Open Thread 106.5

This would normally be one of the hidden open threads, but I’m posting it visibly so we can sort out issues around the adversarial collaboration contest. As the off-weekend thread, it’s still culture-war-free, so please try to avoid overly controversial topics. And:

1. Of the fifteen teams that signed up for the adversarial collaboration contest, two submitted a piece by the deadline – JohnBuridan’s team and TracingWoodgrains’ team. One more – lamaybe’s team – thinks they can get it in if they’ve got a little more time, which I will give them. Right now my plan is to extend the deadline one month, to August 22. If we only get three teams, we only get three teams, and the competition will go forward anyway with the $1000 prize (I won’t ask anyone else to contribute prize money to something this minimal).

This would also mean that any fourth team that manages to get something done in the next month will have a 25% chance at winning $1000. If you’re looking for teammates, try all the people who started a collaboration but whose teammates abandoned them – or post in the thread below. I will reserve the top comment here for people who want to enter and coordinate with each other. I will not ask you to formally register this time, though it would be helpful to inform me. Anyone who gets something in before August 22 will be officially entered.

(people who did finish on time, I beg your patience for extending the deadline)

2. New ad on the sidebar, for James Koppel’s programmer coaching. He wants me to announce RIGHT NOW that he’s doing an Advanced Software Design Weekend Intensive Session this weekend (July 28 – 29) in San Francisco, so if that’s the sort of thing that interests you, you’ve got five days to sign up.

3. Many people’s good comments are being caught in the spam filter for mysterious reasons. I don’t want to disable the filter because it catches a lot of spam, and I don’t always have time to manually sift through it and save good comments, so I don’t really know what to do here except, again, beg your patience. You can improve your chances of missing the filter by not putting more than five or so different links in your comments.

4. There were some really good comments and other-people’s-blog posts on the value differences posts last week. I want to write a response to all of them, but for now consider reading Ozy and SarahC on how learning to think of laziness as not existing was emotionally important and transformative for them, Sniffnoy on how many people really do think in terms of metaphysical essences, moridinamael on cognitive decoupling, and Zvi on why the characters in the dialogue should have had opposite names.

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713 Responses to Open Thread 106.5

  1. Scott Alexander says:

    This comment is reserved for people who want to organize new entries to the collaboration contest.

    You might want to check the previous teams where one member dropped out.

    If anyone could definitely do something, but only if I slightly extended the August 22 deadline, let me know and I might slightly extend that deadline.

    • tailcalled says:

      For the record, I’m still interested in participating if I can get a new adversary, since my old one dropped out. I would be defending Blanchard’s MtF transgender taxonomy, the claim that there exists two kinds of trans women, one of which exists on the same etiological spectrum as gay male bottoms, and the other of which is motivated by a paraphilic sexual orientation known as autogynephilia.

      • tailcalled says:

        I guess I’m also willing to debate Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria, the theory that many/most FtMs are seeking transition due to social contagion, rather than a more-traditional form of gender dysphoria. I would be arguing against this proposition, instead claiming that it is due to greater awareness and social acceptance that we’re seeing the changes attributed to ROGD.

        • len says:

          I’m willing to take you up on this. I would argue for this proposition, specifically that the trans identity has a significant memetic component.

          You can reach me at ahzoreyra (rot13), if you choose to, [at]

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’m eagerly awaiting your results! I haven’t looked into the concept myself, but if it does indeed have a memetic component, some stories I’ve heard are very disturbing.

          • tailcalled says:

            I think we need to be sure that we “disagree enough” here; I don’t disagree that there’s a memetic-like component, and I think distinguishing awareness and acceptance from social contagion is going to be very difficult, so unless you believe that those fully transitioning (ROGD theory isn’t really about those who are sometimes derogatorily called “transtrenders”) do not have analogous traits (in my opinion, autoandrophilia, though YMMV) to the analogous MtFs, it’s not clear that we can figure out much…

          • len says:

            Replied to your mail, let’s continue it there since IMO threads on SSC can be a bit of a pain for long discussions.

      • J Mann says:

        I’d be interested in reading that. From reading Ozy, isn’t the con case something like “Yes, that’s probably generally true, but it’s offensive and unhelpful to treatment?”

        • tailcalled says:

          I don’t think this is how Ozy would characterize their beliefs, but I’m having trouble finding anyone who dares participate in this adversarial collaboration, so maybe we can interpret that as a revealed belief that the typology is true.

    • a reader says:

      flame7926 wanted to be my new adversary, on childhood transition for transgender (gender dysphoric) children (he is for, I am against).

      @flame7926: please give an email (you can rot13 it) so that I can send you my point of view in more detail and the documentation I gathered and sent to my former adversary – part of it you can find in my comments about transgender children desistance.

    • maintain says:

      I wanted to enter, but my partner ghosted on me. I can pick a new topic.

      Young people should have way more freedom.*
      People stop existing when they die.
      Your religion is untrue.
      Abortions in the first trimester are fine.
      PUA is fine.
      Porn is bad for you.
      DDT is just fine.
      The lead-crime hypothesis is true.*
      If the government doesn’t mandate self driving cars, that is morally equivalent to mass murder.

      Pick one. DEBATE ME.

      I generally believe in neoliberalism and transhumanism and materialism, so if you want to debate something that is not on the list that is related to those, we can discuss that.

      (* = I think this topic could be especially interesting to discuss.)

    • J Mann says:

      I’ll reiterate my offer – I’d be willing to collaborate on any variation of “Deposing Qaddafi was built on a mischaracterization of the threat to Benghazi” (I think it was).

    • Erusian says:

      Do you want to get involved in the collaboration but don’t want to start from scratch? Do you have opinions on economics, wealth, and poverty? Are you a godless, slimy Commie or a soulless, exploitative Capitalist Pig?

      My topic is pro and anti-UBI. I did have a relatively long discussion with my partner before he ghosted. So I’m going to write up what we found. I’d be interested in people who want to review that result, make specific objections or arguments, and generally improve the work. I don’t think a month is enough time to rehash the entire thing, but I think it’s plenty of time to improve it.

      Also, do you like money? Every section you make a major change to will get you a share of the prize. Note, you don’t even have to win the argument: if the collaboration contains a refutation of what you brought up, you still get the money.

    • Oleg S. says:

      I’d like to debate against the simulation hypothesis. I think it is very unlikely that we are living in a simulated world.

      • glorkvorn says:

        I’m willing to debate in favor of it. A few stipulations though:

        -I don’t have infinite time or energy to put into this. I could do, say, 10 hours total, or 2 hours per week for the next five weeks. Of course that’s not nearly enough time to do a topic like this justice, but hopefully it would be enough to write an interesting essay.

        -My knowledge level for this is basically bachelor’s level science plus a lot of time reading wikipedia. I’m probably a lot more knowledgeable on this than most random people on the internet, but much less so than an actual expert would be. If you send me very advanced and technical material, I won’t be able to properly understand it.

        -Although I personally find the simulation hypothesis appealing, I’ll admit that it’s far from proven and that a lot of it is extremely speculative. I can’t give it a passionate 100% advocacy. I suspect our conclusion will probably be something like:

        You will come to at least some sort of unified conclusion, even if that conclusion is “There’s not enough evidence in this field to be sure either way and we should default to our priors/biases”.

        • Oleg S. says:

          I agree that the topic is highly speculative – it’s hard to definitely prove one way or another. Still, I strongly disagree with what seems like a general consensus about simulation hypothesis, I think there is a lot of room for priors to shift.

          You can reach me byrtf33svir (rot13) at gmail dot com

      • googolplexbyte says:

        I’m strongly in favour of the Simulation Hypothesis and would be happy to try.

        But I don’t think there’s any way it could be a testable hypothesis, so I don’t think the adversarial collaboration could even resolve with even an experiment design who’s potential outcomes could influence our respective positions.

        Perhaps a related but weaker hypothesis like the Zoo Hypothesis

        • Oleg S. says:

          I think there may exist some experimental indications that the Simulation Hypothesis may be false. I’m also strongly against The Zoo Hypothesis.

          If you like to try debate me on this, see my email in reply to glorkvorn above.

        • glorkvorn says:

          Do you want to collaborate with my on this, or would you prefer to do it on your own? I’m not very interested in the zoo hypothesis though (which seems to me like it has all the weaknesses and none of the strengths of the simulation hypothesis).

    • Majuscule says:

      I would love to participate in this. Anyone need a partner?

    • tayfie says:

      Our question was Social media is a significant cause of political polarization. with my partner taking the negative and myself taking the affirmative.

      We got around to outlining our basic findings before losing touch, so someone could probably pick up his side without much effort.

  2. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Time for High Culture instead of Culture War.
    What do y’all make of Friar Lawrence’s part in Romeo and Juliet? While the teenagers appropriately act foolish, he seems to be pivotal in letting it be an Idiot Plot. If he’d said “I already married Juliet to Romeo”, wouldn’t the tragedy have been averted? And if he committed an irregularity that made it not a valid sacrament, that’s still on him.

    • Murphy says:

      Lets see, he marries them in secret, at the time socially dubious but since we’re rooting for the kids rebelling from their family no giant moral problem there.

      But from that point on he’s basically the reason everything turns out so badly. He glibly provides something that can induce a coma to a 13 year old girl. Why did he even have a ready supply of medieval roofies handy?

      sure he was dealing with a pair of stupid impulsive kids but he was the one who came up with the whole coma scheme.

      Romeos death is largely attributable to the fact that he didn’t bother to assure that his messenger so much as got beyond the city gates.

      “Let me walk with you as far as the gate good brother” would have solved the problem.

      He apparently just sort of told a friend who was sorta going the right direction and gave it no more thought.

      He doesn’t even tell the messenger that the message is important. His friend thinks it’s just a minor social letter.

      Plus, as you point out, he could have resolved most of the issues by simply admitting that he’d married them. He’d have had to record it in the church records *anyway*. There weren’t exactly take-backsies on marriage back then once consummated and sooner or later the fact she’s already married is going to be relevant.

      I don’t know canon law but I suspect there’s some kind of rule against marrying someone or leading people to believe you’ve married someone who the priest knows is already married to someone else.

      So much of the trouble could probably be re-titled “Friar Lawrence attempts to avoid conflict and causes everything to go shit-shaped”

      I can’t remember off the top of my head: was his roll in the deaths re: poison etc ever revealed? I just remember him giving a sort of scolding speech to the 2 families who’s kids he just caused to commit suicide by his negligence.

      • Evan Þ says:

        He’d have had to record it in the church records *anyway*.

        AFAIK, that was legally the case after the 1545 Council of Trent, but was it so before?

      • beleester says:

        Romeos death is largely attributable to the fact that he didn’t bother to assure that his messenger so much as got beyond the city gates.
        “Let me walk with you as far as the gate good brother” would have solved the problem.

        In his defense, Friar John managed to get caught in a plague quarantine. Accompanying him to see him off would probably have just ended with three people locked up instead of two. John also tried to get a messenger to take it in his stead, but they wouldn’t come near him due to fear of plague.

        I suppose you can blame Friar John for not realizing that someone who’s job is visiting the sick might have a chance of health-related emergencies, but this does seem like really bad luck on his part.

    • Deiseach says:

      Good intentions, but we all know where those lead. Probably underestimated badly the potential of angsty teenagers to be angsty teenagers, very much doubt he expected the double suicide (I think he thought the most likely outcome would be that Juliet would be found by her parents, the whole story would then come out perforce, and this would finally help end the Capulet-Montague feud).

      Ironically, it’s because he’s compassionate, pastoral and not rules-bound that it all comes to a sticky end. A more rigid traditional “you owe your parents filial obedience, you cannot marry without their consent, fornication is a sin and no it doesn’t matter that you love each other very, very much and if you don’t tell your parents the whole story right now I will” type might have avoided all the trouble 🙂

      • John Schilling says:

        A more rigid traditional “you owe your parents filial obedience, you cannot marry without their consent, fornication is a sin and no it doesn’t matter that you love each other very, very much and if you don’t tell your parents the whole story right now I will” type might have avoided all the trouble

        Gosh, it’s almost like all those pesky buzzkill rules were invented by people who had been through this about ten gazillion times before and were trying to head off the obvious failure modes.

        But Fr. Lawrence’s misdeeds can maybe be ascribed to forgivable ignorance. As you note, he probably doesn’t have much experience with teenage sexual drama. He may not be tuned in to Capuet family politics, and as Murphy notes, he’s in way over his head when it comes to covert operations.

        His plan works just fine if Romeo and Juliet can carry it out in a calm and level-headed manner, and if his own operative is reliable. And his plan is maybe necessary if Capuet is so committed to a Paris-Juliet match and a Capuet-Montague feud that nothing but a fait most thoroughly accompli would sway him. So, all due credit for the good intentions, but zero for three on execution.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Gosh, it’s almost like all those pesky buzzkill rules were invented by people who had been through this about ten gazillion times before and were trying to head off the obvious failure modes.

          Ha, ha.
          However, Capulet tells Tybalt not to attack Romeo at the masque because he’s a good kid. So it seems like making an honest Capulet of Romeo should have solved everything, but Friar Lawrence chooses to scheme rather than be honest about having married them.

          • Deiseach says:

            Friar Lawrence chooses to scheme rather than be honest about having married them

            To be fair, I think he realised things were bad enough between the Montagues and the Capulets that they wouldn’t listen to anything other than a fait accompli: yes they’re married, yes it’s valid, yes it was consummated, oh and you’re going to be grandparents in nine months, congratulations! Not much they can do when there’s a baby on the way except smile and look nice about the union of their two families.

            Not his fault that things went so badly wrong, including a plague out of nowhere. But as you say, much more sensible to be honest up front. Then again, that would have meant no drama and no plot for the play.

        • Deiseach says:

          His plan works just fine if Romeo and Juliet can carry it out in a calm and level-headed manner

          Romeo is “I’m madly in love with – er who’s this hot new chick? What do you mean, I love what’s her face? No, I’m madly in love with this girl!” and Juliet is “I’m thirteen and Dad is going on about how Mom was pregnant when she was my age, ew” (okay, forgiveable that last).

          I realise Shakespeare needed both a sympathetic adult character to help the crazy kids in love plus had to screw things up badly with impossible coincidences in order to have the tragic ending, but expecting two teens to be calm and sensible about their “if we don’t get to be together, we are going to die of heartbreak” affair is like torching an entire block of flats because you wanted to grill some sausages 🙂

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yes, this. Friar Lawrence was a huge dummy for trusting a 16-year-old boy and a girl not yet 14 who he’s only loved for a few days to do anything requiring more impulse control or rationality than “have your sex under God’s law.”

      • Lillian says:

        Ironically, it’s because he’s compassionate, pastoral and not rules-bound that it all comes to a sticky end. A more rigid traditional “you owe your parents filial obedience, you cannot marry without their consent, fornication is a sin and no it doesn’t matter that you love each other very, very much and if you don’t tell your parents the whole story right now I will” type might have avoided all the trouble 🙂

        Pretty sure the Catholic Church’s rigid traditional position is that the only consent that matters is that of the couple, and that the sacred covenant of marriage carries greater weight than the duty of filial piety. So yes they can marry without their parent’s consent and the Church will have their back if they choose to do so. At least that was the theory, the practice could get rather more complicated when nobles got involved due to the intricate interplay of feudal power politics.

        The real part where the Friar is breaking with the rules is not making the bans of marriage as per the requirements established by the Fourth Lateran Council and clarified in the Council of Tent. So if he was a rigid rules following traditionalist, he would have told them that they can’t get married without announcing it in public first.

    • J Mann says:

      In his defense, the strategy of faking death to make people reassess their priorities usually works in Shakespeare.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        He was genre-savvy and Bill betrayed him? 😀

        • J Mann says:

          I guess it helps to know if you’re in a tragedy, comedy, or problem play.

          • Evan Þ says:

            And until the faked suicide plan, just about everything was shaping up to be a comedy!

          • J Mann says:

            Stoppard already did it, of course, but it would be funny to see the characters trying to figure this out.

            Juliet: I don’t know about this plot. If we were in a comedy, wouldn’t there be a fool around somewhere?
            Friar: What about Nurse? She’s kind of funny.
            Juliet: I don’t know.
            Friar: And Mercutio has this bit about Queen Mab that kills down at the pub.
            Juliet: Come on, now you’re stretching. His simmering sexual magnetism would disqualify him. Also, there pretty much would have to be a second couple around someplace to mirror our problems in more humorous fashion.
            Friar: We have a Pascal’s wager problem – if we’re in a tragedy, then ANYTHING WE DO will turn out to be the ironic cause of our own suffering, so we should act as if we’re in a comedy.
            Juliet: Good point, give me that potion.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, that’s a good point! They should have realised they were in a tragedy, because in a comedy the marriage is the happy ending, not the happy beginning!

          • youzicha says:

            Thus reducing the problem to figuring out how much longer the play will last, which is probably not so easy either. (The last time I saw Romeo and Juliet, I in fact went home at the intermission after Act I, it already seemed to have gone on for a very long time…)

    • Randy M says:

      I haven’t read or seen this in ages; is there evidence that the Friar set up the kids to die in order to resolve the ongoing feud?

      • beleester says:

        No. There’s too much bad luck involved for it to be intentional. And his stated plan – have Romeo and Juliet get married to end the feud – would have gone smoothly if Tybalt hadn’t picked the worst possible moment to try and pick a fight.

        And conversely, if he was trying to cause a mutual suicide, he could have just given Juliet actual poison instead of a potion that would feign death.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s been at least fifteen years since I’ve read that play, but when I did, I got the impression that he was bored and frustrated with the whole feud situation and was basically doing everything he does for the lulz.

    • Michael Handy says:

      My opinion is Friar Lawrence wanted

      a)To end the feud
      b)To establish the marriage enough that by the time the families caught up it was too late to annul
      c)To avoid Juliet being beaten to death by her own loving father and Romeo being murdered in an alley to maintain the honour of his family. (don’t you just LOVE the Italian Wars?)

      And that getting them the hell out of the way while he informed the relevant authorities and gossip circles that they are together was the best way to do that.

    • AG says:

      Was there even a Friar Lawrence character in the version of tale Shakespeare poached? It might just be the seams showing on shoehorning every member of the troupe into the cast.

  3. BlindKungFuMaster says:

    Given that there were some insightful comments about drug development and patent law in the melatonin comment thread, I thought I ask a few naive questions about an idea I had.

    So, I’ve found an enzyme that I would like to inhibit. This would have very bad longterm consequences, but it might have very good short term consequences, so a compound that deactivates this enzyme (temporarily) might be a very interesting drug.

    How difficult is it to identify such a compound? I know drug development is incredibly expensive, but I’m not sure how the money is divided up between the different steps. And possibly finding something that does something simple like degrading the function of an enzyme is simpler than the normal case.

    Also, at what step would this idea be patentable? Do you need a compound? Do you need a trial on animals that this compound actually does something? Does it have to be a fully developed human tested market ready drug?

    • Murphy says:

      If you know the exact protein and the gene that produces it and there’s no psudogenes or paralogs and if the gene is one such that it being suppressed doesn’t kill you…. then there are approaches for gene silencing.

      RNA-targeting antisense drugs.

      Example in Huntingtons:

      The idea is fairly simple but delivery can be difficult and the area is somewhat in it’s infancy.

      antisense RNA inhibitors are extremely patentable because the antisense strand that does the inhibition is a manufactured thing.

      Though as it would be a pharmaceutical you’d probably have to actually show it works in humans and is safe to get a patent on its therapeutic use.

      If you’ve got something solid then academic departments often partner with pharma companies to get things through human trials.

      Though speaking cynically, odds are that it will turn out to have horrible side effects, cause some horrible immune response or just not work. 99%+

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m not an expert on this, but because my graduate school is very focused on translational research I know the basic outline of drug development.

      What you’re talking about is the first step of drug development, identifying lead compounds.

      Generally how this works is that a researcher suspects that a pathway is important to some disease. They have a model of the disease and an assay for whatever it is they’re looking for. Then they go to a pharmaceutical company and ask for their drug library, a huge list of compounds that they have under patent, and use either the whole list of a curated subset of it to run a high-throughput screen. If the screen generates hits and the hits are validated experimentally, then they have a lead compound.

      Lead compounds are important but they usually kind of suck. One that I worked with during a rotation required injecting the mice with so much DMSO as a vehicle that it was killing them almost as fast as the cancer it was supposed to treat. That’s where medicinal chemists come in: their job is to optimize the compound and try to get it to a usable state.

      After that, you take your optimized lead compound and run a preclinical study using a mouse model of the disease. This is the last step that academic scientists are involved in because, if it’s successful, the next step is for the drug company to file an IND with the FDA and begin the process of seeking approval.

      This whole process can take a few years and is, from the perspective of an academic lab, fairly expensive. But compared to the actual FDA approval process it’s very fast and extremely cheap.

    • metacelsus says:

      Which enzyme? There may already be known inhibitors.

    • bbeck310 says:

      Note: Once you identify the compound, if it’s artificial, you can patent it. If you’ve been able to synthesize it, you can patent the method for synthesizing it. To patent the method of treatment, you don’t need to show it works in humans and is safe (that’s the requirement for FDA approval, not for a patent); you do need to be able to describe the method of treatment with enough specificity to enable a person of ordinary skill to perform the method. If you use weasel-words in the claim like “pharmaceutically effective amount of Compound X,” you would need enough information in the specification–preferably some sort of preclinical trial result–describing the pharmaceutically effective dosage range.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      You could try something like DrugBank. It seems to do close to what you want, I think. It’s not comprehensive – it didn’t have all of the enzymes I tried on it – but might be an OK starting point.

  4. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    Related to the whole business of “Does laziness exist” – what is the epistemic status of the Big 5 personality traits and their subdivisions? From what I hear, they can be measured in a reliable and valid way, stay fairly stable throughout a person’s life (or at least long stretches), predict all sorts of useful-to-know things… it would seem that this puts them in the same category as “laziness”. Maybe “laziness” is even a decent synonym for “scores low on industriousness”. But how do the traits come about? Are they encoded in large-scale neural structures (e.g., a hypoactive frontal cortex), in specific neural connections (learned and conditioned behaviors), in levels of neurotransmitters, in other metabolic peculiarities, or a bit of this and a bit of that? Do the personality traits constitute some almost-metaphysical essence of a person? If not, why not? Is “low agreeableness” one thing, or one of many possible things, like “laziness” is supposedly caused by many possible underlying causes?
    (Sorry if this is incoherent… I haven’t thought this through, but maybe one of you has, and can give me some pointers.)

    • keranih says:

      Interesting thought.

      Has anyone discussed laziness/lack of industry/lack of accomplishment in terms of the action/inaction equality principle.

      SSC is thick with utilitarian types – is laziness one of those areas where failure to provide malaria nets doesn’t count?

      I will have think more on whether -and when -it is more useful to describe a vice as a deficiency of virtue, and vice versa.

  5. Kestrellius says:

    My current psychiatrist is going to be retiring in a few months. I’ve had a several-year-long and very positive relationship with him — mostly managing my OCD and problems downstream from it — and I’m slightly freaking out about finding a new one.

    It’s unlikely that anyone will have anything, but I figure it’s worth asking — does anybody happen to know of any good therapists in the Willamette Valley area, specifically near Corvallis?

    Failing that — anyone have any general advice for this process?

  6. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to live alone in the Pleistocene wilderness for 20 years. You have 60 days to prepare, and may during that time receive any training want. You may also bring any gear you want, but all of it must fit within a 1 foot by 1 foot by 3 foot space. You will land somewhere in southern North America 40,000 years ago, in a location with a mild Mediterranean climate and no immediate threats. What training do you want for the journey, what gear will you bring, and how do you plan to live?

    • kieranpjobrien says:

      How to build a fire (1 day)
      How to chop down trees without dying (1 day)
      How to build a rudimentary shelter (3 days)
      How to build a long-term shelter (10 days)
      How to hunt with traps, bow, how to fish, & forage (10 days)
      Farming in the Pleistocene 101
      How to build a bow (including gathering materials for string), fishing rod, rudimentary tools (5 days) (for when the first generation tools break)
      Cooking safely (5 days)
      Animals you’re likely to encounter & how to use them (10 days) (including for food, as pack animals if docile, and for leather/hides)
      How to preserve food without salt (3 days)
      Beekeeping (7 days)

      Sharpening tool
      Flint & Steel
      Compound bow & 30 arrows
      Water purification tablets (for first few days)
      Durable cooking pot
      Seeds for potatoes, apples, blackberries, beans, tomatoes.
      Collapsible airtight containers (for storing food)
      Layered clothing to last first year or so including sturdy boots
      Volleyball for company
      Kindles (2/3 to last) loaded with both useful books (how to guides) and a few hundred recreational books (the reading list from the last few Open Threads, for instance)
      Solar charger for the Kindle (back-up hand driven one)

      How to live
      First few days scout out a suitable location, near a river but not too close, near a forested area but not too close. Ideally a clearing on reasonably high ground near the river. Hunt for food & use water purification tablets.
      Build a rudimentary shelter to last for the first month or so. Scout further looking for a more permanent home if first location is not suitable.
      Longer term:
      Build a more permanent home a log-cabin or tipi depending on the materials available and the time you have before winter.
      Build fences with traps to minimise risk from carnivores, use river behind you as part of defensive strategy whilst being aware of flooding risk.
      Set aside drain into river and ideally use pickaxe to dredge a channel from river to your drain and then to the river again, source water from the upstream part of this and dispose waste into downstream part of this. Reduces effort of going to the river.
      Use channel from river to irrigate small garden farm of potatoes etc.
      Find juvenile or very young animals (horses, dogs), kill their mother for food and attempt to domesticate them.
      Have traps set-up that you review daily, hunt for food & gather nuts.
      Use beekeeping skills to establish colonies & use honey, smoking, drying to preserve food.

      Try to avoid going insane.

      • kieranpjobrien says:

        EDIT: I should have included a long-term calendar/way to track the days (assuming you’re time-warped out on 20 years +1 day – it’d be nice for mental health to have that target in mind)

      • Bugmaster says:

        Hunt for food & use water purification tablets.

        Why not make a fire and boil the water ?

      • cassander says:

        I’m not at all convinced you can learn to use a compound bow well enough to hunt with in 60 days. Pulling a serious bow requires some serious muscle. You might be better off going with a crossbow or rifled flintlock musket. Decent gunpowder can be made with very primitive materials and muskets could last a very, very long time. Longer, if made with modern materials. Not sure how easy it would be to get lead for bullets, but you can use stone bullets in a pinch. Stone cannonballs were actually considered superior for the first couple hundreds years of guns, they were displaced largely because of cost.

        • MartMart says:

          I never bow hunted, but I have shot some targets on occasion. The part about pulling the bow I found pretty easy, it’s all about starting with the bow pointed up, and moving it in an arc down, using the different distance between your shoulders as a mechanical advantage.

      • MartMart says:

        No books to further your skills? Assuming things go well, Having some basic metal working knowledge might come in handy. Agriculture knowledge more so. Some medical knowledge wouldn’t hurt, either. Books don’t take up much room, and you could risk going with a bookreader and solar panel to save more room, if you must.

    • Aapje says:

      – trapping, creating a shelter, making clothes, first aid, practice attaching a handle to a tool without needing rope, building a smokehouse

      – How to Eat in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Foraging, Trapping, Fishing, and Finding Sustenance in the Wild
      – Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America
      – Advanced Bushcraft: An Expert Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival
      – Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care

      – A bunch of tough, high quality knives
      – Some strong plastic
      – A bunch of flint and steel sets to make fire easily
      – Some axe, hammer and shovel heads (handle is to be made by hand after exiting the time machine)
      – Quite a bit of wire of different thickness (to make snares & tools with)
      – A big cooking pot
      – antibiotics & other useful medicines
      – seeds (hemp, corn, grains, cotton, etc). Need to check which plants can be expected to be present already
      – Empty jars for preserving food (when packing, these are obviously filled to maximize what you can bring)
      – Some bottled water to survive the first few days
      – Steel leg-hold traps

      Short term plan:
      – Find a good water source
      – Set traps
      – Find/make a basic shelter
      – Add a handle to an axe, hammer and shovel head

      Medium term plan:
      – Find an optimal spot (or spots) to stay long term (might be better to move elsewhere during the winter or such)
      – Make a better shelter
      – Build a smokehouse to preserve meat
      – Plant some seeds
      – Make rope if a good source of twine material is already available

      Long term plan:
      – Make salt
      – Improve the shelter even more
      – Make rope if you had to grow your own source of twine material

      Ultra-long term plan:
      – Leave weird and NSFW inscriptions to confuse & embarrass future archaeologists

      • Deiseach says:

        Ultra-long term plan:
        – Leave weird and NSFW inscriptions to confuse & embarrass future archaeologists

        Ah, now we know who’s responsible for the Cerne Abbas giant! 😀

      • Aapje says:

        On second thought, the best strategy is to do what johan_larson did, but then on a forum of survivalists: challenge them to come up with good plans and then let them do a lot of the work, synthesizing their plans into a master race* plan.

        * Somehow, my fantasy involves Dr. Strangelove implementing this plan

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        Why no gun? There were some pretty nasty predators around at the time.

        • Aapje says:

          Guns are a horrible idea, because making ammunition is hopeless. So once you run out of ammo, you’re done. A bow or crossbow is a bit more feasible, especially since you can retrieve a lot of fired arrows/bolts, but it is still very hard to make good ammunition for it.

          You can make a basic spear with just wood and an axe/knife. That will have to do for self-defense and to finish off trapped animals.

          For an encounter with a bear, bringing pepper spray might be a good idea.

          • johan_larson says:

            My plan would be to bring a gun, but only for really necessary self defence against large animals. I’m guessing something like a .357 Magnum revolver would be enough to discourage a large carnivore. Bring the gun, a holster, and a box of cartridges. Well worth it as insurance against getting eaten alive.

            I wouldn’t use gun for hunting though, since it uses consumable cartridges. I’d probably set myself up as a forager/fisherman, with reusable and repairable fishing tackle. Find a lake, large river, or sea-shore, depending on what’s nearby.

          • Randy M says:

            As a back up, learn how to make and use an atlatl (spear thrower)

          • John Schilling says:

            Guns are a horrible idea, because making ammunition is hopeless. So once you run out of ammo, you’re done.

            So bring a 20-year supply of ammo. Only in Hollywood “Land that Time Forgot” epics is defense against hostile megafauna a thrice-daily occurrence in the prehistoric wilderness (and if you’re in one of those stories you’re definitely going to need guns).

            Otherwise, you are most likely dealing with wolves as apex predators, and they are nicely territorial, so if you clear out a pack you’re probably safe for at least a year. Eight wolves/pack times three rounds 5.56mm per wolf times twenty years comes to about six kilograms of ammunition including packaging. Eight kilos if you prefer 7.62×39 or one of the weird 6.5-6.8mm specials. And that’s pretty much a worst-case scenario where you can’t find any other way to deal with wolf packs than to kill them all.

            But note that since you are dealing with animals that have no experience with humans, most of the usual tricks for scaring away apex predators, aren’t going to work for you. Fire, probably yes, but not loud noises or just being conspicuously human.

            The flip side of that is, prey animals are going to be pretty much sitting ducks, except when they are exactly sitting ducks. They’ll probably flee before you get within spear-throwing range, because that’s wolf-ambush range as well, but you’ve probably got at least twenty years of picking them off at rifle range without their bothering to hide. Thirty kilograms of meat per deer or equivalent, one cartridge each, one kilogram meat per day, and three or four kilograms of ammunition will take care of basically all of your nutritional needs.

            Yes, the shelf life of modern ammunition is ~20 years. But I wouldn’t rule out taking a blackpowder weapon and a crash course in making black powder from native resources.

          • toastengineer says:

            Or split the difference, bring an easy-to-maintain air rifle and a little mill for turning pebbles in to regular-shaped-enough ammunition.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Without a gun you are going to die in the first couple of years. Even if you can’t bring enough ammo to last 20 years for some reason bringing enough for 2-5 years is a no brainer in this situation. Once you have the ability to land a bunch of calories at once you can focus on refining the other skills that you need, and eventually become an expert at them. If you don’t have one you absolutely have to be an expert at collecting food somehow right from the get go. If you aren’t you won’t have the time and energy needed to do everything else.


            1. Rifle. I don’t know guns but I want reliability, low maintenance, light weight and with a bayonet attachment point.

            2. Bayonet that doubles as a knife.

            3. Lightweight tent

            4. Lightweight sleeping bag or blanket

            5. Small, durable metal pot.

            6. Flint and steel

            7. Hatchet

            8. Pocket chainsaw


            Edible plants and fungi identification guide
            How to preserve meat guide

          • 10240 says:

            most of the usual tricks for scaring away apex predators, aren’t going to work for you.

            Wait, are animals afraid of humans because they have experience with humans? I thought mostly they are just afraid of any large and unfamiliar animal. (Because we walk on two legs we are tall, so animals probably perceive us as larger than we are.)
            If animals have experience with unarmed humans, they should know that we are weak as hell. If it’s because of experience with armed humans, the human’s behavior and “tricks” shouldn’t matter. If some predators are generally willing to attack humans, but they are scared away by certain behaviors, that’s probably not because of experience with humans.

          • SpeakLittle says:

            If you want to bring down large animals, whether as food or in self-defense, you want at least either a 30-06 or a 308. Either caliber will bring down elk, bear, wolves, or moose (meese? moosen?), though it won’t take down, say, a large buffalo (or at least not quickly). For small game, something in the .22 caliber range works. (5.56mm NATO-standard falls in this category as well.)

            As to weapon type, I would recommend two. For a handgun, take a revolver. Depending on the precise model, maintenance can be more involved than with a pistol, but a revolver is simple to operate and doesn’t require a magazine. For a rifle, I want a bolt action with a small 5-10 round magazine. They tend to be more reliable, more accurate over the long-term, and easier to maintain. You will have to deal with more recoil, but you can compensate with sufficient padding on your firing shoulder.

            Edit: This is a broad-strokes overview. This does not account for things like powder-load, twist of a specific rifled barrel, round type (hollow-point, lead nose, etc), or round jacketting.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you are relying on your rifle for 20 years of food + defense against predators, I suspect either a second rifle or a bunch of replacement parts would be a very good idea. But I’m not entirely sure how much ammo you could bring through, and running out of ammo is just as deadly for you as having your rifle break in some impossible-to-fix way.

            Let’s call the space 25 cm x 25 cm x 75 cm. Let’s assume each cartridge is 1 cm x 1 cm x 5 cm. That gives us about 15 “slices” of 625 cartridges, or a total of 9375 cartridges total. 20 years is 7300 days, so the most ammo you could possibly carry (assuming you’ve got your rifle slung on your shoulder when you transit) would let you take about one shot per day. Really, you probably don’t want to spend your whole payload on bullets, so you really will have fewer bullets than that.

            Suppose you give half your space up to ammo–you bring around 4500 cartridges.

            Suppose you can get about 25 kg of meat from each deer or whatever you shoot. Meat is around 1500 calories per kg, and you’d like at least a 2000 calorie/day diet (you’ll be active), so in principle if you could keep the meat awhile, you could shoot one large meat animal every couple weeks and pretty-well keep yourself in calories. Let’s round that to one meat animal every ten days, on average. That means you need to kill 730 large meat animals with 4500 cartridges, or about eight and a half shots per bagged animal. That sounds plausible. (By the end of the first year, you will be *really* good at hunting.)

            You can stretch that out by gathering wild plants, maybe eventually the output from a vegetable garden you plant, and some fishing, and you probably won’t starve or die of malnutrition. I guess you’d eat a lot of fruit with seeds in it the last couple days before you left in hopes of bringing some through, along with your baggage.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            … FN P90. Yes, for hunting. 5,7 x 28 millimeter casing, which means you can pack in a stupid count in very little space, and duty rounds will put anything you care to hunt down efficiently enough. I think that makes the actual limit barrel life.

          • John Schilling says:

            An average deer will give about 30 kg of meat if you include the fat and organ meats, and with the fat and organs is good for 2200 kcal/kg. So a deer is good for a month of healthy eating, assuming ~10% losses from preservation. And there’s no excuse for more than one round per deer, against animals that don’t know to fear rifles.

            5.56mm NATO, or derivative cartridges like 6.8mm SPC, packs at about 200 rounds per liter, and we’ve got 85 liters to work with. So, with 2% of your baggage devoted to ammunition, you get 20 years of efficient hunting plus a hundred rounds left over for predators and/or misses. You might want to be generous and go to 3-4%.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m skeptical it’s going to be quite so easy. Sure, Pleistocene deer haven’t encountered humans specifically, but they’ve encountered all sorts of other predators. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the approach of a large unknown animal — a human — triggered their default response to danger, which is to flee.

            Hunting might still be a viable strategy, though. How many shots does a modern hunter fire per kill?

            I’d also need to hear a bit more about the feasibility of preserving meat before concluding that hunting medium-large animals is a viable strategy. Salting is probably out. How much time and gear do you need for drying or smoking? (If preservation is too much work, that leaves hunting small animals.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            My slightly informed understanding is that a lot of animals don’t flee when the see a predator at range, but freeze and watch very often. Bolting every time you think you see or smell a wolf isn’t a good strategy and will get weeded out by a mixture of increased alertness and preparing to bolt. This is not a good strategy when the hunter can kill you from a few hundred feet away.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Re: Storage.
            you can can meat. You have to bring a pot (because making one is high bloody art. Ceramics is the easiest, and it involves tracking down the right clay, building a kiln from scratch, and a throw wheel..) in any case, so make it a pressure pot. You can bring canning jars with very little loss of space up to the limit of things you want to bring that can be packed in said jars. Like ammo.
            Smallest all american just fits.

          • FLWAB says:


            Smoking meat is not difficult, if you know what you’re doing. You just need to make a simple shelter (you can even make it from woven branches if you have the time) to serve as a smokehouse, hang the meat, make a very smokey, low temperature fire, and keep the smoke going for hours or days at a time. Knowing how much smoke and how long, that will require some training, and most smoking techniques involve soaking the meat in brine first, so if you don’t have access to salt you will have to modify things.

            Meat can be dried, if cut thin enough and hung in a dry place for long enough. Meat dried in this manner can theoretically last indefinitely (within reason) as long as it never gets wet or moist. Meat dried for preservation would not be much like jerky: more like thin strips of brittle and hard plastic. You have to boil it for a while to get it really chew-able again.

            A source of salt would definitely be worth seeking out though. I remember reading about some missionaries to the remote amazon who neglected to bring any salt along and wouldn’t be picked up for three months. After coming from our modern, salt heavy diet their bodies were driving them crazy with salt cravings until they finally got back to civilization and got some tortilla chips. If you can’t find a salt source you’re likely in for a painful transition period, and possibly fatal electrolyte imbalances.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hunting might still be a viable strategy, though. How many shots does a modern hunter fire per kill?

            Ideally one, almost never more than three – and usually the second or third is because there’s an ethic of not letting a wounded animal suffer.

            And as baconbits points out, very few animals have a natural impulse to run away from anything a hundred meters away – though they will amble away from suspicious smells being carried downwind.

          • Cliff says:

            I don’t know about pieces of hard plastic. McDonald’s hamburgers are dehydrated enough to last for years without spoiling so it can’t be too hard.

          • Aapje says:

            If you bring a gun, you need to be able to clean the thing. If you carry it around, it will foul up. The grease and oil will congeal. If you shoot the gun, that will foul it up too. There is no way that it will keep functioning if you never clean it.

            That makes me think: it is reasonably possible to create an oil press with just natural material? If not, it may be very useful to bring a small oil press.

          • I think that makes the actual limit barrel life.

            The Wiki article claims a barrel life of 20,000 rounds, which is ~3/day.

          • albatross11 says:

            Would those rounds be big enough for killing large animals, say grizzly bears or American lions?

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, though it would take more than one cartridge each until you’d learned the knack. Which is mostly anatomy; when you kill your first, make sure you dissect it rather than just butcher it, note where the heart and brain really are and where the bone is thick and thin, and write that spot down.

            African poachers of no great skill have a pretty good track record of killing elephants with a thirty-round magazine of 7.62x39mm, which is a bit weaker than 6.8mm SPC. And WDM Bell made a career out of one-shotting elephants, over a thousand of them, with an assortment of 6.5-7mm rifles only modestly more powerful. Against mere grizzlies (or smilodons, etc), you’ll have quite a bit more margin and can afford correspondingly looser marksmanship and a broader engagement envelope.

            ETA: Once upon a time (specifically 1953), the record for largest bear ever taken by a hunter was held by Bella Twin, a Cree Indian woman hunting small game with a single-shot .22 rimfire when she felt unduly threatened by a grizzly and knew where the sweet spot was. So I’m going to say, if you’re stuck with “only” a stock AR-15 against a grizzly, you’ve got thirty rapid-fire shots each with twice the bullet weight, five times the momentum and twenty times the kinetic energy of Ms. Twin’s single .22 Long. Man up :-)

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            For self-defense purposes? Yes. High velocity, designed to not over penetrate by tumbling, and a fifty round mag, so you just keep firing until the animal stops. You can find videos of what a duty round does to ballistic gel – it leaves wound tracks like a .45 apc. I would not take up hunting Megatherium with it, but that is an animal cruelty issue, not because it would not work.

          • Nornagest says:

            Extended mags have a poor reliability record. Better to stick to thirty or less, from high-quality civilian manufacturers (older issue mags have a bad reputation too). There’s nothing in 40000 BC that you’re not going to be able to kill with thirty rounds of 5.56×45, not if it’s close enough to be charging at you.

          • Aapje says:


            Depends on where you hit them.

            A major issue with Johan’s idea of taking a .357 Magnum revolver is that such a weapon is hard to shoot. A shooter without a lot of training and/or practice can very easily jerk the trigger. That means pulling the trigger in an uncontrolled manner, shifting the gun around in your hand. So then when the gun actually fires, it is no longer pointing where you originally aimed it.

            Rifles are much easier to fire accurately. They also inherently have much better power and thus penetration, because the longer barrel allows the propulsion gas to push the bullet for a longer time. So handguns tend to have low bullet velocity (and bullet velocity matters greatly for penetration).

            5.56mm NATO seems to generally be considered poor for large game hunting and 6.8mm SPC or 6.5 Grendel is seen as being much better.

            If I’d bring a gun, I’d bring a bolt action rifle in 6.5 Grendel.

    • fion says:

      I initially had some survival stuff, but kieranpjobrien and Aapje’s attempts look pretty good to me. (Except maybe throw in some spuds and learn how to grow them? I don’t wanna live entirely on meat and nuts. And I’m a bit worried about footwear. Maybe some training time learning how to repair boots, maybe bring two or three pairs of boots, and definitely bring a needle and thread.)

      So let’s talk a bit more about entertainment and avoiding madness. My project for while I’m there (other than survival) will be exploration and mapping. At the start, these will just be day trips, getting to know the area around my shelter. I will climb every hill that can be seen from where I live and then I will climb the hills that can be seen from those hills. Pretty soon I’ll run out of local environment and I’ll need to start planning camping trips. (How quick this process is will depend massively on the environment. If it’s mostly forests then I’ll be very slow, being very careful to not get lost. Becoming familiar with the rivers would probably be a good plan. However, if there are bare hills, it’ll be much easier.) If a hilltop has trees on it, I will cut down those trees to see the view. I will build stone monuments, both to help me not get lost and for entertainment. Most of these will just be cairns, but perhaps I’ll get more ambitious and creative as the years go by. They will be numbered, and have approximate directions to nearby monuments marked on them. (Guess I might need to learn how to use a chisel or something…)

      I mentioned mapping. I’m not gonna invest in any cartography courses, so my maps will be very rudimentary, joining up my numbered cairns and monuments with lines saying approximately how long it takes to walk between them. Also marking rivers and hilltops (but every hilltop will have a cairn, so I’ve kind of covered this). I’ll take a big wad of thin paper and two mechanical pencils with lots of replacement graphite. I expect this task to be very rewarding and exciting. They’re purely for their own sake to help me understand my home and have a project; I won’t take them with me for navigation.

      I’ll build rudimentary shelters as I explore. This will make camping easier because all I’ll be carrying with me is a sleeping bag made of hides (a tent would be too ambitious). These will fall into disrepair, but they’ll probably mostly be better than sleeping under the stars. And I can repair them from time to time. Maybe I’ll even build long-term shelters as I get further out. A long-term shelter with some dried food and extra hides every three or four days walk? Obviously this’ll slow me down a bit, but it’ll be much safer, meaning that when I’m on a camping trip I should only be maybe a day’s walk from a rudimentary shelter and three or four day’s walk from a long-term shelter. Not sure how practical these numbers are, but I’d work it out as I went along. If there are dangerous animals then camping might be out, and I’ll just need to build shitloads of shelters. This will slow me down a lot, though. Maybe I could sleep up trees?

      Also, I’m absolutely going to need to keep a diary. Can you type on a kindle? If not, I’m gonna need to get somebody to make me a modified kindle before I go, because I won’t have enough paper for that. The diary will help me stay sane, and also will supplement my maps, with descriptions of the environment around each monument and the paths between them.

      Towards the end of my 20 years I’ll try and make a time capsule, burying my food storage boxes and putting my maps, kindle, and perhaps also an abridged version of my kindle diary since it probably won’t survive 40,000 years. (Hell, I doubt pencil-on-paper will survive 40,000 years, but I’ll do it anyway.) Maybe I’ll also carve some messages on stone. Not really much point in all this, but I’m a nostalgic sort.

      Every year, at the winter solstice, I’ll have a bonfire and I’ll sing songs and play drums.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Survival is not a problem, not as a zero-competition hunter/scavenger in a Mediterranean climate. Not going insane from 20 years of solitude? Not doable, so the actual challenge is how to make it from North america to some place with people. On your own. Starting with very limited tools. Also, making *peaceful* contact.
      Most things can be built out of wood, but cloth is insanely labor and skill intensive, so most of the mass allowance is going to be spent on sails. Rest goes to: Laptops. Plural. Full of manuals, text books ect. Several dynamos (for field-expedient watermills). woodworking tools.. Bow, fishing gear.

      • toastengineer says:

        Not going insane from 20 years of solitude? Not doable,

        Are there credible studies on what long-term isolation does to a person, and did it actually find that you can’t go _ years without turning in to a gibbering wreck? I find that kinda hard to believe – stress you out, sure, but render you so screwed up you can’t even survive in the wild?

      • Aapje says:

        @Thomas Jørgensen

        The only humanoids at the time were Erectus, with an estimated IQ of around 60.

        So you might be better off with a volleyball. You should be able to make one with a bladder.

        • Murphy says:

          I think you may be thinking a couple million years ago rather than 40K.

          humans haven’t changed that much in 40,000 years

        • johan_larson says:

          The only humanoids at the time were Erectus, …

          Homo sapiens definitely existed around 40,000 years ago, and was capable of what’s called “behavioral modernity”. But as far as we know, they hadn’t gotten to North America yet.

          Check out this page, and in particular the 50–25 ka span:

        • Aapje says:

          Oops, thought it was the early Pleistocene, not near the end.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Humanity -40000 years is essentially the same, except you are not going to find much in the way of melanin deficiency, milk or alcohol tolerance. Note: Do not teach new tribe how to brew. That shit will end badly.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: do not teach new tribe how to brew. That shit will end badly.

            So, don’t bring seeds for coca, tobacco, marijuana, sugar cane, or a still? Buzz kill.

      • fion says:

        I feel as though building a boat and sailing across the ocean is pretty suicidal. Would you be aiming for Africa? Even there, humans were reeeally spread out 40,000 years ago.

        And making peaceful contact? I don’t know anything about anthropology. I genuinely have no idea how friendly a group of early humans would be, but I worry there’s a significant chance they’ll just kill you.

        But if you did manage to build an ocean-worthy boat and if you did manage to navigate the Atlantic and if you did manage to survive in Africa and if you did manage to find a group of humans and if you did manage to make peaceful contact… I agree it would be *really* interesting to find out about them and live with them and so on. Possibly even more interesting than my obsessive map-making plan! 😛

        • johan_larson says:

          I would guess one person could make something like a Polynesian outrigger canoe with a sail. And with the right skills, they might be able to sail it across the Atlantic alone. That’s a lot of skill, though, probably more than can be injected between one pair of ears in 60 days. And it sure would help to have at least one other person so one can stay awake while the other sleeps.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Polynesian design basis, yes, but not the outrigger canoe, not enough storage space for safety. A voyager Catamaran. Its going to take a while to build – we are talking several thousand hours,- but.. you wont have that much else to do. Hunting to support your self, and the veggie garden that keeps you from getting scurvy is not going to be a lot of hours per week, given local wildlife that does not know to run away.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Scurvy wouldn’t be a problem if you’re hunting, provided you eat the organ meats.

          • johan_larson says:

            Polynesian design basis, yes, but not the outrigger canoe, not enough storage space for safety. A voyager Catamaran.

            Learn to sing We Know the Way before heading out.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Hunting to support your self, and the veggie garden that keeps you from getting scurvy is not going to be a lot of hours per week, given local wildlife that does not know to run away.

            Maintaining a suburban vegetable garden takes a couple of hours a day during peak season if you want any kind of production out of it and that is with modern tools and irrigation. Just carrying the water needed for a decent sized patch is going to exhaust a ton of time and energy, and that is assuming you manage to build one without modern tools.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            So go full carnivore. A single person is not going to be able to hunt/fish the local area to an extent that matters, especially since you will likely have to murder the local apex predators. Likely safer in any case, since, well, you are not going to know the local growing seasons, which could easily be a nasty surprise.

          • With luck you may be able to walk to Asia across the Bering straits land bridge–it seems to have existed off and on during the period.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            .. You want to walk across the entirety of the north american continent.

            Into Alaska.

            During a cold period.

            Then across a land bridge that may, or may not be there.

            On the arctic circle.

            Then down from the arctic into China, and then head west until you hit people?

            Thanks, but I prefer my plan to clinker-build a Catamaran.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          It is not safe, but With modern ship design, compass, computer aided navigation and a sea-anchor? It is a whole lot less suicidal than attempting to last 20 years without cracking like an egg. Or dying to spraining your ankle in the wrong place.. Circumnavigating the globe in single-handled boats is… well, not routine, but a heck of a lot of people have done it, and they usually succeed.
          The biggest problem is that this is so long ago that you cant rely on the trade wind pattern being the same, so you need a large supply margin on board.

          Also, no non-natural ports, which means you are going to have to build something that can land on a beach, and as large as can feasibly be single-handled.

          Catamaran probably best bet, given those constraints.

          The initial peaceful contact… Uhm. The boat ought to be very, very impressive in and off itself to the locals? A tribe living on a coast would be very foolish to kill a shipwright of the caliber implied. I mean, very high risk you end up as tribe shipwright for life, but kill you out of hand? But yes, the manuals really need to include the standard texts on anthropology.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Also, hilariously occurs to me that if all this works out, a very high-probability event is that your entire adopted tribe is going to want to sail the other way. An entire continent with no rivals on it? Score.

          • albatross11 says:

            You’re going to fit the catamaran into your 1x1x3 baggage area? Or make it from native materials?

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Native materials. The sails and a bunch of rope/cord/ect go into it, because I really, really do not want to take up spinning and weaving. I suppose, technically, you could make sails from leather, but they would be heavy.

          • I believe the original limit was three feet by one foot by one foot. A lot of the plans seem to exceed that.

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t know much about ship-building, but if you are capable of starting with a 1x1x3 box of tools and supplies and an untamed wilderness, and ending up with a seaworthy craft and sailing it across the Pacific ocean, you definitely deserve to win this challenge.)

        • Nornagest says:

          40,000 years ago is in the cold part of the glacial cycle. The Bering land bridge might be there already.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          If you’re male, I’m pretty sure you’re normally killed on sight. This is where bringing a gun would really help. Maybe you can advance to chief with a few well placed bullets.

          If you’re female, congrats, you’re now married to the chief!

          • albatross11 says:

            Being married to the chief of a hunter gatherer band in Siberia is probably a better survival strategy than surviving 20 years in the wilderness with a backpack’s worth of supplies and no help available ever.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Being married to the chief of a hunter gatherer band in Siberia is probably a better survival strategy than surviving 20 years in the wilderness with a backpack’s worth of supplies and no help available ever.

            Or not, given the state of midwifery in the Paleolithic. Not sure being infertile would help the situation either. Bring the gun.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            My impression is that a lot of small isolated groups are actually hospitable to strangers.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            I’m happy to admit I speak, not from complete ignorance, but more from cynicism than actual deep knowledge.

          • albatross11 says:

            If this were any part of your strategy, you could have your tubes tied before you left to be sure there’d be no pregnancies. Though maybe that would get your hunter-gatherer tribe to make you an outcast or something–who knows?

      • albatross11 says:

        What are the likely ways to die in this scenario?

        a. Going nuts from solitude/horniness. Bring books, journals, games, a volleyball named Wilson, and lots and lots of porn.

        b. Dying of thirst or crapping yourself to death from drinking bad water. (Droughts/dry seasons are a big issue here–in year eleven, the river you’ve been using for your water and fish supply dries up for a couple months and your favorite prey species’ start dying off. You can’t bring enough water filters to take care of your whole 20 years, but you should bring some to get you through times when there’s no time to build a fire or you can’t find fuel or something. Large durable sealable water containers are a big plus.)

        c. Starving to death. (Maybe because you don’t know what local plants to eat and the first couple you tried made you ill, maybe because both your rifles somehow get unfixably messed up and you turn out not to be very good at spear-throwing.) Bringing some durable food is a really good idea–not to eat under normal conditions, but to eat when you’ve been unexpectedly snowed in for a month and a half, or you broke your ankle and now you can’t hunt till it heals up. Eventually you can start making your ow

        d. Local predators. (Guns and fire will help with this, but you have to sleep sometime, and nothing will be afraid of you. Also, North America had a lot more big predators like you find in Eurasia before humans arrived.)

        e. Injury/accident. (A compound fracture = certain death, and even a simple fracture means you have to splint it and stay in place several months in a weakened state to let it heal. Bites will get infected, and some may be venomous. Any serious allergic reaction probably does you in, though you should definitely bring some antihistamines in your medical kit. Over time, you will accumulate injuries, many treatable back home but not in the (literal) state of nature.)

        f. Wildfires. (In a lot of the west, they’re part of the ecosystem, and they can move faster than you can.)

        g. Extreme weather–snowstorms, ice storms, hailstorms, floods, etc. A flash flood that wipes out your camp and washes away most of your supplies is probably a death sentence; if you’re trying to grow crops, lots of things can kill them (and thus, you) off.

        h. Loss of critical supplies. If you bring a couple rifles and they both get damaged/stop working, you’ve got big troubles. Or if your last pair of boots falls apart, or your medicines run out/get ruined, or your last sewing needle goes missing, or your last steel axehead flies off the handle and drops in a deep lake. Or your last waterproof pot gets a hole knocked in it. Or…. Just like with your body, your supplies will just keep accumulating damage/loss, and there will be some point at which you can’t replace them or live without them. Your medical supplies will probably stop working over time thanks to age and temperature fluctuations. Your waterproof clothing and tent will get holes.

        • johan_larson says:

          A flash flood that wipes out your camp and washes away most of your supplies is probably a death sentence.

          If you go low-tech enough, all the skills to build everything start fitting in one brain. As I understand it, a neolithic man can make all of his tools and gear starting with just the nature around him. But you probably can’t teach all of those skills in a mere 60 days.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, if you’d grown up in a hunter-gatherer tribe in the area you’ll be dropped into, you could probably survive indefinitely with minimal supplies. But not with 60 days (or even a couple years) of cramming!

            I’ve been (slowly) reading the excellent book _The Secret of Our Success_ by Heinrich, and he starts out with quite a few anecdotes about very competent survivor types dying when they were dropped into survival situations where they didn’t know the local flora/fauna/weather/water situation–they might be missing a critical nutrient because they don’t know that one unfriendly-looking plant is edible, or poisoning themselves because they don’t realize that one kind of root vegetable is only safe to eat if you boil it twice and pour off the water both times, or whatever. Even someone who grew up as a hunter-gatherer in the Amazon would have a hard time if he found himself in a totally new environment–he wouldn’t know which plants were safe to eat or the best way to hunt the local animals. He would pick it up faster than a modern American, but he’d still be in some trouble early on and might very well die before he figured it out.

          • Aapje says:

            I watched a documentary about Siberian trappers and was very impressed by their ability to make things and to survive alone for months while hunting. They even made their own skis.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I could be wrong, but shouldn’t you figure out some way to deal with extinct diseases ? Extinct in the modern times, that is, not 40K years ago…

      • Randy M says:

        I think you may be less susceptible to diseases if there are no hominids in the area; typically (I’m saying, welcoming someone to provide dangerous counter examples) pathogens are species specific.

        • albatross11 says:

          You won’t be exposed to anything any other humans of the day have, since there are no humans around. You won’t get livestock diseases, because you’re not going to have any livestock. You might catch something from your prey species or from the environment, but there’s only one of you, so there’s not a lot of opportunity for some animal disease to make a species jump to humans. On the other hand, infections or diseases that work for any mammal (rabies) are still a problem.

          • Randy M says:

            You’d definitely want to be vaccinated against everything under the sun beforehand just in case.

          • albatross11 says:

            The ones I’d really want are tetanus and rabies vaccines. And anything that might be endemic to the Americas at that point. I woudn’t worry about, say, flu vaccines or smallpox vaccines or anything like that.

            And yes, some antiparasitic drugs sound like a very good idea. Maybe you could bring along enough to dose yourself for worms every few months?

      • Nornagest says:

        You won’t have to care about viruses: those are very species-specific, and there aren’t any other humans within 5,000 miles. Most bacteria won’t be a problem either. You will need to worry about some parasites, though. Bringing some antihelmintics might be a good idea.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Should you expect some surprises about which foods are edible or (more importantly) not edible?

      • albatross11 says:

        Solution #1: Bring seeds that you can use to grow crops you know how to eat. (This won’t be immediately useful, but it will ultimately mean you have some plants that have been selectively bred to feed humans. Potatoes, onions, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, wheat, etc.)

        Solution #2: Research native flora/fauna in the Southwestern US and bring some guidebooks. (Things will have changed in 40K years, but there should still be some commonality.)

        Solution #3: Bring a couple guns and lots of ammo, plus some fishhooks and such, and mostly be a predator.

    • Nornagest says:

      Southern North America with a mild Mediterranean climate basically means California, most likely central California. And 40,000 years ago is before the die-off of North American megafauna. I’ll have to deal with Smilodon. That’ll be fun.

      – Books on wilderness survival, small-scale farming (“small-scale” is important; I’m not going to be able to use a plow), primitive crafts, log cabin construction, metalworking, geology, medicine, chemistry. Kindle and charger wouldn’t last as long, but they might be a good alternative if I need the space.
      – Physical and geological maps of the area.
      – Lots of fishing hooks.
      – Monofilament line for fishing and snares.
      – Three or four knives in varying sizes, and a good set of whetstones.
      – Steel heads for hoes, axes, adzes, shovel, maybe a pickax. It’s relatively easy to put handles on tools, so I’m not going to waste space with handles except for the tools I need to do it.
      – Several pounds of seed for modern cultivars of the plants I want. This will need to be very well protected: if it rots, or gets eaten by an animal, I’m not getting it back.
      – Flint, steel, and tinder, and a lighter as a backup while I’m getting used to it.
      – Food for the first few days.
      – A couple of sturdy cooking pots, and some water containers.
      – Warm clothes.
      – Several tarps, for shelter before I can build something more permanent.
      – Flintlock carbine, spare flints and small parts, tools for maintenance and for casting balls, and as much powder and lead as I can fit in the remaining space.
      – A few dozen metal arrowheads in case the gun doesn’t work out.
      – Waterproof containers, for protecting books, seed, and tools before I’ve got shelter worked out.
      – If I have the space, a couple of thick blankets or a sleeping bag.

      First priority is finding a water source and a site for temporary shelter. Then getting my tools set up and building a more permanent shelter, which probably means a log cabin. I’ll want to build it near the coast (so I can gather shellfish), ideally also a large creek or small river (for easy access to fresh water, and to capitalize on the yearly salmon runs). Not on a floodplain.

      Long-term, I’d want to think about farming. This will have to be small-scale, hoe-based farming: there won’t be any domesticable animals in North America 40,000 years ago, and you certainly can’t bring a tractor, so using a plow is not in the cards. Tentatively I think I might want maize, beans, squash (bottle gourds and at least one edible), potatoes, and a good selection of fruit trees, but refining this list would be one of the things I’d do in the 60 days I have. The fields I make will need to be well fenced: wild animals 40,000 years ago won’t have any fear of humans. That’ll make hunting easier, but it’ll also make predators more dangerous and herbivores bolder around my crops.

      Very long term, I’d need to figure out how to keep myself in tools. Getting a metalworking industry set up may or may not be feasible single-handed: it should be possible to build a rudimentary forge fueled with charcoal and use it to make repairs, but I’m not sure it’d be possible to smelt metal that I didn’t bring with me. Similarly, making black powder is technically feasible but might be practically difficult: active volcanoes are the easiest source of sulfur, for example, and all the ones in California are far inland.

      That ought to cover survival. Realistically, though, I’d probably get bored and lonely enough to try and tame a saber-toothed tiger after a couple years.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Trying to farm in Cali at that date is.. more suicidal than my “Build a boat” plan. Cali has unstable climate at the best of times, and that was during a major cooling event. Modern Californian agriculture is a child of civil engineering on an epic scale, and you cant redirect rivers by yourself.

        • Nornagest says:

          You don’t need industrial-scale agriculture (which I agree is probably impossible without the huge water projects of the early 20th century). All you need is a water source that won’t go away in the summer, and that ought to be possible to find with a few days’ searching up or down the coast. You could even cheat and follow a map.

          You’ll probably only be cultivating a couple of acres — think “large vegetable garden”, not “family farm”. Irrigation could be done by hand. This kind of subsistence farming has been practiced for thousands of years in climates a lot harsher than California’s, and if you did your research right you should have better cultivars than those farmers did.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You’ll probably only be cultivating a couple of acres — think “large vegetable garden”, not “family farm”. Irrigation could be done by hand. This kind of subsistence farming has been practiced for thousands of years in climates a lot harsher than California’s, and if you did your research right you should have better cultivars than those farmers did.

            You are almost certainly going to die if you try this. The basics

            1. Any land that isn’t thickly grown with native plants when you arrive isn’t going to have good enough soil to support a productive garden. This means you are going to have a bitch of a time clearing the land to plant your garden and then a bitch of a time keeping the native plants from swarming back in.

            2. Irrigation- during the dry season you are going to need at least a cup of water every other day per 4 sq feet. For an acre that is about 11,000 cups or about 700 gallons of water every other day. You can get by with less water if you are just keeping the plants alive and not expecting to eat anything from them during that time frame, you are not watering a couple of acres by hand alone for even a week.

            3. Animal pests. Suburban gardeners know that a couple of deer browsing through the night will ruin a small garden. Groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits, birds etc will all be far more numerous and drawn to your well watered, lush garden if you ever get it to that state.

          • Randy M says:

            Local farm in Irvine was telling us how coyotes would just destroy whole crops of unripe melons looking for any that were ripe.

        • johan_larson says:

          The Mediterranean climate was farther south 40,000 years ago than it is today, because ice cover and permafrost reached farther south back then than they do today. You might find yourself in Mexico.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, that’s a good point. I don’t think anything I said doesn’t work anymore, though, with some minor adjustments. Figure out where you’re going to land in the 60 days you have, then source yourself some information covering the areas you’re going to land in. Mediterranean climates are rare and that’s not going to change.

      • @Nornagest:

        Do you think what’s on your list is going to fit in a space 1’x1’x3′? I believe that was the requirement.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think so, yes. My thinking was that 1x1x3 is about the size of a large backpacking pack, so I was trying to fit my gear into one or the equivalent. I’m also sacrificing quite a lot of stuff I’d really like to have short-term, like a tent and a stove, for stuff that I’ll need long-term (mostly steel tools).

          The books are admittedly a stretch. A Kindle is a lot more compact, but I’d rather not have something that’ll turn into a pumpkin unexpectedly in year five or six, even if I brought a charger. And, having taken a couple of survival courses, I’d like to think I’m being realistic about my prospects for memorizing everything I’ll need to know in 60 days.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            You can fit several redundant chargers and redundant readers (not all kindles, in case of planned obsolescence problems) in the space of two, three books, and load all of them down with every manual under the sun. Bringing computing hardware is very sensible, especially since, well.. are you really going to take the time to make paper just so you can write down plans? And they are easier to waterproof than a paperback. If you have five, odds are very good at least one will not brick itself.

    • Silverlock says:

      First things first: wait until Ryan North’s How To Invent Everything makes it through Kickstarter — it’s already fully funded — and take a copy of it with you.

    • johan_larson says:

      I am going to set myself up as a forager/fisherman. I will live in a tent placed somewhere near a major body of water — a really large river, lake, or seashore — high ground. I’ll do my fishing with sturdy modern equipment that I am trained to maintain and fix, and worst case I’ll downgrade to more primitive fishing methods. When the fish aren’t biting, I’ll forage for whatever my training tells me to look for. I’ll keep from going crazy by exploring my surroundings and keeping a diary that I’ll publish when I return to my home timeline.

      – foraging (13 days)
      – wilderness survival, climate/biome-appropriate (10 days)
      – basic medicine (10 days)
      – fishing with modern and primitive equipment (including equipment maintenance) (24 days)
      – sewing (2 days)
      – gun use and maintenance (1 day)

      – tent
      – blanket
      – cooking pots
      – fire starting equipment
      – utility knives
      – hatchet
      – whetstone
      – fabric repair kit (for clothes and tent)
      – 1 suit warm clothing (mostly, I’ll go naked, except for a hat)
      – 1 suit regular clothing
      – 2 fabric hats
      – med kit (including painkillers, antibiotics, anti-parasite medicine, …)
      – fishing gear: rods, reel, lures, plenty of sturdy line, spare parts + repair tools
      – pistol, box of ammo, holster, and maintenance tools (for last-ditch defence)
      – 3 days of food + water filter (for first days)
      – notebook + pencils

      I think I have a fighting chance of fitting all of that in 3 cubic feet, particularly if I’m allowed to wear the clothing.

      • fion says:

        mostly, I’ll go naked, except for a hat

        No boots? Or is that included in the suit of clothing? I’ve tried walking through thick undergrowth in bare feet and I would not recommend it. (I wouldn’t even recommend having bare legs.)

        • johan_larson says:

          The suits of clothing do include footwear, but I don’t expect to be able to bring enough with me for regular use. I’ll reserve them for special circumstances, and mostly go barefoot. The soles of the feet toughen up remarkably when they need to.

        • Aapje says:


          There are African runners who run barefoot, which does toughen up the soles greatly, as Johan says. However, if they start using shoes, it’s hard to go back, because then it takes time for the soles to toughen up.

          So it’s important to bring shoes for early period, when you have to get a lot done. Then later you can switch over to barefoot walking, which probably requires a slow built up and avoiding hard terrain at first.

    • Dan L says:

      This mission doesn’t seem to have any obvious reward, so the obvious strategy is to not accept it.

      But that aside, how could we profit from our time in the Pleistocene? Assuming our eventual survival, the needs of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle might be expected to leave us with tens of thousands of hours to plot our triumphant return to the modern day. If we can bring the same 3 cubic feet worth of gear forwards with us, is there low-hanging material wealth to be gathered, or are we limited to scientific samples?

      It seems like it might be possible for a carefully-situated megalith or two to make it to the modern day. Assuming the relevant paradoxes don’t prove much of an issue, is there something more productive to be done than the world’s greatest prank?

      (@johan_larson: these missions are great additions to the open threads!)

      • johan_larson says:

        I think you might be able to find some very hard-core paleontologists who would be up for the trip. After all, they’ll get to return.

        If you pack carefully, you should be able to include some camera equipment. Use that to take lots of pictures of ancient megafauna, to be made into an epic documentary when you return.

        On the way back, try to bring some extinct animals. What price might a couple of smilodon cubs fetch?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      As a variation, all the other constraints are the same, but you are also allowed to bring some animals, either two adults or four young animals not much past weaning.

      My original notion was dogs, with the question being what breed(s) do you want? However, maybe some sort of cattle or goats would make sense.

      • albatross11 says:

        Anything you do will alter the timeline. Even if you go forward to the same year you left, the world will have shifted around you so thoroughly that you will show up unable to speak in any language anyone can understand, to something which might range anywhere from hunter-gatherers in 2018 to burnt-out nuclear wasteland to all the humans long-since uploaded except a few weird cultists who refused and now live some kind of idyllic life on the restored-to-perfect-health Earth.

        • Nornagest says:

          Dogs probably wouldn’t alter the timeline too much. They came with humans across the Bering Strait circa 15000 years ago, so you’d be introducing them early, but feral dogs are basically wolves, and wolves were already there.

          Cattle might — there are cattle relatives native to North America but no actual cattle, so ecology might not change much but they might change the course of cultural evolution in the Americas if they end up getting redomesticated. Uncertain how likely that is, though. Even with four young animals, future generations are going to be dealing with a major genetic bottleneck. Interestingly, though, wild horses would have existed in North America in BC 38000 — they only went extinct around the start of the interglacial.

          Flora you bring would probably have a better shot at altering American ecology than fauna, really.

          • albatross11 says:

            Every breath you take randomizes future weather patterns for the entire rest of human history.

      • Nornagest says:

        The munchkin’s answer is “humans”, of course.

    • John Schilling says:

      Question: How long does my kit have to fit in a 1′ x 1′ x 3′ space? Because a pair of German Shepherd puppies at eight weeks, and a week’s supply of food, could fit into maybe a third of that volume for fifteen minutes or so. Over the next twenty years, they and their offspring would possibly be worth their weight in precious cross-time baggage – particularly if I have to spend twenty years without human companionship.

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, they need to be in there for the duration of the time transition. Hollywood depicts such journeys as very short, typically a few seconds or minutes. And film-makers know as much as anyone about these things so sure, bring mini- or micro-livestock if you want.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I feel this can be minmaxed more. What would the best breeding pair of dogs be in this scenario? Shepherds are good guards, but maybe we want something more oriented towards hunting, or actual shepherding if we think we can rustle up some livestock.

        • John Schilling says:

          Livestock would be too tricky and uncertain to plan on, I think. Hunting, shouldn’t require dogs at all so adding even mediocre hunting dogs to the equation puts us in a very good place. But I expect to be lonely, and I expect to be asleep for eight hours a day, so loyalty, intelligence, and excellence as a camp guard is I think the winning combination.

          That doesn’t necessarily mean German Shepherd, though they are the most common breed in that category. I know there are problems with some breeders optimizing for show, so I’m open to e.g. Akitas or Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

          • albatross11 says:

            I wonder if there are breeds that have been inbred enough that they’re gotten rid of most of the deleterious recessives, and so are unlikely to have later generations (siblings breeding in the second generation, etc.) be seriously sick or infirm as a result.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Possibly, but in that case, I’d look for a working breed which has never been in a movie and isn’t registered with the AKC.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Also, they don’t have to be the same breed. They just can’t be different enough that interbreeding them would be a problem.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You might want to consider a smaller breed like a Jack Russell, one of the issues that you might run into is keeping rodents from eating your food stores, and large dogs aren’t very good at catching and killing rats and mice. They will provide portions of the role guard dogs fill very well (alerting you to danger, and will stick by in the face of it), have tons of energy, will actively manage rodent problems on their own, are intelligent, have few genetic issues and small dogs tend to live longer than larger ones. I would bet they could be trained to hunt, or help you hunt, rabbits and other small game as well.

    • Evil_Socrates says:

      Question: several of the replies above indicate the need for steel tools. Wouldn’t bronze be better? It is much easier to work in a low-tech setting, doesn’t corrode, and keeps an edge just fine for these purposes.

      • Aapje says:

        You have only 60 days to get your pack sorted and have to train during that time too, so that means off the shelf tools, which are not going to be bronze.

        Stainless steel also shouldn’t corrode that much if you treat it well.

        • John Schilling says:

          Good plain steel will last at least twenty years if you take care of it and aren’t regularly boating in salt water. And it is harder and tougher than bronze; not to an extent that will matter if all you’re doing is butchering meat, but if you plan to build a log cabin you may wear out the minimal set of bronze tools you can pack in this scenario.

          At very least, make certain your files, chisel, and hammer are high-quality steel; that way you can hope to build new tools from local metals when your bronze saw blade (if you can find a bronze saw) is worn beyond use.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I recall my father once telling me that if he had to live off the land (assume temperate zone), and could only choose one tool, it would be an axe. Practically any other tool can be simulated with one.

            Furthermore, the very first tool he would create would be a spare axe handle; imagine trying to create one after the original broke.

            Naturally, it would make sense for the axe blade to be steel. If you want to function, be functional.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            I would go for a kukri instead of an axe. Can function as an axe well enough, but much better as a knife, carving tool, machete, etc.

            Folks down in Nepal basically use it as a multitool when going about their farming business.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Nope, has to be a actual axe. Going to be doing too much logging and general carpentry to do without one.
            Although, got to say the obvious thing to do is to bring lots of tools.. without handles except one axe. Because, well, you can pack a whole lot of tool heads of high grade steel into very little space if you take the handles off them.

          • engleberg says:

            +1 you can pack a whole lot of heads of high grade steel in if you take the handles off them-

            Yes. But you get a lot of oomph out of a rubber handle with a spring steel flat perpendicular to the blade.

  7. Aapje says:

    Opioid/Oxycodon abuse in The Netherlands

    The Dutch Health Care Inspectorate has changed their policy to judge healthcare providers based on pain relief much more. Furthermore, there has been a move towards discharging patients from the hospital sooner, resulting in policies that are biased to laziness and ‘better safe than sorry’. Finally, general practitioners tend to just continue treatments, rarely reevaluating them (pharmacist take advantage of this by giving huge discounts for expensive medicines to hospitals, so the ‘hooked’ patients will later keep using those medicines, but will then pay full price).

    The result of the above is that many more people are now being prescribed opioids. For example, Oxycodon usage has tripled over the last 6 years. It’s not as bad yet as in the US and I hope that the recent publicity will result in a course reversal, because it’s just stupid to make the same mistake as the US.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think there is a genuine, ugly tradeoff here, with no right answer. Make opiates/opioids super hard to get, and you leave some people in unbearable untreated pain. (Particularly those who have genuine problems causing them a lot of pain, which are hard to objectively diagnose.) Make them super easy to get, and you get a lot of addicts. As long as our most effective pain medicines are addictive, we will face this same tradeoff.

      • Randy M says:

        My mom was told last night that she had basically zero chance to get her Zanex prescription refilled. The doctor recommended she take up drinking again.

        That’s not a great situation for a recovering alcoholic with anxiety issues.

      • Aapje says:


        If doctors were to only prescribe these opioids for the long term if they’ve carefully determined that there is permanent pain, we wouldn’t have such a large increase in usage and the risk/reward would probably be OK.

        However, I object to the current situation where hospitals just prescribe large quantities of these opioids for temporary pain and general practitioners then give repeat prescriptions without checking whether the patient actually needs it. These drugs can give withdrawal symptoms and they often give a ‘high,’ so it’s easy for patients to falsely conclude that they still need them. The opioids can even produce pain during regular use, making patients use the opioids to counteract the side effects of the opioids…

        PS. For long term use, isn’t it better to cycle through pain medication, which should reduce addiction and building up resistance?

  8. ana53294 says:

    Update on Catalonia

    This is an update on what has happened with the Catalan independence movement since the October referendum.

    There was a referendum on the first of October, where those who voted overwhelmingly chose independence (although only 20 % or so participated in the referendum, and a lot of votes were not counted). Then, the 10th of October, there was an attempt to declare independence, although it was a bit unclear. The Spanish Government decided it would intervene in Catalonia, and invoked Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which dissolved the Catalan government and made the Spanish government the one in charge, on the 27th of October, at the same time the Catalans declared a Republic in the Catalan Parliament. So the Spanish government dissolved the Catalan Parliament and called for new elections in December. The Spanish Supreme Court invalidated the Catalan Republic the 31st of October.

    After the dissolution of the Catalan Government, 6 of the main leaders of the Catalan government fled to exile in Belgium. Since then, one of them went to Scotland, and three returned to Spain, where they went to jail. Two other politicians fled to Switzerland. Meanwhile, the Catalan politicians that stayed in Spain are being judged by the Spanish Supreme Court [1] on charges of rebellion[2], sedition[3] and misuse of public funds[4]. There was a first euroorder of extradition for the fugitives, but they removed it when they realized that those politicians may be extradited only for the misuse of public funds, because Belgium is not very friendly. After the removal of the extradition order, the Catalan ex-President travelled around Europe to further his cause. While he was in Finland, the Spanish government re-issued the order, and the Spanish secret services collaborated with the German police and made sure he was caught by Germans (they wanted Germany to extradite him, because they knew Germany had rebellion on their books). So Puigdemont’s case has been decided in Germany, and the judges there have decided to extradite him only for misuse of public funds, and not sedition and rebellion. The extradition euroorder was removed again.

    All this is making the Spanish government look ridiculous, which they deserve for using judiciary means for political problems. The fact that the exilees are better off than those who escaped also looks bad.

    [1]This is an important detail because it means there is no recourse for the decisions made by the Supreme Court. It was also necessary because politicians, judges and prosecutors enjoy from a status called “aforamiento”, which is not parliamentary inmunity, but the right to not be judged by an ordinary court, but by the Supreme Court instead.

    [2] The problem with this charge is that, although it exists in a lot of countries, it requires public expression of violence, in Spain and other countries. Spain considers that the violence of those who tried to defend ballot boxes against police confiscation is enough for rebellion; most other countries do not.

    [3] Sedition in Spain does not require violence, just that a big group of people coordinate to break the law. Most other European countries either do not have sedition on their books, or require violence.

    [4] After the Spanish government dissolved the Catalan government and took over everything, the Spanish Finance minister was in charge of Catalan government finances. Although anybody can see that somebody paid for the illegal referendum, the ministry hasn’t been able to find any misuse of public funds. My suspicion is that although they did misuse public funds, it is difficult to prove because they are very good at it. IIRC, this also carries a max sentence of just 6 years.

    • fion says:

      Thanks for the update. I’ve been kind of curious about this but haven’t bothered to keep up with it properly.

      So I take it the Catalan government is still dissolved and the Spanish government still running everything? Is there much chance this’ll change? Are there regular protests in Catalonia? What do the Spanish public think about all this? I assume most of them don’t want Catalonia to become independent, but do they approve of their politicians underhand tactics in trying to stop it? Do all the political parties in Spain oppose Catalan independence?

      • ana53294 says:

        Second update on how the political part is working.

        So, after the government and Parliament were dissolved, there was an election in Catalonia. This election did not go as the Spanish government back then hoped for.

        So, to simplify, I will divide the Catalan Political parties into four blocks: Catalan Left (ERC, and the more extreme CUP), Catalan Right (was CiU before, became PdCat), Spanish Right (then Government party, PP, and the more extreme[1] Ciudadanos), and Spanish Left (PSOE and Podemos[2]). After the December elections the Catalans went from 72 parliamentaries (68 needed for majority) to 70 MPs (still majority). The Spanish right went from PP 11+ Ciudadanos 25 to PP 4+Ciudadanos 36. The Spanish left lost slightly; Podemos went from 11 to 8 and PSOE from 16 to 17. Participation was up 2 points in this election. Spanish political parties always argue that the only reason nationalists are highly represented is because there is a “silent majority” that is Spanish but cannot be bothered, whereas pro-independence parties have highly loyal bases that always turn up. The part about the loyalty of independence voters is true, whereas the election results showed that, even with participation at its highest (79%), Catalan parties still got the majority in Parliament (thus dismantling the “silent majority” lie).

        Because Catalans denied the validity of the dissolution of their government (some of them still showed up to work after that), they wanted the President of their Republic to be their President, and tried several times to make Carles Puigdemont their President. They weren’t allowed to do that, and the reason given was that CP was not sworn in as MP because he was in Brussels. They tried to do it remotely, but failed. Then they decided to try to make the vice-president of their dissolved republic president, but failed because he was in jail. Then they tried to vote for Jordi Turull, an MP who had been released from jail. He was jailed again before they could do that, and there is a legal case about that.

        Finally Puigdemont, as the Catalan legitimate President [3], nominated a candidate of his liking. So, when the time for investing a president was about to run out [4], they nominated a candidate from the Catalan Right. So the Catalans finally had a government this May.

        While all of this was going on, the Spanish government, in charge of education, tried and failed to force Spanish teaching availability [5] in all schools.

        1Although they are more extreme to the right, they are not what Americans call the Alt-right. They are less racist, and more focused on internal Spanish matters, so more anti-Basque/Catalan than anti-immigrant/Muslim/refugee, although they also tend to that.

        2This party favours a referendum but not independence. They would like to offer some kind of federal deal and campaign for Catalonia staying in Spain, while still having the referendum.

        3 This is how they see it; it’s also the reason other Catalan parties have not tried to put forward their own candidates, because that would legitimize the Spanish dissolution of their government, while they still maintain that the Catalan Republic is independent.

        4 You cannot take forever to invest a President. If it takes too long, there needs to be a re-election. This is what happened in Spain in 2016, where we had 2 national elections the same year, and we spent a year without a government.

        5 The current education model in Catalonia and the Basque country is the following: all schools must teach Spanish, a Foreign Language, and the Local Language. But what changes is the language in which the rest of the subjects are taught. So, depending on the school, they will offer the Catalan model (all subjects except for Spanish and Foreign Language are taught in Catalan), the mixed and Spanish model (only Catalan language is taught in Catalan). The thing is, Catalan as a subject does not work nearly well enough to teach Catalan, so they teach all subjects in Catalan, as a linguistic inmersion program. I cannot say how this works in Catalonia, but Spanish-model schools in the Basque country are kind of guetto schools[6].

        6 Meaning that Spanish model schools are mostly used by Roma, non-Spanish speaking inmigrants who need to be taught, itinerants (who come for three months and then leave), and people who refuse to integrate in the region they live in (political extremists). So this schools need more resources, and are full of poor kids. So Spanish parents are given a choice between a nice middle class Basque or Catalan public school, or this Spanish school full of poor kids, and you need to sit in a bus for an hour to go there (the bus will be free). Thus they say they are “forced” to send their kids to non-Spanish schools (technically not true). They also insist that the Basque or Catalan middle class schools of their liking offer them the option of having a single kid learning in Spanish. This would be ridiculously expensive, as it would mean giving this kids who can learn the local language but refuse to do so, private lessons in everything from Math to PE, were the teachers have to prepare individual lessons in Spanish.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      “My suspicion is that although they did misuse public funds, it is difficult to prove because they are very good at it.”

      Or someone helped them out.

      • ana53294 says:

        Although Russian hackers helped maintain the website during the Catalan Referendum, I haven’t seen credible evidence that the Russians also financed the referendum. I believe Russian mostly got into this mess on a later stage.

        Catalans have had several politicians whose corruption has been unearthed recently. I have suspicions, although I cannot prove any of it, that somebody in the Spanish secret services knew about this corruption, but did not prosecute it because they could use it if the politician became politically compromised, as they did when the Catalan mess started. The timing is just too convenient. But that’s just a conspiracy theory that I happen to have, because it is hard to believe that the huge scale corruption in the Catalan government has been going on for 30 years and nobody noticed.

        So if they have 30 years of experience in misusing public funds, I am quite sure they have some kind of slush fund to pay the estimated 1.5 million euros the referendum cost. This is small change for the Catalan government, after all.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Note your different standards of proof here:

          “I haven’t seen credible evidence”


          “I have suspicions, although I cannot prove any of it”

          • ana53294 says:

            My suspicions, although unfounded, are based on rumors. And I do acknowledge that this is a conspiracy theory I belive is slightly credible.

            I haven’t heard anybody claim that the Russians funded the referendum. There is a lot more basis in supposing Catalan corruption than direct interaction between Catalans and Russians. Nobody in Spain has accused the Catalans of treasons, and if there was any basis for this, wouldn’t they have done it?

            My best guess is that Russia did not fund the referendum, although that is just my opinion. Do you have any reason for believing Russian involvement in the financing rather than internal Catalan corruption? Since this is utter conjecture, rumors are also valid arguments.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Since we have no evidence, we are not really doing “argument”, yet, just proposing hypotheses.

            My hypothesis is based on, shall we say, my Bayesian prior on how Russians operate.

          • ana53294 says:

            I do think Russians are capable of financing an independence referendum. It just seems to me that the speed with which the referendum was organized indicates internal funds. Russians have participated in the campaign, and financed adds, etc. Some of the Catalan independentists favor exiting NATO and the EU, and 1.5 million euros is a really cheap way of destabilizing the EU. I just don’t think they directly financed the referendum in this case, because this would require coordination between the Catalan government and the Russian government. And this kind of thing is not worth it for the amount of money involved, which is peanuts.

          • albatross11 says:


            It seems (from watching the news on TVE sometimes) that there are a *lot* of high-profile financial scandals in Spain. (The one that got the king’s brother-in-law, the one that ultimately pushed Rajoy out of office, etc.) Am I misunderstanding something? (I’m an American with not all that much familiarity with Spanish culture and history, so I could be missing a lot.)

            Do you think Catalonia has more of that kind of thing than other parts of Spain?

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, no, I don’t believe that Catalonia is a more corrupt region of Spain. It’s just a richer region, so there is more money to go around. Also, for a lot of political reasons, I believe that some people wouldn’t be touched. But that is just my opinion.

            The general rule of thumb is: the more time the same party has stayed in power, the more corruption. So that’s why there were so many corruption cases in Valencia, were PP ruled almost since democracy.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      I was just in Catalonia a few weeks ago. Here are some notes of interest:

      The street language in Barcelona is now Catalan. Period. Our hosts and guides said that “before”, it was a mix of mostly Castilian in the city for business, trade, office work, and between strangers, and Catalan for talking with family and close friends.. My ears only heard Catalan. I saw people sitting in tapas places reading assorted books and pamphlets “how to speak Catalan better”.

      The Catalonia flags in several variants are proudly flown and proudly displayed in windows in Barcelona. Once you get outside Barcelona, they are REALLY everywhere. It’s difficult to find a Spanish flag, even on the government buildings, where it is in theory required. The city hall buildings in the small towns on the countryside fly the Catalonia flag, in defiance of law.

      There are yellow ribbons painted on the streets, sidewalks, and walls, everywhere. People wear them on their lapels at work and on the street. There are yellow ribbons tied around lampposts and bridges. There are handmade signs and commercial billboards up everywhere demanding the release of “political prisoners”.

      I was told (I don’t know the truth of it), that the government in Madrid not only went after the pro-independence politicians, they went after their families, extended families, and inlaws, with pressure on employers to fire, firing from civil service jobs, termination of scholarships and desired education tracks, bullshit tax audits, and bullshit business audits.

      What a mess. The politicians in Madrid have fucked it up by the numbers. They could not have done a better job of causing a deep growth of “everybody knows that everybody knows” “common knowledge” support for independence if they had tried.

      • albatross11 says:

        FWIW, the previous Spanish government (PP) that fucked up by the numbers has lost power, and the Socialist party is now in charge. I have no idea how much difference that will make, though.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          This is my ignorant USian POV asking for insight: how much of the implementation of these fuckups were directed and controlled by the individuals of that previous elected and appointed government, and how much of it was by members of the “permanent state”, career civil service, and holders of the deep soft power?

          • ana53294 says:

            If you consider the judges, prosecutors and police as the deep state, quite a big part of it was the Spanish bureaucratic machinery reacting as they are used to. Madrid has decided to avoid political solutions, and they have fucked up massively. I believe that this crisis could have been solved in September. It can still be solved now, but Catalans will need more than they would have agreed to in September.

            Catalan pro-independence polls at 46% against 44%; they don’t have more than 50 % yet; but they will be gaining among the undecided with every Spanish fuck up. And also, the Catalan youth are quite a bit more radical than their parents (a lot of whom are Spanish**).

            Meanwhile, the Basques have been emboldened. The Basque Christian Democrats* have made a deal with radical leftist Basque nationalist, and are demanding a lot more autonomy.

            *Their actual name in Spanish is Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). However, they tend to be very milquetoast about it. But their Basque name translates better to Basque Christian democrats, and I think it fits them better.

            **Both Basques and Catalans manage the identity issue quite well. You can be a black inmigrant born in Africa, if you speak Basque and dance the aurresku, you will be considered Basque, unlike that Spaniard with a Basque family name who speaks Spanish and hangs the Spanish flag from his balcony. It’s the same in Catalonia; if you support their cause and are willing to learn and speak their language, they will consider you one of their own.

          • ana53294 says:

            Another issue is the Spaniards themselves; I cannot speak about the harrassment by the tax agencies, but I can talk about the boycott.

            This is the delightful story of how Spanish nationalists decided to boycott Catalan cava. But, as the story tells,

            And it does not concern only the entrepreneurs of that community. Extremeños, Andalusians, Aragonese and others warn that those who want to harm Catalonia by rejecting their products will also harm other communities by interconnecting the companies on both sides of the Ebro.

            […]A similar situation exists in other communities. From Aragón comes the milk used by companies such as Cacaolat or the cheeses and yogurts from Lleida, Pastoret de la Segarra; as well as the barley with which Estrella Damm and San Miguel make their beer. Many bottles of cava are made with Zaragoza glass and Malaga cork. And the examples continue.

            Also, Spaniards have become violent against Catalans; a car driver decided to drive into some yellow crosses on purpose; people with Catalan flags on their balconies have been attacked.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            If the Spanish want to stop drinking Catalonian Cava, I hope more of it starts importing into the US. The stuff is delicious, I now have yet another additional favorite booze.

        • ana53294 says:

          As the controversial Josep Pla said a hundred years ago ” the most similar to a right wing Spaniard is a leftist Spaniard”. Looking at his choice of cabinet, I don’t think there will be any difference. The guy he chose for Minister of the Interior (the one in charge of the police), the same guy that saw this photo and said there was no torture. He is also anti free speech (in Spain we have a magazine similar to Charlie Hebdo; they wanted to publish an image of the royal Felipe and Leticia fucking and he prohibited that).

          The gruesome photo is the actual photo of him when he entered prison. The problem with proving torture in Spain is that you can’t invite any doctor to examine you. It has to be a doctor that is paid and licensed as a medical examiner by the Spanish state.

          The Spanish socialist party are also the ones that created the paramilitary group GAL in the eighties. They murdered people and when caught, they were pardoned.

          This is also the reason why I am against pardons. As was shown in the US with the Arpaio case, pardons can be used by the deep state to protect their own human rights violations.

          • Aftagley says:

            This is also the reason why I am against pardons. As was shown in the US with the Arpaio case, pardons can be used by the deep state to protect their own human rights violations.

            This makes no sense. The pardon in the US is a power solely reserved by the President, not the (IMO non-existent) Deep State.

            While I could conceivably see a scenario where a cabal of unaccountable government officials pressured the executive to pardon one of their own, that’s not what happened in the Arpaio case; Trump just saw the opportunity for an easy political win with his base that had the attendant benefits of triggering the libs and (potentially) signaling to people under investigation by Mueller that he’s willing to pardon political allies.

          • ana53294 says:

            In Spain, pardons are granted by the King, on petition of the Ministery of Justice. They created the fuck up by creating the paramilitary group, with the knowledge and permission of the socialist government, and then the next government, made of right-wing politicians who criticized the previous government for corruption and the creation of these paramilitary groups, proceeded to let the ministery pardon its own.

            For me, this proves the existence of at least a Spanish deep state, or that all Spaniards are the same, whether they are left or right wing.

            I am not sure that having a President, who can be there for 8 years, be able to pardon his agents, is a good idea. I don’t think pardons should be granted to people who while working for the government (be it state or federal), broke the law and used the state’s power to commit their crimes. What would stop any hypothetical President who sees it as politically viable from doing what the Spanish government did in the eighties?

          • albatross11 says:

            Pardons make sense if you imagine an executive carefully looking for places where justice was not done and someone is in jail who ought not to be. That might be because the law was misapplied or the prosecution was corrupt, but it might also be because the law was applied as written, but in this particular case, the application of the law has done someone a genuine injustice.

            If you think the executive is going to use the pardons to reward friends, play to the crowd regardless of justice, or protect corrupt underlings/friends from the law, then it sounds like a pretty bad idea.

          • albatross11 says:


            In fact, I think Reagan and Bush Jr used pardons to protect some people who had broken the law in their official capacity from serving their whole time in jail. On the other hand, Ford used the pardon power to permit an end to the Nixon administration without having to go through an impeachment–Nixon was willing to resign presumably because Ford promised him a pardon.

            For justice to be done, you’d like powerful people who misuse their power to face especially harsh penalties. But in order to get powerful people to relinquish their power without a fight (political, legal, or with actual guns and bombs), there’s some real value in having someone able to offer the powerful corrupt people a deal that says “Leave now and you can retire to your ranch in California and live out the rest of your life in freedom, albeit while disgraced. Or fight it out and you’ll end your days in a federal prison.”

          • Aftagley says:


            …For me, this proves the existence of at least a Spanish deep state, or that all Spaniards are the same, whether they are left or right wing.

            When I said I didn’t believe in the Deep State, I should have said that with respect to the US. My apologies for being unclear, I don’t know enough about Spain to have an opinion your government.

            What would stop any hypothetical President who sees it as politically viable from doing what the Spanish government did in the eighties?

            Hopefully shame, fear of some kind of congressional backlash or federalism (where an individual state steps in and prosecute the offenders in a manner that is pardon-proof.) The fact that none of those points seem particularly likely to happen right now is why we on the Left in America are so worried about Trump’s use of pardons.

          • Aftagley says:


            I know George Bush Senior pardoned a host of people who were convicted in involvement with the Iran Contra scandal. Is that what you’re thinking of?

          • ana53294 says:

            I guess that having two separate systems of pardons makes it more difficult to pardon your accomplices in misusing power. However, it is still too easy. I prefer to remove pardons and only have amnesties. Amnesties have to be voted, so there is less chance of abuse.


            I know pardons can be used to pardon the previous regime so they leave power. We did have an Amnesty in Spain, after all. I am not too happy with the results, though. People in Colombia are not too happy about the pardoning of the FARC, either.

            The problem with pardoning the previous government so they leave is that it doesn’t work anymore. I think the government’s of Venezuela, Russia and North Korea will stay until the bitter end. This is because crimes against humanity cannot be pardoned. Argentina is still trying to get Spain to extradite the people who commited those crimes (and that happened 50 years ago), the same way Spain led a case against Pinochet.

          • At a tangent on pardons …

            As I understand it, the President cannot “pardon” someone who has lost a civil suit, although under some circumstances Congress seems to be able to change the law in a way that eliminates tort liability for past acts.

            In English common law there was, perhaps still is, something called an appeal of felony, a private law suit like a tort suit for a criminal offense leading to a criminal penalty. Blackstone comments that in that case the king cannot pardon the losing defendant since, unlike a criminal case, the king is not a party to the suit.

            I know of at least one 18th century case where an appeal of felony was attempted against offenders who had been pardoned by the king (for murder). It didn’t succeed–by that time it was no longer regarded as a very practical legal option, for what reasons I don’t know.

          • BBA says:

            The last appeal of felony case was 1818’s Ashford v. Thornton, in which the defendant responded to the by-then arcane legal procedure by demanding a trial by battle, and the court reluctantly ruled that he was in fact entitled to it. The plaintiff, a much smaller man than the defendant, quickly dropped the suit, and Parliament abolished the cause of action the following year.

      • Deiseach says:

        They could not have done a better job of causing a deep growth of “everybody knows that everybody knows” “common knowledge” support for independence if they had tried.

        Yeah. There’s no better way to turn an ambivalent population into die-hard nationalists than hard cracking down badly applied. After the Easter Rising, the general sense of the nation in Ireland was that this was a crackpot affair and there wasn’t much popular support. But since the country had been put under martial law, and the general in charge wanted to show the damn natives just who was in charge, the heavy-handedness changed attitudes and hardened them fast.

        A Unionist journalist wrote a piece about how this was damn stupid, and quoted someone (I can’t find out who, I think it might be Shaw but I’m not sure) about the effect being like watching blood running out from under a locked door:

        “I am not asking you to regard the executions of the rebel leaders, the sentences of penal servitude, the deportations, announced badly day after day without publication of the evidence which justified the infliction of the capital penalty, from behind the closed doors of Field Court-Martial, from the point of view of their justice, or even of their expediency. I am simply inviting you to endeavour to understand their effect on that Irish public which read of them ‘with something of the feeling of helpless rage with which one would watch a stream of blood dripping from under a closed door’”.

        It puts a large dent into the image of the honorable English gentleman who never breaks his word and gallant officer when you have to tie a man to a chair in order to shoot him because his injuries are so bad that you’re afraid he’ll die before he can be properly executed for his treason:

        Connolly had been so badly injured from the fighting (a doctor had already said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given) that he was unable to stand before the firing squad; he was carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher. …Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he was tied to a chair and then shot.

        Yeats wrote a poem about it (and I’m damn sure the Catalans are writing poems too):

        Sixteen Dead Men

        O but we talked at large before
        The sixteen men were shot,
        But who can talk of give and take,
        What should be and what not
        While those dead men are loitering there
        To stir the boiling pot?

        You say that we should still the land
        Till Germany’s overcome;
        But who is there to argue that
        Now Pearse is deaf and dumb?
        And is their logic to outweigh
        MacDonagh’s bony thumb?

        How could you dream they’d listen
        That have an ear alone
        For those new comrades they have found,
        Lord Edward and Wolfe Tone,
        Or meddle with our give and take
        That converse bone to bone?

      • Michael Handy says:

        Wow, that’s a significant radicalisation.

        Change the flag colours and you could be paraphrasing the first chapter of Homage to Catalonia.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      So Puigdemont’s case has been decided in Germany, and the judges there have decided to extradite him only for misuse of public funds, and not sedition and rebellion.

      Why does it matter what the Germans say? Once he’s back in Spain why can’t the Spaniards charge whatever Spanish law allows? Is this some sort of EU thing where an EU court can throw out a national conviction because the extraditing country said so?

      • John Schilling says:

        The Spaniards cannot charge whatever Spanish law allows, because in order to secure extradition in the first place they have to promise that they will not charge “whatever Spanish law allows”, but limit themselves to charging what they specified in the extradition request and is on the list of things both nations consider to be extraditable crimes. Pretty much all extradition treaties work that way, AIUI, and if you break that promise you don’t have an extradition treaty any more.

      • ana53294 says:

        I think a lawyer will explain this better. My understanding of extradition is the following: let’s suppose that we have an extradition agreement with, say, Russia. Now, if a guy has killed other people, we don’t want him here. But let’s suppose this murderer also happens to be openly gay and he defends gay rights. We don’t think that advocating for gays should be a crime, but we do want him judged for murder. So imagine we extradite him, it turns out the murder charge is bogus and they are really after him for being gay. That would not be good from our point of view, right? So extradition treaties say: you can judge him for murder, because we extradited him for that, but you can’t charge him for being gay, which we don’t think is a crime. So you can only judge an extradited criminal for charges under which he was extradited.

        edit:They can charge him for other crimes only if he commits them after he was extradited.

      • Gobbobobble says:


        That makes sense, just feels very wishy-washy and eat-your-cake-and-have-it-too – like most international politics! In my decidedly non-legal-scholarly opinion, the options should be either extradition or asylum. If you care enough about X not being a crime, fine, don’t extradite fugitive Xers. Don’t go telling a sovereign nation what laws they can and cannot enforce when you send someone back.

        But I’m aware this is not practically reasonable, which is why we have the wishy-washy solution and its “oh shit no wait we don’t want them back after all” hijinx.

        • Iain says:

          If you care enough about X not being a crime, fine, don’t extradite fugitive Xers. Don’t go telling a sovereign nation what laws they can and cannot enforce when you send someone back.

          If you care about X not being a crime, but also care about Y being a crime, then it seems like the obvious next step is to offer extradition under the condition that only Y is prosecuted.

          They’re a sovereign nation under no obligation to listen to your legal preferences. You’re a sovereign nation under no obligation to extradite. Neither of you can force the other into anything, but it doesn’t mean you can’t make mutually agreeable bargains.

  9. Michael Pershan says:

    I was TW’s partner in the collaboration and I have some thoughts on what makes one of these collaborations work.

    Here’s my theory: adversarial collaboration works better if the positions are vague, and they work worse if the positions are clearly defined.

    When the positions are clearly defined, it’s far more likely that each participant will advocate for their own position and the whole thing is framed as a battle. Someone has to fail. They’ll be in the game to “win” and when the chances of victory start feeling distant, they’ll leave the project behind. This doesn’t need to happen (obviously) but I’d predict that it happens much more frequently when people feel accountable to their initial positions.

    When the positions are more vaguely defined, in contrast, the “collaboration” part of the deal becomes much easier. It’s possible to reframe the project as an attempt for two people with conflicting tendencies or orientations to come to a joint understanding on a topic of controversy. There is less pressure and attention directed on one’s individual status, and it’s possible to focus on the issue without carrying the baggage of competition and victory.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      If the topic is left vague the two participants can argue two different, perhaps unrelated points. You increase the chance of the participants finishing, maybe, but you also virtually guaranty that the two sides are talking past eachother and no resolution results.

      • Michael Pershan says:

        I don’t think you can finish an adversarial collaboration at all if you’re talking past each other, but I do think there’s something interesting in what you’re saying.

        If we think of an adversarial collaboration as a battle between two opposing views, and the collaboration is a mutual attempt to settle differences, then yes. you might be disappointed by vaguer problem statements.

        But adversarial collaboration is uniquely ill-suited for slamming two opposing views against each other and waiting to see who is victorious. The whole purpose is to come to some sort of agreement. There aren’t a lot of battles that end with a handshake.

        What adversarial collaborations are good for is for (a) pushing each member to consider views and positions that they hadn’t thought about enough yet and (b) presenting a common store of agreed-upon points, narrowing and clarifying the terms of disagreement. This has tremendous value, I believe.

        But it IS intensively collaborative, and the more it’s presented as a chance for specific, well-defined antagonistic views to do battle, the harder that collaboration is.

        So (as one of the 2 out of 15 groups that finished) I would encourage other groups to vagueify their positions for the purposes of collaboration. Find genuine questions that neither of you are confident about, but both are interested in, and that seem related to your initial reason for coming together. It’s really a chance to learn together in a collegial spirit, more than it is a chance to settle controversial questions. That’s my take, at least.

        • Wrong Species says:

          If there is a really heated battle between the two, at the very least we can see where they agree. If they aren’t really talking to each other then we don’t even get that.

          • Michael Pershan says:

            My point is that you can better map out the areas where you agree by trying to answer interesting questions that are relevant to both of your views. Inevitably, debate and differences occur.

            I don’t understand the idea that people do a particularly good job listening to each other in the middle of a heated debate. Heated debates are precisely the context in which people are most likely to talk past each other.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The adversarial collaboration is more to the benefits of the spectators than the participants. And I think I disagree about people being more likely to talk past each other in a heated debate. Generally, when two people are friendly to each other, they tend to give in too much in order to keep it cordial between themselves. But in the middle of a heated argument, they’re more likely to call out someone for avoiding an issue. But it may be different when it comes to collaborating on a paper together rather than an actual debate.

          • Michael Pershan says:

            WrongSpecies, I see only one way to settle this: adversarial collaboration.

            I’ll defend the position that adversarial collaboration with narrower, more specifically defined positions tends to go worse.

            I have no idea how we’ll go about this though…

          • sierraescape says:

            Simple, define it very specifically. If the collaboration doesn’t pan out, you are vindicated.

    • J Mann says:

      I think Wikipedia has a pretty good system for harnessing sometimes adversarial contributors to construct a usually useful product. Generally, the goal in a Wikipedia page is to identify reliable evidence on a question and arrange it into a useful form. Sometimes on contested subjects, you end up with a summary of the reliable evidence pro and con, which can be very helpful.

      If you and your “adversary” see your job as “assemble the evidence for both cases, assess its reliability to the extent possible, and arrange it into a summary of (a) agreed facts and (b) the evidence for the facts still in dispute,” I think you have a pretty good chance of constructing something useful.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The problem with Wikipedia is that you have no idea whether a given article is so hopelessly biased that it’s just bias masquerading as fact or whether one position really is so weak that it doesn’t deserve to be in the article. What’s good about the adversarial collaboration is that it puts the bias out in the open.

      • Jiro says:

        Have you read the article on Wikipedia about the ants? That seems to disprove your contention.

        • J Mann says:

          It’s tough to disprove my contention that Wikipedia has a “pretty good system for harnessing sometimes adversarial contributors” or that “Sometimes on contested subjects,” you end up with a useful summary. 😉

          On the specific topic of the unpleasantness regarding ethics in online recreation, it does demonstrate two of Wikipedia’s weaknesses, which is (1) a preponderance of compliant editors on one side of an issue can sway coverage in that direction and (2) to avoid second guessing, Wikipedia accepts published journalism, scholarship, and books as “reliable sources,” so if you think the journalistic coverage was biased, Wikipedia will be biased in that direction.

          With at that said, the article is a pretty representative summary of the published information, and the neutral editors have blocked attempts to rename the page as “Ants (Hate Group)” or “Ants Harassment Campaign,” so it’s not like the process completely failed.

          • Aapje says:

            Wikipedia is actually heavily biased towards believing journalists over scholarship and books, which means that they tend to follow journalist consensus, for better or worse.

            Note that journalists tend to be a specific kind of people, with biases that reflect their self-selected personality traits and the peer pressure that results from this. They are also pushed into biases through market forces. Journalists also tend to trust each other, which means that if a falsehood gets published by one (semi-)respected publication, it is often copied by others without verification. This is especially irritating if the (semi-)respected publication retracted a claim fairly quickly, but other (semi-)respected publications already copied it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Culture war….

          • J Mann says:

            Hopefully avoiding any culture issues, I agree that Wikipedia is structurally likely to prefer published journalism that is available online as sources, especially for current events. This is because (1) it defines reliable sources as published journalism, scholarship, and books, (2) journalism is more likely to be available for current events, (3) journalism is easier for lay editors to read online.

            (Scholarship may be viewed as primary sources and therefore discouraged, I don’t know)

    • TracingWoodgrains says:

      I think keeping things specific can work out well, but works primarily as much as both sides are willing to explore the background reasons for their assumptions rather than zeroing in on the assumptions themselves. Using our discussion on ability grouping as an example–I think going from there to “what problems are we attempting to solve with this topic, and why do we feel strongly about those problems?” on both sides was one of the most helpful parts in the collaboration. I expect that, in many cases, disagreements about specific issues result from the priorities people place on different problems that intersect with those issues, and it’s useful to ask, “Do we disagree about how to solve the same problem or do we disagree about which problem we should be solving?”

      Like you’re saying, it’s easy to get bogged down if both are focusing on the specific area they disagree on. But if there’s a way to isolate different issues that intersect with the surface-level problems (some examples in the case of ability grouping: egalitarian principles, boredom and underachievement, practicality), the conversation becomes more effective, since you can discuss the specific problems on the same terms rather than zeroing in on the intersection of two different concerns.

      • Michael Pershan says:

        That’s a helpful way to put it — that exploration around the issues is extremely valuable, and that an intense focus on the issues (narrowly defined) can bog you down. I tend to think that vaguer definitions of things allow for more exploration, but if you can explore while still engaging in an intense and focused debate…sure! That could work too, as long as you’re able to avoid focusing on point-scoring and look around a bit.

  10. johan_larson says:

    In earlier threads I’ve talked about ASVAB scores required for various jobs in the military. This time I found a list of the requirements for various navy jobs (“ratings”.)

    Some of the score requirements are really high. The highest scores are for nuclear jobs, but submarine jobs and electronics jobs in general have requirements that are nearly as high. The nuclear technicians’ training is known to be very demanding.

    • anon83194 says:

      I’ve been through navy nuclear power training both as enlisted and officer. AMA.

      The curriculum is demanding primarily due to time compression. I’d say the classroom portion (power school) is an undergrad four semester full load crammed into six months. 10% of students do eighty hour weeks, 80% do sixty. Everything is marked Confidential, so you’re stuck in a single classroom on base for all studying. The material is fairly basic mechanics memorization and algorithmic math.

      I just looked up my transcript. 28.5 credits. Electrical Power Engineering and Machinery Theory. Heat Transfer. Deformation, Fracture and Failure Analysis. Power Plant Systems. Radiological Fundamentals. Reactor Dynamics. Reactor Operations.

      The practical portion (prototype) is the tough part. Six months of rotating twelve hour shift work on an operating plant. Systems study plus procedural/casualty practicum in a cramped engine room.

      In my experience, most enlisted nukes have 98-99 ASVABs. Lots of really sharp folks from disadvantaged backgrounds. The signing bonus and automatic up-ranking are probably top in the military. Officers must pre-screen with Department of Naval Reactors in DC and get five-figure signing bonuses. There is significant attrition despite incredible engagement by training staff. Instructors work almost as hard as trainees.

      Johan, that link appears dead. I recall reading it and not being impressed by the journalistic quality. This one is primary sourced and has decent photos: As an SSBN guy, I can also recommend this podcast episode about life on a boomer: Other good links, SSC nukes?

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Dumb Q: how did you do nuke school as both enlisted and officer? Was it necessary to repeat? (I am assuming you got commissioned from the ranks, but I suppose weirder things are also possible…)

        • anon83194 says:

          The curricula are different for the different roles. There are also three nuke enlisted specialties with different coursework based on job function and prior training.

          I’d estimate 15% of nuke officers are prior enlisted. It’s definitely easier the second time around.

  11. Deiseach says:

    Have spent the first half hour of my work morning doing useless stupid make-work busywork, and I’m going to vent.

    People on here rightly complain about over-regulation, but part of it is definitely due to (a) something happens – a scandal, an accident, a “we never contemplated this happening” (b) it may be very serious or it may not (c) either way, the media and the opposition party will leap on it with cries of joy (d) public outrage is whipped up (e) the response, all the way up to organised campaigns (think of Megan’s Law, MADD, etc.) the attitude is Something Must Be Done (especially if it’s yoked with Will Nobody Think Of The Children?) (f) politicians, being animals keenly aware of their career survival, will Do Something, usually by introducing legislation (g) from there on, a torrent of regulations rolls downhill.

    I have had to print out, laminate, and post in a prominent position so that the general public visiting our centre may easily see it, four sheets of bumpf. I have also had to email two people to officially notify that I have done this. All this is on foot of an urgent email from my boss about doing this, in turn stoked by urgent email from another person in another body about doing this. In total, about four separate vaguely linked by various means to governmental agencies are having a minor freak-out about We Should Have Done This By Then, Is It Done Now?

    Those four pages are two sets of child safeguarding statements that are pure wall o’text that nobody is going to read (I’m not reading them, they make my eyes glaze over, and I work here). For information purposes, they are useless. For instance, I am sure that as a concerned parent wondering about the safety of your child on the premises, your heart would leap up with joy to be informed that “Reporting Procedure Flowchart finalised and disseminated to all Divisions”. A single page of bullet points would condense all the relevant and fruitful information for parents/the public.

    For pure CYA purposes, which is the main intent, they tick all the boxes (see above). They purport to give information while cleverly not doing so (if you, a parent or member of the public, actually wanted to contact any of the named departments on the list you couldn’t do so – there’s one general switchboard number, no names of relevant contact persons and no specific phone numbers). I don’t mind doing useless crap (hey, that’s the wonderful world of work) but this is so spectacularly useless that I’m fuming, and it’s all definitely in response to public hysteria. And then the bureaucratic minions that you, the public, interact with at the counter or over the phone have an entire new layer of regulations to comply with, which helps smother public service (if you’ve ever complained about all the paperwork and nobody will give you a straight answer and they don’t seem able to do their jobs, how hard can it be to just make a decision?, this is the why).

    So I don’t know. How do you get the public to stop freaking out and demanding Something Must Be Done?

    • toastengineer says:

      I wonder, if some kinda seastead/micronation/whatever takes off, it’ll have a massive advantage over existing nations not because its founders were such geniuses, not because the principles it was founded on were so correct and wise, but because it’s new and hasn’t had hundreds of years to screw itself up, and its systems have all been designed by one mostly-contiguous group of relatively sane people.

      • Deiseach says:

        Definitely way easier to start from “burn it all clear and begin from the ground up”. I generally like my job, but this particular exercise is futile and only for box-ticking cover-your-ass purposes. Trouble is, new legislation (in this case, a 2015 Act) begets new regulations, all of which is layered on old stuff. You can’t say “right, we’re scrapping everything before 2015” because, well, all kinds of decisions and policies and the rest of it were made on those old regulations, and for legal purposes you need continuity. (Imagine scrapping the American Constitution to start over fresh – all the emanations of penumbras dependent on the Constitution would be voided, there would be chaos).

        But it was frustrating – not for the time taken, that was only about fifteen minutes tops, but because it was so obviously useless for any practical purpose.

      • Murphy says:

        Entirely possible. Though the downside is that they haven’t had hundreds of years of precedent and history to come up with ways to prevent whatever horrors your shiny new system leads to.

        So good odds of being dramatically more efficient but also good odds that in 200 years archeologists will still be digging up the mass graves and people will still be shaking their heads about how it happened.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Yeah, a lot of the statements I read like this get auto-translated to, “If we just let rich people do anything they want, this time everything will work out perfectly! Please ignore every other time it has been tried.”

          • Murphy says:

            I think that’s too harsh a response. Keep in mind that depending on how you look at it harsh/strict regulation is barely distinguishable from a tiny number of rich/powerful individuals doing anything they want.

            I mean we have some pretty good example of “lets do away with all the rich people” that turned out even worse.

            It might be a kind/queen restricting trade and craftsmen unless they’re part of a politically or religiously aligned faction.

            It isn’t so much a problem of rich/poor. It’s a little bit of a powerful/powerless problem but primarily it’s about systems, how they develop, what makes them stable or unstable and how they build up their norms and maintain them.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Oh, absolutely- I tend toward the idea that “All we need to do to fix all the problems is [X]!” statements are always incorrect and likely to actually lead to a dystopia of some kind instead, whether X equals “eliminate all regulations” or “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

            That said, it does seem weird to me how many folks around here seem to genuinely believe that if we got rid of all the rules, everything would just be awesome.

          • That said, it does seem weird to me how many folks around here seem to genuinely believe that if we got rid of all the rules, everything would just be awesome.

            Not all the rules. All rules except something along the line of “all interactions must be voluntary.”

            Filling that out is non-trivial, but it bans robbery, non-consensual slavery, and a good many other things.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            all interactions must be voluntary.

            As if such a thing could be ….

          • Lambert says:

            Congratulations on shifting all the complexity onto the words ‘Interaction’ (If I dump SO2 into the air you breathe, is that an interaction? You can’t keep every single stakeholder happy), ‘voluntary’ (what counts as misleading, what actions were performed under duress?) and ‘must’ (Who enforces all of this?).

            A noble philosophy, perhaps, but a legal system it is not.

      • helloo says:

        You kind of have an example – the US was basically created from fresh not that long ago.

        However, remember that the current US government was not created following the Declaration of Independence.
        There was the Articles of Confederation that lasted for ~5 years or so before they decided to scrap everything AGAIN and go with the Constitution.

        So not sure if that’s an example for or against you there. Possibly both (easier to make mistakes and easier to “fix” them)

        • John Schilling says:

          There was the Articles of Confederation that lasted for ~5 years or so before they decided to scrap everything AGAIN and go with the Constitution.

          More importantly, there were thirteen colonies that had at least de facto democratic self-government for a century or so before the American Revolution.

          • Deiseach says:

            And anybody who didn’t like the current dispensation could always pack up and head out west (or south, or north) to new territories that weren’t so damn civilised where a man could put his elbows on the table in his own damn house if he so pleased! 🙂

    • Jake says:

      I don’t think you’ll ever get the public to stop freaking out and demanding Something Must Be Done. You may have better success though, once the initial uproar has passed. I think all laws/regulations should be required to have both an intent statement, and a sunset clause, which requires that after a certain period of time, the law must be reviewed against it’s intended purpose, and then either renewed or eliminated. It would make it much easier to get unnecessary laws off the books, and may prevent some from being generated in the first place, due to the law-making organizations being swamped by reviewing all of the existing laws.

      • Deiseach says:

        It would make it much easier to get unnecessary laws off the books, and may prevent some from being generated in the first place, due to the law-making organizations being swamped by reviewing all of the existing laws.

        A good idea, except that in my limited experience of such, politicians don’t want to touch laws in place unless they absolutely have to; the accusations of gerrymandering and the tussling over “this benefits our side, we’re keeping it/that’s why it has to go!” and the possibility, however faint, of alienating constituents and thereby Losing Votes keeps them away from it.

        I don’t know how the situation stands now, but ten years back in an old job, the boundaries for school transport areas badly needed to be revised, they were so out of date and so much new building and new houses had gone on since they were drawn up. But only the government department could change them, and they didn’t want to, since it would inevitably end up displeasing somebody (you can’t please all the people all the time) and the uproar of disgruntled voters gave them the chills (both the opposition as well as the sitting government; nobody wanted to be “that’s the guy that took free school travel away from my little darling!”).

        So they let the situation fester and meanwhile it was the low grade staff on the ground, who had no power at all to affect the situation, who got the angry phone calls and abusive parents. I think it’s finally been tackled now, I hope so!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I always thought a neat idea for this would be Open Source Laws. Set up a wiki (“Laws Anyone Can Edit!”) for your local jurisdiction. Basically take all of your city/county laws, put them online, and start making edits to improve them. Clean out the old stuff, tweak for improvements, invite concerned citizens to do the same. Finalize a Release Candidate, then make that your party platform to run on for election, along with your co-editors. When you get in, rubber stamp it all as law. If it works, other cities/counties will follow, and eventually move on up to state and national laws.

          I’m sure it would fail in all sorts of hilarious ways, but it’s got to be better than the current system of glib liars making vague proclamations of “values” who then pass whatever lobbyists write for them when they get in.

      • ana53294 says:

        No politician wants to be the guy that removed the protection that would have helped three year old Jackie not break her leg, if only somebody was not corrupt and focused on deregulation.

        • Jake says:

          That’s why I think laws need to have the automatic sunset provision. There is a huge difference politically between being the guy who voted to remove a protection, and being a guy who didn’t vote to renew a protection. (Even if this ends up with the exact same result)

        • Deiseach says:

          We’ve had some genuine scandals (another one recently) where heads should be rolling (not necessarily for the tests, you’re always going to have false positives and false negatives, but for the whole ‘okay for three years let’s not tell women at risk of cervical cancer that they are indeed at risk’ covering-up), but sticking up notices assuring the public that we have our flowcharts all organised is not going to do much to prevent any future scandals.

          However, you can all be assured that we are indeed an organisation under the aegis of another organisation that reports to a body commissioned by a committee of the relevant department and every (wo)man jack of us every step of the way is committed to the principles of the organisation as laid out in the provisions of the relevant Act (or we would be, if we were aware of them).

        • albatross11 says:

          It feels like this is a consequence of a voters having little incentive to become informed and think carefully about the issues. Both reacting on the basis of emotional appeals or identity without thinking, and voting to make themselves feel virtuous seem to be consequences of the basic paradox of voting, where voting in most elections is a really poor use of your time compared to, say, staying home and cleaning out your basement closet, or cooking a really tasty meal at home that night.

          This is a major reason to be skeptical of many proposals to have the government solve some problem. Representative democracy is probably the best way we’ve worked out to get decent governments, and it’s still pretty crappy, with these broken incentives right at the base of everything else.

      • BBA says:

        Sunset clauses don’t work. The legislature will just rubber-stamp an extension on every law about to expire, with some kind of boilerplate statement about how more time is needed to assess the effects of the new law, yadda yadda yadda. I’m typing this from a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City – our rent control law was originally passed on a “temporary emergency basis” in 1946 and has been dutifully renewed every few years since then, with one major alteration in the ’70s but no real effort on the legislature’s part to figure out whether it’s net helpful or harmful. (It’s extremely harmful, and only gets renewed because nobody wants to deal with the disruption of sudden decontrol even though it’d lead to a more healthy housing market in the long run.)

        The other problem is you’d be entrenching the law as it was before sunset clauses became mandatory. Or if you say all laws, no matter how old, get a sunset clause, you run the risk of accidentally legalizing murder when the penal code expires and the legislature is still arguing over the budget.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Rent control probably has more “stick” to it than a typical law. It has a built-in advocacy group that will argue for its continued existence.

          Laws that get passed due to the Outrage of the Week might be less sticky, because it is definitionally based on the Outrage of the Week: we’ll all be worrying about something else in 5 years.

          • BBA says:

            I would wager most laws would have specific constituencies pushing for renewal, and pure “outrage of the week” laws that nobody cares about anymore are uncommon. And at some point it just becomes easier to pass an omnibus renewal than ask “do we really need this?” on everything that passed N years ago.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      “How do you get the public to stop freaking out and demanding Something Must Be Done?”

      You have something in common with the Bolsheviks, Deiseach. You don’t take human nature as an axiom, you want a “New Man.”

      My answer to what the question should have been is we need to slowly introduce the culture of empirical legislation. Don’t pass laws without evidence they advance the policies they say they do. Sort of like evidence-based medicine.

      • Deiseach says:

        You have something in common with the Bolsheviks, Deiseach

        We don’t need a New Government, we need a New People, eh?

        I’d like if people realised there were consequences to these demands for Something Must Be Done, and that will probably only happen if people get a better idea of how the sausage is made.

        • Iain says:

          Obligatory Brecht:

          After the uprising of the 17th of June
          The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
          Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
          Stating that the people
          Had forfeited the confidence of the government
          And could win it back only
          By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
          In that case for the government
          To dissolve the people
          And elect another?

    • Bugmaster says:

      …but this is so spectacularly useless that I’m fuming, and it’s all definitely in response to public hysteria.

      It’s not exactly useless, then, is it ? The entire purpose of the exercise is to alleviate the public hysteria, by appeasing the 0.1% of people who are continuously screaming about “The CHILDREN !!!11!!” at the top of their lungs. So, a few useless signs get made, the screams are silenced, everyone lives happily ever after (until the next panic comes along). Yes, it’s an expensive way to deal with screamers, but I’m not sure if there’s a better way.

      • Deiseach says:

        But the really annoying thing is, this is all supposedly in the service of child protection. Instead, what we’ve got is a series of “we drew up guidelines about policies about protocols” and a ton of box-ticking that does not, in practical terms, effect that end. It’s still going to be, in any incident, “pass it on to A who will pass it to B who will pass it to C” and then getting lost in the morass of all the new Designated Persons and old bodies responsible.

        • Bugmaster says:

          As Ilya Shpitser alludes to above, all of these procedures are only supposedly in the service of child protection. In reality, they are designed (or rather, they have evolved) solely to deal with the screaming outrage-mongers. The purpose is to give them the illusion that Something is Being Done, and thus appease them for at least a little while.

          The really sad fact is that, no matter what you do, children are going to get hurt sometimes; and the costs (social as well as fiscal) of preventing children from actually being hurt rise exponentially as you get closer towards the end of the distribution. That is, once you’ve saved 99.99% of the children from some specific threat, saving that last 0.01% may well require you to restructure your entire society from the ground up in order to focus all your efforts solely on that purpose.

          That’s not going to happen; however, there’s no good way to communicate that to the screamers, because they see the world in terms of boolean values, not probabilities. Children are either safe, or they aren’t; if you’re saying “some children will end up getting hurt no matter what we do”, you’re a monster, end of story.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          I think your missing the point that the people screaming “think of the children” and apearing in the media and demanding SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!
          Are the very same people who will get jobs and expanded responsibilities and flashy salaries above 70k a year when politicians do something
          ie. through money at the problem.

          Regular people who just want something done aren’t going to take hours out of their day to go to a meeting because thats a big expese to them (time travel stress) but for professional activists whowant a promotion all that time and effort is an investment.
          You mistake was thinking anyone actually cared about the children (if they did they would donate to outreach program or safety minded charity), the fact that they don’t but instead advocate for realocation of gov funds proves the funds are what they’re after.

          I’m not claiming they’re aware of the real motives behind they’re behaviour, i don’t ascribe my fellow man that much concious thought, but if there was no possibility of employment, promotion, or increased influence to get either, do you think they would expend so much effort in their free time, or do you think they’d stay home and do something fun.

          • Michael Handy says:

            Ah, but as someone who has been around activists of various levels of crazy for most of my life, for a subset of them there’s no promotion in the works, and no cash. The screaming is the point, it’s their hobby and their leisure time.

            They’re “Lifestyle Activists.” No screaming means no fun. And this holds as much on the right (with my Trad Catholic friends) as the left (With my hippie environmentalist friends.)

    • Murphy says:

      Talked to a friend in ireland who’s a scout leader. For an event recently they were having to do the Child Protection box ticking.

      Though I’m now convinced that we’re gradually approaching some kind of reductio-ad-absurdum situation because it turns out that now any kid over 15 but under 18 also has to go through the same process of child-protection box ticking with people certifying that they’re officially not predators.

      As with airport security and similar gradual escalations I’m kinda wondering how long before we see a situation where little suzy isn’t allowed start school because she has the same name as someone who got a conviction for peeing on a street corner and her child-protection cert gets delayed.

      The UK seems to have turned slightly more towards sanity but as far as I can tell that was after some kind of push from librarians and authors because they couldn’t run kids book readings because the child protection requirements were making it impractical.

      • Deiseach says:

        because it turns out that now any kid over 15 but under 18 also has to go through the same process of child-protection box ticking

        Yup, this is true. Special form separate from the usual vetting form. Secondary school students on work experience during Transition Year in places like childcare creches, pre-schools, anywhere dealing with young children/vulnerable persons have to get Garda vetting done.

        Because it’s all spillover from “person who worked in creche turned out to be child molester” and hence regulations for everyone.

    • The Nybbler says:

      So I don’t know. How do you get the public to stop freaking out and demanding Something Must Be Done?

      A catastrophic event (natural disaster, or more likely war) which threatens their survival should stop this sort of nonsense at least temporarily, maybe a generation or so. Especially if survival turns out to be a very near thing. Not much else, though.

    • John Schilling says:

      How do you get the public to stop freaking out and demanding Something Must Be Done?

      It’s a bit drastic, but getting involved in a major war is pretty good at focusing people’s Something Must Be Done on We Must Win the War and so away from all the lesser meddlings. How are Ireland’s relations with Eastasia this year, or do we need to do another rewrite on history before we can implement this?

    • honoredb says:

      It is sometimes possible (no idea about your case) to inject a little Actually Useful stuff into the Technical Compliance stuff, at the individual implementor level. These regulations had an actual legitimate purpose before they were formalized into pointlessness. If you can divine this purpose, you agree with it, and you have some autonomy about how you use your time, might be able to create a version of the statement that is still technically compliant (or near enough you probably won’t get in trouble) but also has, say, actual phone numbers, or pulls out the bullet points you’d need, or bolds key text.

      My job involves this a fair bit–there’s a legit push for “better cybersecurity”, that gets filtered through first academics who I assume say something sensible, then a succession of public and/or private bureaucrats until it turns into something fairly pointless (“all data must be encrypted at rest”), then gets to actual implementers who turn it into something as useful as they can (“most data must be encrypted at rest, with the encryption key stored on a different, isolated box and only provided at runtime in memory to the applications accessing it”).

      If you can get a cultural expectation that implementers should do things well (and shouldn’t be punished for it), you don’t need to strangle the public desire to have them do things.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      Since you are on the subject of government I would like your thoughts on a plan I believe would make our government work: eliminate re-elections. One could take the current house and senate and eliminate re-elections and they would make totally different decisions. Currently, their only motivation for any thing they do is how it affects their re-election prospects. If they could not be re-elected then they would act for other reasons hopefully maybe in the interest of the country. Knowing the right thing is easy; doing it is where the rub comes in. Of course, we could tweak the terms of the house to make them 4 or 6 years.

      • Jiro says:

        I want politicians to have to consider whether doing something gets them reelected. They’re supposed to be doing what the people tell them to do and if they don’t, they deserve to be kicked out of office for it.

        And yes, I know this system can fail, but that’s a problem with democracy, not with reelections.

        • albatross11 says:

          The three obvious problems with this I can see are:

          a. Having to run for re-election makes it an iterated game, albeit one between one politician and a million voters. Why doesn’t the congressman ignore his promises when he’s in office and act to maximize his future prospects (income, political appointments, future elective offices)?

          b. If you can never be re-elected, then it seems like an ambitious politician will always be thinking ahead to his next election to some other office.

          c. Eliminating long-serving elected politicians means increasing the power of unelected government officials–bureaucrats, judges, etc. I’m not convinced this makes things better.

          I mean, the US congress in particular seems like it’s deeply dysfunctional to me. I don’t know how to fix that (maybe it’s baked into the constitution, maybe it’s recent changes), but making the political class less responsive to the voters seems unlikely to make things much better.

        • DavidS says:

          Agrees, I think accountability is far more effectiveness e.g. Manifestos (and would be even If people kept to manifestos)

      • Murphy says:

        Some countries have one of the wings of government as lifetime appointments. In the US the judicial branch is closest to this.

        Similarly you could have a house that’s harshly limited in term.

        So you could have one part of government following lifetime concerns, one looking for reelection and one without the prospect of reelection.

        Though the 2 term limit on presidents sort of kinda puts them in that box already.

  12. bean says:

    Naval Gazing looks into the strange story of German Battleships in World War II.

    Also, the meetup on the Salem yesterday went very well. Thanks to Chris Silvia and sd for showing up and touring the ship with me.

    • bean says:

      I visited Nautilus today, and it was one of the few really great military museums I’ve ever been to. The best way I can describe it is that it’s seeing cool stuff you didn’t really expect around every other corner. Even the glass and manikins on the Nautilus herself bugged me less than they usually do. Everything was done very well. Highly, highly recommended.

  13. ben says:

    Koppel’s programmer coaching looks interesting but is anyone else slightly put off by the buzzfeed hook style language: “spot the simple coding flaw that professional engineers make daily — “. I guess these pages have been heavily optimised by experimentation and this is what he finds sells the best.

  14. Andrew Hunter says:

    Put aside whether laziness is a coherent concept. Leave tabled whether we should judge laziness morally. I’m lazy. I don’t want to be. How do I stop?

    For many years I’ve found it overwhelmingly difficult to start doing what I should be doing. When I wake up in the morning, I routinely spend 60-90 minutes reading in my bed–I know I should get up and do my PT, walk my dog, and start my day, but I just…don’t. I sit there saying “I should get up now…” and don’t. get. up. I hate it. It can happen elsewhen too–I know I need to cook dinner, I want to cook dinner, I’ll enjoy it as soon as I start chopping, but, eh, why not listen to music for 30 minutes more or do another lap around the neighborhood with my dog?

    That’s the part that weirds me out–almost everything I’m procrastinating I enjoy, or at least honestly don’t mind, be it working, going to the gym, reading a paper, writing an important email, practicing voice..but I can’t bring myself to start.

    I’ve read Ozy’s post, and I wouldn’t be stunned if there are other issues in my life I haven’t recognized that could fix my “laziness”, but I don’t know what they are. (Actually, I’d bet with P>0.75 that Adderall would help me. I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD but mostly because my parents didn’t hold with such things; everyone I know thinks I have it. Becoming dependent on amphetamines scares the hell out of me though.)

    So the moral judgment comes in that many people say I just need to be “disciplined” and Nike my way out of this. They’re not wrong. I am a worse person because of this than I’d be without it, and I can obviously choose to stop any time. But it takes tremendous efforts to make small strides here. Anyone have advice on how to make it easier?

    • Incurian says:

      Adderall and coffee are proof that God exists and wants us to be productive. More seriously though, I think you’re on track with your “small steps.” When I want to go to the gym slightly less than I want to procrastinate, I bargain with myself into at least getting my gym clothes on, and then just walking down to the gym to see if it’s crowded, and then by the time I’m in the gym I remember that I enjoy it. Same with any other project… Ok I’ll just see what it would take to finish, ok I’ll make a detailed plan to finish, ok I’ll do just the first step of the plan…

      • Lillian says:

        Then i suppose that my absurdly high resistance to stimulants – caffeine has no effect on me, and prescription drugs stop working within days – is proof that God wants me to be lazy.

        Incidentally, your strategy of tricking yourself into doing a task by cutting steps out works for me only if i cut out the nearest steps rather than the farthest. What i mean is, whereas you could trick yourself into reading a book by saying “only the first chapter” and building on that, i have to do it by saying “i’ll take a peek in the middle” and going from there. The problem is that while i can and do read novel chapters out of order and forum threads backwards, most tasks cannot be started at the middle or end.

    • LTK says:

      I think social shaming works best, although it might not be a viable long-term solution. Tell someone, a close friend or a close family member, that you want them to hold you accountable for your plans. They should ask you every day what you’re planning on doing, and at the end of the day, what you actually did. Or, in your case, how much time you wasted before actually doing it. If you really want to take it seriously, promise you’ll do an annoying chore for them if you fail to uphold your promises three days in a row. That should be secondary though; your primary driver is not wanting to embarass yourself by having to tell them that you wasted your time.

      It works reasonably well for me. I still procrastinate the things until the last possible moment, but that moment arrives at the end of the day instead of much later, because my desire for not embarassing myself is much higher than my desire to not do the thing. I do sometimes lie, though, which is something you’ll want to be very careful about monitoring in yourself, because if you lie too often the method becomes pointless and you’ll have to try something else.

      I’ll be very glad once we develop an AI that can both detect lies and make you feel embarassed so we can remove the human from this whole process.

      • Randy M says:

        If you sign up for the shaming in advance, it’s called “accountability”

      • Nick says:

        I’ve found this works pretty well when people are willing to do it, but my friends sometimes shied away from holding me accountable.

      • RobJ says:

        External accountability is the only thing that has ever worked for me, but I’m hesitant to intentionally use it. I don’t want to ask someone at work to hold me accountable because that would mean admitting how little time I spend working and risking my job. Asking someone in my personal life seems likely to result in either resenting someone I value because I’ve asked them to nag me, or lying to them, neither of which is appealing.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          You can pay someone to do it. BeeMinder is in that business.

          • RobJ says:

            Yeah, I should try one of those, although I have my doubts as to how effective it would be for me. I tried Habitica for a couple weeks after I saw it mentioned in the comments here a while back and wasn’t compelled to stick with it.

    • Jon S says:

      Doesn’t apply to some of these contexts, but sometimes I find it helpful to focus on making my procrastination more productive. Don’t feel like going to the gym now? Fine, write that important email instead (or vice-versa). Helps to maintain a list of the tasks you’ve been procrastinating.

    • albatross11 says:

      My personal experience is that I’m very inclined to procrastinate (hence SSC comment threads), but that I can build up some “momentum” where I’m getting a lot done. My dad used to tell me that the best way to get a lot done was to get a lot done, but I didn’t get it at the time–I do now!

      The critical thing for me is finding a way to not have my momentum broken up once I’ve built it up. Interruptions from my wife or manufactured paperwork crises at work are deadly–once I’ve gotten stuck in a tarpit, it will be a huge effort to get moving again. But when I’m really being productive, I can be *amazingly* productive.

      • LTK says:

        This is something I recognize. If I have like twenty things I need to get done, I can blitz through them all in a day. If I have only one thing that really needs doing, it takes me a week to get around to it.

      • Lambert says:

        Same here.
        Keeping some kind of schedule (even if only in my head) tends to help me keep that momentum over a timescale of weeks.
        Going and doing $THING immediately after dinner, for example.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      Low-hanging fruit to check: If you’re not getting enough sleep, that might be it. Take the Beck Depression Inventory (it’s available online) and see if you’re depressed.

      Some people are heavily prompt-dependent. (Quick test: is your problem magically fixed if someone imposes an outside schedule?) There are various ways to create prompts in your environment. Some people I know use Alexa to say “time for shower,” “time to get dressed,” etc. There’s also the old-fashioned low-tech way of putting a list of what you need to do up on your wall (add in more steps than you think you’ll need). Personally, I do well with a combination of a to-do list and Pomodoros.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        I started aggressively using Todoist and that’s helping a bit, at least with related scatterbrainedness. I may try hanging explicit checklists, that’s an interesting idea.

        I would really like to test out someone imposing an outside schedule, but I’m not sure that’s a service on offer for reasonable prices. I would love someone to walk in on the morning and actually yell until I stand up and get out of bed…

        Sleep is a good thought; I am perennially sleep deprived, though I’m not sure how many more interventions there are to fix that, as I’m at about the limit of standard sleep hygiene. That said in the melatonin thread someone recommended a sleep mask that I actually keep on all night (sacre bleu!) so that’s a nice upward mark.

    • knockknock says:

      Laziness is more deeply fulfilling and enjoyable AFTER you’ve gotten a bunch of stuff done. So…

      I’m lazy as all get-out but I’ll tell you what works for me: Roll out of bed early and attack my list of to-dos with urgency, before I even have time to think of dawdling over the computer or breakfast. A quick trip to the restroom, then half a banana and a little coffee, no other side trips. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, so get moving on something and block out distractions. The computer does not go on except for work functions. No radio, no TV…

      Whether it’s work-work, housework, yardwork, working out, errands etc I get them all done early in the day, the reward being that by 1 PM or so I can then revert to wonderful lazy uselessness. I even make our dinners mostly in advance.

      Focusing before bedtime on a plan for the next morning really helps. So is the motivation of being self-employed and enjoying money. If morning does not work for you, then try identifying the time of day when your energy and motivation is relatively high.

      • Along somewhat similar lines …

        Every summer we spend two weeks at Pennsic, camped out in a private campground north of Pittsburgh with about ten thousand other SCA people. We live in San Jose, and camping out involves pavilions and rope beds and stuff, so this involves loading our minivan and driving across the country, visiting friends and relatives along the way. It also usually involves some projects that have to be done before Pennsic.

        This year, for example, I had to make my daughter a new wooden harp case for her new harp and modify the harp cart that I made her for her old harp in its case so the new case would fit. I also had to make two period three legged chairs that a friend I only see at Pennsic had asked me to make for him. Also a few minor things, and handouts for my classes at Pennsic and spraying all our Pennsic clothing with permethrin as protection against ticks that might be carrying Lyme disease.

        I was a professor, am now a retired professor, so I have lots of free time in the summer. I don’t like being in a rush before we leave, especially because things that need doing sometimes take longer than I planned. So I adopted a policy some years back of trying to get all the essential projects other than actually loading the car done a week or so before we are going to leave. That gives me the final week to relax and do any other fun projects that I think up but don’t really have to get done–some of which do get done and some of which don’t.

        Your policy on a longer time scale.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Evo psych bro science take: putting out energy is costly, seeoas it burns calories or something, and calories were far far far far stronger a constraint on your evolutionary ancestors than you who can eat rice for like a month for like an hour’s work. (it’s not even on the radar)

      So burning resources to put energy in circulation may not be an obvious default state for your homeostasis, even if it’s a blindingly and painfully obvious one to you and every other human who has had cause to lament on this score.

      And furthermore-unfortunately (I feel like this should be a word), the same regulation systems that work for dumbass chickens and dinosaurs probably aren’t that closely attuned to direct requests from the intellectual portions of the civilised modern human mind.

      (Though no doubt some buddhist monk has isolated the machinery and can activate it by thought alone)

      So an obvious thing to try is communicating the constant use for these resources in a way your body (-the actual thing in charge them) can understand, like by a habit of simulated emergencies

      (Gotta lift this portcullus or the party is gonna die hnnng… “COLDCOLDCOLDCOLD…” “COME NOW AND STRIKE ME FOR I FEAR NO MAN…”).

      -Some people find strenuous things like weightlifting, cold water swimming, martial arts, etc addictive, and find them highly energising in the short-medium to long term, especially when approached with specifically that purpose.

      edit: Should perhaps have been more specific than “martials arts”, BJJ specifically which you’ve mentioned is not what I was thinking of, you have to be very careful about your energy output, and afaik it generally has a very calm ethos and a pronounced focus on technique over force even in the more self-defence focused clubs.

      Also on the same basic theme I think it’s great to have an outlet for energy immediately to hand at or near home, the archetypical example being a punchbag. (as another way of getting it through that excess energy is something you want rather than want to tamp down.)


      general point: Between motivation and habit I think the frequent dismissal of the former is pretty overblown. You can absolutely force yourself into a habit of just doing things, but there’s little overlap between the two good habits of approaching everything like a warrior and singing with excess energy. One does not directly create the other, and the former seems like more of a, well, habit, -something mental which one can enter in and out of, while the latter seems something more getting at the root cause. Like I said I’m not disparaging just FUCKEN DO IT WOOOOOOO, a more sober Just Do It or anything like that, but two people can have the same habits of unflinching engagement and one still have 10x the energy/vitality/drive, -it’s clearly not the whole story.


      This one’s a bit out there: I’m very sceptical of the idea of ADHD (edit: as an ontological matter, I don’t mean to disparage concentration drugs. No strong opinion there), but I do have a bunch of the classic traits, including sleepiness from caffeine, so I’ll share some even more questionable spouting off on the off chance it’s of any help:

      If you’re old enough to run your own affairs, habits of putting things off developed in school might no longer hold what positive utility they once did. -Whatever the negatives of putting things off till the last minute, last minute frantic scrambles can be highly engaging and meaningful when compared to the option of stolidly slaving away, -for someone who is terrible and fails at that anyway. But once you’re an adult, hopefully life is less miserable, ways to manufacture meaning are less of a priority, and thinking up ways to mobilise an inattentive/disinterested mind or direct a hyperactive one might become far more psychologically plausible.

      It is probably much harder for a kid to convince their mind of the importance of homework than an adult to the importance of good habits like Just Doing It when it comes to boring or unpleasant things -1. because the kid is kind of right, their particular ones are fake and probably unimportant too. Eating etc decidedly is not 2. the adult has a developed understanding of the world, what they want, human nature, etc 3. You literally now have authority over yourself.

      For me at least, I think there was a lot of residual aversion to forcing myself to do this kind of thing which I had so long been berated for and still think was my best and only option. -There must have been a certain amount of pattern matching to previous cases of “STRONG priors against popular wisdom”. –Things certainly felt a lot easier once I developed a positive account of why these things are important to me, good sensible ideas on their own merits, etc, -once I feel like I’m doing them for myself and my own reasons rather than following a hostile script.

    • anon83194 says:

      Andrew, your situation is all too familiar. Welcome to the 10%, perhaps? I struggle with the same things and have recently put up some wins. There are lots of great tactics mentioned in this thread. Might I add:

      Depression. Seconding the suggestion you get screened. Can’t hurt, right?

      Stimulants. I have had success with Adderall. Is your probability of effect and need for intervention not enough to overcome your fear? FWIW, the addiction fear kept my usage in check. I was never interested in it recreationally and always focused on obtaining maximum effect by keeping dosage low and spacing high. Bring it up with when you talk about depression and say you want 15mg for a month to evaluate. (All: is that bad advice?) Caffeine and modafinil are good for alertness, but I think we’re talking about a different type of energy/motivation.

      Social shaming. The flip side of this is social support. Don’t feel like making dinner? Invite someone over. Gym is a drag? Get a partner. Engineer a way to socialize your goals.

      Anhedonia. IIRC, Scott has mentioned that there’s no good pharmacological intervention? I’m still fighting against my personal wet blanket so I’d love more commentary on this. A shrink once told me “action precedes motivation,” but that’s hard to bootstrap. When I can grab onto something fun, I make an effort to keep the momentum going.

      Diet/exercise. I’ve made some changes here and they have knock-on effects with mood and energy. I don’t know which of these to isolate as causally valuable to me, but I’m taking Vitamin D, EPA, greens powder, and a multivitamin. I love Intermittent Fasting. Ketosis is awesome too, but very restrictive, so I compromise and still get a lot from deliberate carb minimization. Exercise is absolutely key. Don’t discount the value of extra dog walking lap, procrastination with something useful, outdoors, and physically active is a much lesser evil.

      Mindset. Whenever you do manage to beat procrastination, take a moment to be proud of yourself. Notice how good your muscles feel after a workout. Take a few deep breaths through invigorated lungs. Be proud of what you wrote. Role-play a conversation about the paper you read. Generally, activate the reward network as fully as possible after an achievement.

      Bootup sequence. Getting started in the morning has been tough for me for a few years. All the stuff above is making it easier. There’s a self-sabotage routine that’s kicking in before your be-a-high-functioning-person routine. You need to beat that. A new alarm that changes your reaction to it, maybe. A really loud one across the room. Whatever you can devise to spring out of bed before the internal dialogue begins.

      Wake-up call. If you want your day to start between 630 and 730 Pacific, I will be happy to encourage you with tuned assertiveness. This is not charity, it is engaging for me in much the same way it would be for you (re social comment above). Leave your contact info if you’d like to talk about it.

    • tayfie says:

      I think your problem is not laziness. If stuff gets done when other people are depending on you to do it, that’s not laziness. If your boss does not complain about your inactivity at work, that’s not laziness. Generally, people who worry about being lazy are probably not, because a significant component of laziness in my opinion is simply not caring if something gets done.

      Your problem is more that you are finding some habits difficult to break. That seems to much more fit your feeling of not being in conscious control of your actions. I suggest thinking about engineering some clever triggers (or as @Ozy said, prompts) and rewards to replace your habits with other habits you would prefer to have instead. For example, if you like reading in the mornings, measure out a reward in time spent reading for doing your physical therapy.

      I would also suggest combining things. Listen to music while preparing dinner so you are never faced with the choice of doing one at the expense of the other.

      Your most general problem is continuing to do things as long as you like them/feel they aren’t done, which is leading you to not start new things. I suggest watching the clock and practice limiting all your activities to strict 30 minute or 1 hour blocks. Have an alarm ring or something. For example, learn to stop reading in the middle of a chapter.

  15. Bugmaster says:

    This would also mean that any fourth team that manages to get something done in the next month will have a 25% chance at winning $1000.

    This assumes that all four teams are equally good. Given that two of them submitted on time, one submitted late, and the fourth one didn’t submit at all; I would argue that they are unlikely to be of equal prowess 🙂

    • tayfie says:

      You are assuming that the winner is picked by the prowess of the teams.

      Scott could hold a lottery among valid submissions, which would give a 25% chance to each team.

  16. Bugmaster says:

    He wants me to announce RIGHT NOW that he’s doing an Advanced Software Design Weekend Intensive Session this weekend (July 28 – 29)

    You should probably mention that the session costs $1799. Many people don’t have that kind of money to spend on a 3-day training session; I know I don’t…

    • Aapje says:

      It’s usually an employer who is paying for it.

      It’s not out of line for a small classroom training weekend where you get quite a bit of 1-on-1 help.

  17. Alexander Turok says:

    I just finished and uploaded a book which I’ve been working on for about a year, describing a “posthuman” future, the trigger for which is genetic engineering of humans which gives them very high IQs. It’s heavily inspired by Robin Hanson’s *The Age of Em*, attempting to do for the genetic engineering scenario what Hanson did for his em scenario. Feedback and crowd-sourced editing would be appreciated:

    • Murphy says:

      From skim reading and searching for keywords:

      I think it’s a tad too certain about many predictions. Sure, many a plausible but they feel like someone from 1700 predicting that the gentlemen of the future will of course use year 2000’s tech to make sure they all have giant, 20 foot tall and beautifully healthy horses to ride around on and frilly ruffs so large that they’ll need motorized trolleys to carry them around.

      Fashion has a tendency to go in unexpected directions. If the government starts handing out pills that make people fit and healthy to poor people…. we might see flips in fashion along the lines of tanned skin going from a sign of being lower class farm laborer to being a sign that you can spend time in tanning salons and on the beach.

      Adding in the possibility of human being able to edit their own preferences would expand the boundaries of fashion to insane degrees.

      The phrase “posthuman revolution” turned up so often that it starts to become painful and feels too much like most other generic promises of glorious revolution.

      Also, “Galactic Charter” ??? what

      I’m not sure if there’s a term for it but you’ve built fragile supposition upon fragile supposition upon fragile supposition until you’ve just got worldbuilding for a b-list scifi movie.

      I mean it feels even less solid than greg-egans fictional universe where entire planets of posthumans have developed a tradition whereby, when a slowboat colony ship of normal human colonists is due to arrive at a planet the residents who arrived before them have a sort of festival where they compete to come up with the most absurd story to tell them, (“Yes, all the humans here were turned into plant monsters by a bio-plague!”, “yes, we are a society ruled by giant lizards!”) even going so far as to temporarily physically modify large fractions of the population to play along with it. But he doesn’t present it as a prediction, only as a fun and vaguely plausible scenario.

      from your timeline… I’m going to make a wild guess that you’re between 25 and 35 such that “indefinite lifespan” just happens to fall into the range where your own likely mortality curve would be an issue.

      I think you may need to go through searching for instances of the term ” will ” and possibly reconsider how many of them are better phrased as ” might “, … many of your predictions feel like a conservative post-victorian version presented with great certainty.

      We’re talking about a scenario where it might conceivably not even make sense to talk about “childhood” as a thing while your book is making some very confident assertions about it.

      I mean you bring it up yourself “In trying to forecast attitudes in a future, era, we must always guard against this extrapolation hazard. ” but don’t them seem to guard against it much.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        I’m not sure if there’s a term for it but you’ve built fragile supposition upon fragile supposition upon fragile supposition until you’ve just got worldbuilding for a b-list scifi movie.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “I’m not sure if there’s a term for it but you’ve built fragile supposition upon fragile supposition upon fragile supposition until you’ve just got worldbuilding for a b-list scifi movie.”

        Long chain of inference.

      • Alexander Turok says:

        “I think it’s a tad too certain about many predictions. Sure, many a plausible but they feel like someone from 1700 predicting that the gentlemen of the future will of course use year 2000’s tech to make sure they all have giant, 20 foot tall and beautifully healthy horses to ride around on and frilly ruffs so large that they’ll need motorized trolleys to carry them around.”

        Perhaps. But horses are a handful, see for example the phrase “you can lead a horse to water…” As our gentleman of 1700 was dealing with his uncooperative beast, it may have dawned on him that with futuristic technology they will be cut out entirely. But we’ll never know, as nobody predicted the industrial revolution, so nobody tried to foresee the industrial world. Someday, our descendants will ask themselves how much of their world we could have foreseen. Should we help them now, by attempting to do so?

        “Fashion has a tendency to go in unexpected directions. If the government starts handing out pills that make people fit and healthy to poor people…. we might see flips in fashion along the lines of tanned skin going from a sign of being lower class farm laborer to being a sign that you can spend time in tanning salons and on the beach.”

        On the other hand, fertility rates are low compared to pre-industrial norms in every rich country, including the Arab prostates.

        “from your timeline… I’m going to make a wild guess that you’re between 25 and 35 such that “indefinite lifespan” just happens to fall into the range where your own likely mortality curve would be an issue.”

        I’ll say that I’m not demographically atypical compared to the average SSC reader. I explore the similarity of “Singularitarian” beliefs to traditional religion in Chapter 3.

        “I think you may need to go through searching for instances of the term ” will ” and possibly reconsider how many of them are better phrased as ” might “, … many of your predictions feel like a conservative post-victorian version presented with great certainty.”

        It would be tedious to read “X might happen, Y might happen, Z also might happen, but I judge it’s probability as even lower….”

        “We’re talking about a scenario where it might conceivably not even make sense to talk about “childhood” as a thing while your book is making some very confident assertions about it.”

        In the Introduction, “How Posthuman?” section, I explain that posthumans won’t be essentially un-human expect in their intelligence. Most of what we call “human nature” will be there. Though genetic engineering, psychoactive drugs, and other technologies will make it possible for parents to do radical things to their offspring, what parent would want too? It is only in the trait of intelligence where parents will want their child to be outside the normal human range. So childhood, like most essentially human experiences, will still exist. (For this reason, I considered making up a term instead of using “posthuman” but I already look like I have USI and a made-up replacement no one else is going to use would make it worse.)

        • Murphy says:

          You’re so certain that intelligence is the only thing parents would edit about their children? I think you’re importing an extremely rationalsphere worldview.

          How many religious fundamentalist parents would leap at the chance to edit their kid’s forming brain so as to make it extremely unlikely they’ll ever question or deviate from the path of their parents faith and enhance their tendencies towards religiosity? (a small price to pay for their immortal soul)

          How many parents would leap at the chance to edit their kids biochemistry to remove euphoric reactions to opiates, canaboids and alcohol? (gotta keep them safe from drugs after all)

          how many creepy repressed parents would love to have a button they could press that would make their adolescent kid borderline asexual until the parent deems them old enough for that kind of thing. The kind of people who take their daughters to “purity balls” are the ones I’m thinking here.

          The kind of parents who drag their daughters to toddlers in tiaras beauty shows and get per-adolesents boob-jobs wouldn’t go nuts with every physical beauty enhancement for their kids?

          How many nutjob parents of rebellious teenagers would salivate at a drug or therapy that turns their child into a perfect compliant drone who will marry exactly who they them them to marry and do exactly what they tell them to do.

          How many Tiger Mom types would adore the chance to turn their normal kid into one who doesn’t complain about their fingers bleeding after only 4 hours of violin practice.

          How many sports obsessed dads living vicariously through their son’s, (the kind who fiddle official birth dates to make sure their kid gets onto sports teams) wouldn’t jump at the chance to enhance their kids muscle mass and competitiveness.

          How many conservative parents would cream themselves at a shot that would make their kid not-gay.

          How many weird tumblr types would cream themselves over some weird setup where they could make their kid ungendered until some point where the kid can decide what they want to be.

          Make a list of every significant religion and their various goals/aspirations/virtues. Every one of them is going to see people editing themselves and their progeny towards those.

          That’s not even getting into non-consensual stuff. If someone could make a retrovirus or something more esoteric which could edit people exposed to it then I can easily see people deciding they know whats best for other people and spreading it to others.

          Think of any repressive dictatorship and what they might turn their citizens into if they had the power to edit them on that level, to edit their drives and desires.

          I’m not even going into the really really weird subgroups.

          Try thinking like someone who isn’t you. It’s an overarching issue through the book, the implicit assumption that only the things important to you will be things which are important to everyone.

          • albatross11 says:


            Gene editing on humans, if it becomes workable, will be done for a bunch of reasons that you or I would probably find disturbing or creepy or horrible.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Alastair Reynolds has some really interesting (and creepy) stuff people do to modify themselves via nanotech and genetech in his novels. Specifically I’m thinking of Diamond Dogs.

          • Alexander Turok says:

            I should have made more clear that I was referring specifically to modifications that take traits outside the normal human range, so that with these modifications the people will be “unhuman.” Parents will want their children to be above average in certain traits, more extroverted or taller than average, but not the tallest or most extroverted child in existence. It is only for intelligence where parents will want their child to be more radical in the trait(i.e. smarter) than any who has ever existed.

            Plenty of parents will want their kids to be attractive, muscular, and not gay, but I doubt they’ll go for much of the weirder stuff. “Try thinking like someone who isn’t you” is often an invitation to indulge in tribalistic fantasies.

            “How many religious fundamentalist parents would leap at the chance to edit their kid’s forming brain so as to make it extremely unlikely they’ll ever question or deviate from the path of their parents faith and enhance their tendencies towards religiosity? (a small price to pay for their immortal soul)”

            Very few. Those who really believe their religions are true will trust in God rather than try to play God.

            “How many parents would leap at the chance to edit their kids biochemistry to remove euphoric reactions to opiates, canaboids and alcohol? (gotta keep them safe from drugs after all) … How many nutjob parents of rebellious teenagers would salivate at a drug or therapy that turns their child into a perfect compliant drone who will marry exactly who they them them to marry and do exactly what they tell them to do.

            There is a drug, Disulfiram, which is given to people with severe cases of alcoholism, which induces an immediate “hangover” if the user drinks alcohol. I’m not aware of any parent who has ever tried to acquire it and force their child to take it. It will be possible to select for “agreeableness” or “conformism,” but any parent who wants to create a “drone” will have to ask themselves who their child will end up obeying. Will it be them, or will it be the government, the media, or their peer group? Most people think of others as the ones who unthinkingly conform to social dogmas, and will want their children to be “open-minded” like they think they are.

            “how many creepy repressed parents would love to have a button they could press that would make their adolescent kid borderline asexual until the parent deems them old enough for that kind of thing. The kind of people who take their daughters to “purity balls” are the ones I’m thinking here.”

            Quite a lot. I mean, how old would be old enough for your daughter? 16? 14? 12? You gotta draw the line somewhere. Children hit puberty at different ages, and if it can be predicted via a polygenic score, then it could be alterable. I could see this being quite common in many societies. And many of the more “enlightened” parents, if told their daughter will hit puberty before 95% of her peers, will decide to make the trait “normal” even as they condemn those who seek to make it more radical. This will of course end up moving the population mean…

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Re: The asexuality thing.. You do not need gene editing for that. There are drugs which will postpone puberty which have quite low side effects when used for that for a reasonable period of time.

            I am not aware of anyone putting their cis daughters on lupron despite this being a safe enough thing to do.

          • Murphy says:

            @Alexander Turok

            “I’m not aware of any parent who has ever tried to acquire it and force their child to take it. “

            it’s enough of a thing already that there are articles on “Tough love” that list is as an approach right under rehab.


            I am not aware of anyone putting their cis daughters on lupron despite this being a safe enough thing to do.

            Not only do some parents use it to delay puberty (in something like a quarter of off-label uses) in kids who aren’t diagnosed with precocious puberty , some use it just because they want their kids to be tall (something like half of off-label uses). Though it can cause bone problems later in life.


            Try thinking like someone who isn’t you” is often an invitation to indulge in tribalistic fantasies.

            It’s a potential failure mode, sure, but on the other hand people often massively massively underestimate how weird other people and their desires can be and I suspect that your current calibration might lean a bit too far towards assuming that people are more similar to you.

        • I think there are at least a few other characteristics that a lot of parents will want for their kids, aside from ones specific to a small minority of parents. For men, being strong is usually seen as good, for status if nothing else. For women, being beautiful. For both, being healthy and aging slowly. Probably for both fast reactions.

          Improvements in sensory equipment–built-in telephoto vision, a wider range of wavelengths visible, better hearing—sound like pretty unambiguous benefits.

          A built-in contraceptive capability would be useful, although there would be some parents opposed for one reason or another. That should be pretty easy to engineer—the reason we don’t have it is that our genes don’t want us to have it.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Being able to see more wavelengths would cut people off from a lot of humanity 1.0 visual art, though possibly there are some workarounds.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz, why would it? Previous visual arts would probably look something like we’d see a painting which resolutely avoided using green, or at worst a greyscale drawing; they wouldn’t see it as realistic in the same way we would, but they could still appreciate it to a large extent.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There might be areas which look weird because they reflect light that isn’t related to the art in the new wavelengths.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I could see that being the case if people were distinguishing more subtly within the existing visual spectrum, but I don’t see why pigments would reflect in what’s currently outside the spectrum – the near-ultraviolet or near-infrared.

            Maybe I’m missing something, though. But even if that is the case, they could still appreciate prior art like we appreciate non-realistic conventions in ancient and medieval pictures, or in Van Gogh’s art.

          • PedroS says:

            The pigments we use on our visual art are not pure colours (i.e. single wavelength) They were chosen to reflect the different wavelenghts in ways which activate the color receptors in our retinas similar to the “true colors”. They will not provide the same sensory experience to an observer with different color receptors.

            Imagine an alternate universe where every one is unable to distinguish red from green. In that world, any of the pigments we use for red or green could be used to paint blood, leaves, etc. No one in that world would be able to find anything “wrong” in using a green pigment to paint tomatoes. If one of us saw their visual art, though, we would find it jarring because portions of a single object could be depicted in shades of strikingly different colors in a single picture, e.g in a painting of an animal sacrifice, a green pigment for a blood stain on a piece of cloth and a red pigment for the pool of blood under the animal. That would make it hard to piece it all together. And ALL their visual art would be, for us, just like that.

    • proyas says:

      7% of humans who have ever lived are alive circa 2017.

      You’re not supposed to start sentences with numerals. It should be “Seven percent of humans…”

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      My prediction is that both these challenges will be solved in
      four years, with the first child born with genetic engineering for intelligence
      being born in 2023. A few years after that it will be possible to modify so many
      genes that the genetically engineered children will be smarter than any human
      who has ever existed. By 2028, 5% of children in the United States will be born
      using this method, rising to rising to 15% in 2038, and 20% in 2043.

      I think that you’re wrong. But this is a nicely falsifiable prediction, so whee!

      What confidence do you put on this? How much intelligence do you think these early children will gain from the procedure?

      Also, the 2028-2043 span seems either slow or fast. Like, either it’s super stigmatized or questionably useful or possibly causes All The Cancers, and it inches along until at least the first children who’ve gotten it are in their 20s and their brilliance Can Not Be Denied, or else everyone’s like “fuck yeah,” and it’s 50% in 10 years.

      • Alexander Turok says:

        “else everyone’s like “fuck yeah,” and it’s 50% in 10 years.”

        I don’t think that’s likely because it will still be an invasive and possibly expensive procedure. (depending on if the government/insurance will cover it) 50% people will say “great idea,” but many of them won’t actually go through with it when they learn the details, just as they don’t bother to lose weight, save for retirement, ect.

  18. LTK says:

    After reading the posts about melatonin I figured I’d try it to unfuck my own sleep schedule. That bit about teenagers naturally staying awake longer and getting up later – I never really grew out of that. Right now in my mid-twenties I habitually fall asleep around 3 AM and wake up around noon, and it has been that way for many years. It’s so consistent that when I went travelling in a time zone five hours earlier, my rhythm didn’t change and I happily spent three months as a morning person. If I go to bed at a reasonable time at home, I fall asleep within half an hour, and then wake up an hour or two later as if I’d had a great nap and have no need for sleep for another three hours, which means any attempt to change my rhythm only makes things worse.

    So I took the recommended 0.3 mg dose of melatonin around 11 AM a few days ago (the pharmacy sells bottles of pills of 0.1 mg each for easy dose control), promptly fell asleep at 12, and woke up at 9 without the need for an alarm. That has literally never happened in years. I took another dose the next day and didn’t take one the day after that, and it seems I can sleep through the night now if I go to bed at midnight, no more melatonin needed. This is such a drastic change that I suspect it must be at least 50% placebo, because I’ve never taken anything with such a profound psychophysiological effect that wasn’t a recreational drug.

    Anyway, thanks for the writeup, this should help a lot in getting my life in order. I was an unemployed layabout who spends half the day asleep, but now I graduated to just a regular unemployed layabout!

    • fion says:

      That’s remarkable! Thanks for sharing.

      I’m particularly interested in your travelling part, that you became a morning person for a few months. I would have expected you to slip later over that time, as habits and perhaps also a biological response to the daylight kicked in.

      Because some people *do* adjust to jet lag, right? If I sleep 12-8 in England and move to Japan, I expect to eventually get into a habit of sleeping 12-8 in Japan, not be nocturnal the rest of my life.

      I’d be very interested if you gave another update in a month or something, to see whether the change stays. Or if you do ever jet-lag yourself again I wonder how you’ll adjust to it then.

      • LTK says:

        Yeah, from the stories I get the impression that most people’s circadian rhythm is thrown completely out of whack by jet lag, which leads them to be groggy and sleep-deprived for a few days until their bodies entrain to the new day/night timing. I consider myself very lucky that I didn’t have that problem but if I ever had to move the clock forward instead of backward it might affect me worse. I did drift into a rhythm of waking up around 9 instead of 7 or 8, the latter corresponding to my normal equivalent wake-up time, but I instantly reverted to my night owl schedule once I was back home.

        I’m curious if the change sticks as well. Like I said, the hardest part was to find a new normal. Whether I’d had a good night’s sleep beforehand is an important determiner for how quickly I get tired the next night, and is far more influential than whether it’s actually light outside. Having one solid sleep from a reasonable bedtime is a good anchor point that makes maintaining it easier.

        Also, I’m going to make an effort to not play games until the very early morning any more. That ought to help too.

        • Dan L says:

          Also, I’m going to make an effort to not play games until the very early morning any more. That ought to help too.

          Easier said than done in my experience, but there might be low-hanging fruit here. Have you tried red-shifting your screens after sundown, and specifically blocking out blue light sources? There are plenty of apps to handle it automatically, I’m a fan of f.lux these days. My personal experience correlates their extensive use (computer, phone, lamps, everything) with shifting my tiredness-onset from ~1:30am back to a reasonable 11pm, but that also might just have been the damage from school fading. (As a step function though? Hell of a coincidence.)

          • LTK says:

            Yes, I’ve used flux for years. It makes the screen much easier on the eyes, but like I said, light doesn’t really affect me. I sleep just as easily having spent the past 30 minutes gaming as I do if I’ve spent it reading a book by dim light. Staying asleep is the difficult part, and I’ve begun to think “I’m not tired anyway, might as well play some games,” which the melatonin really helps fix.

  19. Jon S says:

    Another melatonin question: is there any literature on pregnant or breastfeeding women taking melatonin? I imagine that it’d be very safe at sufficiently low (0.3 mg or lower) doses, but was hoping to find some evidence backing that up.

    In countries where melatonin requires a prescription, does anyone know whether such prescriptions are common or allowed for pregnant women?

  20. Eponymous says:

    Regarding the “laziness” discussion:

    I think one issue is that, not only do we reason using sparse networks with highly central nodes (concepts), but that these networks are hierarchical.

    Thus “lazy” is not just the central node in a network that lets us reason about how likely someone is to meet their deadlines or watch TV; it’s also an outer node in higher-level networks which have central nodes corresponding to concepts like, “has willpower”, “has good moral character”, “is generally a good person”, etc. And these in turn feed into our big “moral reasoning” higher level network, which encodes things like just deserts (implements reciprocal altruism), evaluates suitability for alliance, etc.

    So one could say something like, “The word ‘lazy’ is a useful computational shortcut for making inferences about someone’s future behavior; but we want to be really careful using it because it invokes higher-level moral concepts that might be unwarranted.”

  21. What defines “rationalist fiction?”

    One comment, sometimes complaint, made about my second novel (Salamander) on Amazon is that the characters are too rational–one reviewer described them as all me. Does that make it rationalist fiction? Or is rationalist fiction defined by its links to current rationalist culture, including that culture’s current jargon, by which definition my work doesn’t qualify?

    • Murphy says:

      It’s a vague category… but I think it’s defined by the characters being reasonably bright and driven by their own goals rather than puppets of the plot, cradling the idiot ball whenever the plot demands it.

      This can be difficult because when we try to write smart characters, if the author makes a character who is about as bright as themselves the author can’t really simulate a character on a similar level who possesses mental skills far above the author in some areas. for example it’s hard for an introvert geek to write a rational social bright extrovert cheerleader type while maintaining fidelity.

      So the characters can end up looking a bit samey since the solutions and thus worldview flow from the author. One solution I’ve seen is an author having friends play the characters and laying out the scenarios and asking for their solutions.

    • Well... says:

      Does that make it rationalist fiction? Or is rationalist fiction defined by its links to current rationalist culture, including that culture’s current jargon, by which definition my work doesn’t qualify?

      I don’t know but I would strongly guess the latter. If rationalist fiction was merely any fiction in which the characters were very rational, then that would be way too broad a category.

      Tangentially, I’m curious: as a writer of fiction, how much effort do you put into making sure the characters are different from yourself in terms of personality/thought process?

    • helloo says:

      Probably not by itself.

      I do not know what works are considered “rationalist fiction” but from a quick look at the reddit and TVtropes, they are fiction that REWARDS thinking rationally, not necessary containing characters that only think rationally. In fact if everything is rational, then it’ll make it harder for the rational thinking character to be rewarded for doing so, besides having them live in a paradise or utopia.

      Note that I think the “reward” does not necessary need to be given by the author itself – I could see a fic that has the character constantly failing despite acting rationally (either as a comedy or as a way to show what went wrong and could be improved/factored) – it could just be the expectation from the reader or characters that doing so would be benefiting (similar to virtuous characteristics like bravery or purity).

      • besides having them live in a paradise or utopia

        Rational people can still have conflicts due to different objectives, so not a utopia. Certainly not for either of my novels.

        But my wars do tend to terminate with negotiated surrender and ransom agreements rather than massacre.

        • helloo says:

          I meant that rational actors on all sides aren’t that rewarding by itself.
          However, I would argue against the idea that a utopia cannot have any disagreements.

          Regarding your question though – I’ve thought a bit more, and yeah it’s probably more of a community thing.

          Otherwise, then a number of things like non-noir detective novels and crime dramas are arguably also considered to be in the “genre”, which really doesn’t seem to be the case.

          Edit Completely unrelated – but I’m guessing you’re not interested in fanfiction (not written for it, just fanfic in general) for your “economic” short stories thing.

    • johan_larson says:

      Wouldn’t it be fiction featuring characters who are deeply concerned with doing the right thing and prone to analyzing such decisions using formal tools such as logic, statistics, and game theory (as opposed to standard practice, eyeball hunches, or regulations?) Ideally, such analysis would extend not only to how to reach one’s goals, but also what those goals should be in the first place.

      I don’t think I’ve ever read such a thing.

      Anyone interested in my manuscript about a hard-bitten policy fight in the Operations Research Department of the War Production Board, circa 1944? No? Pity.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      I’m one of the people who said that about the sequel to Salamander, though I did try to hedge the remark. I knew even at the time it was too imprecise a label. I’d call your novel rationalist adjacent in that you think like a rationalist and so do your characters (mostly).

    • Eponymous says:

      Depending on the context, I think four definitions are possible:

      (1) Fiction that communicates the specific ideas of the “rationalist” community, or that communicates “rationality techniques” associated with the community, or continuous with its work, with Eliezer Yudkowsky being a sufficient seed to define the “rationalist” community.

      (2) A work of fiction that includes intelligent characters, whose intelligence is of the “show not tell” variety, and whose intelligence is plot-relevant. Generally speaking, characters will be effective at figuring things out and succeeding in the book in part because they are able to do difficult reasoning that the reader could in principle have done.

      (3) Works of fiction, whatever their nature, that have the effect of causing the reader to become more rational, in the sense of acquiring tools for effective thinking.

      (4) Books whose characters are generally “rational” in the common usage of the word.

      (4) is probably what the comments you get mean. (1) – (3) is closer to what is meant by the term in SSC-related circles.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      My yardstick for intelligent SF, that isn’t necessarily rationalist, is that the characters do intelligent things.

      It would be rationalist if the characters talked about what the intelligent thing to do would be. Or if their thoughts aligned that way, and the author wrote their reasoning.

      How often do Salamander’s characters bring up the subject of what to do?

    • pontifex says:

      Since definitions are arbitrary, let’s just agree that Rationalist fiction is fiction where the characters are all David Friedman.

  22. Freddie deBoer says:

    Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
    — David Hume

    • Randy M says:

      I’d ask you for justification, but that seems tantamount to a concession on your part. How about some impassioned exhortations, instead?

      Passions are fickle and contradictory. Reason should be the captain who listens closely to passions to make sure he isn’t steering awry, but is not beholden to them.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        Reason is a machine. It doesn’t _want_ anything. Reason is not where terminal values come from.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Shouldn’t it, though?

          • beleester says:

            Go ahead and try to derive an “ought” from an “is.” I’ll wait.

          • Nick says:

            Go ahead and try to derive an “ought” from an “is.” I’ll wait.

            What are you getting at? That you can’t derive an ought from an is, therefore you ought not to try?

          • What are you getting at? That you can’t derive an ought from an is, therefore you ought not to try?

            Therefor, if you try, you are unlikely to succeed.

            It doesn’t follow that you shouldn’t try. Ayn Rand’s attempt helped bring her fame and fortune, along with the pleasure of mistakenly believing that she had done it.

          • beleester says:

            I’m saying that you unless you can derive an ought from an is, which you can’t, you can’t derive terminal values solely from reason and observation. Therefore, reason should not be where terminal values come from, because it can’t provide them.

            @rlms: He tried, but stumbled about three tweets in. Statement #3 is “many experiences suck,” which sounds a whole lot like an opinion rather than an objective fact. An opinion that almost all humans share, to be fair, but it’s still reliant on our baked-in human values.

            “Putting my hand on a hot stove sucks” is derived from how you feel after putting your hand on a stove, not simply from the objective fact that stoves are hot and will burn you. In other words, it relies on your pre-existing values of avoiding pain and injury.

          • rlms says:

            Please don’t take me as a fan of Mr Harris, I posted that link a while back so we could all have a good sneer at him.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @beleester: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions,”
            How did Hume derive an ought from an is for your side?

          • beleester says:

            I suppose he didn’t, but that puts him in no worse position than any other moral theory.

            I’m not an expert on Hume, but I’d personally divide his statement into two statements, one an is and the other an ought.
            1. The existence of the is-ought gap is an “is” statement, derived from the lack of objective moral information in the world. Regardless of what can ground our morality, reason alone is insufficient.
            2. The conclusion that, since reason cannot provide terminal values on its own, it should instead be a means to achieve our passions, is an “ought”. This ought statement partly derives from the “is” above, but also depends on the idea that our passions are worth pursuing, which is another “ought” statement.

            I’m not trying to argue it’s wrong to rely on a moral axiom like “pain is bad” or “we should maximize utility,” I’m just saying that logic and observation aren’t going to get you any of those axioms on their own.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I have to admire Harris’s moxie in lampshading his sleight of hand with the word “sucks.” Kind of makes me suspect he’s in on the joke.

        • helloo says:

          That doesn’t mean passion needs to be where the terminal values come from.

          For example – survival as a terminal value doesn’t need to come from passion (though passion will often promote it).

          • beleester says:

            I would think that most humans have a passion for survival, unless they’re suicidal or close to it.

            If you don’t have a passion for survival, if you don’t care whether you live or die except inasmuch as it helps you with other things, why would you say it’s a terminal value rather than an instrumental value?

        • Wrong Species says:

          @Le Maistre Chat

          Using reason to find values is how you get Kantian and Randian weirdness. The average person is terrible at reasoning. The smart person is scarely better.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Using reason to find values is fine, I think. But we shouldn’t confuse the shovel with the grave if we are going grave robbing. What you are looking for isn’t in the shovel.

            The shovel is a tool, only.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Reason can certainly be a helpful tool to help clarify confusion and decide on trade-offs. But I was responding to the idea of using reason itself to find terminal values. People have tried before and they have failed. I’m not even sure where you would start.

        • Randy M says:

          Reason is a machine. It doesn’t _want_ anything. Reason is not where terminal values come from.

          Reason can enable you to evaluate and prioritize your passions and decide what goals can help you accomplish your dreams.
          Perhaps this is what Freddie and Hume mean in a poetic way, but calling reason the obedient slave to passions seems to greatly undersell its function and elevate as a class inclinations that might well need to be silenced.
          Maybe a better analogy than slave and master–Reason is the CEO. Passions are the shareholders. You cannot fulfill every whim, nor even accomplish every dream. But you can take these desires and evaluate what accomplishments would fulfill you, and set out a plan to do so, disregarding myriad passions along the way, unless you basically you find your entire self with such value drift that they vote out and install a new executive function.

        • albatross11 says:

          Reason is a good way to figure out how to get what you want, and what secondary values or goals make sense given your starting values or goals, but it’s not going to tell you whether you should be spending your time designing new machines or cruising for consequence-free sex or endeavoring to turn the world into paperclips. The goal has to come from elsewhere–either directly by saying “I’m hungry and cold and horny, how should I find food, shelter, and a woman?”, or indirectly, by saying “I assume that my moral guidance should come from {the Bible/the moral principles of my society/utilitarianism/enlightened self-interest/getting mine and to hell with the rest of you, natural law, etc.},” and then reasoning from there to get more concrete goals like “Get a steady job, find a nice girl, and settle down to raise a family” or “F–k everything that moves and try to dodge child support and outraged husbands for as long as you can,” or “Kill and eat all your neighbors, preferably having their livers with a nice Chianti.”

      • rahien.din says:


        Define “awry.”

  23. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Amazon Studios to produce a Lord of the Rings prequel series, with a 5-season commitment, on an unheard-of billion-dollar budget.
    The Tolkien estate reportedly got Jeff Bezos to pay at least $200 million up front for the global television rights, which seems like a gross abuse of intellectual property laws the Tolkien who actually wrote stories wouldn’t approve of.

    • LTK says:

      Christopher Reuel Tolkien resigned as the director of the Tolkien estate last year, so I figured news like this was bound to arrive soon enough.

      • hls2003 says:

        I watched an interview with Simon Tolkien, J.R.R.’s grandson (Christopher’s son), some years ago. Opinions might vary, but I was not impressed. To me he seemed quite entitled, rather melodramatic and self-pitying, and definitely interested in cashing in. I believe Simon discussed having clashed with his own father on that score, as Christopher seems generally to have preferred J.R.R.’s legacy over money (perhaps particularly after Christopher felt burned by the Jackson films, both artistically and financially, as they had to sue to get the money). Simon remains one of the Tolkien Estate directors, I believe, and so it’s not terribly surprising to see things go into a different direction. It will be exceedingly hard to replace Christopher’s role, I would think. I don’t know who else I would trust to exercise meaningful creative control over various licensed ventures, even if that were bargained for; so perhaps just grabbing the cash makes a certain amount of sense.

        • Lillian says:

          One thing i don’t understand is how Christopher Tolkien could have felt that the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was not a faithful adaptation of his father’s work. While it deviates in some details for good or ill, it’s hard to imagine how it could have possibly been more faithful to the grand arc of the story.

          • Michael Handy says:

            I think CT would have preferred a slower, less combat focused movie, with not just the Scouring and Tom Bombadil and the barrow downs put in, but emphasised.

            I think the final aesthetic of a CT LOTR would probably be closer to Pan’s Labyrinth crossed with Princess Bride than the LOTR movies we have. Very mythic, very Dunsanian Romance

          • Lillian says:

            Interesting, most of the Tolkien fans i know tend to think the parts that were cut out to be fairly irrelevant anyway, and are big fans of the scenes involving epic battles, grand speeches, and desperate acts of heroism. Nobody quotes passages from the Scouring or the Barrow Downs, lots of people quote Helm’s Deep and Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog. Tolkien seems to resonate most with the fans when his narrative resembles that of the great epics and sagas if the Western canon.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings both open with exposure to the unknown and build around naive characters who have their eyes opened. I would venture that the point of Bombadil is that he is as foreign to the first time reader as he is to the Hobbits when they encounter him, who can bend trees and wraiths to his will by singing to them but has no craving for power (and it not hold on him), lives outside of time and is both known and forgotten by the wise. The speeches and the battles might be what is directly remembered, but the set up, detail and creation is what carries people through the books and sets them apart from the other attempted epics with battles and speeches.

            I don’t know what CT’s complaints about faithfulness are, but mine as a generic fan are mostly based on character development. Despite 11 hours worth of movies all together (extended cuts) they fail to really develop the characters well, Gimli is more comic relief than a representative of a race with an incredible store of skill and knowledge. The elves are just, fair and wise with only passing references to their flaws, they botch Sam’s character for unknown reasons (his abandonment of Frodo), the skip the physical transformation of the hobbits for makeup and a some intense closeups to show suffering, ruin Faramir, etc.

            A lot of what they did was strip out the hints that this wasn’t a typical good vs evil battle, even though there was also a good vs evil battle raging.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            they botch Sam’s character for unknown reasons (his abandonment of Frodo)

            I was absolutely furious. As in, they missed the entire point of the whole series. Arguably Sam’s relationship with the world, and Frodo’s view of Sam, is the only thing that actually matters in the entirety of the LOTR, the one thing Tolkien found to be of true value.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Don’t even get me started on what they did to Denethor.

          • SamChevre says:

            They made an amazing mess of the overall plot. A really key point is that Saruman and Sauron are NOT allies-they scheme against each other almost as much as against the good side-and the movies make them allies from the beginning.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            they scheme against each other

            Is that actually in the text? It’s been a while since I read it, but that isn’t how I remember it. I’d say more th Saruman was simply hungry for power and thought he could gain power through Sauron, not realizing that inevitably led to being captured by him. I don’t remember anything from the movie that really cuts against that.

          • I only saw the first of the movies. It did a better job than I expected, but bad enough so I didn’t want to see the rest.

            Two scenes struck me. One was a scene where Arwen sneaks up on Aragorn. Teen showing off of ninja skills–by a woman who is more than two thousand years old.

            The other was a magical battle between Saruman and Gandalf, which felt like something out of Star Wars. That was one they could have done right, if they had to do it. Saruman’s power is his voice–he is the ultimate demagogue. Have an argument in which, each time Saruman finishes a speech, the listener is convinced–until Gandalf somehow bursts the bubble.

            On the question of Sauron vs Saruman, consider the tension between their orcs. “What does Saruman think he is up to with his filthy white hand?” (from memory, possibly not verbatim)

            A very long time ago some of us were reading through the book, with each taking a part. I still remember that scene, with Sauron’s orcs done in German accents, Saruman’s in Japanese accents.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’d say more th Saruman was simply hungry for power and thought he could gain power through Sauron, not realizing that inevitably led to being captured by him. I don’t remember anything from the movie that really cuts against that.

            The movie IIRC had Saruman expecting to be Sauron’s #2 in the New World Order, on the grounds that this was the best that could be expected against such a powerful foe. I don’t consider this a huge difference from the book version is kidding himself that he can be #1 but Gandalf and the reader know better, and so I consider that to be a forgivable simplification for the sake of fitting LoTR into a mere three long movies.

          • Randy M says:

            That was one they could have done right, if they had to do it. Saruman’s power is his voice–he is the ultimate demagogue. Have an argument in which, each time Saruman finishes a speech, the listener is convinced–until Gandalf somehow bursts the bubble.

            You might want to watch the second one and see Grima vs Gandalf.

            Or maybe not, I don’t remember precisely how that went down, but for sure Grima was using his cunning words as a weapon.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The other was a magical battle between Saruman and Gandalf, which felt like something out of Star Wars. That was one they could have done right, if they had to do it. Saruman’s power is his voice–he is the ultimate demagogue. Have an argument in which, each time Saruman finishes a speech, the listener is convinced–until Gandalf somehow bursts the bubble.

            There are ways they could have done the scene better, but my preferred way is to not show it at all. In fact, I would not have shown more than a few snippets of any event that wasn’t witnessed by a hobbit. The flashback scenes and explanations would have relied on casting and script writing, not action scenes. A lot of that series is about the hobbits discovering how wide the world is and also how their virtues work in that wide world. Even after they have seen some stuff they still end up going “holy shit, talking and walking trees!”.

            I don’t consider this a huge difference from the book version is kidding himself that he can be #1 but Gandalf and the reader know better, and so I consider that to be a forgivable simplification for the sake of fitting LoTR into a mere three long movies.

            Saruman actively tries to get the ring brought to him and is plotting to supplant Sauron. Gandalf doesn’t believe that this is impossible, he believes that Saruman would just become a different iteration of Sauron and not his own style ruler.

            Its forgivable to strip a few characters down to make the movie, but they stripped every character down, and many of them totally needlessly.

          • hls2003 says:

            I echo the sentiments of others below that my primary distaste for the movies was based around mishandling of characters. Just take the Nine Walkers as an example (then insert similar mishandling of almost every character, and don’t get me started on “Come to the light, Frodo” Arwen):

            Gandalf – always appears jittery, doddering, and taken by surprise at every turn. There are some places in the book where he is surprised, but to paraphrase him from the Council of Elrond, “the only eye-openers were [Sam] and Frodo, and I was the least surprised.” He seems perpetually dismayed and shocked at every development, when in truth he is the driving force behind most of the action.

            Aragorn – shoehorned into “reluctant hero” trope, who has scenes whining about how he wishes he didn’t have to do this and could just stay in the wild. This is a major departure; Aragorn’s motivation in the books is clear and has been driving him for nearly a century by the time of the War of the Ring. His motivation in the movie is very unclear.

            Gimli – reduced to stock comic character.

            Legolas – reduced to stock CGI troll-surfer. Missing the “experienced but not much out of his own realm” element.

            Frodo – Not terribly handled. Overall I think this was Jackson’s second-best effort of the nine. Jackson didn’t really know how to deal with the master-servant-friend dynamic with Sam, but that’s something all moderns, especially Americans, struggle with.

            Sam – Botched. Sam abandoning Frodo, even temporarily, guts the core of his character.

            Merry & Pippin – Awful. There is zero reason for them to be there. This seems like an easy layup missed by Jackson. This could have been ameliorated in fifteen seconds with about two lines of dialogue, e.g. Frodo: “A toast to two of my dearest friends Merry & Pippin on my birthday!” Merry / Pippin: “We’re your oldest friends, Frodo, we’re not letting you face danger alone.” Instead we get them running into random strangers, then volunteering for a quest with said strangers.

            Boromir – Credit where it’s due: better than Tolkien’s characterization in the book. Tolkien was so busy foreshadowing the corruption of the Ring that he only tells (but never shows) the nobility of Boromir prior to his fall. The movie actually showed him being a good companion and mighty man. Still one out of nine doesn’t save the script.

            These aren’t just nitpicks. Yes, Tolkien’s plot is exciting, but it is driven by the characters. Aragorn does what he does because he is the King returning. Frodo and Sam’s dynamic is what wins the war. Merry and Pippin play their parts based on loyalty and love. Etc. Take away the characters, and you’re left wondering: why did that happen, other than that it happened in the book?

            To give credit where it is due, I did not have a huge problem with the edits made, including Bombadil. Bombadil is essentially unfilmable, IMO, best not to try. I didn’t mind the “race to the ferry” inserted in Fellowship; I get that they want to have action set pieces, and that was a fair compromise. Overall the story edits went awry mostly where they relied on changed characters (e.g. Sam leaving). Also to give credit, I thought the visuals (esp. landscape shots) were stunningly well done and the casting (i.e. the look of the actors playing the characters) was excellent. For example, I did not like Aragorn’s characterization, but I thought Viggo Mortensen an excellent choice (looks not-old but still rather weatherbeaten and hardened by experience).

          • mdet says:

            Two scenes struck me. One was a scene where Arwen sneaks up on Aragorn. Teen showing off of ninja skills–by a woman who is more than two thousand years old.

            I don’t remember this scene and I couldn’t find the clip on youtube, so you might be misremembering? There is a scene in Fellowship where Arwen slowly and quietly walks up behind Aragorn, but it’s definitely a graceful slow-walk and not sneaking.

            The wizard battle definitely happens though. They could have had an argument instead, but Gandalf doesn’t meet the Hobbits in Bree, so he needs to get captured and imprisoned, so there needs to be a trap or use of force somewhere. The fight itself is brief and not all that interesting, so it could easily have been dropped / swapped for something better.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The fight itself is brief and not all that interesting, so it could easily have been dropped / swapped for something better.

            No it couldn’t have, at least not after hiring Peter Jackson. This is a man who turned a Hobbit film into a trilogy by means of video game action scenes.
            I like his LotR trilogy, but good Lord.

          • mdet says:

            (closed window and reopened, lost my edit window)

            All three movies are definitely great though, and I recommend watching them. I think the only real criticisms of them would be “Deviates from the books somewhat (but still as faithful as you can expect from a movie adaptation)” and “The deep lore and multiple storylines (in TT & RotK) can be hard to keep up with on a first viewing”, but both are mild criticisms and anyone who has one of those complaints won’t have the other almost by definition, so they’re basically 10/10 movies as far as I’m concerned.

            I don’t think the Hobbit movies were Peter Jackson’s fault. Lindsey Ellis has a few youtube videos looking at what went wrong with The Hobbit movies (warning: first vid alone is over a half hour), and she basically explains that Peter Jackson wasn’t even supposed to direct to begin with, got brought in after production had already started but still had to meet deadline, there were multiple studios and executives fighting over what they wanted him to add / take out, and the movie had to be rewritten, recut, and refilmed partway through to stretch it from two parts into three, because trilogies feel more complete / sell more tickets. It seems as though the Hobbit was what happened when Jackson had less creative control.

          • Aftagley says:

            @ Baconbits

            A lot of what they did was strip out the hints that this wasn’t a typical good vs evil battle, even though there was also a good vs evil battle raging.

            Apologies for being a bit late to this discussion, but would you mind elaborating on what you mean? I haven’t read the books in a while, but I never picked up on any hints that this wasn’t a typical good vs evil battle.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Working backwards a little

            Good doesn’t destroy the ring, evil does, Gollum is allowed to exist several times by the good characters (Bilbo, Gandalf, the elves and Frodo all could have, and had cause to, kill him), while Frodo who is “the most good” character eventually succumbs to the ring, failing to destroy it himself. The theme is that good has to live with (some) evil, not that good has to destroy evil to triumph.

            The movies basically pay lip service to these ideas, but because they turn long stretches into orc killing orgies where the books generally skip to the aftermath (compare the time spent on Boromir’s death scenes in each) the good vs evil dominates.

            Or you could read it as an anti purity tale. Bombadil is obviously on the side of good, but even though he has power over the Barrow Weights, and obviously has tons of free time he doesn’t eliminate them unless they are actively hurting someone. Or Bilbo, who becomes a hero/almost outcast in the Shire because he went looking for gold. Frodo’s virtuous journey starts because Bilbo is willing to contaminate himself in search of treasure.

          • Nick says:

            Bombadil is obviously on the side of good

            Is Bombadil obviously on the side of good? He doesn’t do bad things, but mostly he seems indifferent, a True Neutral kind of character. If I remember correctly—and I can go ahead and shoot my mouth off here, because you guys will all correct me 😀—Bombadil is a personification of Middle-Earth itself, so it’s not as though he were given a mission to protect folks like Gandalf or Saruman were.

          • cassander says:

            Jumping in a little late here, but I have to very much disagree with hls2003. I think movie Aragorn and Gandalf are both improvements over the book. With book aragorn, I always get the feeling of “gee, if he’s such an awesome king of men, why didn’t he re-forge that sword decades ago and take up his rightful rule instead of personally babysitting hobbits?” I like that he’s a bit conflicted and uncertain about his role.

            As for movie Gandalf, Mckellen does an amazing job of infusing him with pathos, which is entirely appropriate for one of Nienna’s Maia. The book gandalf is a grumpy old man. Movie Gandalf is someone putting on the appearance of being a grumpy old man.

            I won’t deny that Legolas gets turned into a silly action hero that feels increasingly out of place as the movie that goes on, and Gimli gets progressively more ridiculous, but the only unforgivable sin with the characters is Sam leaving frodo at Cirith Ungol. It’s utterly unnecessary and completely out of character. It’s only one moment though, and one I can largely ignore, as the rest of their relationship is truly fantastic, thanks to excellent acting, and does a good job of making Sam more of Frodo’s friend and equal rather than his batman.

            The degradation of denethor is also pretty terrible, but that bothers me less for some reason.

          • baconbits9 says:

            but the only unforgivable sin with the characters is Sam leaving frodo at Cirith Ungol. It’s utterly unnecessary and completely out of character. It’s only one moment though, and one I can largely ignore, as the rest of their relationship is truly fantastic, thanks to excellent acting

            There are, at a minimum, 3 such events.

            Sam abandoning Frodo

            The Ents calmly discussion war and deciding against it and then suddenly changing their minds and becoming weird vassals to Treebeard who follow his orders.

            Faramir taking Frodo prisoner and trying to return him to Minas Tirith.

            None of these are necessary, all three weaken the characters, and the third one actually puts Frodo in the wrong place at the wrong time to allow the events that follow to happen as they did in terms of pacing and him reaching Mount Doom as the battle outside the dark gate starts.

            There are some other minor ones that aren’t unforgivable (Pippen throwing something down the well and the result for one) that weaken characters and add little that I can tell.

            “gee, if he’s such an awesome king of men, why didn’t he re-forge that sword decades ago and take up his rightful rule instead of personally babysitting hobbits?”

            As for Aragon, Gondor is only the seat of his kingdom, not the extent of it. When he is babysitting hobbits he is actually on the outskirts of what his kingdom would be, defending them against decay. Prior to Gandalf asking him to pay special attention to the Shire he, and his forefathers, were ranging across vast expanses of middle earth acting as a shadow defense force against even. It is only when the ring is found and Gondor threatened that he feels he is obligated to return.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Is Bombadil obviously on the side of good? He doesn’t do bad things, but mostly he seems indifferent, a True Neutral kind of character

            If he is neutral how come he saves the hobbits twice (his only real actions in the book) and ensures that they are well on their way the second time? Those aren’t neutral actions, and he isn’t a neutral character.

          • albatross11 says:

            He’s not a neutral character, but both Tom Bombadil and the Ents are neutral in that they aren’t exactly on anyone’s side because no one is exactly on their side. Bombadil stopped the Hobbits getting killed a couple times, and probably doesn’t much want ringwraiths hanging around his domain, but he wasn’t remotely interested in joining the war; the Ents were willing to attack Saruman’s realm because he was chopping down their forest, not because they were signing on with Aragorn and Gandalf to fight. In The Hobbit, Smaug and Bjorn were both kind-of like that–they might be convinced to go open a can of whoop-ass on someone, but it would be their decision, not because their side had been attacked.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seemed like both the change to the Ents’ scene and the scene with Faramir basically were only done that way to ratchet up the tension/drama a bit for a couple scenes, without really adding anything at all to the story. Which makes no sense when you make the movie as a whole make much less sense!

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Abuse, how?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        $200-250 million for permission to make a TV prequel to a book by a dead author is completely outrageous rent-seeking. Don’t you think JRR “To my country: a mythology” Tolkien would agree?

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t think the amount really factors into it, but the exclusivity. The sum is a trifle to Amazon, and the rights were never going to end up going to an amateur web animation or etc.
          If JRR Tolkien had wanted it to be completely open license, he should have set that up ahead of time.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          JRR “Cash or kudos” Tolkien evidently did not agree.

          • Deiseach says:

            From a 1957 letter:

            It may amuse you to hear that (unsolicited) I suddenly found myself the winner of the International Fantasy Award, presented (as it says) ‘as a fitting climax to the Fifteenth World Science Fiction Convention’. What it boiled down to was a lunch at the Criterion yesterday with speeches, and the handing over of an absurd ‘trophy’. A massive metal ‘model’ of an upended Space-rocket (combined with a Ronson lighter). But the speeches were far more intelligent, especially that of the introducer: Clémence Dane, a massive woman of almost Sitwellian presence. Sir Stanley himself was present. Not having any immediate use for the trophy (save publicity=sales=cash) I deposited it in the window of 40 Museum Street. A back-wash from the Convention was a visit from an American film-agent (one of the adjudicating panel) who drove out all the way in a taxi from London to see me last week, filling 76 S[andfield] with strange men and stranger women – I thought the taxi would never stop disgorging. But this Mr Ackerman brought some really astonishingly good pictures (Rackham rather than Disney) and some remarkable colour photographs. They have apparently toured America shooting mountain and desert scenes that seem to fit the story. The Story Line or Scenario was, however, on a lower level. In fact bad. But it looks as if business might be done. Stanley U. &: I have agreed on our policy : Art or Cash. Either very profitable terms indeed ; or absolute author’s veto on objectionable features or alterations.

            That Forry Ackerman turned up to meet Tolkien still blows my mind 🙂 But yeah, as a man with a young family (and now the grand kids and great-grand kids are all there as well), he would certainly have gone for “if they want it that badly, make them pay high for it, the family needs the money”.

        • FLWAB says:

          You don’t know Tolkien. I don’t have the reference on hand, but he was never shy about making money off his work, and as much as possible. The main example I’m thinking of is that, due to the US having different copyright rules than the UK at the time, Ace Books was able to publish and unauthorized version of LOTR without giving any royalties to Tolkien. Tolkien stirred his fans up to complain about this, so they decided to take a small percentage of the earnings and give it as a prize or a grant to an up and comping writer. Tolkien wrote them to say that he would rather they just give the money to him, so they did. He wasn’t a greedy man, but his family had a lot of money troubles when he was growing up and he definitely was not the sort to leave money on the table when it came to business deals. There’s good odds he would have been happy that his estate got such a good payout.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            American fans of a certain age (I am one of these) may recall the text concerning “courtesy to living authors” in the green box on the back covers of the old Ballantine paperbacks.

    • John Schilling says:

      The Tolkien estate reportedly got Jeff Bezos to pay at least $200 million up front for the global television rights,

      I’m not sure this is correct. The cited source indicates that “The rights payments alone for the property are reportedly in the $200 to $250 million range”, but doesn’t mention the Tolkien estate – and at this point, the rights Amazon is going to want are I believe spread among the Tolkien Estate, Harper Collins, Warner Brothers, New Line Cinemas, and Saul Zaentz & Co. So we don’t know how much of that $200+ million is going to the Tolkien estate and how much of a role they played in the negotiations.

      Part of the price for having a big-budget movie version of LoTR, is that extremely valuable intellectual property winds up in the hands of people who aren’t going to give it away. And while e.g. Christopher Tolkien could perhaps have preserved a holdout for select authors to write LoTR-derivative stories on the cheap or even for free and to the public domain, Jeff Bezos isn’t going to put a billion dollars into an LoTR-themed multimedia project without being able to copy specific elements of the look and feel that New Line et al created for their cinematic version.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Ah, true. Bezos is only going to fund the Games of Thrones-size production costs if he can piggyback on the look and feel of New Line LotR.

      • cassander says:

        Christopher Tolkien could perhaps have preserved a holdout for select authors to write LoTR-derivative stories on the cheap or even for free and to the public domain,

        CT had decades to approve such writing, though, and didn’t. Which is a huge shame, because I think that Tolkien very much would have liked the idea of other authors contributing to tolkien-verse, then getting into arguments with them as if they were rival historical accounts of the same events.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      The action scenes will be much too long.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Somebody was saying that the Tolkien estate sold the rights to Lord of the Rings but not to the Silmarillion, but that LotR includes a few scattered descriptions of the First Age in the text and the appendices.

      Interested in someone knowledgeable explaining what they can do with that. Could they expand stories like Feanor or Earendil (very briefly sketched out in LotR) into a movie, as long as they didn’t use any Silmarillion-exclusive information? How would a court judge the difference between them “extrapolating” from their knowledge of Feanor to fill in the gaps, vs. copying the Silmarillion? Could they make a movie about Feanor in which he does different things than in the Silmarillion, even though that would sort of be infringing on the Tolkien estate’s rights to the vast majority of the work involving the Feanor character?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        How would a court judge the difference between them “extrapolating” from their knowledge of Feanor to fill in the gaps, vs. copying the Silmarillion? Could they make a movie about Feanor in which he does different things than in the Silmarillion, even though that would sort of be infringing on the Tolkien estate’s rights to the vast majority of the work involving the Feanor character?

        That’s a great question, Scott. US judge Richard Posner ruled in 2014 that the evil rent-seeking Doyle estate has to stop suing US creators and distributors of new Sherlock Holmes stories on the grounds that not every single short story is in the US public domain yet, an argument they made on the basis that “Holmes has a complex personality that cannot be depicted without influence from stories that remain intellectual property.” This could be precedent that any Feanor story by the LotR license holder is legal so long as he doesn’t perform deeds exclusive to the Silmarillion. However, they could also sue Amazon Studios under another government and/or for breach of contract.

    • dodrian says:

      My biggest concern is if Amazon will be able to keep the story under control.

      Middle Earth is certainly big enough for many interesting things to be happening, but will Amazon’s writers avoid the stakes treadmill, and keep plots smaller than what happened in Lord of the Rings?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Oh no. Bilbo is going to be some combination of black, gay, female, trans, and differently-abled, isn’t he?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Fuck off.

        Double fuck off in the culture war free thread you fucking defector.

        And if anyone thinks my use of the phrase “fuck off” isn’t civil enough … I find it highly useful in getting a point across. Boo light gets accusation of being boo light.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          You’re right. Didn’t realize it was culture war free, and it is past the edit window. Off I shall fuck.

          And I agree there’s no problem with telling me to fuck off. It is not kind, but it is both necessary and true.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Thank you for the acknowledgement.

            I’d ask you to also consider that one of the ideas behind the tripartite “kind, true, necessary” rule is that simply posting a listing of tribal boo lights should be consciously avoided, culture war free or not.

  24. Skeptical Wolf says:

    Can anyone recommend a good starting point to (or comprehensive curriculum for) upgrading my knowledge of philosophy? I (like many people here, I imagine) have dabbled in the field (took a couple low-level courses during my undergrad time, read a scattering of things beyond that). I currently want to move beyond dabbling into a deeper understanding of the field. I am currently planning to allocate about 2000 hours to this project over the course of the next several years (an estimate based on the in-field time I spent on my college degrees), but I am not confident that my current understanding will allow me to identify the most valuable ways to spend that time. If anyone here feels more confident in this area, I would appreciate some advice.

    Philosophisticat, if this post makes it to your attention, your comments in various open threads are one of the things that influenced me to choose philosophy for this project over other potential fields, so I would be particularly interested in your input.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Is there any particular field you are interested in?

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        My primary areas of interest are ethics and epistemology. Ethics is one of my primary examples of a field where interacting with it is a fundamental part of the human condition (to the point that telling someone to defer their opinion to expert judgement is problematic), but that contains enough difficulty and complexity that a genuine expert should be able to produce better results than an amateur. In addition to the obvious benefits (I want to be a more ethical person and to be more effective at encouraging what I consider ethical behavior in others), I hope that making the transition from amateur to semi-expert on this topic will help me resolve similar conflicts I encounter in other fields.

        Epistemology is both fun and relevant to my day job (software development).

        • Wrong Species says:

          I’m not an expert or anything but I’m in a very similar situation to you. Three books I recommend:

          Moral Theory: An Introduction

          Epistemology: A Contempoary Introduction

          Metaethics: A Contemporary Introduction

          They’re all just introductions to their various fields, Ethics, Metaethics and Epistemology. I especially recommend Moral Theory because I’ve read all of it. The author lays out the various ethical theories in each chapter and goes back and forth between arguments for and arguments against them. He’s very fair but isn’t afraid to voice his own opinion.

          The book on Epistemology covers everything from what makes knowledge to the use of Bayes Theorem. Dense, but readable, it’s written by leading figures in the field.

          I’ve only read a little from the Metaethics book. All that I can say is that what I have read has been very good.

          • Skeptical Wolf says:

            Thank you very much for the specific recommendations. I’ve picked up all three of these and will be using them as a starting point.

          • Wrong Species says:

            No problem. If you ever want to discuss anything you read in them, just give me a shout out in one of the open threads. I usually follow them all.

        • rlms says:

          IANAP, but Reasons and Persons is good.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Reasons and Persons is great, but if you’re interested in getting a solid grounding in a field of philosophy, it’s best to get more of a general and explicitly introductory foundation first. Otherwise, you run the risk of internalizing one person’s idiosyncratic way of approaching philosophy (there’s some of that reading a textbook too, of course, but at least textbook writers are explicitly aiming to avoid that).

            (For example, in metaethics, to Parfit, everything except non-naturalistic moral realism is basically a kind of undifferentiated nihilism, so you’re liable to end up with a pretty impoverished view of metaethics if he’s your introduction)

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      You might gain some territory by going to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and reading whatever interests you. If you’re disciplined enough to know you want something like a curriculum, then you could choose the subjects you want deeper knowledge on, read their articles, and then read the documents linked at the bottom of each.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Hey! I still haven’t settled on the best set of recommendations for people in your position, but I think Wrong Species’ suggestion is a good one – begin with some introductory textbook on the areas that most interest you by a serious contemporary philosopher – there are many to choose from and I don’t yet have a strong opinion about the best ones, but the ones Wrong Species recommended are all by very well-regarded philosophers. I’ve taught using the Timmons Moral Theory book before and I think it’s pretty good, though I ended up having a handful of issues with the framing of the topics; this is probably inevitable, and you should just read keeping in mind that not everyone understands the terrain in exactly the same way.

      Another important resources is the online Stanford Encyclopedia ( which you can use to get a take on the state of the debate by active researchers in that debate (at varying levels of accessibility), and, as importantly, lots of links to papers you might be interested in reading.

      I think once you get through the textbook, you should be in a position to understand, at least with the help of the stanford encyclopedia, a lot of the major philosophy papers and books themselves, and I’d recommend going through some of those. You can do this by finding an anthology (Blackwell Publishing has a series of anthologies on most areas of philosophy) or by finding the topic you like on the stanford encyclopedia and going down the list of references. At that point you should be able to pick up most papers that look interesting on a topic and get the context of what’s going on.

      Once you get there (with the introduction and an anthology of major papers under your belt) you can probably guide yourself, but one natural place to go next is a volume of current work – check out for example an Oxford Studies in Metaethics/Epistemology/etc. and you’ll get a bunch of papers on what philosophers are doing right now in those fields.

      It’s a bit hard (and lonely) doing all this in isolation; trying to talk through the issues with someone really helps identify where you might be falling short in understanding, so I’d really try to find somebody or some community that you can use.

      Note: all this is presuming that you’re mostly interested in being up on the contemporary state of philosophy on these topics – if you’re interested in the history of philosophy then my recommendations would be a bit different. Find some time to read Plato and Hume and (late) Wittgenstein for general enrichment, but don’t expect it to be terribly helpful for catching up on the cutting edge – you’ll get a better sense of what philosophers today have gotten out of these figures just by reading what philosophers today have to say.

      TL;DR: Contemporary Introductory Textbook -> Anthology of Major Papers -> Anthology of Current Papers, with help from throughout.

    • Orpheus says:

      Why not just read the primary texts? Start with whatever you haven’t read from Plato and Aristotle, move on to Kant, then all the 19th and 20th century greats?

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        That’s the approach I would have taken in the absence of other advice. But since that approach is not what I would recommend to a student in any of the fields I’m an expert in, I thought it was worth asking for expert advice.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          I think it’s not a good approach, and the tendency of some teachers of introductory philosophy courses to present it in this way contributes to misperceptions about the field. As you say, one wouldn’t present any other scientific field that way.

          One issue is that some of the primary texts are just not that well-written. For every Hume there’s a Kant, and it gets worse than that. And it’s not surprising – what are the chances that literally the first person to have a certain idea also provides the clearest and strongest presentation of it? Second, while all those figures are influential today, which parts of their work have persisted is not at all obvious if you’re just reading them – it’s not always the parts they themselves emphasize – they’re engaged in disputes with people of their time which no longer seem to us all that crucial. Third, their views are riddled with problems that the contemporary philosophers they inspire have worked hard to correct, and so views will seem a lot crappier than they need to. I think Kant in particular really suffers from this. There is a tremendous amount of insight in Kant but also a lot of bad presentation and distracting but inessential details. This gives a lot of people whose experience amounts to an introductory historical ethics course a low opinion of Kant and a high opinion of people like Mill, whose insights are relatively shallow but whose presentation is straightforward and clear.

          All of this can be mitigated somewhat with a really good teacher guiding you through those readings and focusing your attention on the things that matter, but this makes it a particularly bad strategy if you’re self-teaching.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      Thank you to everyone who has responded with advice, particularly Wrong Species, Paul Brinkley, and Philosophisticat. I’ve picked up the three introductory textbooks that Wrong Species recommended and am looking at some Blackwell anthologies to follow them up with (the current editions of Western Philosophy, Foundations of Ethics, and Ethics in Practice).

      A couple follow-up questions, if anyone still has time:

      1. As a relatively new student in the field, is there a better source than wikipedia for figuring out which authors are well-regarded philosophers and which are just random writers? Is it safe to assume that anyone I find cited a few times in the Stanford encyclopedia is worth considering as a textbook author?

      2. I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Philosophy. Do more informed people have any particular opinions on it? I wouldn’t mind adding some historical context to my research.

      3. For those who have experienced both, how significant is the difference between on-line and in-person discussions for a student of philosophy? I’m trying to heed Philosophisticat’s warning that having a community helps in multiple ways (as it does with most endeavors), but the in-person discussion groups I’ve been able to find in my area are mostly focused on Buddhism, which is not what I’m looking for at the moment. I may also try to get some friends interested, but this seems like a long shot due to the time investment I’m contemplating.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        1. There probably aren’t a lot of random writers writing philosophy textbooks these days so you’re pretty safe and I wouldn’t spend too much effort looking deep into their credentials. Seeing “Oxford University Press” is probably a good sign, though there will be fine textbooks by other publishers as well. You can try googling syllabi for classes on the topic you’re interested in and pick something you see there. Mostly just don’t pick up something too old.

        2. Bertrand Russell is a great philosopher and engaging writer and his history is a fun and accessible read. But Russell wasn’t really all that historically minded and it’s not considered terribly accurate – part of the fun is seeing Russell’s own grudges and concerns come through. Worth checking out but take it with a grain of salt. Nowadays my impression is the most well-respected history of Western Philosophy is Anthony Kenny’s “A New History of Western Philosophy” (Warning: it is very long. He also has a shorter “Brief History of Western Philosophy”).

        3. I’d imagine there are pros and cons to both. Outside of a college setting I think it would be quite hard to get good in person stuff going unless you have friends already interested in philosophy, so I’d expect online to be where you’d get the most value. If you’ve got intellectually curious meatspace friends and run into something interesting and relatively accessible, trying to explain it to them and see what they have to say is always a good exercise.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Unfortunately, I probably couldn’t tell you much that you didn’t already know, on who to read or give a pass on. Especially in ethics. Most of what I studied had to do with ontology (as with you and epistemology, my drive was primarily from my job in software development, and became a bit fun after a while).

        In case you’re interested in ontology, it occurs to me that you might get some value out of Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Michael J. Loux. You can start with the fundamental issue of metaphysical realism versus alternative accounts such as nominalism, and learn how the former seems to influence the lion’s share of programming. Then you can move into things like propositional logic, possible worlds, and various temporal models.

        In fact, that book alone makes me inclined to recommend anything from the Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy series. Dry reading, if M:aCI is any indication, but you’re likely at about the right spot to take them on.

    • Incurian says:

      Have you read the sequences?

  25. proyas says:

    If we accept the notion that humans are the Earth’s dominant species, then what qualities or accomplishments grant humans that status?

    For example, are humans the dominant species because we are the only one capable of intelligent thought (if so, when did we cross the threshold and become “intelligent”?), are we dominant because we can adapt to any environment (if so, when did we first demonstrate the ability to do that?), etc.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I would say it’s our intelligence(or maybe our collective intelligence) and everything flows from that. But if you want to look at our concrete achievements, it would be the way we shape our environment. Even before agriculture, humans were changing the places they lived. Now an alien looking at us through a telescope they would see farms, roads, buildings, statues and all other physical manifestations of our intelligence.

    • Skivverus says:

      I’m inclined to say there are three factors that interact multiplicatively: intelligence, hands, and (scale of) cooperation.
      Though given the example of octopi, lifespan probably makes for a fourth factor, and ‘land-dwelling’ might make for a fifth.

      Also, for ‘hands’, that’s mainly short for ‘sufficiently manipulative appendages’. Elephant trunks could theoretically count.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      >If we accept the notion that humans are the Earth’s dominant species, then what qualities or accomplishments grant humans that status?

      Going with a very visceral, simplistic reason. Humans have proved they can eliminate any other species if they get in mankind’s way.

      • Randy M says:

        If any other claimants to the title show up, we need to settle it with a no-holds-barred grudge match.
        The question is, is it more fair to do it on an individual to individual basis, or kg to kg basis?

        I imagine if it was necessary to square off against equivalent mass in fire ants or hornets, the title might be in jeopardy, similarly a single man against an elephant.

        • LTK says:

          Who cares about fairness? It’s every species for itself. If there were two extraterrestrials who came to Earth with the intention to breed, and they were sufficiently advanced that they could easily kill any single terrestrial lifeform regardless of size or any collection of terrestrial lifeforms of equivalent mass, I still wouldn’t accept them as the new dominant species until they proved able to withstand humanity’s collective efforts to kill them, or drive them off.

          So, to answer the original question, I think our ability to organize and collectively respond to a threat to our dominion, either global or local, is what makes us dominant. In the long run, humanity might fail at the ‘global’ part, given how our biosphere is projected to become steadily less habitable, but we’ve collectively been able to stave off nuclear armageddon at least.

        • veeloxtrox says:

          >equivalent mass in fire ants or hornets

          Proper protective equipment and flamethrower/chemical spray

          >a single man against an elephant.

          A large rifle

          Problems solved.

          • Randy M says:

            I think that demonstrates the meaning of the term.

            But I still like the mental images.
            Next up, fire ants versus elephant!

          • veeloxtrox says:

            But I still like the mental images.

            Thanks 🙂

            Next up, fire ants versus elephant!

            If we are talking equal mass, my bet is on the fire ants. I figure they could have the elephant pick to the bone in less than a week.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not sure the fire ants will kill the elephant, but I’m very sure the elephant can’t kill the fire ants.

          • tayfie says:

            @Randy M

            This thread got me to research a fight of lots of fire ants and an elephant.

            First, elephants hate ants because ants will protect trees from elephants. When elephants try to eat the leaves, the ants will crawl inside their sensitive trunks.


            My first question was if fire ant stings could even cause any damage to an elephant outside sensitive areas like that (definitely so, elephant skin is extremely sensitive and not all that thick). Any encounter will quickly get very painful for the elephant.

            So the elephant would definitely need some kind of additional protection such as a recent mud bath or a handy water source. I assume the ants are in one large pile and the elephant would have to kill them by stomping.

            Even with protection, the elephant would certainly get some stings every time it attacked the ants. I started trying to figure out what the fatal dose of solenopsin would be for an elephant before I decided I had better things to do with my time.

            I ultimately conclude that it is a grim outlook for the elephant if it does not just run away and wash any ants off immediately. If the elephant tries sitting in a pond, it still may be in trouble because of how fire ants can join together to form rafts.

            On a side note, I hate fire ants even more now. They’re already a practical bother where I live but reading about them in depth is nightmare inducing. Last fall, there was a time when several hundred of them got into a trash can on the second floor (idk how). I killed them by moving the trash can to the bathtub and surrounding them with a couple inches of water, adding soap so there was no surface tension for an ant raft to work.

            After that, I bought a ton of poison and got rid of them, but they are still a problem in the neighborhood.

          • Randy M says:

            On behalf of the mammal alliance, I thank you.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “Humans have proved they can eliminate any other species if they get in mankind’s way.”

        True for large animals. Not so true for rats and smaller creatures.

        • Iain says:

          The Canadian province of Alberta is famously rat-free. Rats are not native to North America; by the time Rattus norvegicus reached Alberta in the 1950s, the government was ready with an extensive rat control program. A handful of rats do occasionally make it in, but there’s no breeding population of Albertan rats. (See also.)

          (The edit war on the Wikipedia image showing rat distribution is fun.)

        • veeloxtrox says:

          We have eliminated smallpox and almost have a couple other diseases licked. While it might be really hard, I am pretty sure humans could eliminate all rats if they put their minds to it. I don’t think any other species on Earth could do that to humans.

      • Fahundo says:

        Why the hell are mosquitoes still around?

        • veeloxtrox says:

          They are really tricky. I know when they made the Panama Canal they were able to get very good results for the time. I think if that were to happen again, they could get even better results.

          If need be, humans could just burn the whole area to the ground but that so far has been deemed overkill for mosquitoes.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are proposals to try to drive a few species of mosquito into extinction, to get rid of the vectors for malaria, yellow fever, dengue, zika, etc. This would leave most mosquitos in place and probably would have little ecological impact, but would also leave a whole lot fewer sick humans lying around.

    • LTK says:

      I thought about this for a while, and came up with a hypothetical that might be interesting.

      Imagine there is a species that lives symbiotically with small tribes of iron-age humans. It does not socialize within its species, lives for hundreds of years, and reproduces clonally. It is vastly more intelligent than humans, and uses this intelligence to assist humans in agriculture by adapting soil composition for optimum crop growth, selecting seeds for culturing, and keep pest populations in check. It also makes structures for itself and humans by modifying trees and root systems to grow in the shape of shelters, bridges, and wells, creating these over the course of years. Humans assist it by providing hard labour; watering and harvesting crops, storing and preparing food, and providing protection from large predators.

      Humans are the muscle of this symbiosis and would struggle to survive on agriculture otherwise, while the plant-grower can provide for itself and uses humans for convenience and security. However, when a tiger attacks, the humans gather their spears and kill it. When a forest fire threatens to spread to the village, humans form a bucket chain and extinguish it. When a natural dam bursts, humans gather their boats and go around rescuing people who risk drowning.

      So in this scenario, humans are less intelligent, shape the environment less, and are shorter-lived than the plant-growers. Still, I would call them the dominant species because of their ability to organize and cooperate.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTM that “dominant” is doing all the work in this sentence.

        In terms of numbers, ants (if we count all species of ants together) have us beat. They at least tie us on geographical range and give us a run for our money on diversity of ways of making a living. Yet probably nobody this side of Edward O Wilson would say that ants are the dominant species of the planet.

        We can say that we’re dominant in terms of our impact on the environment, but I think photosynthetic bacteria changed the atmosphere enough to allow oxygen-breathing to be a workable strategy–we’re nowhere near that! (But again, multiple species, so maybe it doesn’t count.)

        • LTK says:

          I’m confused as to whether you’re arguing against me. We (humans) obviously think we’re the dominant species, and assuming that’s not wishful thinking, there must be a good reason we think so. What is that reason? It’s not numbers or biomass, obviously, and I don’t think it’s environmental impact either. Where we got ants and photosynthetic bacteria beat is our ability to respond to threats. You can’t be a dominant species if your entire habitat can be eradicated by pouring boiling water into a hole, and neither can a species that is utterly replacable by its nearest taxonomic relatives.

          Maybe it’s more of a matter of perspective. “What is the dominant species on this planet?” is basically asking “What species do we need to worry about if we want to colonize here?”

  26. mupetblast says:

    There’s an event Thursday in Sydney with the esteemed Claire Lehmann based on Scott’s “Conflict vs. Mistake” theory!

    “In this special CIS event, Claire will open the evening with a talk drawing on the works of Scott Alexander, developer of the Conflict vs Mistake explanatory model of politics, and of Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, authors of The Rise of Victimhood Culture, pinpointing how conflict theory is taught in our universities, then she will explore the dominance of critical theory in humanities departments across the world, and the corrosive impact that these have on the political sphere.”

    Once again the trend of the right paying more attention to Scott is evidenced.

    Event link:

  27. johan_larson says:

    This is the thread for poetry snark.

    You are not William Carlos Williams.
    Leave the plums alone.

    • Iain says:

      This is just to say:

      I have riffed on
      the poem
      that was in
      your post

      and which
      you were probably
      would be left unchanged

      Forgive me
      it was inevitable
      so meta
      and honestly I never mentioned any fruit so I’m squeaking by under the letter of the law here

  28. Controls Freak says:

    @John Schilling

    As per my current usual, I’m extremely late in reading comments here. A few days ago, you wrote in this comment:

    But, IIRC, the US Army War College estimates that it takes ~2% of a region’s population actively resisting, to make that region ungovernable, of which about 15% need to be primary armed combatants and the rest in support roles.

    Judging by the “IIRC”, I’m guessing you don’t have the source for this immediately accessible. Do you have it sluggishly accessible? Maybe a vague notion of where you learned it along with a suggestion for how I could spend my own time digging for it? It sounds like a document I’d be interested in reading.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I fear for the next generation.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think this is probably simply consistent with the lead hypothesis.

      The birth cohort of the 90s are the teens of the 2000s. Lead from gasoline was phased out quickly in the UK around 1988. As the second link points out, one of the nice things about the lead hypothesis is that it predicts different affects in different jurisdictions, based on when and how quickly they phase out lead. These predictions have born out.

      • rlms says:

        Quite possibly for crime, but does to what extent does lead cause drinking and teenage pregnancy?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          One of the stronger associations with lead poisoning is poor impulse control. Arguably, this is the thing that leads to the higher crime rate associated with lead poisoning. Low impulse control as vector causing teen pregnancy should be self-evident, but the application to drinking, drug use and other behaviors generally considered undesirable or risky seems readily apparent as well.

          In each case you have a behavior that could be modeled as a trade-off. The impulse to seek short term reward needs to be controlled with appropriate consideration of long term risk. Lead poisoning lowers the ability to successfully control that impulse.

  29. hls2003 says:

    What are some of your occupation’s “eye roll” subjects? That might mean pet peeves, or things you hear ten times a day, or common misconceptions that laymen have about your profession that are understandable but never seem to be corrected.

    For example, I’m an attorney in the U.S.

    Honorable mention (in the “understandable but wrong and hear it every time” category): when a client, describing their damages, includes “And, of course, the attorney’s fees I’m paying to you – I want those too.” For the 1,000th time I explain that the ‘American Rule’ allows attorney’s fees to be awarded to a litigant only if there is a specific contract or statute allowing it – in the absence of that, every party pays their own lawyer. Related – even if a statute allows for “costs” that only means the $400 filing fee, not the $20,000 of attorney’s fees.

    Runner-up (in the “this identifies a blowhard 100% of the time category): any time someone refers to damages for ’emotional distress’ in a fight over money. There are a few real categories of cases in which that type of damage is available; but it is never a contract or business or general dispute where “I’m just so mad that I sat up at night fuming” comprises the bulk of claimed damages.

    Winner (in the “layman’s misconception” category): “Oh, it can’t cost that much to get the trial. I have all the proof I need right here in this document [usually self-created spreadsheet or summary]. Just show it to the judge.” Suffice it to say that most cases don’t go to trial; discovery is mandatory; and getting before the Court for a fact determination is always easier said than done.

    Those are some of mine. How about yours?

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Patent attorney:

      I tell them they can’t get a patent because someone else already has a patent that is very similar. The response, “well I don’t see it in any stores.”

      • hls2003 says:

        I once had a client literally say “Sure it seems obvious, but only if you know the industry really well.” I did not want to waste a patent attorney’s time with a referral.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Some of the recurring ones in my field:

      “It’s on the internet, we can use it, right?”
      “These licenses aren’t enforceable, anyway.”
      “If we use A, we have to give away all our IP.”
      “If we use B, we don’t have to give away this IP.”
      “We could just pay them some money, and then ignore this license, right?”
      “We can code up a complicated workaround that lets us violate the license.”
      “I can write my own license.”
      “Licenses are a joke, so I will use this joke license.”

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Accounting is not just tax. I don’t even do my own taxes, so I can’t do your taxes. I sure as hell don’t know how to do the taxes of a Fortune 500 company.

      Accounting isn’t really “math.” You need basic algebra and fluency in unit conversions. But there’s nothing particularly complicated. If you struggled in calculus and geometry, it won’t affect you here. OTOH, if you’re the kind of person who struggled with calculus and geometry, you’re probably the kind of person who can’t pass the CPA.

      Numbers help find truth, but accounting isn’t divination. Some people seem to think that you can just hand an accountant or finance person a spreadsheet and expect undiscovered, buried truths to just materialize out of thin air. We can find certain things, but this kind of wizardy is more of a data mining and serious quant thing: IE, huge, expensive databases being scoured by expensive rocket scientists.

      There’s a good chance you don’t have the information to support that effort, even if you did have a rocket scientists on staff. Tracking inventory, cash, labor, sales, and anything else your heart desires is an expensive effort, both in time and money. In our factory, we need to tell our employees that they need to track ALL movement of goods in our warehouse, even if they are just moving something 10 feet down the row. Otherwise, our “inventory” will be recorded as “vanished,” which will be recorded as “cost,” meaning our cost figures are now wrong for that whole week. Garbage in, Garbage Out.

      Also, this job requires some people skills. You need to talk to people, both to find out answers and to explain your findings.

      Also, accounting isn’t a guys-field. There are a ton of women in accounting, at all levels, and they can be quite succesful.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      -“Chemicals” are not bad for you. The pronounceability of a compound’s name, or whether it came from a living organism or was synthesised, are not predictors of how poisonous something is.

      -Related- there is no functional difference, and very little measurable difference, between a compound synthesised in a lab and the same compound isolated from nature.

      -There is probably no single “cure for cancer”. There certainly isn’t one that scientists know about and are sitting on to protect the profits of their employers.

      -You can’t run a car on water.

      • hyperboloid says:

        You can’t run a car on water

        More precisely no purely chemical reaction, that is to say any process that involves nothing more the electrodynamic interactions of atoms, could generate energy from water. Water is the ashes of burning hydrogen. You could use water as a store of thermal energy, and vehicles have been built on that principle.

        And of course theoretically you could dispense with those wussy electrons and use nuclear fusion to access the much greater potential energies of the quantum chromodynamic interactions between the fundamental particles that make up the cores of hydrogen atoms. But good luck with that, especially using ordinary water, which is not known to be especially rich in either tritium or deuterium.

        Frankly I’d be more likely to believe that a car was powered by tiny pixies than that someone had invented a proton-proton fusion based power source in their garage.

        But what I have really never understood about the water powered car thing is that it is always presented as a conspiracy theory: “the oil companies are suppressing the water powered car”. You don’t need to know anything about chemistry or physics to know that’s bullshit, you just need to have a basic understanding of capitalism and human nature.

        The idea, so far as I understand it, is that some guy invented an engine that produces useful energy from water. This engine is about has about the same specific power and efficiency as an internal combustion engine, and are easily manufactured. Exxon Mobile has found out about this and had our brilliant inventor killed, but not before they forced him to hand over all his blueprints. They aren’t manufacturing and selling these marvelous devices, because in this scenario they are apparently Wayland-Yutani levels of evil and stupid.

        Conspiracy theorists seem to think that major corporations are evil and murderess and also apparently hate money and success.

        I’m not even sure that oil would be worth any less in a world with water powered cars, because water powered cars implies water powered engines generating almost unlimited amounts of pollution free electricity. Which sort of seems like the kind of thing that might create the type of economic boom that would greatly increase the demand for petrochemicals.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      “Oh your a programmer, can you fix my printer/phone/internet”

    • Deiseach says:

      “Do I really have to fill out this form?” Yes you do.
      “Can’t you fill it out for me?” No, I/we can’t.
      “But why can’t you?” Because (a) I/we are not supposed to know your private information unless I/we have to, and if I/we fill out your form then I/we will know that (b) you’re signing it as the person who filled it out with your own fair hands, truthfully, with full and complete necessary and relevant information thus (c) any fake/false/mistaken/lying information on that form will be on your head, unless I/we are dumb enough to do it for you, and I/we are not that dumb.
      “Why can’t you just award me the thing?” Because I don’t have that power.
      “But you work here!” Yes, and that plant in the window is also part of this office. Neither of us can just say “sure, have thing!”, that decision comes from higher up the food chain.
      “You’re not giving me thing because you’re prejudiced against me/racist/are a big meanie! I’m entitled to thing!” No, I’m not giving you thing because see part about filling out form.

      • hls2003 says:

        One of the few times I pitied the workers at the Clerk of Court was when someone would loudly demand help filling out their forms. There were signs every three feet saying “We are legally prohibited from giving any advice.”

  30. Controls Freak says:

    Months ago, when the original dueling memos on Carter Page’s FISA applications came out, skef appropriately chastised me for not getting on my beat more quickly. Yet again, I’m a bit delayed (and I’m not sure what the current non-Culture-War thread rules are; I’m hoping my comment will drive the opposite of the Culture War), but I figured I’ll say a few words about the FOIA’d applications which were just released.

    We learned approximately zero new information. The black pen of the redactors removed basically everything that wasn’t already publicized. There’s a chunk about some nefarious things Russia was up to, a bit about prior investigation into Russian intelligence’s (apparently unsuccessful) attempts to recruit Page in 2013, and the sections related to the Steele dossier. Pretty much everything else is redacted, potentially including all the juicy bits that really provide probable cause. The unredacted stuff doesn’t really cut it for probable cause, unless you weigh the Steele dossier quite heavily (maybe not even if you do), which was one of the original avenues of complaint from the right (this remains unresolved, because the redacted portion could have fantastic independent PC or not).

    Instead, so far, it appears that we have pretty much what I predicted – both memos said true things that were as biased as could be toward their own interests. Don’t believe anyone who says, “The release of these applications demonstrate that the Rep/Dem memo had false information.” I went back through them. Their facts were true (to the extent that can be determined), but the characterization of those facts were spun to support each side (to the extent that we can separate facts from commentary, e.g., I’m not evaluating the Dem memo claim that, “DOJ met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet FISA’s probable cause requirement, by…”, but I am evaluating the subsequent list of items for whether or not they were present in the document).

    Concerning details, one of the bones of contention was funding/political motivation of the Steele dossier. This is classic, “Both sides saying true things and trying to talk over each other.” The Dems point out that the application did indicate that Steele was politically motivated to discredit Trump’s campaign; the Reps point out that it didn’t trace the funding back to DNC/Clinton. (Note: some portions of these footnotes are still redacted, but it’s a pretty good bet that those bits don’t mention DNC/Clinton.) How concerned anyone should be about any of this is a much more vague/complicated discussion.

    Another detail that was subject to dueling claims of the other side being misleading was the September 2016 Yahoo News article. The Nunes memo had an underlined sentence, “This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier[,] because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News.” They don’t specifically allege that the FISA application uses the article as corroboration (versus just trying to make the point to the broader audience; this shifting back and forth between point-making and fact-telling is annoying in both memos), but the Dem response hits them on this, pointing primarily to the section heading, “Page’s Denial of Cooperation with the Russian Government to Influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.” I think there are strained arguments on both sides of this. In this section of the FISA application, footnote 22 does specifically assess that they didn’t believe that Steele was the source for the article. In what should now be familiar, they didn’t come out and say, “So you should view this as corroboration, regardless of the section title.” Instead, we have to try to infer whether or not the section was trying to add evidence/argument beyond just, “He denied it.” I’m leaning toward the section title being looser, not quite chronological, not quite strictly topical. Something in between, but it does appear like they were making arguments besides, “He denied it.” In any event, I don’t think anyone disagrees that in hindsight the FBI judgment that Steele wasn’t the source was wrong… but this is ultimately a judgment call, and was presented to the court as such.

    If you want a “section title counterpoint” that you’re not going to get from mainstream outlets like NYT/Lawfare, note that the section immediately before that one is titled, “Page’s Coordination with Russian Government Officials on 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Influence Activities.” Yet again, there is a solid amount that is redacted, but Item Numero Uno is the Steele dossier. You never want to hope that someone breaks with best practices, but you have to hope that they failed to lead with their best evidence…

    In sum, I still think most of the annoying chatter is political spin. While there are interesting, minor spinoff discussions possible, there’s a good chance that legitimate probable cause is in the redactions, that FBI didn’t do anything super wrong, and even that Carter Page was nonetheless innocent (remember, the nature of probable cause is such that it can sometimes exist for innocent folks). I just wish that we had more people honestly interested in some of the worthwhile spinoff discussions rather than political point-scoring.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I haven’t actually seen any serious commentator give a reason why 100% of the PC would be in the redactions. I also haven’t seen any reason that the Yahoo article would even be included if Steele’s information had been verified in other ways. Indeed, the most serious analyses prior to the release of these redacted applications insisted that the Steele dossier would not even be referenced in the FISA applications other than as a statement along the lines of, “Source #1 (Steele) informed us of activity X on date Y, Agent [Redacted] then interviewed Source C (unnamed Russian/redacted) and verified [lots of information] that was then further verified by observing [corroborating information about Page]”. The fact that Steele was presented as a primary source at all was treated as a conspiracy theory prior to Saturday.

      See, e.g. Andrew McCarthy

      • Controls Freak says:

        There is a fair amount of context information in the applications that is not critical for PC. It’s plausible that this was similar.

        The fact that Steele was presented as a primary source at all was treated as a conspiracy theory prior to Saturday.

        This isn’t true (at least, given what I think comes with the word “primary”; not sure if you’re giving it a different connotation). We knew months ago (back when the memos hit) that he was used as a source the application. The questions have always been, “What else was there? Was his information corroborated? Was there sufficient PC anyway? What was the disclosure concerning the provenance of his information/funding?” We still don’t know on the first three questions; we know the factual matter for the final question.

        FWIW, Andrew McCarthy has been a very vocal and consistent critic of various portions of the Russia investigation. I think he has solid arguments on some things (particularly, unless our knowledge of the factual premises change, Mike Flynn); I think he gets a little ahead of himself on others. He’s not dismissable out of hand, but it’s definitely worth reading some of the serious folks on the other side, too.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I would reply, but … well this is straight up culture war.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I don’t think this is culture war. I was thinking about posting on this issue in a thread as a kind of general critique of narratives that would insist that people should remember to “check your priors” as it were. That is because, to me, this affair has resembled a kind of goalpost moving and shifting standards that is very easy to check, and yet no one bothers to look at archived articles from even 2016.

            One thing I will admit is that google makes doing this sort of checking very difficult (and makes it almost impossible because they don’t let you click the name of an author to see his/her past articles, probably because we’d notice that writer ZZZ one May 2017 wrote that Lebron is the GOAT, only to see that in June he wrote that it was, in fact Kobe, and then in December Jordan).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah sure, “why is the deep state out to get Trump” and “why would Russia even want to help Trump in the election” aren’t culture war topics.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This entire thread is culture war, and should be deleted and reposted in the next OT. Come on, people, you really can’t wait 3 days?

          • quanta413 says:

            Agreeeeeeeeeed. Delete and repost.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          What I meant with “primary source” that it was relied on as having evidentiary weight, rather than as a referral to the FBI that they then further investigated.

          Regarding McCarthy, he was one of the main people that was saying, “the Nunes report has to be misleading because there is no way that the FBI would rely on Steele, they would independently verify his information from his sources, at a minimum.” He has been a critic of Mueller, but a defender of the current Flynn/Papadopolous deals as real convictions, and as been very much against the idea that the FISA warrants were not legitimate. Now he’s flipped to basically the position that the intelligence committees should subpoena FISA judges, a massive change.

          If we go to the wiki page on the dossier it elucidates many such things. The wiki states as fact:

          In a January 2, 2018, CNN panel discussion, Elizabeth Foley, a Florida International University law professor, falsely alleged that the FISA warrant for Page was “all based on a dossier”, adding “That’s what Jim Comey has suggested.”

          This New Yorker Article expresses well the “general consensus” from before 07/21/2018:

          The most serious accusation these critics make is that the F.B.I. tricked the fisa Court into granting a warrant to spy on Trump associates on the basis of false and politically motivated opposition research. If true, this would be a major abuse of power. But the Bureau didn’t trick the court—it openly disclosed that Steele’s funding was political. Moreover, Steele’s dossier was only part of what the fisa warrant rested on. According to the Democrats’ Intelligence Committee report, the Justice Department obtained information “that corroborated Steele’s reporting” through “multiple independent sources.”

          Here’s a CNN article saying the same:

          Officials familiar with the process say even if the application to monitor Page included information from the dossier, it would only be after the FBI had corroborated the information through its own investigation.

          Many former officialshave stated the Dossier was irrelevant see, e.g.:

          The dossier itself played absolutely no role in the coordinated intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in our election.

    • Smith EE says:

      More general Russia question: Why do we assume Putin would want Trump as president?

      It’s clear that Trump is buddying up with Russia, and those who see conspiracy or at least cooperation assume that, well, of course Putin would want the US to repair its relationship with Russia.But that seems to ignore recent Russian history.

      Over the past 20 years, Putin has consistently built his persona as an opposition to the Western bogeyman. When the US places sanctions on Russia, Putin says those sanctions are the reason for Russia’s economic dysfunction, taking blame away from his own corruption. When Putin pits Russia against the world by taking on wars against the West in Ukraine and Syria, his popularity skyrockets. He keeps people from caring about domestic failures by playing up the foreign menace.

      So who would Putin want as president? Hillary Clinton, who has and would demonize and combat Russia, both in rhetoric and action, or Donald Trump, who wants to make nice and have a peaceful relationship with Russia?

      I’m not asking about Russian national interest. It’s probably better for Russians to be brought into the Western fold. I’m asking about Putin’s self-interest. Putin is hugely popular on foreign policy and mediocre on domestic issues. But foreign policy currently dominates Russians’ minds because of the Western menace, so Putin remains popular. But remove the American devil and with it will go the reason for Putin’s enduring popularity.

      This seems relevant to much Trump-Russia debate: if our prior indicates that Putin prefers Hillary, then much of this speculation seems absurd, and events like Helsinki might even decrease our probability that Russia helped Trump.

      So why do we think Putin prefers Trump to Hillary?

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        The “Putin prefers Trump to Hillary” idea is almost entirely based on personal animus. It is alleged that Putin hates Hillary because she interfered in a Russian election which caused him to win in a minor landslide instead of a major landslide.

        On the other side of the ledger is the fact that Putin saw his greatest international victories ever while Hillary was SOS for Obama and right after that when Kerry succeeded her.

        So, its really a question of whether Putin is an emotional or rational actor (or more likely which side he edges more towards). If he is emotional, he prefers Trump, if he is rational he prefers Hillary.

        In addition, there is the confounding factor that he might just have discounted Trump entirely and thought Hillary would win, so he tried to weaken the likely President. The evidence that supports this position is that we have significant evidence of him organizing anti-Trump protests immediately following the election.

        TLDR: There is no real way to make a consensus on this question.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        “This seems relevant to much Trump-Russia debate”

        I don’t think there is a debate. The fact that you frame this as such is pretty interesting. Debates are based on evidence, all the folks with evidence fall on one side. Folks on the other side are either:

        (a) Trump himself,

        (b) Trump supporters,

        (c) Bits of the GOP who calculate they can sell the country in exchange for getting their agenda done.

        Putin wants to restore the USSR, and to do so, he needs to divide and distract the West. The way he does this is via an old Soviet trick of allying with and promoting the causes of fringe political elements in other countries (these days typically far right, but that’s not really essential in general).

        It’s not even very subtle, see e.g. the Charlottesville Nazi cosplayers chanting “Russia is our friend,” or how the Italian far right suddenly has “remove Russian sanctions” as a platform point, seemingly out of nowhere, or with any logical connection to the rest of their platform.

      • hyperboloid says:

        Why do we assume Putin would want Trump as president?

        For one thing, he outright said so in Helsinki. For another, we have very compelling evidence that he instructed his security services to bring about Trump’s election.

        And It’s not some deep mystery as to why. Putin himself has said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century, and we have to remember the reason that it came about.

        At the end of the second world war Europe was divided between two blocks, each supported by one of the two superpowers. In each sphere of influence the respective powers imposed their preferred economic and political systems. Though the Soviet system was able to generate impressive growth during the early years of the post war era, in the long run stagnation set in as the inefficiencies of a state planned economy strangled innovation. In the West a strong system of free markets were pragmatically combined with a healthy dose of socialist policies aimed to heal the economic divides that might otherwise serve as a breeding ground for the bacillus of Communist subversion.

        Measure for measure the western economies eclipsed those of the Communist block in every area, even when judged by the metrics that Marxists would choose for themselves: economic equality, and (thanks to co-determination laws, and active independent trade unions) workers control of the means of production.

        Accordingly the people of the Soviet Union and her satellite states simply decided that there was not much sense in being Communist anymore. Even in a system as repressive as the USSR some level of consent is required from the governed; and when hardliners tried to over through the only Soviet leader who had come to fully recognize the futility of Soviet policy the
        state crumbled almost overnight.

        Someone once said that Russian history can be summed up with the phrase “and then things got worse”, I don’t think that’s really true, but looking at the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet empire one couldn’t be blamed for believing it. Sadly for the people of the former USSR Communist stagnation was not fallowed by western style prosperity. Instead what they got was the chaos of economic “shock therapy”, massive public corruption, and the looting of state assets. This jerk off is kind of a low status source, but he gives a pretty good summery of the the conditions in nineteen nineties Russia.

        It was this “Wiemar Russia” that was nursemaid to Putin’s ruthless ambition. What gave to the Russian people was the same contract offered by tyrants through out history, security and order in exchange for submission. Accordingly Putin’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep, and he can not tolerate the threat of a good example. Slavic states with large Russian speaking populations form the bulk of what Moscow like to call the near abroad. If one just one of the countries of this “Russkiy Mir”, say Ukraine or Belarus, were to prosper as a western aligned democracy then the kleptocratic regime in Moscow would not be long for this earth.

        Russians are not stupid, they know Putin is a gangster. He does not need a manufactured conflict with the US, that would bring crippling economic sanctions are spiraling defense costs that would threaten the modest measure of prosperity that he has managed to give the average Russian. Instead what he want’s is to dismantle as much of the liberal world order as possible, end free trade, break up NATO and the EU, and reduce much of eastern Europe to the status of vassal states.

        His motives are obvious. The only question is why is our president helping him?


        Sure, “Victories”. You mean like his puppet in Kiev being overthrown in a revolution and the subsequent loss of most of the Ukraine, Muammar Gaddafi getting driven from power, and Moscow having to bail out bail out Assad at great cost so that he can rule over the smoldering wreckage of Syria? He won’t survive many more victories like that.

        Of course he managed to do some damage control. Assad is after all still the president of the Syrian Arab republic, what’s left of it; and Russia has annexed Crimea, but only at the price of becoming an international pariah.

        For some strange reason the American right has decided to buy into the narrative of Russian strength, if I were being uncharitable I would say it was because they increasingly see Putin’s system of government as a model for the US. Nevertheless, the truth is that Russia is a week and declining regional power, upper Volta with rockets as the saying goes. Only when you understand this do you see the reason that Putin decided to roll the dice on Trump.

        • John Schilling says:

          For one thing, he outright said so in Helsinki.

          Ah, and we’re taking Vladimir Putin to be an honest and impartial witness in this matter, are we?

          For another, we have very compelling evidence that he instructed his security services to bring about Trump’s election.

          We have evidence specifically that he instructed his security services to bring about Trump’s election, as opposed to generically degrading the legitimacy of the next POTUS? I would like a cite addressing that distinction, please.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Mueller’s indictment of the Russian companies running the social media campaigns definitely included specific descriptions of internal communications instructing staff on which candidates to support. During the primaries, they were instructed to support Trump on the Republican side, and to support Sanders on the Democratic side. In the general, this became support Trump, along with throwing some support to Jill Stein where possible as well.

            I think this mostly indicates that they basically wanted to back whoever the most fringe candidate was at any given time.

            On the other hand, there are also signs that they started working much harder on Trump’s behalf once it became clear he might actually win. Like, early on it was just social media shenanigans, but by October they were actively trying to hack state voting systems in 20+ states and stealing the DNC campaign analytics (just before the Trump campaign coincidentally reconfigured all their own campaign ad purchases based on ‘internal information’, which got head-scratching articles written even at the time.)

            In other words, it seems pretty difficult to separate out ‘just trying to mess with Hillary’ from ‘backing Trump’.

          • John Schilling says:

            In other words, it seems pretty difficult to separate out ‘just trying to mess with Hillary’ from ‘backing Trump’.

            Precisely. Which is why we should stay away from strong claims like “…we have very compelling evidence that [Putin] instructed his security services to bring about Trump’s election.”

          • MrApophenia says:

            Oh right, yeah. I was basically agreeing with you.

            Even Mueller’s indictments say flat out that Russia’s strategic purpose was to sew chaos and undermine faith in the democratic process, not to help Trump specifically.

          • engleberg says:

            Re: Russia’s strategic purpose was to sew chaos-

            Seamstresses of the Chaos Cheka!

          • Viliam says:

            Russia’s strategic purpose was to sew chaos … not to help Trump specifically

            Exactly. The Russian strategy in a nutshell is: “support all sides of the conflict”. That achieves two things:

            First, it helps to keep the conflict alive, and thus keep everyone busy with things that are not important to Russian interests.

            Second, whichever side wins, there will be pro-Russian people in that side, ready to leverage the victory into helping Russian interests.

            (By the way, this is not completely unlike some large companies in USA supporting financially both the Democratic and the Republican candidates. Losers bet on one side, winners bet on both. Analogically, there were Putin’s agents in Trump’s team, and there were Putin’s agents in Hillary’s team. There is no law of physics saying that Putin must choose only one side, and it would be unstrategical for him to do so.)

        • Nornagest says:

          For some strange reason the American right has decided to buy into the narrative of Russian strength, if I were being uncharitable I would say it was because they increasingly see Putin’s system of government as a model for the US.

          As usual, this sort of thing is 99% aesthetics and 1% policy. Most American rightists (and most American leftists) don’t even know what the Duma is; they can’t describe the Russian system, let alone use it as a model for the US. But they see the pictures of a shirtless Putin hunting moose or riding a horse or competing in judo, and they notice his uncompromising foreign policy posture, and they like what they see in both. This isn’t true for the whole American right (Bush II neocons for example have a very different perspective) but a big chunk of Trump’s base shares a lot of the same anxieties that you just described: it sees itself as having occupied a global leadership position during the Cold War, and it sees itself as being marginalized by post-Cold War globalization and cultural realignments. Putin’s whole brand is about standing strong against that. Is it surprising, then, that they kinda admire him, even as a geopolitical adversary?

          This is very much parallel to all the glowing articles about Venezuela that were coming out a decade or so ago in the left-leaning press. And we can probably expect it to end about the same way.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            This is very much parallel to all the glowing articles about Venezuela that were coming out a decade or so ago in the left-leaning press. And we can probably expect it to end about the same way.

            Dude not funny. Venezuela is a Third World footnote that could descend into civil war without hurting anyone but the Venezuelans, while Russia is the second-greatest nuclear power.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, a civil war even in Venezuela isn’t certain yet, although it’s looking increasingly likely. I was just thinking that at some point it’ll become obvious even through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses that Putin’s approach didn’t work, and at that point all the positive coverage will mysteriously vanish.

            Though, yes, five thousand warheads floating around would be a complication. But Russia’s already gone through one period of chaos without losing or using any of their arsenal; it could happen again. It helps that even if your country’s generally pretty fucked up, you want the sanest and most stable people you can find in charge of your missiles.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Most people have already hit the major points, so I will also just throw the fact that Russian State TV and the Russian parliament openly supported Trump, hated Hillary, and were celebrating on TV when Trump won.

        “Tonight is a night of Trump for all Americans and the world,” said Boris Chernyshev, a member of an ultranationalist faction at the Duma whose leader invited journalists for a champagne toast. Citing President Obama’s 2008 slogan, he added, “Tonight we can use the slogan with Mr. Trump: Yes we did.”

      • David Speyer says:

        Most of the main points have been hit, but also, from the very selfish perspective of benefiting Putin and his close associates, Trump was much more likely to repeal, or fail to enforce, the Magnitsky Act, than Clinton.

    • Iain says:

      Concerning details, one of the bones of contention was funding/political motivation of the Steele dossier. This is classic, “Both sides saying true things and trying to talk over each other.” The Dems point out that the application did indicate that Steele was politically motivated to discredit Trump’s campaign; the Reps point out that it didn’t trace the funding back to DNC/Clinton. (Note: some portions of these footnotes are still redacted, but it’s a pretty good bet that those bits don’t mention DNC/Clinton.) How concerned anyone should be about any of this is a much more vague/complicated discussion.

      It is a “pretty good bet” that those bits don’t mention the DNC or Clinton by name because there is a longstanding policy of masking the names of US citizens in this sort of document. It’s the same reason that Trump is consistently referred to as “Candidate #1”. Contra Nunes, there’s nothing at all unusual about not naming Clinton specifically.

      (Furthermore, once the application established that Steele was hired to find evidence discrediting Trump’s campaign, I don’t see how it’s relevant to know who was paying him. Indeed, as the application notes, Steele didn’t know himself: he was hired through an intermediary.)

      In this section of the FISA application, footnote 22 does specifically assess that they didn’t believe that Steele was the source for the article. In what should now be familiar, they didn’t come out and say, “So you should view this as corroboration, regardless of the section title.” Instead, we have to try to infer whether or not the section was trying to add evidence/argument beyond just, “He denied it.” I’m leaning toward the section title being looser, not quite chronological, not quite strictly topical. Something in between, but it does appear like they were making arguments besides, “He denied it.

      I think you are misreading the footnote. The word “directly” is key here. The footnote appears to take for granted that Steele’s research was the ultimate source for the Yahoo News article, and is simply trying to establish which of the people with access to that research spoke to the press.

      Consider: if there was any doubt that the “well-placed Western intelligence source” was Steele, then the application would surely have discussed the identity and reliability of that source. If they intended the Yahoo article to be seen as corroboration, they would have had to give the judge much better reasons for thinking it was independent. Where is that argument? There’s no major redacted section anywhere nearby. The only realistic explanation is that the missing middle of the footnote says something like “Obviously this information was from Steele’s report. We don’t know if it was the business associate or the law firm who spoke to the press. We don’t think it was Steele himself.”

      More broadly: I think the argument being made in this section is best understood as:
      a) Public accusations have been made that Page had Russian ties.
      b) Page has denied those accusations.
      c) In response to those accusations, both Page and the Trump campaign have distanced themselves from each other.
      d) Clearly, Page is no longer an active participant in the Trump campaign.
      e) Implicitly / hidden under black boxes: therefore, it’s less problematic to wiretap him.

      In that light, the fact that the source for a) overlaps with the source of other information in the FISA application is irrelevant: it’s the reactions to the article, not the article itself, that are relevant.

    • dodrian says:

      Since moving to the US, I’ve been dismayed to not be able to purchase Lemsip (Paracetamol/phenylephrine hcl) for treating cold symptoms.

      There are of course other brand sachets with the same active ingredients and that can be dissolved into a soothing hot citric beverage BUT IT’S NOT THE SAME. My [American] wife doesn’t understand.

  31. smocc says:

    Since we’ve been talking about Romeo and Juliet a surprising amount lately, I have to recommend Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela to everyone. It’s a recent Bollywood take on Romeo and Juliet and I say it is the best Romeo and Juliet adaptation I’ve ever seen.

    For one, India is still a society where Romeo and Juliet stories can and do happen, so there’s a certain freshness to the story that you don’t get elsewhere.

    For two, it makes changes to the characters and plot, especially in the final acts. The changes fix a lot of what’s hard about doing Romeo and Juliet today. The main issue I’ve always had is that neither Romeo nor Juliet are just not very relatable to a modern audience and that makes it hard to get invested. Ram and Leela are intensely compelling. The actors are wonderful and have great chemistry, and the plot changes give you more to go on than the usual star-crossed morons.

    For three, it’s beautiful, and fun. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is probable one of the best directors in the world right now, and he seems to love classic Bollywood and wants to bring the form to new heights. If you make it through the scene where Ram and Leela meet and you don’t like it then I guess it’s not for you, but I won’t ever fully understand you.

    It looks like you can watch it on Youtube, though I don’t know about subtitles.

    For discussion, what’s the best Romeo and Juliet you’ve seen? Film or live adaption, either way.

    • Michael Handy says:

      A bit left field, but I’m a fan of the Netrebko/Villazon version of the Opera by Gounod. Shakespeare lends itself surprisingly well to both music and the French Language.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      For discussion, what’s the best Romeo and Juliet you’ve seen? Film or live adaption, either way.

      Serious answer: Zeffirelli.
      Funny answer: The episode of PBS’s Wishbone where Romeo is a dog.

    • AG says:

      West Side Story, of course.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      For discussion, what’s the best Romeo and Juliet you’ve seen? Film or live adaption, either way.

      “The Perfect Pear” is better than the original play.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I didn’t care for how it was told in extended flashbacks, though. Framing stories are hard to get right, and this one didn’t quite meet the extremely-high bar in my mind.

  32. Zad says:

    Hi all,

    Wanted to get some feedback on this recent post I wrote about studies being in high power not necessarily offering support for the null hypothesis despite the nonsignificant results.

  33. spinystellate says:

    How strong is the evidence that putting children of a given age in the front seat of a car is bad? I’ve been trying to get good information on this, but most articles just say that a) airbags are bad and b) that kids should have booster seats to line up with the seat belt.

    But if the front airbag is turned off (which happens automatically in most modern cars if some weight threshold in the front seat is met, say 50 lbs.), and the kid is in a (backless) booster seat, what is the actual harm to sitting in the front seat? Is there any good research on this, controlling for scenarios like getting injured by the airbag, or any other confounds?

    Why I care: being able to put a pre-teen in the front seat would vastly expand my options for new car purchases.

    • Randy M says:

      My wife has researched this extensively and is adamant about following the recommendations, but I don’t know the particulars and she’s out of town.
      If I recall correctly, and I might well not, it’s something about the child’s spine is weaker and the whiplash can break their neck.

      • albatross11 says:

        That sounds like the reason for rear-facing vs front-facing car seats, but it doesn’t make sense for sitting in the back seat vs the front seat with a normal seat belt on.

    • S_J says:

      I think the situation is:

      1. The automotive world has a heavy dose of safety regulations for end-users. Front-seat airbags are either mandated by government regulation, or the mandated crash-safety requirements for passengers in front seats of cars can only be satisfied with front-seat airbags. [A]

      2. Design and implementation for front-seat airbags works for most adult humans, but can’t provide full safety for humans below a certain height/weight range [B].
      The real worry is if the head of the person is below a certain level of height in the car, as the airbags use an explosive speed of expansion. The airbags are designed to cushion against the chest of the adult in the front seat during a collision. However, if a child sitting in the front seat during a collision, their head may be impacted by the airbag…resulting in a variety of injuries.

      3. Due to point (2) above, automakers and Government agencies recommend children below certain age/height/weight limits not sit in the front seat of the car.

      [A] These Active Restraint Devices are colloquially called “airbags”. The device contains a bladder that can be filled with a mix of gases, in a time frame of less than 0.1 seconds from the beginning of a collision. This mix of gases is released by triggering a controlled explosion inside the bladder.

      As an aside: if you have a vehicle with an airbag, you should probably check whether the airbag was supplied to the manufacturer by Takata corporation. There is a huge recall going on, based on Takata-supplied airbags degrading into very dangerous devices in certain climates.

      [B] During the first generation of front-seat automotive airbags, it was discovered that bottom-of-the-bell-curve adults could be harmed by airbags. Some journal articles were published about short/lightweight women who were not safe with then-current airbags. I think some redesign was done, but I can’t find the details.

  34. theredsheep says:

    Any physicists on here who can explain Schrodinger’s Cat to me? I’ve heard three explanations of the parable. The first is that it’s literally true, and that observation by a conscious mind really does have an effect on the nature of reality. The second is that “observe” has a special meaning in QM, basically “interact with the outside world in any way, including gravitational effects,” and to actually work the box would have to be a magic apparatus that blocks said effects. So it’s more of an incomplete illustration of a general principle. The third is that the whole story is deliberately silly, and was cooked up by Schrodinger as a test to see if people would take any moronic story seriously provided it was told to them by a famous scientist.

    Which is it? Or is there a fourth explanation?

    • smocc says:

      My understanding (as a physicist and not a historian) is that to Schrodinger the cat story was a reductio ad absurdum against the developing Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. This was at a time when it was not Copenhagen versus Many Worlds, but Copenhagen versus Einstein, Schrodinger, and others who simply refused to accept the nondeterminism in quantum mechanics. Later, Bell showed that the latter is wrong and not a valid (local) interpretation of quantum mechanics.

      You can imagine an exchange kind of like this. The Copenhagen people say “We must interpret some particles as being in a superposition of spin-up and spin-down; their spin does not have a definite value in the classical sense.” Schrodinger replies “but that’s absurd!” Heisenberg replies, “perhaps, but the quantum world is so small and inaccessible that our intuition does not apply. We must be prepared to abandon preconceptions from classical physics and philosophy.”

      Schrodinger doesn’t like this and says “That’s all well and good for tiny particles, but you can’t separate the world of tiny particles from the world of classical intuition. Suppose I build a device in a box that kills the cat if the particle is spin up and spares it if spin down. Now once I close the box the cat must be in a superposition of dead or alive! Surely that is absurd, isn’t it? To have a macroscopic, thinking being in a state of indefinite aliveness? Such a thing has never been observed.”

      The modern perspective on this is that both Schrodinger and Heisenberg are right, and that Schrodinger’s cat doesn’t really teach much. Things really can be and often are in non-trivial superpositions, but we also understand why we only ever observe states with definite values for observables. The requisite concept is decoherence, which explains how quantum states interact with environments with large numbers of particles. Basically, a couple of particles can have a wavefunction in all sorts of interesting superpositions, but once you bring them near a truly large system the total wavefunction splits into distinct parts in which the smaller system takes on definite values.

      This doesn’t make quantum mechanics classical, and it doesn’t explain the measurement problem entirely, but it does explain why any particular observer can never see non-trivial superpositions. So the modern answer to Schrodinger is “yes, that’s exactly what happens, except that a cat is almost certainly a complex enough system that no cat would ever experience being dead and alive, only dead or alive like intuition suggests.”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        So … is any complex enough system an “observer”?

        ETA: As in, the detector in the slit experiment would be an “observer”merely because it is complex.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          I would say that “observation” is a subset of “entanglement”: in the sense that what it means for someone or something to “observe” a phenomenon is to become entangled with it in a certain way.

          As an example, suppose I have a particle in a superposition of two states, |H> and |T> (heads and tails, as in my explanation below).

          An observer is any quantum system that can exist in two states |OH> and |OT>, short for “observes heads” and “observes tails”.

          Then, to make an observation is to ensure that the joint system of particle-plus-detector ends up in the state

          |H>|OH> + |T>|OT>

          signifying that detector will be in the state “observe heads” whenever the particle is in the state “heads”, and the detector will be in the state “observes tails” whenever the particle is in the state “tails”.

          If you know Bell states, you will recognize the joint state above as a sort-of entangled Bell-type state, indicating that the detector and the particle are now entangled together.

          (Apologies if you’re not familiar with the notation I’m using above, I’m happy to explain it further, but you seem to have some familiarity with QM, so I’m hoping you get the gist of what I’m saying).

          From this point of view, complexity is a red herring. The reason complexity enters into the picture is because entanglement arises from interaction:

          consider the original EPR thought experiment in which two particles interact and then go on their way. EPR realized that if two particles interact, by conservation of momentum, you can infer the momentum of one particle from the momentum of the other. So, you then measure the position of particle 1, and the momentum of particle 2, and then use conservation of momentum to calculate the momentum of particle 1, and now you know the momentum and position of particle 1 simultaneously!

          The reason this doesn’t work is, to ensure non-violation of the uncertainty principle, when you measure particle 2’s momentum, that must somehow affect the measurement results you get of particle 1–even if they’re far apart! In other words, they’re entangled.

          So: particles become entangled by interacting. And the more complex something is, the more opportunities it has to interact with other pieces of the world, hence the more likely it is to become entangled with them, hence the more likely it is to act as a “detector” for those pieces of the world.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This was helpful, although I’m not actually familiar with the form of mathematical equations which describe QM, entanglement, etc. thanks.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Sorry about that. If you’re interested I’ll try and write a simple explanation:

            We denote “states” by expressions involving these funny brackets | >; so if regular bits are denoted by 0 and 1, then qubits–quantum systems with two possible distinct outcomes–are usually denoted by |0> and |1>. I’ve used |T> and |H> for heads and tails because I think it’s a more familiar sort of example, but it doesn’t really matter.

            More generally, if we have two classical coins, they can be in one of four states:
            HH, HT, TH, TT
            where the first position denotes the state of the first coin, and the second position denotes the position of coin number two.

            If we had two “quantum coins”, they could then be in states like |HH>, |HT>, |TH>, |TT> — if you like, just think of the brackets as denoting a quantum system rather than the analogous classical one.

            As I mentioned below, and as is somewhat well-known, quantum systems can exist in more general states: a classical coin can only be H or T, but a quantum coin can be in a superposition. Mathematically, a superposition looks like

            a|H> + b|T>

            where a and b are complex numbers, that determine what the probability of observing the states |H> and |T> are when you subject this superposition state to a measurement. The exact rule for extracting probabilities isn’t so important, but one thing to know is that if the complex number associated to a state is 0, so is the corresponding probability.

            For example, the state |H> can be thought of as
            1 |H> + 0 |T>
            assigning 1 to |H> and 0 to |T>; since there is a 0 probability of measuring |T>, we can regard this as a certainty of measuring |H>.

            Given two quantum coins in the states |C1> = a |H> + b |T> and |C2> = x|H> + y|T>, we can regard the two coins together as a complete system: that is, rather than two adjacent quantum systems, each consisting of a coin, it is one single quantum system consisting of two coins.

            Mathematically, we combine the two states into one state as follows:
            call the joint system |J> (for “joint”)
            |J> = |C1> |C2> = (a|H> + b|T>)(x|H> + y|T>)

            = ax |HH> + ay |HT> + bx |TH> + by |TT>

            Notice this is a lot like the usual rule by which you multiply any two brackets: things distribute nicely.

            Also notice, this looks like a superposition over the states |HH>, |HT>, |TH>, |TT>–the 4 possible states for two classical coins.

            So, you might think, two quantum coins behave more or less like two classical coins. But here’s the hitch: any superposition is a possible quantum state, so with two quantum coins, any superposition over |HH>, |HT>, |TH>, |TT> is allowed, including the superposition

            |HH> + |TT> (I’m cheating a little but it’s not a big deal).

            Notice that implicitly, the coefficients for |TH> and |HT> are set to 0, and hence there is a 0 probability of ever measuring these two states.

            So, if you flip two quantum coins that were put into such a superposition, you will never observe the outcomes |HT> or |TH> upon inspecting the coins–you will only ever observe one of |HH> or |TT>. In other words, the outcomes of the two coins of have become perfectly correlated with each other. This phenomenon is called entanglement.

            So, back to what I said before, given a coin with possible outcomes |H> and |T>, and a measuring device with outcomes |h> (corresponding to “measures heads”) and |t> (for “measures tails”), the thing that makes it a measuring device is the fact that the states |h> and |H> are correlated together, as are the states |t> and |T>–we never observe |H> and |t> simultaneously, nor |h> and |T>–exactly as in entanglement.

            And conversely, given the two coins in the state |HH> +|TT> you can think of the second coin as “measuring” the first: if the two-coin system is in the above state, I can learn everything about the state of coin 1 from coin 2: if I look at coin 2 and see |H>, I know that coin 1 is in state |H> and similarly for tails. Coin 2 is now a device for telling me the state of coin 1, which is exactly what an “observer” or “measuring device” should do.

            The “decoherence” mentioned in an earlier comment by smocc refers to the tendency of complicated systems to get easily entangled with “the environment”, which is a shorthand for “everything else nearby”–which makes “the environment” (that is, “everything else nearby”) effectively a measuring device for such a system.

            This tendency for large systems to get easily entangled with the environment is related to the argument I sketched before about the ease of interaction between the system and the environment, which in turn is related to the second law of thermodynamics.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      My first reaction was “none of them, but parts of some of them”.

      Wikipedia has an article that matches my understanding, which is that Schrödinger originally devised the thought experiment as a critique of QM, but not in the way you are presenting. He did see it as deliberately silly, but wasn’t trying to trap people. He was just making an argument against a specific understanding of QM.

      QM is real, we can do things that prove it is real. But we still don’t really understand why or how yet (and understood far less when Schrödinger’s cat came into existence). The cause of QM, the “how” of it working, isn’t fully understood and remains a point of argument. There are many theories.

      Conscious oberservers aren’t required for QM to work, but, as always “I think therefore I am” is the only thing we can ever be really said to know, so conscious obervation would be the point at which the superposition can be known to collapse for ourself. That’s my understanding as a “not actually a physicist”.

    • beleester says:

      (Not a physicist, but I’ve read about this story specifically)

      It’s kind of #3, but think “proof by contradiction” rather than “morons will listen to anything a physicist says.”

      The Copehagen interpretation of quantum physics says that particles are in superposition until you measure them, at which point they collapse into being one or the other.

      And Schrodinger says “It’s easy to talk about superposition when we’re talking about subatomic particles that we can’t see, but suppose one of those particles is tied to a larger system? Suppose I hook up a Geiger counter to that particle, and attach the Geiger counter to a device that will kill a cat if the particle decays. Is the cat in superposition, equal parts alive and dead? That’s absurd!”

      This led physicists to come up with some alternate interpretations of what’s going on that sound less silly. One of those is your #2 explanation – “observe” in QM means “interact with in any way that could theoretically make it possible to find out what the quantum state is.”

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I believe originally, Schrodinger intended it to be an illustration of the difficulties in taking the standard explanation of QM (in his day, at least) seriously–it wasn’t deliberately silly to see if people would accept an absurdity, it was deliberately silly to drive home to other physicists how weird the predictions they were making sounded when applied to things other than electrons.

      I would say that the modern view is closest to 1), albeit with different interpretations of how to resolve the statement “it’s literally true”.

      I’m not sure how much QM you know, but the (very basic) idea behind QM is as follows: in order to explain certain phenomena they observed in subatomic systems, physicists in the early 20th century proposed that subatomic particles could exist in something called a “super-position” between two distinct states, which is something like being in both states simultaneously, and also neither state simultaneously, and also having distinct probabilities of being in each of the two states, but isn’t quite any of the previous. So for example, if you had a subatomic coin, it could be in the state heads (H), the state tails (T), or a superposition of the two, which we could write mathematically as x H + y T where x and y can be any complex numbers that satisfy a certain condition. The numbers x and y can be used to derive probabilities of observing the coin coming up heads or tails based on various measurements you can make of the coin.

      Strictly speaking, a super-position is a mathematical fiction that can be used to do very accurate calculations in QM, but that doesn’t have a natural, intuitive physical interpretation–if you like, it’s a machine that outputs probabilities for H and T based on certain rules. But it’s not obvious how to interpret the physical meaning of the expression x H + y T.

      What’s more, physicists were never able to observe superpositions directly (since it’s not even clear what it intuitively means to be in a superposition, this should be no surprise)–they could infer superpositions from the strange and counterintuitive behaviour of subatomic particles, but whenever they tried to “look behind the curtain”, the superposition seemed to vanish–you would only ever see the quantum coin either heads up (H) or tails up (T), but the probabilities with which these events happened could only be explained by supposing the existence of the superposition x H + y T up until the moment you checked.

      The natural question then, was to what extent was this device of the superposition “what was really happening”, and to what extent was it just a mathematical fiction, but perhaps a better understanding of QM later would resolve our confusion and give us something more intuitive?

      The prevailing view in the late 1920s was that the question was to a certain extent meaningless: so long as you had a mathematical method for calculation, it was irrelevant what was happening “behind the curtain”–as long as you had an accurate method for figuring out the result of the measurements you made, that was all you could ever ask from a physical theory. Physics can only ever ask about observable quantities like the results of measurements, not what’s “happening behind the curtain”, which is metaphysics.

      But Einstein and others found this unsatisfying, and the cat-in-the-box paradox was a response to a bunch of thinking trying to clarify what exactly was unsatisfying. The point of the cat-in-the-box thought experiment was to illustrate just how violently the idea that “as long as it gives you the right predictions, that’s all you need” seems to rely on making measurements of things like subatomic particles, which we only interact with through complicated measurement systems. It was all well and good to suppose that you didn’t need to understand “what’s behind the curtain” when an atom is in a superposition–but if you can make the life-or-death of a cat hinge upon the behaviour of an atom, then it seems you have to accept that there is no “what’s behind the curtain” when it comes to whether the cat is alive or dead–and this is much more alien to our intuition!

      It also highlighted an important ambiguity in the “don’t ask questions, shut up and calculate approach”, owing to the vagueness of what it means to make a measurement. My comment is getting long and I don’t want to overwhelm, so I won’t follow this point up unless you ask, but consider Googling “Wigner’s Friend” for an extension of the cat thought experiment that illustrates this.

      So, what Schrodinger was doing was trying to emphasize how alien to our intuition QM is by applying it’s predictions to a system which we have strong intuitions about–the life or death of a cat–to force us to confront the weirdness of the idea that QM relies on this idea of a superposition that we don’t really understand, and whose physical meaning we’ve tried to off-load into the realm of metaphysics.

      Some physicists will say, that’s just too bad, and the physical world doesn’t have to respect our intuitions. Other physicists who adopt the many worlds interpretation will say (simplifying a fair bit) that what happens is in one universe the cat lives, and in another universe the cat dies, but in the sense that both universes “exist” simultaneously, the cat is both dead and alive simultaneously, just in different worlds. Other theories will suggest other possible resolutions. As I said at the beginning of my comment, I think it’s fair to characterize many of these resolutions as suggesting that the parable is “literally true”, albeit for different interpretations of what it means to be literally true, so my guess is that is the consensus answer, though individual physicists may differ on what they take it to mean that the parable is literally true.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        I think I can make my explanation shorter and punchier, so let me try:

        In the 1920s, the prevailing view of QM was that quantum systems could behave like coins, where they could be in the state heads (H), tails (T), or something called a “superposition” of H and T, that can be defined mathematically and used to derive (very accurate) predictions, but that is completely alien to our intuition.

        A debate raged over the nature of this mathematical device, the superposition. Was it an accurate description of reality, or just a mathematical fiction? And if a mathematical fiction, was there some other account that could replace it, keeping the predictive accuracy, but more amenable to intuition?

        The Copenhagen Interpretation said that it didn’t matter: as long as the predictions come out right, asking questions like the above was just metaphysics: what is “really” happening with those electrons is beyond the realm of science; only measurement and prediction are in the realm of science.

        Schrodinger’s Cat is a device to point out that trying to relegate this argument to the realm of the subatomic doesn’t hold: if you build a Rube Goldberg machine such that, if a quantum coin is H, then the machine kills a cat, but if the quantum coin is T, the cat lives, then it’s valid to ask: what if the coin is in a superposition? What happens to the cat?

        The Copenhagen answer is: beyond the realm of physics–if you look into the machine to see, you will see either a dead or a live cat, with probabilities determined (very accurately) by the superposition. More than that, you can’t ask. But Schrodinger was trying to illustrate that, though a move like “you can’t ask, it’s all metaphysics” might sound okay when applied to atoms, it sounds really really weird when applied to cats: whether Garfield is dead or alive is a matter beyond physics?! That just sounds weird.

        He wasn’t doing this to show that QM was wrong, but to show that QM was weird, and unlike the point of view somewhat implicit in the Copenhagen Interpretation, the weirdness couldn’t be limited only to the subatomic: if atoms can behave weirdly, and generate these weird metaphysical questions, then so can cats.
        Someone above said it was intended as a reductio ad absurdum but I think that’s not quite right; I believe it was offered as a bullet to bite: sure, you can say that “what’s really going on?” is a question beyond physics, but if you hold to that, you have to hold to the view that whether a cat is dead or alive is beyond physics too–you can’t try and push the metaphysics all down to the subatomic level; it’ll leak out and infect everything. Bite that bullet if you want, but at least let’s clarify the stakes.

      • theredsheep says:

        Read and understood the long version just fine. For a nonphysicist, at least. I was aware that nobody really quite understands just what the devil is going on down there. Thank you for putting the time and effort into answering me! And likewise to everybody else up there; you guys are great.

  35. pedrodegiovanni says:

    I will move to the US next month and I would like to read more about American history, especially before the Cold War period. American media has made me familiar with many historical names and traditions, but I would like something to tie everything together. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  36. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    What is the value of an expensive tent over my $25 tent from wal-mart? I figure there are some nerdy SSCers who might have some insight.

    • Nornagest says:

      Design, durability, maintainability. Probably materials once you get down to the $25 price point.

      For example: a couple weeks ago I was camping with my family, and I’d brought an inexpensive tent I bought a year or two before for car camping. A windstorm came up, and one of the cheap fiberglass tent poles snapped at a joint. The sharp edges sheared upwards through the shell and were stopped by the rain fly.

      If I’d been camping solo, I would have had to go into town and either buy a new tent or jury-rig something. But the more expensive tent my dad brought, came with a splint — a little metal sleeve that fits over a tent pole to temporarily reinforce this sort of break. I borrowed his, and that got me through the week. But now it’s pretty much hosed. With a more expensive tent, I could have disassembled the poles and replaced the broken part — instead, the end pieces on mine are peened on. Ripstop nylon wouldn’t have torn as far. Better fiberglass might not have snapped in the first place.

    • rlms says:

      A big factor is water resistance: your $25 tent will likely simply fail to keep you dry in bad weather.

    • John Schilling says:

      Durability and water resistance, as noted. Also weight, which is important if you are going to be backpacking with the tent.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Why do the cheaper tents fail to resist water as well? Is it something in the seams or saturation in the fabric (which is more likely as well since there is not a rainfly)?

      I ask because our crappy $25 tent let in a bit of water when we camped in June (at maybe .5 inch in 24 hours). I sprayed the tent with one of those water-resistance sprays, which may or may not have helped. We camped last weekend in a 1.5 inch rain and had no water come in.

      Is the lack of water coincidence or did that water resistance spray actually work? Given how little I actually use my tent, I’d rather not buy something “better,” but I’m also very keen not to have “wife yelling at me because everything is wet in the gentle rainstorm” scenario again.

    • bean says:

      1. Better materials. It will stand up to wind, rain, and general use better. The poles are made of a material that isn’t likely to snap. It also has better zippers, which are less likely to get caught on things and/or break.
      2. It was probably designed by someone who had been camping before. My REI backpacking tent is a good example of the benefits of this. First, it fits into the bag easily, instead of forcing you to pretend to be a piece of industrial equipment and/or source another bag. Second, it’s easy to set up. The pieces are color-coded to make it easier to figure out what goes were, and there was clearly thought put into this process. I’ve seen tents that were painful to set up because the designer got clever trying to make it look cool. A $25 Wal-Mart tent probably isn’t going to have this problem, but it will be cheap and you’ll be worried about breaking something while setting it up. The sleeves for the poles will probably be narrow, and something will be hard to reach.

      That said, a $25 Wal-Mart tent is a perfectly good choice for light car camping, where you postpone the trip/go home/to a hotel if things go wrong. My family started camping with a pair of them, and they held up very well to what we needed them for. But I wouldn’t want to rely on one for a 3-day backpacking trip, where I can’t retreat to the car if the tent starts leaking on the second night.

  37. johan_larson says:

    Bob is exactly average. If you give him a test, he will consistently score within a few points of median, compared to the whole population of people his age. His tastes and ambitions are similarly average. He wants to make some money, be a bit famous, have some fun, and earn a bit of respect, which is what pretty much everyone wants.

    Bob is about to graduate from an average high school. What should he do with the rest of his life?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Volunteer for an experiment where he will be sent to the future.

    • Randy M says:

      Can I assume we can give advice about the average person without it being read as a judgement of others or any more than an informed opinion? Cool….

      Bob should try to use what social networks he has to get an apprenticeship in some kind of trade, from Plumbing to network IT. If he cannot find such, he should take some community college classes while working retail until he learns he has no special skills and dislikes retail. But he might be extroverted enough to do well in sales; he might be able to sell cars or something more high end, say medical equipment or something; perhaps with an engineering degree if he manages to push his c average up to B and transfer to a cheap four year school. If he is an introvert, perhaps pick up a STEM degree and work as a lab technician.

      He should probably aim to stay not too far from where he grew up to take advantage of these social networks–ie, family–especially since he probably doesn’t live in the rural, low job prospects areas but a suburb of a major city. If he gets along passably with his parents and 1.5 siblings, he should be able to save some expenses here and there and perhaps find a better job or apartment, or get free baby-sitting later, etc.

      While checking out these opportunities, he should do what he can to meet a woman with similar interests who is open to marriage and family, and work to maintain a positive relationship with his family.

      He should take up an active hobby and be wary of credit cards, street drugs, and any more than social drinking to mitigate the risks of these, though like most people he’ll probably do alright.

      To satisfy his need for fame, he should start a blog or youtube channel about his hobby and perhaps attend a convention or two. He’ll probably get one decently noteworthy project done before losing his creative ambition.

      If he can get some kind of scholarship or reimbursement from his job to pursue more education, that’s probably worth doing to stand out from the crowd of other mediocrities–mba, or something maybe. Otherwise the costs and benefits of such should be carefully considered.

      Bob may consider buying a home, but I really can’t advise much on that. He should definitely find some kind of social organization in his town to be a part of, church, PTA, something to keep replacing the friends that move away or drift apart. Likewise saving for retirement and having insurance. He’ll probably need it at some point for something major, and while hopefully he acquires more savings than average, probably not.

      Bob should also probably consider spending less time on SSC in order to get things done.

    • baconbits9 says:

      1. Work- skip college as much as possible, you won’t ever stand out in anyway except for getting the lowest returns on your debt in your class. As Randy M said find a good apprenticeship (it might not be called that, it will be called “plumber’s assistant), in 5-6 years you will be making as much as many college grads without the debt, and a boatload more than those who tried it and dropped out.

      2. Save and invest. 20% of your pre tax income is a good target while you are young and probably single. If you can hit this it will take care of your post 40 life in terms of making money and having respect, you can retire to a 6 figure (inflation adjusted) income with high savings starting at 18. You will be able to provide a quality life for your spouse and kids, start a business later if you are a little ambitious, loan money to friends and family when they need (if you choose).

      3. Structured social life. Volunteer fire department sounds good, immediate (low level) respect with a good chance at high level respect later if you make Chief. Hang out with guys you (probably) like in the evening drinking cheap beer, shooting the shit and playing pool at the fire house, get a shot at local fame every time a call goes out with limited (if you aren’t reckless) real risk.

      4. Enjoy the perks of being average. Almost everything is aimed at your tastes, you should enjoy movies, music, food and beverages of the masses as they are pretty much aimed at you enjoying them. You don’t have to pay for cable because network TV is aimed right at you, no need to pay through the nose for an event or hang out in line for movie opening when you would enjoy 5-6 movies a year easily, and maybe 10-15. The world is your very average oyster, enjoy it.

      Things to avoid:

      Smoking/Vaping, bad diets, women who get a kick out of spending money and put off coffee drinking for a few years at least if you can.

      • beleester says:

        1. Work- skip college as much as possible, you won’t ever stand out in anyway except for getting the lowest returns on your debt in your class.

        I would disagree. College adds a lot to your expected future earnings, even if you don’t stand out or get a degree in any relevant field. Bob should definitely avoid going into debt for college as much as is feasible, which probably means a cheap in-state college, community college, or an engineering college with a co-op program that can pay his way. But he should still go.

        And >65% of Americans go to college, so Bob stands a pretty good chance of getting in.

        • Nornagest says:

          65% of Americans go to college, but only about 55% of those graduate in six years. That doesn’t bode well for Mr. Average, unless those numbers are totally uncorrelated. Even if they are uncorrelated it means he’s pretty marginal w.r.t. graduating in a reasonable amount of time.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            65% of Americans go to college, but only about 55% of those graduate in six years.

            That’s “36% of Americans attain a bachelor’s degree, taking up to six years”?

          • Nornagest says:

            Not sure the numbers can be combined in that way. Some people stay in school after six years — part-time enrollment is pretty common. On the other hand, the numbers I’ve been looking at seem to include associates’ degrees.

          • johan_larson says:

            Yes, I seem to recall that you need an IQ of about 105 to succeed in a conventional college. So Bob at 100 would be a marginal student in an institution with lowish standards, at best. Seems like a questionable investment.

            One option for Bob would be to enlist in the military, and look for an MOS with transferable skills. That should set him up nicely for a job once he gets out. With an AFQT of 50 and a high school degree, all the services will take him, although some of the more selective jobs are probably out of the question.

          • Randy M says:

            One option for Bob would be to enlist in the military, and look for an MOS with transferable skills.

            That’s a good call.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I would disagree. College adds a lot to your expected future earnings, even if you don’t stand out or get a degree in any relevant field

          This is not true, the college wage premium is heavily driven by STEM and business. Liberal arts graduates average barely more than high school graduates and Bob would represent a below average liberal art graduate and an above average high school/no college graduate. Toss in the fact that going to college carries a good amount of risk (earnings for those who don’t complete do not make up for the cost), that Bob is going to start saving right away, that he can go back to college later (and cheaper) if he wants, and that he will have way more flexibility than a person with debt (allowing him to choose a lower cost of living area for example) advising college blindly is a bad idea.