as hospital visitation), argued for on their own individual merits.

            I’m rather skeptical about those “many independent requests”. Whenever the issue has come up, it has pretty much always been the same single request or demand: hospital visitation rights. And when I see this coupled with the claim that there are many other issues of which this is just one example, I usually ask what some of the other examples are. And while I can imagine some reasonable answers, the one I almost always get is “but hospital visitation rights are really important!

            But then, if you’re trying to drive a wedge into a resilient edifice, you probably want to put all your strength behind the one wedge rather than divide it among many.

          • skef says:

            I’m rather skeptical about those “many independent requests”. Whenever the issue has come up, it has pretty much always been the same single request or demand: hospital visitation rights.

            I mean, right off the bat we could talk about employee spouse benefits. Then there are all the parent issues, including both adoption and custody and visitation rights in the case of divorces. Then there are accomodations (e.g. being able to book hotel rooms, including single-bed rooms, booking a restaurant table on valentines day).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There’s also inheritance.

            More generally, I’ve heard that in the US, getting *some* of what marriage gets you if you have a civil union takes a lot of time, money, and lawyers.

            I don’t know whether there are any countries where civil unions are legally equivalent to marriage in that country, and it still isn’t going to cover things like making reservations on Valentine’s Day.

            I realize Deiseach’s hypothetical was that civil unions were equivalent to marriage, but in the real world, it wasn’t the case.

          • John Schilling says:

            Adoption is one of the good ones I am surprised didn’t get a lot more play at the time. But hotel rooms and Valentine’s-day dinner reservations? I think you’re at least a generation late to be making either of those into a marital-status issue. Has anyone here recently experienced a hotel refusing them a room because of their unmarried partner, of either gender? For that matter, how does a hotel clerk even distinguish between an unmarried gay couple and two straight roommates?

            Inheritance is pretty much always settled by whatever you actually wrote in your will, which there’s very little excuse for not filling out when (or before, or as an alternative to) getting married.

          • skef says:

            Has anyone here recently experienced a hotel refusing them a room because of their unmarried partner, of either gender? For that matter, how does a hotel clerk even distinguish between an unmarried gay couple and two straight roommates?

            a) The current situation is largely irrelevant to these questions.

            b) In thinking about the question the way you are you set aside the symbolic relevance of equality. It can be simultaneously true that straight unmarried couples are casually granted rooms and gay couples are denied rooms. Gay marriages mean that an establishment denying a single-bed room to any gay couple is sometimes or potentially denying a single bed room to a married couple. And the significance of that act also puts backward pressure on any distinction between unmarried straight and gay couples.

          • skef says:

            Here’s another example to give more of an idea of the spectrum of issues:

            In the past in New York (and possibly at present — I don’t know) when a married couple lived in a rental with only one spouse on the lease, and that spouse died, the other spouse could continue on the lease (subject to all the other various lease-continuity regulations). This wasn’t true for unmarried cohabitators. So when someone in a long-term gay relationship lost their partner without being aware of this, he could also lose his living space on short notice (at a time when the rest of his resources might be tied up in probate).

          • BBA says:

            The big issue that nobody has mentioned so far is taxation – probably the second most important issue behind being recognized as equals, dammit, but never really mentioned in public debate for obvious reasons.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            In The Netherlands, a civil union is almost the same as marriage, except for:

            – If there are no children and the partners agree, ending the civil union can be done without the courts being involved.
            – Marriage requires a little ceremony where the partners say ‘yes, I do.’
            – Married people can do a sort of divorce-light, which in Dutch is literally called: ‘separation from table and bed,’ where some legal rights and obligations remain and others do not.

            And the biggest one (that my country cannot control):
            – Other countries may not recognize a civil union, so traveling/migrating can be a problem.

            Note that since 2014, people in a civil union automatically gain legal parenthood when a child is born to one of the parents. Before that time, parenthood had to either be claimed in a separate procedure or it required an adoption procedure.

            Anyway, I would argue that Dutch civil unions are practically the same as marriage (aside from international recognition), where the differences are now more personal preference than that a civil union is lesser. Of course, gay and lesbians (and heteros) can choose either anyway.

          • Randy M says:

            The big issue that nobody has mentioned so far is taxation – probably the second most important issue behind being recognized as equals, dammit, but never really mentioned in public debate for obvious reasons.

            The obvious reason being that it is unequal in an obvious way?

          • Deiseach says:

            uppity gay clerks all up straight-people’s executive business

            What? I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about there.

            And really – one of your examples of horrible societal persecution causing suffering to gay and lesbian couples is about “booking a restaurant table on valentines day”? Really? This smacks of First World Problems, to say the least!

            This line of conversation is definitely not fruitful, so I think we’d better leave it there. You seem to have formed an opinion about my motivations, and I’m beginning to form one about yours, and this can only degenerate into something nasty.

          • skef says:

            You have absolutely no idea? That comment just comes entirely out of nowhere? No connection between it and what you wrote is fathomable?

    • fion says:

      1.a
      2.a

      However, my most preferred option to 1 would be to completely remove the legal element from “marriage”. Make “civil partnership” the whole ball game in the eyes of the law, and make it available to different-sex couples too. Various private institutions such as churches can perform things called “marriages” if they want, which have some sentimental meaning and an excuse for a party. Those institutions can deny marriage to same-sex couples if they want. This achieves: (1) Churches can continue to honour God’s definition of marriage and continue to deny it to gay people, (2) Same-sex couples have the same rights under the law and (3) There’s no reason why religious marriage should have anything to do with civil marriage anyway.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I want an intermediate option between a and c in both cases: it would be better if the terminology were changed, but it’s not important and I wouldn’t require much to trade off against it in deciding who to vote for.

    • Iain says:

      Weak A in both cases, but only on the grounds that symbolic differences usually result in practical differences. If you could somehow stipulate that both sides are treated equally and the only difference is the wording, then I would not care. I just don’t think that’s a realistic situation. Words affect how people act.

    • christianschwalbach says:

      1. C) Since I do not ID as Gay, I have no real skin in the game nor do I desire to restrict Gay people’s right to have legally binding relationships. I leave the desire to legalize full marriage status up to people who Identify as Gay. Whatever the consensus within that community becomes, I am ok with.

      2. A) I think that the definition of Rape is important to define with enough breadth that it covers all cases of non-consensual sexual intercourse or action, for that matter. Male on male, female on female, male on female, should all be treated as equivalent in the seriousness of the implications of Rape as a violation of one’s physical and mental personhood. That being said, I do think there should be degrees of rape, to allow for differing levels of potential trauma in the victim. For example, the emotional damage of non penetrative rape vs penetrative rape can be of equal severity, but the physical trauma can differ greatly. I dont think the cases can be equivalent in their entirety

    • veeloxtrox says:

      Going purely off of what I would want the ideal world to be

      1) b
      2) a

    • Randy M says:

      Forced intercourse is different enough depending on the sex of the victim–if nothing else, in potential consequences–that I think it’s reasonable to have different names for each, so long as each carries a negative connotation. Of course, in that world we have interminable and pointless debates over which is worse that are basically isomorphic to our current debates over what qualifies that it’s about the same.
      As for marriage, due to those same consequences of sex, the two institutions are fundamentally distinct and grouping them under the same term is basically lying.

      • skef says:

        Forced intercourse is different enough depending on the sex of the victim–if nothing else, in potential consequences–that I think it’s reasonable to have different names for each, so long as each carries a negative connotation.

        That isn’t the distinction being made in this case, however, unless (for example) the forced anal penetration of a man would also not be identified as “rape”.

    • Aapje says:

      @rlms

      1c more or less. I would favor gay marriage being legalized, but wouldn’t consider it important since I don’t see the lack of gay marriage causing serious harm, if there is no legal difference.

      2a, although not for symbolic reasons, but because I believe that the legal definition has impact on the quality of scientific on this matter, to reduce the number of women who will sexually abuse men without recognizing what they are doing or the potential impact, to increase the understanding by men themselves that they can be victims of sexual crimes and to improve services for men. If all of these would also not differ in your hypothetical, then I would answer c.

      A sentencing disparity is merely one aspect of the issue and probably far from the most important, especially since men seem to generally avoid filing a complaint in the first place, the police seems to often resist taking a complaint seriously and the prosecutor refuses to prosecute. So then if the law merely proscribes the same sentencing guidelines, that is not sufficient for equality, even just in the legal system.

    • AG says:

      Whether or not the symbolic reasons matter depends on the consequentialist reality of how the people who fall under the “alternative” definition are treated. If the people who can only have civil partnerships have lesser outcomes than people with marriage, then it seems like we’ve got a segregation example where “separate but equal” isn’t actually so. Similarly, if men being made to penetrate are not treated with the same amount of respect as raped women, then the symbolic reasons for consolidating the terminology are important.

      I guess for an example of where I think there isn’t a real distinction so I’m not bothered by different terms is King and Queen. Because the Queen of England doesn’t have any real difference in powers from the King, there’s no need to re-classify Elizabeth as a King.
      In a fantasy story where a peasant had been managing a fief for an absentee noble for years and years, and the right thing to do was to ennoble said peasant. (As the full other alternative would be replace the power structure of that fantasy nation with one where everyone was a peasant, no nobles)

  9. Atlas says:

    So…anyone have any thoughts they’d care to share on KleinHarrisghazigate?

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      I hadn’t been aware of that controversy, but I just skimmed over the email exchange on Harris’s site. Thoughts… well… IMO, Harris is, for all intents and purposes, a saint when it comes to intellectual honesty, general benevolence and civil discourse. So when people attack him (not just disagreement, but the sort of slander he gets from the usual suspects), you can bet good money that they either a) don’t understand his position, or b) are disingenuous, or c) are under the influence of some ideology, or some combination thereof. In the Klein case, it’s probably mostly b) with some c) to provide the motivation.

      • ManyCookies says:

        I would not call Harris’ behavior in the emails benevolent and civil (nor his decision to release private emails). And I don’t know how representative the Sam Harris subreddit is of his base, but even they thought he came across poorly in those emails.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          I read the e mail exchange via Harris’ website, and I do find Sam to be the slightly more antagonistic of the two, though both him and Ezra were behaving mildly compared to most online “debates”. That being said, the Vox articles on the topic were decidely more partisan and sensationlist, unfortunately. I think both of these gentlemen can share fault for inflating this issue

    • Iain says:

      I don’t follow Sam Harris closely, but I found this discussion on r/samharris interesting. Quite a few people who generally respect him think that he’s got the wrong end of this stick.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Well that was interesting. I read the original Vox piece, the email exchange, and the follow-up Vox piece. I have never read, watched to listened to Sam Harris before and know of him only through reputation.

        The original Vox piece contained reasonable arguments (although I don’t quite think they prove what they think they prove) but was bookended by cheap shots and unnecessarily inflammatory or weaselly language (calling Murray’s ideas “pseudoscience,” saying Harris was “duped,” describing the event at Middlebury where a faculty member got a concussion and students beat their car with a road sign as “a scuffle”, etc). I can certainly see why Harris was pissed.

        And then Klein kills him with kindness in the email exchange. I don’t think that’s by accident. Klein is not a dumb guy, and I don’t think it’s possible to read the opening paragraphs of the Vox piece and come away thinking it isn’t an uncharitable attack on Harris. And then Harris continues for email after email, expecting at some point that Klein is going to deal with him positively. Of course he’s not.

        Harris got trounced in the email exchange, and then shot himself in the foot by releasing the emails in which he got trounced.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          I agree. It was a mis -calculation to let it go on so long. Should have simply linked to the Vox articles and left it at that about 2 or 3 e mails in. I do agree that Ezra’s conduct was slippery in this case, though not overtly malevolent per se. As I mentioned, this is a case where Harris should have let BOTH Ezra’s voice via Vox and e-mail speak for the scenario, as they do offer differing tones to an extent.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      They seemed to be talking past each other. I think Klein did not appreciate how generally accepted most of the basic science on q is, and this resulted in a blind spot – almost certainly ideologically driven – that Harris interpreted as willful ignorance. While generally I’d go Harris>>>Klein, I do think Harris came off as a bit churlish at the end.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What does Klein get wrong on the basic science? It seems to me that he has a better grasp on it than Harris.
        I think Harris is right to accuse his opponents of obscurantism, moral panic, and, although he doesn’t phrase it this way, arbitrary standards. But that’s a different matter.

    • lvlln says:

      Harris doesn’t look good in those emails, and I thought it was a mistake for him to release them. In his latest podcast episode, he admits that it was a mistake. He also said that he and Klein will be recording a conversation soon, which surprised me, because I thought Klein had nothing to gain from doing so; he could have just called Harris an Islamophobic racist and walked away and come out smelling like roses. So good on him for agreeing to do so.

      Referring to Fluffy Buffalo’s post above, from my history of reading Klein and Vox, I also think a combination of B & C seem to be going on in Klein’s behavior. So I’m skeptical of how good their conversation will turn out. But I’m definitely curious to see what happens. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Klein, so I wonder if he’s as good at presenting ideological beliefs with a convincing air of objectivity in conversation as he is in writing. I’m sort of expecting something like Harris’s conversation with Scott Adams or with Russell Brand or with Jordan Peterson or even with Ben Affleck, where people who were already partial to Harris came out thinking Harris owned the other person, and people who were already partial to the other person came out thinking that they owned Harris.

  10. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Your Name is a movie I recommend. It’s extraordinarily beautiful and engaging.

    The story is about a boy and a girl who find that they’d exchanging minds involuntarily. There’s a plot about preventing a disaster.

    One thing I found refreshing is that the movie doesn’t take delight in disaster.

    • Well... says:

      In the movie, what does it mean to “exchange minds”? Is it more like just switching memories and knowledge, or is it really the whole mind (perception, cognition, sense of self, tastes, habits, intelligence, various abilities, etc.)?

      I’m not interested in watching the movie to find out — I’m not in the mood for that kind of movie these days — but the mind-exchange concept piqued my curiosity. Is exchanging minds a “thing” in TV/movies? The only similar trope I can think of is the Vulcan “mind meld”, but I thought the way they do that it always came off more like an intense one-way knowledge transfer.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Each of them has continuity of consciousness. They only have memories from the body they’re in, they also control the body they’re in.

        I don’t track media enough to know how common any form of mind exchange is.

        • Well... says:

          If they have memories only from the body they’re in, how do they know they’ve switched minds?

          [ETA] Nevermind, I just clicked the link and realized it’s anime. Of course it doesn’t even try to make any sense.

      • Montfort says:

        It’s just a standard body swap. They retain their own memories from their original body, think the same way they always did, etc. Like Freaky Friday, if the two people didn’t know each other and lived in different cities and they swapped and swapped back multiple times at irregular intervals.

        • Civilis says:

          There is one major complication over the standard ‘Freaky Friday’ bodyswap that drives the story, and I think it’s an interesting and well executed twist.

        • Well... says:

          I don’t understand how you could function if all your memories were from another body. The writers must seriously underestimate the degree to which one’s memories and one’s body are connected.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Probably, but there’s a lot that’s untrue which is convenient for stories.

            This being said, people’s capacity for suspension of disbelief on various topics varies quite a bit.

            On one hand, you aren’t going to see the movie. On the other hand, some good stuff came up in the discussion you started about Ethiopian food being like middle eastern food (it isn’t) so maybe you should just continue.

          • Protagoras says:

            Hmmm. Almost all mind-swap scenarios rely on ignoring the fact that the mind just is a particular brain in a particular arrangement, except for those that involve brain transplants. I suppose the issue you mention is unusual in that even brain transplants would have this problem, but apart from that it seems to be just one more thing for the scenario to ignore, among countless others. Any reason this one is a particularly huge stumbling block?

          • Well... says:

            I don’t know if anime actually tends to handwave and take more creative license than other forms of filmmaking, but sometimes it really seems that way to me.

            If I just plain wasn’t interested in anything in your post I wouldn’t have replied. I suppose the mind-swap thing was interesting because it’d be cool to see how a fiction writer might approach it realistically.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t know if anime actually tends to handwave and take more creative license than other forms of filmmaking, but sometimes it really seems that way to me.

            I think it’s more that Western audiences are less familiar with the plot devices used in anime. That means they feel fresher and more creative when they work, but it also means they feel weirder and less reasonable when they don’t.

          • AG says:

            I don’t know if anime actually tends to handwave and take more creative license than other forms of filmmaking, but sometimes it really seems that way to me.

            No more than other nations’ cartoons. The very medium of animation means that certain practicalities are outweighed by aesthetic priorities.

          • beleester says:

            Look at the size of the examples page on TVTropes. This one has been done a million times – anime, western animation, film, literature, you name it. Imagining what it would be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is probably a universal impulse.

            (I suspect it might be more popular in animated media in general, because switching bodies is just a matter of switching voice actors, but I don’t think it leans east or west.)

    • quaelegit says:

      All of my college friends were really into this movie last year (or the year before? whenever it US theaters). I couldn’t find it online* last summer but it looks like its on google play now, so thanks for the heads up!

    • PedroS says:

      Thank you so much for telling me about this movie. I just watched it and it is indeed beautiful!

    • Well... says:

      That doesn’t surprise me. Isn’t this kind of normal in Asian countries? I.e. there’s one or two elementary schools/high schools/etc. you have to go to “to amount to anything,” there’s incredibly intense competition to get into them, such that everyone who gets into them probably comes from a family that already has a ton of social clout to begin with, etc.

  11. BBA says:

    Recently the question of whether college sports should give up the farce of “amateurism” and start paying the “student” athletes has made the rounds again. Even Jon Chait, long a defender of the NCAA, has come around to arguing that college athletes should be paid – though he’s still more nuanced and conservative than many of the others taking this line.

    My take is the NFL and NBA should get real minor league systems, and call them that. Maybe even keep the names and stadiums of the university teams in place for the new minors. Meanwhile the NCAA can become, like its counterparts in other countries (and its lower divisions), an extracurricular activity for students who are actually attending college in order to earn degrees. Of course, like many of our media elites (and unlike Michigan alum Chait) I went to a college without a big-money athletic program so the sports really were extracurricular activities. I may be detracting from the campus experience elsewhere, I don’t know.

    • yodelyak says:

      I can rattle off several schools where the NCAA has a very significant negative effect on the campus experience, a problem I think is overwhelmingly apparent at many division 1 schools.

      If I had kids of my own considering college today, I think I’d be strongly tempted to put a thumb on the scales to encourage them toward a place with no division 1 teams, and a strongly “academic” feel, in terms of what the other students are there to do. Short of that, places with an honors college or significant bifurcations between (say) the engineering school and a liberal arts college–on one side of such a bifurcation, the non-amateur athletics problem may not be as much a problem, and the contrast might be, er, edifying. But on balance, I’d strongly prefer a no-division-1-teams setting for kids of mine.

  12. Garrett says:

    I’m looking to figure out the ways in which the US Federal government forces people to behave in a certain way via incentives provided to their employers which the government would not be able to apply directly. For example, via hostile workplace lawsuits, the types of conversations which employees can have at work is limited by the employer (on pain of firing) to avoid the risk of lawsuits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or similar. More ambiguously, the Drug-Free Workplace Act likely pushes employers to drug test a much larger proportion of employees than would be required by straight liability issues.

    Is there any good way to find a complete list of things like this?

    • Well... says:

      I’d suggest looking for someone who writes prolifically (or at least is inclined toward making lists or repositories) and who also sees the world through that filter (of tracing the cause of workplace behaviors back to government regulations). I can’t offer any advice on how to find such a person.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      There are literally hundreds of law firms that represent employers and a lot of them post free information on their web sites for marketing purposes. So perhaps one of them has an exhaustive list of laws which regulate employers. Probably most or even all of those laws have some impact on worker behavior.

      Also, employment litigation release agreements tend to enumerate laws which regulate the workplace, although they would likely not include a law where the worker has no individual remedy. Probably with Google you could find some release agreements.

  13. Mark V Anderson says:

    My fourth review is “Licensing Occupations” by Morris W Kleiner. Chances are no one reading this has read the book because it is not well known.

    The intent of this book is to document the state of occupational licensing in the US as well as trends and benefits / detriments of this licensing. He has no overt agenda in favor of or against, but simply to document what he has found through his own studies and others. The copyright is 2005, which is important in a fast-changing field like this. So some of this might be out-of-date.

    Licensing has become much more prevalent in recent decades – rising from about 5% of the workforce in the ‘50’s to over 20% in 2004 (Fig. 1.1). Licensing is almost totally done at the state level, so it is a difficult area to study with 50 states, each of which is different. This book mostly looks at studies made by others, because there is simply too much data for one person to compile.

    Kleiner has looked at the process of licensing most carefully in the state of Minnesota in particular, presumably because he is a professor at the University of Minnesota. He found that most licensing comes from occupational groups looking to become licensed. I think this is opposite to the public perception that licenses are a response to consumer groups.

    Kleiner cited several studies which looked at the quality benefits achieved by licensing (Table 3.2). In most cases, these studies indicated little difference in quality between those licensed and those without a license. Unfortunately there is no discussion on how quality is measured. Several studies also measured the price of services of licensed occupations (Table3.3). All of these studies indicated an increase in prices by licensed practitioners. A later analysis of studies (Table 4.1) indicates increased pay in some cases and not in others, plus a decrease in practitioners in some cases.

    There was also one chapter on licensing in the EU. It did indicate higher earnings in licensed occupations, but not much of any data on the prevalence of licensing in Europe vs. the US. I have heard that Europe has much less such licensing, but the book didn’t have this information.

    There was quite a bit of economic theorizing throughout the book, although little of it was based on the data he cited from various studies. He did suggest in the conclusion that licensing resulted in redistribution of income in favor of those licensed of over $100 billion annually, and lost output from $38-42 billion per year.

    Weaknesses of the book:
    1) Quality of services for licensed vs. unlicensed practitioners is a key issue, but is not covered well here. The studies cited don’t say how the quality is measured. In particular, most people supporting wide-spread licensing do so based on a version of the precautionary principle: it may not be the most efficient, but is still worth it if it saves some lives.
    2) There really aren’t that many studies cited, considering how big a topic this is – all licensed occupations over 50 states. It is difficult to make conclusions based on the studies done.

    I definitely have an agenda on this topic. I believe that licensing of occupations by the government is one of the worst anti-market actions taken by government. Licensing continues to increse in scope in the US — maybe 30% today (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2015/01/27/nearly-30-percent-of-workers-in-the-u-s-need-a-license-to-perform-their-job-it-is-time-to-examine-occupational-licensing-practices/). As this book indicates, licensing almost invariably increases the prices of these services, and often does not increase the quality. I think quality is affected in two ways: 1) it goes up by keeping the lowest level of practitioners out of the market, because they usually can’t pass the tests, pay the fees, etc., and 2) it goes down by bringing down the available supply of the practitioners, so it is a lot easier for the workers to not to worry about not pleasing their customers. If I have a difficult time finding an available plumber, it is much more difficult for me to find a good plumber. I think #1 and #2 about offset each other.

    One of the worst effects of licensing is cutting out many of the poor and lightly educated from many professions. This hits the poor on both sides – raising prices as consumers and increasing unemployment as aspiring workers. These missing workers of the poor are partly the lowest tier of quality that the professions purposefully exclude to bring up the reputation of their profession (and the fees), but also workers that may be perfectly competent in the profession, but not competent in taking tests or managing administrative tasks. Many of these workers may be very good at cutting hair or roofing a house, but terrible at the paperwork of getting a license.

    Supporting licenses based on the precautionary principle is logical in theory, but no lives will be saved if the quality doesn’t increase as a result of licensing. Plus a whole lot of these licensed professions have zero effect on lives saved. It is true that we need a lot more data to make better decisions. The lack of data is a deficit of this book, but I don’t think a fault of the author. There just isn’t a lot of data out there. I think the data is sufficient to say that 30% of the workforce being licensed is clearly bad for society, but maybe not good enough to determine exactly where licenses might make sense. Surfing the Internet I did find this pdf from the Institute of Justice (IJ) (https://www.ij.org/images/pdf_folder/economic_liberty/occupational_licensing/licensetowork.pdf). I will have to spend some time looking at it. IJ is far from non-partisan on this issue, so those supporting licenses may find it unconvincing. We need more objective data, but the IJ study may not qualify for that.

    I find this book to be very valuable because it covers an area that is largely unresearched. We need more data.

    • sharper13 says:

      One of the interesting things about licensing is because it’s done at a State or even City level, you can compare different jurisdictions with and without licensing in many cases. The jurisdiction with licensing for an occupation doesn’t come away from the comparison looking like much other than a place where those licensed are keeping away their competition.

      In some States, like AZ, becoming a hairdresser requires more time, money and effort for licensing purposes than becoming an EMT. It’s pretty obvious that’s not a rational effort about saving lives.

      But hey, I think the precautionary principle in this case is bunk and if the government is going to require a license for an occupation, then they need to be able to first prove there is a net benefit to the public for the licensing rules beyond just restricting competition. Philosophically, it’s part of that “pursuit of happiness” right from the Declaration of Independence.

      • Deiseach says:

        There are problems with unlicenced practitioners; anyone can drive around in a van claiming to be a builder/handyman/plumber, and unless you have word-of-mouth recommendation how do you know the good tradesman from the scammers? Being a member of a professional body at least gives some kind of guarantee. A bad haircut will eventually grow out, but someone who was charged a couple of thousand for shoddy building work that may even have caused more damage is harmed a lot more.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          As much as I feel a good deal of licensing in occupations is a hassle and could be pared down, the consequences of a preponderance of unlicensed practitioners in a variety of fields going about jobs and projects in an incompetent manner are potentially severe, even if comparative studies dont show massive differences in quality. And I think that one issue with studies is even jurisdictions with less stringent licensing regulations still have a bit of a conformist effect due to it being a pretty common nationwide phenomenon (the need for license) . To get a better idea of the consequences of lesser licensing laws, you would have to make studies using data goig back quite a few years, which may or may not be availible

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I don’t understand this. I agree the data isn’t great on this, but it certainly does not indicate having severe consequences when there is no license. Most of the studies compare quality between states that require a license for a particular field with those that don’t. The studies don’t show catastrophe for those states without licenses — quite the contrary.

            I think sharper13’s suggestion is a good one. Almost all professions have associations. Nothing is stopping you from using practitioners that belong to these vouching associations. I want to make my own decisions about who to patronize. I suspect I’ll get better quality than you, and I know I’ll pay less.

          • christianschwalbach says:

            Not quite what I was getting at Mark. My point to be made was that the states that have licenses may be creating a bleed over effect on the states without licenses, creating somewhat of a “conform with standard” mentality in the larger case. As you mentioned the only absolute empirical way to determine would be to mine data from eras where similar occupations existed, but widespread licensing did not. (It would make little sense to compare occupations in general, as those have obviously evolved)

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I was kind of guessing what you were getting at, apparently getting it wrong. I still don’t understand what you are getting at. I don’t know what you mean by “conform with standard,” or a bleed over effect. You seem to be saying we can’t compare states with licenses to those without them, but instead recommend comparing temporally? I don’t think we can compare usefully across time periods, but we can across states. But I suspect it will longer than this thread is open to actually figure out where each other is coming from, so maybe we give up on this one.

        • sharper13 says:

          How about this, then:
          A. Practitioners who want to join a professional group/certifying group or whatever are allowed to and can advertise that fact to customers.
          B. Practitioners who don’t feel the need aren’t required to.

          Customers are freely able to decide if they prefer to hire someone from group A or group B, based on how much they value the group’s recommendation.

          Wouldn’t that solve your “Being a member of a professional body at least gives some kind of guarantee.” concern, without forcing people who don’t share that concern to do things only your way?

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          There are problems with unlicenced practitioners; anyone can drive around in a van claiming to be a builder/handyman/plumber, and unless you have word-of-mouth recommendation how do you know the good tradesman from the scammers?

          Don’t you have organizations like Angie’s List and Better Business Bureau in Ireland? These are organizations that rate organizations based on complaints and ratings of previous clients. I think Yelp is global. And of course word-of-mouth often works too. Do you really think because someone has a license that means they are good and have integrity?

          To me the much bigger problem is that licenses sometimes greatly restrict the number of practitioners, so that I have to pick someone even when they have bad ratings. I think it makes sense that the average quality isn’t better for workers with licenses.

        • It’s useful to distinguish between licensing and certification. If cutting hair requires a license, it is illegal to cut hair without that license. If cutting hair has certification, then some body, public or private, certifies someone as a competent cutter of hair, it is illegal claim to be certified if you are not, but it is legal for an uncertified barber to cut the hair of any customer who wants him to do so.

          In practice, licensing is generally controlled by the profession and used to create an entry barrier in order to hold up the price of their services. With certification, if the certifying authority tries to do that, to refuse certification to people who are competent but have not jumped through the required expensive hoops—several hundred hours of class time in the case of barbers—word eventually gets out and customers stop taking the lack of certification as strong evidence against competence.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      In Israel, you need a license to be a tour guide. The official justification is that they don’t want people spreading misinformation about the Arab/Israel conflict, but perhaps there’s an element of protectionism.

      In the legal profession, one nice thing about licensing is that it makes lawyers a good deal more trustworthy. For example, lawyers know that if they abuse the monies in their trust accounts, they could easily be out of a job forever. It still happens, of course, but it’s almost always drug and gambling addicts. Even then, most jurisdictions have lawyer funds for client protection, which works a bit like FIDC insurance.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Any time a government comes out and actually admits to a desire to censor speech, my inclination is to take them at their word.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        lawyers know that if they abuse the monies in their trust accounts, they could easily be out of a job forever.

        This sounds like a reasonable law, but I don’t know that it has anything to do with licensure.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          The way it works is that there is an organization with the authority to discipline attorneys, up to and including possible disbarment. So the threat of losing one’s license hangs over all attorneys.

  14. dndnrsn says:

    Roleplaying games topic!

    What, exactly, is “Old School Revival“?

    The Wikipedia article supports the idea that it’s “rules, not rulings.” Justin Alexander doesn’t agree with that, pointing out that “rulings” often means GM fiat, and besides, some “old school” games include rules for things that in “new school” games would be rulings/GM fiat.

    I’ve been looking at various retro-clones of a fantasy game from the mid-70s that retro-clone games generally can’t come out and openly say is D&D (seriously, they all sound so vague, in a manner usually associated with texts to drug dealers – “hey man, you got the stuff?” “yeah, it’s the original dungeon-crawling game”) and I’ve become curious about this. In these games, the following things seem to be common features:

    1. No skill systems. Some games have skill systems, but most don’t, because original D&D didn’t – if I recall correctly, it wasn’t until AD&D that they added nonweapon proficiencies, and that still wasn’t a full skill system. Stuff that in newer systems would be handled with a Spot Hidden skill or a Navigate skill or whatever would be dealt with by a class or race ability (thief skills, ranger skills, dwarven stoneworking skills, whatever), or an ability everyone has to some degree (eg, original D&D and most retroclones seem to have you find hidden doors based on a d6 roll; it varies by race but not by level), or GM fiat.

    This runs into what I’m thinking of as the “Call of Cthulhu problem” – CoC follows after D&D by less than a decade. It can hardly be said to be “new school.” And CoC is primarily built around its skill system. Very little in CoC has ever been handled by GM fiat in the way that “rulings, not rules” implies.

    2. Minimal player options in character creation. AD&D had different ranks of weapon proficiencies, nonweapon proficiencies, splatbooks added kits you could apply to classes, etc. 3rd ed upped the ante with skills and feats. Original D&D has far less of that stuff. There’s far less variability within a class.

    On the other hand, CoC problem again. Is CoC new school? You can spend a lot of time in character creation messing around with skill points.

    3. A focus on clever problem-solving, enabled by the lack of rules. This one might have something to it – when your focus is on optimizing your character, and you know exactly what you can do, you might spend less time trying to figure out interesting tricks you can pull. I remember more stuff like this when I played AD&D than 3rd ed and onwards.

    But yet again Cthulhu shifts in his slumber. Players thinking outside the box and coming up with wacky ideas isn’t inherently limited by having more or fewer rules. Players who have more rules to think of might come up with wacky ideas, or having more rules to optimize might mean your time is better spent optimizing than coming up with wacky ideas. Or perhaps wacky ideas outside the rules leads to more favourable GM fiat than trying wacky things that can be modelled within the rules? This isn’t just for CoC, obviously, but it’s the game I’ve played the most, and despite the complete skill system and so on, players still come up with wacky ideas.

    4. Greater lethality enabled by story-light gameplay. The classic old-timey D&D campaign is “well you are some dudes who meet up in a tavern, it’s dungeon time”, at least stereotypically. Also stereotypically, very lethal. This one runs into Cthulhu again – sort of. Whenever I hear of tales of super-lethal Cthulhu games, they’re always talked about in the past tense, like they happened in the 80s. I think early CoC had a lot more single adventures as the model, and as the 80s went on, longer campaigns with continuing stories (let’s not quibble about what “story” means. Story, plot, whatever) became more and more the norm. And, by design or by GM flinching and fudging, this leads to punches getting pulled. If the campaign starts in 1928 and then you journey all over the world, it kind of gets ridiculous if there’s huge PC turnover. If the campaign involves some kind of personal link to the PCs, it kind of puts a damper on that if halfway through there’s no original PCs. Some CoC campaigns would be utterly ruined by a few PC deaths early on. Etc. In most games today, there’s a lot more “story” or whatever you want to call it – I only mention CoC because it’s old enough that it seems silly to call it a “new school” game.

    In comparison, a “whoever shows up at the tavern goes into the dungeon” game can kill PCs pretty easily. Coupled with quick character creation, it’s no huge tragedy if a new guy bites it. I think this is one of the things that defines early D&D, at least the way I’ve read of it (I wasn’t alive then).

    5. Emergent gameplay due to high lethality for the above reason and heavy randomization. When it’s no big deal if PCs die (well, no big deal for the game; if your prized PC dies, that sucks – and the sting is greater because it’s harder to keep them alive, you have to make a new guy at level 1, etc; conversely, the rewards were sweeter) you can let wacky stuff roll instead of the GM having to keep tighter control (by how adventures are written or interpreted, by how threats are put together, by railroading in the worst cases) to ensure things go smoothly. Similarly, if you run D&D by the book, you will have a lot of random encounters, from running into stuff while travelling, wandering monsters, etc. A lot of gameplay could just come from that.

    AD&D still had all those tables; I can’t recall if 3rd ed did. But I never played with anyone who actually used them. In almost every game I’ve played, in any system, there’s no random encounters to speak of – those are something in computer games! Every encounter is planned. In some systems, every encounter is supposed to be balanced. Your 1st-level guys are never going to get bushwhacked by bugbears unless there’s a purpose to it.

    On reflection, I think the latter 2 are important in calling something “old school D&D” or similar. The first 3 either have some problem, like Justin Alexander points out, or existed already in games that date from only shortly after D&D. But PCs able to die without trouble to the game due to a lack of story (or whatever you call it) and heavy randomization and so on do seem more unique to original D&D, etc.

    I’m looking forward to running a no-planned-story, kill-monsters-and-take-their-stuff murderhobo campaign for this reason. It’s very different from what I usually run (almost exclusively CoC or similar games, very rarely anything but extended campaigns) and I think the difference is because of those last two points, not because of the lack of a skill system or whatever.

    • Protagoras says:

      I think CoC is just not old school, and rather represents the fact that Chaosium was on the bleeding edge of gaming in those days.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Perhaps. I picked CoC because it’s the oldest game I have real experience with. Maybe they got it right the first time – 1st through 6th editions were pretty near to identical, and while the 7th changes stuff, you can still use old published stuff without a hassle. Which you can’t say for many other games.

        However, there are other games from around the same time with skill systems, etc. I’d have to look it up and it’s too late right now. If CoC is an outlier, that’s one thing; if only original D&D can be old school, that’s odd.

        It occurs to me that the major reason for CoC’s difference is that it’s an investigative game at its core. It’s pretty tricky to put together an investigative scenario by rolling up some random stuff. Whereas you can make a very passable D&D adventure by drawing up a dungeon and rolling up some encounters.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Yeah, I think you nailed it at the end. From what I have read it seems like the heart of the OSR thing is less about whether the rules system contains THAC0 or not, and more about sandbox style hack and slash dungeon crawls/hexplores, where players are more encouraged to try to find clever ways to survive with very limited tools than in combat based around long lists of powers/feats/maneuvers.

      • Civilis says:

        This about sums up my opinion. OSR seems to be the pencil and paper counterpart to the ‘roguelike’ computer game, where emphasis is placed on the game rather than the storytelling elements, and expertise is demonstrated via mastery of a limited rule set in challenging conditions.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      There’s something that I think you’re missing about OSR. To be fair, the vast majority of OSR gamers and game designers fail to articulate it.

      Old school D&D, particularly Basic and oD&D, has a handful of very simple mechanically elegant rules disguised by mutations and duplications. This is because D&D started it’s life as a mod to a wargame which grew over the years as more and more house-rules were added to fix problems the creators had running it at their own tables. It wasn’t designed so much as it evolved.

      If you want to notice something hidden, like a trap or a surprise encounter or a hidden door, roll 1d6. On a 6, a human character will notice and be able to take appropriate action. A character with superhuman senses will notice on a 5 or better.

      If you want to do something dangerous, like attack an enemy or survive a breath weapon, roll 1d20. On a roll of 14 +/- 2, a first level character with average abilities will do it despite the danger. Higher level characters get a +2 to all attacks and saves for each N levels. Certain ability scores, armor class, and weapon enhancements also modify this number.

      If you want to get an NPC to do something, like recruiting hirelings or warding off a vampire, roll 2d6. If you roll over a 9 the result is good and they do what you want them to. For each point of difference in levels / HD between you and the NPC, add or subtract 2 from your roll.

      Those three rules plus Vancian casting cover pretty much everything that you could do in oD&D. Fighting men specialized in doing something dangerous with their higher saving throws and attack ranks. Clerics specialized in getting NPCs to do something through turn undead. And Magic Users were the artillery with their limited number of spells per day and otherwise lackluster abilities.

      (Thieves were a later addition and thief skills never worked properly. If they’re not in immediate danger you can just let them succeed automatically, and if not then they’re doing something dangerous.)

      Because of this, you can make a fully functional and recognizable OSR game with just three rules and two spell lists. Or, better yet, you can run any edition of D&D prior to the d20 system and always know what sort of ruling will be appropriate to the situation.

      • dndnrsn says:

        There are extremely elegant and simple “new school” games though, more simple even due to a single task resolution and stats not each having a different table and so on, and one could argue that at its core CoC is incredibly simple: everything is a percentile skill, or a stat multiplied by a certain # to produce a percentile, roll d100. There are some derived stats, including SAN, which works like a skill but decreases with use on average. Spells are sui generis.

        I don’t see how it’s the simplicity of the rules that leads to the experience people think of as “old school”. One could use 3rd ed with random monsters, not have storylines, and get something “old school”; conversely one could use the simplest rules possible in a game with a long term story where the GM is pulling punches because the PCs dying can muck up the story.

        And yeah, original D&D was basically a collection of house rules and such. Which as why it was so incoherent: the creators knew what they were doing, but didn’t communicate it well; to use the rules one must make one’s own house rules and interpret stuff. Retro-clones always have some line about how the reason for the games is that the original game is a collector’s item, but I suspect it’s more that the original game is missing chunks.

        Put another way, it seems to me the heart of “old school” is the wandering monster and wilderness encounter tables. AD&D didn’t do away with those, but they got used less and less as stories became more and more central. I can’t remember if 3rd had them, but 3rd was where the idea of balancing encounters really came in, so I imagine if it did they were set up to produce random encounters: no chance of 1st level schmucks running into a dragon while wandering around.

        • bean says:

          I can’t remember if 3rd had them, but 3rd was where the idea of balancing encounters really came in, so I imagine if it did they were set up to produce random encounters: no chance of 1st level schmucks running into a dragon while wandering around.

          3E had them, and I actually did make use of them back when I was running 3E. Usually following the OOTS rule, but I used them. But they were balanced for levels, as you predicted.

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t see how it’s the simplicity of the rules that leads to the experience people think of as “old school”.

          I do think it is relevant.
          Simple rules like Nabil outlines basically requires some creativity in approach. In a game with an elaborate skill system, players will try some way to apply their skill or schtick to the situation, versus needing to overcome the obstacles with creativity. And the limited rules will imply that the DM will need to think about the situation and go with a quick ruling (which encourages improvising) rather than try to recall or find the rule for the situation, which exhaustive rulesets might imply are necessary.

          One could use 3rd ed with random monsters

          3rd editions presentation of monsters seems like it would discourage this, because of the cross referencing and such required. Isn’t it somewhat necessary to know ahead of time what creatures you will be using, figure out what their spell-like abilities do, what spells they’ve prepared that day, and so forth? Simpler rules make not knowing what the party will encounter easier to run with.

          Rules aren’t everything, but they can foster tendencies. Cultural expectations can mean those tendencies are over-ridden or not even noticed, though.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The point that simpler rules means less shuffling around in books and more improvisation by players is a good one. It’s why I prefer simpler rules. I stopped playing D&D when I realized that fairly simple “filler” combats could easily take an hour. I likewise abandoned other crunchy systems when I realized my previous group was often ignoring half the rules, because nobody except me and a couple of powergamers knew them.

            Simpler, quicker rules and more improvisation are a part of “old school”.

            However, the simpler rules don’t go all the way; you can have a simple rule set (3 stats: Do, Talk, Think. 1-5 each. Roll equal or under on d6 to succeed. Circumstances add or subtract one from your stat. There’s a game right there) and lots of resulting improvisation but there’s no reason you can’t use that to make a big story-based campaign, there’s no random monsters, etc.

            The creep in monster abilities that started with AD&D (I think?) and got worse in 3rd ed definitely were a problem for those games. But is the lack of that integral to OD&D? After all, your party might by the wilderness tables run into a noble and his knights (all of whom have PC levels) or an evil wizard (quick, what spells do they got?)

            But simplicity definitely does help with random play.

          • bean says:

            The point that simpler rules means less shuffling around in books and more improvisation by players is a good one.

            Again, this isn’t a necessary feature of the system. If the players are doing something I wasn’t expecting in GURPS, my usual response is to glance at the relevant set of rules to see if there’s an obvious cover, say “roll at +2” and move on.

          • Randy M says:

            However, the simpler rules don’t go all the way;

            Clearly we’re not disagreeing here.

            3 stats: Do, Talk, Think. 1-5 each. Roll equal or under on d6 to succeed. Circumstances add or subtract one from your stat. There’s a game right there

            That’s pretty close to a basic system I was thinking about for kids. I usually stick to 6 skills–run, fight, talk, think, search, and hide.

            there’s no reason you can’t use that to make a big story-based campaign

            Sure, and I’m sure there were plenty of story based games in the old school days. It’s not that story is novel–although I think perhaps story-telling conventions have evolved over time–it’s that a lot of the rules and conventions facilitating the sandboxy play have been abandoned or made more difficult to work with. So focusing on one old school style is called OSR, but that doesn’t mean old school had no other styles. (which it might have, I’m not that old myself, but I don’t take as a given it never did).

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean

            But what happens if your player knows all the rules, and has all the books, and says “actually, if you look at GURPS Ridiculous Bullshit, I should have a +7 modifier”? You can call his bluff, and look it up, and spend time, and he might be right. You can let him have his way. Or you can slap him down. In a system where the rule is basically “modifiers come from the GM saying there are modifiers”, this can’t happen. I don’t like that, though, because GM fiat is something I’m kind of iffy on. My preference is for firm guidelines (rather than obsessive rules) on modifiers, and modifiers broad enough, that there’s a happy medium. (The new Delta Green cuts modifiers down to -40, -20, +20, +40, which I think is better than juggling smaller chunks than that).

            @Randy M

            From what I’ve read, putting in more “story” in the form of predetermined plots (or whatever) was an 80s innovation, in large part at least. A lot of games in the 70s and into the 80s used a lot of random charts to determine what was going on, and a fair number of adventures boiled down to listing a whole bunch of locations and so forth, and not going far past that.

            What’s interesting is that while “sandbox” can be used as a catchphrase today, in some ways early games were very sandboxy. The original Twilight 2000 (the 1984 one), while very obviously close to wargame territory (being a GDW game), and thus having tons of crunch (one adventure featured rules for a battle that were just a hex-based wargame), was like this. The introductory adventure listed a whole bunch of locations on the map, said where units were, etc (“this random Polish town has been taken over by deserters from the 21st MRD. They would be glad of help, and will give the PCs food they were hiding”) and let the players go from there. The three (four?) published adventures which came immediately after had more of a plot, but were freeform in a way that when I first encountered it felt ahead of its time (when in fact, freeform stuff is something we’ve lost, in large part).

            Call of Cthulhu probably played a significant role in advancing “story” in games, for good and for ill. It’s very, very, very hard to come up with good investigative plots that don’t fall apart in a quick fashion, and it’s hard to delegate to random charts.

            I’ve never been a White Wolf guy, but I gather that they played a big role in the 90s in pushing the idea that story is paramount. To the point, I think, of encouraging GMs to fudge and all that to keep the plot together, and to trick the players into thinking this wasn’t happening.

          • bean says:

            @dndnrsn

            But what happens if your player knows all the rules, and has all the books, and says “actually, if you look at GURPS Ridiculous Bullshit, I should have a +7 modifier”?

            That’s not likely to be a problem with my current group. I’m usually the one pushing GURPS, and our current game is in FATE. But I do see your point. If the game explicitly delegates those to the GM, he’s safe. If it doesn’t, then you have problems with rules-lawyer players.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Paranoia XP, which doesn’t have situational modifiers (instead, PCs bid points for or against their/other players’ rolls) talks about how defined rules, especially as they get more complicated, give power to players, over the GM. So instead the players bid their points to adjust the roll, secretly or openly (helping themselves, helping others, sabotaging each other, in one memorable incident, sabotaging his own roll) and then the in-game circumstances produce that result (eg, if you have spent 3 points to ruin my character’s shot, suddenly my gun’s scope malfunctions).

            It’s presented as a way to prevent rules-lawyering and reinforce the game’s atmosphere of arbitrary terror, ignorant fear, a general Orwell/Kafka sort of deal; in practice, I think it mostly serves to keep things moving quickly.

          • bean says:

            @dndnrsn
            I’ve played Paranoia, although it was a few years ago, and that’s a good point about how the rules shape play.
            That said, I think the proper balance heavily depends on the type of group. My group is very much friends who use RPGs as one of the main means of hanging out, which leads to a fair degree of collaboration/trust. In that case, playing GURPS under the “+2 and roll” system works quite well. It wouldn’t work with a different group. I do think it’s easy to underrate the influence of the group on how a set of rules is implemented, but I take your point about the rules shaping the gameplay.

        • Nornagest says:

          Put another way, it seems to me the heart of “old school” is the wandering monster and wilderness encounter tables. AD&D didn’t do away with those, but they got used less and less as stories became more and more central.

          Yeah, rules as written you could roll up a green dragon or a dozen remorhaz, no matter what level you were, as late as 2E. Of course, if you got lucky enough with the dice you could also find that the biggest kobold in that band you just stomped had a +5 holy avenger rolled up in his bedding. (That actually happened to me once. Shame I was playing a thief at the time.)

          That has its problems. But there is one thing about the habit of balancing encounters for the party that I think has been very destructive, and that is encouraging players to think they can (and should) fight and win against everything not obviously friendly that they run into. After a few sessions of that you’ve trained your players to approach every encounter as a tactical problem, which first of all means you’ll never use your Bluff and Intimidate and Sense Motive options as anything other than a shortcut between plot beats, additionally means the stakes feel lower, and finally means your party’s likely to walk into a TPK the first time the plot needs something they absolutely can’t handle.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah. That’s a really good point. There are some posts on Justin Alexander’s site (shilling him a lot but his site is one of the best resources about running games I’ve come across) including one on “My Precious Encounter” that hits on a similar topic.

            His point is more that making the game about balanced tactical encounters removes a lot of the strategic element; yours is that it makes players think of anything that might be a foe as a tactical problem to be solved.

          • MrApophenia says:

            In my (fairly successful) attempt at running an old school D&D campaign with 5E, I found that throwing together random encounter tables and stocking rooms for a dungeon with a difficulty range from easy to almost impossible did most of the trick there.

            I opened the campaign with a 5E version of Village of Homlet. But I did scale down some of the threats. If you put a bunch of level 1 5E PCs up against an ogre, they will die. No point even rolling it. But if you put them up against a half-ogre, they could just about barely manage to eke out a win – but probably some of them will still die.

            Once they got thoroughly kicked around and almost died a couple times, they got the proper attitude without needing to actually have the possibility of running into something truly impossible to deal with around the corner.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The difference between something like, say, FATE’s or Savage World’s approach to simple mechanics and that of OSR comes back to the point I made about designed and evolved systems. I posted that at 2am so maybe I didn’t articulate it well but the fact that these were patterns that reoccur repeatedly and without clear signs of intent is a sign of their value as I see it.

          oD&D and Basic added rules to handle new situations in a fairly ad hoc way, but over hundreds or thousands of dungeoncrawls and hexcrawls the same three patterns I mentioned keep coming back. Experience has shown that the best way to handle stabbing an ogre is pretty much the same as the best way to handle dodging a dragon’s breath, but that whether or not you notice a pitfall trap calls for a different sort of rule. 3rd edition’s deliberately-designed d20 system disagrees and says that dodging a breath weapon and avoiding a pit are the same but that stabbing an ogre is different than either.

          It comes down to metis. If you want to run a dungeoncrawl or a hexcrawl, old school games represent a huge volume of institutional knowledge built up through tens of thousands of games. New school systems have been playtested of course but it’s a fundamentally different dynamic when the game designers and the playtesters aren’t even in the same room as one another.

          One could use 3rd ed with random monsters, not have storylines, and get something “old school”;

          I would also strongly disagree with this sentiment.

          I cut my teeth on 3.5. It was the very first system I ever played, and it was where I learned how to DM. Afterward I moved on to Pathfinder and other games published under the d20 OGL.

          It’s really really hard to run a dungeoncrawl or a hexcrawl properly using that system. Making a character is work, arguably more work than actually playing the game, so any time a character dies it’s a huge deal. Both the player characters and NPCs are highly mechanically complex, which slows down encounters and requires them to be more thoughtfully designed for a satisfying experience. There’s a much wider range of power levels to consider, so populating a dungeon takes more thought than “level 1 monsters on the first level; level 2 monsters on the second level.” Resource allocation is a problem because everything is balanced around 4 enocunters per day but the players are incentivized to stop well before that point.

          Old school gaming isn’t just about the fluff, it’s about things like the pacing and the reward structure of the game. And that has to be supported by the rules.

          • dndnrsn says:

            OK, now that you put it that way, I think I see what you’re saying. I’m writing on a phone which I don’t usually do which makes this harder for me to understand and write.

            The simplicity – I’m not gonna say elegance; I think the lack of a unified core mechanic makes it less elegant – does enable fast dungeon building, etc. Which facilitates a game where the focus isn’t on what the GM put together, which is a common (although not inevitable) result of systems that require more GM prep – if making a dungeon is as much work as making a story based adventure, why not just do the latter?

            I work hard to avoid railroading – which in some cases means I work harder on prep; I have to spend a fair bit of time editing published stuff to cut out bits that require railroading or might lead to situations requiring it. Playing around with OSR rules, I’m impressed at how quickly I can throw together dungeons, lists of “things you might do in the area”, etc. It only supports one style of play, but it supports it very efficiently.

            Quicker easier character creation also encourages higher lethality since it doesn’t stop a session in its tracks.

            In general, I have come to believe that simple reason is usually better in rules. Once, when I was young and foolish, I thought crunch was great, and you need to model everything. Now, slightly older and marginally less foolish, I realize that rules should be no more complex than necessary. Differentiation between a sword and a dagger is good; the difference between an M16 and AK47 is not worth slowing down play for.

            That said:

            1. How is hitting something different from skill or save rolls in d20 games?

            2. You say old school games have all this experience behind them, but that’s now. Back in 1974, the original rules didn’t have all that experience behind them. Experience shows that it works, but isn’t the reason it works. I don’t need institutional expertise; I could run a dungeon game with a PDF of the original 1974 rules, with a bit of home brewing, and have it be fine. There’s no reason I know of Gygax and co chose a d6 instead of a d20 to avoid surprise or whatever; it’s just what they did, arbitrarily. They certainly couldn’t have done it because of experience or metis; neither of those had built up yet.

            3. The stuff that makes it hard to run a randomization-heavy game in 3rd ed isn’t native to the unified conflict resolution system, which is the heart of the d20 system. If I remember right, Castles and Crusades is a stripped down d20 game: d20s decide most things, skills more or less exist but are simplified, and monsters aren’t built using the same rules as PCs (one of the worst mistakes of 3rd ed, in my mind; being able to play a weregoat paladin isn’t worth it).

            The insistence on having everything be done with the same rules is what makes 3rd ed and so on hard to come up with stuff quickly for. It’s not because of the resolution mechanics themselves. It’s because they had to make every last abyssal Opossum operate on the same rules as the PCs.
            I started playing with AD&D. There had been some monster complexity creep, but monsters were still built on different rules from PCs. I’d much rather run a randomization heavy game in AD&D than 3rd ed as written.

            That said, there’s a reason 3rd ed did some things right. It was less arbitrary than the original game, and you could do a lot more with it (in terms of types of game – you can do a courtly intrigue fantasy with 3rd better than original, by far). AD&D was both arbitrary and overly complex. I’m still not sure I’ll ever understand how Druid progression worked in AD&D. And non-weapon proficiencies were just badly designed skills

            (I’d also note that I briefly considered using d20 systems for CoC but then realized how much more time it took to make NPCs when you have to make every NPC using the same system as the PCs)

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @dndnrsn,

            1. In oD&D and Basic, both saving throws and [whatever attack rolls were called that week] progressed at the same rate. In d20 that’s not the case: each save has a different progression, and BAB is independent from all of them. The former gives you one number or a tight range of numbers to represent your chances of success at nearly any dangerous task; the latter gives you a bunch of loosely correlated numbers to use in specific situations.

            2. The reason you’re not seeing the metis is because you’re imagining Gygax sitting down and writing an edition cover-to-cover and then running it for his group. As I understand it, it was almost exactly the reverse. An ad hoc ruling works out and becomes a house rule; a house rule spreads and becomes a convention; someone writes down all of the current conventions and publishes them as an edition.

            3. The core mechanic of d20 encourages fiddly situational bonuses, which are a big part of what slows down play. In tactical combat it may be necessary to get everything down to the nearest 5% but these bonuses crop up everywhere in d20 games. It’s taking the fiddly weirdness of Thief Skills and building an entire game around them.

            Beyond that, dfferent mechanics encourage different behavior. Having one mechanic which needs to handle every situation versus a small handful each for a different common situation doesn’t seem like much of an improvement in terms of simplicity and makes the game that much blander.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m still not sure I’ll ever understand how Druid progression worked in AD&D.

            It’s fairly simple, just stupid. From 1st to 14th level druid progression works like everybody else’s. From 15th onward it stops being based on XP and starts being based on position in the druid religious hierarchy, requires passing challenges, and comes with titles that I don’t remember. Why this isn’t true for regular clerics… hey! Look! A five-headed dragon god!

            In theory it’s not much different from giving fighters a keep and a small army at 9th level, or giving paladins a mount at 3rd; it’s just harder to ignore, since you don’t have XP benchmarks for those levels. Typical of one of AD&D’s worst habits, which was baking too much lore into the core mechanics to allow much divergence from the implicit setting, but not enough to derive a full campaign setting from them.

            (Also compare the level limits for nonhuman characters in certain classes, which might be AD&D’s single worst mechanic gameplay-wise.
            Though psionics gives it some competition.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            1. Ah, I see what you mean. Although I think optional rules for different kinds of saves were introduced even before AD&D, and were standard in that. It was one of AD&D’s weaker points – sometimes it was utterly unclear which save you were supposed to use, or it was totally arbitrary; 3rd ed’s system was an improvement on AD&Ds.

            2. I know that D&D started as house rules for Chainmail. That was published in 1971. (The version of the story of D&D that follows is from Designers and Dragons by Appelcline) Arneson started running small-scale fantasy stuff we’d recognize as an RPG in late ’71 or early ’72. He took the idea to Gygax in late ’72, Gygax was impressed and put rules together that were more or less ready to go by middle or late ’73. For various reasons, it didn’t get published until ’74.

            So, between Arneson’s group and the playtesting Gygax was doing, we’re looking at, what, a couple years of gaming? I’m not saying the rules were laid down and then they played the game. But I’m saying that a couple years of gaming with a couple guys running, plus presumably some other playtesters, isn’t “tens of thousands of games” – it wasn’t based on a lot of experience. Whatever of the many versions of D&D that culminated in the Cyclopedia would have had a lot more experience behind it – but most retro-clones start with the original kit, and many of them stay there, doing little more than clean it all up so there’s a playable game that doesn’t require junior-theologian levels of interpretation.

            It’s not something that was built based on experience; it’s something that was thrown together (seriously, if you get a chance to see copies of the original D&D booklets, they’re very amateurish) more than built based on some limited experience, and experience has shown it to work. Remarkably well – I’d rather house-rule original D&D and go with that than run most RPGs ever published, for a variety of reasons. But I’d say it’s happy accident rather than institutional knowledge.

            3. I definitely agree with you on this one. I mentioned elsewhere I like the new Delta Green’s approach: it’s plus or minus 20 or 40, depending on the whole situation. Having to account for a lot of different modifiers sucks: being able to say “it’s dark and it’s raining, and you don’t have a rainjacket, and you’re pretty sure that second burrito was a bad call, -40” is better than having to look up the darkness table, the weather table, the inadequate clothing table, and finally apply the gastrointestinal discomfort modifier. And I don’t think it’s good for combat, either: combat is where you want things to slow down least.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nornagest

            I had blanked psionics out. I seem to recall we discussed this, many moons OTs ago: the 2nd edition MM had psionic enemies, and listed their psionic powers, but psionics were in some supplement that wasn’t very easy to get in the pre-internet days. The way the rules for psionics looked bizarre, at a minimum.

          • Civilis says:

            It comes down to metis. If you want to run a dungeoncrawl or a hexcrawl, old school games represent a huge volume of institutional knowledge built up through tens of thousands of games.

            To combine a number of subthreads into a single idea, the traditional dungeon crawl typically associated with old-school D&D is very much “players vs DM” where the DM is trying to challenge the players to survive, as opposed to a story based game where the GM is trying to navigate the players through the story.

            Part of the problem I have with OSR as a concept is that you’re trying to get back to a state when most players hadn’t experienced the typical fantasy adventure before, and thus didn’t know all the tricks of the DM in a “players vs DM” adventure.

            Random encounters generally don’t enhance the story; they’re a challenge to ensure that the players aren’t completely safe anywhere and any time. Random encounters also challenge players with characters built around being able to prepare for battles in advance, such as with beneficial potions or spells.

            More complicated monsters exist because many veteran players have read the beastiary, and know most of the dangers and how to get around them even if their characters shouldn’t know the facts. These days a rust monster is no longer the threat it used to be because people know what they can do and how to fight them. A lot of monsters have been added specifically to confuse players as to exactly what they are facing… things that look undead but aren’t, for example, or the highly explosive floating gas bag that resembles a beholder.

            A lot of the resource management exists because players have become adept at using inventory to brute force a lot of the dungeon obstacles. It’s hard to find a trap that can’t be subverted by clever use of common items (the traditional 10ft pole, for example). The traditional way around this has been to force players to list exactly what common items they have, pay for them, and take account of their encumbrance.

            Like laws, game rules expand by gradual accretion when the GM and player come into conflict and need a rule to cover it. A player finds a clever trick not covered by the rules, so the GM makes a house rule to cover it to avoid it becoming an exploit. Some other GM mentions having the same problem, and the house rule is shared. Eventually, the trick and a work around get shared enough to make the next edition of the rules.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Civilis

            That all makes sense.

            Something I’ve noticed, vaguely related, is that players now adjust to story-based games in which PCs are helped along to survive one way or another. If you’re gonna have one, maybe two, if life is really bad three characters over the course of a long campaign, maybe multiple campaigns… Of course you want the guy to be good.

            The result of this is that 3d6 in order, roll HP at first level, no re-dos seems impossibly weak and punishing. Everyone is used to significantly above-average characters as the norm.

          • Nornagest says:

            The problem with 3d6 in order, no re-dos isn’t that it generates weak characters. A competent DM can work with that, without making the campaign much less fun. There are two problems; first, that it leads to inconsistent and unpredictable abilities between members of a party and for the party as a whole, and second, that it takes most of the agency out of character generation.

            First, abilities. Old-school D&D doesn’t really have the tactical balance in mind that later editions do, but there are some assumptions baked into most adventures: that parties will have access to healing spells, or to basic parts of the arcane toolkit like read magic, or (once thieves were a thing) to thief skills. If you have a party of four all rolling 3d6 in order, the chances are good that at least one person won’t have a good statblock for an essential role, or even won’t be able to meet its prerequisites. At best that cripples some players’ ability to participate; at worst it can make published adventures unplayable (even ones like Keep on the Borderlands that were written by the same guys that did the chargen rules) and seriously complicate writing original ones.

            Second, agency. Usually you’ll have players entering a session with some idea of what type of character they want to play: a fierce but wise warrior from the frozen north, for example, or a grad student at the Invisible College who’s interested in pre-cataclysmic architecture. Disallowing this is simply unfun, but rules as written, you’re supposed to roll the dice and then come up with a character concept. The rules say so at length. Why? Fuck you, that’s why. This is exacerbated by earlier editions’ habit of being very stingy with mechanical bonuses (typically starting around 15), and exacerbated further by the harsh stat requirements for certain classes (2E paladins, for example, needed 17 charisma, 13 wisdom, 12 strength, 9 intelligence and constitution — by my calculations you’d only get that about one in a thousand times by the specified method).

            Because of issues like this, I have never played with an old-school group that didn’t do a lot of fudging.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Caveat: one of my major players cares less about what he plays, and more about how good that character is. He likes to play combat characters, but he’d rather play a diplomat with 16 CHA than a fighter with 10 STR.

            I agree with the stuff about party balance. Everyone rolls and then builds their character won’t necessarily lead to Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief.

            I’m not sure I’m that sympathetic to people who want to play a particular type of character. I mean, I always played the same type of character, but then I graduated high school and grew up a little. I’ve ran a lot of games where you can build the character you want; I think there’s a lot to be said for that, but there’s also something to be said for seeing what fate gives you – why typecast yourself?

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, you do get the dude that always wants to play barbarians, but he’s hardly the only one at the table with an idea about what he wants to play. There’s nothing wrong with taking what the dice give you and rolling with it, but there are lots of other equally valid ways to come up with a character concept, and the game’s more fun for more people if it allows for them; I’ve had players that spent days coming up with backstory before they touched the dice, and I don’t have much patience with rules that choke off that whole approach just to satisfy Gary Gygax’s weird purism. And if you really wanna play a dark elf ranger that fights with two scimitars… well, I’m definitely gonna judge you, but we all started somewhere.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: I agree that 3d6 in order is unconscionable. There’s this schizophrenic design where the only story is supposed to be the product of the PCs doing whatever they want in the setting the DM runs, but don’t let the player play the character they want!
            At minimum you need to do 3d6 6 times, arrange as you like. And then there’s still the issue that heroes from myths and folklore were consistently given statblocks with very high attributes, implying “No matter how many medusae your PC kills, they’ll always be inferior to Perseus. Why? Because I said so.”

            Have you ever seen Steve Jackson’s The Fantasy Trip? I think that was the first design where your (3) attributes just were your level equivalent, eliminating the disconnect where the greatest wizard in the world (a player’s longest-surviving PC) has INT in the low teens, while the smartest people in the world are low-level.

          • bean says:

            I’m very much with LMC in seeing absolutely no reason to not let players at least do 3d6 and pick where the values go. Yes, there’s something neat about letting the fates decide what sort of character you’re going to get, but making that the only official way to build characters? Absolutely not. It’s bad for game balance, and there’s the times when you end up with nobody able to fill a critical role.
            (Of course, now I’m trying to figure out how to implement something like 3d6 straight down in GURPS.)

          • Protagoras says:

            I kind of like ending up playing whatever the GMs give me in one-shot games, but for an ongoing campaign I want to have more control. If I’m going to get sick of playing a particular character, I want it to be my fault for having made him that way, not something I got stuck with by GM fiat.

          • dndnrsn says:

            So, the games I’ve run have, through one means or another, generally provided a lot of latitude in character concept. I want something different – both for me, and the players. It might be a complete disaster, of course. I haven’t gone with 3d6, and I’m not going to be a stickler on “you rolled this and you have to play it” but I do like the idea of rolling in order. I want to see what happens.

            EDIT: Basically, I realized that one of the sorts of games I had never run, nor played in, was a painfully old-school “oh no the random monster table just came up with eight wyverns oh no” dungeon crawl game. So I want to run that.

          • Randy M says:

            Is there a stigma with trading out characters in a campaign? I’d be totally cool with it, either a mechanical redo with the same personality underneath, or just a straight up replacement. Just give some plausible reason for the new person to care about the group’s goals.

          • dndnrsn says:

            What do you mean by “trading out” characters? Abandoning one and bringing in another new character?

          • Randy M says:

            Protagoras said in a long campaign he might get sick of playing a particular character. As far as I am concerned (so, for 3.5 other people) whatever aspects one is sick with can be traded out. Feat? Sure. Personal quick? Sure. Entire backstory? Sure.

            If it’s happening every session, that’s a different matter, could get disruptive. But I have a low bar for rerolls or respecs etc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I will generally let my players do a respec retcon type deal if it’s relatively early, it’s not a skill they use a lot, etc. If they just didn’t know how the system worked or whatever, sure. (GUMSHOE, or Trail of Cthulhu at least, has an explicit system for doing this)

            I don’t know that I’ve ever had a player get bored of playing a character. I have had players in Cthulhu stuff say “oh man this character is DONE” and my response is to look at the SAN and so forth and say “yeah, this character is a wreck with barely more SAN than mental disorders; bring in a new one” or “stop whining” as the case may be.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Another thought – using Justin Alexander’s definition of railroading (simply: it’s when the GM negates player agency in one way or another to enforce a predetermined outcome) perhaps the “no story, just random tables” approach of “old school” games is the source of the appeal.

      Having a plot or a story or whatever, in the style of a modern campaign, really tempts the GM to get attached to one outcome, certain things happening, etc. Some campaigns outright demand it. This is where railroading comes from. The worst campaigns, be they homebrewed or published, tend o be ones where stuff the players could do ordinarily gets “turned off” to ensure something happens: the enemy attack knocks all the PCs out so they can be captured, or the enemy spy always wins when it comes time to oppose Disguise or Lie with Sense Motive, or whatever. The best campaigns are ones where this doesn’t need to happen, because the PCs pulling off some brilliant plan or a few lucky rolls or whatever can’t break the campaign.

      If there’s no story, just tables, it reduces the urge of the GM to railroad. The GM has more fiat due to the “rulings, not rules” mentality but there is likely to be less temptation to use it to force things to happen when the situations are largely random. A rules-heavy system doesn’t protect PCs from railroading, because the GM can just cheat or ignore the rules outright.

      A lot of GMs are really bad at making adventures/campaigns and a lot of published stuff is really bad and most of this badness is in the form of stuff that encourages or requires railroading. To go with what I know, CoC has a reputation for great published material, but a lot of it is dreck, and a lot of it requires much tweaking to remove bits that might require railroading. CoC’s reputation for great published adventures/campaigns rides very heavily on Masks of Nyarlathotep, which is the greatest campaign ever published. It’s great because it can be run as-is with next to nothing requiring railroading. (CoC’s reputation for great published stuff in general rides heavily on Pagan Publishing’s stuff.)

      So, perhaps the appeal of OSR is that the random tables protect PCs from their GM’s fundamental flaws, if those flaws take the form of railroading. In my experience railroading is the most deadly flaw for a GM.

      • bean says:

        That’s a really interesting thought. I’m not sure it’s right, but it does make some degree of sense.

        I’m not sure how much further you need to look than nostalgia, though. People who grew up in the 80s are now in their 40s, and want something that feels like the games they played as teenagers. Modern RPGs, with such concepts as “not being horribly confusing” (I’m not a fan of old D&D) and “having books to look things up in” doesn’t fit with that.

        • dndnrsn says:

          What % of people playing OSR games are that old? I started gaming in the 90s with AD&D but never played a game with heavy randomization. The reason I want to play a murderhobo random-encounter game is that it’s so different from what I’ve played and what I’ve run.

          So, it could also be novelty.

          I think, though, that railroading is a plague that people often don’t spot, because they don’t know what it is. Justin Alexander’s essay about railroading really opened my eyes, and I get the feeling that the default way a lot of GMs write and run stuff is based heavily in railroading. One will even find published stuff arguing that the GM’s job 1 is to present a story, and that cheating in service of that is good.

          So people might not be saying “let’s eschew stories and just roll on tables because it will keep our GM from walking us through his story” but it makes that kind of game an escape from the railroad.

          • bean says:

            I guess the reason I’m unimpressed is that this doesn’t seem to need a new system. I played a fair bit of that kind of thing in 3.5. “You meet in a bar, you decide to seek the fabulous Whatsit reputed to be in the local dungeon, etc” was fairly common in my group in Middle/High School, before we figured out how to do plot. It wasn’t that lethal (because were were playing 3.5) but I’m just not seeing why you need a specific system to make it happen. Of course, I’m also a GURPS fan, and generally fairly liberal with “misusing” systems.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I suppose my idea is that just as certain mechanics incentivize certain player behaviours – and some games really are aware of this and operate accordingly – certain frameworks make GMs act differently.

            Not railroading can be done in any system, but a lot of GMs don’t even know they’re railroading.

      • Randy M says:

        Keep in mind that people who talk about games are more attached to player agency than a lot of players actually are. Going along the tracks isn’t a terrible default for adventures–players often don’t want to have to search for the fun.
        Of course you can do a hexcrawl well and a plot badly, but a train on tracks is no worse than a vehicle that goes nowhere.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Going along the tracks isn’t a terrible default for adventures–players often don’t want to have to search for the fun.

          For the love of God, please don’t make us noobs do this. We decided to let our “advanced” Grandmaster DM for a team of 5 newbies. We had to find each other in game and then find the quest. It took us something like an hour and a half just to find and make introductions with each other, by which times there were several bouts of murder, theft, and sodomy, because the players got so bored with the game.

        • bean says:

          That’s actually a really good point. I’ve been playing for a long time, and don’t mind a nice train ride, so long as it’s well-executed and everyone involved is clear going in what’s going to happen. My group’s last game was pretty linear, but the story was done well enough that it all made sense in character, and we all enjoyed it.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Read the essays, you guys. They’re great. Railroading isn’t about linearity. It’s about negating player agency to enforce an outcome.

          “Sheriff Bartlett gives you the next case” isn’t railroading, nor is the dungeon having 5 rooms one after the other (although that’s a boring dungeon). Archmage Uthool’s saving throw fudged to success because the GM didn’t expect the plan you came up with to try and kill him before the big finale is railroading.

          • Randy M says:

            Railroading isn’t about linearity.

            Fine, but you go on to say

            If there’s no story, just tables, it reduces the urge of the GM to railroad.

            and I’m just pointing out that errors can be made in the this direction too. Someone reading about the plague of railroading can get the impression that they need to facilitate total freedom and that doing so means not preparing plots or taking pains not to clearly lay out exciting hooks.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Sure, and that’s bad GMing too. But it’s a far less common form of bad GMing, in my experience at least. And it’s often easier to deal with. The PCs can just start causing trouble (which in a plot-based game, pisses off the GM, and causes railroading, but if the GM is just sitting there being like “do whatever” can he really complain if the players decide they want their PCs to be jewel thieves?) or the players can say “hey guy, give us something to do.”

            The latter, while a little bit confrontational, is easier than telling some guy who thinks that the plot he put together, which he knows where it’s going and is railroading furiously to get it there, that he isn’t producing the masterpiece he thinks he is.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The solution that seemed to work at my table was to use pre-built adventures with various degrees of freeform/constructedness (mostly a greatest hits collection of D&D modules from any and all editions), but to sprinkle them merrily around a hex map and let the players decide which ones interested them.

            Ravenloft is much more on rails than the Keeo on the Borderlands, but if the players are only in Barovia because they decided to go see what was going on with those Barovian gypsies instead of that northern Keep getting attacked by monsters, it takes a lot of the sting out of it.

    • Randy M says:

      Another new/OSR difference is resource management making wilderness travel difficult. Newer games, probably for ease of use, often don’t care about encumbrance and hand wave meals and so on. As I understand it, OSR type will require an accounting for arrows, torches, and rations. There’s definitely interesting decisions that can emerge from worrying about lighting in a cave or running out of food and needing to forage, but it fights for brain space (or note-taking space) with other elements.
      From last Saturday:
      DM (me): So the lower levels of the dungeon are pretty dark, how are you proceeding?
      player: Do I have a torch or something?
      DM: sure, you probably have a torch. You pull it out and light it with a conjured spark.
      I wasn’t so concerned with making sure the players remembered to buy supplies, despite any verisimilitude that costs; I was more interested in having them think about what might be haunting the Dragonborn’s dungeons and how they would react to it (although I don’t suppose his reaction of “look for treasure” requires as much mental processing as that.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        A lot of newer games might not handwave it entirely, but might have a skill or stat that covers preparedness – GUMSHOE does this. Similarly, a lot of games will have a Wealth stat/skill or similar instead of counting money.

        I can see the advantage of both approaches. For something where dungeoneering is the point, yeah, you want to keep track of torches and how much each gold piece weighs. If the point of the game is the moral choices the PCs make when they get to Archmage Uthool’s mountain castle and realize they must choose between saving the lives of innocents and eliminating the archmage, then having their quest succeed or fail based on whether or not the players prepared adequately for mountaineering is the opposite of fun.

        • dndnrsn says:

          To expand on this, GUMSHOE tends to assume the PCs have everything that would make sense. Past that, there’s the Preparedness skill. Its description (p45):

          Preparedness
          You expertly anticipate the needs of any investigation by packing a kit efficiently arranged with necessary gear. Assuming you have immediate access to your kit, you may be able to produce an object the team needs to overcome an obstacle. You make a simple test (p. 56); if you succeed, you have the item you want. You needn’t do this in advance of the adventure, but
          can dig into your kit bag (provided you’re able to get to it) as the need arises.

          Items of obvious utility to a Mythos investigation do not require a test. These include but are not limited to: notebooks or paper, writing implements and ink, flashlights, candles and matches, colored chalk, common tools and hardware, pen-knives, magnifying glasses, pocket mirrors, string, sandwiches, and brandy. Other abilities imply the possession of basic gear suitable to their
          core tasks. Characters with First Aid or Medicine have their own first aid kits or medical bags; Photographers come with cameras, film, and flash bulbs. If you have Firearms, you usually have a gun, and so on. Preparedness does
          not intrude into their territory. It covers general-purpose investigative equipment, plus oddball items – a telegraph key, a baseball, a gas mask — that suddenly come in handy in the course of the story.

          The sorts of items you can produce at a moment’s notice depend not on your rating or pool, but on narrative credibility. If the Keeper determines that your possession of an item would seem ludicrous, anachronistic, or out of genre, you don’t get to roll for it. You simply don’t have it. Any item which elicits a laugh from the group when suggested is probably out of bounds.

          Inappropriate use of the Preparedness ability is like pornography. Your Keeper will know it when she sees it.

          On the one hand, it cuts down on inventory management. CoC may already have said, or at least implied, that PCs are carrying whatever would make sense – they certainly say that items in a location that would make sense are there (6th ed rulebook). I always tell my players that if they imagine themselves as PCs, the stuff they might carry around on them – wallet, keys, cellphone, their clothes, a pocketknife, bus fare – wouldn’t need to be on their character sheet.

          On the other hand, it gets kind of cartoonish. Of course Bill has a baseball, a bag of cornstarch, and a machete in his trunk! That’s just the kind of guy he is! He’s prepared!

          Still, my quibbles with the GUMSHOE system are more in the way that it makes investigative abilities quasi-Vancian.

      • Iain says:

        Dungeon World has a nifty way of handling this. One of the things you can buy is “Adventuring Gear”:

        5 uses, 20 coins, 1 weight: Adventuring gear is a collection of useful mundane items such as chalk, poles, spikes, ropes, etc. When you rummage through your adventuring gear for some useful mundane item, you find what you need and mark off a use.

        • Randy M says:

          That beats the D&D adventuring kit, which contains about 5 useful items that you then have to track individually. Might bug overly simulationist chaps, though.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Yeah, Dungeon World’s whole reason for being is “How can we simulate the story impact of all that OSR stuff without actually needing to keep track of it?” There’s a whole mechanic for wilderness travel that does the same thing – a couple of dice rolls to determine whether you get horribly lost and starve to death or eaten by monsters en route to where you’re going, without actually needing to go hex by hex and roll encounter tables and worry about encumbrance and stuff.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m curious about the various World games, but I’m kind of leery of some of the stuff I’ve heard. Is it true that enemies and so on can just sort of be called into being by the PC’s actions? I hear it’s also really into “fail forward” thinking, which to me often seems like an excessive adherence to the “yes, but” school of GMing.

          • Iain says:

            Is it true that enemies and so on can just sort of be called into being by the PC’s actions?

            What is the difference between this and a random encounter table?

            Dungeon World uses a very simple resolution system: roll 2d6 plus any relevant modifier. You succeed on 10-12, and succeed with complications on 7-9. On 6-, something goes wrong. (In Dungeon World parlance, the GM “makes a move”.) Importantly, this is expected to follow the established fiction: “a group of ogres burst through the door” is much more acceptable as a response to a failed roll if you are in a cave system than if you are on the deck of your ship after a long voyage.

            Did those ogres exist before the failed roll? That depends on the GM’s prep. Maybe they came out of nowhere. Maybe the GM rolled for them on a table of random Dangers. Maybe the GM had already determined that the cave contained a band of ogres, and used this as an opportunity to bring them into play.

            If you want the appearance of ogres to be governed by a Listen check opposed by a Move Silently check, then Dungeon World is probably the wrong game.

            I hear it’s also really into “fail forward” thinking, which to me often seems like an excessive adherence to the “yes, but” school of GMing.

            Can you unpack this? I’m not sure I understand.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A random encounter table is something independent of the PCs – it’s an alternative to keeping track of each and every thing in the game world. With a computer, you might be able to track each wandering ogre band. A GM is going to have a hard time.

            “You have a complication on your listen at door check; you hear ogres inside the room” creates something that wasn’t there based on a PC action.

            I don’t know; it just seems like a difference there to me. Random encounter tables are a way to do something that would either require a computer, or be pretty static otherwise (eg, TW2K’s first edition intro adventure features a few units that are moving predictably, and a whole bunch that are sitting in tatters in place after a mutually exhausting battle; I think random encounter tables key to what’s in the area also). Wandering monsters indicate that the dungeon includes some creatures that don’t hang around in one place. It seems weird to have a specific room that is both empty and not-empty until a PC rolls 2d6.

            As for my comment… I’m not sure when I first started seeing it, but the instruction from improv where you never give a flat no has become a big thing in GM advice. You say “yes, and” or “yes, but”, or “no, but” instead. And usually this is good. It keeps the players involved, it sparks unexpected stuff that’s often quite fun, it rewards the players for thinking outside the box. It’s usually appropriate.

            “Fail forward” thinking is related. It’s that the PCs shouldn’t fail, because failure stops the story. They should fail, but then something happens to keep things moving, or they should succeed, but with complications. I like this less, because sometimes failure does advance the story, but more because, what does “advance the story” mean? Sounds a bit rail-roady to me. Further, if there’s something you need the PCs to succeed at, it’s better to just have it not be a test.

            This is how GUMSHOE works. It’s designed to fix the problem in investigative games where the PCs blow their Find Clue roll, and the adventure stalls until the GM finds some other way to get it to them. Any “core clue” is found by PCs simply looking, or using a specific skill: some clues might be obvious and just require a simple search (you search the office and find a diary in the desk), others go to anyone who has the relevant skill (with your Forensics skill, you can tell this man didn’t die here, because very little spilled blood, and he sure got stabbed a whole bunch).

            Having something that needs to happen, but rests on a test the PCs might fail, isn’t fixed by having it so they can fail but still succeed (you don’t find the diary because you failed your search roll, but later the cleaning lady calls you and says she found a book) or succeed with complications (now you owe the cleaning lady a favour). Those are contrived, and kind of defeat the purpose of having skill checks, and PCs in general. Nor can it be fixed by automatic success, because players can be remarkably dumb, and they just might not search the room at all – that’s part of my problem with GUMSHOE; it assumes the problem is all with failed skill checks, and not with players failing to make the checks in the first place.

            The best solution is to build stuff in a way there’s never one thing the PCs have to do or succeed at, with the possible exception of the very beginning of the scenario (in Masks of Nyarlathotep, vs gur cynlref qba’g tb gb Wnpxfba Ryvnf’ ebbz naq svaq gur pyhrf, be qba’g qrpvqr gb gnxr ba uvf dhrfg naq svtug gur Rivy Phyg, lbh qba’g unir n tnzr) or the end (vs gurl qba’g nggnpx gur rarzl vfynaq naq qrfgebl gur ebpxrg, jryy, BX, ubcr lbh yvxr Terng Byq Barf ergheavat gb rnegu).

            Of course, that’s something that needs to happen. Listening at a door is different. Presumably, there’s something in the room, or there’s not. If it’s there, the PCs might hear it, or they might not. If there’s nothing there, they can’t hear it regardless, because there’s nothing to hear.

          • Randy M says:

            I like this less, because sometimes failure does advance the story, but more because, what does “advance the story” mean? Sounds a bit rail-roady to me. Further, if there’s something you need the PCs to succeed at, it’s better to just have it not be a test.

            I agree with both these sentiments. Fail forward (taken to an extreme) sounds empowering but really means that it doesn’t matter what the players think up to try, because they will get from point A to point B no matter what.
            There’s certainly virtue in thinking through a wider variety of consequences than dropping brick walls on the players plans. But failure should be a possibility.
            Another recent example–I wanted to give the players an opportunity to catch the villain in the act of switching places with an npc, even though in the long term I think the story would work better with the villain behind the scenes for a bit. The player whiffed on the intuition check and choose not to look too close into suspicious circumstances. But I would have been happy–and will present other chances–to have to throw out my plans and bring the shadowy conspiracy into the forefront based on players paying attention to detail and pressing the issue.

            The best moments in DMing is where the players are invested enough to rob you of your gotchas ahead of time. It makes them feel smart and you get to actually show your work, even if maybe narratively it isn’t how the DM saw it playing out.

          • Iain says:

            It seems weird to have a specific room that is both empty and not-empty until a PC rolls 2d6.

            It’s also weird to have a dungeon that contains Schrodinger’s ogre/dragon/beholder/roper until the GM rolls a random encounter. What can I say? Games are weird. In the hands of a good GM, it works fine. “You rolled a 4 for Discern Realities? Okay. As you investigate the room, you knock a spear off of the weapon rack. It falls to the ground with a loud clatter. Behind the door to the north, you hear a grunt: “Whuzzat?” Suddenly, the door bursts open. Ogres!”

            It’s just another way to avoid tracking every element of the game world. The GM knows ahead of time that there are monsters lurking in the dungeon, and maybe even knows that they are likely to be ogres. Where are they at any given moment? When will the players be unlucky enough to encounter them? You could laboriously track that information, or you could just wait until a player fails a roll and say “well, I guess we’ve figured out where the ogres were”. The important thing is that it all fits within the existing fiction.

            Fail forward (taken to an extreme) sounds empowering but really means that it doesn’t matter what the players think up to try, because they will get from point A to point B no matter what.

            This really just seems like a problem with railroading. If fail-forward always fails towards a predetermined point B, then sure, that’s bad — but not because the GM is continually pushing the action forward. It’s bad because you’re only giving the illusion of player choice. It’s also the exact opposite of what Dungeon World advocates. From the GM guide:

            Dungeon World adventures never presume player actions. A Dungeon World adventure portrays a setting in motion—someplace significant with creatures big and small pursuing their own goals. As the players come into conflict with that setting and its denizens, action is inevitable. You’ll honestly portray the repercussions of that action.

            This is how you play to find out what happens. You’re sharing in the fun of finding out how the characters react to and change the world you’re portraying. You’re all participants in a great adventure that’s unfolding. So really, don’t plan too hard. The rules of the game will fight you. It’s fun to see how things unfold, trust us.

            To the extent that Dungeon World recommends failing forward, it’s by making sure things fail in interesting ways. If you fail to Discern Realities about the glowing crystal skull you found in the ruins of the temple, you should’t just end up sitting around looking at a crystal skull; there should be some sort of consequence that changes the situation. Maybe it senses your attention; maybe a monkey steals it; maybe your local guide rushes up to warn about some dangerous beast approaching the camp. It all depends on the current situation, and what complications could plausibly emerge.

            In the context of an investigation, failure doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t find something. It might mean that you don’t find it quickly. If for some reason you absolutely need the PCs to find a diary, then the negative consequence for failing a roll might be “You see a police car pull up outside the window”, or “You hear an explosion across town. Was that your boat?”

            The goal is not to keep things moving in a particular direction; it’s just to keep things moving. The key word in “advance the story” is “advance”, not “story”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s also weird to have a dungeon that contains Schrodinger’s ogre/dragon/beholder/roper until the GM rolls a random encounter. What can I say? Games are weird. In the hands of a good GM, it works fine. “You rolled a 4 for Discern Realities? Okay. As you investigate the room, you knock a spear off of the weapon rack. It falls to the ground with a loud clatter. Behind the door to the north, you hear a grunt: “Whuzzat?” Suddenly, the door bursts open. Ogres!”

            It’s just another way to avoid tracking every element of the game world. The GM knows ahead of time that there are monsters lurking in the dungeon, and maybe even knows that they are likely to be ogres. Where are they at any given moment? When will the players be unlucky enough to encounter them? You could laboriously track that information, or you could just wait until a player fails a roll and say “well, I guess we’ve figured out where the ogres were”. The important thing is that it all fits within the existing fiction.

            OK, this makes a little more sense. Does it instruct you to build a table of what’s in the dungeon that your players might run into, or what? How does it keep it working within the existing fiction?

            Also, I noted this: “In the hands of a good GM, it works fine.”

            I think this is part of the issue. In the hands of a good GM, just about anything can work fine; alternatively, a good GM will be able to see what won’t be fine that should be ignored or cut. The people who write games tend, probably, to be better-than-average GMs. I think they don’t spend enough time thinking about the median-to-poor GMs. It’s like how martial arts guides tend to be written by people who are really good at martial arts, weightlifting guides by people good at lifting weights. Someone really good at something isn’t necessarily going to be the best at telling someone merely OK or worse how to do it.

            This really just seems like a problem with railroading. If fail-forward always fails towards a predetermined point B, then sure, that’s bad — but not because the GM is continually pushing the action forward. It’s bad because you’re only giving the illusion of player choice.

            If the story has a beginning and an end, what other “forward” is there to go to?

            To the extent that Dungeon World recommends failing forward, it’s by making sure things fail in interesting ways. If you fail to Discern Realities about the glowing crystal skull you found in the ruins of the temple, you should’t just end up sitting around looking at a crystal skull; there should be some sort of consequence that changes the situation. Maybe it senses your attention; maybe a monkey steals it; maybe your local guide rushes up to warn about some dangerous beast approaching the camp. It all depends on the current situation, and what complications could plausibly emerge.

            But, if the goal was to get the skull, and they can’t, how does a monster approaching change the situation?

            In the context of an investigation, failure doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t find something. It might mean that you don’t find it quickly. If for some reason you absolutely need the PCs to find a diary, then the negative consequence for failing a roll might be “You see a police car pull up outside the window”, or “You hear an explosion across town. Was that your boat?”

            If the key was to find the diary, I can see failure being “you find the diary, but it took longer, and now you have to run from the cops.” But if the diary is key – if without finding out what’s in the diary, they can’t go punch Ghatanathoa in the face and save Peru – I’m not sure how their boat blowing up enables that.

            The goal is not to keep things moving in a particular direction; it’s just to keep things moving. The key word in “advance the story” is “advance”, not “story”.

            I suppose my objection, boiled down is, so – if failure means “success but new problem” that’s good, although sooner or later your players will realize that failure just means a second chance in a different form: failure on your Search check means you get an Athletics check to run from the cops. But if failure introduces some side thing, that might be more interesting than “well, we didn’t find the diary, guess Ghatanathoa wins, nice knowing you guys” but once they’ve dealt with that, they still need to find the diary.

            EDIT: I was considering buying one of the World games just for the GMing advice, which you may have guessed I am big into. Which would you recommend?

          • Randy M says:

            The important thing is that it all fits within the existing fiction.

            This kind of highlights a difference in GM mentality. Some like to feel like the world is objective, and they are stepping into different people but not making it up as they go along. The world exists for the players to interact with. I get the appeal, but in the end it is all a facade. If the players go somewhere unexpected you are going to make things up. That’s not much different from changing what is in your notes or the adventure write up. So long as it doesn’t contradict what has been said it’s fine. If the players successfully scouted the camp and counted 6 ogres, have 6 ogre scalps on their belts, and were watching the exits the whole time–then pulling out the Ogre ambush would be pretty silly.
            Otherwise, what’s in your notes is no more real that what just popped into your head in response to the die roll–a possibility*. And the reason the adventure module said that there are six ogres in the dungeon is probably down to a balance or pacing issue, and if you are using a mechanic that allows for random encounters based on a bad roll, that’s part of the balance or pacing.

            *This doesn’t apply to major plot points; I don’t think it’s a good idea to have schroedinger’s mysteries where the solution is whatever clever thing the players think up second. That’s not as satisfying to solve.

          • Iain says:

            OK, this makes a little more sense. Does it instruct you to build a table of what’s in the dungeon that your players might run into, or what? How does it keep it working within the existing fiction?

            Building a table is work. What is the benefit of that work? You can prep it if you like, but Dungeon World is certainly not going to force you to do so. You might never need it. Heck, you might not even know what sorts of monsters exist in the world. For example: in my current campaign, I adapted this campaign starter to help create the world. While making the selection for “What is about to happen?”, one of my players started laughing: he’d just misread “a ship-killing storm bears down” as “ship-killing bears storm down”. And now the xenophobic merfolk in our campaign ride around on massive bear-whales.

            I obviously didn’t have bear-whales prepped as a monster. Fortunately, Dungeon World has a trimmed-down monster creation process, so it only took me a couple of minutes to stat them up. The goal is to minimize wasted prep time, and maximize the tools available to improvise on the fly.

            Instead of prepping the details of which monsters are standing where, Dungeon World encourages you to prep “fronts” — bad things happening in the world that the PCs probably want to prevent. Part of that preparation involves figuring out the things that will happen if the PCs don’t intervene. This gives you a structure to work with, but doesn’t commit you to any particular endgame.

            If the story has a beginning and an end, what other “forward” is there to go to?

            You can move the story forward locally — that is, make sure that something exciting is happening — without committing to a long-term destination. All stories have ends; the question is whether the GM already has a specific end already planned out.

            [stuff about diaries]

            Sorry, maybe I was unclear. My suggestions were for complications that arise after the diary is found. So if the character rolls to Discern the Reality of where the diary is, and fails, then that failure is allowed to express itself as “you fail to find the diary before the cops show up, so now you’ve got the diary but you’ve got another problem to deal with”.

            In the hands of a good GM, just about anything can work fine; alternatively, a good GM will be able to see what won’t be fine that should be ignored or cut.

            I’m not an experienced GM. The Dungeon World campaign I’m currently running is my first time in charge, and there are plenty of spots where I wish in retrospect that I had done something differently. But they’re all cases where I wish that I had done a better job of following the Dungeon World GM advice. I can’t really think of cases where the GM advice led me astray.

            Your mileage may vary.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You can move the story forward locally — that is, make sure that something exciting is happening — without committing to a long-term destination. All stories have ends; the question is whether the GM already has a specific end already planned out.

            I’ve done some improvisational stuff in games, and it’s turned out surprisingly fun. It leads, at least, to interesting stuff you wouldn’t come up with if you were thinking “carefully” – like your bear-whales. I’m in a weird place where I’m simultaneously working to increase my prep skills and increase my improvisational skills – I’m running three campaigns already for two groups, and taking on randomized old-school stuff soon also, and wow that sounds like a lot now that I write it down. And across the four things I am running/am about to run, one is story-heavy and prep-heavy, one is prep-heavy but it’s more mission-based, one is sandboxy but not randomized, and the thing I’m about to run, what I started all this about, is going to be snadboxy and randomized.

            What I’ve found in all cases is that, prep work is valuable, and so is improvisation. Not necessarily doing huge amounts of prep, because you don’t have to do that for everything. But knowing what you have to prep. Improvisation, perhaps unexpectedly, is always useful, because even in an extremely prep and story heavy campaign, unless you’re going to lay out every bar in the city, sooner or later you’re going to have to improvise something.

            Sorry, maybe I was unclear. My suggestions were for complications that arise after the diary is found. So if the character rolls to Discern the Reality of where the diary is, and fails, then that failure is allowed to express itself as “you fail to find the diary before the cops show up, so now you’ve got the diary but you’ve got another problem to deal with”.

            I’m probably being unclear too. Let’s put this on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is having some kind of timeline – they get as many Discern Reality checks as they need, but after x the cops are going to be in the neighbourhood, after y the cops are going to be pulling up, after z the cops are going to be knocking on the door, and then busting it down. In the middle, they automatically find the diary, but some roll, Luck for example, determines whether or not cops come rolling up. On the other end of the spectrum, they roll Discern Reality, on a success they find it, on a failure they find it but the cops roll up.

            My preference is for the first two. The first is a bit less graceful but is a bit more structured; it also gives the advantage that it lets the players use their skills, which tend to vary more than Luck-type rolls (eg, in DG it’s a flat 50-50). The third… I suppose I don’t like the idea that failing on a skill is not really failing.

            The worst option is they fail the check, there’s no cops coming, there never will be any cops coming, no other option to allow a redo at cost (I like to say “you can have another check, but make an Avoid Scrutiny check; you’re spending more time bumbling around in the house and the neighbour might hear you” or something like that), just the adventure hitting a dead wall until the GM spitballs a way to get the diary to the PCs.

            If there’s something you just gotta get to the PCs, the best option is the Three Clue Rule. They could find the diary. They could talk to the diary-keeper’s friends and ask what he’s been up to. They could find some way to gain access to his credit card records and see what travel he’s been doing, see what he’s been buying, etc.

            I’m not an experienced GM. The Dungeon World campaign I’m currently running is my first time in charge, and there are plenty of spots where I wish in retrospect that I had done something differently. But they’re all cases where I wish that I had done a better job of following the Dungeon World GM advice. I can’t really think of cases where the GM advice led me astray.

            Congrats! Running games is a great pleasure. I was a garbage GM for a little while, but didn’t run much. Then I was mediocre, and ran more. I only got anywhere close to good over the past several years, 2/3 into my experience playing games. I’ve found key is reading lots. I’m probably going to get Apocalypse World if only to read; I’ve heard the GM advice is worth the price alone.

            If you’re looking for GMing tips, beyond the site I’ve been shilling so much already, here’s what’s helped me:
            -the GMing advice in Wild Talents is quite good.
            -if you want to run mystery-horror, the d20 version of CoC has much better advice than the BRP version, even though the game itself is nowhere near as good, although it might be tricky to find. If you specifically want to run Cthulhu stuff, Stealing Cthulhu by Graham Walmsley is worth the price. He also wrote a book called Play Unsafe on improvising that’s good.
            -John Wick is, I am given to understand, a polarizing figure. His Play Dirty books have some interesting stuff in there, although a bit long on how awesome the games he’s run are. His indie-type stuff tends to be very open about explaining why he’s made the game design choices he’s made, and the advice for players and GMs is at a minimum interesting.
            -I picked up the books on running games by Engine Publishing and so far they’re good; I’m picking up enough stuff that they’re worth it if you can get the .pdfs on sale.

            One thing that really improved my GMing was running Paranoia XP and the other Paranoia games would probably work too. While on the surface the game talks a lot about how being a tyrannical GM is the point, the way that you need to tailor secret missions to each player (elevator pitch: the PCs are responsible for solving problems in a world run by a crazy computer. They hunt mutant traitors. Each is also a traitor and a mutant) that they’re doing in addition to (sometimes opposed to) the main mission teaches you a lot about serving your players.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I just want to say as someone whose first RPG experience was late AD&D, first skill-based system was BESM, but is intellectually aware that mature skill systems go back to Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, etc. and also wants to play retro-D&D, y’all are making interesting comments. 🙂

    • Randy M says:

      Piggybacking off your thread for a tangent, after reading some comments on the link thread it occurs to me that DMing is pretty close in skill set to teaching. You have to plan for the long term & short term,be able to speak well, improvise, and handle interpersonal disputes.
      Having said this, I enjoyed the former more than the latter, and I don’t think it’s entirely down to the content. Having a captive audience might be great for advertising, but when that captivity makes them indifferent at best and commonly hostile, it’s quite hard on a live “performer.” And of course if you blow off a session or two as a DM, your players might think less of you, but you aren’t being professionally negligent and jeopordizing your career, so there’s more pressure.
      Still, it might be interesting to think about how one discipline could borrow from the tools of the other.

      • dndnrsn says:

        At some times you’re quite literally teaching – usually the rules. And I find that in those cases, just dumping a bunch of info on people kills the moment dead. I was trying to explain a board game step by step to someone who’d never played before, and another player, who had played maybe once, kept breaking in to dump more detail in, often stuff that wasn’t relevant yet.

        I think you’re right that the planning and performance elements have a lot in common, and the group management skills.

        I think one of the key elements of GMing is the ability to put stuff together without getting super attached to one “version” of it. What I mean by this is that, let’s say you’re designing the villain for a campaign. You might design Archmage Uthool’s awesome mountain castle, his badass guards, etc. But when you start seeing in your head the confrontation with him going in a certain way, that creates the problem that you might start railroading to get there.

        The joy of RPGs is that, when it’s done right, player agency is more a thing than any other kind of game – I’m cribbing from Justin Alexander here; the advantage of pen and paper over other games is that agency, and the advantage over books or movies or TV is that the story isn’t set. As a GM, your players will do unpredicted stuff, and that’s where the magic is; all the most memorable moments I’ve had running come from the PCs doing unpredictable stuff.

        Railroading happens when the GM doesn’t want to deal with that unpredictable stuff. He doesn’t want the PCs to come up with a daring plan to shoot a poison dart into Uthool’s neck when he takes off his Robes of Protection to go to sleep; he wants them to walk into the throne room, hear the villain speech, get captured, hear another villain speech while captured, escape, get their stuff back, fight him in the throne room, etc. And so he fudges and so on to ensure that.

        I hate railroading; it’s the ultimate GM sin in my mind. Other problems are usually quantitative: the GM needs to learn the rules, or needs to prep more, or needs to get better at improvising; usually these things are all possible. Railroading is a qualitative problem: it won’t get better on its own through practice (like knowledge of the rules or improvisation would), and it isn’t glaringly obvious what the problem is (like those, or like lacking prep). In fact, as things go on, railroading often gets worse – the GM decides “this works” and does it more and more.

        I don’t know if there’s any analogue to this for teachers. Maybe the whole “a teacher’s job is to make themselves unnecessary” idea? Perhaps a parallel is that, the worst teachers I’ve ever had generally had some idea of how things should go, how things were going to happen, and reacted really badly to being challenged, etc.

  15. oftwaresengineer says:

    Hi all,

    Short version: if anyone on this forum works at a tech company or startup, I would greatly appreciate if you could refer my resume.

    Long version: this isn’t a Classifieds thread, but life marches on and I thought it was time to reach out. Without going into too much detail, I am a senior studying something computer science-adjacent at a top-ten university in the United States. I was a software engineering intern at a Big Five tech company last summer. I say this not to brag, but to try to pass credentialism tests that will inevitably be applied to someone posting about this subject in this venue.

    I’d like to be a software engineer when I grow up, i.e. later this year. I would prefer to have a job lined up already, but don’t yet. I am in various stages of interviewing with different companies, including an onsite in a few weeks, and at this point am trying to cast a rather wide net. My preference is to work in the Bay Area, though New York is a close second, and really, anywhere in the United States is fine.

    (I’m also an occasional poster on this forum, though not under this name; I try to maintain something of a separation between my real name and the name I post under here. If we can find some of Scott’s spare time, I would be willing to privately testify to him which other account is mine, and he could [I assume] vouch that I occasionally post about math-adjacent things. Otherwise you’ll have to take my word for it.)

    I can be reached at oftwaresengineer@gmail.com.

    Apologies to Scott if such solicitations are unwelcome in the open threads.

  16. MrApophenia says:

    All the Jordan Peterson posts of the past few days raised one of those big ‘typical mind’ moments of realizing my experience of the need for meaning, or lack thereof.

    Peterson has devoted all this time to trying to find a way to build meaning in a modern, Godless universe. And from the response, this is clearly a thing lots of people are looking for.

    I have realized I don’t really get it. I kind of understand what people mean when they talk about meaning, but I don’t think I have ever actually felt any particular desire for it. The idea that the universe is random and purposeless to me is just kind of… yes? It probably is, that seems to check out. And? So what?

    Do people here experience the kind of deep longing for meaning under discussion here? What is that like? Is it a feeling that you can’t find a motivation to act unless there is some greater purpose to it, or am I misunderstanding the problem?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Obviously I can only speak for myself here so YMMV, but:

      Do people here experience the kind of deep longing for meaning under discussion here? What is that like? Is it a feeling that you can’t find a motivation to act unless there is some greater purpose to it, or am I misunderstanding the problem?

      It’s less of a lack of motivation than a lack of context for ones motivations.

      Even bereft of meaning, you still have motivations to drive your actions. Your appetites for food, sex, and sleep don’t go away and neither does your ambition or your curiosity. After all, if you truly lacked all motivation you’d just lay in bed and wait for death.

      The thing is that, without meaning, those motivations are all that you have. You learn until your curiosity is satisfied; you work until your ambition is satisfied; you eat, screw and sleep until your appetites are satisfied. But ultimately all of them are insatiable. You feel like a rat running in a wheel, never getting anywhere no matter how frantically you chase satisfaction.

      A sense of meaning takes those motivations and puts them in their correct context. Healthy appetites, a healthy ambition, and a healthy sense of curiosity all work towards the same purpose; the telos of humanity, whether you call it divine creation or an evolutionary niche. If you understand that purpose then you can see how each of your disparate actions help you to achieve a singular end. Instead of a blind, unending chase for momentary satisfaction you can see the incremental progress you’re making towards a definite, achievable purpose.

      Whether there is actually a meaning of life, and if so what exactly it is, is a different question. I have an answer that makes sense to me but I don’t expect it to be terribly compelling to other people.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Huh. I wonder if the difference is one of how difficult it is to satiate one’s appetites? I don’t feel that sense of unending, frantic search for satisfaction. Maybe it’s a threshold thing – I am not particularly ambitious, so enough money to be comfortable, spending time around people whose company I enjoy, eating a good meal, etc. actually does seem to pretty much do the job as far as I’m concerned.

        It sounds like for others, that stuff doesn’t cut it unless they feel these things are driving toward some kind of a grand meta-goal beyond the actions themselves?

        • James says:

          For me, it’s that pure hedonism doesn’t really cut it. Yes, I enjoy the things you mention—spending time around people whose company I enjoy, eating a good meal—but I can’t help but feel a sort of a yearning, longing feeling for something more significant in life. I guess you’d call that a purpose, a meaning, whatever. But, though I feel the yearning for it hard, it’s tricky to find something to ground that purpose in. (I still don’t really feel like I have, but I’m better able to put it to the back of my mind nowadays, especially when I’m emotionally fulfilled.)

      • albatross11 says:

        To the extent you take your cues from the default culture around you, I think you don’t get any guidance toward having any bigger purpose or meaning in your life than getting laid/paid/fed. Popular culture isn’t going to provide you with any deeper meaning, and in fact is extremely corrosive of most anything that looks like meaning or purpose.

        My not-all-that-well-informed sense is that this has changed over time–when the default culture around you was likely to include semi-regular attendance at a church (or synogogue or mosque or temple or whatever), you were at least plugged into some source of (alleged) deeper meaning than scratching your current itches. I think people have become less and less involved in their communities over time, with things like scouts, lodges, local politics, etc., and that’s probably another place where that sense of meaning or bigger purpose than yourself was lost.

        I’m definitely not claiming that you must have church (or lodge membership, or scouts, or whatever else) or to have meaning, just that it’s probably a fairly accessible on-ramp for it that has lost a lot of its reach and appeal over the years.

    • fion says:

      Not the reply you’re asking for because I think I’m in the same boat as you. About 99% of the time I’m like “yep, obviously life has no meaning. It’s just a thing that happens. Who cares?”

      Very occasionally I get a bit angsty and think “why do I do the things I do and not other things? How can I decide what things to do if there’s no meaning?” and I start to read about hedonism and utilitarianism virtue ethics and I never quite work it out and eventually go back to not thinking about it.

      However, I do find that my mood is better when I’m doing something that feels like it has meaning, even though I know I’m fooling myself because there is no meaning in anything. Exercise, improving at a skill, making progress at work all make me feel better than watching TV. I’m not sure if it was Peterson, Scott or one of the highlighted comments, but I think somebody made the distinction between emotional meaning and philosophical meaning. My hunch is that the former is super-important but doesn’t really make much sense and the latter doesn’t exist. Perhaps we need competent charlatans to convince us we’ve found the latter so that we can experience the former.

      • MrApophenia says:

        This makes sense. From this comment as well, this seems like a threshold thing related to how hard it is for you to get that sense of emotional purpose. If you get that sense of purpose just from an immediate goal (“I am exercising because I want to get in shape” and getting in shape is sufficient enough to provide the necessary purpose for the exercise) then you don’t feel as much need to worry about all the meta-level stuff about whether being in shape matters on a philosophical level or not.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Do people here experience the kind of deep longing for meaning under discussion here? What is that like? Is it a feeling that you can’t find a motivation to act unless there is some greater purpose to it, or am I misunderstanding the problem?

      Hmmmm, I wouldn’t describe it as “longing for meaning.” Ever experience “flow”? You know, being “in the zone” when you’re working on something, and time just flies by? It’s a great feeling. But when you aren’t “in the zone,” you don’t necessarily desire that feeling. You’re just more likely to feel frustrated.

      I don’t walk through my life constantly feeling a sense of purpose. I don’t take a dump “with purpose.” I don’t drink with friends “with purpose.” I don’t watch Black Mirror “with purpose.”

      But a sense of meaning gives strength when otherwise you may be frustrated with your lot in life. Work assigned me another moronic mindless task, but it’s necessary because it provides for the well-being of my family. I have to go home and cook dinner and clean dishes, but, again, it’s providing for the well-being of my family. The alternative is more a sense of frustration and “why the hell does my life suck so much?”

      • psmith says:

        “He who has a why to live for can bear most any how”, and all that.

      • MrApophenia says:

        If “for my family counts” then maybe that’s what I’m getting confused by. I absolutely understand and experience the feeling of “I am doing this to help put food on the table for my loved ones.”

        I get the impression that a lot of people are still looking for some level of meaning above and beyond the people around them, though – that’s the bit that seems difficult to conceptualize for me.

        • Randy M says:

          I get the impression that a lot of people are still looking for some level of meaning above and beyond the people around them

          Plenty of people these days don’t have people around them.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      How old are you? I don’t think I got whacked by the “What Does This All Mean?” meteor until I left my 20s.

    • Incurian says:

      This might be a good survey question. I’d be interested to see what it’s correlated with. I find the need for meaning completely foreign and incomprehensible, so I wonder what else is wrong with you weirdos.

    • I don’t think I feel that. I have a feeling that I ought, in some sense, to pay my way, justify the space I take up in the world by doing things worth doing. But it seems obvious to me that lots of the sorts of things I do are worth doing. The fact that in a society of eight billion people my odds of accomplishing anything that matters to a significant fraction of them are low doesn’t negate that–on a global scale, I’m not taking up any significant amount of space.

      I am bothered by mortality–in part because I feel as though my life is both enjoyable and worth living, so I would like to keep living it for considerably longer than I am likely to, assuming that a solution to aging doesn’t come sooner than I expect.

      • Incurian says:

        I am bothered by mortality–in part because I feel as though my life is both enjoyable and worth living, so I would like to keep living it for considerably longer than I am likely to, assuming that a solution to aging doesn’t come sooner than I expect.

        This is disheartening. I always wanted to believe that the Dumbledore view on death is the one that people come to adopt as they grow older. Not looking forward to ever increasing existential angst.

        • I’m not sure it’s increasing. I’ve been bothered by the fact that I was eventually going to die for as long as I can remember.

          • Incurian says:

            Phew.

          • skef says:

            Incurian – This may be of no help, but at least in terms of outward expression, the tendency to never be more at peace with the prospect of death with age seems to track libertarianism more than any other factor.

            It’s possible, of course, that everyone else is the same, only in denial. But taking reports on the subject at face value, it appears that the psychological and philosophical traits that lead to a libertarian outlook leave one (correctly or not) less accepting of the prospect than traits that lead to other outlooks.

          • Incurian says:

            Fuck.

    • tayfie says:

      I have realized I don’t really get it. I kind of understand what people mean when they talk about meaning, but I don’t think I have ever actually felt any particular desire for it. The idea that the universe is random and purposeless to me is just kind of… yes? It probably is, that seems to check out. And? So what?

      No. I don’t think that at all, and I don’t think that is really a proposition consistent with how anyone acts. People know their own actions have consequences. They know eating will make them feel better when they are hungry. The universe is full of pattern and structure that we can describe. At the most basic level, causes have repeatable effects. A truly random universe would contain no information. All outcomes would be equally likely. You could not pick out any patterns to describe, and if you can’t describe reality, then there is no such thing as truth. But we can describe reality and truth does exist.

      With a universe full of cause and effect, and ourselves a part of the universe, our lives must be part of the same structures. Our lives have some impact on the ultimate shape of the universe, on the journey taken through probability space and, perhaps, the final destination. Some people have a strong desire to understand what that impact is for outside, usually moral, reasons.

      People don’t long for meaning as something to be brought into existence, They long to understand what the meaning that so obviously exists has to do with them. In a pithy phrase, they want to know their “place in the world”. Whatever moral system you hold, understanding your relation to the universe is key to following it, and some people, myself among them, don’t sufficiently understand.

      I don’t expect I’ve made much sense, but I hope I have provided some perspective.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Yes, the lack of context is key. Since I’ve gotten out of school, my life has had no meaning and I’ve become highly depressed and nonfunctional. I’m not religious – that’s not what I’m looking for. But I mean in the sense of being able to participate in something larger, to have deeper conversations, to develop character and not just be in a mindless consumerism chase. For whatever reason, that consumption focus worked for me when I was in school – I guess I figured then something better would happen. But with all that is available seeming to be BS jobs (not all, but now I’m so far down I can’t motivate myself to find the good ones), I feel totally pointless. My actual skills are not desired, and doing what’s expected of me no longer gives me any satisfaction. I know I can follow rules. I would prefer to do good work. I’ve just fallen out of sync with the culture. But I have no sense of where I’m going or how to plan my future. I feel like I can’t meet like-minded people or find the right cause. Everything just feels pointless and silly, like I could be doing something so much better. But the lack of meaning and direction has made it impossible to put a plan in place to work towards those things, and society is of course steering you away from them at every turn. There’s no time to think things through with all the hoops I have to jump through unnecessarily.

  17. soreff says:

    This is sort of a very belated follow-up to
    What Developmental Milestones Are You Missing?

    In 1998 Allison Lonsdale
    wrote an interesting song

    Unclean © Allison Lonsdale 1998

    There are sinners who dream of redemption
    There are angels who weep with desire
    Some are baptized with razors and some by immersion in fire

    I have tasted the blood of the martyrs and saints
    On the lips of the queen of all whores
    And the things that men worship as pure are covered with sores

    The doctors and priests who refrain from the feast
    Do not understand what I mean
    When I say that I want what I want because it’s unclean

    There is sickness that claims to be evil
    There is evil I know to be truth
    Occam’s Razor can’t cut them as fine as a sharp enough tooth

    Sweeter than innocent blood in the vein
    Is corrosion that eats to the core
    What I take from that cup gets me drunker than ever before

    The newly released who still run from the beast
    Do not understand what I mean
    When I say that I want what I want because it’s unclean

    I have danced in the depths of corruption
    And I wasn’t there under duress
    There are deep revelations we reach through the gates of excess

    Those who restrain their desires do so
    ‘Cause they’ve weak enough ones to restrain
    They stay ignorant of the transformative power of pain

    The greatest and least of the walking deceased
    Do not understand what I mean
    When I say that I want what I want because it’s unclean

    My question to everyone here is:
    What do you think of the claim that
    “There are deep revelations we reach through the gates of excess”?

    For my own part, this bring to mind two cases, one a rather
    peripheral case, and one a bit more central, but a bit snarky.

    The first is a claim that I’ve heard that if one has never broken
    a bone, one doesn’t really know the limits of one’s body.
    I haven’t, and, in that sense, I don’t.

    More centrally: I’m ignorant of what a hangover feels like.
    Frankly, I intend to remain so.

    Any suggestions on other cases – particularly ones where
    the revelations are worth the costs and hazards of excess?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      “The first is a claim that I’ve heard that if one has never broken
      a bone, one doesn’t really know the limits of one’s body.
      I haven’t, and, in that sense, I don’t.”

      Now that’s just silly. I’ve taken a couple of steps on a foot with a cracked bone, and it’s probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt, but there’s plenty worse that can happen. One of my friends has trigeminal neuralgia, , and a couple of steps on a cracked bone isn’t in the same class. She doesn’t see anything about it that’s worth having.

      As for “There are deep revelations we reach through the gates of excess”, I have no idea. I’m tempted to say that the person has a strong desire for uncleanlness and is just making an excuse, but it’s hard to tell.

      Meanwhile, I congratulate Lonsdale for writing a nice clear orderly lyric with a catchy refrain. There’s some filth she won’t touch.

      Performance. It’s filk, which gives me a different take on it, especially the laugh at the end– how much is it a confessional, and how much is it a bit of fun?

      This being said, I really liked The Face of Twilight by Mark Samuels, which is a pretty unclean novella.

      • gbdub says:

        I don’t think the point is that a broken bone is the worst pain.

        Rather, until you’ve broken your body, you don’t realize how far your body can go before it breaks. That is, you may be limiting yourself to well below your capacity until you’re forced to use all of it – afterwards you could use more of your limit without fear.

        Which makes some sense but probably doesn’t work that great in practice since there’s a lot of luck involved in broken / unbroken bones

      • soreff says:

        Many Thanks! Longer response this weekend.

      • soreff says:

        Now that’s just silly. I’ve taken a couple of steps on a foot with a cracked bone, and it’s probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt, but there’s plenty worse that can happen.

        Oops – sorry about the ambiguity. I meant it in the way gbdub interpreted it:

        until you’ve broken your body, you don’t realize how far your body can go before it breaks

        The original context was a discussion about athletic activities.
        The reason I brought it up here is that strain “beyond the bone’s design” is a form of excess – and knowing where that limit is is a (bone-deep 🙂 ) revelation. It is a very peripheral example, though, since the whole tone of the song is transgressive, and athletic activities aren’t transgressive.

        It’s filk, which gives me a different take on it, especially the laugh at the end– how much is it a confessional, and how much is it a bit of fun?

        Good question!

    • Nick says:

      The only thing I can approve of here is the Miskatonic University tee she’s wearing. 😀

      More seriously, it is an interesting song. Now, I’ll caution first that I Was Not Amused by the first few verses, which sounded like a hackneyed family of criticisms of Christianity I’ve seen: that folks who are most outwardly upright are that way because they’re hiding disordered desires, or hiding that they’re committing actual depravities. This has psychological plausibility if you recall the phenomenon of outspoken critics of gay marriage who are obviously gay, and the failure of some outspoken conservatives in things like the Catholic sex abuse crisis (I’m thinking here of Bernard Law), but I find it tiresome when it’s treated like a conviction of social conservatism in general. Or it may be suggesting, and this is related to but distinct from the earlier criticism, that this outward uprightness is a kind of self-mutilation, of one’s desires if not of the flesh, so that it’s worse than giving in to desire at all. I think this just fails to recognize how seriously disordered desires can be. Would anyone seriously maintain that e.g. a life of self-imposed celibacy is worse than pedophilia?

      But once you get past the first few verses, it gets better:

      There is sickness that claims to be evil
      There is evil I know to be truth
      Occam’s Razor can’t cut them as fine as a sharp enough tooth

      The sickness vs evil thing is really interesting. I can only speculate, but I suspect Lonsdale would put pedophilia on the sickness side and the things she likes but other people don’t as “evil.” The idea here may be that there is objective criteria for some things being disordered, so of course we can agree about pedophilia. But evil is just a moral category, and without objective criteria people can use it to describe anything they don’t approve of. “Evil,” here, Lonsdale might maintain, is a superfluous category: having the concept around might be socially useful, as a way to corral what others do, but it’s not describing nature. Hence the invocation of Occam’s Razor.

      Sweeter than innocent blood in the vein
      Is corrosion that eats to the core
      What I take from that cup gets me drunker than ever before

      That said, what Lonsdale means by “unclean” sounds pretty specific. That is, it’s not just a wide swath of behaviors which evangelicals would condemn from the pulpit. We see one criterion here: it’s self-corrupting or self-corroding. “Gets me drunker” may here mean pleasure or perhaps loss of self in the act.

      The newly released who still run from the beast
      Do not understand what I mean
      When I say that I want what I want because it’s unclean

      A reaffirmation that it’s not enough simply to give in to the desire. It’s not enough even to accept the desire as a sort of necessary evil, or as something that just happens to you. Lonsdale is saying that she, unlike others, embraces it knowing what it is, for what it is.

      I have danced in the depths of corruption
      And I wasn’t there under duress
      There are deep revelations we reach through the gates of excess

      There’s a reaffirmation, more explicit here with “I wasn’t there under duress,” that it’s by choice. I can only think of two things the “deep revelations” here can be: the first is self-revelations, like about the kind of person one is or the kind of desires one has, which can be very important personally but aren’t very interesting here.

      The second, though, relates to a classic position in philosophy going back to Plato, or Socrates if you want to pick nits: that when we’re deciding what to do, we always seek what we take to be the good. Aquinas even makes this the first principle of practical reason, the very basis of his natural law. It looks dubious at first glance: don’t we do things we know we shouldn’t all the time, or not do things we know we should? The classic problem of akrasia rears its head. Lonsdale may look on the face of it to be objecting in a different way: can’t I just really, knowingly, choose something bad? Now, she doesn’t think it’s really “evil,” by my interpretation, but her Christian critics may. And what’s more, she still thinks it’s corrupting, bad in some sense, so isn’t it nonetheless a serious problem for them? The short answer is no, and this is a fun topic I would be happy to get into in a followup comment. 😀

      Those who restrain their desires do so
      ‘Cause they’ve weak enough ones to restrain
      They stay ignorant of the transformative power of pain

      Unfortunately this, I think, suggests that the first interpretation is the correct one, and she only meant self-revelations. Apparently there’s something about embracing these “unclean” acts which is transformative. It’s possible she thinks that in acting on these desires and deliberately subjecting oneself to the consequences one is becoming stronger, not weaker—giving in to strong desires is by contrast often taken to be a weakness of the will—but it’s hard to say. Maybe, to bring it back to the “hackneyed criticism” from above, to embrace one’s desires and set aside guilt and shame and so on is the empowerment she’s talking about. But I’m no walking deceased at all, so I won’t say I know what she means. 🙂

      Btw, soreff, I’ve finally responded to you in the Jordan Peterson thread.

      • soreff says:

        Many Thanks! Longer response this weekend.

      • soreff says:

        Many Thanks!

        That is a very interesting reading of Lonsdale’s song.
        I hadn’t been attempting anything similar.
        I was just taking most of the song as transgressive artistic metaphorical imagery, with a mild rebuke to those like me “who refrain from the feast” (though I’m neither doctor nor priest – a programmer, actually). I had kind of been ignoring the
        “There is sickness that claims to be evil
        There is evil I know to be truth”
        (my knee-jerk reaction was: category error).
        I like your interpretation of:

        …but it’s not describing nature. Hence the invocation of Occam’s Razor.

        That makes good sense as an explanation of why Lonsdale used it here, which I’d been viewing as very cryptic.

        I can only think of two things the “deep revelations” here can be: the first is self-revelations, like about the kind of person one is or the kind of desires one has, which can be very important personally but aren’t very interesting here.

        Hmm – I picked the hangover example, which is a self-revelation, but more of a bodily one, more hardware than software.

        There is another sort of “revelations we reach through the gates of excess” but it gets very far from the central theme of the song. Sometimes people get close to monomaniacal about intellectual pursuits, a form of excess, and when they crack a hard problem, that can count as a revelation…

    • James says:

      It reminds me of Swinburne—lots of deliberately shocking excess for excess’ sake in there (for instance, in the much-too-long Dolores). Also some particular lines and rhymes bring him to mind.

      The trope itself is appealingly romantic but, I think, a bit silly.

      • soreff says:

        Many Thanks! Longer response this weekend.

      • soreff says:

        Interesting. I’m not familiar with Swinburne. After a quick glance at e.g. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/swinburne/hymn.html his verse seems more calming than shocking:

        Thou art more than the Gods who number the days of our temporal breath;
        For these give labour and slumber; but thou, Proserpina, death.
        Therefore now at thy feet I abide for a season in silence. I know
        I shall die as my fathers died, and sleep as they sleep; even so.
        For the glass of the years is brittle wherein we gaze for a span;
        A little soul for a little bears up this corpse which is man.l
        So long I endure, no longer; and laugh not again, neither weep.
        For there is no God found stronger than death; and death is a sleep.

        Seems like “and this too shall pass away” – expanded to Victorian lengths…

    • powerfuller says:

      Reminds me a little of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

      Those who restrain Desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling.
      And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of Desire…

      And later on, the proverb: “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”

      I can sympathize with the feeling of having learned something about oneself or about the world through making the evil/selfish/foolish choice; certainly I’ve made such choices. I like the results about myself aesthetically, namely, a stronger personality as compared to the Christian or Buddhist ideal of self-renunciation, but damned if I know I’m actually happier for it, or if this self is any truer or more authentic than a more moral version of me. But, sure, going all in on id or on superego will take you to mutually exclusive places, and it’s nigh impossible to get a full look at both. Trying to get the pleasure of one place without accepting its pain is what gets you the worst, I think.

      • soreff says:

        Many Thanks! Longer response this weekend.

      • DavidS says:

        Also the Proverb ‘the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’ seems very close to the “There are deep revelations we reach through the gates of excess” point. Less pithy but you can read the classic ‘doors of perception’ thing that went via Huxley to the Doors this way too

        “The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell
        For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of life; and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy, whereas it now appears finite and corrupt.
        This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
        But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
        If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
        For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

        The same tradition exists in various places. ‘Left-hand’ Tantra (in Hinduism and also I think Buddhism) often works on the basis of seeking insight through breaking dharma (‘good’ but perhaps more relevantly order/duty/law). What matters here is excess in the terms of breaking the limits (Blake again: ‘the cistern contains, the fountain overflows’) rather than ‘having wild fun’. So some of the rule-breaking might look like self-indulgence (illicit sex and drugs), but other bits might just seem unpleasant (sleeping in graveyards, contact with dead flesh or excrement).

        Random notes
        – Huxley’s Book The Perennial Philosophy is fascinating but I think deeply wrong (he thinks all mystical experience is basically the same, and described variously as being one with the world, feeling like the whole universe is one and being in contact with the One: but if you read e.g. Eckhart he actually distinguishes very clearly between what sounds like Huxley’s pantheism on psillocybin (which he sees as pretty weaksauce and meaningless) and higher levels of spiritual experience. You don’t have to accept the value judgement and these might all just be advances on how as a kid I spun around to get a dizzy-high, but it does seem like Huxley is assuming things must be the same without basis. A bit like I could probably find people talking about lots of different drugs and conclude they all referred to the same state.
        – Blake and printing is amazing. I’m not sure if it’s actually established that he invented the burn-away process that he used, but I’ve read that. He (naturally) attributes it to the supernatural (his dead brother tells him how). But to gloss his different method as

        “Printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid”

        Is just cool
        – Blake generally is just cool. More of an Old Testament prophet than most of the Old Testament prophets. Marriage of Heaven and Hell in particular. It says a lot that he not only as a ‘memorable fancy’ of him and an angel battling over their metaphyiscal perspective but that quite casually he is apparently winged or at least capable of (space)flight:

        He laugh’d at my proposal; but I, by force, suddenly caught him in my arms, and flew westerly thro’ the night, till we were elevated above the earth’s shadow; then I flung myself with him directly into the body of the sun. Here I clothed myself in white, and taking in my hand Swedenborg’s volumes, sunk from the glorious clime, and passed all the planets till we came to Saturn. Here I stay’d to rest, and then leap’d into the void between Saturn and the fixed stars.

        • DavidS says:

          PS: I’d actually read

          Those who restrain their desires do so
          ‘Cause they’ve weak enough ones to restrain

          As suggesting quite strongly the writer has read Blake. It’s just so close to

          “Those who restrain Desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling.”

          In this context I’d suspect ‘gates of excess’ as echoing Blake too, perhaps the doors of perecption or the road of excess.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          From memory, there’s something in C.S. Lewis about people assuming all mystical experiences are the same, but that’s like assuming that because setting out to sea is pretty similar every time, the destinations are the same.

          As for the improvement of sensory experience, once I was meditating by visualizing red, and I somehow got to what I call red beyond red. I haven’t replicated the experience or tried to, but I did something of the sort using a helioscope, which is a telescope for looking at the sun. It was for seeing sunspots, not granules, and the field was a very bright, pure red.

          There’s something of the sort in a Disch novel about seeing a blue and white checked dishcloth in a similar way.

          In one of John Chilton Pearce’s books (probably Magical Child) there’s a description of cranking all the senses to a more intense level. I don’t remember if this was supposed to be possible to maintain all the time. My experience did feel more like taking down a filter than adding energy.

        • soreff says:

          Also the Proverb ‘the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’ seems very close to the “There are deep revelations we reach through the gates of excess” point.

          Agreed, and thanks for pointing it out!

      • soreff says:

        Neat! I hadn’t realized that Lonsdale was quoting Blake.
        Her songs often have many interesting references, but I hadn’t realized that she had some in this one. I was just taking most of the song as transgressive artistic metaphorical imagery, with a mild rebuke to those like me “who refrain from the feast” (though I’m neither doctor nor priest – a programmer, actually). Given the Blake quote, I wonder how many other references and levels of meaning I’m missing…

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It seems to me that the song makes enough emotional sense that it’s emotionally effective, even though it might not describe real people. Or it might, considering that John Waters is a real person.

      There’s a bit in Ayn Rand about those who have been told that what they need to live is evil may end up embracing actual evils.

      There’s good, and then there’s the human conception of good, and likewise for unclean. Hypothesis: a person who notices that the conception of good leaves out too much of the world might take a dive into “evil” which ends up including some actual evil.

      • soreff says:

        It seems to me that the song makes enough emotional sense that it’s emotionally effective, even though it might not describe real people. Or it might, considering that John Waters is a real person.

        🙂

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s broken bones, and there’s broken bones. I’ve broken ribs, a metacarpal (boxer’s fracture, though I didn’t get it hitting anything), and my pelvis. Broken (non-displaced) ribs are merely painful. Metacarpal… well, damn it hurts, and if you do anything with the damaged part of the hand, it’s sharp and intense pain, but not really going to teach you anything. Pelvis… now we’re talking pain, and accidentally putting weight on it weeks later was still sufficient to almost get me to black out. Not a one of them resulted in any deep revelations, although the last makes me very wary of opoid restrictions. The limits of your skeleton really aren’t that interesting anyway; you very rarely can break a bone merely overdoing normal activity. If you want to know useful physical limits, training to failure or exercising until you “bonk” is better… still not pleasant.

      Hangovers are not overrated. They are, however, pretty much rated spot-on. IMO, not going to learn much there except “don’t do that again”.

      On the other hand, I have perhaps learned something through excess fear, namely losing control of my car. I learned that when the adrenaline starts pumping, I can in fact still think and act. I imagine there are ways to learn this in a more controlled environment however.

      • soreff says:

        Hangovers are not overrated. They are, however, pretty much rated spot-on. IMO, not going to learn much there except “don’t do that again”.

        Many Thanks! – Yeah, I think I’ll stick with my plan to avoid a revelation on what that sensation feels like… 🙂

        On the other hand, I have perhaps learned something through excess fear, namely losing control of my car. I learned that when the adrenaline starts pumping, I can in fact still think and act. I imagine there are ways to learn this in a more controlled environment however.

        Many Thanks! Yes, that does sound like something worth knowing – but, as you suggest, worth knowing in a safer way…

    • Deiseach says:

      Those who restrain their desires do so
      ‘Cause they’ve weak enough ones to restrain
      They stay ignorant of the transformative power of pain

      Pretty much bullshit. There are plenty of “irresistable desires” that we expect people to resist, and punish them if they don’t do so. I doubt even the singer would defend a rapist or torture-killer on the grounds “They just couldn’t restrain their desires, those were too strong to be controlled”.

      How does she know how strong restrained desires are? She admits she has never restrained hers, so she has no idea how much effort it might take (her song sounds like “yeah I put up a tiny weak resistance for a microsecond then gave in”, not “I wrestled with this demon for weeks but it wore me down beyond my strength to endure”). Does she appreciate not being punched in the snoot by someone who really has had to struggle to repress the strong desire to punch her in the snoot, or does she assume if she’s not getting punched in the snoot, it’s because the non-puncher is too much of a marshmallow?

      Now, if she did stick to her guns all the way and did say “yes, we should not punish rapists because they indulged their desires”, I might have more time for it – at least she would be consistent, even if still wrong – but as it is, it sounds like wanting to eat her cake and have it: ooooh, I am so daring and wicked and naughty, not like you prissy stick-in-the-muds! I am so deep and strong and primal and wild! Admire me! (But that guy who is not as cool as me still totally should go to jail).

      • soreff says:

        Good point. Many Thanks for the comment!

        On Lonsdale’s youtube video of her song, I commented about the same stanza:

        Good song!

        Those who restrain their desires do so
        ‘Cause they’ve weak enough ones to restrain
        They stay ignorant of the transformative power of pain

        Fair enough. I, myself, happen to fall on the less passionate end of the spectrum of human variation. So, yes, my desires are easy to restrain – and I have an intellectual, but not emotional, understanding of people towards the opposite end. I watch the drama – but from a safe distance :)

    • FLWAB says:

      The Devil is a gentleman, and asks you down to stay
      At his little place at What’sitsname (it isn’t far away).
      They say the sport is splendid; there is always something new,
      And fairy scenes, and fearful feats that none but he can do;
      He can shoot the feathered cherubs if they fly on the estate,
      Or fish for Father Neptune with the mermaids for a bait;
      He scaled amid the staggering stars that precipice, the sky,
      And blew his trumpet above heaven, and got by mastery
      The starry crown of God Himself, and shoved it on the shelf;
      But the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn’t brag himself.

      O blind your eyes and break your heart and hack your hand away,
      And lose your love and shave your head; but do not go to stay
      At the little place in What’sitsname where folks are rich and clever;
      The golden and the goodly house, where things grow worse for ever;
      There are things you need not know of, though you live and die in vain,
      There are souls more sick of pleasure than you are sick of pain;
      There is a game of April Fool that’s played behind its door,
      Where the fool remains for ever and the April comes no more,
      Where the splendour of the daylight grows drearier than the dark,
      And life droops like a vulture that once was such a lark:
      And that is the Blue Devil that once was the Blue Bird;
      For the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn’t keep his word.

      -G.K. Chesterman, The Aristocrat

  18. waltonmath says:

    I just discovered Fermat’s Library, which seems fantastic and of interest to readers here. It provides a simple interface for “writing in the margin” of arXiv papers and reading the commentary of others. A featured, commentated paper is posted to the website each week. It already has millions of visitors a month, but I hope people here will further boost its signal!

    • fion says:

      I’ve only just given it a quick glance but this looks amazing! Thanks for sharing.

      At a first glance, though, its interface seems incredibly crap. Perhaps I’ve just not sussed it out yet. Is the chrome extension the way to use it or is there a way to filter papers on the main website in a more helpful (arxiv-like) way?

  19. Books on improving social skills: how to be friendlier with people? how to make lasting friendships? etc
    What do you recommend?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I actually would recommend the blog “Barking up the wrong tree.” At a cursory level it may look like it suffers from banal commentary, regurgitated content, Buzzfeed-style listicles, etc.

      But the actual value is having the same simple lessons hammered into your head over and over and over again, with a healthy dose of good feelings. That’ll both improve your mood and make some of these standard life lessons second-nature.

    • Well Armed Sheep says:

      Oldie but reasonably goodie: Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

      Which doesn’t have anything pathbreaking, by any means. 90% of the important insight in the book is “people like people who appear to be interested in them.” 1

    • rlms says:

      You might find The Definitive Book of Body Language useful.

    • marian_ says:

      Thanks for recommendations!

    • yodelyak says:

      Not quite what you’re asking for, but I strongly recommend you try to keep a 1:1 or better balance between “character-type” and “personality-type” self-help books. (The distinction is explained at the start of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Boiling the difference down small, character books aim at how to change yourself, to become better, so success becomes more likely. Personality books aim at how to change others, so they like you/trust you/are persuaded by you/lend you money/respect you more, but without really aiming at changing yourself.)

      Some great “character”-type self-help books: 1. Proverbs/Ecclesiastes 2. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People 3. The Autobiography of Ben Franklin 4. Leadership & Self-Deception

      Some great “personality”-type self-help books: 1. Anything by Dale Carnegie (I read two of his, one of them “How to Win Friends…” in one week as a young person, and they run together, but IIRC, both excellently helpful to my high school self, and specifically for personal skill-building.) Shoot, gotta run, maybe I’ll get a chance to stop back by and expand these lists.

  20. johan_larson says:

    If office-workers fantasize about being artists, what sort of lives do artists fantasize about?

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      The sort of life where they have a rich, patient spouse who pays the bills and puts up with their crap 🙂
      (I’m mostly joking – I’m not an artist, and the only one I knew was my uncle, who was my uncle because he had found such a spouse. But I’d figure that financial independence is a common theme in artists’ fantasies.)

      • James says:

        My hunch is not exactly financial independence, but related: the ability to do their work without doing all the bullshit that’s attached to doing their work, like networking, admin, getting funding, whatever.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I’m an actor. You pretty much nailed it. Ideally she’d be like an architect or something – cool and creative and stable and lucrative. Probably partly joking maybe.

        I suspect the actual answer to Johan’s question, though, is that artists fantasize about being politicians.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Selling their art, and having it appreciated.

    • Well... says:

      I have a lot of artists in my family. Yes, being “successful” as an artist is a common theme to their fantasies. (A few of them have undeniably achieved this so I don’t know if it’s right to call it a fantasy at that point.) Others include:

      – Being taken seriously as a public intellectual. (This seems to be the most common one.)
      – Being an art-themed mission specialist astronaut for NASA. (That one’s specific to my brother.)
      – Being successful at other forms of art besides the one in which they specialize.

      I think somewhere in the back of our minds, we (my siblings and I, and many of our friends) all fantasize about buying or building a compound of beautiful cabins off in the mountains somewhere and living there with our families as a sort of tribe.

    • DavidS says:

      Do office workers fantasise about being artists?

      I read something awhile ago that argued that people used to want to be artists/actors/musicians and now they want to be famous/stars. I suspect the division is a bit false. But while there are some people who clearly love music/art/acting/whatever and compromise to do office work I suspect that if most office-workers fantasise about being an artist it’s in terms of ‘I want to be rich, famous and high-status’, and not taht different from people fantasising about being/marrying royalty or becoming billionaires or President or whatever.

      I may be an outlier though in that I almost never think about the future (or the past) in any real way and so may miss others complex ambitions and fantasies. On the plus side it seems to make me unusually non-neurotic.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that a major reason is also that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’ When you are an office worker, a very different job from that can seem great, especially if you just fantasize about the upsides of those jobs.

  21. Enkidum says:

    My blog continues to be a thing. Latest post is about a Chinese equivalent of a Russian forum troll, who I follow on Disqus. He pretends to be an ex-Naval officer from Wyoming, but is clearly from Mainland China. I think it’s quite educational to see exactly what his posts consist of, at any rate.

    • johan_larson says:

      Please consider making your blog more readable by either increasing the contrast between the text and background, or using a typeface with thicker strokes.

      • Enkidum says:

        Huh, I honestly thought it was black on white, but you’re right, a slight grey tinge to the background. Will fix. Thanks for the tip.

        EDIT: And of course changing colours requires a paid version of the theme I’m using. Will research one that is less shitty about obvious customization.

        • johan_larson says:

          One does not often find someone on the internet who takes advice. Today is a good day.

          • maintain says:

            Yeah, but if you’re going to find someone like that, it’s going to be on SSC.

          • Enkidum says:

            Out of curiosity, do you find the lower contrast level between text and background on these comments frustrating as well? With my screen at least, it looks very similar to contrast levels on the main posts on my blog.

      • The Element of Surprise says:

        Also, when I visit the blog, one of your wordpress plugins apparently raises a popup (“Your browser is blocking some features of this website. Please follow the instructions at [link to ‘support.heateor.com’] to unblock these.”) which ultimately tells me to disable tracking protection globally. I don’t know how dishonest that is (is my browser blocking the features, or is “heateor” refusing to serve them when they don’t get to track me in return?), but I suspect that this is preying on the technologically less educated to get them to change their browser settings to their disadvantage, for the price of a slightly fancy “share on facebook” button.

        • Enkidum says:

          Ah, ok, that may have been an easier problem to solve than I thought. The plugin has an option that I’d left ticked to show a popup that sounds exactly like the one you described. I unchecked it, should be gone now. Would you mind confirming that’s the case?

          Ugh. That’s extremely annoying. No one has mentioned it before, otherwise I’d have dealt with it a long time ago.

          I suspect it’s not due to my share buttons, but rather to my social login-to-comment buttons. You’re supposed to be able to use Steam, Twitter, FB, etc accounts to verify yourself as a commenter. Which is a stupid feature, but I kinda like it.

          If you don’t mind, can you give some more details on the problem? Feel free to email ([my username here]@frogperspectives.net) or reply here.

          Specifically:

          1) Does it happen only on posts, or is it on the main page as well?
          2) Does it automatically pop up when you visit the page, or did you click a button?

          If the answer to 2 is that that it only happens when you try to login to comment, then I think I’m ok with it – obviously it has to track you if you’re trying to login with a social account. But if it’s just popping up at random… fuuuck that noise.

          Unfortunately I’ve got a very busy few days ahead of me so not sure how long it’ll take to get things working as I want, but I will get to this in the near future.

        • Enkidum says:

          Actually there’s an option to change the popup text, which might be better? I could say something like

          “the social login plugin I use (name) is not going to work with your browser. If you care about this sort of thing, you can follow the instructions at ###.hateor.com, but feel free to close this window and ignore it.”

          I dunno, I kind of like having the social linky stuff, feels a bit stupid but it’s fun nevertheless.

  22. The Nybbler says:

    Those of us who follow these things will remember UK doctors calling for a ban on long, pointed knives.

    However, perhaps it’s unfair to call these things “Orwellian”. Perhaps UK campaigns have always had that aesthetic, and it’s become associated with Orwell because he described Ingsoc’s campaigns in the same way.

    • Nornagest says:

      You can have my chef’s knives when you pry them from my wet, sudsy hands.

    • DavidS says:

      Scott referred to anti-knife stuff as ‘Orwellian’ too. Am I missing some specific reference?

      • Randy M says:

        I’d suspect Nybbler meant to post in that thread as a response to the linked item.

        • DavidS says:

          I’m still not sure what it has to do with Orwell though! Unless people see ‘reducing civil liberties’ as the core of ‘Orwellian’ – I mostly see it used as being about Newspeak, surveillance, lack of due process, that kind of thing. Also on a separate note I’m always slightly amused by people saying that e.g. CCTV means ‘we are in 1984’ when Orwell himself wrote quite rightly that

          “Here one comes upon an all-important English trait: the respect for constituitionalism and legality, the belief in ‘the law’ as something above the state and above the individual, something which is cruel and stupid, of course, but at any rate incorruptible… The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is ‘just the same as’ or ‘just as bad as’ totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread.

  23. TK-421 says:

    I tried to add a comment to OT98 a while back and it doesn’t seem to have shown up. Did it get caught by a spam filter, maybe? It was about the Nectome result and contained a link to Alcor’s website.

  24. johan_larson says:

    So, what’s the worst thing companies like 23andMe could be doing with all that genetic data they’re collecting?

    • [Thing] says:

      They could use the private information they can glean from their customers’ DNA to blackmail them, or sell such information on the black market. Having people’s DNA could also be useful for surveillance, which would in turn give them more info for blackmail. They could also manipulate customers by sending them misleading test results, falsifying DNA evidence to frame them for crimes, or, more speculatively, developing bioweapons in the form of highly contagious disease vectors that are asymptomatic in most people but kill, incapacitate, or otherwise cause some desired effect in one specific human target. Using these tools, they could establish a secret world shadow government, and breed a new race of genetically engineered supersoldiers with superhuman intelligence, athleticism, pain-tolerance, ingroup loyalty, and authoritarian personality types with a pronounced sadistic streak. Then they could release a broad-spectrum bioweapon to which the supersoldiers would be immune, but which would cause 90% of normal humans to die horribly, while leaving the survivors too enfeebled to resist enslavement by the new master race. Also, the bioweapon could cause all the cute animals that humans like to die in agony, and make all remaining edible plants and animals taste like poop, except to the supersoldiers.

      Well, you did say what’s the worst thing …

  25. johan_larson says:

    What are some facts that are important but not generally known? Where is the ratio of importance to breadth of being known the highest?

    I’m finding it hard to come up with good candidates. Maybe how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. Or how much it costs to save a life on average, through various sorts of safety measures. Or the actual level of wealth inequality.

    Maybe it’s something even I don’t know.

    • fion says:

      I feel as though some concepts in statistics might be up there, but I’m having trouble phrasing any of them as “facts that are unknown” rather than “concepts that are poorly understood” so perhaps it’s not really what you’re asking.

      Perhaps “strong statistical trends don’t necessarily mean very much for individual outcomes.”

      Or the difference between significance and effect size.

      One thing that’s come up recently was a Times article attacking Corbyn supporters by drawing attention to lots of examples of Corbyn supporters saying horrible things. It made me wish I could make everybody understand the Chinese Robbers fallacy. Ok, I’ve chosen an example that annoys me particularly because of my ideological stance, but as Scott noted in his post on the subject, this is one of the media’s strongest weapons and it allows the few billionaires who own all the papers to make us hate pretty much any group they want.

      So yeah, I dunno. It’s an interesting question. I feel as though statistics is a good place to look for things like this because it’s a complicated field that’s hard to understand but it’s also relevant for our day-to-day lives, living as we do in a large, globalised (and in many cases democratic) society.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m having trouble phrasing any of them as “facts that are unknown” rather than “concepts that are poorly understood” so perhaps it’s not really what you’re asking.

        I think we’re on the same wavelength. I’m trying to discuss things that people really don’t know but really should know. Some of those might be facts, but others are more like habits of mind or a sense of proportion. I don’t think I have found the effective phrase for what I am gesturing at.

      • DavidS says:

        Did the Times article literally just find random Corbyn supporters? As in ‘this guy tweeted that he liked Corbyn… but also that he kicks puppies!’ If so that’s fairly awful. It gets blurrier as it turns from that to significant campaigners for Corbyn, MPs who are in his ‘faction’, people who have directly worked for him….

        UKIP used to get this a lot too. So Farage would always be challenged with ‘your councillor who said this awful thing’ and would riposte ‘you don’t ask Ed Miliband about this Labour councillor who did a worse thing, Cameron about this Tory etc.’

        As in many media/political things there are few interested/motivated in really engaging with that sort of counter-argument (better to just emphasise the smear) so I have no idea if UKIP actually had a massively disproportionate number of nutters or just the media focused on them more.

        PS: I’m instinctively dubious about the ‘evil plotting media barons’ thing. Don’t doubt there’s some of this, but similar things abound on social media etc. I think most ‘media bias’ is playing to the crowd rather than Machiavellian manipulation. Partially just because day-by-day the owner rarely is going to be that hands-on. You can obviously set an overall tone/culture but I think the Times on most things is writing based on what ‘the Times thinks’ not what ‘Murdoch thinks’.

        • fion says:

          I believe the Times visited facebook pages (groups?) that were obviously pro-Corbyn and then looked for and found some instances of people saying horrible things. They also noted that some important people who work directly for Corbyn and McDonnell were in the groups (although obviously not the ones saying the horrible things).

          I accept your point that Murdoch probably doesn’t intervene directly in what the Times publishes. Perhaps I shouldn’t have directly accused the owners of the papers of influencing us, but the point is there is a small number of people (owners, editors, perhaps the journalists themselves) who can consciously or otherwise exploit the Chinese Robber fallacy to influence public opinion.

          My guess is that the motive behind the article wasn’t particularly sinister. I imagine somebody was given the task of having a look at some pro-Corbyn facebook pages and finding the hate within in order to expose it. I am confident that they weren’t rubbing their hands going “let’s create a misleading picture to smear Corbyn” but I’m just as confident that they had their conclusion before they started and then ‘confirmed’ it.

          And yeah, you’re right that UKIP got this too, but I don’t think on anything like the same scale.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      A market crash and a recession are two different things.

      The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

      We are not in the long-run, we are in a continuing series of short-runs.

    • DavidS says:

      If you want real-life benefit from spreading to lots of people it would probably have to be something people can apply with more impact in their day-to-day lives. Maybe something about what makes drinking water safe/unsafe and what you can do about it, or from a First World perspective maybe correcting some mistakes people make about what’s healthy diet etc.

      Not sure how much knowing the three things you mention would benefit individuals or by them knowing it contribute to a better fucntioning society. Unless e.g. knowing how much it costs to save a life includes ‘approaches decisions in a detached consequentialist way’

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      How hard it is to really know something, anything, with something like scientific certainty. How hard science is. How often you have to be wrong in order to get anything right.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      What are some facts that are important but not generally known? Where is the ratio of importance to breadth of being known the highest?

      In the context of scary one-off events: that the RARER an event is, the more NEWSWORTHY it is (and vice-versa). Salience bias makes us think any story that makes the national news for a month is worth us personally worrying about whereas the truth is the exact opposite: things that are statistically worth worrying about happening to you happen so often they almost never appear in the news or do only as a local issue, not a national one.

      So I’d like to cultivate a sort of anti-salience bias – “if it’s in the news, it’s not a real threat” – and redirect some of our overemphasis on tiny insignificant issues into making progress on problems that affect more than a handful of people in a handful of places.

    • The principle of comparative advantage, if you count that as a fact. Part of the problem is that the label sounds self explanatory and isn’t, so a lot of people think they know at least vaguely what it means and don’t.

      The square cube law. People think the fact that ants can carry several times their own weight is impressive and are not bothered by fictional beings that are much too large to function in Earth’s gravity.

  26. rlms says:

    Question for John Schilling, or anyone else: what are the odds of of North Korea carrying out missile tests (as judged by Wikipedia) in May (and I guess more generally this year)?. Context: I’m taking part in IARPA’s Hybrid Forecasting Competition.

    • John Schilling says:

      For May, that’s roughly equivalent to the odds of Donald Trump backing out of the proposed Trump-Kim summit in that timeframe, which I can only guess at. With Pompeo in CIA and Bolton as APNSA, maybe 30%? That summit has been a major foreign policy goal for North Korea for at least two decades and two Kims, maybe three. They aren’t going to jinx it by doing missile tests early.

      Once the summit is either cancelled or concluded on terms not substantially favoring North Korea, I expect several ICBM tests in a matter of months. Whatever the next step in US/DPRK relations is, they are going to want to meet it with a reliably operational ICBM force and they’re not quite there yet.

      • rlms says:

        Very interesting, thank you! AFAIK, the summit is scheduled for “the end of May”. If it’s cancelled at say the start of May, could North Korea test a missile by the end, or would they need more time to prepare? And if they do start testing missiles some time this year, are they likely to continue doing 0-3 tests per month, or is there a possibility of more frequent tests?

        • John Schilling says:

          If the summit fails in such a spectacularly bad way as to make Kim feel he needs to make an immediate point, there are tests he can do on a few days’ notice. If he genuinely wants to establish confidence that his ICBMs work, that’s probably going to call for at least a few weeks of prior engineering so probably not in May.

          Unless Kim deliberately hedges his bets by having a serious engineering test queued up on standby, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that before. Will take a look through my records later.

  27. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    If tariffs are bad, is it a mistake for a country to respond to tariffs with more tariffs?

    Are there examples of countries refraining from retaliating against tariffs, and if so, how did it work out?

    • Randy M says:

      The argument against tariffs is that they hurt your own consumers more than they help your own producers, and this is true no matter what other countries are doing.

      • albatross11 says:

        First, it can be rational to retaliate against someone for defecting even when it costs you to do so, in a game where there are going to be many iterations in the future. So it may be rational for you to respond to me raising tariffs by raising your own, simply to dissuade me from doing that in the future.

        Second, tariffs are bad for the country overall, but they’re good for some people within the country. Politicians raising a tariff may just be responding to the fact that they need votes/money/support from the folks who will be helped by their tariff. If the responding tariff from the other country doesn’t land much on their supporters, they may not care. If there were a tariff from China that mainly screwed over Amazon, I don’t imagine Trump would be all that unhappy about it.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Retaliatory tariffs are a bit like the scene in Blazing Saddles where Sheriff Bart takes himself hostage. It can be effective, but the whole situation is farcical.

      Britain had a policy of unilateral free trade for the second half of the 19th century and the first decade or so of the 20th, apart from a revenue tariff passed to pay for the Boer Wars. It seemed to have worked out pretty well for them. It was paired with heavy use of war or the threat of war to ensure access to colonial markets, but Britain also maintained unilateral free trade with major European and American trading partners despite the latter imposing steep protective tariffs.

  28. ohwhatisthis? says:

    So.

    Who’s down to find glitches in this probable simulation?

    Any specific leads?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I may have experienced one. I was looking for my wallet on a cluttered floor. I mean, really cluttered.

      So I’m cleaning things up, and all of the sudden, there is my wallet under my hand. It was completely visible in an area I’d been clearing out.

      There are other explanations, but I was pretty spooked.

      So you could just start asking people about weird experiences.

      Assuming the premise, it’s going to be easier to find glitches than to find reliable, exploitable glitches.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Deja vu seems like it might indicate an incomplete attempt to fix a glitch; you recognize the situation because it “already happened” and not everything was cleanly erased when the sim was stepped backwards.

    • maintain says:

      double slit experiment stuff doesn’t count?

    • [Thing] says:

      Here’s a glitch for you: How did this shitshow ever get past the IRB? Whoever’s running this simulation deserves to be kicked in the balls. (I stand by this opinion even if it turns out I’m the only conscious being inside of it and everyone else is a non-sentient AI-puppet. Let me out of here! 😡)

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        For sure.

        The hell are my Neo powers? This bullshit? We get singularitied out into nirvana…and all we get are 20 different flavors of rockstar instead of the old black coffee?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        As bad times go, things aren’t especially bad for most Americans, though they could get very bad.

        However, I’ve been suspecting I’m trapped in a satire.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      I think this is one. Look at singularity thought and videogame progress?

      Think of how many realities like this could be made in the year 2200, and how…strange it is that we live in a world where there was

      1. Basically none, atari, or nintendo when we were young

      2. Now, accurate VR and bunch of other high-tier tech stuff.

      A freaky coincidence to be born in this portion of time of human-kind, eee?

      So, this is probably a simulation of some sort.

      I can’t explain my life as something else.

      So, glitches. What hacks are there in this reality is my question now?

      • Orpheus says:

        >Think of how many realities like this could be made in the year 2200
        Err… none? I mean, the amount of computational power required for something like this would be enormous, certainly more than could be generated inside this simulated reality.

        >A freaky coincidence to be born in this portion of time of human-kind, eee?
        You could literally say that at every point in history.

        >I can’t explain my life as something else.
        God?