THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 112.25

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1,014 Responses to Open Thread 112.25

  1. Scott Alexander says:

    Why aren’t there more legitimate (or even prestigious) for-profit colleges? Given how bad the labor market for academics is vs. how much people will pay for tuition, surely this would be a good way to make money?

    • kaakitwitaasota says:

      Somebody’s trying, in your neck of the woods, no less–they’re only six years old so I expect it’s going to take some time before they have serious name recognition (I only remembered them because of a vague recollection of a magazine article I read about them a few years ago).

      It’s pretty clear that Phoenix, ITT, DeVry and their type have thoroughly screwed the pooch regarding the reputation of for-profit colleges as a whole; a résumé with DeVry on it almost always goes in the trash at most decent places to work. I expect it’s going to take at least a decade before that intution fades among the general public.

      On the other hand a well-done for-profit university model could cut through the problem of cost disease and deliver a very good education much more cheaply than the current crop of universities. Minerva seems to be on the right track: make the school insanely hard to get into at first to fast-track your way to a solid reputation. I wonder if a major reason there isn’t more innovation in for-profit education is the worry that sooner or later new regulations are going to come in which, while aimed at ITT and Phoenix, will put any for-profit university out of business.

      More cynical answer: given the sheer amount of student loan money available to basically everybody, and the obsession with college degrees, charging $5,000 for a degree won’t bring in significantly more demand for your product than charging $50,000–certainly not ten times more.

      Traditional colleges are spending their cost-disease money by hiring armies of administrators and building extravagant facilities (I remember my university’s hot tubs with fondness, though wonder how many grad students they could maintain with that money). For-profit colleges are also doomed to contribute to cost disease, since as long as any student can (and most students will) borrow five figures of guaranteed federal money a year, profits are maximized by charging absurd sums. In other words, it’s a problem similar to that of American healthcare–so long as there’s a sucker willing to pay $100 for a bag of saline, you’re leaving money on the table by charging $50, since you can price-discriminate by offering discounts to everybody else. Since a for-profit college would be bound to maximize profits for practical and (if publically-traded) legal reasons, this means ridiculous tuition bills until the student-loan system changes, because the US Treasury (via naïve eighteen-year-olds) is playing the part of an insurance company that’s willing to pay ten dollars for a Band-Aid.

      edit: also, we seem to have hit peak college student in 2010 or 2011, and total enrollment is going to decline slowly over the next couple of decades. That means the same number of colleges competing for fewer and fewer students. We could reverse this trend by bringing in more international students, but they’re declining too, mostly but perhaps not entirely due to the uncertainty of the current administration.

      What I would like to see, as an autodidact who likes having classes to keep him on track, would be a platform where you can take online classes for fun, rather than credit, but with serious teachers and classmates. That seems like it shouldn’t be that hard to set up, particularly given the awful job market for academics. I’d be willing to pay two or three hundred bucks to take a hobby semester of introductory Akkadian or 19th-century Brazilian literature, and if you could get twenty other people that’s six thousand dollars of revenue–enough to support an adjunct plus a thousand bucks or so of profit margin. Why isn’t this an option?

      (there’s Coursera of course but MOOCs have awful retention rates. I have a startup idea for how to fix this, but since I’m not adjacent to startup land I’m kinda stuck with it.)

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Right, I agree that for-profit colleges could and would charge $50,000, but that just seems like more reason investors would be rushing to build them.

        I’m sure Phoenix IIT doesn’t look good on a resume, but if you give your reputable private college some reputable sounding name, then surely uninformed people won’t know it’s for-profit and will assume it’s reputable, and informed people will know you’re the guy trying to build a reputable for-profit school and be satisfied, so what’s the problem?

        • kaakitwitaasota says:

          Reputation takes time to build, and requires good students. But if, given declining enrollments, good students will be poached by established schools (like the University of ) that will charge them about as much, or less, after financial aid as the for-profit school would charge, they’ll take the established school over the one whose reputation hasn’t been built yet. Since you need good students to acquire a good reputation, and a good reputation to attract good students, the school won’t launch–it can’t break into the virtuous cycle.

          What you are left with, then, is soaking weak students that traditional schools won’t take or won’t offer good aid to. These students will pay more to for-profit colleges since they have fewer traditional options, and the options they do have will charge them more (by offering them less financial aid)–that is to say they’ll pay $25,000 a year to UPhoenix because they either have no other options, or their other option is paying $30K a year to the University of Northeastern at Nowheresville. Taking only these students and then rubber-stamping them through the program means you’ll never launch into the virtuous cycle, but if your only concern is profit and not reputation, you don’t need to.

          I think this is why we only see bottom-feeding for-profit colleges: good colleges can only become good by breaking into the virtuous cycle, and the virtuous cycle was much easier to break into a hundred years ago because so many people who are good student material weren’t going to college. In 2018, most students who are virtuous cycle-reinforcing are already taken by established institutions–and because of credentialism, reputational effects and the known quality provided by established universities, those students are too risk-averse to jump ship to a startup for-profit.

          Additionally, the effects of cost disease are much worse on poorer and weaker students than on stronger and richer students. A doctor’s kid who becomes a lawyer can eat six figures of student loan debt with very little problem, will get a fair amount of support from mom and dad, and if she’s talented enough she’ll probably get a good financial aid package anyways. The reputational benefits provided by a Yale or public Ivy education are worth far more to her than saving $20,000 a year on tuition by going to For-Profit Startup University.

          • One strategy for getting good students when you don’t already have a reputation is offering them very good terms. Another is finding some niche the other schools are missing–either students who want something different or good students the other schools are missing.

            When our kids were looking for colleges, it became clear that almost none of them had any good idea of how to evaluate home schooled students. The exception was St. Olaf, which accepted our daughter and offered her a scholarship despite our having no special links to the school (unlike the two other schools that accepted one or both of our kids). It was clear from our interaction with them that they saw being home schooled as a potential plus and were actively looking for good home schooled students.

            There are two good liberal arts colleges that also have professional level music programs, Oberlin and St. Olaf. Oberlin is a top school apparently on its way down (my wife, her sister and her parents went there, as did our daughter for two years). St. Olaf is a not quite top school. My theory was that they were trying to replace Oberlin and had spotted home schooled students as a way of doing so.

          • Viliam says:

            What about making two schools? One with the purpose of generating short-term profit, another that aims to become an elite school long-term even if it means short-term financial loss. In other words, one school to generate money for the other one. Both schools have completely different names, so no one will mistake them.

            If you can throw enough money at the problem, you could generate an elite school today. What you need for an elite school is (a) to filter students for elite material, and (b) provide them good education. The problem is that good education costs money, and when you are not famous, only few elite students would apply to you. But that’s still possible, if you are willing to go deep into negative numbers for a few years.

            Suppose you will only have ten students in the first year, because with your filters set high, only ten students who have applied will pass. Okay, now run the whole university for just ten students. Do not compromise! Make it a part of your advertising that you do not compromise. Next time you will have twenty elite students; and in a few years you will have a regular-sized elite university.

            Not only you can use the other university to generate money to run the elite one, but you can also share some of the costs: for example, some professors could teach at both of them at the same time, during that difficult beginning when you only have ten students at one of them.

            Another way to put it: If you need 5000 elite students to create an elite university, but only 50 elite students apply to you, take 4950 muggles to pay the bills, and then run the university for 4950+50 students, with separate classes and — most importantly — a separate diploma for each group.

          • johan_larson says:

            I wonder what caliber of students a completely unknown college with excellent staff and facilities could hope to attract if it were willing to offer full rides to all accepted students.

          • Jesse E says:

            “What about making two schools? One with the purpose of generating short-term profit, another that aims to become an elite school long-term even if it means short-term financial loss. In other words, one school to generate money for the other one. Both schools have completely different names, so no one will mistake them.”

            Except for the dozens of articles that will come up on Google searches for the school with beginnings like – “College X wants to be the next Harvard, but it’s owned by the same people who make millions in profits off students at College Y.”

          • Lambert says:

            > What about making two schools? One with the purpose of generating short-term profit, another that aims to become an elite school long-term even if it means short-term financial loss.

            That just sounds like venture capitalism but with extra steps. There’s no reason for the source of capital to be in the same sector as the long-term investment.

        • onyomi says:

          I don’t think the for-profit schools could charge $50,000/year, even assuming they could comply with all the regulations necessary for students to get the federally-subsidized loans approved for use at them. Why go to a new school for $50,000/year when you can go to a school with an established reputation, considering the reputation is largely what you’re paying for?

          There is already an over-supply of prestigious-ish tertiary education and the loans are the only thing propping up the demand. Even with loans the demand does not exceed the current supply, so there’s not actually much unmet demand out there for the for-profit schools to scoop up. They also can’t compete on luxury because the most expensive schools are already doing that–the hot tubs, climbing walls, etc.

          So really all the for-profit schools can compete on is price, but consumers are too price-insensitive because of the availability of the loans.

          Also, I think you underestimate the ability of employers to Google the unfamiliar name of the university on a job candidate’s resume. When they find out [Old, Prestigious-Sounding Name] University was founded in 2017 they’ll wonder why you didn’t/couldn’t go to somewhere founded in 1817. And if Bryan Caplan is right that college degrees signal not only intelligence and diligence but also social conformity, you don’t want to be the type of job candidate who made a weird choice, even if you ended up getting a better education cheaper.

        • Matt M says:

          At the risk of being overly politically partisan here…

          I would suggest that the lack of prestige for for-profit colleges and the fact that academia is overwhelmingly biased to the left are highly correlated.

          then surely uninformed people won’t know it’s for-profit and will assume it’s reputable

          Because this won’t happen though. Any college that does well enough to become at all well known will quickly be sorted into “for-profit” or “not.” And everyone involved will automatically assume “not” is better than “for.” They won’t read up on studies showing that actually this for-profit college is pretty good, while these not-for-profit ones suck.

          TLDR: The people who assign “prestige” are people who inherently believe that “for-profit” is a synonym for “evil.” Ergo, no for-profit institution will ever be prestigious.

        • JulieK says:

          Why doesn’t some philanthropist build a low-tuition non-profit school, if there’s really the potential to run a college on a lower budget?

          • ana53294 says:

            It would be cheaper to set a fund for scholarships so that Americans go to Slovenia or something, learn the local language and study there.

      • arlie says:

        On the other hand a well-done for-profit university model could cut through the problem of cost disease and deliver a very good education much more cheaply than the current crop of universities.

        This is something I don’t see. Or more correctly, an equally well-run not-for-profit can afford to charge less for the same education, because they don’t also have to pay for the profit. And that assumes the (already existing) non-profit doesn’t have an endowment, or existing facilities, that the (new) for-profit certainly lacks.

        The only way this is a viable business model if both:
        – there’s more demand than existing universities can supply
        – there’s some impediment to creating new non-profts, that doesn’t apply to new for-profits.

        And even then, the non-profits would generally provide the better deal for the students, except perhaps if the for-profits went through a stage of intentionally taking losses to create a market and a reputation.

        • 10240 says:

          Or more correctly, an equally well-run not-for-profit can afford to charge less for the same education, because they don’t also have to pay for the profit. And that assumes the (already existing) non-profit doesn’t have an endowment, or existing facilities, that the (new) for-profit certainly lacks.

          No, that assumes that the non-profit has endowment and/or facilities. Profit is the price of capital. If you start a non-profit, you don’t get capital from thin air. You’d either need to operate 100% on loans and rental buildings (on which you then have to pay interest or rent in place of profit), or you need some philanthropists to give you an endowment on which they don’t expect to make a profit.

          • rlms says:

            From my vague memory of a corporate finance textbook, the Modigliani–Miller theorem states that in spherical company world it doesn’t matter whether a company is funded with debt or equity, so it’s irrelevant that non-profits can’t use the latter option.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I imagine because the academics who do it for research won’t get great funding (either from the college or from boards who prefer schools that are nonprofit) and the academics who do it for teaching will have their altruistic sentiments violated. You’d have to be in it mostly for the money, which describes a small percentage of the academics I know – keep in mind that in order to get a PhD, especially in an unfunded (non-STEM) field, you have to forego a large amount of productive working time. A PhD is almost never worth the investment [citations needed, but I’m lazy and it’s anecdotally true].

      Also, it seems intuitively likely that the increase in wage for the academics is likely to be marginal, with most of the (increased) money going to the investors/high-level administrators, unless you’re hiring a superstar teacher to pimp your school – but even then, there’s only so much more attractive they can make it.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I thought there were a bunch of Harvard literature PhDs who are really sad because they’re stuck as postdocs and adjuncts and never going to get full professorships. Surely they’ll go anywhere that offers them a full professorship. And even though they’re probably worse-quality than the people who get offered professorships at Harvard, still, having a Harvard PhD as your literature professor is more than enough to meet minimum standards for respectability.

        • quanta413 says:

          I think the respectability flows from the name of the school itself. Not anything the school teaches you or who your professors were. How many employers are going to ask about those things?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          +1 to quanta; how many schools advertise their Harvard graduate numbers? Certainly none of the good ones I can think of. And being a Harvard graduate is certainly no guarantee that you’ll be good at teaching.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Surely they’ll go anywhere that offers them a full professorship.

          Your for profit school is going tenure? Unlikely, I would think.

        • Deiseach says:

          having a Harvard PhD as your literature professor is more than enough to meet minimum standards for respectability

          I wonder if the same effect would apply here – someone who is Professor Jones of Neverheardofit College may have the same title as Professor Smith of Harvard, but in reality is it going to be like all those little one-man band independent churches that get set up by a non-denominational minister who then proclaims that he is Bishop Smith? Everyone who knows about hierarchical and liturgical churches smiles and says “Suuuure you’re a bishop, Bishop Smith” and the title only impresses those who think a clergyman is a clergyman is a clergyman?

          Rather like Dorothy Sayers’ “Murder Must Advertise”, and what counts as a public school and what doesn’t, even if it technically fits the bill:

          “Public school,” said Mr. Bredon, “first I’ve heard of it. What public school?”

          “He was at Dumbleton,” said Mr. Smayle, “but what I say is, I went to a Council School and I’m not ashamed of it.”

          “Where’s Dumbleton?” demanded Ingleby. “I shouldn’t worry, Smayle. Dumbleton isn’t a public school, within the meaning of the act.”

          “Isn’t it?” said Mr. Smayle, hopefully. “Well, you and Mr. Bredon have had college educations, so you know all about it. What schools do you call public schools?”

          “Eton,” said Mr. Bredon, promptly, “ — and Harrow,” he added, magnanimously, for he was an Eton man.

          “Rugby,” suggested Mr. Ingleby.

          “No, no,” protested Bredon, “that’s a railway junction.”

          Ingleby delivered a brisk left-hander to Bredon’s jaw, which the latter parried neatly.

          “And I’ve heard,” Bredon went on, “that there’s a decentish sort of place at Winchester, if you’re not too particular.”

          “I once met a man who’d been to Marlborough,” suggested Ingleby.

          “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Bredon. “They get a terrible set of hearty roughs down there. You can’t be too careful of your associates, Ingleby.”

          “Well,” said Mr. Smayle, “Tallboy always says that Dumbleton is a public school.”

          “I daresay it is — in the sense that it has a Board of Governors,” said Ingleby, “but it’s nothing to be snobbish about.”

          “What is, if you come to that?” said Bredon. “Look here, Smayle, if only you people could get it out of your heads that these things matter a damn, you’d be a darn sight happier. You probably got a fifty times better education than I ever did.”

          Mr. Smayle shook his head. “Oh, no,” he said, “I’m not deceiving myself about that, and I’d give anything to have had the same opportunities as you. There’s a difference, and I know there’s a difference, and I don’t mind admitting it. But what I mean is, some people make you feel it and others don’t. I don’t feel it when I’m talking to either of you, or to Mr. Armstrong or Mr. Hankin, though you’ve been to Oxford and Cambridge and all that. Perhaps it’s just because you’ve been to Oxford and Cambridge.”

          • JulieK says:

            Interestingly, Murder Must Advertise provides a picture of the time (1930’s) in which the idea of “you must have a university degree to do a white-collar job” (advertising copywriter, in this case) was just starting to take hold.

    • jolhoeft says:

      My guess would be that it takes too long to build up the reputation as a good school. In the initial years you may need to heavily subsidize your students, until you can demonstrate you are providing a good education. Say four years for the first cohort, and probably a decade before its convincing that your school is good, and you can start charging enough to turn a profit. Most for profit investments have either a shorter time horizon or expect amazing returns (10x to 100x). This doesn’t seem compatible with setting up a college.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      It depends on if you can secure subsidized student loans for your student, which has been cracked down on recently (although IMO somewhat unfairly because there are plenty of not-for-profit schools that suck just as much). If not you are competing against funny money, so you are going to lose.

      Also, when discussing higher education, one must recognize almost all of the value is due to the prestige of the college degree you end up with, and almost none of the value is due to “learning”. Thus there already is a very robust for profit sector of education where LEARNING is valued: Test Prep. Kaplan, Barbri, Princeton Review, Nextstep, etc. Indeed, many top ranked law schools have pedestrian bar passage rates, while the for-profit courses have great pass rates even for kids from bad law schools.

      • albatross11 says:

        How long does it take, empirically, for a university to get a decent reputation? Are we talking about something you can do in a few years, or does it take many decades?

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          It would likely take decades unless you went on a crazy spending splurge to poach a bunch of “the best” people, but then I would be suspicious about turning a profit, and still your reputation will be a lagging thing, so I presume it would take 5+ years for you to even appear in the USNews top 200, even if you have objectively the best faculty etc.

          • Gazeboist says:

            You could probably do it quicker by hyperspecializing, as well. I think Olin was only a bit more than ten years old when I was looking at colleges in 2010-2012, but it was already a fairly well-regarded four-year engineering school. Olin, of course, had a competitive advantage in that they could offer free tuition for all students for most of their first ten years, which a for-profit university probably could not do in an economy where conventional wisdom suggests that only immediate profits are worth pursuing.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I 100% understand that idea. I had a full ride to Undergrad (engineering) and Law School. Both schools offered me this because I would bring up their scores. But this is not only not a sustainable business model, its not a sustainable improvement model under the systems that exist now, because every university has figured out the game. My younger sister and brother also got similar offers to go to schools (we went to 3 different undergrads), but only one of the 3 has significantly improved since the mid 2000s, and I suspect that has more to do with Nick Saban than giving scholarships to kids scoring 30+ on the ACT.

            So maybe that is the real way to fast track a for profit school. Pay Sean McVay $20million/year to leave the Rams and coach your school’s football team. I really dont know.

            And when I say “I really dont know” I really dont. The instruction I got when taking “cross registered” classes at the “better” engineering school (easily a top 10 engineering school) in the same city as the school I went to was the same, probably worse, but I got the same grades. Its really hard to say what makes a good school appealing. Its a bunch of theater and hard to predict moving parts.

            Plus, who even knows if the cartel would conspire against you? I find this highly likely. If I could provide Stanford level education for 1/5th the price wouldn’t I be immediately ruined by some political force?

        • BBA says:

          Looking at the top 50 in the US News rankings (which are meaningless but everyone uses them anyway) the youngest university there is UC Irvine, founded 1965, and they got a boost from being part of the UC system. As far as private schools go, the youngest is Brandeis (1948).

        • massivefocusedinaction says:

          George Mason has been an independent University for 46 years and despite fairly heavy investment (they’ve hired 3 Nobel Laureates) they haven’t cracked the top 100 universities nor top 30 law schools. Between the examples of George Mason and UC-Irvine, it’s likely to take at least 50 years of investment.

        • ana53294 says:

          The Soviets managed to open and create a University that got a very prestigious reputation in the Soviet Union – the University of Patrice Lumumba (renamed into The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia) in less than a decade. This University was mainly dedicated to preparing and training African and Latin American leaders – and they do have notable politicians as their students, although they would be considered unsavory by most Americans.

          So, the way they did it, was to attract international talent – and educate them for free. This University was known as the place where future leaders and diplomats of African and Latin American countries where studying.

          It was also a University where a normal Russian could not enter, and most of the Russian students there were KGB informants (at least that’s what I’m told).

          Of course, I am not sure you can do this without pouring the vast resources the USSR did, but you can create a University that is fairly prestigious in its niche (it has multiple students who are Presidents of their countries).

          • Anthony says:

            I think the CIA did this with American University of Beirut, but I may have the institution wrong. Or the foresightedness and competence of the CIA wrong.

    • BBA says:

      They’d be competing primarily with subsidized in-state tuition at community colleges or lower-ranked state universities – a price level that’s still out of reach for many students even though it doesn’t actually pay for all the niceties of college life we’ve come to expect.

    • Szemeredi says:

      Maybe what correctly slots into this niche isn’t going to look much like a normal university. I believe this CS-exclusive one is doing very well.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I don’t understand the niche for-profit colleges are supposed to fill. In-state universities offer a more prestigious degree at a much cheaper price. The downside is that not everyone gets accepted into one, but if that’s your problem then that’s what community colleges are for (a lot of them are even offering 4 year Bachelors now, though the choice of program tends to be rather limited).

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed.

        I got my bachelors degree online from a very non-prestigious institution that competed directly in the same space as the for-profit schools like DeVry.

        But the fact that it happened to be non-profit and affiliated with a public university system made it significantly more useful and prestigious of a degree, despite being the same cost.

        As far as I could tell, the various for-profit schools that were competing against the school I chose offered no benefits above where I went.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Matt M,

          When was that and what was the experience like? Did it require more self motivation than traditional in-state university?

          • Matt M says:

            I started in about 2005 and finished in 2013 (due to being enlisted in the military at the time and having a cap on tuition assistance per year).

            The experience seemed pretty easy, but I feel like I was way smarter than the median student. I wouldn’t say it required more motivation, maybe a little more discipline. So long as you stay “caught up” with the syllabus in terms of what readings you’re supposed to do, etc. it was a piece of cake. My first few classes I struggled with this, was lazy, had to cram at the last minute, etc. But I feel like that happens a lot in normal college too so…

    • SamChevre says:

      My answer would be that fundamentally, college prestige is about networks, not education. Read/watch The Bourgeois Gentleman; you can’t buy prestige with money.

      Where you are buying demonstrable learning, for-profits thrive. As noted above, Kaplan, BarBri, TIA…

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        That is my point. Schooling at the college level isn’t about quality of education, otherwise you could put “Audited XXX Classes at Stanford” and people wouldn’t laugh.

        • Anthony says:

          If you audited the right classes at Stanford, you might develop good enough connections to get a better job than by actually graduating from Cal State East Bay.

    • cassander says:

      There are some areas where for profit colleges have carved out a very positive niche. I recall one program for jet mechanics where they went around to airlines and let them design the curriculum then got them to guarantee job offers to people who graduated from it. I think that’s the model they need to follow, finding companies with large, relatively fixed demand for niche skills and then giving people a direct path to getting that job.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I’m extremely interested in finding out if that place is ABET accredited. If not, the students have a very, very good incentive to not quit…

        E: wait, are you talking about mechanic the job or mechanic the physics?

        • cassander says:

          No idea, it was something I ran across years ago.

        • bean says:

          He’s talking about the job. ABET doesn’t accredit aviation mechanic schools. I’m not sure who does, but the FAA accredits the mechanics themselves.

        • cryptoshill says:

          I am about to start a similarly styled program for CS-types run by Microsoft, the US Navy, the US Army, and a local university.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Hypothesis: non-profit colleges are heavily subsidized, both from the government and private donations, and this kills the market for anything but the most scammy for-profit colleges.

      Given how bad the labor market for academics is vs. how much people will pay for tuition, surely this would be a good way to make money?

      Non-profit colleges can’t afford to pay their teaching staff good salaries or give them job security, even though they don’t have to produce dividends for investors. For-profit colleges of the same quality would presumably have the same costs, plus they must produce dividends. What makes you think they would be able to pay their staff more?

    • John Schilling says:

      Why aren’t there more legitimate (or even prestigious) for-profit colleges?

      Because money can’t buy legitimacy, in any context.

      Legitimacy is a normative statement, a claim about how things ought to be even though they can’t be forced to be. A legitimate government is one whose laws ought to be obeyed even if there isn’t a policeman watching. And there’s no such thing in international affairs as establishing a legitimate government by buying land and sovereignty for cash. A legitimate marriage is one you oughtn’t walk out on even if there is no-fault divorce and an attractive young hottie beckoning. OK, mail-order Russian brides are a thing, but the legitimacy of such marriages is openly mocked and no one expects them to survive serious temptation.

      A legitimate college is one where you ought not e.g. deliver mediocre canned lectures, make yourself unavailable during office hours just because you can get away with it, and then hand out passing grades and ultimately diplomas just because the students are paying cash. You can sometimes motivate people to do this, and more importantly convince your customers that your people are doing this, if you can appeal to an ideological belief in education or academic truth as a terminal value. If everything is explicitly about cash profit, then everyone is going to be pretty sure that you’re handing out diplomas for cash.

      Legitimacy can’t be nakedly bought for cash, but it can be maintained while the cash is flowing – examples in government and marriage are left as an exercise for the student. If you already had a legitimate for profit college or university, sure, people could accept that profit-Harvard wasn’t going to give out diplomas for cash (at least not too often) because that would cheapen the brand and cut future profits, and look at their past record for not doing that. But if you don’t already have the legitimacy, you can’t bootstrap it by saying “we’re going to pay everyone to do things the right way, and we’re not going take money to do things the wrong way”, when everyone can see the financial incentives lining up the wrong way and you’re nakedly saying you’re in it for the money.

      And legitimacy isn’t needed in all transactions, but it is here. I don’t need to buy a car from a “legitimate” dealer or manufacturer, because I can test-drive it and have a mechanic inspect it and check the title with the state. But if I’m going to spend four years of my life going to a newly-founded school, even if it’s absolutely free I need to know that it is legitimate and I need to know that future employers will regard it as legitimate, because there’s no equivalent to a test drive and a manufacturer’s inspection in that case. Same deal if, in my present position, I have to decide whether to hire someone based in part on their degree from [X].

      It isn’t clear whether having a rich person establish a non-profit foundation or a state government a land-grant college actually ensures that the people running a college will be properly incentivized to run an educational institution rather than a diploma mill. But it certainly doesn’t hurt, and more importantly it certainly convinces a lot of outsiders that you’ve got legitimacy. And where legitimacy is concerned, that outside perception is what matters.

      So if you have money and want legitimacy, in education or anything else, you need to do some money-laundering. In practice, that’s going to mean either forgoing profit, or doing a really good job of hiding it.

    • Garrett says:

      Related question: why aren’t there any part-time medical schools in the US? As far as I can tell, medicine is one of the few degrees you can’t pursue on a part-time basis. You can easily do so as a mid-level provider, as well as get masters or Ph.Ds in other subjects. Likewise for law school.

    • raj says:

      Why would anyone go to a for-profit college and pay the *actual* cost of their education when they can have it subsidized by society? Hence, for-profit college select against rational actors, which itself is a strong proxy for employability.

      (ok, few people explicitly think in these terms, but the effect is the same.)

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I have a notion that the best thing a university could do to gain legitimacy would be to have a few stellar graduates.

      If this is correct it would still take quite a few years and a lot of trust from students to get to that point. Also, I have no idea how any university could improve the odds of having stellar graduates.

    • rludwg says:

      For-profit colleges like Phoenix, etc. have ruined the concept for a lot of employers. But in the tech world, bootcamps & code schools seem to be doing quite well. Some are non-profit but many are for-profit. You can attend bootcamps for Wed Dev, Data Science, and a few other technical subjects.

      It looks like there’s about 100 of them, graduating 22000 people (CF 5k universities graduating 20 million students).

      I would guess if there’s a path forward for for-profits in the next few years, code schools and the like are the way to go. Bootcamps are getting longer, and are typically full time. Many are a typical college semester, but run from 9-5. I know people who have borrowed money to attend (just like real college!).

      It’s hard to develop a reputation as a multidisciplinary university. Slowly building up a reputation by pumping out solid, well-compensated alumni in a single discipline seems like a better alternative.

      • Matt M says:

        I can’t recall the specific details, but I do remember a coworker who was pursuing some type of low-level medical worker degree (radiology maybe? nursing?) from a for-profit school, and was absolutely insistent that that school’s specific program was well thought of in the industry and would absolutely be looked upon favorably by employers. It seemed like she had done some research and that this was legit, and not just some marketing scheme.

    • rlms says:

      There are a couple of for-profit universities in the UK that are reasonably prestigious for law. There is also the interesting case of the AA School of Architecture (I believe it’s independent but non-profit) which is unknown among the general population but very prestigious among architects.

    • palimpsest says:

      I think the most obvious answer is that colleges receive a significant part of their budget as charitable donations. That’s really the main reason to be a non profit in the first place, because few donors have any interest in donating to a for profit company. Perhaps this advantage outweighs any savings that could be gained by cutting administrative bloat.

      Colleges, despite being non profits do face pretty robust competition for students, so we should assume that the high cost model is a response to that competition. There’s no reason to think that for profit colleges trying to compete with a normal college business model would necessarily be free from this dynamic. After all, non profits like hospitals that are subject to market competition end up behaving a lot like for-profits anyway.

      So I think that in a culture like ours where colleges are one of the most common targets of charitible contributions, colleges will continue to be organized as non profits.

  2. I have an idea for an online product that should exist and, so far as I know, doesn’t.

    You are in the market for a house. The first question the real estate agent asks you, before deciding what houses to show you, is “how much do you want to spend.” But how much I want to spend, on housing or anything else, depends on what I can get for my money. It would make as much sense for me to decide how much I want to spend on dinner before looking at the menu or on groceries before looking at prices.

    The reason the agent asked me the question to begin with is that there are too many houses for sale in the South Bay for me to look at them all; he wants to reduce it to a reasonable number. To answer his question I need a menu, not of houses but of house characteristics: square feet of floor area, number of bathrooms, area of lot, … . With such a menu I could decide how much I want to spend and what I can expect for my money, whether it is worth trying for a quarter acre lot, a third bathroom, a fourth bedroom. We can then start looking at houses in the relevant price range.

    What I want is a webbed menu. To produce it you take as input real estate information on all houses currently for sale or recently sold. Fit that data with a suitable regression equation. You now have a rough idea of how the price of a house depends on its characteristics—including, of course, its location. You sell access to your site or use it to advertise products or services people looking for housing are likely to buy.

    I should probably add, for the benefit of those who have attended meetups at my present house, that I am not actually in the market for another. My son and daughter in law, however, are, and I have been helping them shop.

    I should also add that although I still think my idea is a useful one, it is less useful than it would have been when I came up with it twenty some years ago on the search that led us to our present house. The reason is Zillow. It does not provide my menu but it does let me search for houses with specified characteristics, which gets at least part of what I want.

    I offer the idea free to any entrepreneur who thinks he can make it work.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I suspect that pricing is not extremely well-correlated with individual features; I suspect that the algorithm will only be able to predict the “price” of an individual requested attribute once more-significantly-correlated features have already been defined.

      That said, in a hyper-zoned area like a planned suburb, this may work.

    • Well... says:

      Deciding how much to spend before looking at prices doesn’t mean you can’t adjust your spending tolerances upward later, but it makes sense as an initial step to take stock of how much you really are in a position to fork over for something of a given kind. Could be a chicken-and-egg thing I guess, but that seems like a decent description of how I’d expect most people budget their money (those who really do it I mean).

      This happens to describe the process I followed both times I bought houses, but I also do this basically any time I eat out for lunch by myself: to stay within my self-imposed “petty cash” weekly allowance I keep the price of my lunch under a certain amount, and I know this price to within about a dollar and a half even before I’ve decided what I’m in the mood for.

      BTW, both my realtors told me that Zillow sometimes lists houses that aren’t actually for sale, or displays out-of-date information about houses’ sale status. I believe most realty companies have either their own or affiliated websites showing all the listing information their realtors have access to. These websites are (in my experience) less breezy to use than Zillow, but have comparable search functionality once you get used to it, and they return no false positives. Many of those websites, I believe, pull from Realtor dot com.

      • One point you may not have considered. Realtors mostly collect a commission that is a percentage of the sales price. If you tell the realtor that you are willing to pay $500,000 for a house, it is in his interest not to show you houses much below that unless he doesn’t think he can find one at that price that you will be willing to buy.

        That’s a slight exaggeration, since he also wants to sell a house to you as quickly as possible so he can move on to another client, but I think the point is still basically correct.

        • gbdub says:

          That’s trivially easy to fix, just set a lowball budget. Most realtors will try to up sell you a bit if they can find a house just a bit outside your budget that looks quite a bit better than the alternatives.

          Or, you could just ask something like “show me the best thing you can find $X above and $X below my budget” to get an idea of what X buys you.

        • Well... says:

          I can’t speak for others, but in my case I informed my realtor of the most I was looking to spend, which was actually about in the middle of my price tolerance, and then when the houses available at that price proved insufficient I suggested nudging the price maximum upward ten or fifteen grand or so. Until then, my realtor was good about sticking to within my limit. If a property she showed me was above that limit — and it was never more than 5 or 10 grand north of it — she’d couch it in “I know this is a bit more, but” and then explain how it had all the other things I’d said I wanted and how those things were unusual even at the price of the property in question (which they kind of were).

    • pontifex says:

      Have you looked at MLS listings?

      • What do they have that Zillow doesn’t?

        • pontifex says:

          MLS Listings basically is what the name implies. A place where realtors put up listings for houses being sold. That means that the information is up-to-date, and if you see something there, it is actually being sold. It also has contact information and addresses so that you can actually go to see the house being sold.

          The intended audience is realtors finding houses for their clients (aka the “buying agent”). But it works just as well for consumers trying to find houses.

          Zillow is useful for getting a general idea of what the price should be for an area, but it’s definitely not an up-to-date list of homes being sold. Considering that homes usually only stay on the market for a week or two around here, you really need recent information. Zillow tends to scrape information from public records and be on a pretty long update cycle, whereas MLS Listings is updated every 5 minutes (supposedly).

          • Zillow is useful for getting a general idea of what the price should be for an area, but it’s definitely not an up-to-date list of homes being sold. Considering that homes usually only stay on the market for a week or two around here, you really need recent information.

            It’s possible that the situation where you are is different from the market I am looking at. Zillow shows houses that are for sale. Houses frequently remain on Zillow for months, not a week or two.

          • Rob K says:

            I believe in most markets zillow and trulia are mostly scraping MLS. MLS is very barebones, not much in the way of interface.

      • RobJ says:

        In my experience, Redfin is by far the best site for having both high quality updated info and a good UI (better than Zillow IMO) with lots of filter options.

        I think people get confused that you have to use one of their agents to use the site, but anyone can use it.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Redfin is definitely better, IME. Two things that come to mind, vs. Zillow:
          1. They give you room breakdowns per floor. So a Cape Cod on Zillow that is “3 bedrooms” will be “2 2nd story bedrooms and 1 1st story bedroom” on Redfin.
          2. Room dimensions are also provided.

          I think this is because Redfin actually has the full MLS, but don’t quote me on that.

          • Evan Þ says:

            OK, now I wish I’d been using Redfin back when I was looking at houses. Room dimensions were the one huge thing I could never find anywhere till I saw the place.

          • One thing I’m not seeing on Zillow is a floor plan of the house, which would make it easier to figure out whether it would work for a particular family’s requirements.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Zillow can’t display what’s not available. While listings for new homes often include floor plans, listings for existing homes usually do not.

          • RobJ says:

            I’ve used Redfin a lot and never seen room dimensions before. Maybe it depends on location? It could be some MLS areas have that data and some do not? After all, no matter what site you use, they can only provide the data that is made available.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Should people who are trying to sell their houses be strongly encourage to make their own floor plans and post them?

            Generally speaking, how accurate are home floor plans? I’ve heard horror stories from conventions about hotels that don’t know the actual sizes of their function space.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Room dimensions on a real estate listing should be reasonably accurate, because they’re measured by the selling agent. So, errors because the selling agent is measuring as quickly as possible, but at least some relation to reality.

            Total floor areas, however, can be way off. The ones for commercial space tend to be based on the outside dimensions and ignore things like interior walls. The ones for residential seem to be taken from tax records and then sometimes a nice random factor added. Where the tax records got them originally I don’t know.

    • J Mann says:

      A “free ideas” thread would probably be a good idea from time to time. Here’s mine – lottery subscriptions.

      Pitch: I enjoy the possibility that I might win the lottery, but find buying tickets tiresome, and checking to see if I won even more tiresome, so I don’t buy. What I want is to pay $52 or $104 dollars per year, then once or twice a week, I get an email that says “your number is X, the winning number is Y” and you have [not won this time|won $Z].” I would look forward to opening that email every week.

      In order to collect my winnings, I could have an ID card with a bar code, or maybe a bar code I could access with my password, or could log on to some website and transfer the winnings to my ewallet or bank account or whatever.

      If this product was available, I imagine it would also be a popular holiday gift, particularly in that “What to I get for my in-laws since they already have everything they want in my price range; well f-it, I hope they enjoy another restaurant gift certificate” zone. The downside is I guess it would make it hard for subscribers to commit tax fraud on small winnings, but unless the winnings exceeded the subscription cost, that wouldn’t be an issue.

      • Aapje says:

        This is already common in The Netherlands.

        Perhaps this is legally disallowed in some countries?

      • Matt M says:

        I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible to take the all fun out of spending $1 for the chance of winning millions, but I feel like you’ve managed to succeed here!

      • Chalid says:

        The odds seem pretty good that whoever ran the scheme would use their “first look” at the tickets to claim any significant winnings for themselves and their friends.

      • Erusian says:

        This would be doable. The big issue is that you’d make (if you got the standard cut) $3-$6 dollars per customer. This means that you’d need a relatively large customer base to cover fixed costs (you’d need the full revenue from 4,000 customers just to cover a single, minimum wage employee). It also means that you could only spend a few dollars per customer to acquire them. On top of that, the total market is fairly small (almost all of the money in a lotto goes to the state).

        It’d be a fine small business if you could get a customer with $2 of advertising, which you might be able to. (You could also upsell them, a la, ‘The jackpot this week is $500 million, do you want to buy five additional tickets?)

        Some people are suggesting the company would just steal the ticket. A legal instrument could bar that. While they could grab it and run wild west style, it would destroy their business and the government would be happy to assist in tracking them down.

        • J Mann says:

          I was kind of imagining the state would just offer it at the same cost as store bought tickets

        • Chalid says:

          Why do you think fraud is unlikely? It’s not like the customers are the sort who are going to be doing detailed examinations of the company’s internal controls. They’re lottery ticket buyers! All that the customers will see is that they usually don’t win the lottery, which is what they expect.

          • Erusian says:

            While a company could be set up to allow this, it could also be set up to make this very difficult. For example, they could have a rule against the company or any company employee cashing any lottery tickets.

            And you know who does do detailed examinations? The state. They already do this at stores and the like. I suspect a more innovative company would get more scrutiny, not less.

          • Chalid says:

            Sure, I agree that this could be made to work with sufficient regulation and monitoring.

            I maintain that if a such a company was *not* highly regulated and monitored, but just covered by the normal regulations that cover all business, the risk of fraud would be very high.

          • Erusian says:

            My only disagreement is whether current regulation is sufficient. It is a highly regulated industry. But I’m not familiar with the specifics enough to make a cogent argument.

            Then again, you could also take the libertarian tack. That’s only an issue if you’re selling other people’s lotteries. If we took the monopoly away from the state that would also go a long way towards solving the problem. Especially if we kept some of the more… obvious regulations, like requiring them to pay out what they promise in sweepstakes.

      • rlms says:

        The UK has something like this with premium bonds, which are government bonds where interest is paid in the form of a lottery.

    • Erusian says:

      How is this different from going on Zillow or Redfin or the MLS and putting in the desired characteristics? You can already put in a list of features and see what’s available, then adjust based on whether you like the results. The only addition seems to be summary statistics (houses with x are worth 10% more) and if you got any traction Zillow or Redfin would just add the feature and crush you.

      (Another note: a much better way to monetize this than ads is to either to act as an agent, taking your 1.5%, or using it as a lead generation service. Agents will pay a few hundred dollars for a good lead and most consumers are fine with a ‘get in touch with an agent’ button. You could also sell it to builders who want to make the highest valued home that’s most likely to sell quickly.)

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      … you are weighting this wrong. Everyone does, really. The correct first question to ask, when it comes to housing is “Where do you work, where does any other employed members of your household work, and what are your exact hours”, and then do analytics on city traffic versus your other hard limits, to find the acceptable housing unit with the lowest possible commute time – Because “How bad is the commute” is far and away the strongest influence your place of residence has on your happiness. Almost everything else about a house or apartment can be addressed by remodeling.

      Of course, this may not be a viable business model for a real estate agent, because, well, everyone gets this wrong. The fact that the people who take your advice are happier does not help you if most potential customers are happy to go with the real estate agent that will sell them a macmansion 2 hours away from their place of employment.

      More radical business plan: “Hyper-production Offices, inc”.

      You know how startups and tech-firms in the valley generally have a problem with the housing market? And how they all love super long work weeks? (Or at least claim to)

      Well, there is a lot of research that says that over the long haul, you can only really get so many hours of focused effort out of people per week. You can keep them at the office longer, but they stop actually producing.
      Time behind the wheel of a car comes out of this weekly budget. Valley traffic is very bad.

      So.. Build this building: Shops at ground level, offices above, and then residences above that. Rent out the offices and the residences as a package deal. Zero hour commute, means oh, about 10 extra hours of actual productive coding out of your code monkeys. Per week.

      For that extra “We are being super-paternalistic” corporate setup, take it a couple of steps further – Cleaning service, and an industrial scale kitchen to ensure everyone is eating a diet that is not, well, pizza.

      • Erusian says:

        Hyper-production Offices Inc already exists in a couple of places. I lived in one that had almost this exact setup (shops on ground, then residences, then offices), complete with maid service etc.

        There are two main issues. Firstly, it’s usually outside of the company’s core competency. Secondly, most people won’t pay luxury rents for apartments like that so you need to make them reasonably priced. But you’re also taking on extra expenses (the maids, kitchen, etc). This makes margins thin to negative. If the corporation is willing to pick up the tab because, like you said, it increases productivity, then it works fine. But this means there can’t be a common provider. Everyone who has tried (and I can think of three startups that did off the top of my head) has eventually gone bankrupt. Then again, none (afaik) has tried to get the company to help pay.

        Anecdotally, it also increases workplace drama.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Because everyone at the firm are now also neighbors? Huh. But the productivity gains were, anecdotally, also what you would expect?

          • Erusian says:

            Yes, for the majority of workers. A sizeable minority didn’t act any different, imo, and a few had trouble managing it.

            Also anecdotally, most workers didn’t like it. Or rather, while they might have liked the apartment, they liked it less than I would have expected for a comparable apartment with all those features and amenities.

      • CatCube says:

        I think the other problem you’re going to run into, aside from core competency stuff @Erusian talks about above, is that what happens when you fire somebody, or what if they’re getting into trouble in the apartment you provided?

        Companies used to do a lot of keeping housing for their workers–the old company towns–and it was one of the things that infuriated workers and drove unionization. Loss of your job also meant loss of your house, and having your housing and other amenities provided by your employer also often meant that your employer had an interest in the trouble you might get up to in your off hours. And this was prior to modern liability for some of the stuff you might get up to.

        So, returning to the questions from the first paragraph. If you fire somebody, you now also have to evict them, and in many places where this arrangement is attractive that might be very difficult. It might also work in the other direction–if you evict somebody, you might have to fire them! That’s enough of a loss of income and possible humiliation that they could very well turn into a terrible worker with low morale.

        The other thing is to consider sexual harassment. Now, not only do you have to consider sexual harassment in the workplace, there could very well be a case made that you’re responsible for it in your employee’s homes. If you’ve got a guy who creeps on female employees, he can now do it in your building 24/7, rather than just during work hours, and it’s going to be harder to control, since he’s nominally not on the clock. Hitting on people can be said to be definitely off limits when you’re in the office, but at home? You’re back to the paternalism of the early twentieth century robber barons.

        This arrangement does exist in some workplaces. The most notable is the military. This is one of the reasons for the sexual assault and sexual harassment statistics there–most of the “workplace” harassment and rape is occurring in the employer-provided living spaces. Given the environment, there’s a good case to be made that it’s appropriate to consider these living spaces part of the workplace. However, I’d be wary as a private employer of getting myself into that.

        • Aapje says:

          having your housing and other amenities provided by your employer also often meant that your employer had an interest in the trouble you might get up to in your off hours.

          This was not the only reason for the paternalism. There genuinely was an intent to turn the workers into (more) respectable citizens. Don’t forget that this was also before building codes and such & that there was a lot of poverty at the beginning of the industrial revolution. So a lot of people lived in shacks and in areas with high crime (due to poverty).

          There genuinely was an attempt to provide the workers with good housing and a safe environment.

          I’m very familiar with the first ‘company town’ (actually a district in a city) in The Netherlands and the architecture is truly quite nice. The houses seem great to live in, they are pretty, there is plenty of green and blue (plants and water), a nice school, shops, etc. Interestingly, it was actually a gated community, where they would close the gates at night. The gates are still there, although they no longer get closed.

          • Jade Nekotenshi says:

            This seems like a very rosy view of company towns, in the same vein as Voldemort’s praise of absolute monarchs – it’s fantastic if you get a good one and everyone’s sufficiently enlightened.

            I don’t doubt that the original intentions were quite noble, but unless I have a particularly jaundiced understanding of how that ended up shaking out, the concept was quickly latched onto by micromanagers and authoritarians and used to horrifying ends.

        • rlms says:

          Company towns were certainly horrible for people with weak exit rights (in the sense that it would be highly inconvenient for them to leave) but I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t extend to well-paid programmers.

    • Mustard Tiger says:

      I’ve seen a few appraisal reports — one from when I bought my first house, another from when I refinanced it, and a third from my new house.

      I’m in no way an expert, but from looking at the reports, this is how I understood it to work:

      When the appraiser tries to determine the market value of a house, they look at comparable houses that have sold recently and adjust the selling price up or down based on the differences between that house and the one being appraised. So if a 4 bedroom house sold for $300k but your house is only 3 bedroom, they may subtract $20k from the $300k and say “If this house had only three bedrooms, like yours does, it would have sold for $270k.” Then they look at all the houses and the adjustments they applied and come up with a value for your place.

      They have dollar adjustments for square footage, lot size, number of fireplaces, age of house, outbuildings, construction quality, etc.

      So, the data you’re looking for may already have been collected and the regressions done (somehow they know that one fewer bedroom is a $20k hit in this area, for example), but it’s only well known to appraisers. Of course the adjustments I’ve seen seem to be somewhat arbitrary between appraisers, so maybe they just make it up to meet selling price and make lenders and buyers happy.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Appraisers seem to have a multitude of ways to appraise. We had our house appraised twice in a year, the first one choose comps based on the sq footage and the second one based it mostly on finding muti-units (our house is a twin that we own both halves of) that had recently sold. There was a large difference between the two. I wrote an appeal challenging the second report citing that he had priced our house by $ per sq foot in the range that only foreclosures had sold at in the area and ~1/3 less than the average per sq ft in the area, and about 25% less than similarly aged homes, and that by income (using the last time both halves were rented out which was at a low point in the market) the house was worth 1.5 to 2x what the comps he used were. The rejected the appeal without note.

      • Anthony says:

        I’ve taken recent sale data from Redfin and run regressions in Excel to figure this out. In a particualr ZIP code, the strongest influence was house square footage, then lot square footage. Other factors changed somewhat the different times I’ve tried this – a couple of times, the date of sale had a *very* strong impact. Another time, the number of bathrooms had a big *negative* effect – for the same square footage, three bathrooms sold for $20k less than two bathrooms. Redfin data sometimes comes with lat/long data, and sometimes there are correlations there.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Looking at houses a lot of the 3+ bathrooms tend to be badly laid out homes. Split levels where there were multiple corners where the space could be a large closet or a small bathroom.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The main issue that I see on improving on the current Zillow/Redfin style searches is that the numbers you end up choosing have to be so broad as to render precision attempts meaningless. In my recent experience there are multiple issues with the numbers you get to use on these searches.

      1. Price means asking price of the house. The big one here is that we live in the lowest property tax township in the immediate area, one block over and the higher taxes add $100-$150 a month to your payment. Across the river and it can get as much as $400 a month with what amounts to 10 sq miles having at least 5 distinct property tax zones. When we were searching I basically had a max price on one side of the river and a max price on the other that was 30% lower. A smaller issue is the % that an average house will sell of its asking price, some areas here might be 97% and some 95%, between the two the maximum search price in one area can be way more than another.

      2. Also price related is the cost of maintaining and upgrading the house. We replaced about 20 windows across our house and our rental for under $10,000, my sister moved into a house about the same square footage as both our places combined and was quoted $40,000 to replace all of their beautiful, vintage, oddly shaped leaking and drafty windows.

      3. Lot size doesn’t mean functional lot size. A 6,000 sq ft lot with a 2,000 sq foot ranch house, 2 car garage, driveway and small front yard has a very different look and feel than a 6,000 sq ft lot with at 2,000 sq ft 3 story house, 1 car garage, no driveway and all its yard in the side and rear. The latter might effectively be 2x as much yard as the former. If you want to garden how many large trees you and your neighbors have and the sun exposure matters. We would sigh every time we saw a house that came close to our needs only to see it had a large front lawn with a huge U shaped driveway on it and a postage stamp of a backyard.

      4. Sq footage is the same as lot size, effective means a lot more than real. We learned early on that a 1,000 sq foot house that had a finished, but not high enough ceilings to count as living space, attic or basement could fit our needs while a 2,000 sq foot split level was insufficient. A house that opens into a large foyer might be great for some people but means wasted square footage for us. Likewise it isn’t so much how many bathrooms a house had it was how many bathrooms could we make it have, and at what cost.

      In the end our searches looked like

      Price range $100,000 to $250,000
      Lot size 6,000 sq ft +
      sq footage 1,000 +
      bathrooms 1+
      bedrooms 2+

      I don’t think even a great algorithm could have made that narrower without cutting out houses we would have wanted to see.

    • 10240 says:

      What I don’t understand is why the internet hasn’t put real estate agents out of business already. I especially don’t understand buyer’s agents (which don’t exist in my country). If you want to buy or rent an apartment, you just go on real estate advertising sites, and start looking at apartments. That (like Zillow) it mostly solves the question I guess: I just set the parameters (location, floor area etc.) and sort by price (as I’m stingy).

      • baconbits9 says:

        For two reasons. Coordination for looking at the property with the property owner, and for getting through the paperwork.

        • 10240 says:

          Call the owner, arrange a time. Worked fine for me both as a renter and as a lessor.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It works fine sometimes, and other times not so much. We have a rental and manage interviews for renters when we need them. Selling a house is often a whole nother ball of wax though, buyers generally don’t want the owner hovering around and the sellers don’t want to let random strangers into their homes with all their stuff, and if they have moved out already then coordination over distances can be a pain.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There is also expediency, in a lot of situations selling a house quickly is worth a couple of percent commission. If you have already found your next house then carrying the taxes, insurance and interest on the old house for a few months can easily add up to a couple of percent of the final sale.

          • 10240 says:

            buyers generally don’t want the owner hovering around

            Hmm, why?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Buyers want to be critical of a property, sellers want you to not be critical of a property. If you pay $10,000 more for a property the buyer gets basically 100% of that less any taxes owed. A realtor benefits from the transaction happening but only benefits a small amount ($300 per $10,000 in increased price at 3%) so their primary incentive is to find a price that is acceptable for the buyer and seller and increase total transactions not to maximize price.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Real Estate Agents are more familiar with the housing stock and can spot issues you might not, particularly if you are a first-time homebuyer. Some things only an inspector might see, but other times an agent might be able to highlight something so you don’t even bother wasting your time making an offer (which then give you the right to a home inspection).

        Our agent doubled as a GC, so he was able to give us a lot of insight about the home quality, the likely issues we would run into, and how much it would cost to fix them (or do certain upgrades if we would like).

        Also, agents know about listings before you do. Just the name of the game. We saw a house we absolutely loved, but it turned out it had already been sold in pre-listing and the agent was just keeping it open in case the offer fell through (or rather because the agent wanted to drum up business by finding potential clients).

        There might be regulatory and certain other concerns, too. But I think I could find a title lawyer and an inspector without going through the REA (and I think that’s generally advised, too).

      • Matt M says:

        IIRC, in the US at least, using a buyer’s agent is essentially free.

        The real estate agent commission is paid by the seller. In my recent sale, my selling agent basically said “The total commission is 6%, I keep 3% and I give 3% to the buyer’s agent – unless I find the buyer myself in which case I’ll only charge you 5% and keep all of it.”

        But from the buyer’s perspective, you don’t really “pay more” for using an agent than you would doing it yourself. In theory you might be able to negotiate for a 1% discount on the sales price (because the seller is saving 1% on commission) but that seems small potatoes and unlikely to be a major factor in negotiations, compared to everything else.

        • 10240 says:

          What happens if the seller doesn’t have an agent? Who pays the buyer’s agent then?

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is negotiable, but the seller usually will state that they will or won’t pay the agents fees and when they won’t the buyer will roll the agents fees into the mortgage and pay them out of that.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        My Dog Tess has been around for quite a while, and I assume there are others.

        And then you have Open Door which seems sort of like the inverse.

      • pontifex says:

        I think you’re legally obliged to buy and sell through a properly licensed realtor in most (all?) parts of the US. Each US state has some process for licensing realtors, similar to lawyers.

        Kind of hard to disintermediate someone when they’re legally required to be an intermediary. Regardless of what value they do or don’t provide (opinions vary here)

        • johan_larson says:

          Bypassing the realtors is definitely legal here in Ontario, Canada. There are even services that will help you sell your house without the full weight of realtor fees. But most people still use realtors. Their main hold on the market is that they own the standard system for listing homes for sale.

        • The Nybbler says:

          “Realtor” is a trademarked term for a member of a specific trade organization, who would no doubt prefer you think you’re obliged to use them. I believe all states license real estate brokers/agents, but no state forbids buying or selling without an agent.

          • pontifex says:

            See http://dre.ca.gov/Examinees/

            The regulation of licenses is an important function of the California Department of Real Estate. The DRE was established in 1917 with the formation of the first-ever Real Estate Law in the country. With this law, licensing practices and licensees are regulated in a manner which is emulated by many other states. The California Department of Real Estate exists to serve the real property market and protects the transactions occurring in the real estate field.

            The DRE grants licenses to Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons. Before applying for the real estate license, all the formalities of education and experience must be cleared. The DRE also handles the renewal of the licenses.

            In California, I don’t think you can sell your house without a licensed real estate agent being involved. Maybe there is some loophole in theory, but in practice I have never heard of this occurring. And there are certainly penalties for trying to act as a real estate agent without a license.

          • The Nybbler says:

            California is not an exception.

          • pontifex says:

            Thanks for the link. I wasn’t aware that a self-sale was even possible. My earlier statement was incorrect.

            However, I still maintain that the interesting thing is not “can you sell a home without an agent” but “can you sell a home without an agent in practice.” Based on what I’ve been reading, you could be putting yourself on the hook for severe legal liability if you do. A lot of the sources I’m reading list the first step to a self-sale as hiring an attorney and drafting some contracts. A lot of other sources talk about the various disclosures and forms that are needed, and how you can get sued if you forget one.

            The market here in California seems to have reached an equilibrium where we have lots of websites that help you look up information about homes, but when you actually go to do a transaction, there is still a buyer’s agent and seller’s agent involved. A lot of people in this thread have proposed technological solutions, but I think technology is actually a relatively small piece of the puzzle here. It will be interesting to see how this changes at all over the next few years, as platforms like Zillow and Redfin start to dip their toes into acting as brokers.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, typically when you use a real estate agent, the agent will arrange for an attorney (who you still pay, it doesn’t come out of the commission); if you don’t, you have to hire your own attorney.

          • pontifex says:

            Sure, you can hire your own attorney, but if you forget some paperwork and you’re selling your own house, the liability is on you. That’s my understanding at least.

    • Dack says:

      Filter for desired characteristics, then sort by price.

  3. Hoopyfreud says:

    New XCOM expansion is out. I’m having a lot of fun with it. Anyone else?

    The mini-campaigns seem to be where XCOM shines, as losing a soldier is still extremely punishing on the strategic layer. The missions on Nightmare also felt a bit harder than most missions in “normal” XCOM, at least for Commander difficulty. All in all, a very nice if humble improvement.

  4. Odovacer says:

    Do you use computer assistants like Alexa or Siri? Do you generally find it helpful?

    I’ve been pretty resistant to using computer assistants. I’ve tried a few times in the past, but I don’t find that they have utility for me. In fact, when I upgraded to Windows 10 on my laptop, Cortana had negative utility for me, I used to be able to use the search bar as file explorer and not as a web search.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      No. Hate them. Slow inefficient inaccurate little fuckers.

      • Well... says:

        If they were fast, efficient, and accurate, how would you feel about them?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Efficient isn’t a particularly solvable problem for most of what I use a computer for; if it can’t be accessed with a desktop or web browser shortcut, I don’t usually even access it, and if it involves input I can type faster. Alexa seems even worse, since I have a habit of chronically comparing goods in order to get the best deal, and this isn’t a habit I have any desire to break.

          I suspect that there’s a reason why “vision of the future” videos have people asking a computer for very generic, easy-to-find things, and it’s because asking for anything more in-depth takes a noticeably longer time. The only thing I could possibly use this for would be recipe lookups, and actually finding a *good* recipe seems like a bigger and harder-to-solve issue with how search engines work than getting a computer to pull it up.

        • Garrett says:

          I think they’d be great. But they’d be a challenge to get to do anything which would save me a lot of time or aggravation. For example, I switched jobs (and thus health insurance) about 2 months ago. So it was time for ordering my first refill of a medication. Time spent on the phone: 62 minutes. (Only 6 of which was spent getting to a human).

          The only quasi-useful feature I’ve seen so far is being able to add by voice items to a shopping list. Which means that a $100 piece of equipment with universal surveillance and which is dependent upon both power and Internet access working is competing with a piece of paper attached to the fridge with a magnet.

    • quanta413 says:

      In fact, when I upgraded to Windows 10 on my laptop, Cortana had negative utility for me, I used to be able to use the search bar as file explorer and not as a web search.

      Aw man. I hadn’t even noticed that functionality had changed and now I just checked and I’m sad.

      I mostly use linux at work and play videogames at home so I hadn’t realized.

    • Acedia says:

      I don’t bother with them on a desktop or laptop, because it’s slower than using a keyboard and mouse, but I use the Google Assistant on my phone all the time. It sits on my bedside table next to me and I’ll verbally ask it to look something up, perform calculations, take notes, read an incoming text message to me, put itself on silent etc. while I’m playing games on my laptop so I don’t have to pause or tab out. Now that voice recognition has become reliable it’s genuinely useful instead of gimmicky.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Windows 10 has Autogrep. It’s not as good as the search in Windows 7, but it’s better than Cortana.

    • arlie says:

      Hell no.

      On a good day, they may come up with a useful suggestion. On a normal day, the voice-activated ones can’t even figure out what I’m saying, let alone respond to it coherently. On a terrible day, they hallucinate requests you never made, and one of the many well-publicized botches result. (Private conversations sent to people in your address book; expensive products ordered based on your non-existent request, etc.)

      The best use of these assistants is to keep track of their most amusing bloopers, and share them with your friends.

      Fortunately the worst they’ve ever actually done to me is try to involve themselves in a conversation that happened to take place in the same room.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      I find it a nice to have, but sort of unnecessary splurge kind of thing. I live in a house setup with Alexa + Echo Dots and it can be convenient at times.

      In the kitchen is when I find it most useful. I’ll tell it to set timers when I’m busy making things or my hands are dirty, which is probably the most practical feature for me. The other thing I use it for is playing music. I’ll tell it to play [artist name] radio and it plays me a good mix, also very useful while cooking. The third thing I’ll use it for is asking about the weather tomorrow. The last thing is some home automation stuff–I have some smart plugs linked to the living room lights so I’ll walk in the house and tell Alexa to turn on the lights.

      It’s useful, but it’s not something I’d really spend my money on.

    • dodrian says:

      I use google assistant on my phone – it’s handy for things like setting alarms, converting units, quick searches, playing music, etc.

      I’m not comfortable with the home devices listening all the time and sending data who-knows-where. I would like to try installing Mycroft on a Raspberry Pi, but I’ve got very little free time it’s pretty low on my list of hobby probjects at the moment.

    • b_jonas says:

      Not Alexa or Siri or Cortana, or speech recognition in any way. But I do use Google search heavily, and depend a lot of all the heuristics and learning of my personal perferences that it applies to its searches. I don’t know if you describe that as a “computer assistant”, but it’s similar to what Siri does, without the voice recognition part.

    • J Mann says:

      I like the idea of handsfree function and keep trying google assistant, but haven’t have a great experience. Mostly, I want to be able to send “I’m on my way home” texts while driving, so now that I’ve thought about the problem, I guess I’ll attach a couple nfc tags to my dashboard and use Tasker.

      I’d also like to be able to have texts, whatsapps, and emails read to me while driving, which is a little harder.

    • Nornagest says:

      Very very rarely. Usually when I’m driving and I want my phone to do something.

      Eight times out of ten I end up being frustrated with the result.

    • raj says:

      I don’t consider them assistants, rather voice/NLP-enabled computer terminals. Useful for simple one-off tasks, even some queries:

      Hey google:

      “Play tycho”
      “What’s the temperature”
      “Call mom”
      “Set an alarm for 9AM”
      “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow”

      Note these are all things I can do in 3 seconds on my computer, but as I’m moving around my house, or driving, it can be helpful. And considering my 2 google homes are middling, but adequate bluetooth speakers with this functionality, and I got them for (effectively) free, I’m happy enough.

    • Wander says:

      Personally, I used a program called ShutUp10 to restore the search bar to being a filesearch. It was too much of a hassle digging through the registry after every update reenabled Cortana.

  5. Atlas says:

    Which writers—on any subject— are known to be eloquent but not conscientious about staying true to the evidence? (I feel like this is a dangerous potential trap.)

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Michael Wolff

    • WashedOut says:

      Nathan Robinson. Eloquent, but never lets a measured pursuit of the facts get in the way of a spicy article.

    • Well... says:

      I could see a lot of filmmakers fitting that description, if you substitute “writer” for “storyteller”.

    • SamChevre says:

      For a long list, here’s an old Making Light thread on the topic.

    • j1000000 says:

      I’d imagine for many people around here, The Mismeasure of Man is a great example of misleading eloquence in the service of virtue rather than truth.

      (But I say “for many people” because I’ve never actually read the book, I just know its reputation in forums like this one that don’t think of IQ as baseless pseudo-science.)

      • quanta413 says:

        Funny thing. Although not for the mismeasure of man, even Paul Krugman dunked on Gould.

        Ignore the mismeasure of man. I think you can make an argument that Gould was indeed elegant but knowingly or unknowingly had little concern for evidence that didn’t point where he wanted it too. He got in heated arguments with a lot of contemporaries in various sciences. E.O. Wilson, Maynard Smith, Steven Pinker…

        The whole non-overlapping magisteria thing was kind of bullshit too. Not total bullshit, but…

        • albatross11 says:

          I read both _The Mismeasure of Man_ and _The Bell Curve_, many years ago. My take (and my understanding from further reading) was that _Mismeasure_ was extremely shoddy work in the service of either a noble lie or a noble claim that Gould wasn’t going to subject to much critical scrutiny. And that _The Bell Curve_ was mostly drawing on a mainstream picture of the world within psychometrics, which was disputed by other branches of psychology/sociology.

          Also, _The Bell Curve_ was a wonderful lesson for me in how often[1] people reviewing or discussing a book in respectable media outlets have bothered reading it.

          [1] Not very often.

          • Viliam says:

            I have read The Bell Curve recently, because so many people have said bad things about it that I was curious what it was actually like. Well, nothing controversial, mostly common sense, plus many graphs.

            And the controversy itself is actually older than the book; it just found a new target afterwards. Quoting The Bell Curve:

            Psychometricians of the 1930s had debated whether intelligence is almost entirely produced by genes or whether the environment also plays a role. By the 1960s and 1970s the point of contention had shifted dramatically. It had somehow become controversial to claim, especially in public, that genes had any effect at all on intelligence. Ironically, the evidence for genetic factors in intelligence had greatly strengthened during the very period when the terms of the debate were moving in the other direction.

            In the psychological laboratory, there was a similar shift. Psychological experimenters early in the century were, if anything, more likely to concentrate on the inborn patterns of human and animal behavior than on how the learning process could change behavior. But from the 1930s to the 1960s, the leading behaviorists, as they were called, and their students and disciples were almost all specialists in learning theory. They filled the technical journals with the results of learning experiments on rats and pigeons, the tacit implication being that genetic endowment mattered so little that we could ignore the differences among species, let alone among human individuals, and still discover enough about the learning process to make it useful and relevant to human concerns. There are, indeed, aspects of the learning process that cross the lines between species, but there are also enormous differences, and these differences were sometimes ignored or minimized when psychologists explained their findings to the lay public. […]

            To those who held the behaviorist view, human potential was almost perfectly malleable, shaped by the environment. The causes of human deficiencies in intelligence—or parenting, or social behavior, or work behavior—lay outside the individual. They were caused by flaws in society. Sometimes capitalism was blamed, sometimes an uncaring or incompetent government. Further, the causes of these deficiencies could be fixed by the right public policies—redistribution of wealth, better education, better housing and medical care. Once these environmental causes were removed, the deficiencies should vanish as well, it was argued.

            The contrary notion—that individual differences could not easily be diminished by government intervention—collided head-on with the enthusiasm for egalitarianism, which itself collided head-on with a halfcentury of IQ data indicating that differences in intelligence are intractable and significantly heritable and that the average IQ of various socioeconomic and ethnic groups differs.

            […] In the 1970s, scholars observed that colleagues who tried to say publicly that IQ tests had merit, or that intelligence was substantially inherited, or even that intelligence existed as a definable and measurable human quality, paid too high a price. Their careers, family lives, relationships with colleagues, and even physical safety could be jeopardized by speaking out. Why speak out when there was no compelling reason to do so? Research on cognitive abilities continued to flourish, but only in the sanctuary of the ivory tower.

            […] Here are six conclusions regarding tests of cognitive ability, drawn from the classical tradition, that are by now beyond significant technical dispute:

            1) There is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beings differ.

            2) All standardized tests of academic aptitude or achievement measure this general factor to some degree, but IQ tests expressly designed for that purpose measure it most accurately.

            3) IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the word intelligent or smart in ordinary language.

            4) IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person’s life.

            5) Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic, or racial groups.

            6) Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent.

            All six points have an inverse worth noting. For example, some people’s scores change a lot; cognitive ability is not synonymous with test scores or with a single general mental factor, and so on. When we say that all are “beyond significant technical dispute,” we mean, in effect, that if you gathered the top experts on testing and cognitive ability, drawn from all points of view, to argue over these points, away from television cameras and reporters, it would quickly become apparent that a consensus already exists on all of the points, in some cases amounting to near unanimity. […]

            Having said this, however, we are left with a dilemma. The received wisdom in the media is roughly 180 degrees opposite from each of the six points.

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11

            “I read both _The Mismeasure of Man_ and _The Bell Curve_, many years ago….”

            Likewise, I don’t really remember the Gould, but in the Murray he said something to the effect of “If your reading this you went to school in a suburban upper middle class district….” and I got really irate and thought “The Hell I did!”, but he continued “…or a school that was the single school for a mixed class area”, which was true and I calmed down.

  6. Gazeboist says:

    Through a wiki walk, I wound up reading the supreme court opinion issued last year in the case Pavan v Smith, and I have come away from it extremely confused as to what happened and what it was actually about.

    The facts of the case are as follows:

    Two married lesbian couples conceived children via artificial insemination.* The women gave birth in Arkansas in 2015 (after Obergefell, I assume, although neither the opinion nor the dissent say; both couples had married out of state several years earlier). Arkansas law at the time provided that, “For the purposes of birth registration, the mother is deemed to be the woman who gave birth to the child,” and “if the mother was married at either conception or birth, the name of [her] husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.” Another man may appear on the birth certificate instead if all three file affidavits vouching for that man’s paternity. A separate law provides that the “husband” always appears as the father in cases of artificial insemination, and yet a third law (I think, anyway) provides for a new birth certificate in cases of adoption, naming the adoptive couple as the parents. Each of the plaintiff couples filled out birth certificate paperwork listing both partners as parents, but the Arkansas Department of Health issued certificates naming only the birth mother. Both couples then sued, at which point things become weird.

    According to the majority opinion, the couples sought, “among other things, a declaration that the State’s birth certificate law violates the [federal] Constitution.” The trial court held that the law was inconsistent with Obergefell, and the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed. In the federal opinion, the majority concludes that the trial court was right, because “state law, as interpreted by the court below, allows Arkansas officials … to omit the name of a married woman’s female spouse” when they would be required to list a married woman’s male spouse. After a great deal of faffing about over whether or not the statute is focused on “biological relationships” or not, the majority concludes that “Arkansas may not, consistent with Obergefell, deny married same-sex couples” birth certificates listing both partners as the child’s parents, since it grants them to married opposite-sex couples, and reverses and remands the Arkansas Supreme Court decision.

    Gorsuch (joined by Alito and Thomas) dissents. He does not base his dissent on the claim that the initial certificates were consistent with Obergefell as issued (and it is rather clear that they are not, as Obergefell explicitly mentions identification on birth certificates as a benefit that must be granted equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples). Gorsuch, like the majority, spends an inordinate portion of his opinion discussing whether or not the birth certificate scheme is based on “biological relationships”, and then comes to the actual reason for his dissent: Arkansas, apparently, concedes that non-biological parents must be treated equally regardless of their sex, and thus that the female spouse of the birth mother must be listed on birth certificates, just as a male spouse would. Arkansas also states that adopting parents are eligible to be named on birth certificates regardless of their sexual orientation. Essentially, Gorsuch says that the Arkansas law is interpreted such that “husband” is replaced with “spouse” and “father” is replaced with “parent” wherever Obergefell requires such. At no point in his opinion does he mention whether or not the plaintiff couples ever received the birth certificates that Arkansas apparently concedes they are entitled to.

    Presumably, those birth certificates were at least among the “other things” that the plaintiffs sought in their initial suit, but neither opinion makes any mention of that issue outside of the majority’s summary of the factual background. I assume the plaintiffs got them at some point in all this, otherwise I can’t make sense of Gorsuch’s closing critique that there’s nothing to do on remand. Given that the majority makes no further mention of the birth certificates and Gorsuch claims that the Arkansas Supreme Court “[sought] to faithfully apply, not evade” Obergefell, I have to assume that the trial court ordered the birth certificates issued and nobody appealed that part of the order. But if that’s the case, and the State has acknowledged that they are required to issue birth certificates naming the birth mother’s spouse regardless of the spouse’s sex, why did the plaintiffs bother to appeal the Arkansas Supreme Court decision? Did everyone just get so distracted by the “biological relationship” rhetoric that they failed to notice that the Arkansas law always names the (current) spouse as the other parent in the absence of an agreement among all parties that some third person is the father? Has the Arkansas legislature bothered to correct what apparently amounts to a grammatical error in their birth certificate scheme? Will this subthread devolve into a re-litigation of Obergefell, despite that case not being at issue in this one?

    I eagerly await the commentariat’s analysis of these questions. (Though if this needs to be moved to the previous open thread to comply with the rules around culture war topics, I’m perfectly willing to post it there instead; I wasn’t able to find the policy in question and I’m not totally sure what it is or what it applies to)

    * That is, there were two distinct pairs of women, and in each pair one of them conceived a child from an anonymous sperm donor. I realize my summary up there could be a bit confusing. Unlike, apparently, the Supreme Court justices writing in this case up, albeit as to different questions.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Apparently, other people have noticed this weirdness, and attempted to contact the Supreme Court’s for clarification of his unusual statement (here, here)

      The authors of these op-eds propose two possibilities, both of which would be highly remarkable if true:
      1. Gorsuch based his dissent on a basic factual misunderstanding on the case. (With Thomas and Alito concurring, so perhaps they too made the same fundamental factual error, regarding the basic reason the case was appealed in the first place?)
      2. Gorsuch is deliberately “muddying the waters”, i.e. lying about the facts of the case, to achieve an outcome he desires (and once again, Thomas and Alito concurring!)

      My common-sense is telling me that surely neither of these two possibilities can actually be true.

      The “simple misunderstanding” explanation makes about as much sense as saying to man on a death penalty case “Don’t worry, unless you’ve committed a terrible crime and ended up on death row, the state means him you harm.”

      But I don’t think these three justices have suddenly decided to hard-defect into vaguely-concealed lawlessness. Right? (Then again, if they did, how would we know, other than “weirdness” showing up the reasoning?)

    • Nick says:

      IANAL, so take everything that follows with a grain of salt.

      If you like, you can read the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision here. The relevant section begins at the bottom of p. 7, in Justice Hart’s opinion. The full text of the statutes in question are quoted, and then there’s an analysis of how the circuit court ruled on birth certificates following Obergefell. Then there’s an analysis of the relevant section of Obergefell, and finally an analysis of the original statutes.

      The Arkansas Supreme Court’s reading of Obergefell is that the section mentioning birth certificates only lists it as an observation that the States consider marriage to be very central. I’ll note that immediately after the quoted section, Justice Kennedy wrote,

      There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle. Yet by virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.

      It’s up to you as to whether this means that Kennedy is saying that the “constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage” must be blind with respect to opposite sex and same sex marriages too. I find it pretty surprising Kennedy didn’t explicitly say so, but regardless, it allows Arkansas to reach the conclusion on p. 11 that discrimination on these benefits can be constitutional at times.

      Moving on in the opinion, on p. 18 the case of artificial insemination is briefly addressed. Surprisingly, it was Smith who raised it and not Pavan, suggesting that the passage is unconstitutional and that amending that would take care of all this. But Hart writes that since that statute is not the one being challenged, there’s no basis for holding it unconstitutional.

      And that brings us to a surprising fact: it was noted at least twice that the birth certificates had actually already been amended. This is, I think, the real basis for all the confusion about this case. Early on (p. 4 note 1), it’s written that after the circuit court’s opinion, Smith requested a stay from the circuit court and was denied. So he requested an emergency stay from the Arkansas Supreme Court, but didn’t challenge the part ordering him to amend the birth certificates. So I guess by the time it reached the Arkansas Supreme Court, new birth certificates with the same sex parents’ names had already been issued, or at least, they were going to be issued regardless of how this case was decided. It’s brought up again on pp. 13-14 when Hart discusses whether there’s grounds to challenge the statutes. She writes that since the birth certificates were already amended, there’s no justification for an as-applied challenge, and since the biological basis for recording the parents the other way is a legitimate government interest*, there’s no justification for a facial challenge, so the statute isn’t being ruled unconstitutional period.

      So from the sounds of it, whatever reasoning the circuit court had for ordering the amended birth certificates is upheld. I’d like to read that opinion, but I can’t find it online. However, the circuit court’s determination that the statute(s) is/are unconstitutional is wrong, and that’s what the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on**. So I guess all parties already agreed that the amended birth certificates had to be issued, and only disagreed as to whether it was unconstitutional to have birth certificates which only listed biological parents too. The circuit court by ruling the statute unconstitutional had implied no, and the Arkansas Supreme Court overruled and said yes.

      Anyway, that was the state of things before it reached SCOTUS. It looks like SCOTUS decided to cut through all the bullshit here and just say no, you’ve got to provide the amended birth certificates regardless—which, it seems to me, the Arkansas Supreme Court had not challenged. And it looks like Gorsuch’s purpose here was to argue that summary reversal is therefore inappropriate for this case. He seems to agree that there was no basis in Obergefell to challenge the original statute, that the artificial insemination statute is problematic in the way Smith conceded, and that the biological basis for having birth certificates with just biological parents too is all correct.

      If Slate, Bustle, et al. want to take issue with this dissent, take issue with Gorsuch’s reading of the passage from Obergefell I quoted above. I think his read of the situation otherwise is correct.

      *To be clear, the affidavit cited on pp. 14-15 for this legitimate government interest was pretty narrow. It only maintained that the state keeps a birth certificate listing the biological parents for its own records and that this is for the health of the child, not that that one be the birth certificate issued to these parents. So it seems to me that affidavit leaves open the possibility, conceded in Smith’s emergency stay to the Arkansas Supreme Court, that the statute as written be upheld and the original birth certificates kept, but amended birth certificates may be issued by court order.

      **Okay, they also ruled about the applicability of Wright, but I don’t think that’s relevant to understanding what’s going on here.

    • J Mann says:

      The theory is explained a little more detail in the State’s Supreme Court brief, although I’m still not wholly convinced. If I’m getting it, the State argues:

      (1) The main birth certificate statute, at Ark. Code 20-18-401 and 20-18-406, should not be overturned, because it attempts to record a child’s biological parentage for health purposes, which is allegedly a reasonable state interest. (Roughly summarized, the statute assumes that a woman who has given birth to a child is the child’s mother, and assumes that a husband is the child’s father unless it has been proved otherwise – for example, if a court finds that the husband is not the father, he doesn’t get listed even if he, the mother, and the biological father all wish it.) This is unequal treatment in that it doesn’t assume that a non-birth mother female spouse is the father, but the state argues that a cis-female spouse can’t normally be the biological father so the presumption doesn’t make sense. (Although not before the court, it looks to me like there is also no way for a male-male couple to exclude the birth mother from the certificate or to include the non-biological father, other than through the artificial insemination statute below).

      (2) In this case, the state also argues that these plaintiffs don’t have standing to challenge 20-18-401 and 20-18-406 because those aren’t the laws that applied to them. The state argues that in cases involving artificial insemination, Ark Code 9-10-201 governs the birth certificate. That section deals with artificial inseminations and provides that when a married couple have a child through artificial insemination and the husband consents, the husband is deemed to be the father, as well as other stuff dealing with issues like surrogacy.

      (3) Based on the Arksansas Sup Ct opinion, it looks like the State gave the children the requested birth certificates after losing the case, but argued that they should be required to do so under 9-10-201.

      So at the end of the day, it’s based on two principles. One is that Courts should usually only decide the question in front of them and not branch out into a general review of laws that didn’t affect the case, even if similar. The other is that Courts should try to do minimal damage to existing laws.

      In this case, the State was arguing that (a) the artificial insemination statute was the one that controlled the case, that (b) the State didn’t object to amending that statute to provide for parentage for same sex couples who used artificial insemination, (c) it was therefore inappropriate to reverse the general statute when it wasn’t the law that applied to the plaintiffs before the court and (d) the State thought there were valid reasons for keeping the general statute. Gorsuch apparently agreed.

      I’m not super convinced – effectively, the State is saying that if you conceive a child via old fashioned sex, they will try their best to include the biological parents on the birth certificate, in which case, tough luck you non-bio parents male or female, straight or gay, but if you conceive a child via artificial insemination, they will list the custodial parents, again male or female, straight or gay. But maybe there’s some argument there that establishes a state interest that (a) makes sense and (b) satisfies the constitutional interest.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Huh. That doesn’t even describe 20-18-401, though. The only time the State breaks with the assumption that the husband (if he exists) is the father and goes looking for a bio-father is when all three parties involved say so, or when there’s been a court determination that he is not – presumably because somebody asserted as much in a dispute, otherwise the court would not have jurisdiction to make the determination under Article III or its Arkansas equivalent. It never contemplates cases where it is impossible for the husband to have fathered the child (perhaps he is an astronaut and was in space at the time of conception), but nobody actually disputes the child’s paternity.

        Maybe someone’s trying to carve out a rule that the hospital/doctor can be the disputant and refuse to pass on the parentage info if they claim the spouse is “obviously” not a biological parent? That could plausibly force same-sex couples to either sue or put up with incorrect birth certificates, and possibly allow courts to rewrite the birth certificate law such that it becomes a biological-parentage scheme.

        But now I’m starting to wonder why Gorsuch spends so much energy on biological-birth-parent schemes being legal when the majority based its opinion on the conclusion (albeit not arrived at by the soundest possible argument) that Arkansas does not in fact have a biological-birth-parent scheme. I would have expected him to at least make the argument, or failing that for the majority to note that he didn’t.

        Which I suppose clears up my “what happened” question: the substance of the majority’s opinion is that 20-18-401 does not define a birth certificate scheme based on biological parentage.

        As far as male-male couples, all the relevant cases would, I think, involve surrogacy or be adoptions and presumably be covered under those laws, rather than the main statute, which does not contemplate them.

        • J Mann says:

          Sorry, I was trying to say basically what you said and probably oversimplified.

          401 assumes the husband is the father unless it has been proved that he isn’t, either by a “court finding” or by agreement of the husband, mother, and putative bio-father. However

          Steelmanning the State’s case, the State could argue that if there is a court finding that the husband is not the father (which as you point out, there usually won’t be), then husband can’t be on the birth certificate even if he, the mother, and the bio-father all want him to be.

          That does look like a biological rule at base with a strong presumption of marital parentage, although I guess if it’s difficult to get a court finding, it may not be much of a difference.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I suppose I just agree with the majority, then, in that I don’t think that is a biological rule. Because of the lack of any positive inquiry by the State (as opposed to waiting for someone to seek a variance), it’s a rule based on marriage that allows variances based on biology (among other things).

          • ana53294 says:

            At least in Florida, the biological father of a child born within a marriage has no rights whatsoever, if the husband doesn’t want to dispute paternity.

            So if for a heterosexual couple, the parents are the mother + whoever is married to her, why should it be different for a homosexual one?

            Unless Arkansas recognizes biological father’s rights, that is.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It appears to be only technically a dissent; the dissenters agree the birth certificate should be issued, but believes §20-18-401 is not affected by Obergefell (whereas the court’s decision said it was), only §9–10–201, the artificial insemination statute. I suspect they’re staking out a position for a case where a state has some sort of biologically-based (only) system, e.g. some clause like “Husband shall be recorded as father unless evidence is present that husband could not be father”.

  7. sunnydestroy says:

    I am starting an ecommerce shop selling t-shirts with art by a few friend-artists.

    I’d appreciate any advice or relevant anecdotes anyone can give me regarding entering the ecommerce space to help me not become a failure statistic.

    I’ve already built it on a WordPress/Woocommerce stack and written all the copy I think is necessary for the various pages/product pages. I have not started promoting it yet though as I’m trying to do a soft launch kind of thing for friends/family to help me work out any bugs.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Explain in one sentence why you are better than redbubble.

      This is an extremely saturated market, not only online but in real life. It’s very, very easy to find a place that will print shirts for you, and there’s no lack of neat shirt designs. Your competitive advantage will have to be an absolute killer, and even then if your selection of art is either not diverse enough or not “novelty bougie” enough, this will almost certainly not go well anyway.

      • ordogaud says:

        Eh, if he isn’t doing this as his primary source of income (and I’m guessing his art friends aren’t either) I don’t think you necessarily need to beat out all the competition to stay in the black. Once the website is up and running the costs to maintain it are very minimal. And I’m guessing he’s having the shirts printed and shipped by another vendor on demand. I’d certainly hope no one would drop a ton of money up front on inventory they might not sell, especially in such a saturated market. That would certainly be a bad decision.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I don’t know anything about the business side of this kind of thing, but as a person who occasionally buys slightly overpricey t-shirts and other merchandise from creators of artsy stuff I like, I believe it could work (for some definition of the word*) if the OP are setting up a shop for not selling “cool t-shirts” but for “selling t-shirts with prints by artists who have an established crowd / are in process of acquiring one, even if it is niche”. The kind of thing where artist then advertises the products on their social media accounts and they have / could have some following.

        *But yes, the important thing is the objective of the all parties involved. In my books, “a hobby that produces some pocket money” is already “not a failure”.

        However, the main question would be why the creators are not doing this by themselves. Possible answers could be: that you are willing to provide an entry point that results in less hassle / is more reliable / has more friendly service to them than what they’d deal with if they did it by themselves, and/or are willing to charge smaller cut for yourself than existing businesses that provide exactly this kind of service already. (I would advice against taking a much larger cut if you want your artist-friends remain artist-friends.)

  8. Lillian says:

    So apparently Seattle provides evidence that building new housing does in fact reduce rents. After a construction boom Seattle has gone from being one of the hottest rental markets in the country to one of the coolest. Note however that the reduction of nominal value rents is very small and is probably just temporary, the largest gains are actually in reducing rent growth. However, given that prices in general tend to trend upward over time, i think holding rent growth back can be considered a victory for more affordable rents. The article isn’t very clear about this, but it appears to me that the areas with the strongest rent reductions are those where the new construction has been concentrated, while those still experiencing rent growth are the ones that haven’t had much new construction.

    • Matt M says:

      Just off the top of my head, is it possible that Amazon’s announcement of a second headquarters, combined with Seattle’s attempt at the blatantly anti-business “head tax” has people suspicious that it will continue to be a location that experiences high-prestige job growth?

      As in, there might be reasons that demand is shrinking, completely independent from the expansion of supply.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:
        • dick says:

          I live in Portland, here’s my view of things:

          Since the 70s at least, people have been moving here in droves. During that time, we’ve been building more and denser housing, and rents have stayed more or less tolerable despite rapidly increasing population. After the housing crash in 2008, construction damn near stopped overnight, and rents started going up quickly. By 2015 or so, rents were sky high, and there was a ton of political agitation for intervention (rent control, public investment in low-income housing, etc). But at the same time, construction was cranking up again, and giant new 100+ unit apartment buildings and condos were going up all over the city. (There was also a big boom in ADUs, but many of those are short-term rentals and how they affect overall housing is kind of unclear) Now, a lot of those buildings are finished, more are still being constructed, and rents have dropped noticeably.

          My point being, we’ve gone through a boom-bust cycle that looks an awful lot like the magic of the marketplace working as advertised, but it’s also a pretty unusual situation that wouldn’t necessarily replicate in other cities or other time periods. In particular, the bit about Portland having historically done an unusually good job of managing growth suggests it might have structures in place (good zoning laws? effective bureaucrats? bribe-able politicians?) that other cities lack.

  9. yodelyak says:

    Back in open thread 87 our host gave a shout out to long-time, quality SSC commenter JRM, who is running for District Attorney in Stanislaus County, California.

    That was then. If you want to see where JRM’s campaign is now, JRM has just posted a round-up of his 20 most popular Facebook posts, which is here.

    • yodelyak says:

      I’ve had the pleasure, as a former campaign professional who recently found myself underemployed as a lawyer after finishing law school, of dabbling in trying to make myself useful to JRM’s campaign. I have multiple years of managing first-time candidates and engaging with professional attorneys, and I’ve consistently found JRM to be impeccably professional, thoughtful, and thoroughly researched and reasoned. I can’t think of any–not a single one–campaign that has even half as consistent a stream of thoughtful, reasoning pieces as the content JRM has put on Facebook… if you want a chance to support or signal boost a great SSC commenter running for office in the real world, read a few of JRM’s posts!

      It’s been unpleasant for me to feel I needed to argue him to spend less time being reasonable and more time raising money with emotional appeals and spending it repeating one simple talking point with lowest-common-denominator-type-appeal as cheaply as possible to as many people as possible… and it does seem to me that he mostly hasn’t listened, for better or worse.

      I’d love to see his campaign rewarded for the level of detailed thought he has put into his campaign.

      Even if you’re not interested to potentially support a highly competent person running for DA in Stanislaus County, CA, stop by and read some of his content and see if you don’t end up knowing a lot more about what it is that District Attorney’s do, and how they can succeed or fail in serving their communities.

    • yodelyak says:

      Disclosure/Disclaimer/Addendum: You may decide to believe I am biased, since I was briefly paid a very modest hourly rate to be a sounding board for JRM early in his campaign, months ago. Still, I was not paid to post this, and the opinion I have posted here is my own, and written on my own time. And, as Levar Burton would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

      Some of my favorite JRM comments from earlier on SSC are this helpful lawyer’s-perspective comment and this comment urging our host to keep being his excellent truth-seeking self and here, where he thanked our host for the initial shout-out back in open thread 87.

  10. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to devise a movie or TV show with a protagonist whose profession is your profession, the work of that profession is portrayed realistically (or close), and the result is worth watching. You have free choice of genre: drama, comedy, romance, horror, whatever.

    • Michael Handy says:

      As someone in digital marketing, I’d say it would work best as a slightly more nerdy/small pond version of Stephen Fry’s “Absolute Power”. Slightly terrible people helping Slightly terrible people do moderately terrible things to stave off the really terrible people.

      As someone in Opera…Mozart already did it in the 1780s with Der Schauspieldirektor

    • johan_larson says:

      I’m in software development. I don’t think it’s really possible to make software development itself watchable, so you have to focus on something else, such as characters and relationships.

      I’m thinking a large, somewhat oldfashioned software company is facing a challenge from a new competitor. To meet it, they assemble a team of people from across the company, and charge them with delivering an answer, in the form of a new component for the company’s flagship product. The team members, who have mostly never met before, and are a pretty quirky bunch, have to figure out how to work together and make things happen in the face of bureaucratic inertia from the rest of the company. Spoiler: they make it, but only just.

      • Chalid says:

        “The Phoenix Project” is a novel about a dev ops manager struggling to improve his company’s processes while saving a late and over-budget product launch. It manages to be pretty enjoyable and educational.

      • AG says:

        Halt and Catch Fire has pretty much set the bar for software development drama (and while there are some delightful technical problem solving scenes, yeah for the most part it’s all characters/relationships stuff), while Silicon Valley (have not watched) would cover the comedy sector.

    • silver_swift says:

      Does the story need to involve the work in a central way or can we just patch the bits of (for instance) The Matrix that involve Neo’s day job to be more realistic?

      In the latter case, I suggest doing exactly that works for almost every mundane job. In the former case, I suspect it might not actually be possible to create a story about my job (system integrator/requirements engineer) that I would want to watch.

      The in-between case where the work itself needs to be portrayed and portrayed realistically, but everything around it can be as contrived as you want is more interesting. I can kinda maybe imagine a story about a group of people in a tech company that somehow got their hands on alien technology and working in secret to get it to work and/or integrate it with earth tech before can shut them down. Don’t know if you can make it interesting to watch/follow-able for the average person and still have it be realistic though.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’d like the job itself to be more than window-dressing. It should matter, at least a bit. It’s ok to let it be the B-plot, though.

    • dodrian says:

      I think the BBC hit on a winning model with 2012 and spin off W1A. Both are mockumentaries, the first about being on important committees for the London 2012 Olympics and the second about upper-management in the BBC. A friend who worked both on the Olympics and for the BBC claims that they’re accurate in portraying the culture of both, even if they turn it up to 11 at times.

      Most of each episode is documenting a series of meetings: first the meeting of the board and then in the consequential meetings where they try and resolve whatever was decided upon in the board meeting. The humor is exceptionally dry, my wife didn’t get it and refused to watch with me, it partly revolves around playing on a different British stereotype for each main character, and partly in the inter-character relationships as each person maneuvers attempting to do as little work as possible and make everything someone else’s problem.

      I think you could apply this model successfully to almost any corporate type job. Each episode of Software Development Inc would start with a scrum where all the characters attempt to excuse why they haven’t managed to do any work on the Project. Sales and Marketing would go back and forth on the requirements. Managers would hear about the latest hip management technique and attempt to impose it. Developers would play occasional pranks on eachother a-la IT Crowd. One poor developer would be incredibly stressed as they struggled to be the only one writing useful code. All accurate, if slightly exaggerated for effect.

      • dodrian says:

        In a similar humorous vein, the BBC nailed it again with Detectorists which follows the exploits of a local metal-detecting club. Anyone who has been in a tiny, self-important, British hobbyist club knows how spot-on its depiction is.

      • dodrian says:

        I did work for a while in an inner city church, and the BBC show Rev was pretty accurate about a lot of things. The vicar loved it.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I think that with a little work you could make something like the book the Andromeda Strain with less insanely unrealistic science.

      There’s a highly contagious oncovirus outbreak that the government suspects might be a terrorist bioweapon, so they recruit a team of highly photogenic biomedical scientists and doctors from different disciplines and stick then all in a top secret BSL 4 lab in the Nevada desert. They need to race against the clock (over a few months) to identify how the virus is being transmitted and to screen for chemotherapeutics which might be effective in treating it.

      When the love interest scientist is tragically infected by the insane Russian virologist*, the main character is inspired to try something crazy. A massive intravenous dose of vitamin C short-circuits the metabolic pathway of the cancer cells, slowing tumor growth enough for standard cancer treatments to be effective.

      The movie ends with the until-now silent MD getting a standing ovation from the UN for “his” incredible discovery.

      *Every disaster movie needs a crazy Russian guy who turns on the heroes.

      • Deiseach says:

        This makes me fondly remember The Burning Zone, a 90s show which lasted only one season, started off weird (instead of starting off mundane and then going weird) and then about half-way through was yanked sideways by executive interference to drop the weird spiritual/fantasy elements and concentrate on being EXCITING ACTION EPIDEMIC PREVENTION! to try and prop up the weak ratings but it sank without trace.

        I liked the weirdness (it was that special brand of 90s weirdness) and the shift to “disease of the week solved by Action Hero Doctor” really did nothing for it, so no wonder it died.

    • ana53294 says:

      Arthur Hailey has written plenty of books about certain professions. I don’t know how accurate they are, but Overload helped me understand the problems of a power grid better, and he did research them better.

      His strategy seems to be to take an industry and have them go through a catastrophic event. So, an airport goes through a snowstorm, and there are different plots about workers dealing with that. Or an electrical grid operator has one of their oil-fired power plants explode, and they deal with that, during a really hot summer in California, when everybody uses AC.

      One of my favorite writers, James Herriot, just wrote funny books about his life as a veterinarian. And most of it seems pretty realistic, because it was autobiographical.

      • albatross11 says:

        The entire movie is the hero sitting in his basement with a big-ass stack of papers, a cup of hot tea, and an occasional muttering curse about his gullability in agreeing to be on that program committee without asking about the reviewer workload first….

    • Jake says:

      I write avionics software, and in the past have been involved in safety audits. I could definitely see a movie called ‘5 Whys’ that starts off with a catastrophic plane crash, caused by some minor software bug, then dives down into a series of 5 interweaving stories detailing how that bug was allowed through the process.

      Why #1: Aircraft loses control of elevator function when a jumper wire melts. This is highlighted catastrophe of the film. Close-up of wire on circuit board catching fire and melting, then zoom out to the whole plane going out of control and slamming into the ground. Black screen. Fade in to inspectors picking through the wreckage of the plane, finding the circuit board, and holding it up to the camera.

      Why #2: Why was there a patched jumper wire on the circuit board in the first place? Zoom into one of the dead bodies from the plane crash. Flashback to see that person as a hot-shot young engineer staring at a failure message in a test. “Actuation time: 10.23s, Expected Actuation time: <10s." He looks again and comments how not enough power is getting through to an actuator and by adding a small jumper wire, we could bypass a resistor built into the board and allow enough power for the system to work. This gets proposed in a meeting, and the engineer wins an award for saving the company the millions of dollars in time and budget it would have cost to re-spin the boards. As part of the award, he is invited to a company retreat, and is shown boarding the plane.

      Why #3: Why did the wire make it through review? Flash to the passenger sitting next to the engineer on the plane. Go back in time to them in a review meeting giving their OK for the changes. Then zoom back in time to their college days, where they are studying electrical engineering. In one of their labs, they are joking around, and one of their friends accidentally grabs a high-voltage line and is electrocuted. After showing the severe effects this has on their friend group, show them changing their major to computer science, saying they never want to see power above 12V again. Then flash back to the review and listen in on their thoughts saying something like, "I remember something vaguely about properly sizing wires for this, but it's been a long time….a wire is a wire, right? This should be fine." Then, after the review, show their friend asking if they want to be the +1 for the company retreat.

      Why #4: Why was the wire needed in the first place? Flash to another engineer at the same company (and on the same plane). He is at home, explaining to his wife that work has been running him ragged, since the company over-promised their commitments, and now he has 3 months of work to get done in the next 2 weeks, or the company stands to lose millions. She yells at him and says she wants a divorce (fill in drama here as time allows). He goes back to his desk and comments that he can't find the right pulse width in the standard library, since indexing into this array doesn't seem to accept a max value. Show his code showing something like modulation_width = *(firstIndex + maxOffset) ((yes I know this is awful coding, but it's Hollywood)). He says screw it, puts in a constant, and you see him turning in his resignation at work, and take off for vacation without his (now ex-)wife, and get on the plane.

      Why #5: Why wasn't the max value accepted? Show some college intern writing code saying "firstIndex = array[1];" and checking it in to trunk. Then show the intern jumping on the plane for a spring break trip….I'm running out of steam here, but you get the idea.

      In reality, we do so much testing at so many different levels for aircraft that none of this would really ever have a chance of happening (maybe at one level, but it would get caught at a higher/lower level). That's why traveling by air is still just about the safest way to get anywhere.

    • AG says:

      The trials and tribulations of a company’s R&T site’s volunteer team in charge of site non-work events, along the lines of BBQs, summer games, the Christmas lunch/dinner, game tournaments, etc.

      It’s hard to make the meat of the technical jobs interesting, but the universal administrative or bureaucratic elements can always find human connection parts. Such as trying to get people to not flake on every softball game, gdi.

      • Evan Þ says:

        For extra drama, have the person in charge of that softball game be dating (or be connected in some other way to) the director of the project that’s going to ship a day or so after the game.

        • AG says:

          Yeah, there’s definitely lots of real-life low-key conflict about the fact that such events are volunteer-driven, and always lower-priority than the company’s actual work. Turnover for the team is pretty highly as some people are too busy for their team duties.

          On the other hand, the cases where the event has built up enough engagement to take priority over work has also occurred, and is highly entertaining for it. My site’s Halloween group costume competition got intense.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Bojack Horseman already exists, and I find it very unlikely that I could better it.

    • Plumber says:

      “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to devise a movie or TV show with a protagonist whose profession is your profession, the work of that profession is portrayed realistically (or close), and the result is worth watching. You have free choice of genre: drama, comedy, romance, horror, whatever”

      @johan_larson

      Sure, a comedy, call it “Building Maintenance” or “City Workers”, filming just one of my co-workers tales growing up in San Francisco is worth two seasons, us not being able to understand each others accents, how we break most every rule on “language sensitivity” and “harassment” talking to each other, I don’t see the humor, but my boss is amused by when I have to take sewage showers to fix leaks, “Gilligan takes” of safety meetings interposed with what needed to do the work, how the Bailiffs all tucked in their shirts and for the first time in years wore ties when the national press was here during the Kate Steinle trial, an inmate in the Jail on the 7th floor shouting “I HATE THIS HOTEL!”

      I think it could work

      • S_J says:

        That description sounds better than the TV show Parks and Rec, which was an attempt at this kind of humor.

        (Complete with the actor Chris Pratt in his pre-movie-fame days…it’s a shock to realize how much fat he lost while preparing for his first big movie role.)

        The Parks and Rec show was partly about the day-to-day struggles of the people who worked to maintain the Parks…and partly about a woman who dreamed of using her role as Director of the Parks and Recreation Department as a stepping-stone into political success.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Cost Accounting? I don’t know. Make it look like Money ball, you have a crappy factory producing something everyone loves, with a bunch of old-school managers that never look at numbers, and a montage of an excel spreadsheet monkey that sees they are losing millions of dollars on one thing. Ta da, now everyone gets free cars!

      My factory may or may not exist based on existing IP from an already existing movie that may or may not help this movie significantly, perhaps because it was already a movie that was already profitable.

    • SpeakLittle says:

      An escapade-of-the-week comedy about a moderately-sized PI firm. Plots would revolve around such things as
      – Weird client requests (“I want you to prove my ex-wife replaced my prize-winning tropical fish after the divorce and has the real one.”)
      – Gently rebuffing illegal client requests (“Hack into my company’s HR servers and find out why Tom got the raise instead of me.”)
      – The research / internet collections department having to repeatedly convince the IT department that their browing history has perfectly valid work reasons (“Yes, I spent 4 hours in an internet chat room for rare books dealers. What of it?”)
      – The ongoing fight between the legal department and the collections department about what the collections department can actually do without violating the law.

      Characters include:
      – An internet collection tech whose job is basically spending 30 hours a week monitoring social media accounts, and hates humanity because of it
      – Case/account managers that repeatedly promise the impossible to clients.
      – That one field collections guy who thinks he’s Jason Bourne.
      – The military vet who got out of the service but won’t shut up about his time in the service.

    • beleester says:

      I’ve seen anime about basketball, children’s card games, and baking, so an anime about computer programming can’t be that much harder to do, right? We’ve even got a tournament arc – the ACM programming contests!

      So here’s the shonen sports formula, adapted to CS:
      1. A protagonist who wants to be the very best, like no one ever was. He joins the computer science club and meets a quirky cast of characters who each embody some engineering stereotype – one’s the guy who wanted to make video games, one’s a hardware/electronics nerd, one spends every waking moment glued to his phone, etc. Protagonist-kun, as usual, starts off getting forced into it – his parents want him to get a good job and CS is where the money is – but reveals that he has a knack for engineering and falls in love with puzzle-solving.

      2. A problem that can only be solved by the CS concept we’re introducing this week. “We need to plot the most efficient route. This looks like a job for… Djikstra’s Algorithm!” One of the characters explains the gist of the algorithm – “If we try every path blindly, it’ll take too long, but if we record the cost it takes to reach each node as we come to it, we have a lot more information!” – with a flashy visual or a clever metaphor, and they solve the problem.

      (Side note: I really want to see Japanese voice actors try to pronounce “Djikstra.”)

      3. As the season wears on and we run out of algorithms that we can explain in a short episode, we instead demonstrate the other skill of CS – gathering requirements. Now the problem statements aren’t obvious – they aren’t telling you about “nodes and edges,” they’re telling you to navigate a city, or jump between pillars, or whatever contrived scenario the ACM judges came up with, and our protagonist has to spot the connection between what he’s learned and the problem statement.

      3b. We can also have a side plot or two where some other student or club has a problem and they want the CS club to hack together a solution, to introduce algorithms and concepts that wouldn’t make sense in an ACM contest and reinforce the theme that CS is about turning real-world problems into math.

      4. The antagonist is clearly one of those “CS is just gluing stuff together” types, who has a big library of algorithms in his head but doesn’t have the heart of an engineer, while the protagonist learns (as every sports anime protagonist learns) that the true prize is the friends you made along the way, demonstrated as the team splits up to handle each problem in the final tournament. No more room for error, they all need to pull their weight to win! The code compiles, they send it to the judges at the last second… does it pass?

  11. ana53294 says:

    What is the current thought on the euro?

    While I have seen many magazines writing lots of articles on what a terrible idea the euro is during the Greek crisis, I only see them now w.r.t. Brexit. While I don’t favor Spain exiting the euro, I am not entirely sure it would be a good idea to enter now, if we had kept the peseta.

    I have also heard that there are attempts to pressure some EU countries to join the euro, which they oppose. Is this opposition justified on economic grounds? If we were in a parallel universe going to start the euro now, but could see our history up to now, would it be a good idea to start it?

    • Aapje says:

      A single currency means a single interest rate. When the countries actually have different laws and cultures, this means that those countries won’t have the appropriate interest rate. This results in bad behavior within countries with poor economies that should do less investment & spending.

      The EU has pseudo-smart people who listened to the objections by economists, so they made a rule which disallows high deficits, supposedly substituting law for market discipline. Unfortunately, they failed to realize how people actually behave. The EU has shown that it is unwilling to enforce spending discipline in the past. Much worse, this solution completely ignores that bubbles don’t cause deficits while the bubble is being blow up, but when it bursts. By that time you are too late to intervene, because the damage has already been done.

      The rule supposedly limiting deficits also merely applies to government spending, not to the private sector. However, low interest rates effect them too, for example, by boosting housing bubbles. So that ‘great recession’ that you had in Spain, which was caused mainly by a housing bubble and which more than doubled your national debt…the euro made that a lot worse.

      A second major issue is that the exchange rates can’t change between nations, resulting in permanent and stable trade deficits between EU countries. To keep this going, you need either ever increasing loans to the countries with a trade deficit, which is unsustainable, or a transfer union, where the countries with a trade surplus give money to countries with a trade deficit.

      However, the EU is not the US and citizens don’t have that kind of solidarity (the EU elite do and they are in their own little bubble, so they mistakenly think that the citizens are willing to permanently send large sums to other EU citizens). Furthermore, the differences in language and culture are far larger than in the US, so economic migration is less of an option than in the US, because it is harder on the migrant and harder on the country they migrate to (Hi Brexit!). Add the time bomb that is a graying population and I predict that this will result in a spectacular crisis.

      Thankfully old people aren’t very violent or revolutionary, so it shouldn’t get quite as bad as the early twentieth century (when we got fascism and communism), but I don’t see it ending well.

      As for your questions: I’ve not been impressed by the (more believable) estimates of the benefits of a single currency. Besides, most of those benefits can be achieved by keeping your currency and pegging it to the euro and/or other currencies. Doing that allows decoupling when needed.

      In a parallel universe, perhaps a neuro (northern euro) would be worthwhile, but not a euro for the all the very disparate countries in the EU. A neuro and zeuro definitely seems like the best way to save the euro.

      • Gazeboist says:

        When the countries actually have different laws and cultures, this means that those countries won’t have the appropriate interest rate.

        Despite your claim to the contrary later, this is amounts to an argument that a national US currency is not viable, since the states quite obviously have different laws and cultures, and especially have very different economies and spending priorities.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I don’t think it amounts to an argument that the Dollar (or indeed the Euro) isn’t viable, just that it is in this regard sub-optimal. Presumably the appropriate interest rates for Eurozone states vary more than for US states, making this a bigger problem for the Euro than the Dollar.

        • CatCube says:

          Some regions of the US have more or less been in a permanent depression since about the ’80s, and I recall one hypothesis for this was the fact that the dollar is a larger-than-optimal currency zone.

          • Anthony says:

            As pointed out above, it is easier to adjust to a move from Detroit to Los Angeles, or from West Virginia to Washington, for most people, than from Flanders to France, or from Hungary to Austria.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anthony

            Going from Flanders to The Netherlands or vice versa is already very tough because the culture differs a lot. Then we are talking about places that used to be the same country and that officially have the same language*.

            * Yet the TV will usually subtitle it in the other place, showing the de facto truth

        • Aapje says:

          @Gazeboist

          I pointed out why this is less of an issue for the US:
          – Higher mobility and acceptance of this mobility
          – Americans accept a disparity in federal tax income for a state and the federal spending in the state. For example, blue staters are apparently fine with their soldiers being mostly stationed in the red states and mostly being from the red states. Germany is not going to want to pay for an army with many Greek soldiers, nor will they station a large number of their troops in Greece. There are large farm subsidies going more to the red states. Etc.

          In Europe, we keep a sharp eye on how much countries contribute to the EU and get back. Then we fight over it.

          In the US, you don’t really seem to care that much. There is some myopic fighting at the detail level (like senators demanding that new government spending benefits their state sufficiently), but the big picture is mostly ignored.

          • Gazeboist says:

            A lot of blue staters don’t like interstate tax transfers, they’re just hard to get rid of once they’re in place. Hence the anger over the SALT deduction (which mitigated the size of the transfers) being eliminated, for example.

            This is also complicated by the fact that a lot of distinctly federal programs have a substantial “give the states money and tell them to implement this” component, and those programs are viewed as federal even when they have that structure. Medicaid is a good example here, but I think even the interstate highway system works this way.

            Not to mention that for the majority of its history, the US was substantially more regional than it is today, and is still very regional, despite the failure of the news media to acknowledge this.

            America is more federalized than Europe, obviously, but they’re both federal systems. The EU is probably more comparable to America under the Articles of Confederation. Which doesn’t speak well to the durability of the EU, but suggests that the problem isn’t the Euro as such. Worth noting, after all, that the EU in fact makes international but intraeuropean migration and trade legally quite easy, and that was the cause of Brexit.

            (I’m aware that I’m simplifying the layers of treaties involved here, but I think this point still holds – certainly it holds for most of the voters on both sides of Brexit.)

      • 10240 says:

        A second major issue is that the exchange rates can’t change between nations, resulting in permanent and stable trade deficits between EU countries. To keep this going, you need either ever increasing loans to the countries with a trade deficit, which is unsustainable, or a transfer union, where the countries with a trade surplus give money to countries with a trade deficit.

        Another solution is internal devaluation: prices and wages decrease in the countries whose currency would otherwise devalue, while they increase in countries whose currency would appreciate. It’s basically the same as external devaluation (i.e. changing exchange rates) when looking at the actual transaction values measured in a fixed hard currency, just without changing the units. The only problem is that people tend to be very angered by nominal wage drops, while they notice price drops less. This could be fixed by increasing the target for the average inflation across the eurozone: then countries that would otherwise need negative inflation could get by with 0 inflation, while other countries would have higher inflation. Or by teaching people some economics.

        Do you want to stop getting indebted? Spend less. This is what I think would trigger the aforementioned internal devaluation: if demand decreases, prices decrease. And it’s not like floating exchange rates would allow you to avoid decreasing your spending, since imported goods would become more expensive.

        • ana53294 says:

          You can’t devalue labor in most European countries. Mostly, you get higher unemployment, but labor costs don’t go down that much.

          Most Southern European countries have much higher rates of structural unemployment than the USA (the lowest unemployment figures we’ve had in Spain have been around 8%). Employment is very costly in Spain, and the labour market is very regulated. But any attempt at reform is very hard, and the 2012 reform was only pushed through because of the recession. Now that the Spanish economy is growing, there would be no political justification of labor reform.

          Lowering wages and reducing costs is much easier in a country with at-will employment and less onerous labor laws. This also means that employers are going to be more willing to bid up wages (because they can lower them during a recession).

          • 10240 says:

            Mostly, you get higher unemployment, but labor costs don’t go down that much.

            If a lot of people are unemployed, why are they unwilling to work for significantly lower wages than before? Unemployment benefits?

            But any attempt at reform is very hard, and the 2012 reform was only pushed through because of the recession. Now that the Spanish economy is growing, there would be no political justification of labor reform.

            That’s weird, as when the economy is growing, there would be much less immediate downsides to labor market liberalization: fewer people would get fired, and those who do would find a job much faster than in a recession. That said, I know that labor market reform is always very hard, that’s why I suggested increased inflation that would allow effective devaluation without nominal devaluation.

          • ana53294 says:

            If a lot of people are unemployed, why are they unwilling to work for significantly lower wages than before? Unemployment benefits?

            Minimum wage.

            There is unemployment benefits, which can last up to two years. In addition to that, several provinces have a minimum subsidy. And then there is the agrarian basic income. Basically, if you work 35 days in agriculture, you get a monthly income of 400 euros.

            People who have interacted with these laborers have told me that these are people who don’t want to work or study more to get a better paid, more regular job. Because they are perfectly happy not working the other 330 days of the year.

            Perception of the unfairness of the rents of agrarian workers is one of the reasons why Catalonia and the Basque Country (the more industrial areas, who share the pension pot with those areas where people work just 35 days a year), want independence.

            There is also a lot more community and family support in Spain. Americans seem to move more frequently, but in Spain, a lot of people live in the same place for generations, and people help each other. Which is one of the reasons why, IMO, during the American Great Depression 25 % unemployment meant soup kitchens, and the same unemployment in Spain is not that bade.

        • ana53294 says:

          The way for employers to pay less seems to be to have workers work a lot of unpaid overtime. Of course, that doesn’t mean productivity is going to be high (Spain has a long history of presenteeism).

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I think the Euro is something close to an ideal fiat monetary system, although I think it still faces some important institutional rot problems.

      Obviously there is the bonus of reducing transaction costs across borders (and what is the purpose of currency other than reducing transaction costs?). Plus there is the bonus of it being resistant to political pressures for inflation.

      I will say, I disagree with what aapje said about interest rates. A single currency doesn’t mean there will be a single interest rate. Interest rates vary from state to state and person to person in the US, and the borrowing rates for Greece and Germany are indeed very different.

      The normal critiques, imo, don’t really pass the piss test for me. Things like Germany’s trade surplus are due more to the fact that Germans produce better goods for cheaper than most of Southern Europe. The fact that you can’t inflate away debts is a bonus for 90% of times, and only hurts you in deep depressions, which people like to focus on, but poverty is norm so we should focus on what lifts people out of poverty, and that is investment. People don’t invest in places where there is a high threat of hyperinflation. Argentina used to all have competitive GDP/capita to Europeans countries in the 1950s, but they went in a different direction because of hyperinflation. Now Chile which used to be a backwater has passed what used to be a powerhouse, as well as the crown jewel of South America, Venezuela, which otherwise would be an oil-rich tropical paradise.

      • Aapje says:

        Interest rates always depend on to what extent you are judged to be good for your money. You are correct that my claim was too strong. However, a single currency does equalize interest rates to a substantial extent.

        A single currency allows bad debt holders to get a free ride at the expense of good debt holders (up to a point).

        Things like Germany’s trade surplus are due more to the fact that Germans produce better goods for cheaper than most of Southern Europe.

        With a floating currency and no willingness by the Germans to accept (further) debt, the normal result is then that the Greek currency would become cheaper relative to the German currency until:
        – the German goods get so expensive for the Greeks and
        – the Greek goods get so cheap for the Germans
        that the Greeks buy less from Germany and more from Greece or other countries, while the Germans buy more from Greece.

        An example of this effect was that when the British pound got more expensive after the Brexit vote, many Brits decided to not visit Europe for their holiday but to stay in Britain, consuming British goods and services.

        People don’t invest in places where there is a high threat of hyperinflation.

        I assume that by ‘don’t invest in places’ you mean: ask high interest rates. It is very rare for investors to completely refuse to invest.

        Asking high interest rates when countries are taking on unsustainable debt is exactly what the market should do and what incentivizes countries to not to take on unsustainable debt.

        Unfortunately, the markets are often irrational and/or misinformed. If investors have made a huge mistake by letting a country take on unsustainable debt, then realize their mistake and then rapidly raise the interest rates to the right level, the country can get into a debt spiral, where the interest rate has become so high that this makes it completely impossible for the country to pay back the debt. Inflating away the debt away may then be the only viable solution (it’s similar to declaring bankruptcy).

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          I really don’t think your currency equilibrium happens as you say. One big red flag is you saying that the pound became expensive, but then Brits stayed home. That is counter-intuitive.

          Also these currency tactics are not actually fixes, they are just temporary tactics that can temporarily work until people fully realize the new value of the currency. And then you’ve just impoverished bondholders and pensioners.

          Example: Its about 1 pound to $1.30 American dollars. Lets say America had 100% inflation for a year, and now its 1-$2.60. Yes Brits will tour in America a bit more because their money goes further, but that is only true until prices in America catch up with this inflation. Once Americans are paid double and charge double (which happens quickly when there is high inflation, less so if its only 1-3%), the same equilibrium returns and the 1 pound, despite being nominally work twice as much, can only buy the same number of American goods.

        • Lambert says:

          Sterling fell vs the Euro. They’re almost at parity right now.

  12. fion says:

    There’s a new report out about climate change. UK news article about the report. Report itself.

    They focus on a target of 1.5 Celsius of temperature rise, the impacts that would have, and how we’re currently on track for a much larger amount of warming, with much more drastic consequences. If we even go as high as 2 degrees it would mean the death of all coral reefs.

    Possibly of interest to @DavidFriedman is chapter 3.4.6 on crop yields. The authors note that CO2 concentration has a positive impact on yields, but also state that “observations of actual crop yield trends indicate that
    reductions as a result of climate change remain more common than crop yield increases, despite increased atmospheric CO2 concentration”. The rest of the section summarises the evidence more thoroughly.

    The advice for what we need to do about it will probably look familiar:
    “buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced seasonal food – and throw less of it away • drive electric cars but walk or cycle short distances • take trains and buses instead of planes • use videoconferencing instead of business travel • use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer • insulate homes • demand low carbon in every consumer product”

    I’m not going to let anybody straw-man me so let me state that I don’t believe this is end-of-civilisation stuff, and certainly not extinction-of-human-race stuff, but it is going to be the extinction of many species (it already has been, but many more will follow), it will definitely lead to increased flooding and it seems likely to lead to more food shortages. It doesn’t need to be the end of civilisation for it to be a really serious issue that we need to act quickly about.

    • ana53294 says:

      take trains and buses instead of planes

      I would love to take trains instead of planes. Buses tend to be cheap and affordable, but very uncomfortable, while trains are much more comfortable than planes. And trains do not have baggage limitations, nor security bullshit. But European train travel is incredibly expensive. And frequently, less reliable.

      A train form Manchester to Paris is 234 pounds, while an equivalent plane ticket costs 99.

      If we want to have more people using enviromentally friendly trains, we should liberalize the european market, and liberalize the use of railways. Allow trans-national train companies. Also, facilitate gauge changes (something so a train can automatically change gauges). Also, make train delay compensations as generous as air travel compensation.

      • fion says:

        Yeah, I agree that train costs make this hard. The solution I go for is to just travel much less. On the rare occasions when I really do need to travel I can afford the train because of all the other times I stayed home.

        Also occasionally I just get on the bus and endure the unpleasantness.

        In terms of your large-scale solution, what do you mean by “liberalise the european market”? And why would allowing trans-national train companies help? But also, do trans-national train companies not already exist? I’m sure I remember reading something about how a particular line in the UK is run by a Dutch company or something.

        My limited understanding of the problem was that railways are a natural monopoly, so competition doesn’t work very well to bring down prices. If that’s true, then it suggests a solution would involve more regulation and perhaps nationalisation.

        • Aapje says:

          In the UK, transport companies can submit bids for lines/regions. The Dutch national railway company has a subsidiary that runs some lines.

          The German national railways run some lines in The Netherlands with a subsidiary (Arriva), although almost all lines are run by the Dutch national railway company.

          There is more competition in cargo rail transport, the German national railway runs a lot of trains into Rotterdam (not surprisingly, because a lot of cargo goes to the German Ruhr region).

          My limited understanding of the problem was that railways are a natural monopoly, so competition doesn’t work very well to bring down prices.

          You can introduce competition by having the rail be laid and maintained by a government monopoly and then make the transport companies compete (for a contract to run a line, perhaps with subsidies).

        • ana53294 says:

          What I want is to treat the rails like the internet cables. So kind of like how in Spain internet companies use Telefonica’s cables to provide service (because they were laid with government money), and how in the UK internet companies use BT’s infrastructure.

          I don’t know how much of the UK rails system was laid with public money; but I have a feeling that even for those that have been built with private money, they have received a lot of government money since then.

          So, even if a company owns rails, they should let other companies use it, for a reasonable fee.

          The railway is expensive, subsidized, slow, and unreliable. Planes offer a much better experience, and I think that we can do a lot to improve trains.

          Internet and air travel is much cheaper in Europe than in the US. This is partly due to density, but also due to the liberalization and breaking up of the monopolies. We need to do the same with trains (liberalize and break monopolies).

          We should also have more overnight trains. They have them in Russia, where you go by train from Moscow to St. Petersburgh, you lay down in bed at 10 pm, you wake up at 6 am and you are in your destination (they stop in a station for two hours, so you don’t arrive at 4 am).

        • Lambert says:

          The rail lines themselves are a natural monopoly, but operating the trains need not be.
          In the UK, there are often several companies operating services along the same route.
          But it’s hardly the most competitive and least cronyism-prone system.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Eh..
        I realize this is going to be heresy, but the historic performance of rail-way liberalization has not been super impressive. Not as bloody abysmal as the efforts to create free markets in electricity, which nigh-uniformly fail, but…

        Well, a whole lot of nations have tried the recipe you just described, and I cannot think of a single standout success story. At best “Eh, about the same level of service and price as the old state rail”. And the median result has been rather worse than that.

        Frankly, if you want to transform european rail service, what it would actually take is a highly competent federal state rail company. Which is, of course, also a bit of a tall ask..

    • The Nybbler says:

      The authors note that CO2 concentration has a positive impact on yields, but also state that “observations of actual crop yield trends indicate that reductions as a result of climate change remain more common than crop yield increases, despite increased atmospheric CO2 concentration”.

      Honestly, I don’t believe them. The study they cite as Lobell et al (doi:10.1126/science.1204531) is not based on observations but on simulations.

      • ana53294 says:

        The thing with CO2 and yield is, CO2 may increase yield in optimum nutrition conditions (a shitload of nitrogen, basically). But if the plant gets a lot of CO2 and not enough N, it cannot grow more biomass (because it needs the N).

        So in artificially over-fertilized fields, production may increase.

        • ordogaud says:

          Not an expert, but aren’t artificially over-fertilized fields sort of the norm? Especially in western/advanced countries with industrial scale farming?

        • Increased CO2 reduces water requirements, since the leaves don’t have to pass as much air through in order to extract carbon. So in that respect it makes yield less dependent on optimum conditions.

          • ana53294 says:

            I was mostly referring to minerals when I was referring to nutrients. N, K, P.

            If the plant creates a lot of sugars, but it cannot direct that energy towards the production of proteins and new cells, it cannot grow properly.

            And while increased CO2, on its own, would decrease water consumption, the expcted increase in temperatures that accompanies it would increase water consumption.

    • AG says:

      Isn’t shipping a significant carbon generation source? So globalisation is a huge part of the issue. Vastly decrease trans-oceanic trade also reduces international flight needs, so the aerospace industry takes a general hit, and so the train industries can become more ascendant because they aren’t getting undercut by competition so thoroughly.

      Plus, you get more jobs from the necessary redundant jobs of localised production.

      • Nornagest says:

        Depends what you’re calling “significant”. Globally, transportation accounts for about 14% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 28% in the US. I haven’t been able to find global figures, but in the US, ships and boats are only about 2% of that 28% — in other words 0.5% of the total. (Trains are another 2%. Light vehicles, for comparison, are sixty-something.) It’s probably somewhat higher globally, but I doubt it’s high enough to be a “huge” part of the issue.

        You might be getting thrown by some news a while back saying that the shipping industry was responsible for a large fraction of global pollution. That was true, but it was talking about particulate emissions, which aren’t greenhouse emissions and in fact can cause cooling under some circumstances. The reason ships put out a lot of those is that they burn high-sulfur fuel, and don’t have the (very effective) smog control hardware that cars and trucks do.

    • Thanks for the link. Reading through that section the conclusion seems to be that it’s complicated, with net positive or negative effects depending on crop and location. For instance:

      In open-top chamber experiments at elevated CO 2 and 1.5°C warming , maize and potato yields were observed to increase by 45.7% and 11%, respectively ( Singh et al. 2013 ; Abebe et al. , 2016 ). However, observations of actual crop y ield trends indicate that reductions as a result of climate change remain more common than crop yield increases, despite increased atmospheric CO2 concentration (Porter et al., 2014).

      One would expect short term negative effects to be larger than long term for a given change and the opposite for positive effects, since in the long term farmers shift crop varieties and cultivation styles to adapt to changed circumstances. They seem to be basing their analysis largely on observed short term effects.

  13. Elliot says:

    Lobster B. Unnameable tweeted a link to the SSC post on Scott’s IRB experience yesterday. Wonder how he came across it.

  14. VirgilKurkjian says:

    Those of you interested in Goodhart’s law, signaling, legibility, Dune, or Hotel Concierge / Nabil ad Dajjal’s comments on the same may be interested in a LW post I recently made.

    • onyomi says:

      I am interested in those things! And also Confucianism. I enjoyed and think I mostly endorse. Relates to something I’ve been thinking about lately, which is how to describe my own political-social philosophy beyond just “ancap,” “libertarian,” and/or “right wing.” Two other ways I’ve thought about, which may be more related than they first seem, are “in favor of civilization, even at the expense of fairness,” and “in favor of always allowing as much local-level/personal discretion as possible without unacceptable affronts to justice (such as might occur if, e.g. judges get unlimited upper-bound discretion in sentencing).”

      I also think of this as a strategy for dealing with the related problem of methodological individualism/socialism–that is, when/where/how to think of people as atomized individuals as opposed to members of groups. Libertarians are typically pretty individualist, though this sometimes leads to an unfair characterization as “selfish” (wanting interactions to be as voluntary as possible does not imply not wanting interactions); however, one obviously can’t help but notice that groups have average characteristics, too, and that enough individuals of one kind or another eventually makes a qualitative difference in the lives of the individuals they interact with. Yet so many injustices arise from treating people as groups, both of the right-wing and left-wing bugaboo variety (socialism and racism/sexism, respectively).

      So, as with trying to allow as much local-level discretion as reasonably possible in e.g. lawmaking, judicial decisions, and the economy, I’d say it makes sense to treat people as individuals (that is, “at the local level” on this analogy), insofar as doing so doesn’t involve unreasonable trade-offs (patting down old, Asian women at the same rate as young, Muslim men at the airport).

      This may seem to cause a contradiction: precisely the reason for many cases of automation seem to be our inability to trust that individuals won’t be racist, sexist, biased, or otherwise treat people based on group membership rather than as unique individuals. But I don’t think this is an effective strategy: in my experience people can be a lot more callous to “groups” than they can to flesh-and-blood people standing in front of them, especially if they are constrained by a bunch of rules to interface with the category, not the person. And I think far more injustice has occurred in history due to following orders than incorrectly following one’s individual conscience. So, though I can see some more obvious objections, I still tend toward preferring discretion, discretion, discretion over guidelines, rules, and automated procedures.

      One minor quibble: do you use the term “Neo-Confucian” advisedly or do you just mean something like “a new version of Confucianism”? If the latter, you probably want to think of something else, because people already use “Neo-Confucianism” as a translation for what is usually called “The Study of the Way” 道學 (not to be confused with Daoism) or “The Study of Principle” 理學 in Chinese. Basically a Confucian revival beginning in the late-Tang and taking off in the Song. But what you’re describing to me sounds more like Xunzi (my favorite Chinese philosopher) than Zhu Xi. Then again, you could be referring to the Neo-Confucian attempt to adjust ritual to accord with “human feeling”?

      • Nick says:

        I’ve been meaning to get a 101-level understanding of how Confucian ethics actually works for a while; is there something you can recommend that wouldn’t be impenetrable to a Westerner? I’ve read the Very Short Introduction, which is quite good intro, but it’s more about history than a dive into any one of the traditions.

        Also, VirgilKurkjian: interesting post!

        • VirgilKurkjian says:

          Thank you!

          My advice is to always go for the primary sources! There are dangers, of course, but I think it’s worth the risk.

          I really like this translation of the Analects. The translation is into more natural language (rather than artificially stuffy academic English) and the commentary added a lot of value for me. You get a good sense of what Confucius actually wanted to talk about, what he really wanted to say, and the context he was coming from.

          I was also struck by how Daoist the Analects seem, so you may get good triangulation by also reading the Dao De Jing and the Art of War.

      • VirgilKurkjian says:

        Thanks! It’s interesting that you tie this to Anarchism, but now that you mention it the connection seems obvious! Clearly if legibility is the preferred language of the state, anti-legibility positions are anti-state! That’s kinda wild.

        Yeah, I wasn’t sure what to call it. It seemed wrong to call Dune “Confucian”, but I was aware that “Neo-Confucian” already meant something. What it reminded me of was the Neo-Confucianism from The Diamond Age, so I point to Neil Stephenson in the essay…

        Not entirely sure what would be the best thing to call it. “Science Fiction with Chinese Characteristics”?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Hey so thanks for the shout-out. I’m glad that my summary helped you although I don’t think it’s quite as deserving of praise. Either way it definitely made my day.

      Some scattered points having just read your article:

      1. I like the phrase machine-attitude and think it’s very appropriate (unlike the phrase automation, which I suspect is going to confuse people). This is definitely a (the?) serious problem in modern society, disregarding real things in favor of symbols that represent those things. It’s a sort of idolatry and very frightening once you realize how common it is even in your (or at least my) own thinking.

      2. I think that the neo-feudal / neo-Confucian half of the essay could be more fleshed out. Rules and committees are very legible but there’s a reason why “work-to-rule” is a strike and “design by committee” is a strike against a design. Personal relationships and fealty are maddeningly illegible but those tangled social networks are how things actually get done day-to-day. You hint at that but I don’t think it’s as clearly stated as the first half.

      3. As Voldemort pointed out, there’s a very straightforward and eminently Confucian way to transition out of a High Modernist system: rectification of names. Any functional organization has an identifiable boss, whatever the nominal organizational structure, and any boss has an inner circle who he trusts enough to delegate important tasks to. Take those guys and give them each a share of ownership over the organization proportionate to their ability to make decisions for the organization. Then give them each a fancy title that makes it unambiguously clear where the buck stops; if I’m the Lord Mayor of San Francisco, I’m the guy personally responsible for the human feces caking the sidewalks. Maybe this is 2edgy but it was probably the best insight that the Death Eaters had and you only vaguely allude to it.

      All in all though I really liked it, and again thank you for the effusive compliments.

      • VirgilKurkjian says:

        Thank you! I’m really pleased you enjoyed it.

        1. Yeah, I was largely inspired to write this by how frightening the conclusion is, especially given my (former) positive feelings for all things automated. Do you think automation will be confusing because it’s too narrow (people will think only of literal machines) or too broad? I tried to convey that this is staggeringly broad, but perhaps the terms undermine that.

        Your comment about “disregarding real things in favor of symbols that represent those things” reminded me strongly of The Thing and the Symbolic Representation of The Thing, which I recently read. Maybe you thought of it too, the phrasing is so similar.

        2. When I was writing the essay I definitely hit a snag at the Confucianism section. It’s intuitively clear to me, but I wasn’t able to tie everything together as well as I had imagined. Your points about the illegibility of personal relationships helps. And of course it all reminds me of Seeing Like A State.

        3. Uh, THAT’S what rectification of names means??? (Also, Voldemort mentions it?) Could you to say any more about this?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          1a. When I hear automation my brain goes to things like software macros or industrial robots: taking a simple mechanical task and doing it over and over. A switchboard operator and an automatic exchange are fundamentally performing the same task.

          What you mean seems closer to “regularization,” although I’m not sure that’s the right term. It’s the difference between a lab which takes a perspective post-doc out for beers to talk about their research versus a pharmaceutical company with structured interviews and a resume scoring system for a Scientist I position. The task is still performed by humans but the process is more “mechanical.”

          So yeah, too narrow for my taste.

          1b. Yes, I have read that post. I didn’t realize that I took the phrasing from there; I had totally forgotten about it.

          3. I don’t mean Voldemort from the Harry Potter books, I mean M e n c i u s M o l d b u g AKA Curtis Yarvin. His name and the name of his philosophy is on the word filter here so we need to use euphemisms.

          I’m not sure if that’s what Rectification of Names originally meant, that’s a question for someone with a more in-depth knowledge of Confucianism. But it’s how he used it and I think it makes sense.

          • VirgilKurkjian says:

            3. Ah, ok. I thought you might be doing something like that but it also sounds like the sort of thing Quirrelmort might have said in HP:MoR, and I thought I had a vague memory of him using the term.

            (A final, more personal note: I happen to currently know several very intelligent people struggling with getting low marks on standardized tests, and the human costs of legibility are on my mind as well.)

          • Nornagest says:

            You can say “Mencius Moldbug”, actually. You just can’t name the movement he’s known for, or its acronym or a couple of other common terms for it. People started calling them Death Eaters to get around this at some point, and calling him the Dark Lord just came naturally after that.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Huh, TIL. I thought for sure that Mencius Moldbug was on the word filter too.

          • Nick says:

            Also, I’m pretty sure that “Death Eaters” and “Dark Lord” are the opposite of euphemisms.

          • onyomi says:

            “Rectification of Names” originally referred to the fact that, in Confucius’s time, there was a lot of perceived mismatch between the ritual hierarchy and the practical hierarchy. The lineage of the Zhou Dynasty continued to rule as “Sons of Heaven” in name and ceremonial function, but lacked much real authority.

            Confucius saw this kind of mismatch as a cause of social unrest and extended the logic down to the level of individual clans and households: not only would things be better if the name of Son of Heaven and the power of Son of Heaven matched, but things would be better if father’s always acted like fathers, sons like sons, younger brothers like younger brothers, and so on (that is, for example, a younger brother should be deferential to his older brother because to do otherwise would create a mismatch between the “name” or ideal social role and the reality).

            Confucius’s emphasis on personal behavior, however, arguably created the opportunity for upward mobility and non-reactionary social change, because, while “names” previously arose strictly as a consequence of birth, Confucius implied that being a “gentleman” (junzi, originally a generic term for member of the peerage, but used by Confucians to mean something like “superior man,” in contrast to a “petty” or “small” man) was about acting like a gentleman.

            The seeds of this were planted to some degree by the Zhou Dynasty founders’ own invocation of the idea of “Mandate of Heaven,” which they claimed had shifted to themselves due to the Shang rulers’ bad behaviour. Mencius (the Warring States philosopher, not the Moldbug) developed this idea in a way uncongenial to some later rulers: the Zhou (and the founders of the Shang before them) were justified in killing their liege because their liege’s behaviour effectively nullified their hereditary noble status. Act like a ruffian instead of a king, die like a ruffian.

            Also, suddenly Mencius Moldbug’s name makes a bit more sense to me! Insofar as I interpret him as believing Mark Zuckerberg should either not be so powerful or else start wearing a powdered wig and living in a palace, though Mencius emphasized behaviour the most of the early Confucians, I believe, making him a bit of an outlier relative to Confucius and Xunzi, who both more strongly emphasized the importance of ritual and social distinctions–Xunzi, especially.

          • VirgilKurkjian says:

            Onyomi, yeah, that’s closer to what I understood it to mean. Thanks for the elaboration! I didn’t realize there were pro-Zuckerberg-powdered-wig factions already, but that definitely fits with what I was trying to describe.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The aim of the golden path is diaspora though. A wide sowing of seeds that will metastasize humanity – differentiation into so many technologies and specialities that nothing, not even a precognitive, will be able to overcome it, unless it destroys the universe.

      Leto was always a tyrant with an expiration date. He was the Confucian central authority taken to its ultimate conclusion, and his aim was to ensure that nobody could ever again become what he was. I read Herbert as saying that conflict is inescapable and that authority has a fundamental flaw – even Leto and the Reverend Mothers were incapable of building their fascist pseudo-confucian societies without recourse to political technology. That’s because society can only exist when people are controlled – and we both know what real control over a thing implies.

      If anything, I felt that Herbert was saying that the real problem is centralization. In the wake of Leto, the Ixians are safe. The Reverend Mothers are safe. The Honored Matres and even the Tleilaxu are safe, not in the sense thay they’re invulnerable, but in the sense that humanity is safe from their control. Enough people have a critical mass of power that humanity is no longer vulnerable to internal collapse; there will always be something to fill the void when a particular social ecology succumbs to rot.

      • VirgilKurkjian says:

        I think you’re totally right, and I think this fits with the point I was trying to make! Centralization (i.e. the state) is a force that needs legible signals. The Diaspora was a way of making everything so “local” that legible signals for the whole of humanity become impractical. Leto was looking for ways to make humans illegible!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I liked it, and broadly agree.

      Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class — whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy.

      This vaguely reminds me of recent political events but I can’t quite put my finger on why…

      Together, this suggests a surprising conclusion: Rationalists should be against automation. I suspect that, for many of us, this is an uncomfortable suggestion. Many rationalists are programmers or engineers. Those of us who are not are probably still hackers of one subject or another, and have as a result internalized the hacker ethic.

      Yes, which is why I don’t consider myself a Rationalist, although I like using some of the tools of Rationalism. I’m an engineer, a programmer, and I work with lots of data every day, which is why I do not trust data and do not trust engineered systems. Technocracy is guaranteed failure, corruption and degradation.

      I like to think of this as the “Donald-Trump-should-be-forced-to-wear-gold-and-jewels-wherever-he-goes” rule.

      I do not think Trump would object to this rule.

      • VirgilKurkjian says:

        Thanks for the feedback!

        I do not think Trump would object to this rule.

        Really? I think he intentionally looks terrible as part of his tribal signaling, and forcing him to change would hurt his brand. Consider how much GQ hates his taste in this video, and how misguided their message seems. He could clearly afford to dress in a way that pleases them, but he doesn’t. He wants to seem like a very successful poor person — as Scott says, a “local boy made good” — and visually he pulls it off. Making him dress in the way only the insanely rich can afford would set him apart as “one of them”, which he is.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          He also decorates in a way associated with the “nouveau rich”, ostentatious and tacky, gold everywhere. He makes a big deal about how much this costs. I don’t think modeling him as wanting to appear as something other than “insane rich” is correct. Insanely rich is exactly the image he attempts to promulgate, just not old money.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, that’s exactly what I was getting at. He has a private plane with his name on it. Does anyone else do that? I’m pretty sure Mark Zuckerberg’s plane doesn’t say “Zuckerberg” on it.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah. Trump behaves (and carefully images himself) in a way that is much more similar to “Florida Man wins the Lottery” as opposed to “Software nerd tries to fit in with old money.”

            During the election I recall the media kept hammering home how stupid rural Americans were for somehow believing Trump was “just like them” even though in actuality he was a billionaire with gold chairs and a private plane which was nothing like them, while missing the whole point that it was aspirational. Trump is like how they would be if they had that kind of money.

            Which is very different from how virtually every other ultra rich person (aside from Texas oil tycoons maybe) actually is.

          • VirgilKurkjian says:

            I agree with what everyone is saying. He’s not subtle and he definitely is Florida-Man-wins-lottery aspirational. And I think that being forced to “dress his wealth” would damage some of that signaling power for him.

            He’s clearly not afraid of putting gold on things or being tacky. Why doesn’t he put gold all over himself? It’s because it’s not the thing Florida Man would do, were Florida Man in his place.

            Everyone knows that he’s rich, and I’m not trying to suggest he’s trying to fake his way out of that. He’s just trying to pretend he doesn’t have rich-person values. And maybe he doesn’t, but he certainly is in a similar incentive structure as other rich people.

          • Matt M says:

            And maybe he doesn’t, but he certainly is in a similar incentive structure as other rich people.

            When the Establishment GOP tried to hit him with the “not a real conservative!” attacks by bringing up his past chumminess with (and donations to) the Clintons, he pretty deftly evaded all of that with a simple “I’m a rich guy, that’s just what rich guys do!” which was 100% believable to his base.

  15. Rasputin says:

    What do you think of “Sokal Squared”.

    • brmic says:

      Was discussed in at least one of the last open threads. From me it gets a shrug, because as an experiment it’s so poorly operationalized that the measurement is meaningless, and as an opinion piece it adds little to my preexisting distain for non-empirical social sciences. They could have made the second case much stronger _to me_ if they had dissected existing articles.

      • vV_Vv says:

        because as an experiment it’s so poorly operationalized that the measurement is meaningless

        Sure, but how would you operationalize it properly?

        They could have made the second case much stronger _to me_ if they had dissected existing articles.

        Not really. The grievance experts would have said that they were outsiders criticizing works that they didn’t understand, that it was like a sociologist criticizing an advanced math paper, etc. We have heard this defense before.

        A Sokal this big instead proves that even the self-appointed experts can’t distinguish genuine works from satire written by outsiders. It’s a Turing test that shows that outsiders not only understand the field enough to pass as legitimate authors even without any formal qualification in the field, but they can do it even when deliberately writing nonsense with no scientific value.
        This is irrefutably damaging to the reputation of the field.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          t’s a Turing test that shows that outsiders not only understand the field enough to pass as legitimate authors even without any formal qualification in the field, but they can do it even when deliberately writing nonsense with no scientific value.

          Not only that, they were BETTER AT IT.

          e.g. they were generating accepted and near accepted papers faster than the professionals who’s very career depended “publish or perish” on generating published papers.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think at least a couple of the hoax papers included made-up data–if I can make up my experimental data, I can crank out papers very quickly, too!

            More generally, if I’m trying to reason things out correctly and taking care to do so (even if I’m doing so within a fundamentally broken intellectual framework), it’s going to take me longer to do that than it takes you to write a hoax paper where you’re just trying to work the right buzzwords and political sympathies in.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with albatross.

            Legitimate professors were, in theory, bounded by ethical and practical considerations which the hoaxers were not. It makes sense that this would slow their output somewhat.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Assuming people can get past the sub headline, this article exploring which specific papers were and were not accepted, and where, is useful information.

          • Viliam says:

            they were generating accepted and near accepted papers faster than the professionals who’s very career depended “publish or perish” on generating published papers

            Here is my vision for the “Sokal ultimate” experiment:

            Actually become a student in the field, cynically repeat all bullshit they teach you, and add your own exaggerations; publish, publish, get a PhD, become a professor, achieve world-wide fame… and a few decades later publicly exclaim: “LOL, it was all just a big joke! You are gullible fools.”

            Yes, it would require a lot of time and energy. On the other hand, you would get paid for that. Anyone interested in making nice salary by trolling?

            (On the other hand, maybe some people already did this in the past… and decided at the last moment that keeping the salary is more fun than making a public disclosure.)

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I think it would be healthy if it led to these magazines openly declaring they are like Law Reviews where papers typically advocate for a specific policy change or interpretation of the law. Then there could be adversarial articles etc. Because if they aren’t going to do that it seems to me that its kind of pointless to have a generally fact-free echo chamber where you have to constantly 1-up your fellow academic with ever more ridiculous and extreme interpretations of vegan-feminism or Buddist-intersectionality.

      Otherwise I think the incentive structures are against good scholarship if its not going to be numerically rigorous.

  16. bean says:

    Naval Gazing has begun to revisit the subject of survivability. Today’s topic is flooding.

  17. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/09/opinion/stumbling-toward-armageddon.html

    I’ve been thinking for a while that we haven’t had a nuclear war because people generally (including leaders) really don’t want one– the near misses have been more the results of accidents than leaders who wanted a war.

    I wonder whether nuclear war would happen if an intelligent species tended to be somewhat more aggressive and impulsive, and how aggressive and impulsive a species would need to be to be incapable of inventing atomic/nuclear weapons.

    • bean says:

      I’ve been thinking for a while that we haven’t had a nuclear war because people generally (including leaders) really don’t want one– the near misses have been more the results of accidents than leaders who wanted a war.

      Bingo. Looking deep at nuclear war is sobering, and you really don’t want that kind of blood on your hands. (Long rant about McNamara’s ruining of the DoD because he didn’t understand that cut as beside the point.)

      I wonder whether nuclear war would happen if an intelligent species tended to be somewhat more aggressive and impulsive, and how aggressive and impulsive a species would need to be to be incapable of inventing atomic/nuclear weapons.

      Interesting question. Probably, given how close we came a couple times. Not so sure about the second part. Nuclear weapons aren’t easy, given how difficult enrichment is, which means you need nation-state levels of resources and cooperation.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think it’s pretty common for wars to start that almost nobody actually wanted. Were there a lot of people who wanted WW1? Sometimes, the mechanics of responding to a threat or beginning to mobilize end up driving you into a war you don’t want.

        I also think it’s easy to get into a situation where accidental nuclear war is pretty likely. Basically, if it’s possible for me to take out all or nearly all of your nuclear weapons in a first strike, then you have to be on a hair-trigger to make sure that if I launch that first strike, you can get your missiles or bombers off in time. And you have to be sure I *know* that you’re on a hair-trigger, because otherwise I might think I can get away with nuking all the air bases with nuclear-armed bombers before you know the war has started. If we’re both in that situation, there there are a hell of a lot of chances for things to go catastrophically wrong. And that’s true, even if every single person involved on both sides desperately wants to avoid a nuclear war.

        Another weird situation: If we’re both hostile nuclear powers and you want to avoid a nuclear war, it’s important that you have a completely credible policy and mechanism for nuking me in retaliation for any strike of mine. After I’ve nuked you, when your country is basically dead or dying and there’s not much left to gain by retaliating, you still need to be committed to launching your own missiles or bombers or whatever. Because otherwise, I can nuke you and get away with it. Again, this is true even if everyone on your side is horrified by the notion of nuclear war, and even though nuking me in retaliation for my nuking you will just murder another several hundred million people with little or no benefit to your country’s survival. NOT having that credible commitment to retaliation makes a nuclear war (albeit a one-sided one) MORE likely.

        • albatross11 says:

          As an aside, I think (not with great confidence–I haven’t studied this in depth) that if we could rerun the cold war 1000 times with the dice all rerandomized, we’d have a large fraction of those histories with a full-scale nuclear war between us and the Soviet Union.

        • bean says:

          I think it’s pretty common for wars to start that almost nobody actually wanted. Were there a lot of people who wanted WW1? Sometimes, the mechanics of responding to a threat or beginning to mobilize end up driving you into a war you don’t want.

          Germany pretty much did want a war, yes. And even if that was a good counterexample, there’s a big difference between then and now. In 1914, the memories of the Franco-Prussian War, which was pretty decisive and fairly cheap, were still strong in Germany. Since then, every great power war has been incredibly bloody. This seems like it would probably change how the various parties involved think, to say nothing of how nukes have changed the game.

          I also think it’s easy to get into a situation where accidental nuclear war is pretty likely. Basically, if it’s possible for me to take out all or nearly all of your nuclear weapons in a first strike, then you have to be on a hair-trigger to make sure that if I launch that first strike, you can get your missiles or bombers off in time.

          This isn’t a good counterexample for a couple reasons. First, you’re assuming way too much certainty about the outcome. How do you know you know where all of my weapons and delivery platforms are? That I don’t have a few weapons stashed at a base that you think is only for conventional bombers? You say you’re 90% confident? OK. So 10%, one of your cities dies. Do you pull the trigger?

          Also, note that North Korea has managed to deny the US anything like this level of certainty, and the disparity between the two sides is huge. They did it, not by going to hair-trigger alert, but by hiding their missiles in a huge tunnel network, and counting on the fact that we wouldn’t risk war.

          Second, it’s ignoring a lot of the complexity of real geopolitics. The US was in a position rather like this throughout much of the 50s, but we didn’t do anything. The Soviets still had a substantial army in Europe, and could have done a lot of damage to our allies if we’d gone after them, even if CONUS was basically invulnerable. I can’t see one nuclear power having this kind of edge over another where there’s basically no consequences to a strike.

          • Lillian says:

            Not just the Germans. The French too were eager to have a rematch for 1870 and get back Alsace-Lorraine. They entire reason they formed an alliance with Russia was because they knew they couldn’t go at the Germans alone. The French state was significantly more militarized than the German in order to make up for the population difference between the two.

            And of course, the Austro-Hungarians clearly wanted to invade Serbia. Their demands after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand were so punitive they had to have known they would be rejected, so one surmises they were issued in the expectation that they would be, such as to provide an excuse for an invasion. Personally, i think they should have just declared war immediately instead of spending a month on the charade of negotiating.

            Then you had a long list of Balkan countries that weren’t satisfied with the outcome of the Balkan Wars and wanted to have another go around to rearrange the borders. Also the Italians had irredentist claims against both Austira-Hungary and France which they wanted to settle. And the Russians still had unfinished business with the Turks, and a desire to support the Southern Slavs against the Austrians.

            Seriously, there’s a reason the situation was likened to a powder keg. About the only major powers that didn’t want a war were the British and the Spanish, and the Brits were still willing to have a go at it to check the Germans.

          • Eric Rall says:

            One way to look at it is that lots of people wanted a war, but almost nobody wanted the war they got.

            Austria wanted an isolated Austria vs Serbia war, with Germany ready to jump Russia if they decide to anything funny while Austria’s busy.

            German sentiment during the lead-up to the war was not monolithic: the Kaiser and the Chancellor mostly wanted Serbia humiliated, but were okay with Austria’s preferred war and (like Austria) they were willing to threaten to enter the war if Russia intervened. But other parts of the government (mostly the Army leadership) were at least kinda hoping that Russia would get involved and hand Germany a pretext to fight them now rather than a few years later (as Bean described), even if it meant fighting France at the same time.

            There were factions within France that wanted an everyone vs Germany and Austria war for the revaunchist reasons Lillian described, and because they felt an immediate war would be more advantageous than a hypothetical future crisis a few years down the road. A big factor here was that the Franco-Russian alliance was seen as somewhat fragile, so a lot of French diplomats preferred a joint war over Balkan crisis (where Russia would have a direct reason to honor the alliance) over the risk of a crisis which directly threatened French but not Russian interests where Russia would be tempted to sit it out.

            There were also factions within Russia that were thinking along similar lines as the French diplomatic corps, but I think they were less of a factor than their counterparts in France. Mostly, Russia didn’t want a war as such, but they liked their chances better with a war than with the domestic repercussions and international prestige damage of backing down in two Balkan crises in a row (the first being the Austrian annexation of Bosnia a few years previously).

            But even the factions that wanted a general European war wanted something like a large-scale replay of the Franco-Prussian war, not the four-year-long slow-motion apocalypse they got.

        • Matt M says:

          My understanding is that some of the costlier wars (certainly to include WW1 and the American Civil War) were the result of one side or the other dramatically underestimating the strength/resolve of their opponent (and their opponents potential allies), such that they expected the war to be much quicker and less costly than it turned out to be.

          In other words, I don’t think it’s true that “people didn’t want WW1” but I do think it’s true that nobody would have wanted what WW1 turned out to be.

          In the case of nuclear war, it seems like it would be pretty damn hard to dramatically underestimate the potential damage and devastation. Everyone involved knows, with certainty, just how bad things are going to be. Nobody suspects “I’ll be able to dominate my opponent, suffer relatively few losses, and go back to how things were quickly thereafter.”

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It’s easier to stumble into conventional wars because leaders foolishly think they’re easily winnable with acceptable losses. I don’t think anyone expected we’d still be in Afghanistan 17 years later.

          But with a nuclear war there’s no fooling yourself that this will just be a little nuclear war with manageable casualties.

          ETA: Ninjer’d by Matt.

        • Deiseach says:

          Were there a lot of people who wanted WW1?

          I don’t think anybody wanted what turned out to be the First World War, but I do think several of the nations/governments involved did want some kind of war – the kind of short, sharp, victory that they had become accustomed to (see the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 where what would ultimately become the German Empire had no real difficulty walking all over the French). All the European powers were jockeying for influence, the Balkans were a cauldron, the Western and Eastern powers were sizing up one another and the Western powers had their own ambitions re: the scramble for Africa and trying to outdo one another. Nobody was quite looking to go to war, but everyone was preparing and estimating their chances if, unfortunately, they had to go to war against X or Y what could they get out of it (and a lot of them gambled they could get something nice out of it). (This is why there are all the Sherlock Holmes stories about missing treaties and stolen plans for new battleships).

          That the whole tangle would mean not X versus Y but X versus Y and Z which pulled in Q and R – nobody expected that.

          • bean says:

            That the whole tangle would mean not X versus Y but X versus Y and Z which pulled in Q and R – nobody expected that.

            This is the only part of your post I can’t endorse. The alliance system is famously confusing, but that’s just because most people are lazy. The war essentially came down to Germany and Austria vs France and Russia with Britain, with various minor powers clustered around them. Once Germany issued Austria the blank check against Russia, the die was cast, and France was coming in. William asked if he could just fight Russia and not France and was told no.

          • Lillian says:

            To be specific, Kaiser Wilhelm II asked his Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger) if it would be possible to change the mobilization plans last minute to throw the German army at Russia rather than go through with the planed invasion of France through Belgium. This was almost certainly the right move, since it would have focused German forces against the weaker Russian opponent. Moreover, by not invading Belgium and Luxembourg the Germans would have only had to defend against the French on a narrow front along Alsace-Lorraine, which they were fully capable of doing. It would have also delayed the British entry into the war. All this together is very likely to have ultimately resulted in a German victory.

            However Moltke despaired that the entire mobilization would be thrown into chaos if the plans were not followed, and flatly told the Kaiser that it could not be done. If they tried their troops would arrive not as an army, but as a mere armed mob. This wasn’t a diplomatic or political consideration, it was a logistical one. Germany wound up declaring war on France, Belgium, and Luxembourg not because it had any real casus belli against them, but simply because the plan said so.

            Herman von Staab, the chief of the General Staff’s railway department, did not learn of the Kaiser’s request until after the war ended. He was outraged to learn of it and Molte’s answer. There were plans to send the German Army east, and his railway department was fully capable of rerouteing men and materiel in accordance with changing operational and strategic needs. He wrote and published a book exhaustively detailing how, contrary to Moltke’s pessimism, it was not just possible but practicable to throw the bulk of the German army at Russia rather than France.

            For a counter-argument, see the Austrian’s actual attempts to shift their mobilization plans at the last minute, resulting in a massive logistical clusterfuck stretching from Russia to Serbia. However the Austro-Hungarian military was simply not on the level of the German one. They routinely failed at things that the Germans could have managed, so this is not very strong evidence.

        • After I’ve nuked you, when your country is basically dead or dying and there’s not much left to gain by retaliating

          The way I like to put the point in the context of a doomsday machine is that the problem with it is that the last man out cuts the wire.

    • sentientbeings says:

      Given that Vasili Arkipov saved the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis (and that there were a few other close calls), I think that whether leaders wanted war or not, their actions put us in great danger of nuclear war, even if accidentally. I think “we were lucky” is a reasonable characterization of how we avoided nuclear annihilation. A few people with sense or backbone were in the right place at the right time.

      • bean says:

        I’m not quite as sure that Arkipov actually “saved the world”. If nuclear war had broken out in 1962, the US would have won handily. It wouldn’t have been pretty for us, and definitely not for Europe, but we would have survived and they wouldn’t have. Yes, I know what Noam Chomsky, that well-regarded authority on nuclear weapons, said, but it’s just not true.

        • Evan Þ says:

          In a world where we had a nuclear war in the 80’s, any survivors who knew about it would be lamenting that Arkipov had doomed the world.

          • bean says:

            You’re confusing him with Petrov, I think. I was very careful to specify 1962, not the 80s.

          • Evan Þ says:

            No, I meant Arkipov: “If we’d had a nuclear war in the ’60’s before both sides expanded their arsenals, we wouldn’t have had a worse war in the ’80’s that left us in this doomed world.”

        • sentientbeings says:

          I am not well-versed on the Soviets’ ’62 capabilities, so you might well be right. That said, IIRC they targeted South Florida, where I was born many years later, so Arkhipov saved my world at the very least.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Further proof of concept: India and Pakistan have nukes, they’re at war (not a very intense war), and they haven’t used their nukes.

      • Statismagician says:

        [Reads a bit about India-Pakistan relations.]

        … Huh.

        I feel like it should be a bigger deal that two nuclear powers have been basically continuously at semi-war for literally their independent entire histories.

        • Gazeboist says:

          As far as I understand it, everyone was terrified when it became clear that both were nuclear powers, and those who still think about it remain surprised and hesitantly relieved that little ultimately came of it. It does come up in the context of hypothetical nuclear arsenals in the Middle East, though.

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps this is why the western powers seem somewhat reluctant to get involved in the conflict?

            There’s virtually never a fight anywhere on Earth that the US military doesn’t want to stick its nose in, but somehow we’ve managed to stay mostly out of this one, involving two quite large and significant nations, that’s been simmering for decades.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think the US staying out of it has more to do with the view that Commonwealth countries are properly in Britain’s diplomatic sphere of influence, not the US’s, and the Brits never asked for help in the matter.

          • Simulated Knave says:

            @Matt M and @Gazeboist

            Diplomatic intervention DOES happen (and did in the past). It seems to be generally agreed on all sides that peace between India and Pakistan is better than war. Both were courted in the Cold War. People meddle. We just mostly don’t hear about it, and involvement tends to be lower key. There’s some good reasons for that.

            First, Partition was only seventy years ago. It was extremely hotly contested. People absolutely tried to get a united India to work – it didn’t. If India and Pakistan were going to get along, they would have. They didn’t, and don’t, and the issues they’re mad at are recent enough that’s not getting fixed.

            Second, any solution to the Kashmir issue risks pissing off any or all of India, Pakistan and China. Tell me, which of the world’s first, second and fifth-most populous countries would YOU like to aggravate? This is especially problematic since, bluntly, the Indians and Pakistanis both have extremely solid arguments that the other side is completely in the wrong (short version: Kashmir was independent, but it semi-willingly joined India because Pakistani-backed forces tried to invade, but the Indians haven’t honoured the terms of it joining India. Plus human rights abuses, of course). Attempts WERE made when the issue was much fresher, and were thwarted.

            Third, neither is a military pushover, and they’re BIG. They’d take a serious commitment to fight. Neither can conquer the other by force. Neither will consent to be conquered. So there’s no point to actual war.

            Fourth, India and Pakistan are both quite insistent that they manage their own affairs, and are unlikely to be keen on other people telling them how to solve their problems. There may, just possibly, be some history of that in the region.

            Fifth, both actually get along with everyone else. That always helps.

            There is pretty much zero benefit to anyone to direct military intervention in conflict between India and Pakistan. Any minimal positives would be greatly outweighed by the legion of possible negatives.

  18. j1000000 says:

    Bit late on the topic, so if there’s already been a thread on it, please point me to it. But do people have any sense of what Elon Musk is doing? A lot of his actions seemed, even without hindsight, obviously likely to lead to bad PR, and I don’t know why he’s doing it.

    I like Musk/Tesla but in large part, I think the media is not being “unfair.” It was a dumb idea to call the guy a pedo and double down, silly to take a puff of weed on Joe Rogan, and very dumb to tweet the $420 thing.

    But obviously he’s not a dumb businessman. So is there some interpretation of all this that is him playing chess and everyone else playing checkers? Or is the only possible excuse, beyond him doing some dumb stuff because he’s human, something conspiratorial like the media, SEC and shortsellers hate him because he’s a super genius changing the world?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      For my money – *something* is catching up with him. Lack of sleep or poor impulse control or Tesla having to build cars in a tent. I don’t like him much, but I can’t see a world where this behavior is calculated.

      • John Schilling says:

        Yeah, the timing in particular is wrong for this being a calculated move. These are mostly things he could have gotten away with when he was just running SpaceX as a private shop with a visionary dream, and maybe when Tesla was in its public-but-still startup phase. And not just gotten away with but benefited from, by capitalizing on the resulting enthusiasm from his fanbase. Now, he needs to convince bankers and traditional investors and government regulators that he can be the CEO of a blue-chip auto manufacturing firm, and he just failed that big time.

        Makes no sense as an N-dimensional chess move, and “his N is bigger than any of us can imagine” is a cop-out. Makes a great deal of sense if being the CEO of a blue-chip auto firm that’s having serious trouble meeting production targets, has pushed him to the breaking point.

        Also, “good businessman” is too broad to be a useful categorization. Nobody is good at all aspects of business. The things Musk has traditionally been good at, are things his major businesses no longer need him to do much of. Now, he needs to raise capital for non-visonary businesses, ensure regulatory compliance, and debug and expand assembly lines.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Also, “good businessman” is too broad to be a useful categorization. Nobody is good at all aspects of business. The things Musk has traditionally been good at, are things his major businesses no longer need him to do much of. Now, he needs to raise capital for non-visonary businesses, ensure regulatory compliance, and debug and expand assembly lines.

          I disagree with this part, Tesla is still a long way from producing the number and type of vehicles (at a profit) that it needs in order to cross over into the non-visionary space. They need a Model-T or a Civic style success that functions as an anchor that the company can build around. Until they get there they will still be in the visionary (if late visionary) portion of their existence.

          • John Schilling says:

            They need a Model-T or a Civic style success that functions as an anchor that the company can build around.

            That’s what the Tesla Model 3 is supposed to be. I’m not sure what you mean by “number and type” of vehicles, because the Model T was one type of vehicle and nobody remembers what other types of vehicles Ford was building in 1908.

            Number, yes. Tesla needs to produce a whole lot of Model 3s, at a cost that lets them profit from a $35K sale price. That’s the one and only problem Tesla faces: if they can do that, everything else fades away, and if they can’t they can maybe survive as a niche luxury marque.

            But mass-producing lots of cars at low cost, is pretty much the opposite of “visionary”. It was visionary when Ford did it with the Model T, but that was over a century ago. It no longer requires the ability to envision things that lesser men can scarcely imagine. And it no longer suffices to inspire people to work seventy hours for forty hour’s pay, to say to them “But we’re doing something really cool that will change the world; with your long hours of unpaid overtime we’re going to build lots of cheap cars on an assembly line!” I mean, that’s beginning to wear thin for his spaceships.

            The one problem Tesla needs to solve to thrive and survive, is the boringest sort of century-old industrial engineering. Not at all visionary.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That’s what the Tesla Model 3 is supposed to be. I’m not sure what you mean by “number and type” of vehicles, because the Model T was one type of vehicle and nobody remembers what other types of vehicles Ford was building in 1908.

            Number, yes. Tesla needs to produce a whole lot of Model 3s, at a cost that lets them profit from a $35K sale price. That’s the one and only problem Tesla faces: if they can do that, everything else fades away, and if they can’t they can maybe survive as a niche luxury marque.

            That isn’t the only issue that Tesla faces, that is the bare minimum requirement for maintaining solvency. They need a high volume production vehicle with solid margins (or a low volume one with insane margins) to pay off their debt. They can probably roll the debt over if they have some moderate volume moderate margin vehicles out there as debt comes due.

            But mass-producing lots of cars at low cost, is pretty much the opposite of “visionary”. It was visionary when Ford did it with the Model T, but that was over a century ago. It no longer requires the ability to envision things that lesser men can scarcely imagine. And it no longer suffices to inspire people to work seventy hours for forty hour’s pay, to say to them “But we’re doing something really cool that will change the world; with your long hours of unpaid overtime we’re going to build lots of cheap cars on an assembly line!” I mean, that’s beginning to wear thin for his spaceships.

            The Model T was introduced in 1908 and was already a success and profitable by 1913 when it really started to be an assembly line production and by 1914 when the $5 wage was introduced. The early success of the Model T kept the company in business so that new innovations could be added into the process allowing them to eventually capture 50% of new car sales in 1918.

            The Model 3 is not obviously that product yet, sure it is supposed to be, but Tesla needs some additional innovation to get it to the price point where it can be that product.

    • Aapje says:

      Late puberty?

    • Matt M says:

      Eh, I think he’s young, and a little weird – and he’s playing to his personal fanbase which consists of people who are mostly younger, and weirder, than he is.

      It just so happens that his companies are big and important enough to attract the attention of politicians and media types who are stodgy old dinosaurs and who demand he behave like he’s Jack Welsh or something.

      Tesla’s stock price and valuation, even after whatever hits it took, are almost entirely due to being perceived as hip and cool and innovative and Musk’s image is a huge part of that.

      • albatross11 says:

        Becoming too important/too revered/too successful for anyone to tell you when you’re wrong is incredibly corrosive. In that situation, even the best peoples’ behavior and ideas degrade as they never hear anyone saying “You know, that idea sounds cool at first, but when you dig into the engineering details, it doesn’t make any sense.” or “Hey, man, you doing drugs with that rock star before you make public announcements isn’t doing you or your companies any favors.” Or just flat “You’re wrong–here’s why.”

        • Matt M says:

          I dispute that the things he’s done are that wrong. Nobody I know who was a Tesla fanboy beforehand is outraged about him taking a puff of weed on a podcast or making crude remarks on Twitter. At all.

          Now I concede that his lawyers are probably annoyed by that sort of behavior. Wall Street types who invested in Tesla because their fancy technical models told them it was a good investment are probably annoyed. But I just don’t think that’s the audience Musk is playing to.

          If you want to look for behaviors he’s done that are getting him in trouble with his base, look for the reaction he got when he was publicly taking libertarian/capitalist stances on things. That got him in some trouble.

          • gbdub says:

            his fanboy “base” might buy toy flamethrowers, some of them might even buy $50k Teslas, but they don’t invest real money. They don’t have $100 megabuck satellites that need launching. They don’t decide who gets security clearances and they don’t decide who gets a slice of the $2 billion plus the Air Force just awarded for rocket development.

            The only actual value the “base” has is to provide enough enthusiasm that the real money has to pay attention to him – but that ultimately is based on the assumption that he (or at least his companies) will eventually “grow up”, and he seems to be failing that test.

            He’s an idea man who got ultra rich because he was lucky enough to come of age at a brief window in time where “great idea” + computers = a billion dollars, and then could nerd out on things that established players had neglected because they didn’t want to spend gigabucks on stuff that might not pay off for a decade just because it was cool.

            But he’s Steve Jobs without the Woz, and crucially he seems to be forgetting that he needs a Woz at all.

          • CatCube says:

            Well, part of his problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize that his “base” has changed. He’s trying to run a company that’s making cars, a huge, capital-intensive process that requires the use of assembly-line techniques that require a level of bureaucracy (maintaining QC across a large labor force, etc.).

            He’s running a huge public company with thousands of employees who will be expected to be cogs in a machine doing every operation exactly the same way it was done 10,000 times before. Now his base is a bunch of Wall Street types, the SEC, and lawyers.

            It’s like how Mark Zuckerberg famously gave all of his talks in a gray T-shirt and jeans, and IIRC he never wore anything else even in relatively high-powered meetings. When he testified to Congress earlier this year, he wore a fuckin’ suit. Who he was trying to impress changed.

            Edit: A quote I saw about Trump the day after the election seems to apply to Musk as well: “The dog has caught the mail truck, and now he has to figure out how to eat it.” When you try to cross over industry boundaries, your skills may not transfer.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Tesla stock has tumbled but not crashed, their market cap is still $43 billion, and its not actually clear what has happened. Sure its easy to tell the SEC/Weed story and assume those actions seriously impacted the prices but if you look at Tesla and other major auto makers the past year the picture is muddier. Tesla has dropped from 350 to 250 a share in that year, Ford from $13 to 9, GM from 42 to 32. Toyota and Honda are only down modest amounts since then but they are also down 25-30% from their 52 week highs.

    • Deiseach says:

      I really do think the problem is that he’s not cut out to be a businessman (dumb or otherwise). He’s plainly happiest when tinkering with inventions – see the whole rescue submarine malarkey which gave rise to the paedo tweets – I think the caver was right that the sub couldn’t work in the conditions, but since Musk puts his heart and soul into his toys gadgets world-changing inventions, this wasn’t someone criticising a product, this was someone defaming his brain-child which was as bad or worse as calling his real kids stupid and ugly.

      He’s an ideas person, the big blue-sky visionary type, who goes “Hey wouldn’t it be neat if -?” and then draws up the plans for “?” and spends a lot of time initially on getting “?” going. But when it comes to the ordinary slog of dealing with running a business, things that you can’t solve or cope with by pulling a brilliant invention out of your ass, then it all crashed down on him. And that’s not getting into the whole turmoil in his private life.

      Musk would be a lot better served if he stepped down as CEO of Tesla and got in the MBA types to do the nitty-gritty work while he concentrated on the next Brilliant Idea and charming money out of investors and delivering talks about saving humanity, but right now he’s been made (through nobody’s fault but his own) to step down as Chairman temporarily but can remain as CEO.

      Makes a great deal of sense if being the CEO of a blue-chip auto firm that’s having serious trouble meeting production targets, has pushed him to the breaking point.

      I completely agree with John Schilling here – to survive, Tesla has to make the transition from Brilliant Idea and one man’s pet project to large-scale commercial manufacturing entity that’s one more of the big dull ordinary businesses making stuff, and I think that’s hard for Musk to get his head round and hard for him to transition from “But engineering talent will solve this problem!” when the problem is “Have we ensured corporate oversight on the regulatory compliance framework in light of the new regulations paragraph 93 (6) (i)(c) of the amended 2014 Act?”

    • Well... says:

      I read a Ted Chiang story once about a guy who gets really smart as a side effect from a restorative treatment for brain damage…he starts seeing the patterns and systems in everything, extruding his understanding higher and higher long past the point where he finds it difficult to relate to normal people.

      Musk reminds me of a kind of low-level version of that character. I can’t shake the feeling he’s playing 4-dimensional chess.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This is also, sort of, the plot of _A Beautiful Mind_.

      • SpeakLittle says:

        The TV Show “Fringe” did an episode with an incredibly similar premise, right up to the genius being unable to communicate in anything but mathematical equations. I’m wondering if they stole the idea outright or if it was just coincidence.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I strongly suspect that at least 30% of the reason for his success is the capacity to produce this impression. While I’m not big on Occam’s razor, I find it useful for distinguishing between “a plan nobody understands” and “no plan.”

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        The story is Understand; Flowers for Algernon (PDF) has a lot of parallels. As other commenters mentioned, everything written in this vein seems to use a lot of similar devices (which makes sense, since circumventing Vinge’s principle is tough – I don’t think any of them really succeed).

    • vV_Vv says:

      – Stress from Tesla being always on the verge of bankruptcy

      – Midlife crisis (he’s 47)

      – Dysfunctional personal relationships (he married and divorced three times, twice to the same woman, a C-list actress 14 years his junior, now he’s dating a singer 17 years his junior with a history of drug addiction)

    • Musk has done some stupid things but the media is also unfair to him. Tesla has been doing well in the last few months but people are more likely to know that he smoked weed.

  19. arlie says:

    I’ve recently noticed a number of news articles talking about geoengineering [vs effects of climate change] as now being inevitable. This might be a real change, or it might be some algorithm having decided I’m interested in the topic and/or my favourite news source being the only one newly interested in the topic. But let’s suppose this editorial trend is real.

    I’m afraid this led to me remembering a 1956 novel by John Wyndham, called The Death of Grass.

    Why would there be such a change _in reporting_?

    Are we any more capable of organizing good geoengineering than we are of organizing measures to avoid human-induced climate change in the first place?

    My priors are that for primarily political and organizational reasons, we’re incapable of addressing the problem in ways that aren’t extremely likely to create new problems, while most likely not solving the original one. (In the novel cited above, attempts to combat a disease of rice ended up with the problem spreading to all grass-descendants – i.e. all grains, throughout Europe and Asia.)

    Also, that the change in reporting indicates a real political trend, which may or may not be strong enough to lead to real action.

    Comments?

    • Loriot says:

      For a long time, activists refused to talk about geoengineering out of the fear that that would lessen the impetus for climate change preventation efforts among politicans. Now that it is obvious that adequate prevention efforts aren’t going to happen anyway, we have to figure out what we can do to at least mitigate the impact.

      I wouldn’t say it’s a new trend though – I think the tipping point was more like 5 years ago.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My 2¢ is that we passed peak outrage on climate change a while back.

      I’m not qualified to comment on the quality of the evidence in favor of AGW, and frankly I’m not interested in getting sucked into that interminable argument. But whether or not you believe the IPCC, it’s pretty clear that the measures being pushed by the media and academic community have never made much sense if the goal was actually stopping or mitigating climate change as they describe it.

      Tons of money for speculative green energy, but nothing whatsoever for nuclear power. A laser-like focus on de-industrializing the West and lowering western standards of living while shrugging at the industrialization of China and India. Pushing childlessness, public transit, vegetarianism, and a bunch of other perennial left-wing ideas. Whatever the actual facts were, the motivation was pretty clearly a power grab by the left.

      Now that obviously hasn’t worked. People aren’t going to voluntarily lower their standards of living and submit to elite aesthetic preferences, and the government is still sufficiently democratic that they can’t be forced to. So the political opportunists are slowly giving up hope and losing interest. Soon the people who are actually interested in solving the problem will the the only ones still pushing and their suggestions will be much more palatable.

      • Matt M says:

        I’d also give some (indirect) credit to Trump here, in that his outrageous (by mainstream left standards) behavior gives them so many targets to aim at, it was bound to direct focus and anger from other right-wing outrages (of which, inactivity on climate change is but one of many).

      • RobJ says:

        Whatever the actual facts were, the motivation was pretty clearly a power grab by the left.

        I think that’s pretty ungenerous. There were plenty of mainstream media articles for a long time suggesting nuclear power as the best way to counteract climate change. There has also been plenty of focus on entering international agreements to help limit the effect of industrializing China and India, etc. The reason green energy ended up getting all the money (in the US at least) is because it’s the one climate activists could get traction on. Too much pushback on nuclear energy from NIMBYism and the factions of the left that are still 100% anti-nuclear energy.

        As for “Pushing childlessness, public transit, vegetarianism, and a bunch of other perennial left-wing ideas,” that seems irrelevant to me. Interest groups will push their agenda wherever and whenever they can. If they can latch on to something people care about they will do that. It’s as if you’re confusing competing interests on the left for a conspiracy on the left.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s as if you’re confusing competing interests on the left for a conspiracy on the left.

          I’ve repeated said that while I can’t prove the existence of a conspiracy regarding climate change, it is awfully convenient that the proposed list of solutions to it is nearly identical to a list of things the left has already been demanding for decades anyway.

          • As shown by my favorite cartoon on the issue.

          • RobJ says:

            I think that’s mostly just partisanship doing it’s thing. But I guess it is hard to come up with right wing solutions to climate change, which would make sense of why much of the response on the right has been denial (or minimization) of the issue rather than different solutions. I mean, for low wages we can point to right wing solutions (restrict immigration and globalization) and left wing solutions (increase minimum wage and strengthen unions), but it’s true that for climate change it’s always been pretty one-sided.

          • Nick says:

            Crunchy Cons are far enough from the conservative orthodoxy to take climate change seriously, although I don’t know what solution(s) Rod himself would endorse.

          • Matt M says:

            But I guess it is hard to come up with right wing solutions to climate change

            Mine is “this is going to happen slowly enough that we can sit back and the market will come up with the needed adaptation solutions, as necessary”

            But “do nothing and let the market handle it” isn’t very sexy, for obvious reasons. And it isn’t particularly appealing to non-libertarians either.

          • ana53294 says:

            right wing solutions to climate change

            What about “stop subsidizing agriculture, liberalize agricultural imports, stop subsidizing oil, electricity production, and any and all subsidies that increase consumption of goods that contribute to climate change”?

            It would be a radical solution (cutting a lot of important and expensive government programs), but it would be a radical right-wing solution.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I mean, there are easy conservative solutions to climate change. One simple one is a total reform of the tax system (a revenue neutral change of sorts) that reduces income taxes etc in exchange for a per ton pigouvian tax on carbon.

            That is the kind of conservative technocratic Romney-like approach one would take. But I’ve never seen anyone on the left propose something even similar and sell it to moderates in the Senate like McCain or Graham. That we dont see such things makes me feel like there is a rebuttable presumption that fixing climate change isn’t the primary goal.

          • cassander says:

            @idontknow131647093 says:

            But I’ve never seen anyone on the left propose something even similar and sell it to moderates in the Senate like McCain or Graham.

            It’s worse than that. it was proposed in washington and the left came out against it.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Cass, that story is worse than I even thought because you could double sell it as enviro policy and making the tax code more progressive.

            One of the appeals of a carbon tax is that it is similar to a sales tax/VAT and operates as a flat tax, which is superior for budgeting because it makes you recession-resistant.

          • @Matt

            Mine is “this is going to happen slowly enough that we can sit back and the market will come up with the needed adaptation solutions, as necessary”

            And what it you’re wrong? I think a lot of people aren’t willing to risk huge amounts of people dying on the vague hope that libertarian solutions will save us in the end.

          • dick says:

            It’s worse than that. it was proposed in washington and the left came out against it.

            Really interesting, if depressing, article, thanks for posting it.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Carbon taxes at a level where you can noticeably cut other taxes have the general problem that they would work really really well at eliminating carbon emissions, so you would have to revert to the old taxes in…. 7 years. That is how long it would take to replace all the fossil fuel plants with reactors, all the cars with electrics, and all the fossil fuel-driven industry with arc furnaces.

            So any arguments about their superiority as revenue generating mechanism is rather besides the point -they would be extremely temporary. (or rather, stay on the books forever, but not raise money for very long)

          • baconbits9 says:

            And what it you’re wrong? I think a lot of people aren’t willing to risk huge amounts of people dying on the vague hope that libertarian solutions will save us in the end.

            Having the government do it doesn’t mean we aren’t risking huge amounts of people dying while holding onto the vague hope that this time they are going to figure out a complex situation and handle it well.

          • albatross11 says:

            Slow-motion disasters have the property that most people will get out of the way of them. There may be some people who can’t do that for some reason, and they’re probably a good target for some kind of help from the government or from private charities. But if we’re talking about gradual changes over the course of a lifetime, so that what crops grow well on a given farm changes from the time a young man takes over his dad’s farm until he passes it to his son, the farmer has a fair bit of time to adjust which crops he plants, to invest in irrigation or tiling, etc. Individuals will respond to the problem, and markets will clear, and things will probably work out okay.

            That’s very different from either a sudden disaster, or from something so far-reaching that adaptation is impossible.

          • Matt M says:

            One of the appeals of a carbon tax is that it is similar to a sales tax/VAT and operates as a flat tax, which is superior for budgeting because it makes you recession-resistant.

            IIRC this is not the case. There was one jurisdiction that had significant issues with this (I think maybe it was BC, Canada, trying hard to remember).

            I think the story was that because the tax was supposed to be revenue neutral, but also essentially operate as a “sin tax” on carbon, what happened was that as companies reduced their CO2 emissions in response to the tax (as intended) this resulted in less revenue being generated from the carbon tax, and therefore, other taxes had to be constantly adjusted (typically meaning raised) to make up the shortfall.

          • Matt M says:

            I think a lot of people aren’t willing to risk huge amounts of people dying on the vague hope that libertarian solutions will save us in the end.

            I don’t believe the current IPCC estimates involve “huge amounts of people dying.”

            We’re talking about a few percentage points of curtailed GDP growth. Nordhaus’ own models indicate that “doing nothing” is a better option than extensive government action to limit warming to less than 2 degrees C. They also have indicated that current warming trends are expected to provide net benefits to humanity for the next few decades (at which point, things will start to get worse) – which gives us a hell of a long time to look for and develop technological and innovative solutions.

            As has been recently discussed elsewhere, the hysterical apocalyptic scenarios mindlessly parroted in popular media are not in line with the scientific and economic models.

          • Matt M says:

            Having the government do it doesn’t mean we aren’t risking huge amounts of people dying while holding onto the vague hope that this time they are going to figure out a complex situation and handle it well.

            And yes, this is worth reiterating.

            I’ve seen tons of Twitter comments suggesting that the latest rounds of IPCC reports show that the only way to fight climate change is to “dismantle global capitalism.”

            I’m not a historian, but as far as I can tell, most coordinated attempts to “dismantle capitalism” involve a non-trivial amount of deaths.

          • Matt M says:

            Slow-motion disasters have the property that most people will get out of the way of them.

            Yes, exactly.

            Scott Adams refers to this as the “theory of slow moving disasters” – basically that if you have time to see the disaster coming – you have about as much time to slowly react through adaptation rather than some sort of massively huge intervention.

            He claims that humanity has never been significantly harmed by a slow moving disaster, but I have not attempted to verify.

          • Nick says:

            I’m not a historian, but as far as I can tell, most coordinated attempts to “dismantle capitalism” involve a non-trivial amount of deaths.

            Matt, I think this is what dndnrsn was talking about here. Isn’t there a more charitable interpretation of dismantling capitalism?

          • cassander says:

            @Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Carbon taxes at a level where you can noticeably cut other taxes have the general problem that they would work really really well at eliminating carbon emissions, so you would have to revert to the old taxes in…. 7 years. That is how long it would take to replace all the fossil fuel plants with reactors, all the cars with electrics, and all the fossil fuel-driven industry with arc furnaces.

            I think that’s an extremely optimistic assessment of how quickly a carbon tax would work, but let’s say it’s accurate. So what? Is there not a crisis that needs addressing immediately? Do you have so little confidence in the existing government programs that, 7 seven years people will refuse to pay taxes to support them?

            As has been said by others, As has been said by others, when someone insists that they’ve discovered a huge crisis that just happens to require doing a number of things they’ve wanted to do for decades, it’s not unreasonable to question their motives. This goes double when they reject seeming solutions to the problem that don’t line up with those long held positions, and when they seem unwilling to compromise on unrelated issues (like the overall level of taxation) in order to get what they want. I will start treating global warming like a crisis when the people who call it a crisis start treating it that way.

          • People in poorer countries aren’t necessarily going to have luxury of adapting like we are. That’s where you get your deaths from. This is what drives me crazy about libertarians. You are completely unwilling to support any government intervention so it doesn’t matter whether it’s needed or not, you will always give the same answer and won’t bother to even consider otherwise. Having a carbon tax is not some revolutionary act of communism. It’s not going to be a disaster. At worst, you very slightly bring down GDP growth. If global warming is bad enough, then we’ll irreversibly change the planet. And one of those positions has a hell of a lot more evidence than the other. What’s more important, protecting your ideology or the entire planet?

          • John Schilling says:

            He claims that humanity has never been significantly harmed by a slow moving disaster, but I have not attempted to verify.

            The Bronze Age Collapse seems to have been a slow-moving disaster, playing out over at least two generations. And I think the near-total destruction of human civilization would constitute “significant harm”.

          • albatross11 says:

            How about the collapse of the Roman Empire?

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Wrong Species

            You are making exactly the same mistake that you are decrying libertarians for. Who cares about small gains in GDP the most? Those same impoverished groups you are worried about not being able to adjust to climate change are likely to be the ones that stand the most to benefit from ‘small’ gains in global GDP.

          • RobJ says:

            It’s worse than that. it was proposed in washington and the left came out against it.

            If you read that article it describes exactly what I mean by “partisanship doing it’s thing”? The CarbonWA group tried to create a measure that would be acceptable to Republicans by making it revenue neutral. Of course the vast majority of Republicans still reject it while also alienating some democratic coalitions. And based on a quick look it appears it was still far more popular among Democrats than Republicans… King county was one of the few where a majority supported it.

            The problem is, as soon as an issue is owned by one party or another (and climate change is definitely owned by Democrats), any attempt at crossing party lines becomes nearly impossible. So climate activists have to form a coalition with other parts of the left rather than making a bridge to the right. It sucks.

            As an aside, I live in Seattle and there’s another measure up this year that appears to more closely match the “Climate Alliance” vision. It’s a carbon “fee” instead of “tax” and revenue goes to environmental projects. We’ll see how it does.

          • cassander says:

            @RobJ says:

            The problem is, as soon as an issue is owned by one party or another (and climate change is definitely owned by Democrats), any attempt at crossing party lines becomes nearly impossible. So climate activists have to form a coalition with other parts of the left rather than making a bridge to the right. It sucks.

            It’s an issue a lot of people on the left care about, and most people on the right don’t. The way you get the bill passed, therefore, is to offer the right something that they do care about. That’s what a compromise is, not getting less of the thing you want, but giving the other person something he wants so that he gives you what you want. Someone who really cared about climate change would be eager for a a carbon tax that wasn’t just revenue neutral, but that was part of a reduction in overall tax rates. Call it the climate tax cut and dare republicans to come out against it. You wouldn’t win over all of them, but you’d get enough to pass it if the left stayed together.

            The reason this won’t happen is that much of the of left wing coalition is made up of interest groups that directly benefit from higher government spending.

          • @baconbits

            Both of them have the potential to cause lower GDP. Only one of them has either irreversible or at least incredibly hard to reverse effects on the whole planet. Tell me this: what would it take to convince you that government action in some capacity is needed to mitigate climate change?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @baconbits

            This is true only as long as QoL doesn’t drop dramatically; look lower on Maslow’s heirarchy.

          • RobJ says:

            Someone who really cared about climate change would be eager for a carbon tax that wasn’t just revenue neutral, but that was part of a reduction in overall tax rates.

            Well, maybe it wasn’t advertised that way, but it would have been an overall tax reduction if carbon emissions were reduced enough, since it didn’t have a way to make up that shortfall. That kind of horse trading compromise can work in the legislature, but I think it would be hard to get something like that to happen in initiative form. At least I’ve never seen it.

            Not to mention, I think the hope (maybe naïve) is that the issue of climate change isn’t partisan at the individual voter level, just the usually proposed solutions.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Both of them have the potential to cause lower GDP. Only one of them has either irreversible or at least incredibly hard to reverse effects on the whole planet.

            This is somewhere between a gross exaggeration and Pascal’s mugging, the “effects” on the whole planet are not projected to be extremely nor uniformly bad. They are expected to be bad in some areas and good in others, “it will effect the whole planet” comes off as scare mongering (or it shoulc).

            Tell me this: what would it take to convince you that government action in some capacity is needed to mitigate climate change?

            The first thing the government would have to do would be to demonstrate its competency in effecting positive change. Carbon tax advocates are functionally asking for a massive, coordinated world wide economic policy to be negotiated and implemented by organizations that can’t figure out how to implement student loans without driving up tuition costs. This will be a situation where defection will be extremely valuable (what do you think will happen to the cost of oil if the US, Europe and China all aggressively cut back their use? What will the incentives be for poorer countries with a sudden abundance of cheap oil at their disposal and oil rich countries suddenly deprived of most of their revenue?) and coordination has already shown to be extremely difficult.

            This is not a situation with a binary outcome of “ignore global warming or have government fix global warming” as the most likely outcome of government intervention is “large costs and a total failure to fix global warming” with “large costs while making global warming worse” following that up and “large costs but success” a distant 3rd at best.

          • @baconbits

            This is the problem. Your standard is so vague as to intentionally be impossible to meet. Regardless of whether the government could mitigate climate change, you would still be opposed to it. Why should anyone listen to you?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Regardless of whether the government could mitigate climate change, you would still be opposed to it. Why should anyone listen to you?

            That is not what I wrote, this is a pathetic straw-man attempt. I stated that at a minimum I would have to be convinced of the competency of the government to be able to successfully implement the policies, which is what I would expect of a plumber before I hired them to fix a leak or a doctor before a procedure. The fact that you are happy to gloss over what is the most basic tenant of accomplishing something while discussing one of the most complex issues that actually exists is about as telling as it can be. Or to sum up

            If you don’t think competency is important to solving climate change why should anyone listen to you?

          • Matt M says:

            Right, there are two different questions that must be answered.

            1. Would this policy, even if perfectly executed, provide net benefits versus doing nothing?

            2. How likely is it the policy will be perfectly executed?

            A lot of climate change alarmists are recommending actions that the IPCC models themselves suggest would not provide net benefits versus doing nothing.

            But even if you cross that bridge and you get to “let’s do exactly what the models say will work best,” you still have to deal with #2 – which is, how much do you trust the organization that brought us the Iraq war to implement this sort of thing successfully.

          • On the issue of the costs of doing nothing, it’s worth looking at the number Nordhaus offered (near the bottom of the long post linked to) for the cost of waiting fifty years instead of taking the optimal action immediately—in the context of a piece arguing against waiting.

            Then there is my favorite IPCC quote, from a while back:

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

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Carbon taxes at a level where you can noticeably cut other taxes have the general problem that they would work really really well at eliminating carbon emissions, so you would have to revert to the old taxes in…. 7 years. That is how long it would take to replace all the fossil fuel plants with reactors, all the cars with electrics, and all the fossil fuel-driven industry with arc furnaces.

            If true, my plan causes a double-miracle. It basically solves the carbon problem AND it causes a disruption to our currently bad tax code and removes the institutional inertia that those bad policies currently have.

          • @bacon

            Here’s the thing, you can go all day about how you care about the competency of the plan but I don’t think anything would work for you. You would easily find something to doubt about the plan, no matter how well thought out it was. If government competency was seriously what was holding you back, then you might think of ideas that would reduce your concerns or point to someone else who has done the same but the only thing you have said is that you don’t trust the government to do it. Instead of just sitting back and hoping the free market will save us, at the very least we should look in to our options and things like carbon taxes look to be the least bad thing we can do. It’s not like literally no one has given this any thought before.

          • On the subject of William Nordhaus, who just got a Nobel Prize for his work on climate. In a recent article he concluded that it is unrealistic to plan to hold warming down to 2.5°. On page 30 there is a graph of temperature trajectories on various assumptions. With optimal action to control CO2, temperature by 2100 is up 3.5°.

            Meanwhile the IPCC insists that we must hold it down to 1.5°.

            I have complained over the years that Nordhaus has endorsed the orthodox view despite the failure of his work to support it. I’m wondering now if I should view him as a stealth warrior for the good guys, maintaining his reputation with the orthodox by saying the right things about climate change while producing professional work inconsistent with those conclusions.

          • Nornagest says:

            In a recent article he concluded that it is unrealistic to plan to hold warming down to 2.5°. On page 30 there is a graph of temperature trajectories on various assumptions. With optimal action to control CO2, temperature by 2100 is up 4.5°.

            I’m reading his cost-benefit optimum as 3.5° C by 2100 on that graph, not 4.5?

          • @Nornagest:

            You were correct, I was wrong. I’ve corrected it.

      • dick says:

        Tons of money for speculative green energy, but nothing whatsoever for nuclear power. A laser-like focus on de-industrializing the West and lowering western standards of living while shrugging at the industrialization of China and India. Pushing childlessness, public transit, vegetarianism, and a bunch of other perennial left-wing ideas. Whatever the actual facts were, the motivation was pretty clearly a power grab by the left.

        I don’t follow this at all. Are you arguing that having less children, eating less meat, and taking more public transit would not reduce CO2? If not, wouldn’t the “this is just a power grab” case be better made by citing some things that the left says will help the environment, but in fact wouldn’t? And when did the left start “pushing childlessness”? And in what sense would persuading people to eat less meat constitute a “power grab”?

        • liate says:

          I don’t follow this at all. Are you arguing that having less children, eating less meat, and taking more public transit would not reduce CO2?

          It’s not that those things wouldn’t help, it’s that they are decidedly Blue Tribe values that probably would take more sacrifice to help than replacing coal plants with nuclear plants or implementing a carbon tax, which are much less argued for than stuff like personally reducing consumption and using public transit and stuff. This is also (I think) why Matt thinks of it as a power grab; it often can look less like trying to find solutions to a humongous problem as much as trying to pushing values.

          • dick says:

            First of all, I was under the impression that eating less/no meat was one of the most impactful things a person could do to decrease their carbon footprint. (Though I’m not especially knowledgeable about it and ready to hear otherwise) Second, I’m still unclear on which power we’re grabbing by pushing vegetables. “Power grab” is a pretty vague phrase but if it means “advocating for policies you genuinely believe are good, which don’t increase your power” then we might as well just be posting memes.

          • LesHapablap says:

            On the topic of diet for global warming, measuring calories per carbon footprint, beef seems to be the worst but other meats are not much worse than vegetables.

            Peanut butter is the best source of calories per carbon footprint.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            dick, telling people to not eat things they want to eat is grabbing power.

          • Matt M says:

            dick,

            I think my point here is one of hypocrisy.

            Why should I take seriously any particular environmentalist who is demanding higher taxes, significantly higher energy prices, and massive job losses in the energy sector (almost all of which will be borne by lower-class individuals in red states), ostensibly to save humanity from imminent destruction, all while they themselves have not yet gone full Vegan (which, as far as I know, is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint).

            Why should I take seriously Al Gore’s demands that *I* reduce my own consumption while he still lives in a mansion and flies around the globe in private jets to promote his agenda of “people need to live more simply and travel less?”

            The point is that when it comes to government action, they aren’t arguing for laws against eating meat. Or laws restricting unnecessary personal travel. They’re arguing for higher taxes, greater restrictions on trade, massive penalties towards industries they’ve always hated, subsidies for industries they like, less state and local power in lieu of more federal power, and less federal power in lieu of global bureaucratic power.

            Why might this be the case? Well, a cynical person might suggest it’s because a whole lot of them don’t want to be forced to become vegan, and a whole lot of them like flying to Europe for fun. But all those other things I listed, higher taxes, greater state power, etc. are things they do like. Things they wanted before “climate change” was ever a thing. Things they will continue to want long after it isn’t a thing anymore.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            I think your argument proves too much. It’s a general-purpose argument for claiming group X doesn’t really care about issue Y because they don’t do some thing Z that you claim would be proof that they really cared about it.

            For example, all those pro-life Christians are really full of shit, because if they really cared about the lives of the helpless, they’d be adopting all the poor children in the world before complaining about abortion.

            The great thing about the form of this argument is that you can always put more and more demanding things into Z–since almost everyone has a whole set of competing values, there’s always some tradeoff you can demand that people worried about X could do, but that’s so demanding hardly anyone does it.

            I mean, you *say* you care about border security. And yet, you haven’t relocated to the border to spend all your waking hours patrolling against illegal immigrants. Clearly the issue isn’t *really* important to you.

            You *say* you care about preserving nature, but you haven’t yet committed suicide to cease your own participation in using up natural resources, so it’s clearly all bullshit.

            And so on.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. That’s a perfectly fair point.

            And I should say that I don’t believe the average environmentalist doesn’t fear climate change at all and is putting on a huge act to trick us rubes into accepting full communism now.

            My point is less “this isn’t an issue at all” and more “this isn’t an issue where imminent apocalypse is on the table, because if it was, these people would take more drastic changes in their behavior.”

            You can easily tell that their rhetoric is vastly exaggerated by the fact that their behavior isn’t anywhere close to matching it. And yes, I think this is also true of the “abortion is murder” crowd. People who really believed we were murdering thousands of babies every year would presumably do more to put a stop to that than signing some petition or going to a political rally every once in a while.

          • Nick says:

            And yes, I think this is also true of the “abortion is murder” crowd. People who really believed we were murdering thousands of babies every year would presumably do more to put a stop to that than signing some petition or going to a political rally every once in a while.

            For the thousandth time, the people who think abortion is murder are almost never utilitarians and do not therefore believe that bombing abortion clinics, assassinating abortionists, etc. is right.

          • albatross11 says:

            As a worked example of this, consider the antislavery movement in the US. Lots and lots of people who wanted to argue and morally convince the country into banning slavery, only a tiny fraction who wanted to arm the slaves and trigger an uprising. If you look at that and decide that John Brown was the only true abolitionist, I think you’ve got a pretty mixed-up view of the world.

            You might be an abolitionist who doesn’t try to trigger a servile uprising because you think it won’t work, or because you think the cure will be worse than the disease, or because you think the slaveowner class is mistaken but not evil and should be given a chance to change their minds, or because you think political change should work through the normal political system of laws and courts whenever possible, or for any number of other reasons.

            Hell, this is essentially where the antifas go off the rails, IMO–with this idea that if you aren’t ready to go bust some Fash heads, you don’t *really* oppose fascism.

          • Matt M says:

            albatross,

            Your points aren’t wrong, but I think my mental model is a bit different. I do think that if there were a house on a given city block where it was known that dozens of murders were taking place on any given day and the police refused to do anything to stop it, that a whole lot of people would stop it by violence, if necessary, even at risk of getting in legal trouble themselves.

            So my point is less “anyone who doesn’t oppose abortion with violence must be okay with abortion” and more “anyone who doesn’t oppose abortion with violence (but would oppose adult murder with violence) clearly does not view abortion as the literal equivalent of adult murder.”

          • Lillian says:

            My point is less “this isn’t an issue at all” and more “this isn’t an issue where imminent apocalypse is on the table, because if it was, these people would take more drastic changes in their behavior.”

            It is completely rational to refuse to make a sacrifice unless everyone gets on board with making that sacrifice as well. Even if you genuinely believe there will be an apocalypse if that sacrifice is not collectively made. Going at it alone just means that your personal quality of life decreases but the apocalypse still happens. Nobody gains from this, so it’s hardly reasonable to do it.

            That said, being a living example can be useful for convincing people of your sincerity. Unilaterally making a sacrifice serves as an expensive signal that you are genuine in your beliefs and committed to seeing them implemented. So while i wouldn’t necessarily say that Al Gore doesn’t genuinely believe that serious sacrifices are needed to avert disaster, i will say that he’s not going a very good job of signalling his commitment to that belief.

          • John Schilling says:

            “anyone who doesn’t oppose abortion with violence (but would oppose adult murder with violence) clearly does not view abortion as the literal equivalent of adult murder.”

            How many people would oppose adult murder with violence, if that murder were not happening right in front of them in a place they would have been anyway?

            Aside from professional guards and policemen, nobody does that. Even in cultures and communities with a strong tradition of armed self-defense, there’s approximately zero prevalence of private citizens saying “I shall go to this place where murders are likely to occur, even though I have no other business there, so that I may do violence to the murderers”. That’s what police are for, and approximately everybody sees the appropriate response to distant murders as making sure the police are properly tasked and supported in going after the murderers.

            So I’m thinking, the implied charge of hypocrisy is only valid if applied to a pro-life advocate who is also an armed citizen and who randomly happens to stumble on a back-alley abortionist while going about his affairs. Insisting that they can’t consistently believe abortion=murder unless they seek out abortion clinics to do violence unto the alleged murderers therein, is akin to an isolated demand for rigor.

          • dick says:

            dick, telling people to not eat things they want to eat is grabbing power.

            Then I must have a lot of power, because I have two small children and I tell them not to eat things all the time. This seems like a good time to point out that “That wasn’t worded very well, but what I mean is…” is always constructive and never a sign of weakness.

          • dick says:

            You can easily tell that their rhetoric is vastly exaggerated by the fact that their behavior isn’t anywhere close to matching it.

            A lot of right-wingers seem to think radical Islamic terrorism is an urgent problem. Can I assume they’re lying if they’re not personally flying over to the middle east to shoot people? No; they recognize that the problem is too big for individual action, so they lobby the government to force a coordinated response. Same thing here. You can learn more about why government intervention is a good response to coordination problems here.

          • Matt M says:

            And yet, this is the same general group of people who won’t hesitate to lecture me if they catch me tossing a single aluminum can into a bin not labeled “recycle.”

            Think globally, act locally, is a left-wing phrase.

            We’re constantly told that every little bit matters in all kinds of areas, including ones relating specifically and entirely to environmentalism. Yet somehow, “stop Al Gore from globehopping in private jets” is considered a step too far?

            These are the same people who will act like changing a few light bulbs in their office building to CFLs is “making a difference.” But they won’t give up their hamburgers because “well unless everyone does it, it won’t really matter.”

            Give me a break.

            ETA: And quite honestly, if I knew any right-wingers who were constantly talking about Islamic terrorism and presenting it as a threat to end all civilization as we know it, I almost certainly would at least ask them if they’ve considered joining the military. And would expect an answer more intelligent than “Well I’m just one person so I can’t make a difference.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            Consider foreign policy. My take is that a lot of our more violent elements of foreign policy are basically just killing people powerless people far away for domestic political reasons, or for murky, hard-to-justify goals. And yet, I don’t try to bomb the pentagon, even though I have no doubt at all that the next guy we blow up from a drone in Afghanistan[1] will be a fully human adult.

            When we were running an overt torture program and it had come out, I had no doubt that the people being tortured were full human beings, either. Nor that a substantial fraction of them were innocent[2]. But I, like many other people, argued against that program and voted accordingly and sent money to the ACLU and Amnesty International to fight it, but didn’t try to start some kind of terrorist campaign against it. I don’t think that means I secretly thought the torture program was okay.

            [1] And honestly, we’re at least *trying* to only kill bad guys–our buddies the Saudis are piling up the bodies in Yemen, with weapons we sell them and support from us.

            [2] The police get the wrong guy often enough, and they’re working in their native language and country, with lots of legal and procedural safeguards. There’s no way the error rate isn’t many times higher in a foreign country with no legal protections, with investigators doing the whole thing in a second language and with imperfect understanding of the culture.

          • dick says:

            And yet, this is the same general group of people who won’t hesitate to lecture me if they catch me tossing a single aluminum can into a bin not labeled “recycle.”

            “My doctor says I should go on a diet, but he’s fatter than I am!” I think this thread has run its course.

          • ManyCookies says:

            This discussion on sincerity reminds me of a straw-ish argument against Christians: If you truly believe eternal paradise and eternal torment are on the line, how could you possibly live with yourself taking any action not at least tangentially related to spreading the word of Christ, and saving as many people as possible?

            The obvious response is not everyone’s suited for missionary or priest work, and no one’s perfect and can’t be expected to constantly work towards conversions. But shouldn’t missionary work still be the “default” line of thinking here, the thing everyone desperately wants to do most of the time, the thing that priests have to constantly talk unqualified people down from? And yes you can repent for your own vices, but how could you ever shoulder the guilt if your debauchery moves even a single person away from Christ, either by enabling poor behavior or disgusting a non-Christian away from the faith?

            I don’t think the answer here is “Christians don’t really believe in what they say, this is all just a cover to persecute the icky gays and keep women chained in the kitchen”. And in the same vein, I don’t think climate change hardliners aren’t being sincere just because they haven’t dropped every other priority to combat the looming threat on the horizon.

          • LesHapablap says:

            dick,

            Then I must have a lot of power, because I have two small children and I tell them not to eat things all the time. This seems like a good time to point out that “That wasn’t worded very well, but what I mean is…” is always constructive and never a sign of weakness.

            You are correct, having the government tell you what to eat is a lot like a parent telling a child what to eat. Most people recoil at the thought of the government treating them like children.

          • dick says:

            You are correct, having the government tell you what to eat is a lot like a parent telling a child what to eat. Most people recoil at the thought of the government treating them like children.

            It is also like telling a child what to eat in that no one pays any attention. Meanwhile, the context was that Nabil made a strong and surprising claim about the left pushing vegetarianism as some sort of power grab, and it sounded dubious to me so I asked for clarification, and now somehow I’m in a totally different argument in which “the left” has morphed in to “the government”, and “pushing vegetarianism” has changed in to “telling you what to eat,” and whatever it is the left is doing about climate change disappeared. Did you make those changes in order to bring up soda bans or something? Could you not just make a new thread about how bad soda bans are?

      • 10240 says:

        The things you claim the media and academic community pushes, apart from renewable energy (which is not all that speculative any more), is pushed by a small fringe subset of the left, while a much larger part of the left and the center cares about global warming, and pushes more realistic solutions. Or, often, doesn’t propose concrete solutions, but nevertheless directs attention at the problem. I read often about the global warming problem in moderate media, but never about childlessness or vegetarianism.

        This also questions the conspiracy claims: if the only reason to push global warming talk was those fringe left-wing ideas, the center-left which doesn’t support them would have no reason to talk about it.

        • Matt M says:

          This also questions the conspiracy claims: if the only reason to push global warming talk was those fringe left-wing ideas

          It’s not necessarily fringe. You can embrace climate change alarmism in exact proportion to your left-wing extremism, as necessary.

          Meaning, the commies can push it as “must dismantle capitalism today or humanity goes extinct in 5 years” to try and get what they want. Meanwhile, the center left can take the “even if climate change won’t kill us all, surely the small chance of that means we should probably do something, like provide subsidies for hybrid cars” or something like that.

          And the science behind it is so muddled and poorly understood that this sort of thing works perfectly.

          • 10240 says:

            the center left can take the “even if climate change won’t kill us all, surely the small chance of that means we should probably do something, like provide subsidies for hybrid cars”

            Yes, but that’s not a weird radical proposal the left has always wanted anyway, but a direct response to global warming. (Not the right response, it’s carbon emissions that should be taxed, rather than cars with less emissions subsidized, but these sort of things are common.)

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not sure that’s true. I can’t exactly explain why, but I feel like “small cars with good gas mileage” has always been associated with the hippy crowd, while “large gas-guzzling trucks and muscle cars” has been a red tribe good ol boy thing.

            Perhaps due to fears of general pollution from emissions, which were still a thing long before people were concerned about CO2 and climate change specifically.

          • Nornagest says:

            Might also be an urban/rural thing. A big truck is a lot more practical in the suburbs where there’s plenty of parking and you usually won’t need to parallel park on a crowded street, and more practical still out in the sticks where you might have a good reason to haul shit around in it on a regular basis. Same for a muscle car, for different reasons — unless you’re really into the aesthetics, which to be fair a lot of people are, there’s less reason to own one when you can’t drive a mile without hitting a traffic jam. And rear visibility out of them tends to be kinda crap, which makes parking harder again.

            There were plenty of hippies who owned trucks around where I grew up.

          • 10240 says:

            Perhaps due to fears of general pollution from emissions, which were still a thing long before people were concerned about CO2 and climate change specifically.

            That’s plausible. Also, eventual exhaustion of fossil fuels. Then again, those are not bad reasons either. And naturally it’s roughly the same set of people who care about pollution, fossil fuel exhaustion and global warming anyway. Global warming gets the most attention nowadays. When (environmentalist, left-leaning, whatever) people signal how important they consider these problems relative to each other, I see no reason to suspect that they are dishonest, i.e. that they actually care more about air pollution or fossil fuel exhaustion, and use global warming to get what they want.

          • Matt M says:

            To the extent that I believe in some sort of conspiracy regarding global warming, I don’t think the average left-leaning person is “in on it.” I suspect they fully do believe in and fear global warming.

          • And naturally it’s roughly the same set of people who care about pollution, fossil fuel exhaustion and global warming anyway.

            Except that the extrapolations of future CO2 production which the IPCC produces and people concerned with AGW repeat depend on assuming that fossil fuel isn’t going to be exhausted.

          • 10240 says:

            To the extent that I believe in some sort of conspiracy regarding global warming, I don’t think the average left-leaning person is “in on it.” I suspect they fully do believe in and fear global warming.

            These people are probably the majority of young people who enter the field of climate science, so if there was a conspiracy, it’s going to either get exposed or simply die off as new scientists approach the science in a sincere way. In fact people who are not interested in pushing radical left-wing ideologies were probably not the majority of climate scientists even when global warming was first proposed and got accepted, so if the science behind it, it wouldn’t have become consensus in the first place. On average, natural scientists lean vaguely liberal, like most academics, but not radical, and many of them doesn’t care that much about politics.

            Except that the extrapolations of future CO2 production which the IPCC produces and people concerned with AGW repeat depend on assuming that fossil fuel isn’t going to be exhausted.

            It’s obviously going to get exhausted at some point, I guess it’s claimed that global warming will cause serious problems earlier than that, which is consistent with treating it as a more urgent problem.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s obviously going to get exhausted at some point

            This is not at all obvious. Proven oil reserves tend to increase, not decrease, over time. Ever since it’s discovery, oil has continually become less scarce, not more. Predictions of “it’s about to run out” have been continually made, and have been staggeringly and colossally wrong, since the 1920s.

          • 10240 says:

            Proven oil reserves tend to increase, not decrease, over time.

            I don’t think you can extrapolate arbitrarily far from that.

          • In principle, any depletable resource has to run out. But peak oil people and the like have routinely claimed that it was running out fairly soon. Meanwhile the IPCC high emissions scenario, as I understand it, assumes continued exponential growth in CO2 output, I think proportional to the projected growth in world GNP. I saw one piece by someone at Cal Tech who calculated that the IPCC projection would use, by the end of the century, more coal than is currently estimated to exist.

            There was a good deal of uncertainty, in part, as I recall, about just what the IPCC assumption was, and in part presumably about how much coal is there to be mined. But I remain struck by the willingness of the same people to hold two inconsistent beliefs–that CO2 output will continue to increase for a long time and then we are close to the point where we have to worry about exhaustion of fossil fuels.

          • On the conspiracy issue …

            One question is how much of the orthodoxy one is suspicious of. I think it very unlikely that the warming since 1911 is fake, and increased CO2 seems a plausible explanation of part of it, although there is enough evidence of climate change in the past, including rapid change in the distant past (Greenland and Antarctic ice core data), and enough uncertainty in the theoretical size of the CO2 effect, so one can’t be sure how much is explained by that.

            What I am mostly skeptical about is the claim that we can expect large net negative effects. A lot of what I think is going on is a very uncertain set of estimates, with most people involved, especially those making public statements, biased in how they make their judgement calls.

            At the same time, I think there is some deliberate dishonesty going on and I am bothered by the fact that even when it is pretty clear the rest of the movement seems unable to see it or unwilling to point it out. I can offer three examples pointed out over the years on my blog.

            1. Cook 2013 (the famous 97% of climate scientists agree) result, very widely cited, including by Obama. It’s routinely misreported, and one of the people who misrepresented its result was the lead author of the paper.

            2. The “CO2 fertilization makes crops less nutritious” argument. Nobody I have seen in news reports on this research noted that “less nutritious” meant “the yield of two of the ten minerals in wheat increases by less than the yield of calories, so if people continue to eat the same number of calories of wheat, after yield per acre has sharply increased, they will get less of those minerals.

            That isn’t surprising, because you have to look through the articles pretty carefully to find the point where they explain that that is what they mean by less nutritious.

            3. The topical one. William Nordhaus, who just got a Nobel prize, wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books responding to an OpEd in the WSJ. The OpEd had argued that global warming was not a catastrophic problem requiring immediate action. Nordhaus reported his estimate of how much worse off the world would be if we took no action against AGW for fifty years, as compared to taking the optimal actions immediately. The figure, brought forward to then current value, was $4.1 trillion, of which he wrote “Wars have been started over smaller sums.”

            He didn’t mention that the cost, spread over the entire world and a century or so (he wasn’t clear about how long a period he was adding up costs over), came to a reduction of world GNP by about .06%. That isn’t scientifically dishonest–I assume he accurately reported the result of his calculations–but it’s rhetorically dishonest.

            In summary, I don’t think there is a vast conspiracy. I think there is a body of research biased towards getting the currently orthodox result and a reporting of results which, for a mix of reasons (ideology and wanting to tell a good story), greatly exaggerates the scientific conclusions in a catastrophic direction.

            Which is why I like quoting scientific results such as Nordhaus’ $4.1 trillion or the IPCC’s costs of several percent of GNP for some low-lying developing countries and small island states.

          • My previous comment was long, so I am using another one to make a different but related point.

            The underlying logic of the “you must think it’s a conspiracy, which is nuts” argument is that you wouldn’t get this level of public consensus for the belief that AGW is a serious threat of catastrophe if it wasn’t true.

            Those who believe that have to somehow explain the last round. In the sixties and seventies there was a similar consensus, with similar claims and rhetoric, around the belief that overpopulation was an urgent problem which required immediate action. Ehrlich’s claim that there would be unavoidable mass famines, with hundreds of millions of people dying in the 1970’s, was towards the extreme edge of that consensus but within its Overton window–he was taken seriously. Almost everyone agreed—the one major outlier was Julian Simon—that unless population growth was slowed or stopped poor countries were going to get much poorer.

            What has happened so far has been the precise opposite of the prediction. Population growth didn’t stop but calorie consumption per capita in poor countries has trended up not down, extreme poverty sharply down not up.

            One country followed out the implications of the claim—China with its one child policy. While South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore got rich, China stayed poor until the death of Mao allowed it to gradually abandon his mistaken economic policies.

            Mistakes matter. This one resulted in something like a billion couples, over the period of the policy, being prevented from having the children they wanted to have. And, despite as clear a refutation in the data as one could hope for, quite a lot of people continue to believe that the theory was true–either they ignore the facts or, like believers in failed end of the world prophecies, they push the date forward to a period for which we have no data since it hasn’t happened yet.

            Unlike, I suspect, most here, I was involved at least peripherally in that controversy, which is one of the reasons I have been skeptical of the current rerun.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But I remain struck by the willingness of the same people to hold two inconsistent beliefs–that CO2 output will continue to increase for a long time and then we are close to the point where we have to worry about exhaustion of fossil fuels.

            Some people might hold them inconsistently, but I think that they are reconcilable as a “there are two bad situations, either fossil fuels run out soon and the economy collapses or they don’t run out and the climate is destroyed, carbon taxes fix both”.

          • @Baconbits:

            I must have missed the part of the IPCC statement, or similar statements by lots of other people, where they said that their catastrophic predictions for climate change only held if we didn’t run short of fossil fuels but we probably would, which would raise a different problem.

          • 10240 says:

            @DavidFriedman What the consequences of global warming can be expected, and how hard it is to adapt to them, is certainly speculative and uncertain, no question about that. My impression is that how much (if any) warming CO2 emissions cause is an objective question that can be studied with scientific tools and is studied by a large number of people. The effects of warming are speculative, and we are talking about a variety of possible consequences (some of which are also scientific questions, but are studied by fewer people). I guess the effects of population growth are similar.

            As such, if I say that getting it wrong in a dishonest way* would need a large conspiracy, which is unlikely, that applies to warming itself, not to its consequences or the difficulty of adapting to them. I can entirely imagine that e.g. scientists are motivated to want to limit global warming if it’s predicted to lead to the extinction of many species (a major information loss**, and a loss for the scientific curiosity of a future society which can’t study them) even if it doesn’t have significant economic consequences, and I can sympathize with that.

            Re overpopulation: If even the vast majority of experts can be wrong, that only goes on to show that uncertainties can be very high. We certainly can’t trust small, disagreeing minorities any more, either. Doesn’t that mean we should err on the side of caution?
            Though that assumes that the situation is symmetric. Perhaps excessive alarmism is much more common than not enough of it in these types of situations. I can think of more examples of the former, but not enough of a sample size to be able to tell.

            Can it be summarized in a sentence what went wrong with those catastrophic overpopulation predictions? One reason I can imagine is that technological progress made it possible to feed more people; that could’ve been unpredictable, and it may be irresponsible to excessively rely on that.

            And, despite as clear a refutation in the data as one could hope for, quite a lot of people continue to believe that the theory was true–either they ignore the facts or, like believers in failed end of the world prophecies, they push the date forward to a period for which we have no data since it hasn’t happened yet.

            That’s one derisive description. The opposite description would be (depending on where the mistakes in the predictions were) “We were riding a car with faulty brakes toward a cliff. We were lucky and the car stopped before we would’ve fallen. Does that mean we should continue driving faulty cars on terrain with cliffs?” I have no idea if this description or yours is more accurate, or something in between.

            * It’s always possible that scientists are making a mistake, don’t take some undiscovered effect into account, which would massively change the trajectory. But as long as a prediction of a given amount of warming is made according to our best knowledge, we ought to treat it as the most likely outcome, from which deviations in either direction are possible, rather than just ignoring the predictions because we are not entirely certain.
            ** which can be mitigated if we are confident that we’ll be able to reliably recreate organisms from DNA

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The other things which are defusing the population bomb are contraception and education for women.

            One of the underlying premises of the population bomb– that people will not choose to have fewer children– turned out to simply be wrong.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ David Friedman

            I was only pointing out that the two positions can be reconciled, not that they are held in that way. I actually suspect that if you pointed this out and got a response from someone who is a believer that they would probably postulate that in the peak fossil fuels scenario a carbon tax would extend the lifetime of fossil fuels and make transitioning easier.

            I think there are some views that are totally contradictory, the Keynesian view that mobilization for WW2 solved the AD problem and the GD with their view that there was no major recession post WW2 due to Pent up demand would be, in my mind, a complete contradiction.

          • @10240:

            You raise several different issues, so I’ll break up my response into several comments.

            My impression is that how much (if any) warming CO2 emissions cause is an objective question that can be studied with scientific tools and is studied by a large number of people.

            There are three problems here. From the theoretical side, the amount of feedback, hence the level of climate sensitivity, is uncertain, giving about a factor of two uncertainty in how much warming we can expect from a given level of CO2. Interactions between atmosphere and ocean are also poorly understood and the heat capacity of the ocean is enormous, so in principle a mechanism that shifted enough heat to the ocean could result in no atmospheric warming and a small amount of oceanic warming, although that extreme a result seems unlikely. So theory tells us that we can expect some warming from increases in CO2 but not how much. Each IPCC report contains results from a bunch of different models giving different results.

            One can try to deal with the theoretical uncertainty by fitting models to past data, but that has familiar problems—if you don’t have a good enough theory you don’t know what form to fit to, so may do a good job of fitting past data but not future—with enough parameters you can fit the skyline of N.Y.

            I have an old blog post where I looked at past IPCC reports to see how well their projections fitted what happened thereafter and concluded that actual warming ranged from low on their projected range to below the bottom of the range. That fits my suspicion that current pressures tend to result in judgement calls biased towards more rapid warming.

            Finally, the projections depend on future CO2 output, which is unknown. I observe the same people claiming that solar and/or wind are or soon will be less expensive than fossil fuel and making arguments that assume a continued exponential growth in fossil fuel consumption (the IPCC RCP 8.5, which is the one most often cited). If the former claim is correct, as it might be, the latter is wrong. We are talking about projections over most of a century, which is long enough for large changes in the relevant technologies.

            So while the question of how much warming we can expect from CO2 change can be studied, I don’t think we can produce a very reliable answer, and I suspect that the answers getting public attention are biased towards the high end, both for ideological reasons and because that makes a better story.

          • Matt M says:

            I have an old blog post where I looked at past IPCC reports to see how well their projections fitted what happened thereafter and concluded that actual warming ranged from low on their projected range to below the bottom of the range. That fits my suspicion that current pressures tend to result in judgement calls biased towards more rapid warming.

            I remember a couple years ago reading an article suggesting that several of the major models were getting close to breaking their 95% confidence interval (because warming was that far below what they predicted).

            Am I remembering this right? Is it true? What has happened since then?

          • Re overpopulation: If even the vast majority of experts can be wrong, that only goes on to show that uncertainties can be very high.

            What the majority was claiming was not “population increase might well cause problems, but we can’t be sure.” It was “population increase will certainly make things much worse, especially for poor countries, the only question is how bad it will be. Anyone who denies that is ignorant, stupid, or corrupt.”

            You have to include not only the prediction but the confidence in your evaluation of what they were saying. Ehrlich, to take the extreme example, was claiming that nothing we could do could possibly prevent mass famine in the 1970’s. The tone was very much the same as the tone of the current campaign on AGW. If you look at the recent IPCC pronouncement and its echoes in the media, it wasn’t “there is a significant chance that if we do nothing about CO2 there might be large negative consequences.” It was much closer to “either we take drastic action in the next decade or we are doomed.”

            Doesn’t that mean we should err on the side of caution?

            Caution isn’t an option. One result of the population fears was China’s one child policy, which imposed enormous human costs on a very large number of people. Another was a general anti-natalist attitude which surely contributed at least somewhat to current problems of low or negative population growth in much of the developed world. Singapore, to take one example, has now switched from policies designed to hold down birth rates to policies designed to increase them.

            Probably the biggest result of the current AGW concern was to provide a plausible excuse for turning about an eighth of the world’s output of the world’s most important food crop into alcohol–and so holding up world maize prices for the benefit of U.S. farmers. If the world took seriously the IPCC pronouncements and acted accordingly, the result would be to increase power costs and reduce economic growth in countries such as India, where people are now gradually making it out of extreme poverty. Keeping hundreds of millions of people poor isn’t playing safe.

          • Can it be summarized in a sentence what went wrong with those catastrophic overpopulation predictions?

            They were based on theoretical models that ignored real world feedbacks due to rational action.

            Back when the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report came out, the problem was obvious. The example I remember pointing out back then was that in their model, high food prices increased current output but decreased future output because over farming destroyed the fertility of the land. But a rational landowner allows for future as well as present effects. If food prices are high and expected to remain high, the landowner has an incentive to maintain the fertility of his land. And it isn’t just obvious economic theory. Japan had had high food prices for a long time–and the result was not that yield fell over time.

            The way I remember describing problem then was that their computer model was equivalent to modeling the behavior of an automobile on a highway with the assumption that the driver had his eyes closed, could base his action on everything except observation of what was actually happening. Extrapolate his path and he crashes.

            It used a computer, it claimed to be scientific, it fit the prejudices of lots of people, most people like to feel superior and tell other people what they should do, and hardly anyone understands economics. My contribution to the controversy was a piece for the Population Council trying to estimate the net externality from one more child being born. I couldn’t sign the sum. But the conventional wisdom was that it was obviously large and negative.

            Another and simpler calculation, since the routine assumption was that countries were poor because they were overpopulated, was to calculate population densities for all the world’s countries. The five densest were two rich European countries and three Asian countries in the process of becoming rich.

          • But as long as a prediction of a given amount of warming is made according to our best knowledge, we ought to treat it as the most likely outcome, from which deviations in either direction are possible, rather than just ignoring the predictions because we are not entirely certain.

            I pretty much agree, although I think “most likely” is an exaggeration. If you can spot biases that make people more likely to err in one direction than another the average prediction is probably not the most likely. I offered a few examples earlier of things I have seen over the years that I saw as signals of such bias. Here is one example.

            But if you look at the arguments I’ve offered on my blog, you will see that in most of them I take the IPCC projections of temperature change as a given and argue that there is no good reason to expect that change to have large net negative effects over the next century or so.

          • 10240 says:

            What the majority was claiming was not “population increase might well cause problems, but we can’t be sure.” It was “population increase will certainly make things much worse, especially for poor countries, the only question is how bad it will be. Anyone who denies that is ignorant, stupid, or corrupt.”

            I didn’t intend to say that the range of uncertainty published in the predictions was large, but how much uncertainty humanity as a whole (or myself when evaluating these things) should assume we have. If the vast majority of experts can be wrong even when they think they are entirely certain, that reinforces this even more.

            Finally, the projections depend on future CO2 output, which is unknown. I observe the same people claiming that solar and/or wind are or soon will be less expensive than fossil fuel and making arguments that assume a continued exponential growth in fossil fuel consumption (the IPCC RCP 8.5, which is the one most often cited).

            I guess they don’t assume that CO2 output will grow at that rate, but they say bad things will happen if CO2 output grows continues to grow at that rate, but not if it’s significantly reduced. If renewable energy becomes cheap, that affects if government intervention will be needed to reduce CO2 emissions, but that’s not climate scientists’ job to decide.

          • I didn’t intend to say that the range of uncertainty published in the predictions was large, but how much uncertainty humanity as a whole (or myself when evaluating these things) should assume we have. If the vast majority of experts can be wrong even when they think they are entirely certain, that reinforces this even more.

            The point I was making with the population example was that “it is widely claimed that all the experts believe X” is not a strong reason to believe X, hence on should either recognize that you don’t have much basis for an opinion on whether X is true or try to look at the arguments for X and evaluate them as best you can yourself—what I have done for both population and climate change.

            For the population case, X included both the prediction and the certainty, and since at least one of them was wrong—unless you believe that we pulled off a one in a hundred chance, which isn’t usually the way to guess—that’s evidence that being told all the experts agree on X isn’t a very good reason to believe X.

            I guess they don’t assume that CO2 output will grow at that rate, but they say bad things will happen if CO2 output grows continues to grow at that rate, but not if it’s significantly reduced.

            Except that most of the public talk is not in the form of “if CO2 continues to grow exponentially and we don’t do anything about it, bad things will happen” but in the form “if we don’t do anything about CO2, bad things will happen.” It takes the 8.5 projection as the baseline, uses its results as what will happen if we don’t take some action to sharply reduce outputs, such as a carbon tax.

    • johan_larson says:

      I think it’s a loss of hope in preventative measures. We are just not willing to make the sacrifices it would take to keep under the +1.5C or +2.0C levels. Nothing we’ve done has bent the curve yet. So people are looking for stronger or tastier medicine than strictly preventative measures.

      • albatross11 says:

        Wasn’t it always pretty obvious that demanding coordinated painful economic sacrifice (at a level that could easily swing elections or undermine popularity of a non-democratic government) from basically every major industrial power in the world was going to fail?

        • johan_larson says:

          I don’t think that was obvious twenty or thirty years ago, no. We do sometimes manage to agree on things. We managed to stop using CFCs in most applications without all that much fuss. So I think there was room for hope.

          Emphasis on the was.

          • albatross11 says:

            The scale of sacrifice needed in the CFC case was many orders of magnitude smaller than that needed for seriously reducing CO2 emissions. You’re talking about redesigning a big chunk of your economy to use higher-cost sources of electricity (nuclear) or less reliable ones (solar, wind) or ones that you can’t actually build without displacing a lot of people (hydro), and having those higher energy prices get priced into everything else.

          • The Nybbler says:

            We managed to stop using CFCs in most applications without all that much fuss.

            And that probably soured people on such things, at least temporarily. Not only did air conditioning become orders of magnitude more expensive to repair (or require replacement in many cases), and the replacements not work as well, but once it was all done the first time, a few years later they demanded doing it AGAIN. R11 was banned in favor of HCFC-134a, which is now to be phased out by 2026. R22 was banned in favor of R410a, which is now being targeted for a phaseout.

          • johan_larson says:

            You’re talking about redesigning a big chunk of your economy to use higher-cost sources of electricity …

            Oh, sure. I don’t think anyone ever thought stopping global warming was going to be easy. More like “possible in the face of a clear problem.” And there’s the rub, as far as I can tell. The costs are very real, and the problem just doesn’t look that bad, at least not on the scale of a few decades.

            My current pet theory is that nothing of consequence is going to be done until there is some obvious disaster that draws a lot of attention. Then the politics will turn on a dime. Here’s to the second (and final) evacuation of Miami, coming in 2073.

          • Matt M says:

            What sort of large disaster do you think you’re going to get that climate change skeptics are going to be willing to attribute entirely to CO2?

            AFAIK, Hurricane Harvey hasn’t done much to scare off the Houston-based oil & gas industry…

          • Garrett says:

            > R410a, which is now being targeted for a phaseout.

            F*@k. About two months ago my A/C died and so I needed to replace it. It was replaced with a R410a unit because that’s “the replacement”. I was hoping that replacement parts would be available for a long time coming. Apparently not. Why couldn’t they just go with the right solution the first time?

          • The Nybbler says:

            An R-410A phaseout is expected (due to global warming, not ozone depletion) but has not been initiated yet, so it may well last longer than your newly installed system’s expected life.

            I’m still running R-22, I think it’s a 1991 system. Well past the 20-year life expectancy, but has only required minor non-refrigerant-related repairs since I’ve owned it.

          • johan_larson says:

            What sort of large disaster do you think you’re going to get that climate change skeptics are going to be willing to attribute entirely to CO2?

            I don’t expect anything will persuade the hardest-core skeptics. But I think the actual abandonment of a major city, particularly a first-world city, might turn enough moderates’ heads. A long series of close calls and annoying problems and then finally things hit the tipping point and people start getting out, devil take the hindmost. Oops, there goes the taxbase that might have paid for recovery efforts.

            I’m picking on Miami because it is particularly low-lying, prone to severe weather including storm-surge events, and built on porous rock, which means conventional defensive measures like dikes and seawalls won’t work.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            From the perspective of the state, which ends up paying for all externalizations one way or another (People in respiratory wards in a hospital pay no taxes), nuclear is much, much cheaper than coal.

          • engleberg says:

            I strongly recommend John D MacDonald’s Condominium, which has a hurricane doing the dirty to Miami. But I think the picture of Miami real estate practices would leave readers blaming Florida Man more than climate change.

        • Matt M says:

          For realists – yes.

          For people who wanted demanding and coordinated painful economic sacrifice as an end, in and of itself, anyway? Maybe – but you can’t blame them for trying!

          • Loriot says:

            Do you seriously think there is a non-negligible contingent of people who want painful economic sacrifice as a terminal value? That seems like a rather extreme modelling error.

          • John Schilling says:

            Painful economic sacrifice for other people, yeah, that’s probably not entirely negligible.

            But I think Matt was referring to Pastoral and Gaian environmentalists, for whom diminishing the scope of industrial civilization is a terminal goal. While it is true that diminishing the scope of industrial civilization would invariably mean painful economic sacrifice for an awful lot of people, they aren’t definitionally the same so “economic sacrifice as an end” was an oversimplification.

          • cassander says:

            @loriot

            Well some actually did, yes. There are people who who think that the world needs to or should reduce resource use absolutely, like population control movement. I think they’re a small minority, though, and weaker than they used to be. There’s a larger group that doesn’t necessarily want sacrifice for its own sake but does want to do things that require it. And a lot of them of them absolutely consider centralization of economic decision making a terminal value.

          • Matt M says:

            But I think Matt was referring to Pastoral and Gaian environmentalists

            And also the hardcore/committed socialists, who don’t necessarily want lower GDP, but would happily accept it if it meant a decrease in inequality and/or increasing power concentrated in a centralized global bureaucracy.

          • Matt M says:

            population control movement. I think they’re a small minority, though

            As an organized movement, maybe.

            But “the Earth is overpopulated and humanity would be better off if we found a way to reduce the population” is a premise that I think would gather at least 50% support, within the US at least. And would likely be very highly correlated with fear of climate change.

            “We consume too much” is a perfectly common and mainstream position. Perhaps even the dominant one. And while not everyone has probably thought through the implications of it, “GDP should be permanently lowered” strikes me as an obvious one.

        • pontifex says:

          “Could the Paris Accords (or something like them) have worked” is a really interesting question. The obvious parallel is with the Montreal Protocol, which phased out CFCs. That did work, and required coordinating multiple nations who all had an interest in the status quo.

          In the case of the Montreal Protocol, though, there were technical substitutes for what we wanted to replace waiting to be deployed. That wasn’t really the case for the Paris Accords. Yes, there are technical substitues for things like gas-powered cars or coal power plants, but using the substitutes requires very painful sacrficies and may not even possible in many cases.

          So I do think we should have skipped the kumbaya phase and gone straight to geoengineering.

          Just as an aside, it’s weird that so many conservatives have chosen to attack the existence of global warming, when that is so well-established. The much more dubious claim is that global warming will cause economic harm.

          • Just as an aside, it’s weird that so many conservatives have chosen to attack the existence of global warming, when that is so well-established. The much more dubious claim is that global warming will cause economic harm.

            A point I have been making for years.

            Almost as weird is both sides thinking that a key question is whether the change is anthropogenic. If climate is really changing in catastrophic ways, it’s worth doing something about it whether or not we are the cause, assuming there is something to be done.

          • Matt M says:

            Almost as weird is both sides thinking that a key question is whether the change is anthropogenic. If climate is really changing in catastrophic ways, it’s worth doing something about it whether or not we are the cause, assuming there is something to be done.

            Well, this gets into the whole point about “geoengineering” or adaptation as a mitigation strategy.

            As discussed above, the left has previously been incredibly hesitant to accept adaptation as a solution. Which is precisely why the anthropocentric point is such a critical one. If we caused it (via CO2 emissions) then we can fix it (by decreasing CO2 emissions).

            If we didn’t cause it, then adaptation is the only possible solution. And adaptation doesn’t check many of the boxes that the left has long wanted to have checked anyway…

            It seems to me that the alarmists have to prove three separate things:

            1. That climate change is occurring
            2. That the changes are man-made
            3. That preventing/reversing the change will be worth the costs

            If any of those things are untrue, then the conventional case for “doing something” about climate change collapses. If 1 is true but not 2, then “something” should still be done, but it would seem that government action would not be required. The market would presumably be capable of creating and distributing mitigation solutions (even if the solution is something like “land values in Miami plummet”)

          • cassander says:

            @pontifex

            “Could the Paris Accords (or something like them) have worked” is a really interesting question.

            The paris accords were a non-binding agreement that states would come up with their own plans to meet emissions targets that were never defined, with no mechanism for enforcement, and not even a common standard for what targets were going to be chosen. the accord was totally meaningless, there was nothing there to “work.”

          • pontifex says:

            The paris accords were a non-binding agreement that states would come up with their own plans to meet emissions targets that were never defined, with no mechanism for enforcement, and not even a common standard for what targets were going to be chosen. the accord was totally meaningless, there was nothing there to “work.”

            I agree that the lack of specific CO2 targets was a pretty big weakness. Pretty much a huge neon sign saying “defect now to get an industrial advantage– there are no consequences.”

            With regard to enforcement mechanisms, do you also think that the Geneva Conventions were meaningless? It seems like there is a similar lack of enforcement mechanism there.

          • cassander says:

            @pontifex says:

            With regard to enforcement mechanisms, do you also think that the Geneva Conventions were meaningless? It seems like there is a similar lack of enforcement mechanism there.

            There are a couple, actually. One, if you don’t obey the conventions, you cease to be able to claim their protects. Two, you can always get tried for war crimes after the war. Neither is particularly strong, but that’s largely because laws of war are intrinsically unenforceable. Carbon limited are more enforceable, where something like the the WTO punitive tariff structure would work just fine.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Cass, I think your evaluation of international law is actually still a bit too optimistic.

            Look at bad actors like Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. They commit 100 violations of international law intentionally, before having their morning coffee (and China outpaces even these guys). But the only one that has been effectively sanctioned was Iran, for a few years, ~2006-2015. After the deal with Obama, Iran defected and it was then impossible to get the rest of the world back to cooperating on the sanctions. Russia and SA have oil and too much strategic interests for people to sanction them fullheartedly. Then there’s China. People don’t even pretend to deal with China.

            Ill say this in favor of Communists, if we lived in some bizarro world where the USSR had won and the US was the only “rogue” capitalist state and had a booming economy, they would not have been nearly so accommodating to us.

    • albertborrow says:

      My take:

      People are less paranoid about geoengineering and bioengineering because they’ve realized a few things. The first is that they can’t trust the government to intervene in the climate situation with regulations. It can happen, but they can’t count on it, so it’s a safer bet that we’re going to have to live with the consequences of climate change. The second is that they’ve gotten, if not more scientifically literate, then more skeptical of the concept of “mad science” in general. Things like The Death of Grass are pretty infeasible biologically, both because we’re probably not at the level of engineering plagues yet, and also because wheat and rice are fairly different genetically, and they’re among the most similar crops. Things like Panama disease that could wipe out a single strand of a staple crop can exist. But we’re also getting pretty good at genetically engineering our crops to be different enough not to be susceptible. Other mass geoengineering efforts are either impractical without government coordination, essentially harmless anyway, or incremental enough that they don’t threaten the modern conscience. Add to that the fact that people use more technology than ever, and that environmental concerns outside of environmentalists have decreased, it’s no surprise a lot of the paranoia that existed in recent years is starting to diminish.

      That isn’t to say that intervention like this couldn’t be catastrophic, or that science can’t be dangerous, but on the level most of these journalists are engaging on, there really isn’t anything they should be worrying about. And geoengineering has good press: people naturally compare geoengineering to successful efforts to clean up oil spills, or solve hunger issues, just because of the scales involved, so you have some people that are on board just due to the association.

    • pontifex says:

      The thing is, whatever plan people come up with for geoengineering will be scrutinized far, far more than the ad-hoc geoengineering that we’ve already done, and are still doing.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        That depends on how it’s framed. I expect a lot of “advanced infrastructure” building to be happening before the first “geoengineering” gets off the ground.

    • Argos says:

      I think it is the news algorithm/ just a fluke. The google trend for geoenginnering is exactly flat over the last 5 years. This is however not perfect data; so if there is a real trend in some subspace of newspapers, I would guess that the project to filter plastic from the ocean caused more interest in geoengineering at large.

  20. Loriot says:

    Does anyone have a good summary of the arguments for and against charter schools? Preferably in the style of an adversarial collaboration.

    • albatross11 says:

      I don’t have a good summary, but my understanding is that the main issue in comparing their effectiveness to that of public schools (and this is also true of private and parochial schools) is matching the quality of students. Basically, this comes down to:

      a. How smart are the students. Take two identical schools, give one a student body with an average IQ of 90, the other one with an average IQ of 110, and it will look like the second school must be much better, in pretty much every way. (Test scores, college admissions, graduation rate, etc.)

      b. Will the students do homework as assigned? Some kids have parents who will lean on them to do their homework, and yell at them if they get bad grades. Others don’t. This probably matters some. Just requiring some pain-in-the-ass administrative process for the parents to apply on behalf of their kids is probably a reasonably effective filter here–parents who DGAF won’t apply, parents who care a lot will, and those parents will also do any leaning on or yelling at their kids required to help them succeed.

      c. Will the students be disruptive or misbehave at a level that makes it hard to get any learning done? Private schools can inform parents that little Johnny will need to look for a different school next year; public schools mostly can’t. One disruptive kid can run a denial-of-service attack on a whole classroom.

    • AKL says:

      This study from Brookings may come close.

      IIRC correctly the main takeaways are:
      – There is very compelling evidence that charter schools actually do improve outcomes in Massachusetts
      – Massachusetts is somewhat unique in this regard
      – The impact of charters both (a) on students in charters, and (b) on the entire student population writ large, is highly dependent on the regulatory scheme

  21. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    No one publishes statistics on this, so I only have anecdotal evidence to go on, but…

    Has anyone else found that female software engineers are overwhelmingly non-white?

    I’m not even sure what political narrative this supports, but the trend is fairly glaring unless I’ve seen a very skewed sample.

    • albatross11 says:

      I don’t know, but that would agree with the pattern (which I think is common) that women are more likely to be in STEM fields in countries with less gender-equality.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Has anyone else found that female software engineers are overwhelmingly non-white?

      It’s often noted. But I think what’s actually going on is a combination of a high non-white (i.e. Asian) population in software engineering in general, combined with a greater proportion of female software engineers being foreign-born.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        It’s often noted.

        Do you have any examples you can link? Not trying to be difficult, just that I haven’t seen it before and it’s tough to search for (lots of discussion race and gender but not race x gender).

        You may well be right about what’s actually going on; with one person’s level of anecdata, it’s pretty hard to distinguish “non-white”, “foreign-born”, and “Asian”. The way I phrased it was basically just picking one of a few indistinguishable possibilities.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Mostly in private discussions among “witches” in the field. You don’t see it much talked about openly. You do see the foreign born part talked about, though. A quick search finds this IEEE Spectrum article claiming an astounding 70% of men in Computer & Mathematical professions in Silicon Valley are foreign born, and nearly 79% of women.

    • Nornagest says:

      Not non-white, IME, but non-native. About the same fraction of my Russian and Ukrainian coworkers are women as my Indian and Chinese ones, but on the other hand I haven’t seen many native-born Indian-American or Chinese-American woman engineers.

      I have worked with female American-born engineers before (one was even my boss for a while), but it seems a lot rarer than the immigrant case.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Support Patriarchy to get more female software engineers?
        (To my knowledge, all those countries are sort of in the middle of the “traditional gender roles” spectrum, between the whitest people in the world on one side and non-basketcase Islamic countries on the other. China I know the least about, though.)

        • John Schilling says:

          Simplistically speaking:

          Modernist societies responded to the post-WWII social and economic realignment by saying that hey, it, looks like women can do “men’s work” just fine and it doesn’t destroy the fabric of society to let them do so, so in the interest of fairness women who don’t like their traditional roles can do whatever they want. Result, a modest number of women decide they want to take up software engineering and other STEM jobs, and a lot more women decide to become lawyers and journalists and veterinarians and whatnot.

          Semi-traditionalist responded to the post-WWII social and economic realignment by saying that, huh, it looks like we can’t defeat compete with the Nazis Yankee Capitalists unless we tap into some of our distaff human potential, so in the interests of victory women who don’t like their traditional roles can do “men’s work” that directly contributes to that victory. Result, a rather large number of women decide that STEM jobs like (especially) software engineering are less objectionable than being housewives in patriarchal countries.

          Hardcore traditionalist societies still haven’t responded to the post-WWII social and economic realignment. Result, women are still barefoot, pregnant, and chained to the kitchen.

          China I think falls somewhere in the semi-traditionalist part of this scale.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Simplistically speaking, that probably captures it. Russian and Ukrainian women supporting traditional gender roles are reacting against Marxism, while India is still semi-traditional rather than… anti-post-traditional. China I guess is in the same boat as one or the other, though obviously you can’t be an open reactionary against the Communist Party.

          • helloo says:

            China has had the norm of both parents working especially in the “middle classes” for a while now. Like everywhere else, there were some jobs that were deemed “not for women” but less or differently restrictive than most western states at the time.
            In fact, it’s recently become a trend for the women of the household to stop working – though the cause (no longer needing dual income, changing market, increased bias, etc.) is disputed.
            Not exactly the link to note this, but first one I found in English -https://journals.openedition.org/temporalites/3773#tocfrom2n2

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            @Schilling thanks, that makes sense.

            @nornagest My office isn’t long on foreign whites in general, so I couldn’t pick that up. I do have a sense that Asian-American women still outnumber white American women, but that’s based on a tiny sample.

        • ordogaud says:

          I don’t think patriarchy is the relevant variable here. I think it’s more like skilled immigrant workers are more concerned with maximizing earning potential than finding a career path that has personal meaning/fulfillment.

          I think that holds true for both genders, I think it’s also true that male immigrants are much more likely to be a programmer/doctor/etc. then a social workers/art teacher/etc.

  22. JulieK says:

    So, what dark secrets are in your high school yearbook?

    Mine included a section predicting what everyone would be doing in 20 years. They deliberately made absurd predictions for each person.

    It was foretold that I would graduate with honors from Harvard medical school, and then become a housewife. (The first half of this prophecy was considered realistic, and the second half absurd.)

    The joke’s on them- I never went to medical school (I did get a master’s degree in biology), and spent a number of years as a stay-at-home mother before getting a part-time job in an unrelated field.

    I sometimes have midlife-crisis moments and wonder why I didn’t fulfill my early potential. But I don’t think I could have handled the sleep deprivation of medical school.

    • Matt M says:

      Mine included a section predicting what everyone would be doing in 20 years. They deliberately made absurd predictions for each person.

      I don’t think these made it to our yearbook, but we definitely did this informally in High School. I was predicted to be a James Bond-style supervillian.

      Like you, I have also fallen well short of expectations 🙁

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It sounds like you did well for yourself. I come into contact with a lot of people at different stages of the med school route and there’s more than a few who would probably trade places with you.

      Anyway:

      I haven’t looked at mine in nearly a decade, but from what I remember the senior superlatives were completely nonsensical. Somehow I got “most politically active,” which probably doesn’t sound crazy to you guys but would make anyone who knows me IRL crack up laughing.

      I probably had some dumb in-jokes, my friends and I were idiots. Tons of people whose names I didn’t even know at the time also signed so it would be hard to deny knowing any specific person in high school despite keeping to myself.

      I remember that this one weird kid wrote his number and what might have been solicitation in mine and a few other guys’ yearbooks. Still not entirely sure what was up with him, I think he might have been gay for pay to finance his drug habit.

      • Deiseach says:

        I probably had some dumb in-jokes, my friends and I were idiots.

        I hope none of those in-jokes then turn out to be the same as slang phrases on Urban Dictionary twenty years later!

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I would be more surprised if Urban Dictionary still exists in twenty years.

          One frightening thing about this whole debacle has been that I had always tacitly assumed that being a virgin in highschool was a defense against this sort of accusation. I always figured that someday the notches I put in my bedpost in college could be my undoing but figured that my non-existent sex-life during highschool was safe.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think the trouble with the virginity comment was that for various reasons people didn’t believe it – the assumption seems to have been “Oh come on, he was a jock, he was one of the rich popular set, those guys have no trouble getting laid so he can’t have been telling the truth”. The correlation seems to be “the only reason to be a virgin is because you’re an incel, that is, too unpopular/ugly/weird to be able to get a girl”.

            Nobody considers volcels! Or the influence even in the 80s of Catholic guilt on guys who might have wanted to ‘go all the way’ but were held back at the last hurdle by both their own nagging consciences and their potential partners’ reluctance/refusal to consummate the relationship.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed, I didn’t really see that reaction coming. I would have bet anything the media would have gone with “Mock the loser for being a pathetic virgin in high school!” plan rather than “Assume he’s lying because athletic prep school males can’t possibly be virgins!”

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            The problem isn’t just with people who are voluntarily celibate, it’s also that judging opportunity to have sex in hindsight is not as straightforward as it might seem.

            If you looked in my yearbooks you’d see a picture of me on the homecoming court dancing with a cute Dominican girl. Ask someone who didn’t know me or who only met me years later if I was sexually active in highschool and they might guess wrong.

            But I couldn’t have gotten laid back then if my life depended on it. It’s not like I didn’t try, if anything I tried way too hard, but it just never happened.

            I wouldn’t want to be in the position of finding character witnesses to how unfuckable I was in highschool.

          • John Schilling says:

            One frightening thing about this whole debacle has been that I had always tacitly assumed that being a virgin in highschool was a defense against this sort of accusation.

            Being a virgin is a defense against an accusation of actual rape, but Kavanaugh wasn’t accused of being an actual rapist. Being accused of attempted rape and saying “but I’m a virgin!” can be interpreted as a confession of being a pathetically incompetent rapist. And I’m pretty sure most of Kavanaugh’s critics would be quite happy with that interpretation.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @John Shilling,

            He was accused of attempted rape, of organizing and participating in at least ten gang-rapes, and of indecent exposure.

            Virginity is not a defense against attempted rape or indecent exposure but it is absolutely a defense against being a serial gang rapist.

            Beyond that, nobody who I’ve spoken with in real life has been anywhere near as careful with their terminology as you’ve been. The charge, in the public imagination, is not attempted rape. It’s that he is a rapist, full stop.

          • The Nybbler says:

            And indeed it appears Kavanaugh’s claim to be a virgin was in the context of responding to the Avenetti claims. Transcript

            MacAllum:[…] Did you ever participate in or where you ever aware of any gang-rape that happened at a party that you attended?

            Kavanaugh: […] We’re talking about an allegation of sexual assault. I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone. I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years there after.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            With the caveat that I don’t find the Swetnick claims credible, it’s worth noting the actual question Kavanaugh was accused of:

            “you and Mark Judge, at multiple house parties in the Washington, D.C., area during the 1980s, would participate in the targeting of women with alcohol and drugs to allow a train of men to subsequently gang-rape them.”

            In other words, the original accusation was only that he helped get the women drunk; the claim that he participated only came a few days later after Swetnick’s identity became publicly known. So the virginity defense doesn’t even answer that claim!

            But, I think John is right, and what happened was that most people focused on the Ford accusations since those were the most credible.

          • Plumber says:

            @Eugene Dawn
            “…..I think John is right, and what happened was that most people focused on the Ford accusations since those were the most credible”

            In my case I’m only aware that they were other accusations that dogpiled on Kavaugh, but I know even less about them than what little details I know about Ford’s accusations, from what I saw of Ford and Kavaugh’s testimony they both seem to be credibly recounted their memories, as for “what really happened” given the circumstances described I’m doubtful that a fuller investigation could find out.

            I did, however, find Kavaugh’s claim, given his background, that he got through Yale with “no connections” ridiculous and very uncredible, but that could be my bias since I was against many rulings he’s already made as a Federal judge (I just did a web search of Kavaugh+union+labor which told me what I wanted to know).

            I didn’t think it was possible for me to respect broadcast press and the Senate less, but here we are, and that I (and I presume most) can now easily just search for and find actual policy ramifications would’ve made things better, but judging from this stupid circus apparently not.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I sometimes have midlife-crisis moments and wonder why I didn’t fulfill my early potential.

      Given how children with a parent staying at home tend to be better-adjusted than children whose parents are always out working, I suspect you made the right choice.

    • SamChevre says:

      Wait wait what? I can’t imagine that the sleep deprivation from medical school is worse than that of small children. (Maybe it’s just having had three under three, but I thought sleep deprivation didn’t get worse than “mother with small children”.)

      • JulieK says:

        Good point. 🙂 I guess for me one goal was worth the sacrifice and the other wasn’t. And think how much harder it would be if I were doing a residency and also a mother of young children.

      • b_jonas says:

        Yes, but medical school and then residency lasts for at least eleven years, often twelve, and doctors keep being sleep-deprived even as a young specialist. You can raise three small children and get past the sleep-deprived part quicker than that.

  23. helloo says:

    Most of you are probably familiar with Darwinian evolution and one of the early alternatives suggested Lamarckian inheritance.
    A simplified summary of Darwinian evolution is that small beneficial changes occur randomly in offspring at birth which can boost survivalbility and probability to pass down those traits to the next generation which eventually results in differing long term changes in a species.
    Lamarckian suggested that organisms might be able to pass down characteristics that were acquired though the environment/lifetime to its offspring.

    However, when humans talk about inheritance outside of biology they tend to mean wealth and capital (both social and physical).
    Isn’t wealth and capital Lamarckian though?
    And isn’t inherited wealth a rather stronger indication of survivalbility than most beneficial mutations?
    This doesn’t discount the impact of genetics and the whole nature vs nurture debate, but doesn’t this make natural selection rather murkier in humans?

    Ok, very few species do anything of the sort of physical inheritance that humans do… but quite a few do another – knowledge.

    I suppose these kinds of inheritance can still be modeled weakly by genetics (and luck) as I have no idea how it could be tracked and studied otherwise.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Natural selection has always been about the interaction between genes and the external environment, and genes play just a part in the causality of an organism being able to survive and reproduce (e.g., the genetic disposition of being startled by snakes raises a human’s chance of survival, but still plays a smaller role than the non-genetic factor of snakes unexpectedly being in your sleeping-nest, which sharply lowers it). “Inheritance” is best thought of a simply another abiotic factor in the human habitat.

      Ok, very few species do anything of the sort of physical inheritance that humans do…

      That human beings are able to control their external environments in rather extreme ways is unusual, but not unique. Ants and anthills, beavers and dams, bees and beehives. Many organisms are able to alter their external environment for the benefit of their offspring.

      The Lamarck vs. Darwin debate was about one thing: How the characteristics of the organism changes, not the external environment the organism lives in.

      • helloo says:

        Natural selection does imply that the genes which propagate play a role in determining the organisms ability to survive and reproduce.

        Some example of the things I’m trying to discuss:
        Are there any systems that would study Lamarkian inheritance that can be applied here/being used?
        If we use genes as a proxy for intergenerational non-genetic inheritance, there’s a number of other things we need to consider that wouldn’t be the case for natural selection. We would need to understand that any gene itself is not the cause for its increasing prevalence in the organism gene pool. It just is a proxy for a group that gained the knowledge/wealth. Traits might not even emerge from it. There might be increased/decreased flow than would be expected from natural selection. Etc.

        Not sure if your examples apply for the “benefit of their offspring” besides base survival. There’s not exactly many rogue ants or hiveless bees in the pool and male ants/young queens are noted for their wings as which they stop benefiting from their nest much. Not sure about beavers.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble understanding what you are trying to ask.

          Lamarkian inheritance isn’t really a thing; traits that are passed down to offspring are because of genes, not because of acquired characteristics, so Lamark was essentially incorrect (with epigenetics being the poorly-understood exception).

          If you want to talk about external environmental factors (e.g., inheritance in the sense of human economics), its probably a bad idea to use genes as a conceptual “proxy”, since they are drastically different concepts and behave in totally different ways. “Monetary inheritance” and “genetic inheritance” are unrelated concepts that happen to share a word.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Perhaps at the extreme ends of the wealth spectrum the Lamarckian model works, but genes are better correlated with success. Its better to be 6’6” than to be raised in an upper class household if you want to make the NBA, its better to have a 130 IQ if you want to work at Goldman Sachs.

    • quanta413 says:

      I think your example of knowledge is good, although the abstract rules of “inheritance” for knowledge are very different than for genes.

      Inheritance of language is kind of Lamarckian. But rather than exactly 2 parents per child, there are many “parents” per “child”. And there’s a lot of horizontal transfer between individuals in the same generation.

      For clarity’s sake I wouldn’t call cultural inheritance or wealth inheritance genetic. Rather the model has an evolutionary component in the sense of something reproducing itself.

  24. gbdub says:

    Probably not a terribly surprising finding

    In new study, people rate news stories that support their preexisting views more “newsworthy”. Interesting flavor of confirmation bias.

  25. sandoratthezoo says:

    What are the “correct” index funds to buy for passive investment? (And why?)

    • J Mann says:

      I really like the Vanguard Target Funds and similar products from other companies.

      Basically, they invest in a mix of a US and international stock and bond index funds, setting the ratio by when you think you’re likely to need to money, (so the 2020 fund has a less volatile mix than the 2050 fund, for example), then rebalances over time. That way I can mostly set and forget my investments, and don’t worry about my distribution of stock, bond, US and international investments.

    • ana53294 says:

      The ones with the lower cost fees. Vanguard has the cheapest funds in the industry.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Okay, but Vanguard has a ton of funds. Which ones?

        • ana53294 says:

          You may do as J Mann suggested above, and buy a bunch of funds that invest in stocks and bonds for the whole US market and for the whole world.

          I think your investement strategy should take into account which currency your retirement expenses are in. So, if you are European, it may be a good idea to hedge for currency risk by also investing in some euro-denominated indices (because most European currencies are pegged to the euro).

          The US market is the most stable one, and European markets show slower growth. So I think any investment strategy should include some index for the whole US market.

          I personally prefer ETFs, because they don’t have a minimum investment, and I am just starting. They do get a different tax treatment than funds, at least in Spain. But if you use a buy&hold strategy, most of those differences don’t apply to you.

      • Brad says:

        At really small differences in expense ratios execution performance starts to matter more.

        • ana53294 says:

          Do they track the same index differently? How can I evaluate how faithfully they do it?

          • Steven J says:

            “Do they track the same index differently? How can I evaluate how faithfully they do it?”

            The statistic you are interested in is called the “tracking error”, measured as the standard deviation of the differences in return between the index fund and the index it tracks. It should be reported along with all of the other statistics for the fund (returns, expenses, turnover, etc.)

      • Evan Þ says:

        Last I looked (a couple years ago), Fidelity had slightly lower fees than Vanguard; did something change?

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          The only change I know of is that Fido now offers a range of funds with an ER of zero. Though Vanguard has traditionally been the main instigator in driving expenses down, they’ve had a lot of competition for some time now. The good news for the OP is that there are a lot of index funds now which are cheap enough and diversified enough so that there’s not a lot riding on the choice between them.

    • cassander says:

      The ones with the lowest fees, because they will all give the same returns. Vanguard is usually the best.

      Depending on your age, a target date fund might be a good idea. These funds will gradually shift your portfolio from higher risk, higher yield investments to lower to protect you against a sudden downturn. Fees for these are higher than index funds, so if your target date is a long way off they aren’t worth it, but they’re the best passive, idiot proof investment you can make.

    • Brad says:

      In theory a market weighted basket of the largest possible universe of investable securities. This market portfolio should then be levered or delevered to match risk appetite rather than the more common tactic of varying the debt/equity composition.

  26. Nick says:

    What’s so great about procreation, folks? (I’m fulfilling my duty as rightwing traditionalist by asking.) Are you okay with not individually reproducing? How about with your tribe not reproducing, or your nation—not without a radical change in values, anyway? Suppose we really do hit sperm count zero—are you okay with being the last generation on Earth?

    We’re awfully contrarian here, but I don’t think I’ve seen any voluntary extinction or antinatalist views. Do they have a point? What’s so great about procreation?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      There are definitely anti-natalists here, although they’re more vocal on the subreddit. Plus a lot of nominal natalists who are de facto DINKs / Childfree.

      I’m not one of them so this question isn’t really addressed to me, but I will say that I’ve moderated my position somewhat on procreation on a national level. It’s pretty clear that my countrymen are unwilling or unable to continue to perpetuate themselves into the future. That’s tragic but ultimately not a bad thing; nobody has a right to exist, and if we aren’t willing to fight for our existence we don’t deserve it. I’m more focused now on making sure that my own descendants have the best possible opportunity rather than helping distant cousins.

      • albatross11 says:

        It seems like this is likely to be a self-correcting problem–the Mormons and Orthodox Jews and traditional Catholics shall inherit the Earth.

        • Plumber says:

          @albatross11

          “…..the Mormons and Orthodox Jews and traditional Catholics shall inherit the Earth”

          A world of Catholics, Mormons and Jews?  I’m not a believer, but I think I’m okay with that, as long as those three faiths are at peace with each other and if one-in-hundred or so can still be something else without war (maybe like Islam’s olddhimmi system?), I can only remember one Mormon I’ve known, but he was a great guy, there’s one Orthodox Jew (who was born in the Soviet Union) on our crew at work and he’s really cool, we’ve got a few who are Russian Orthodox, a few Protestants, and across the hallway in custodial they’re some Buddhists, but the majority of my co-workers both in engineering and custodial are Roman Catholic and I’m comfortable with them.

          The apprentice on the crew has had three kids in five years, maybe his progeny will take over?

          I can think of worse worlds.

          I just hope one of those faiths adopts the “Gospel” music that came from the McGee Avenue Baptist Church in Berkeley, California when I was growing, up, or let’s a minority keep that tradition as I’m fond of those tunes.

          • Don’t forget the Amish. Traditional family sizes and modern medicine produce a population doubling time of about twenty years–even after allowing for ten to twenty percent loss in each generation.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I was in Salt Lake City a few weeks back. Cleanest city I’ve ever seen. You could eat off the sidewalks.

            If the Mormons inherit the earth, at least it’ll be clean and orderly.

    • Björn says:

      I find anti-natalism in a first world nation very silly. Since the advent of working contraceptives and social security nets, population levels in the first world are shrinking anyhow, or at least they are only kept stable/expanding because of immigration. It doesn’t matter in the big picture wether some middle class intellectuals decide they need to accelerate this process by a tiny number. Besides, maybe middle class values and intelligence deserve to be passed to the next generation.

      What I find much more relevant is offering contraception to people in poor countries. Many people there don’t want to have 9 children, and it causes many humanitarian and ecological problems that globally population levels are still increasing with high speed.

    • Deiseach says:

      Are you okay with not individually reproducing? How about with your tribe not reproducing, or your nation—not without a radical change in values, anyway?

      Me personally – very okay. The world has sufficient of my paternal family’s genes, it certainly doesn’t need a new generation of fucked-up. And I would have been an absolutely terrible parent, thus adding the environmental straw to the genetic camel’s back of fucking up your offspring.

      My nation – we seem to be doing okay. While in common with everywhere else, our fertility rate is decreasing (1.8 births per woman in 2017), our population is growing (for most of my life, it held steady around 3 million, by the last census in 2016 it was 4.75 million). This probably has to do more with decreasing emigration as employment prospects improved than anything else, but it’s strange to see the upward trend when for decades it was stagnant.

      My tribe? That depends on what you mean by that – white people? I don’t think white people (however you define the term) are on the brink of extinction as yet. Socially conservative/fiscally liberal traditional Catholics? That may be a different story, but I still wouldn’t say the Church is dead quite yet 🙂

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I think I’d be happy to reproduce. I don’t think it’s particularly important that anyone else does. I’d also be happy to observe a slow decline in population, and don’t feel a need to have a “replacement level” number of children – Matt might call me out for “painful economic sacrifice,” but I strongly suspect that it’s better than the alternative, mostly for aesthetic reasons.

      • Nick says:

        I think I’d be happy to reproduce. I don’t think it’s particularly important that anyone else does.

        Clippy philosophy detected.

        I’d also be happy to observe a slow decline in population, and don’t feel a need to have a “replacement level” number of children – Matt might call me out for “painful economic sacrifice,” but I strongly suspect that it’s better than the alternative, mostly for aesthetic reasons.

        I’m not sure what you mean here—you’d prefer having a smaller number of children for aesthetic reasons?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I don’t really understand what you mean by “clippy philosophy.” I find interacting with children rewarding, and if I were to have a child I’d want to do so for the sake of parenting them, not for the sake of procreating.

          I’d prefer population stabilization at a current or even slightly-lower-than-current level for aesthetic reasons, yes. A world in which populations continue to increase at current or near-current rates for the next 200 years is probably materially better off in aggregate than the one I described, but not one I’d prefer to live in, especially if population *eventually* levels off anyway. I’d rather go through the pain of peak population now than further along in the cyberpunk future.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t really understand what you mean by “clippy philosophy.” I find interacting with children rewarding, and if I were to have a child I’d want to do so for the sake of parenting them, not for the sake of procreating.

            I’ll let someone else explain that one. 😀

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Well now I’m just peeved. Googling has yielded only Microsoft memes and AI memes. If nobody explains by tomorrow, will you?

          • Statismagician says:

            I’m guessing it’s children as the metaphorical paperclips? Which seems like a hard position to defend on either scale or consequential grounds, regardless of preferred defensive structure. Population growth does not work the way the Guardian thinks it does, or at least needn’t.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            That was my assumption, but I don’t understand what Nick is trying to say about what I said…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think he is saying that one way to interpret your claims is that you want to tile the universe with copies of yourself, but not others. Obscure, insidery joke that stops being funny when you have to explain it. But I have no idea why he didn’t just explain it.

          • Nick says:

            I think he is saying that one way to interpret your claims is that you want to tile the universe with copies of yourself, but not others. Obscure, insidery joke that stops being funny when you have to explain it. But I have no idea why he didn’t just explain it.

            Good Lord. Yes, that was the joke. I didn’t want to be the one to ruin my own joke. 🙁

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Ah. Ok. I think I get it now, and that’s what I meant to respond to – I don’t value my lineage, but the chance to parent. Maximizing progeny seems like a very bad strategy for fulfilling that desire. I think I got hung up on misinterpreting tone – it’s funny now, if that helps.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nick:
            The problem is that the joke needing explanation is what makes it not funny, so the joke was already in the bin. Might as well stuff it down in the bag and take it out to the street. 😀

      • I’d also be happy to observe a slow decline in population, and don’t feel a need to have a “replacement level” number of children – Matt might call me out for “painful economic sacrifice,” but I strongly suspect that it’s better than the alternative, mostly for aesthetic reasons.

        Why for aesthetic reasons? Humans are beautiful. Humans make beautiful things.

        Other things are beautiful too–I would not prefer a world with no trees or deer or birds. But we are nowhere close to that.

    • proyas says:

      I believe that AGI will be created by the end of this century, that it will, for lack of a better term, “take over” the world and relegate humans to second-tier status in most or all important ways, and this belief informs my views on the importance of human procreation.

      Human procreation is good and necessary because humans are needed to create AGIs in the future. In particular, procreation of people in advanced countries (including China) is good since they comprise the majority of scientists and technicians, and since their countries collectively maintain international order. Though birth rates are declining in advanced countries, their populations will stay big enough to field enough scientists to create AGI.

      Once AGI has established dominance over the Earth, the continued existence and biological evolution of the human race will serve no purpose (though I hope our species continues on anyway). Even the smartest human will be dumber than an AGI. Moreover, by the time the first AGI is created, it’s certain that billions of humans will have had their genomes sequenced, allowing for the construction of a database of all existing human genetic variation. Paired with futuristic “cloning labs,” again for lack of a better term, it would become possible to make any human if so desired. At that point, procreation for the sake of perpetuating specific human genes will become obsolete since the genes will be saved in the database. Humanity could become homogenized and/or entire groups could become extinct, and it would be of no real consequence since the full range of human genetic variability would still exist as computer code, and it would be possible to use cloning to “resurrect” anyone in the database. Redheads will never die out.

      Note: I don’t have children but would like to for the experience (it’s always been a goal of mine and defies rational explanation) and yes, to perpetuate my genes. If I can’t find a woman to procreate with, I’ll resort to using an egg bank (from an evolutionary perspective, this might actually be the superior option since I’d have access to higher genetic quality women than I could probably ever attract the old fashioned way) and surrogate mother.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m pro-children, but not pro-children for everyone. I’m married and have children,and I’m glad of that, but I think that (for example) my parish priest is doing something more important than having chidlren.

      A society where only 1/2 of people are married, all children are born to married people, and the average married couple has 6 children would work just fine.

    • Statismagician says:

      My grandmother used to say that the point of having children was that they turn into pleasant adults, which I think may have been more profound than I first thought.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I am absolutely not OK with my tribe/nation not reproducing.
      I don’t get the “sperm count zero” thing at all. There are parts of the world that have had absurd population bottlenecks on the Y chromosome: 64 per cent of European males were descended from just three Bronze Age males. Yet here we are.
      I have gone through complicated mixed feelings on personal duty to procreate, though.

      • Nick says:

        If you read the article, it’s attributed to plastics causing decreasing sperm counts.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yes, but couldn’t some state ban plastics and then their men scoop up all the women before we all go extinct?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            How long would it take for sperm counts to recover?

            My guess is that it will take some moderately expensive medical intervention– repeated for generations– for sperm counts to recover in individuals.

            The outcome could be that people below some income/government aid level are unlikely to reproduce.

      • Lillian says:

        I have gone through complicated mixed feelings on personal duty to procreate, though.

        Ultimately it’s a free rider problem. Whether or not your tribe successfully procreates itself is independent of whether or not you personally procreate. This in turn means that your personal participation, while desired, is not strictly speaking required. So you can give in to your feelings, spare yourself the pain and disgust. Things will sort themselves out one way or the other regardless of what you do, so you can sit this one out, there’s no harm in it, let those who are happy and eager for it handle it. You know you want to.

    • I am no longer reproducing, given my age, but I wouldn’t be okay with not having reproduced and am looking forward to the birth of my third grandchild.

      My tribe is not very well defined but I would be unhappy at the thought of there being no more people more or less like me.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I have a sort of intuitive appreciation for anti-natalism on a personal level, being inclined to pessimism and nihilism as I am, but intellectually I don’t really buy it. My pessimism and apathy is counter-balanced by the fact that I really like kids, and think it would be fun to raise a few, but on balance I suspect I’ll remain childless.

      I don’t particularly care about my “tribe” or “group” however-defined, but I have friends and family of whom I have thought, “I’m glad they’re having kids”, because I think it’s a good thing for the world to have more such people. I guess if you defined my “tribe” by an affinity for those kinds of people, then I’d be sad if that “tribe” disappeared. Otherwise I am completely indifferent to other peoples’ reproduction: people should do it if they want, and not do it if they don’t.

      It’s hard to separate my feelings about being the last generation from utilitarian considerations of how terrible I think that would be in practice, but philosophically speaking I’m not too perturbed by it. I like people, and I think it would be a waste of opportunity that we didn’t get to do more, but some generation has to be the last and it would at least be kind of cool to be here at the end. No FOMO about the future.

    • Baeraad says:

      Not only am I okay with being the last generation, I draw a wistful little sigh at the idea. Yes, God, please. Let the whole sorry mess just end, as quietly and undramatically as possible. Sentient life is an awful idea. Those of us who are the happiest and most successful are the ones who behave the most like stupid animals – the more human you are, the more you will suffer and the less you will accomplish. Enough already.

      But I know that no one’s going to see things my way, so going around expressing those views feels entirely too much like trolling.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’m ok with not reproducing. I have no children for the simple reason that I don’t want any.

      The prospect of people like me fading away is a bit sad, but not something I would consider disastrous. There are many good people who are not my people. And who exactly are my people is kind of fuzzy.

      The prospect of having the entire species disappear strikes me as an obvious disaster, worth taking dramatic action to prevent. But that is an exceedingly remote possibility.

    • Plumber says:

      @Nick

      “What’s so great about procreation, folks? (I’m fulfilling my duty as rightwing traditionalist by asking.) Are you okay with not individually reproducing? How about with your tribe not reproducing, or your nation—not without a radical change in values, anyway?….

      …..What’s so great about procreation?”

      Since my son’s are only 13 years old and two years old I don’t think I know yet individually!

      As for “tribe”? 

      Um…

      Politically my father was to the left of my mother (but my dad was very far left), my wife is definitely to my right (but she’s increasingly left with the realisation of where the pension is coming from) and I suspect our sons will be something in-between, and that they likely won’t completely share my views doesn’t particularly bother me as I wish my sons well and I think for an individual having the views of your neighbors is probably the healthiest choice.

      Ethnically?

      As I remember it (and I’m not going to call my mom and check, and I can’t call my dad) where my greatgrandparents were born was one in Austria, one in Germany, two in Ireland, one in Poland, two in Kansas (one of which had an English surname the other surname I don’t remember), and one was born in New Jersey with an Irish or Scottish surname (unless he was born in Massachusetts as his family was supposed to come from there, as did the English surnamed Kansas for that matter). My mother (and her mother) were born in California, my father was born in New Jersey, so I’ve mixed Californian and Atlantic coast ancestry, and their ancestors trace the lineage to the British Isles and Europe, my sons are born in California but their mother isn’t and she visibly doesn’t have much if any British, Irish, or European ancestry, so in terms of passing that on as I don’t plan on having kids with a different women that ship has sailed! 

      My surname is Irish or Scottish, and “Irish-American” is resilient beyond ‘blood’, as when I first came to my current job with the City and County of San Francisco our boss (an ex-cop) hosted an annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch despite the majority of the crew being born in either the Philippines (as my former boss was) or the Soviet Union (the boiler room is “the Russian Empire”), and I was the only one with a (probably) Irish family name who knew of Irish ancestors, but they weren’t hosting the lunch for me, they’d been doing it for years left over from when the crew did have many Irish Americans. 

      For some reason San Francisco doesn’t have unions march on Labor day anymore but instead they are in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, so to my amusement the biggest “old country” represented by my union in green shirts (judging by faces and family names) is China.

      I grew up in a mostly black neighborhood and on the walls of my friends grandparents was often a print of a painting of three somber faced men: John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., so one African-American and two Irish-Americans.

      I once read that if Americans spoke the languages of their ancestors German and Yoruba would be spoken more than English.

      In elementary school me and my classmates were all taught of “the pilgrims” coming to America on the Mayflower, and I doubt that even a tenth of us could trace ancestors to passengers on that boat.

      Culture and history transcend “blood”, yesterday me and my wife went to some of the “all-city-yard-sales” in the nearby City of El Cerrito that were mostly inside and on the parking lots of Christian Churches, and judging by their faces most of the parishioners ancestors came from east Asia. Think about that: Faiths from mostly Protestant Europe, speaking English, in a Spanish named town, with Asian ‘blood’.

      The American “tribe” or “nation” isn’t passed on by “reproducing”, the ‘melting-pot” is real.

      In a hundred years I expect to see someone with a Somalian last name eating corned beef and cabbage (which is actually more Polish then Irish, but eh… it’s good) and voting for Democrats and going to a Catholic church if they live in the City or near suburbs, or voting Republican and going to a Protestant church if they live in the country or far suburbs, speaking English and complaining that the new neighbors from Uruguay don’t. 

      Not that different from the United States in 1918 actually.

      • link textte>I once read that if Americans spoke the languages of their ancestors German and Yoruba would be spoken more than English.

        Interesting question. German is likely. Blacks are 12.4%, Irish 12%. But neither group is pure blooded of their ethnicity–African Americans apparently average about 17% European ancestry. I don’t know what the figure would be for self-identified Irish Americans. “White” Americans seem to average less than 1% African but several percent native American. And the Wiki article claims that:

        However, English Americans and British Americans are still considered the largest ethnic group due to a serious under count following the 2000 census whereby many English and British Americans self-identified under the new category entry ‘American’ considering themselves ‘indigenous’ because their families had resided in the US for so long or, if of mixed European ancestry, identified with a more recent and differentiated ethnic group.

        And then there is the question of language. British Americans would include some whose ancestral language was Welsh, Cornish, or Scots Gaelic. I would expect the language of most of the Irish American ancestors, if you went back far enough, to be Irish Gaelic, although for some it would be English or Scots Gaelic.

        But I think the problem is worse for Yoruba. Currently, by a little googling, only about three percent of the population of Africa are native speakers of Yoruba. It’s true that they are concentrated in West Africa, which is where most of the slaves came from, but they must still be only a fraction of that population. Assuming the ratio for slave ancestry is similar, it looks as though Irish speakers, English speakers, and possibly Spanish speakers (tracing a considerable fraction of the ancestry of present Hispanics back to Spain) probably outnumber the Yoruba speakers.

        Interesting tangle.

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman,

          The “Plurality ancestry in each state” map that you linked to was fun snd surprising in a couple of places, I would have thought that North Dakota and Washington State would be more Scandinavian than German.

          It’s fun for me to imagine a drive if each state did speak the language of the plurality of ancestors, you could start driving in an English speaking Maine, go to Irish Gaelic New Hampshire and Massachusetts, through Italian New York and New Jersey, then an African Maryland and Virginia, then through a lowland Scots, or Scottish Gaelic West Virginia, then a very long drive through “Germany”, and after passing through an English Utah, finally a Spanish Arizona and California.

          That would be cool!

          • You can’t get it by language but you can get a little of that by restaurants. You can practically do it walking in Chicago alone.

            To judge by motel owners, on the other hand, America was entirely settled from India.

    • fion says:

      I would love to have children because I love children and family. I also suspect the world would be better with more people like me, but also better with fewer people in general. I would be perfectly happy if my nation stopped reproducing, and I don’t consider anybody my tribe. In general I think the world would be a better place if happy, intelligent people (rare as they are) had more children and miserable or average-or-lower intelligence people had fewer.

      I am sympathetic to antinatalists, and I’m even sympathetic to extinction. Suffering is what’s bad, and a never-born person doesn’t suffer. I would consider it a bit sad for humans to go extinct, just as I would consider it a bit sad for staghorn coral to go extinct, but that’s just an emotional bias rather than any considered opinion.

  27. Matt M says:

    Deiseach,

    How much are you getting your hopes up for a potential Liverpool title run?

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh Matt M, don’t tempt me! How many times has it been “This year for sure”? There’s always a fly in the ointment, and we still have this tendency to concede stupid goals late in the second half. The last couple of matches played should be cooling down any over-heated expectations.

      I’ll be happy for a top three finish!*

      *Lies, all lies: all the years we were languishing in mid-table obscurity and I would have snapped your hand off with the offer of a Top Six finish – but now that the siren song of “we could finally finally win this” is floating over the waves, of course I want us to be top of the table!

      • Matt M says:

        I was just curious. As a casual American observer I keep hearing that they are the favorites, but I kind of figured the true fans were cynical enough to take the “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach, which you seem to have confirmed.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ah well you see, we have the glorious past which has kept us wrapped in opium dreams of things that were and things to come, but as you say, reality always comes along to bite you in the end. EDIT: We’ll always have Istanbul, though!

          Manchester United with their dominance all through the 90s and 00s really rubbed the salt into the wound of Liverpool’s decline, and while Chelsea have established themselves as this generation of fans’ bete noire, I can’t quite dislike them the same way as the Red Devils who swaggered their way to title after title. The fun part is that now, with Jose Mourinho (ex-Chelsea) being in charge of United who are perhaps facing their turn for a slow fall and long decline from days of all-conquering glory, I can enjoy their misery with a clear conscience once again in a ‘two for the price of one’ style 🙂

          But all this talk of winning the title this year makes me nervous, because we’ve had similar winning streaks in the past and something always happened to derail it at the last minute – the tragedy of the ending to the 2013/14 season, when it all went down to the last two games and the infamous Steven Gerrard slip proved that the Football Gods are cruel, capricious, and love nothing better than to sup on the tears of the disillusioned!

          Honestly, how did that happen? Leading up to the end, though Manchester City had a game in hand – just needed to draw against Chelsea, and surely they could beat Crystal Palace pulling up and that was it, the job done – and then the terrible irony of fate – Stevie’s slip let Demba Ba score, and once they got that first goal Chelsea went on to win that game, and the game after that against Palace was now a ‘must win’ from what had been ‘just turn up for the 90 minutes’ affair, which saw Liverpool manage to lose a 3-0 lead to a 3-3 draw. And that was it. From “nothing left to do but to engrave the name on the trophy” to “also-rans”.

          This parody video is pure cruelty and not as funny as it thinks it is, but it’s painfully accurate (and hey, at least you don’t have to listen to the Plastics – and the fans of every other team playing against Liverpool – spending the next year chanting about your captain).

  28. Mitch Lindgren says:

    Scott, I was surprised to see you write in the most recent open thread that you’re going to try to practice “affirmative action for leftist commenters” to keep the comments section from drifting too far right. The reason this was surprising to me is that you’ve previously denied that this was a problem in the SSC subreddit’s culture war thread, which I think is much worse than the blog comments. I have stopped participating in or even reading the CW threads because I think they’ve devolved into a pseudo-intellectual version of /r/The_Donald, and I consider myself fairly moderate. Most of the out-and-out leftist commenters abandoned the subreddit long ago.

    Do you still believe the problem is exaggerated, or do you now see it but consider it beyond your control?

    • ManyCookies says:

      In the subreddit’s mild defense, their view on Trump himself is not particually rosy and could be described as “Enemy of my enemy” at best.

      I agree that the CW thread is a bad look. But I think it’s just way easier for Scott to directly affect these comments, whatever course corrections are needed here are gonna be less drama filled and rather milder, and the comments here are more visible to passing visitors than the subreddit and matter more for optics.

  29. angularangel says:

    Hmm, a random thought – how did the Soviet Union score on social atomization, specifically? Did they have the same problems as first world countries? Or did they manage to invent exciting new problems? :/

    • Statismagician says:

      It would have been hard to study this properly given the apparently huge prevalence of black- and grey-market solutions to Soviet problems. Something retrospective done now could work a bit better in some ways, but that approach obviously has its own problems.

  30. J Mann says:

    Speaking of rightward drift, does anyone know what happened to Iain? He was one of my favorites, so I hope he just has had better things to do lately, rather than being ill or sick of our *@!#.

  31. Statismagician says:

    Mea culpa: In the last open thread I was very uncharitable towards Hoopyfreud on a culture-war topic. That was wrong of me and I apologize for it.

    The reason this is here and not there is that the site software kept eating my posts for the last couple of days, but has apparently stopped. Also, I tried to call it the ‘board software’ originally, which I think is interesting in a history-of-the-internet kind of way.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      No worries. The bailey is often argued, so it’s understandable.

      • Statismagician says:

        Additionally, all of the actionable suggestions you made were so eminently reasonable that I’d assumed they were pretty broadly standard; updates are underway on this.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I think that broadly standard is accurate, but there’s a not-insignificant minority of people for whom I think that standard does not hold. This is true for anything, obviously, but (if we can analogize to murderism) “rapism” of this sort isn’t limited to the people who commit rapes, and I think this creates something of a climate of fear.

          Similar attitudes about aggravated assault seem to have been mostly extinguished – domestic violence, for example, is seen as reasonable almost entirely by the tiny minority who engage in it, and almost never by the victim’s support network. It does happen, of course, but I think it’s much rarer than in the case of rape, and I perceive it to be continuing to decline. Hopefully rape follows the same pattern.

          All of the above in the context of America and countries with similarly non-patriarchical (in the sense of a literal patriarch) mores, of course. Many other places haven’t “gotten there” with regards to domestic violence, let alone rape.

  32. johan_larson says:

    Maybe my gaydar is broken. I have heard it said, repeatedly, that the famous volleyball scene in the movie Top Gun is gay. And not just a little bit gay. Gay right in the face. But I don’t see it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I can see why gay men would like this interlude of buff young dudes glistening in the sun. But so would hetero women. So I’m thinking it’s not gay. Commentators just couldn’t be bothered to search through their vocabularies for “camaraderie” and “virility” and “strutting”. They picked up “gay”, decided it sort of fit, and went home early.

    True, there are two brief sequences where one player puts his arm across the shoulders of his team-mate. But surely that can’t be enough to classify the scene as gay, when they spend so much time doing other stuff. There’s a heck of a lot more that is athletic or competitive. Classifying the scene like that would be like insisting that every movie with a Jewish actor is a Jewish movie, which is clearly nonsense.

    But maybe I’m mistaken. Help me out. Show me on the video where the gay is.

    • Gazeboist says:

      My guess is that it’s “gay” the way “lesbian” porn is “lesbian”, though obviously to a lesser degree. There are markets for gay porn and erotica in the homosexual male and heterosexual female demographics, and these markets are actually somewhat distinct, at least in terms of materials produced targeting them. In both cases, though, the product is generally “gay” or otherwise categorized in reference to the male homosexuality depicted therein, as is the general convention for erotica; the same convention is then exported to fiction that is not explicitly erotic.

      You’re right that the question is “who is this display for” and not “what is being displayed”, but it’s in a Watsonian sense rather than a Doylist one. To the extent that the actual existence of a romantic/sexual display is read in by the audience rather than written by the writer, well, it’s been standard practice for decades at this point to treat virtually any display of affection or value in fiction as a romantic/sexual display so long as the audience and the maker of the display are a plausible couple. That is, if you think the characters in the scene might, hypothetically, be gay (or rather, bisexual, if I’m correctly remembering the rest of Top Gun), then standard practice is to assume that they are, because they display themselves to each other and/or show individualized affection to each other.

    • Men used to act around each other in a way that would be unusual today. They would hold hands and just generally touch each other. The 80’s is right around when that started changing. Calling Top Gun is just a projection of our culture to back then.

      • Matt M says:

        Perhaps worth noting that there are plenty of cultures in which this sort of thing is still typically normal and not at all some sort of secret indication that they’re probably gay.

      • John Schilling says:

        The 80’s is right around when that started changing.

        Not coincidentally, right about the time actual homosexuality was becoming generally accepted outside of enclaves like SF.

        Gay rights, or straight male bonding. Pick one. Sigh.

        • albatross11 says:

          I wonder how much of this comes down to our media culture, rather than the tolerance. I feel like every kind of closeness between people has this sort of potential of being seen as somehow sexual in nature, and this is an unhealthy obsession of movies, TV shows, news media (especially celebrity scandal news media), etc. This is deeply broken and destructive of a lot of the stuff that holds people together and makes life worth living.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Albatross has it, although I think the media focus is a product of the obsession, rather than its cause, and is far from the only place it shows up.

        • AG says:

          No, no, no, no, no, that’s such a false binary it’s embarrassing.

          The solution is less homophobia, not more. You think gay people are more miserable because all of their same sex friends could potentially be into them? And yet, gay men don’t exclusively hang out with a single lesbian woman, because adding anyone else could lead to romantic complications. Straight people can learn to deal, just as men and women can be friends, or a gay man can have zero feelings for his straight best guy friend, shocking, I know.

          The secondary solution is much more implausible in this age of hypersensitive boundaries, but it’s to relax the segregation of the platonic and the romantic. Who fucking cares if someone thinks you should be banging your best friend? Why should that influence the platonic way you feel about each other?
          Consider the very salacious shows. I use Spartacus not because of its setting, as it actually has very modern sensibilities, but the gist is that people don’t blink an eye at whether or not people are having sex with each other or not. The presence of gay couples has no bearing on there also being strong physical affection between platonic friends.
          (In some ways, this is an ironic take on the enthusiastic consent standard. As the skittishness around physical affection comes from the promotion of romantic ambiguity, switching to a state where you’re only romantic if you state it clearly should be better, right?)

          • John Schilling says:

            Who fucking cares if someone thinks you should be banging your best friend?

            If the “someone” is the woman you should actually be “banging”, then you probably care that she mistakenly thinks you are gay and so does not signal her receptiveness to a romantic invitation.

            Or if the “someone” is anyone who might know such a woman, and won’t bother to make an introduction because they think you’re not interested in women.

            Actual human romantic relationships beyond the one-night-stand or Tinder/Grinder fuckbuddy level, are often mediated by third parties. So it is kind of helpful for third parties to be able to properly assess sexuality. Anything along the lines of “heh, heh, look at Teh Gay!”, directed at straight male bonding, is anti-helpful and should be discouraged.

            Consider the very salacious shows. I use Spartacus not because of its setting, as it actually has very modern sensibilities

            You understand that these shows are fiction, and do not accurately model or represent human behavior, right?

          • Gazeboist says:

            No, no, no, no, no, that’s such a false binary it’s embarrassing.

            The solution is to stop assuming I’m banging everyone I pay any individual attention to.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Gazeboist

            No, no, no, no, no, that’s such a false binary it’s embarrassing.

            Were you trying to quote and respond to AG, ironically echo him, or what?

            Whatever it is, it’s strongly antipersuasive.

          • Gazeboist says:

            It was meant as an echo. Rereading, it’s pretty clear that AG and I are actually in agreement, and AG just framed it in a weird way. I saw what looked like someone chastising someone else for missing the issue of relevance while themselves missing that same issue in an almost identical fashion, to which I generally react poorly. I apologize for that reaction.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If the “someone” is the woman you should actually be “banging”, then you probably care that she mistakenly thinks you are gay and so does not signal her receptiveness to a romantic invitation.
            Or if the “someone” is anyone who might know such a woman, and won’t bother to make an introduction because they think you’re not interested in women.

            I don’t think you even need to bring third parties into it. It’s generally pretty awkward when someone mistakenly thinks you’re hitting on them, so people are naturally going to change their behaviour to stop that sort of situation arising.

          • AG says:

            @John Schilling, Gazeboist

            No, the point of relaxing the line is the people care less about those perceptions. Oh, look, A and B over there are having physical affection that could be romantic or plantonic? If that puts me off of asking A if he’s available, then that’s on me, not on the ambiguity of the actions.

            Let more people make more introductions to more people. Less Guess Culture surrounding propositions. Lessen the embarrassment of getting rejected for any reason, including asking out a person of the wrong sexuality.

            The reason I bring up fictional shows is because it shows how straight male bonding is not mutually exclusive from “look at Teh Gay!” I said this the last time this subject came up, but a lot of “look at Teh Gay Subtext” is rooted in how gay content was censored from media by the Hays Code, and so gay coding (the thing driving the interpretation of certain physical affection as gay romance) became the thing. The solution to this is not Enforce More Hays Code, it’s to return to having even more open portrayals of gay relationships, such that fans no longer are so starved for representation that they look for coding everywhere.
            Secondly, the show reflects how fans can certain differentiate between “look at Teh Gay” and “yes we know these characters are actually straight.” You had an open gay couple performing the same actions of physical affection as the platonic pairs, and wow, you didn’t have people insisting that the straight characters actually weren’t. As you say, fictional is fictional. Plenty of what you see of people supposedly promoting physical affection as gay know perfectly well that it’s just fantasy, and do not apply the same standards to real life.

            Otherwise, you wouldn’t get so many lesbian sheep jokes.

            Thirdly, “Look at Teh Gay” is only the flipside of a wildly oversensitive “Look at Teh Het” (all physical affections getting segregated into “always romantic” and “never romantic”) so you can’t fix the former, as it will continue to be derived from the latter. I can’t work up any sort of outrage over your worries about slash fans when the same mechanism is just as, if not more, active for supporting…incest ships. Yep, that sure is gonna cause problems in real life. /s

            You might as well start diatribes over how Rule 34 is ruining peoples’ love lives.

        • dick says:

          Gay rights, or straight male bonding. Pick one. Sigh.

          Hang on. Straight men calling each other “fag” for being too intimate is the fault of the gay rights movement? Do I have this right?

          • LesHapablap says:

            In my experience women are much more likely to do this than men, possibly because a woman implying a man is a homosexual (either teasing or otherwise) is less likely to be read as an invitation to violence compared to when a man does it.

          • rlms says:

            Your experience is weird, dude.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Yeah I thought of lots of examples of men doing that after posting that. Still very common for women to do the same though.

        • gbdub says:

          I don’t think the “problem” is gay rights, but rather that increasing acceptance of homosexuality has created in some a sort of overreaction where people, thinking they are being “woke” and helpful, assume same-sex bonding that might be ambiguously erotic as actually gay. “Oh, look at the closeted homosexuals, the poor dears, society’s oppression has forced them to declare they are straight but I can see through it #pride #ally”

          The one that annoys me most is not Mav and Goose but Sam and Frodo.

          Anyway the same sort of over-woke-reaction seems to be a side effect of trans acceptance, with some people being quick to assume gender nonconformity is necessarily a sign of being transgender.

          • Nornagest says:

            That might be part of it, but I feel like something else is going on. As the Top Gun example shows, there was a widespread tendency to eroticize male same-sex bonding as early as the 1980s, long before being publicly woke was cool outside a few small communities. The most common explanation is just “homophobia”, but it seems implausible that the ’80s were more homophobic than, say, the 1940s, when sodomy laws were still widely enforced yet that sort of bonding would have been common and seen as normal.

            My best guess is that it has nothing to do with acceptance and everything to do with awareness. If you’re straight and the culture says that homosexuality is some sort of distant, bizarre aberration, you don’t need to signal being straight, you can just do what you feel like and people will assume it. When the culture says it’s common and you might know a few people that’ve come out, then if you want to be identifiable as straight — and there are plenty of non-homophobic reasons to want this — you suddenly need behavioral markers of straightness. And that’s still true — it might even be more true — if you and everyone you know agree that it’s totally cool to be gender nonconforming or whatever.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            “Welp, our son’s playing with his sister’s dolls. We better start calling her our other daughter and start transgender treatment ASAP, rather than seeing if he gets bored of dolls after a few days.”

          • Nick says:

            if you want to be identifiable as straight — and there are plenty of non-homophobic reasons to want this — you suddenly need behavioral markers of straightness.

            Just to nitpick, but the problem is stronger than this. You not only need markers of straightness, you need to have relatively few markers of gayness.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Men used to act around each other in a way that would be unusual today. They would hold hands and just generally touch each other. The 80’s is right around when that started changing. Calling Top Gun is just a projection of our culture to back then.

        No this isn’t true at all. I grew up in the sixties. I can’t even imagine two boys holding hands back then. Anyone with the absolute lowest level of social skills knew this rule. Your status would plummet to the bottom.

        I don’t know that it was ever part of American culture that it was okay for males to touch or hold hands. To a certain extent this was okay in sports, but you better not enjoy the touch! Someone holding hands or being physically close would show they were from some other culture.

        • What about hugging? To me, that feels more natural between men than holding hands. Most obviously to express sympathy by one man for something bad that happened to another.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Maybe hugging is more natural, but I don’t remember that ever happening in my childhood (except for fleeting hugs in sports). Hugging certainly wouldn’t bring down your status like holding hands would, but I think it would indicate you were less macho than most. Even now I think the more common way for men to express sympathy to other men is verbal, not physical.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The pictures I’ve seen of casual affection between men were much earlier. The 20s or 30s, I think.

    • Beck says:

      I’m with you on ‘not gay’. Or at least, no gayer than normal.
      Jokes aside, I think some people don’t get how homoerotic a regular day at the barracks would look to an outsider. Behavior like the shirtless strutting and hanging on each other in the video is common enough that it doesn’t work as an indicator of whether the men displaying the behavior are gay or not.
      (I’ve been out for a long time, but if Terminal Lance is still making jokes about it, I assume it hasn’t changed much)

    • gbdub says:

      I mean, if the oiled up slow motion shirtless dudes weren’t enough, there’s the accompanying music

      I’d say it was the right time
      To walk away
      When dreaming takes you nowhere
      It’s time to play
      Bodies working overtime
      Your money don’t matter
      The time keeps ticking
      When someone’s on your mind
      On your mind
      I’m moving in slow motion
      Feels so good
      It’s a strange anticipation
      Knock, knock, knockin’ on wood
      Bodies working overtime
      It’s man against man
      And all that ever matters is, baby
      Who’s ahead in the game
      Funny but it’s always the same
      Playing, playing with the boys
      Staying, playing with the boys
      After chasing sunsets
      One of life’s simple joys
      Is playing with the boys
      Said it was the wrong thing
      For me to do
      I said it’s just a boys’ game
      But girls play too
      My heart is working overtime
      In this kind of game
      People get hurt
      I’m thinking that the people is me
      If you wanna find me I’ll be
      Playing, playing with the boys
      Staying, playing with the boys
      After chasing sunsets
      One of life’s simple joys
      Is the boys
      I don’t wanna be the moth around your fire
      (With the boys)
      I don’t wanna be obsessed by my desire
      (You’re shining, you’re smiling)
      (I’ll see it now)
      With the boys
      (I’m staying, you play too rough)
      Playing, playing with the boys
      I’ll be staying, playing with the boys (with the boys)
      After chasing sunsets
      One of life’s simple joys
      Is playin’ with the boys
      Staying with the boys
      Playing
      (Playing with the boys)
      Playing
      (Playing with the boys)
      You got me playing
      (Playing with the boys)
      You got me, you got me playing
      (Playing with the boys)
      Playing
      (Playing with the boys)
      Playing
      (Playing with the boys)

  33. Plumber says:

    I just read about an Initiative, Proposition 7, that if passed will end Daylight Savings t crime in California.

    I can’t remember being this eager to vote!

    I’ve no idea how this maps to “tribes” but anyone who votes to end this sleep stealing law is my brother or sister.

    • Gazeboist says:

      The only proper change to timekeeping is to admit that the sun does not in fact rise between 5:00 and 7:00 at every longitude in the world and do away with timezones entirely. Greenwitch remains a reasonable spot for the Prime Meridian, though, mostly because it’s sensible to land the International Date Line in the middle of the Pacific to the extent you can.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      Finally!

      As a libertarian, I am – for perhaps the first time – in full agreement with you. Both personal experience and (minimal) research suggest that losing an entire hour of sleep is not great for people, and everyone doing it at once is not necessarily great for traffic safety that morning (or possibly a few mornings after as people adjust). And realistically, that’s usually what happens. I wish we’d done this years ago.

      … I’d be curious what opponents of the change think, though? The arguments I’ve heard are mostly pro standardization with the other states, since almost all of them have it, and power efficiency which may or may not still lean in favor of Daylight Savings. I haven’t done much research, though; I could easily be missing something.

      • 10240 says:

        My sleep times are completely irregular, the time I go to sleep often changes several hours back and forth compared to the previous day, and as such a one hour adjustment is negligible. But even people with more regular schedules than me I observe often go to bed 1–2 hours later in the weekend than on weekdays, and then readjust by Monday, so a one hour adjustment shouldn’t be a significant problem.

        Also, permanent DST (i.e. summer time), which is most commonly proposed in initiatives for abolishing DST is totally illogical: it’s winter time that tries to at least roughly match the local solar time. At least abolishing DST and switching one time zone to the West would be better terminology than “permanent DST”, but there is also no rationale given for switching time zones.

      • Plumber says:

        @Rebecca Friedman

        “Finally!

        As a libertarian, I am – for perhaps the first time – in full agreement with you…”

        For myself I can’t imagine what I wouldn’t politically compromise to get to drive to work at dark o’clock in thenmorning less.

        If the Stomp-on-puppies-ban-rainbows-and-ban-icecream Party is the only ones who will deliver an end to the twice a year clock change, they have my vote!

    • Basil Elton says:

      That would’ve been great! That’d be at least one measurement at least one state of the US will be doing right. Well, partially, because AM-PM notation isn’t going anywhere, but nevertheless.

      And +1 Rebecca’s question about reasons for not doing it – are there any? IIRC originally the idea was to maximize usage of natural lighting and save on electricity, but seriously – with LED light bulbs, and also with electrical cooling, heating, cooking, computing, industrial equipment, even goddamn cars, how can this reasoning possibly make any kind of a sense?

      • sentientbeings says:

        It would be two states – Arizona does not have DST (except, I think, on Navajo lands). The movement to get rid of DST has been gaining momentum in a few other states as well.

        • gbdub says:

          As an Arizonan, I love not flipping, but I wish we stayed on DST rather than Standard (or just move to Pacific time) – in the summer it gets bright (and hot) way too early, and in the winter it’s dark too soon.

          • 10240 says:

            What about starting a campaign to start work/school at an earlier clock time, rather than stay on DST? It would be more logical.

          • gbdub says:

            Because time zones / daylight time are a pretty well established coordination mechanism for getting everybody on the same clock, and as long as we’re talking about monkeying with that, might as well talk about where the current setup places daylight.

            Might as well use the tool we have rather than voluntarily take on a massive coordination challenge.

      • AG says:

        It really is silly, because companies could always voluntarily shift their work hours as needed to fit the daylight cycle, instead of pegging to hours that then shift as the federal government decides.

        Is it really that hard to convey to workers and customers “we have these hours in Q1, these hours in Q2, etc.”?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Coordination problems are generally a bitch. So yes, that is an issue.

          As a for instance, do you want to employ people who have school age children? You have to coordinate with the school schedule.

          • Matt M says:

            Am I crazy or do most employers absolutely not coordinate with the school schedule?

            I ended up having to basically get to school an hour early in high school because school started an hour after both of my parents had to be at work.

          • Brad says:

            Short of lengthening the school day, which the teacher’s unions would never accept, or shortening the standard work day, I don’t think there is any way to coordinate the two.

            My friends all pay for after school care of one sort or another and some of them for before school care also.

  34. Viliam says:

    Thinking about the left-wing and right-wing and SSC comments…

    The whole concept of “left and right” is so frustratingly pseudo-useful. You cannot dismiss it, because it seems to work quite well in everyday life: people do identify as left and right, etc. On the other hand, a system based on an assumption that e.g. a libertarian is pretty much the same thing as a religious fundamentalist, seems quite useless for debating the topic rationally. Yes, people have invented various 2- and 3-dimensional classification, but at the end… even Scott here thinks in terms of “left-wing” and “right-wing” debaters. And so do most people.

    Furthermore, “left” and “right” are relative; they both mean “more in this vague direction than the average”. So when your subculture’s average is not the same as the whole population’s average, then global leftists become local rightists, or vice versa. There are no absolute values, so when someone who is “more X” than you accuses you of being “Y”, and you say “actually, I also identify as X, only less extreme than you”, there is no way to determine who is correct. Which one is more important: how do you identify, or how other people categorize you? If it’s the former, this becomes completely chaotic, because different people are differently calibrated (you can identify as “X”, while being “more Y” than someone who identifies as “Y”). If it’s the latter, it depends on who is judging you (e.g. if you ask a SJW, everyone else is a Nazi).

    Thinking about myself… in my country, I would be classified as “right wing”, because I think that the communist regime was evil, and that people shouldn’t be hanged for e.g. making a startup. In USA, I would be probably classified as “left wing” by most people, because I don’t like wars or religion. However, even in USA I would be classified as “right wing” by SJWs, simply because I am not one of them.

    Speaking about SJWs… I think they are usually considered to be an “extreme left”, which would kinda imply that they have the attributes of “left” (whatever those are) in extreme amounts. But I think this is not true.

    For example, supporting gay rights is considered a left-wing agenda in USA. And I think it would be awesome if gays could have equal rights also in Muslim countries, and in Africa. For a SJW, this is a problematic opinion. For me, it is a straightforward expression of my sincere beliefs. Does that put me politically “even further left than SJWs”? That would be a good news in context of the recent affirmative action on SSC!

    What am I actually trying to say…

    I am worried that efforts to “balance left wing and right wing” will in real life turn into appeasement of SJWs. Because from their perspective anything non-SJW is right-wing, so any opposition to SJWs will be interpreted (and loudly complained about) as a local dominance of right wing, even if the opposition actually comes from people who by any non-SJWs standards would be classified as left-wing or centrist (or “something orthogonal to the left-right axis” in those multi-dimensional political diagrams).

    Another source of confusion is that the actual debate is not representative of the actual opinions of debaters. For example, if something is taken for granted, no one will bother to talk about it. But those things taken for granted, and thus invisible in the debate, don’t have to be politically neutral. Perhaps we debate right-wing stuff more, because we take the left-wing stuff for granted?

    How does one even determine what is the fair proportion of “left” and “right”, considering that both words are relative? Any group of people will have 50% who are “more left-wing” than the average of that group, and 50% who are “more right-wing”. So are we aiming for the same distribution as the general population? (Which one: Bay Area, USA, or the whole planet?) To do that precisely, we would need to attract more Mormons, and perhaps more people controlled by the Communist Party of China, because they seem underrepresented at the moment.

    • Plumber says:

      @Villiam,

      “SJW”

      I’ve probably banged on this drum before, but the more I learn about those who are usually called “SJW’s” (ridiculous stunts at Reed college, et cetera), the more I think that if they were really pro “Social Justice” that they should be out providing shade for the tomato pickers in the fields between Gilroy and Hollister instead of with their efforts to scold other students about “awareness”, but since I’ve never actually talked to one who’s under sixty years old and a “SJW” what do I know (or maybe someone who’s called a “Warrior for social justice” in a eulogy different than a “SJW”)?

      I guess the folks chanting outside the building most Fridays count I suppose.

      As for whether your views are considered “left” and “right” around here it mostly seems to correlate with how many people are within a square mile of where you sleep, and I’m curious about places where that’s not true.

      • Brad says:

        but since I’ve never actually talked to one

        “SJW” is extremely rarely used a self descriptor. It’s also rarely used as social constructed individual attribute. That is a group of friends might all agree and say that so-and-so is their religious friend, but they’d rarely say so-and-so is their SJW friend.

        No, instead it some combination of slur and strawman. Also a dash of motte and bailey. Finally, the term itself is also something of a shibboleth.

        All of which is to say, you aren’t likely to meet one because it’s mostly a construct of the online right rather than a concrete phenomenon out in the real world.

        As for whether your views are considered “left” and “right” around here it mostly seems to correlate with how many people are within a square mile of where you sleep, and I’m curious about places where that’s not true.

        I don’t think that’s true at all. There’s at least a few quite right leaning posters that live in big cities. At least one right here in Manhattan with me.

        • Statismagician says:

          “SJW” is extremely rarely used a self descriptor. It’s also rarely used as social constructed individual attribute. That is a group of friends might all agree and say that so-and-so is their religious friend, but they’d rarely say so-and-so is their SJW friend.

          I’m suddenly really curious about this – my intuition is that because the social justice movement cares so much about so many things, they’re a lot better at filtering anybody not explicitly in the group out of their social circles than e.g. Christians, who care less about fewer. I wonder how you’d even study that?

          I don’t think that’s true at all. There’s at least a few quite right leaning posters that live in big cities. At least one right here in Manhattan with me.

          Correlations at r < 1.00 exist, news at 11; also base rates, obvious demographic moderating factors [cities also skew heavily for 'percent of people likely to be interested in rationality], and by-definition unequal sample sizes. Come on, we all know this is pretty true at the population level.

          • Brad says:

            As for whether your views are considered “left” and “right” around here it mostly seems to correlate with how many people are within a square mile of where you sleep, and I’m curious about places where that’s not true.

        • Nornagest says:

          I agree with your first sentence but not your second. It’s a real thing, not a strawman and only secondarily a slur, but it’s not generally used as a self-descriptor. The people it describes — when it’s not being used as a rough modern synonym for “pinko”, at least, and that does sometimes happen — don’t have a name for their clique, and if pressed would describe it in terms of “basic human decency” or something like that (often that exact phrase); it just so happens that their standards of basic human decency cover their cliquemates and only them. They do, however, have a concept of “social justice” and think of themselves as fighting for it: I wouldn’t introduce someone as my SJW friend, but I might say “this is so-and-so, he’s into social justice” if I thought I had a sympathetic audience. And that would mean pretty much the same thing.

          I get the impression that it has some regional correlations, too. I’ve met far more on the West Coast than the East, even in cities that I rarely visit. I see a lot of differences between West Coast and East Coast left-leaning politics, actually; East Coasters seem a lot less PC, more direct, more technocratic and more nationalistic on average. That might just be that I’ve spent a lot of time in Washington DC, though, which is a direct, technocratic, and nationalistic kind of place.

          And there are definitely strong age and class correlations.

          • Nick says:

            I agree with your first sentence but not your second. It’s a real thing, not a strawman and only secondarily a slur, but it’s not generally used as a self-descriptor.

            This. I graduated last year from a Midwestern* liberal Catholic university—SJWs totally exist. And this is not representative, but at a Catholic university, they very much are cloaked in the language of social justice, which Catholics got to first thank you very much, even though some were virtually indistinguishable from an irreligious SJW. Which is not to say they’d self describe as a social justice warrior.

            *students are generally from Ohio, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and Michigan. A few are from the rest of the country, and around 10% are international students.

            ETA: To be clear, Brad, if you’d prefer we just not use the term SJW, I’ll just not use it. I don’t know about the folks attacking them, but for me that means replacing my usage with the more awkward “social justice folks.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Well, the dude who chased the money changers out of the temple with a whip could plausibly be considered a social justice warrior.

          • Nick says:

            Well, the dude who chased the money changers out of the temple with a whip could plausibly be considered a social justice warrior.

            And that’s why Catholics got to it first.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I saw a few people describing themselves as Social Justice Warriors, but not so much lately.

          At least some of it was probably a result of social justice turning out to have an anti-Semitic streak.

          • Brad says:

            I had remembered you saying so before. It’s for that reason I put extremely rarely rather than never.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            social justice turning out to have an anti-Semitic streak.

            Elaborate?

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that there’s a fair number of people who are broadly in the SJW ideological space who are also pretty strongly anti-Israel, due to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. This isn’t anti-Semitism, although I imagine being anti-Israel is a comfortable position for someone who dislikes Jews in general.

            I don’t know if Nancy’s thinking of something else, though.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I thought the new hotness was that pro-Israel was coded anti-Semitic because that’s where the anti-Semites want all the Jews to go.

          • gbdub says:

            It feels like the population American “SJWs” contains a few actual anti-Semites, and a much larger population of people naive about how actually anti-Semitic Palestinians, and some of the pro-Palestinian groups they (the American SJWs) cozy up to are.

            The American progressive left in general seems to have some serious blind spots when it comes to anti-Semitism from POCs as well (e.g. Farrakhan)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Sometimes being anti-Israel gets extended to being anti-Jews.

            https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40407057

          • Brad says:

            It’s true that sometimes happens. But it’s also true that sometimes zionists appropriate and burn the Jewish commons by mislabeling rhetoric that is anti-Israel or even just anti-Likud as anti-semitic.

        • JulieK says:

          Dear Commentariat,

          Can we please try to avoid blanket statements attacking “SJWs”? They rarely lead to useful discussion, and tend to make more left-leaning people feel unwelcome here.

          Signed,
          A conservative commenter (according to that guy who analyzed the political leanings of people here)

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            There’s not a better label I can think of for a specific strain of (broadly on the left) thought, so it can be useful as a label. But it’s very easy for it to turn into a blanket statement about a very broad group of people.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’ve got an SJW following me around on Reddit, posting nasty stuff about me, occasionally sending me nasty private messages, and amusingly sometimes getting his alts banned at least from the SSC subreddit. I’ve gotten worse from SJWs in the past, for having the temerity to openly disagree with them and their ideas. I’m not going to pretend the class doesn’t exist or that no individuals are members of it, just because those whose beliefs are closer to their ideas than mine are upset by it.

          • Viliam says:

            Can we please try to avoid blanket statements attacking “SJWs”? They rarely lead to useful discussion, and tend to make more left-leaning people feel unwelcome here.

            I think it is perfectly possible — and maybe even quite common — to be left-wing and dislike SJWs. (Just like it is possible to be right-wing and dislike religious fundamentalists.)

            And I think that admitting this openly makes the debate more meaningful than assuming that statements against SJWs must be automatically aimed against the left in general. Seems like we should do it using some term other than “SJWs”, but an absence of a generally understood b