THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 113.25

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1,453 Responses to Open Thread 113.25

  1. Aapje says:

    A very interesting development over at the New York Times is that they are now seriously addressing possible racial IQ differences. When my own Dutch (center-left) newspaper discussed this topic a while back, the ‘debate’ was cringe worthy, with almost exclusively idiotic arguments from the anti side and no one (daring to) take the other side to keep them honest. In contrast, the NYT piece actually mostly sticks to scientific fact:
    – Race is not wholly socially constructed, but ethnic groups share genes
    – Geneticists do distinguish between ‘geographic ancestry groupings’, although not the ones that many lay people/organizations use and call ‘race’
    – Genes strongly influence various traits, including intelligence (or at least, educational attainment)

    In general, the article appeals mostly to uncertainty and doubt to provide a counter-argument to white supremacists, which is a big improvement over telling falsehoods. I was a bit amazed to not see the argument made that outcomes are usually determined by an interplay of genes and circumstance, perhaps coupled with an exaggeration of the evidence for the importance of circumstance. After all, the easiest way to resolve the dissonance resulting from the facts not matching an absolute claim is weaken the claim slightly to accommodate a biased reading of the facts, rather than requiring total denial. A claim that the reasons for disparities between ethnic groups is mostly circumstance can then be used to defend the idea that the gap in outcomes is mostly due to racism, that it can be resolved by fighting racism; and other popular beliefs among the left. Furthermore, appealing to the importance of circumstance can also be used (even without exaggerating the facts) to reject white supremacy and such (for example, by arguing that the gap in genetic ability between ethnic groups is so small that the idea that the groups cannot coexist in society is silly, that black people are not destined to be far more criminal, etc).

    The same author also wrote an interesting companion piece about scientists shying away from the public debate. I like this piece for arguing that the result is that white supremacists are left without educated push back, both from scientists themselves, but also from lay people who want to debate white supremacists. However, I would personally go much further: by refusing to engage when the facts aren’t clear, the scientists are contribution to a radicalization of society, where people on both sides are more likely to adopt extremist positions and to believe that science supports these extremist conclusions.

    Furthermore, I would argue that this is likely to be an issue especially because of blue tribe taboos, where anything but total denial is often considered to be (extremely) morally wrong. The result is then that even merely expressing uncertainty is considered racist and condemned. Moderate & reasonable people, who generally have a tendency to not want to get hauled in front of a firing squad, but who often don’t want to lie either, then usually avoid speaking out at all. Ironically, white supremacists might get more substantive push back if academia had more Charles Murray’s or Murray-lite’s and people would be more tolerant of such opinions. Right now, many people who want answers are prone to turn to radical sources, as the moderate sources are lacking. The black high school student from the article is an example of a person who had trouble finding moderate sources.

    PS. Interestingly, the person who set off the debate about racial IQ differences in my country, that I referred to at the beginning of the comment, is a black person as well.

    • Has anyone tried to study IQ or income or some other outcome measure, distinguishing among different sub-Saharan groups? Africa seems to have a lot of racial diversity–Ethiopians and Somali don’t look much like West Africans. It wouldn’t give you a perfect nature vs nurture test, since different sub population would have cultural as well as genetic differences, but they should all be about as much affected by prejudice in America or Europe.

      • Aapje says:

        Do you mean the IQ or outcomes of sub-Saharan groups that live in the West? Your comment is a bit unclear.

        If so, a major issue is that the selection effect may be far different.

      • sentientbeings says:

        I believe there has been some study of outcomes for the Igbo and that they do well.

        • hyperboloid says:

          The funny thing is that there are regions in the US where the African american population is disproportionately of Igbo extraction. Many of the slave ships that landed in the tidewater regions of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina came from the bight of Biafra. The descendants of those slaves make up much of population of the mid Atlantic region, and I don’t see any evidence that Baltimore’s black community has any special history of achievement in comparison to the mostly Yoruba descended people of the deep south.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There was also heavy selection pressure on those populations, the mortality rates in the slave ships was high and slave owners purchased and bred slaves (to varying extents) based on physical characteristics.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            The Yoruba immigrants in the UK do almost as well as the Igbo.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think what is badly needed is some kind of decent IQ testing of several African nations (continent-wide would be ideal but I don’t think we’re going to get ideal) for a basis of what modern and even semi-reliable levels actually are.

        I think Lynn’s estimate of 70 IQ is bobbins, for reasons I’ve banged on about before, and I think the estimates of 80 IQ aren’t much better. Since Africa has been exposed to pernicious Europeans and their education systems, there should be some better way of getting reliable test results today, rather than “we took illiterate nomadic herders who hadn’t even seen a pencil before in their lives, gave them a Western-style pen-and-paper test, and got results that any fool could have predicted would be bottom of the barrel low, then we took those to mean Africans really were that stupid”.

        I’m not expecting miracles. Maybe the results would come out that, when averaged over however many nations participated, the mean IQ was 90 (then again, considering Lynn thought the Irish mean IQ was around 95, let me welcome my African brothers and sisters into the “they think we’re even dumber than we actually are” club). But at least we’d have something more than guesstimates, seat of the pants extrapolation, and ‘the last test of this kind was done on sixteen eight years olds in 1957 in Lesotho’.

        And then finally we could start to have something approaching a reasonable debate on the topic, rather than “so you want us to agree black people are inferior, you racists!/you are a bunch of science-denying nincompoops, you bleeding-hearts!”.

        • BlindKungFuMaster says:

          If you estimate African IQ by the genetic admixture in South and Middle American Countries, you’ll get a best fit for something slightly below 70. And of course the African numbers are not based on “sixteen eight years olds in 1957 in Lesotho”.

          On the other hand there is a strong Flynn effect for example in Kenya, so who knows what the real numbers are right now. And who knows where they will end up.

      • INH5 says:

        There are reports that Ethiopian and Somlia refugees in America get better scores on standardized tests than African Americans.

        However, in terms of income, West African immigrants do even better, with Nigerian Americans, for example, having median family incomes roughly equal to whites.

        Of course, most West African immigrants are not refugees. But, at least in America, the evidence for them being highly selected isn’t very strong either. If you look at the Visa Office’s annual reports, you’ll find that from 2000 to 2014, 40% of Nigerian immigrants came via the diversity visa lottery, 57% via family-related visas, and just 3% via employer-sponsored visas or any other kind of immigrant visa. Presumably most of the family visas went to relatives (and relatives of relatives, and so on) of Nigerians who won the diversity lottery.

        Starting in 2015, Nigeria was removed from the list of countries that were eligible for the diversity lottery, and since then most Nigerian immigrants have come on family visas.

        For reference, here are the requirements for the diversity visa lottery:

        To enter the lottery, applicants must have been born in an eligible country. If selected, to qualify for the immigrant visa, they must have completed at least a high school education or at least two years of work experience in an occupation which requires at least two other years of training or experience.[18] They must also satisfy general immigration requirements, such as means of support, no criminal background, and good health.

        If 1) the US native black/white income gap was primarily caused by IQ differences, and 2) those IQ differences existed because native blacks have ~75% West African ancestry, I would not at all expect this level of selection to be able to close a by extrapolation even larger gap between native US whites and people with 100% West African ancestry. So I think this is evidence that at least one of those two premises is false.

        • Hoopdawg says:

          The obvious solution is that 2) is false, Africans as a whole have roughly average homo sapiens sapiens intelligence, and the lowered intelligence of US native blacks is a result of centuries of perverse selection for traits that made them better slaves.

          Note the many ways in which this explanation would be inconvenient to absolutely fucking everyone with a stake in this argument.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Immigrants tend to be the winners of their source population regardless (excluding exile-ish cases like the Scotch-Irish).

          For example, Australian-Americans have a median income of $91,452 despite Australia’s median income being very close to America’s.

          The exceptions tend to be places we take a lot of refugees from (Iraq) and Central America due to illegal immigration.

          Just like Australian-Americans aren’t evidence that Australia is higher IQ than Taiwan, Nigerian-American’s aren’t particularly powerful evidence for Nigeria’s IQ.

          • INH5 says:

            Australia has a similar standard of living to the US, so Australians don’t have a lot of incentives to immigrate unless they could get a very above-average job by doing so. It’s a very different story for a country as poor as Nigeria, where a very large portion of the population would see a substantial increase in their standard of living if they moved to a developed country.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I used Australians because they’re white, and hence racism of any kind (reverse or otherwise) can’t affect it, but there are other examples on that page every bit as strong.

            Nigeria is very wealthy for a third world country, with a per capita income close to India. Indian-Americans are literally the most successful immigrant group on the page you listed.

            Obviously both countries have SEVERE income disparity problems and structural problems at home. But my core point is that immigrants are a bad population for comparison because they tend to exhibit a baseline level of motivation, intelligence and hard work that doesn’t necessarily exist in their home country.

          • INH5 says:

            Indian-Americans are, in fact. highly selected. This is clear just from looking at the number of H (temporary worker) visas granted to Indians (approaching 200,000 in some years) compared to say, Nigerians (600-800 in most years). Furthermore, India has never been eligible for the diversity lottery, and the fact that Nigerian-Americans seem to have mostly come through that program either directly or indirectly is the primary basis of my argument.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I am not disagreeing with that.

            I am pointing out that all immigration is a selecting event, even the diversity lottery and family reunification, although they are less selecting.

            First, you have to be wealthy and forward looking enough to apply, instantly cutting out the bottom third+.

            Second, you have to be non-criminal, which is a solid selector for IQ and hardworkingness, especially in a tinpot third world country.

            And finally, you have to be able to succeed in America enough to not boil off and go home or commit a deportable crime before you get citizenship.

            Adding those together and my point is that ALL immigrants are selected. Refugees are not, but pretty much all immigrants are, even the diversity lottery winners.

            The degree of selection is certainly different (e.g. India v. Nigeria), but the fact of selection isn’t.

          • Aapje says:

            Refugees are typically also self-selected. Usually only part of the population flees. Only part of them tries to go to the West. Etc.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I read that piece a while ago. It is fairly mediocre.

      That simply reflects on the writer’s constraints, as you mentioned. The fact is that Murray and company are actually the center of the debate when you boil it down, and there are white (and asian) supremacists to the X of him and deniers to the Y of him.

      Its clear that genes are important to intelligence difference in humans, so far as any social science study can be clear (in other words if you deny this you also deny all other studies from psychology and sociology, etc). It is also clear that these are not evenly distributed among all populations (again see above; if you think rape or war can cause PTSD, you believe something with less evidence than what I just said).

      I think this discussion is important, but only because other people insist that it is not. I would prefer to judge other factors than race, but Harvard obviously disagrees, many others obviously disagree. The problem is that people like me are asked by forces to align myself with Harvard or Hitler, and I cannot in good conscience do that.

      • False says:

        For whatever reason, my reply keeps getting eaten. I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong (maybe there are some bad no-no words, ironic considering the focus of this discussion). I’ll try to sum up as succinctly as possible and avoid any bad-speak.

        Could you go into more detail about why you “think this discussion is important, but only because other people insist that it is not”? From my perspective there are many topics that are taboo in most circles, and this field changes constantly (no one was talking about communism 5 years ago, and it was still basically taboo even on the left). What makes this specific topic so important?

        Who do you think is forcing you to choose between “Hitler or Harvard”, and why? Is this choice presented to most people, or only you and people like you, specifically?

        • albatross11 says:

          I think the topic is important because it helps us understand our world better. The attempts at suppressing discussion and spreading noble lies were also spreading incorrect models of the world that led to wrong predictions and dumb policies, and they made the world a much worse place.

          In nearly all cases, we’re better off knowing how the world works, rather than having our social order preserved by some noble lies that must then be protected by an ever-expanding bodyguard of lies and suppression of facts. “If you once tell a lie, the truth is ever after your enemy.”

        • Aapje says:

          @False

          I think that it is very important for people to realize that any grouping will have different outcomes, especially if traits are shared within the group.

          For example, if you randomly split a group of Americans in two and put each group on a different island for 100 years, they will end up with different genetics and different culture.

          This means that claiming that there is necessarily discrimination because of differences in outcomes is a mistake.

          In itself, the above is true regardless of humane bio diversity, yet many people seem to ignore all the other evidence against the dumb belief that differences in outcomes are all due to discrimination. Humane bio diversity is a topic that forces things to a head. Rejecting it categorically requires disbelieving your eyes (as differences in human skin color is humane biodiversity) and is thus even less defensible than believing in a flat earth.

          It’s less important to believe in the IQ part of humane bio diversity, although believing that IQ is independent of genetics is rather absurd. Believing in (possible) IQ differences between ethnic groups due to genetics does weaken the case for affirmative action-style discrimination against groups that do better in education and the workplace. Spreading this belief can thus result in fewer cases of more capable people being replaced by less capable people, which logically results in worse outcomes for humanity.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, regardless of the cause of IQ differences across racial groups, knowing about those differences leads you to be able to predict certain things about how affirmative action programs are going to work out. And as best I can tell, those predictions are all accurate–Asians getting their own version of the Jewish quota, black affirmative-action admits being overmatched and ending up in the least rigorous majors on campus, etc.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @albatross11: anyone of average IQ who isn’t mindkilled could tell you AA would lead to Asian Jewish quotas and black students being overmatched, but as Deiseach was gesturing to, we don’t know how much g is genetic. “Race realists” have Just So Stories about Jews breeding for literati and Confucian civil service exams, but the supporting evidence that evolution works like that in less than 100 generations is weak.
            Culture could be what really matters.

          • pontifex says:

            Evolution can be very fast. For example, if you shoot everyone taller than 5 feet, the next generation will be much shorter. Similarly, humans have bred plants and animals to have desired characteristics in much less than 100 generations.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @pontifex

            Under highly selective conditions, yes. Someone please reassure me that the bene gesserit haven’t been operating since the 1800s.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, the evidence is weak and contradictory for highly selective conditions in civilized areas in the last 2000 years. The most dramatic results should be coming from events like a supermajority of Europeans descending from three Bronze Age males, not “the highest IQ male Ashkenazim were the most desirable husbands in a monogamous culture.” Or look at the evidence upthread for Nigerian-Americans who arrive by “diversity lottery” or family chain migration doing better on life outcomes correlated to IQ than African-Americans who descend in significant part from Nigerian slave girls being bred to their European-descended masters.

          • pontifex says:

            Yeah, the evidence is weak and contradictory for highly selective conditions in civilized areas in the last 2000 years.

            Firstly, human races are older than 2000 years. Secondly, there have been lots of population replacement events in the last 2000 years.

            Under highly selective conditions, yes. Someone please reassure me that the bene gesserit haven’t been operating since the 1800s.

            Modern medicine is less than 100 years old. The welfare state is even younger. Even up to the 1800s or so, you had “highly selective conditions” operating in nearly all of the world. Mutations like lactose tolerance or better alcohol tolerance could and did go to fixation through natural selection.

          • pontifex says:

            By the way, I am not arguing for any particular position in the nature / nurture debate. I am just commenting that the “X years is too short for evolution to happen” argument is invalid. Thousands of years is quite long enough to get significant divergences between populations.

            Evolution can go very fast under the right conditions. For example, some crazy Russians domesticated foxes in just 50 years or so.

            At the risk of strawmanning, this argument reminds me of the “natural selection could never make something as complex as Y” argument that gets trotted out by creationists.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Regarding recent evolution, it occurs to me that lack of pressure can have just as big an impact as increased pressure. A world where 50% of children die from contagious diseases has very different evolutionary pressure than one where the figure is under 1%.

          • JPNunez says:

            Eh, you, and some people down this thread are comparing plant/animals generations with humans in ways that don’t make sense.

            Yes, humans have domesticated plants by strongly selecting for them in -haven’t really checked- ~100 generations.

            But a generation for a plant is like…a year. Two or three maybe. Same with most domestic animals. For people, the figure is like 13x, and that number has been growing lately.

            So comparing plants with humans and saying “100 generations” means 1300 years of super strong selective pressure at full reproductive speed, very best case.

            Even the worst of chattel slavery in america lasted for ~300 years.

          • quanta413 says:

            There are on the order of 10,000 years of separation between many human populations. 400 generations is plenty of time for selection to occur as well as mutation in a high mutation rate species like humans.

            I’d hazard a guess based upon what scientists have found so far and what we know about other animals that the strongest selection has been for disease resistances, diet, things like that.

            IQ has significant variance in most populations, so I expect that the selection pressure for it was not as strong as for drinking milk or resisting disease. If we fully confirmed some number of across population genetic differences tomorrow it could be due to a relationship between IQ and other traits. My understanding is that this is in some sense more likely than direct selection for IQ.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Evolution can go very fast under the right conditions. For example, some crazy Russians domesticated foxes in just 50 years or so.

            At the risk of strawmanning, this argument reminds me of the “natural selection could never make something as complex as Y” argument that gets trotted out by creationists.

            I’m not saying evolution could never make a 30-point IQ difference between races, but comparing it to 50 years of fox breeding is erroneous. When can you first breed your tame foxes? When the females are 12 months old? That’s 50 generations, which is close to the 99-tops we’re looking at for something like “Ashkenazi intelligence” to be genetic rather than just culture. And selectively breeding domestic animals involves extreme conditions like neutering most of the males, breeding only the extreme tail of a bell curve for a desirable trait to most of the females.
            There have been prehistoric events like that effecting a “broad” race like “Europeans”, but the documented history of individual ethnic groups rarely looks like the extremes we imply by invoking selective breeding.

            There were certainly populations that were probably reproductively isolated for 10k+ years, and there are cases of inbreeding with effects easily demonstrable by modern science, but that doesn’t explain everything some people would like to (and others are terrified of) explaining as human genetic differences.

          • pontifex says:

            Thanks to mitochondrial DNA analysis, we’re actually learning a lot about the ancestry of various populations. For example, Europeans derive from three separate ancestral populations. We also know that some populations have been isolated for a very long time. For example, the Khoisan (also known as the Bushmen) split off more than 50,000 years ago.

            Humans are a high mutation rate species. I think the estimate I read was that each individual person has about a dozen de novo mutations — i.e. mutations that have never been seen before. A lot of divergence can happen in several hundred generations.

            Selection pressure isn’t a knob that’s turned to either low or high. It is different for different traits. A mutation that always kills you during childhood will be under the highest possible selection pressure — it will never be passed on. A mutation that makes you slightly less good at something may or may not be passed on in the short term, but will not be favored in the long term.

            I think it’s difficult for people to really imagine the pre-modern environment. It was a very harsh one for people with mental or physical disabilities. People lived in constant fear of disease or famine. When those things happened there wasn’t much they could really do to stop it.

            We don’t need to speculate about whether civilization could shape human genetics, because we know it could. We have examples of favorable traits spreading, like lactose tolerance and the alcohol dehydrogenase gene.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “IQ has significant variance in most populations, so I expect that the selection pressure for it was not as strong as for drinking milk or resisting disease.”

            Selection pressure doesn’t necessarily reduce variance in polygenic traits. In fact if the selection pressure leads to assortative mating (because a valuable trait becomes more relevant in mate choice), than it actually increases variance.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Who do you think is forcing you to choose between “Hitler or Harvard”, and why? Is this choice presented to most people, or only you and people like you, specifically?

          I’m not @idontknow131647093 but I agree with their point and I’ll try to explain my reasoning:

          In a meritocratic system (or at least a system that strives towards meritocracy), individuals are judged only based on their individual outcomes. Group level differences in outcome distributions have no policy relevance, therefore the question of whether such differences come from is a low-stakes scientific question.

          But we don’t live in such system, we live in an affirmative action system, championed by Harvard among others, where individuals are judged based on their membership to large groups, and differences in outcome distributions between groups are by default assumed to be evidence of “systemic” discrimination to be corrected by individual discrimination in enrollment, hiring and career progression. Therefore, the question of whether group differences are really due to discrimination becomes high-stakes distribution of paramount policy relevance.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “In a meritocratic system (or at least a system that strives towards meritocracy), individuals are judged only based on their individual outcomes. Group level differences in outcome distributions have no policy relevance, therefore the question of whether such differences come from is a low-stakes scientific question.”

            Group level differences tell you to which mean somebody regresses. That can be extremely relevant for example in job interviews.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Could you go into more detail about why you “think this discussion is important, but only because other people insist that it is not”?

          Because I personally don’t make my choices based on race, but there are vast swaths of fairly important institutions that do. And they do so in a way that ignores genetics and just assumes that all racial differences are due to discrimination. Thus they counter this perceived discrimination with discrimination of their own, while calling it a meritocracy. Then they attack anyone who doesn’t also buy into their racial balancing schemes.

          To be specific, Harvard is forcing people to pick between Hitler and Harvard. And its a problem because any white/asian person who sides with Harvard is doing the equivalent of wearing the weighted clothing and distorting glasses from Harrison Bergeron.

          • dndnrsn says:

            By Harvard’s own internal reckoning, if they only considered academics, it would mean fewer white students, and a plurality-Asian student body.

          • Aapje says:

            Sure. And if the NBA only picked the best players that apply, they would have about 75% black players. Wait…they actually have that, because they select people by merit. And no one cares that these guys earn millions, but that Asians, Jews, white people, etc don’t get a piece of that pie that matches how many of them live in the US.

            Yet we can’t have Asians being the best at something and having a bigger share of the pie that they earned through hard work and perhaps also being born with good genes. You belong in the kitchen of a Panda Express, you slanty….

            Instead, let’s give those spots to mostly rich white and black people, because people who are born to wealth deserve a little help. Being born into wealth is only the luckiest you can get anyway and the least meritocratic luck of birth that exists. If you are born to a diligent culture, you merely get taught what to do, so you do better when starting on the same level as others because you perform better. Same for being born with better genes. Being born into money, you get better opportunities handed to you, without having to perform better.

            Why is that kind of racism acceptable? What did the Asians do to the American elite? Still grumpy over Pearl Harbor and blaming all Asians because they look the same? Did discriminating against Jews go out of fashion at Harvard, but they just can’t help themselves so they went looking for the next best thing?

            Harvard delenda est.

            /rant

          • Being born into wealth is only the luckiest you can get anyway

            I don’t think so. Having loving and competent parents with an average income is, on average, better luck than being born to a billionaire’s third (trophy) wife.

          • albatross11 says:

            My guess is that the difference between being born in the US vs Haiti is much bigger than the difference between being born rich vs poor in the US.

          • onyomi says:

            If one considers the fact that a higher percentage of white students than other students benefit from legacy admission, it could mean that being a white person without connections is as much, if not more, of a handicap than being an Asian. Or, even if it isn’t, either way it happens to work out rather conveniently to the benefit of the (mostly white) Ivy League legacy families: non-elite whites (outgroup) are kept out, as fraternizing with them, even in small numbers, confers no socio-economic benefit to elite whites. Fargroup (Asians and other minorities) are maintained at a level where their presence confers the benefit of a “multi-cultural experience” (having black friends, like travel, is high-status; living in a black neighborhood is not) but does not dominate the culture, which is still a WASPy New England, crew-rowing, a cappella-singing, elite networking/hobnobbing affair.

            I’m not saying this is intentional, just pointing out that policies supposedly intended to remedy historical inequity have a way of working out so the costs don’t actually fall on the historically privileged (as, for example, old, white, male professors and bosses rarely step down themselves, despite their willingness to discriminate against young, white, male job candidates), in some cases even conveniently falling on their outgroup, to the benefit of themselves and possibly one or more fargroups.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think the idea that the powerful are not at least being somewhat intentional on average in who they give the shaft and in what ways is very unlikely.

            If you’re on top, dividing the bottom and/or the middle is just good strategy. And it’s a very common strategy.

          • onyomi says:

            @Quanta

            When I say “not intentional” I mean I don’t think it’s likely some people sat around in a room and literally said “if we make it easier for black and hispanic people to get in (but fill as many of those slots as possible with the wealthy elite among those groups, including the wealthy elite abroad), harder for Asians to get in, and fill most of our ‘white people’ slots with the children and grandchildren of alumni and donors, we can achieve the perfect balance of the appearance of multiculturalism, pleasing our donors, and maintaining the culture and environment they remember plus the added bonus to their scion of hobnobbing and networking with foreign elites, in addition to each other,” but rather that all incentives aligned for them to act as if they had explicitly planned it that way once it became apparent people cared about this diversity thing.

          • quanta413 says:

            @onyomi

            I agree that you wouldn’t find evidence that anyone deciding policy would summarize it so punchily. But I bet you would find lots of discussions about subpoints if you were a fly on the wall. The lawsuit against Harvard managed to pull some juicy details about what admissions officers said about Asians. And a huge chunk of the admissions office just happened to undergo sudden amnesia on the stand about reports they themselves told subordinates to make.

            Laying it all out at once even in private would be a mistake, but that doesn’t mean that people can’t communicate strategy in polite or veiled terms.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “I don’t think so. Having loving and competent parents with an average income is, on average, better luck than being born to a billionaire’s third (trophy) wife.”

            I thought shared environment doesn’t matter?

          • I thought shared environment doesn’t matter?

            Having rich parents and having loving parents are both features of the environment.

            And I don’t know of anyone who claims that environment doesn’t matter. The claim I’m familiar with is that family environment has little effect on adult personality. IQ is in part heritable but not entirely, and some of the rest is presumably environment of some sort.

      • albatross11 says:

        The article seemed to spend all its time talking about how the public couldn’t be expected to understand these results in all their subtlety, but not much time explaining what those results were, or what can be stated clearly. It’s like if you had some article in a newspaper in 1880 which discussed how biologists and theologians were very concerned that Darwinism was emboldening those horrible atheist gadflies out there, and quoting some working biologists at the time who complained that the atheist gadflies were misinterpreting some of their research, but without ever talking about the age of the Earth or the fossil record or anything.

        Here’s a simple suggestion: The job of a journalist and a scientist is actually pretty similar–we’re supposed to try to get as good an understanding of the truth as we can, and then write to explain that understanding to the world. Omitting facts because we are worried it will strengthen the arguments of people we don’t like (or even people who are unambiguously pretty awful) is a terrible idea–it’s a betrayal of the trust that people put in us when they let us stand between them and reality and tell them what we see.

        If I lie to you about my area of expertise, I probably can’t know where that lie will go–decisionmakers decades in the future facing problems I haven’t even imagined will be remembering that lie of mine that they learned to believe, and they’ll make worse decisions because of it. The more my area of research has a social impact, the bigger that effect will be. At the extreme end, the experts in some area converging on a socially useful lie about (say) how much your kids’ school impacts their future may lead to our society spending billions of dollars on boondoggle programs that don’t do any good, or wrecking schools that work okay but have low-quality students because we don’t want to acknowledge that some students are smarter than others.

        There are ambiguities in the research. There are places where the right answer is “nobody really knows.” You can report those. It’s entirely possible to report the best picture of the world straight, even when some people will think that justifies their existing prejudices.

        • There are places where the right answer is “nobody really knows.”

          At a considerable tangent, I’ve mentioned a couple of times that William Nordhaus, who just got a Nobel for his work on population economics, produces results that don’t fit very well with the popular narrative on the subject.

          Something I don’t think I’ve mentioned here, although I discussed it on my blog some years back, is that his results are highly speculative. He adds to his estimate of the costs of climate effects we can be reasonably sure will happen a very speculative estimate for low probability high cost outcomes, gotten some time back by polling people in various fields on how likely they thought something was that would lower world GNP by 25%. Some years later, having concluded that risks were looking higher than before, he and his coauthor doubled all the probabilities and shifted it to a loss of 30% of GNP.

          I don’t know that there is a better way of figuring out what the expected cost of a bunch of very unlikely outcomes is, but given that this represents about two thirds of the estimate of total cost that he uses in deriving his estimates of the optimal carbon tax and the optimal pattern of future warming, I think a more accurate report of his conclusions would have been “If everything goes as expected, global warming will impose only minor costs. The outcome may turn out to be much worse than that, but we don’t know how likely that is.”

      • Aapje says:

        The author seem to think that this is some kind of slam dunk against believing that races exist, even though their explanation of why some Africans have one of the genes that makes Europeans lighter skinned is that some Europeans migrated to African and spread their genes.

        People who believe that races are not just social constructs are quite aware that all humans share genes, which is quite evident because we all have a nose and two eyes. Furthermore, they also believe that humans can breed with each other and are thus one specie. In fact, the racists among them tend to fear interbreeding to keep the white race ‘pure’. Jim Crow laws banned interracial marriages.

        Ultimately, the article shows rather unremarkable things, which are not going to phase the ‘race realists’, but presents them as remarkable, and seems to think that they undermine both ‘race’ as a scientifically valid concept, as well as racism. This tells me that the author doesn’t understand how many people define ‘race’ and doesn’t understand race realist theories.

        • alexkidd says:

          like, am i just dum on this topic, or do they just give a bunch of factoids that dont really support any conclusion?

          • Aapje says:

            It does support some conclusions, but they are mostly pretty boring ones that the writer isn’t interested in (and that are consistent with narratives that the writer doesn’t want them to be consistent with).

        • a reader says:

          The author seem to think that this is some kind of slam dunk against believing that races exist, even though their explanation of why some Africans have one of the genes that makes Europeans lighter skinned is that some Europeans migrated to African and spread their genes.

          Not Europeans, but Near Eastern farmers:

          The pale-skin variant of SLC24A5 that’s overwhelmingly common in Europe, for example, is a recent addition to the genome, arising just 29,000 years ago, according to the new study. It became widespread only in the past few thousand years.

          Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues found it frequently not just in Europe, but also in some populations of lighter-skinned Africans in East Africa and Tanzania. Studies of ancient DNA recently discovered in Africa point to an explanation.

          Several thousand years ago, it seems, a migration of early Near Eastern farmers swept into East Africa. Over many generations of interbreeding, the pale variant of SLC24A5 became common in some African populations.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Making the topic absolutely taboo and ruining the careers of anyone who dares broach it was, frankly, the most effective way to preserve the status quo. It’s only in the internet age that this tactic has its limits.

      If knock-out-blow out arguments for why divergent evolution in humans stopped at the neck existed, they would have been deployed by now and made standard reading in elementary biology/psychology textbooks. You don’t have this kind of intellectual climate around things like bigfoot or flat-earth, etc. Even in the fairly contentious climate debate there are people who make a hobby out of arguing against AGW skepticism; because those arguments exist. The only way to preserve the status quo is through obscurantism, fraud, and if necessary, intimidation.

      Those kinds of tactics *might* end up emboldening and strengthening the convictions of the baddies, but it’s far more likely that making any concessions on the issue will completely undermine the justification for several decades of social policy.

      • I don’t think that really proves anything. We don’t have an intellectual debate around flat earthism because while it’s infamous, a minuscule percent of the population believes it. With Bigfoot, it’s not even clear what the policy implications would be. That’s why people feel the need to push back on AGW skepticism so strongly, because the stakes are so high. You see a similar intellectual climate with evolution and I hope no one here doubts that. So genetic, group IQ differences are a high stakes issue and you would see debate whether they existed or not.

        • vV_Vv says:

          That’s why people feel the need to push back on AGW skepticism so strongly, because the stakes are so high. You see a similar intellectual climate with evolution and I hope no one here doubts that. So genetic, group IQ differences are a high stakes issue and you would see debate whether they existed or not.

          But there are lot’s of people that provide compelling arguments for AGW and evolution, and are willing to engage the AGW denialists and creationists on polite debates about technical points.

          With the race-IQ issue, on the other hand, the mainstream reaction is to shut down the debate and call everyone who disagrees with the full-environmental theory a Nazi. This is evidence that there are no good arguments against the genetic theory.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          But group differences in IQ is not a high stakes issue. Its an input.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        I think this is a very general phenomenon. Thirty years ago, a few media organs could basically decide that some ideas were simply not going to be heard, and it was almost impossible to do an end-run around them. (You could have a few fringy books or newsletters, but they would be rarely discussed and the taboo idea was seldom really considered.) The internet (online publications, blogs, podcasts, youtube channels) basically broke that system.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          I know you’re not the first to make this argument, and it seems intuitively plausible, but there’s a part of me that’s skeptical: it seems to rely quite strongly on some very strong “every knows”-type intuitions.

          In particular, I’m curious what evidence you have that the handful of media organs really were coordinated to keep certain ideas from being heard; and what evidence you have that fringe books and publications were significantly less popular than the analogous blogs or podcasts. Is there a topic that you think was not discussed thirty years ago, that is mainstream now, where you can attribute it to the rise of the internet confidently?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I don’t know if albatross has a stronger claim in mind, but a weaker claim is almost certainly true. With very few outlets for information, any information that falls outside of the norm is very unlikely to be aired in public. A 30-minute evening news report will not spend time on fringe theories of genetics. 24 hour news was the first big change in that dynamic, further expanded by the Internet making publication costs low enough for your average citizen to participate.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      The companion piece basically admits that innate white superiority isn’t disproven:

      But another reason some scientists avoid engaging on this topic, I came to understand, was that they do not have definitive answers about whether there are average differences in biological traits across populations. And they have increasingly powerful tools to try to detect how natural selection may have acted differently on the genes that contribute to assorted traits in various populations.

      What’s more, some believe substantial differences will be found. Others think it may not be feasible to ever entirely disentangle an immutable genetic contribution to a behavior from its specific cultural and environmental influences. Yet all of them agree that there is no evidence that any differences which may be found will line up with the prejudices of white supremacists.

      If you take this seriously, you have to brace for the possibility that innate ability gaps will be found.

      • albatross11 says:

        It would be incredibly shocking if any group were better at everything. We all evolved in somewhat different environments, with different rolls of the dice.

        What’s pretty likely, IMO, is that there are some differences between racial/subracial groups, and they’re usually not all that big a deal in daily life, but sometimes they may lead to visible differences in outcomes.

        • Statismagician says:

          This tracks, and dovetails very neatly with the observed results of letting companies ask job applicants about criminal histories directly, i.e.

          Generalizations will be made, they will be made at the lowest permissible level of aggregation, who could possibly have known that setting that level really high would have weird undesirable follow-on effects?

        • Aapje says:

          @albatross11

          People from some places do extremely well in running competitions. However, there almost certainly a cultural component there, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that genes explain it.

          However, ultimately I think that the basic facts that:
          – genes determine traits to a large extent
          – genes differ between groups, because people don’t choose their mates randomly

          means that genetic variation in traits is a given. The only question in my mind is how big that variation is. It can be very small or pretty big.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, fairly small differences can matter a lot way out in the tails. I doubt West Africans are, on average, all that much better than Southern Europeans at sprinting. But winning Olympic sprinters are almost always of West African descent. That small average difference turns out to mean that way out on the right tail of the bell curve, nearly everyone is West African.

          • @albatross

            This is a really important point in arguing against both intersectionality and white nationalism. We might find out that there is “disparate impact” at the tails, but if the absolute differences are small, then a society of any particular mix of races or ethnicites won’t feel that different on a day to day level, and will be pretty much exactly as functional as a “homogenous” society. Therefore white nationalists are wrong to believe that mixed race societies are inevitably headed to disaster due to the criminal tendencies of certain races.

            Even if it turns out to be a true fact that when you group people into something corresponding to the social idea of a race, you find that “blacks” on average commit more crimes than “whites” due to tail effects, if the level of crime is overall low in absolute terms, generally that society will still be perfectly functional and a great place to live. Why then should we give a fact like that more weight than equal rights? If I have a 1 in 100,000 chance of being killed by a white person (let’s say), why should I particularly care if I have a 4 in 100,000 chance of being killed by a black person?

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          “Better” doesn’t really mean anything. There is still a well known mental attribute which psychologists are reasonably confident they can measure and which predicts a fairly large number of life out comes that regular individuals and civil rights activists alike care about: life expectancy, income, educational attainment, etc.

          If there exists a significant between-group heritability of that trait, in the absence of a medical miracle or genetic engineering revolution, the acceptance of that fact is going to cause a lot of problems. The legal system is built on the idea that the equality of opportunity/outcome tradeoff can be eliminated once all the players have eliminated their own subconscious prejudices and past injustices have been properly expensed for.

          It’s not going to be much of a salve to say that these differences are offset by contra-differences in athletic ability, musical ability, or resistance to certain pathogens/illnesses.

          Remember that whole premise of Murray’s book was that we’re increasingly living in a kind of RPG meta (this might be a bad analogy) where “INT”/”Charisma” Builds are dominating over STR/Stamina Builds because the “int/Charisma” people can craft potions and summon minions (i.e. modern medicine/robotics/computing) that can do everything the warriors and rangers.

          • albatross11 says:

            So basically, _The Bell Curve_ should properly have been arguing for less powerful spell casters, to maintain game balance?

          • albatross11 says:

            Seriously, a lot of Herrenstein and Murray’s point was that US society had changed over the 20th century into a giant IQ-selecting-and-sorting mechanism, where the smartest people get sent to good colleges and live lives entirely separate from everyone else. And that, plus the increasing returns to intelligence, gives you increasing income/wealth gaps. Add in increasing centralization of power and rule-making, and you get rules increasingly made by smart people who don’t really understand most of the people who will have to live by those rules.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            you’re not wrong, most of the book was focused on individuals and stratification. But if you understand why this one trait can drive so much individual inequality in a modern society it shouldn’t take too much thought to see why the whole idea of cognitive ability not being an equally endowed trait world-wide becomes dangerous.

          • albatross11 says:

            I see why it has serious implications, and why lots of people don’t want to discuss it. But I don’t think pretending true things aren’t true is usually a very good way to make good decisions or end up where we want to be.

          • Rick Hull says:

            > The legal system is built on the idea that the equality of opportunity/outcome tradeoff can be eliminated once all the players have eliminated their own subconscious prejudices and past injustices have been properly expensed for.

            Is it though? I think that Anglo legal systems acknowledge inequality of opportunity, e.g. Common Law versus Noble Law, and that they have very little stake in equality of outcome. That legal systems may attempt to address inequality of outcome seems to be a VERY modern take.

            I doubt David Friedman, legal historian and analyst, would agree with your assertion.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      As a side note, what does it even mean to say that race is a social construct? All categories and the words used to identify them are social constructs.

      I think that “race is a social construct” is one of those strategically ambiguous phrases.

      But anyway, I agree with the overall point that it’s encouraging to see a prominent writing which is not 100% orthodox.

    • Watchman says:

      There’s a couple of issues around this debate that confuse me, and which hopefully people can help with. They come from a quasi-libertarian viewpoint with a strong belief that group identity is a mechanism for elite control and of no benefit to the non-elite individual.

      Firstly, I’m confused about the applicability of findings that there is an average IQ for particular races. Is the differential between races significant enough to overcome individual variation within that race? If there is a difference in racial average IQ but this is far less than the average variation of IQ amongst each racial population is this finding actually giving us anything useful? My black neighbour may statistically be more likely to have a lower IQ than me, but is this chance significant enough to actually justify any sort of assumptions about our suitability for education or anything else? Indeed, considering my neighbour (six doors down) is a real person, is the fact she’s female a greater determinator of likely IQ than race? Or the fact she is about twenty years or so older than me? Ultimately is this a statistical feature with no real power to tell us anything about individuals or is there some use to this finding?

      Also, is there not a danger that focus on the average IQ of a race justifies the treatment of that race, for good (affirmative action) or ill (presumably we should call this negative action…} at the expense of the individual? A headline that can be dumbed down to black people are more stupid than whites will be read that way be those not engaging with the content. An alternative headline with proper statistical qualifiers is unlikely to exist outside the actual research papers. So what is this debate trying to achieve?

      There’s nothing wrong with investigating the effects of genetics on intelligence, although I worry about the application of race here since we can assume quite diverse genetic populations comprise a race (the British, and even more so the early American colonists are an excellent case in point). And I would fight against attempts to silence this research because that’s what you do, regardless of your own political views: if the research is done properly it should be discussed. But I can’t see how this research helps us learn anything beyond what we know: different populations have different genetic traits. Proving this applies to IQ (so probably to intelligence – I’d note IQ is only a proxy here) is great; making this a public debate just seems weird. Is this really any more interesting or useful than a finding that Melanisians’ big toes are on average 4.78% larger than the global average (this may be a made up statistic…)? Perhaps it’s my prioritisation of the individual over the collective making me miss something but I’m not sure why so many pixels have been dedicated to this issue.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Ultimately is this a statistical feature with no real power to tell us anything about individuals or is there some use to this finding?

        The null hypothesis — that there is no racial difference in intelligence — gets used all the time. Over and over again we see that the very under-representation of “under-represented minorities” is used as proof that members of those minorities are being discriminated against or otherwise badly served. This is used to justify everything from expensive programs to help them to out-and-out discrimination against people who are not “under-represented minorities”. So yes, this finding is quite useful.

      • Aapje says:

        @Watchman

        Is the differential between races significant enough to overcome individual variation within that race?

        There is more variation in physical strength within genders than between them. For most of his life, Stephen Hawking was much weaker than the strongest or even average man, than women are weaker compared to men on average.

        Yet no female Olympic swimmer will ever be faster than the best male swimmer. So when determining whether to separate the sexes into separate swimming competitions, it is very important to know the differential.

        If men and women fight with their bare hands without holding back, it is drastically more likely that the woman gets seriously hurt. This is why boys/men get taught to not fight with women. You can’t understand the reason behind this gender norm without recognizing the differential between genders.

        Law and policy is usually made for groups, so it is very relevant whether there are group differences. To wit:

        Also, is there not a danger that focus on the average IQ of a race justifies the treatment of that race, for good (affirmative action) or ill (presumably we should call this negative action…} at the expense of the individual?

        We already have discrimination by American colleges against certain ethnic groups and in favor of others, based on the idea that
        – these people have the same inherent ability, but are being advantaged or disadvantaged
        – that affirmative action is helpful to remedy this

        The people who support this don’t believe in differences in IQ between ethnic groups. So your worry is rather strange, because it’s clear that support for affirmative action doesn’t require this belief.

        Ultimately, I think that a belief in differences in IQ between ethnic groups is orthogonal to support for affirmative action. Supporting that merely requires one to believe that certain races are unfairly underrepresented and that affirmative action is a good remedy.

        • BlindKungFuMaster says:

          “There is more variation in physical strength within genders than between them.”

          Sure about that?

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s a pretty vague statement, but there are plenty of ways of quantifying it where it’s true. An untrained man of average weight probably deadlifts about 155 pounds; an untrained woman of average weight probably deadlifts about 90. Elite-level athletes of the same weight might do 565 and 320 respectively. (Numbers from Google, but they tally well with what I’ve seen in the gym.)

            There’s absolutely a big difference between the sexes. Women’s world records for most strength sports are in the ballpark of what you’d expect from the top of a decent high-school boys’ team. But on the other hand, that also means that the Olympic women’s weightlifting team could beat you up and stuff you into a locker.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            I would assume that for most acts of physical strength, the difference between men and women is larger than a stddev, but I don’t really know.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s plausible, but it’s not clear how it should be interpreted; strength probably isn’t normally distributed, and it might end up being better correlated with level of training than with sex.

          • Aapje says:

            @BlindKungFuMaster

            If you compare the averages of each gender vs the outliers within a gender, then surely my claim is correct. Especially if you include all variation, no matter what the cause. So the guy who lifts weights all day and uses steroids vs Stephen Hawking.

            @Nornagest

            One of the differences in strength between men and women is that women are less trained. Whether that is relevant depends on the question you want answered. If you want to figure out whether to have a women’s competition in sports, it’s not relevant, since female athletes (can) exercise just as much as men.

            However, if the issue is the strength of people who are not selected for being trained, then it matters.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “If you compare the averages of each gender vs the outliers within a gender, then surely my claim is correct.”

            I don’t want to belabour the point, but that is not a good way to look at group differences. The outliers depend on population size, but the nature of group differences is independent of population size.

            If you want to compare variation within vs variation between, it makes more sense to compare the diff between two randomly picked persons in the same group, with the diff between two randomly picked persons in different groups.

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        “Is the differential between races significant enough to overcome individual variation within that race?”

        The difference in average IQ between Blacks and Jews in the US is appr. 25 points. If you have a jewish neighbour and a black neighbour and you have a difficult problem, that requires an IQ of >130 to solve, your jewish neighbour is more than 100 times more likely to be able to solve it for you. (Of course if they are both really your neighbours their statistically expected IQ difference will probably be much smaller, but you know what I mean.)

  2. Reading ancient philosophy, many of their debates seem fundamentally confused to me. They debate things that are based on premises that don’t seem to actually mean anything and never notice it(for example, their physics centered around the essence of things, whereas scientists today for the most part don’t really think in that way). Obviously it’s hard to know what exactly it is that we don’t know, but what are some concepts that we use in our premises that people in the future might see as nonsensical?

    • This is how Daniel Dennett sees many debates about the mind.

      While I see objective vs subjective as important concepts, it’s often not well defined and I could see our conception as being wrong.

      If Virtual Reality becomes prominent, they might see our conception of real vs fake as inherently dismissive.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        > If Virtual Reality becomes prominent, they might see our conception of real vs fake as inherently dismissive.

        In a more extreme version, I recall a Yudkowski piece about a cryonics patient being revived and asking if he had been uploaded and the revivers considering that an ill-founded question.

    • Aapje says:

      Psychiatry seems have a rather strange premise in the sense that they primarily judge mental illness by the ability to function in society. This means not only that what is seen as a mental illness changes over time, as society changes, but it also means that mismatches between people’s behavior and what is expected of them is blamed on people, even when it seems more reasonable to blame society.

      An example is how nowadays a lot of people are diagnosed with and treated for ADHD. The fact that the youngest children in a class get diagnosed substantially more suggests that even merely children who mature slower or seem to mature slower than others get diagnosed. In general, it seems to me that people just differ where they are on the lethargy-energetic spectrum. Then because modern education and jobs require more lethargy, people who are somewhat further on one side of that spectrum are called mentally ill.

      Another example is that being gay was for a long time considered a mental illness for clashing with was considered normal behavior in the past.

      • Statismagician says:

        I… don’t think that’s an accident? We don’t care about physical variation if it doesn’t impede function; this is why the random genetic mutations that make red hair are fine and the ones that cause cancer have billions of dollars thrown at them, or why overweight/obesity used to be a marker for ‘successful guy’ and is now… you know, not. Why should psychological variation be different?

        • A1987dM says:

          The amount of money spent worldwide on hair dyes is also of the order of billions of dollars.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Actually, there’s been a lot of prejudice against red-haired people.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_hair#Prejudice_and_discrimination_against_redheads

          • acymetric says:

            Historically yes, definitely. Modern day I think it comes more down to picking people in the same way that people with glasses get picked on, or blondes get picked on for being dumb, or any other number of normal physical traits that get made fun of because that’s what people do. Most of the examples listed are from a long, long time ago and/or come from cultures that would never have red hair (where having read hair is mocked more because it means you are European).

            The one more modern bit about the sperm bank actually makes sense…red hair is a less common trait than other colors, and most people are probably selecting from sperm banks for kids that will look like them, so most people want more typical hair colors (there are also some skin-related health risks for red-headed people that parents may be trying to avoid.

            Of course, there are a lot of people that find red hair to be a highly desirable trait in a partner from an attraction standpoint, so it isn’t all bad. I would guess a lot more of that hair dye money is spent making non-red hair into red-hair than the reverse.

          • engleberg says:

            Flashman worried his wife would pup something with red hair and a pug nose and everyone would know he was a cuckold. Anti-Irish prejudice had a long run in England.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            acymetric, in other words, we do care about some physical variation that doesn’t impede function– malice is just too much fun.

  3. Hoopyfreud says:

    So, bombings. Out of curiosity, does anyone here think that the probability of “false flag” is greater than 1%? I don’t.

    On another CW topic, caravans. The asylum caravan our of Honduras is coming up through Mexico, and I fully expect a few families who present convincing-enough evidence of persecution to be allowed across and most of the rest to get off the train (often literally) in Mexico and either stay there or go home. This is what happens every time a caravan goes through. As far as I can tell, nobody who is willing to admit that this is generally the case is getting much airtime. This seems to me to be an especially egregious case of politics being a mind-killer; very little effort is being made to understand exactly what happens when these caravans set out or what they accomplish. This fact makes me strongly doubt the accuracy of political reporting generally, and is one of the reasons I harbor a LOT of doubt over the “no-go-zone” stories that have come out of Europe in response to the [migrant/refugee] crisis, and “political movement reporting” generally.

    • If it happened six months ago, I think the probability of false flag would be very low. The fact that it is just before an election, combined with the fact that none of the bombs seem to have gone off, raises it–I think above 1%, although still less likely than the straightforward interpretation.

      If it turns out that they were not supposed to go off, that would raise it a good deal more.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      The caravans are disturbing to me because they obviously engage in photo ops then get on buses/trains. There are no humans on Earth that can keep the pace they are keeping. Indeed, 1000 Aragorns could not do this; 1000 Legolases could not do this; even with fresh horses for all the people and supplies this caravan would be proceeding at a breakneck pace.

      • Statismagician says:

        I haven’t been following this; what photo ops are you thinking of and why do you think the apparent pace is impossible? Not saying it isn’t, as mentioned I have basically no background information here.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          The photo ops are just what the media is showing. They stop in towns etc.

          My evidence for a breakneck pace is that they have women/children and the max rate for military units on foot is about 20 mile/day. They started on October 17 and have already progressed about 500 miles.

          https://www.cnn.com/…-map/index.html

          https://www.google.c…d15.4329682!3e2

          779 Kilometers

          They left October 17

          That is 97 Kilometers a day.

          Even the CNN article states they are walking 20-30 miles a day. This would be a feat for a team of Navy Seals to keep up for 8 days.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            On paved, level ground 30 miles/day is easy for adults. Military standards take into more difficult tasks. Your links are broken, so I’m not sure what your numbers mean. 30 miles as the crow flies is usually a lot more than 30 miles on foot. Putting the places on the Vox map into google maps gives road distances a lot more than 30 miles/day. If you tell it you want to walk, it will even describe elevation.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            30 Miles a day without gear is easy for adults. These people are all shown with kids and fairly large packs. There are some people saying that they are not carrying all that much and are resupplying every town they stop in. Even that means you are carrying 3+ liters of water with you unless you have a deathwish.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            When backpacking with ~25 pound backpacks in the mountains, the standard my scouting crew used was 2 mph plus one hour per thousand feet of elevation change. This was an estimate for reasonably fit teenage boys, and it worked well.

      • jgr314 says:

        A sincere question: who benefits from the optics of the caravan? I have been on a media diet, so am aware of the existence of this caravan, but haven’t seen any pictures or video. My presumption is that it plays well to republican candidates as a get-out-the-vote stimulus.

        • Matt M says:

          It seems uncertain. This is a weird scenario where the motivation and the beneficiaries are not superficially obvious. I’ve heard about an equal amount of shouting that this is all funded by George Soros and is a leftist attempt to smear Trump, as well as shouting that this is clearly a made up story hyped by Republicans in order to scare their racist voters into showing up for the midterms.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I haven’t been following it too closely, but I would guess that it’s being organized by an ultra-left American organization which thinks that it will be great anti-Trump anti-Republican optics for these downtrodden people to be turned away at the border. Which it might very well be, I don’t know.

            What’s interesting in modern American politics is that each side has their own echo-chambers. So the Left will think that the caravan was very effective in embarrassing Trump; and the Right will think that the caravan completely backfired.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I don’t think anyone on the left thinks the caravan embarrasses Trump. Matt M has it right above: the view on the left is that it helps Trump, and that Republicans are hyping it to motivate their base for the midterms.

            I also don’t think there’s any evidence of it being organized by anyone at all other than the marchers themselves and maybe some Honduran politicians. Previous caravans were organized by this group but apparently they are only offering “logistical support” to the current caravan.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Up to now, it’s all Trump. It’s made the national media cover his pet issue; lent a sheen of plausibility to the fanciful notion of illegal immigrants as an invading army; and played up the tendency of his opponents to blow hot and cold on the question of whether our immigration laws should be enforced at all.

          All of this could change in an instant depending on what happens when they reach the border.

          • albatross11 says:

            Steve Sailer referred to the caravan as “The Committee to Re-Elect the President,” which sounds about right to me. Trump benefits, and as long as Trump and company keep making outrageous comments that can be attacked on Twitter or on cable news, the caravan stays in the news.

            Why, it’s almost like somehow Trump is *really good* at playing the media in a way that benefits him successfully.

    • Nornagest says:

      Out of curiosity, does anyone here think that the probability of “false flag” is greater than 1%? I don’t.

      I’m not sure I want to put a number on it, but there’s some things about this that don’t quite add up for me.

      – The targets are all right-wing boogeymen, but there’s nothing tying them together except that they’re right-wing boogeymen. I’d expect anyone who was pissed off enough to send letter bombs to have something specific they were pissed off about, in which case we might see bombs being sent to Clinton campaign figures or Obama administration staffers or media offices or George Soros. All at once is a stretch. (On the other hand, there might be a conspiracy theory I don’t know about that implicates all these people.)

      – The devices look like time bombs: the one good image I’ve seen shows a digital clock strapped to a capped pipe with electrical tape. Why would you send time bombs in the mail? If the target opened the package before the timer hit zero, they’d call the cops and evacuate. If they didn’t get around to it, chances are they aren’t even there. It’s only dangerous to the intended target (or, more likely, their staff) within a span of a minute or two, and there’s days’ worth of uncertainty in when they get there. (Another option is that the image is a press mockup, and these were conventional letter bombs.)

      – The bombs arrived at their destinations, yet none of them went off. Amateur bomb-making is notoriously unreliable, but that’s a pretty low hit rate. And it helps tip the scales of cui bono. (But the bomb-maker could just be spectacularly incompetent, and the time-bombs-in-the-mail thing makes that more likely.)

      – And of course the timing’s awfully convenient. (No getting around that, but it’s far from conclusive.)

      That all being said, I still think a lone nut is probably our best bet here, knowing only what we do now. If the perpetrator meant for these to kill people, though, he really doesn’t know what he’s doing, which means he’s probably covered his tracks badly. We’ll probably know all about who and why in a week or two; if the perpetrator hasn’t been found by then, my probability of this being a false flag goes up.

      It might also be worth mentioning that “false flag” doesn’t necessarily mean a DNC psyop. There are lots of other people out there who’d like to stir shit, and we already know about attempts to forment partisan tension from some of them.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        It might also be worth mentioning that “false flag” doesn’t necessarily mean a DNC psyop. There are lots of other people out there who’d like to stir shit, and we already know about attempts to forment partisan tension from some of them.

        Has anyone ever used “double false flags”? In this case, could a right-wing group send conspicuously inept bombs to “right-wing boogeymen” as you call them, in order to claim it was a false flag operation by whiny democrats who want to play the victim card?

        • False says:

          How far does this rabbit hole go? What’s to stop a radical leftist group from creating a false false false flag just to make it seem like its a right-wing group trying to claim its a false flag operation by whiny democrats who want to play the victim card? In this case, the leftist group kills two birds with one stone, delegitimizing the concerns of the democratic party (their true enemy) and also casts the right-wing as exceptionally evil.

          • Fluffy Buffalo says:

            How far does this rabbit hole go?

            Good question. And I’m glad I don’t work in a secret service, where this kind of rabbit hole can supposedly go really deep, and even the ones who dig the hole are never quite sure what level they’re at.
            In the absence of good solid facts, the most plausible options are to throw up your hand and refuse to pass judgment on anything that happens, or to become paranoid and choose the narrative that best fits your preconceptions.
            So, please, someone reliable find the sender of these bombs (?), and get to the bottom of the affair!

          • Didn’t Yudowdky say we’re only capable of three layers of recursion?

          • Statismagician says:

            Isn’t that exactly what a fourth-level operative would say?

        • Has anyone ever used “double false flags”?

          That thought occurred to me. To make it work, however, you need someone loyal to your side who has done a really convincing job of appearing to be a partisan of the other side and is willing to get caught and spend a very long time in jail–or to commit suicide or be assassinated by his own side to make sure he never slips.

          I can see doing it in a thriller, but not in the real world.

      • sentientbeings says:

        – The devices look like time bombs: the one good image I’ve seen shows a digital clock strapped to a capped pipe with electrical tape. Why would you send time bombs in the mail?

        This particular aspect stood out to me as well, in part for the actual timing issue, but also because I can’t imagine who would build a bomb that way. The whole construction seems odd from the image, but the digital readout is the most bizarre aspect. I can think of reasons to have that, but they are weak ones that seem at odds with the rest of the scenario.

        On the other hand, I think it’s reasonably likely that I’m not very good at modeling the thought process of a would-be bomber.

      • Matt M says:

        Agree with all of this.

        I’d also add that we have, in recent years, observed plenty of cases of faked hate crimes (although mostly mere threats, not actual violence) originating from the left that have been exposed as frauds.

        I’d definitely go higher than 1%. Put me at 10% for now, and I’d probably be more likely to go higher than lower…

      • The news stories haven’t said much about what the bombs actually are. But according to one I saw, there was gunpowder but no detonator, which the person being interviewed thought meant they wouldn’t go off. And they were supposedly on timers, which again sounds as though they were not intended to actually kill the people they were sent to.

        That suggests three alternatives:

        1. A very incompetent right wing would-be assassin
        2. A right winger who didn’t want to kill people, just scare them–again incompetent, this time in not realizing the effect would be to strengthen the side he was attacking.
        3. False flag. Someone on the left who doesn’t want to kill anyone, does want to help the Democrats in the midterms.

      • beleester says:

        (On the other hand, there might be a conspiracy theory I don’t know about that implicates all these people.)

        Pizzagate ties together a bunch of right-wing boogeymen, and it’s focused on Clinton and Obama associates rather than Democrats who currently hold office. It fits pretty well.

    • DavidS says:

      Also on bombings: the UK Guardian is saying (sometimes in a ‘authorities have stated…’ context but without quote marks) that the people targetted are ‘prominent Trump critics’.

      Is this something that’s been said by a source and used in other media? Because to me it looks like a fairly heavy-handed attempt to insinuate that the bomber must be a pro-Trump fanatic. Which feels inappropriate at this stage. Presumably there are people who hate both Trump AND Democrats

      Purely factually ‘Trump critic’ might be a key identifier for some (Brennan?) but I’m not sure that I’d ‘Trump critic’ would be the go-to term I’d use to describe Obama.

      • Matt M says:

        Because to me it looks like a fairly heavy-handed attempt to insinuate that the bomber must be a pro-Trump fanatic. Which feels inappropriate at this stage. Presumably there are people who hate both Trump AND Democrats

        That ship has long sailed. #MAGABomber was the top trend all day on Twitter. Promoted mainly by “journalists”

    • sentientbeings says:

      So, bombings. Out of curiosity, does anyone here think that the probability of “false flag” is greater than 1%? I don’t.

      It might be worth distinguishing between a few different scenarios.

      (1) Independently-motivated bomber(s) intent on doing harm; i.e. conventional explanation
      (2) “Mock” bomber(s) intending to deceive the public in some way; i.e. false flag
      (3) Externally-motivated bomber(s) intent on doing harm; i.e. undercover FBI agents encourage people under investigation to engage in criminal behavior

      I don’t know if item 3 qualifies as a “false flag” or not, but it is something that various federal law enforcement agencies do.

      • Matt M says:

        (3) Externally-motivated bomber(s) intent on doing harm; i.e. undercover FBI agents encourage people under investigation to engage in criminal behavior

        You mean, as in, FBI FOILS FBI TERROR PLOT?

        Just a few days after Liberty Memes was banned from Facebook?

        It all adds up!

      • Douglas Knight says:

        (3) is called an agent provacateur. The difference from a false flag attack is pretty subtle.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          If the FBI did this, they really fucked up the operation. You arrest the guy at the moment they place the explosive outside of their own control, not after the Secret Service finds the bomb.

          • John Schilling says:

            Agreed. Things like Operation Fast and Furious serve as precedent that Federal law enforcement can indeed fuck up this badly, and that’s a very disturbing possibility in this case, but it’s far from the most probable explanation,

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Fast and Furious wasn’t trying to get the low man on the totem pole though. The goal wasn’t to roll up the straw buyers, AFAIK. So it’s not really analogous.

            Unless we are positing an operation trying to catch someone who is trying to purchase pre-assembled bombs, which seems completely into the astronomically unlikely.

          • John Schilling says:

            The FBI could hypothetically be trying to catch imaginary Russian agents recruiting hapless American dupes as mail-bombers, or something like that. Not at all likely, but once we’re past the obvious we’re talking about a whole lot of not-at-all-likely theories.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Too close together to be copy-cats, so assume a lone nut.

      Speculating about the motivations of an unknown person is a fool’s errand. We know nothing, and America has more than enough absolute crazies around that the motivations could be anywhere from political beliefs to beliefs that Dan Rather is beaming messages into his head.

    • Slicer says:

      I’m 99% sure that the bomb posted by CNN is a complete hoax.

      First off, there’s the bomb itself, which is laughably, obviously fake (wires on both ends, a timer on a mail bomb, a timer with a clock display). This is not even in contention. Law enforcement agencies and everyone who’s ever worked in EOD agree that it’s fake.

      (It could have been a clever real explosive dressed up to look like a fake, but since it didn’t explode, we can pretty much rule that out.)

      Second, there’s the way in which it was delivered. The original claim was that it was mailed, which obviously doesn’t pass muster; no canceled stamps, no USPS markings, and those stamps would not have been sufficient to get something that large through the mail anyway.

      It was then claimed to have been sent by courier, which has many of the same problems, in addition to the fact that we now have USPS stamps on a courier package, which is already hitting the entire piano’s worth of notes of “this package looks suspicious”. What courier service does not mark its packages? What courier service is going to accept a package that looks like this, and not contact authorities? The only way this would make sense if is the “courier” was the “bomber” himself or someone working with him. (Surely such a person would have been caught on security cameras?)

      The third and most telling thing is the fact that this picture exists at all. Somebody:

      – Took the bomb all the way out of the package
      – Artfully laid it down next to the package
      – Made sure the lighting was good and that everything was visible in frame
      – Stood around taking pictures of it.

      Law enforcement is not going to take a picture like this, nor would they release it to the public that quickly if they did. When’s the last time you ever saw law enforcement do that? They blow up suspected explosives or take them apart with robots, they don’t take pictures of them.

      Whoever stood around taking pictures of something that could have been a live bomb is either incredibly, breathtakingly stupid (and with no one around to say “stop messing with the bomb, you idiot!”) or knew that it was not a bomb at all.

      Nothing about this makes sense in any context other than a very badly planned hoax. I genuinely cannot wait for the full investigation of this one, as the FBI and police departments take bomb hoaxes very seriously.

      • Another Throw says:

        In addition to the points you mentioned, there are photos of the package delivered to Debbie Whatshername’s office, supposedly having been returned to sender. The packages have identical spelling errors in her name, and address. With the same lack of postmarks or any other markings. Not even a “return to sender” so the courier service knows which way to ship it. Both packages have misspellings in the addressee’s name.

        In order to deliver 6 (?) packages to different locations throughout the US, on the same day, without having gone through the mail or any other delivery service more or less excludes “lone nut” and runs very quickly into conspiracy territory.

        I’ve heard but have not seen that X-Rays of the CNN device have surfaced. My impression of the consensus of those claiming to have seen them is that it is an obviously non-functional device, missing most of the components that would be required to make it actually functional.

        But even MORE interesting is that, according to the Secret Service statement, the devices sent to persons under their protection were intercepted during routine screening and not delivered to the intended location. Not person. Location.

        How the hell does someone, that can’t even spell a single name right (including “Florids”), manage to find out where the Secret Service does their screening, and manage to inject a package at that point without being detected. Assuming, of course, that the method of delivery was the same as the two we have seen pictures of.

        The whole thing smacks of blatantly obvious attempt to make a textbook “suspicious package” with misspellings, incorrect postage, weird lumpy shape, etc. Hell, looking at the crappy pictures of the CNN device, it damn near looks like a bag of oregano taped on the ends of the tube, so it very well could have “weird smell or fluids leaking” as well. And the device itself is specifically intended to look unmistakably like a bomb, but so much so that not even a Steven Seagal movie would use such a shitty prop.

        Almost as if it was tailor made for a media circus.

        I can basically think of two reasonable and a few crazy reasons to do a hoax like this:
        1. Wait for the media circus to eventually get around to “obvious fake is obvious,” and then send a real device to your real target to maximize the chance they trigger it.
        2. Have your friendly media run a 24-7 media circus accusing the other side right before the election. This could in principle be either side.
        3. Some kind of elaborate attempt to control the narrative by sending real bombs through the mail to the Clintons or Obamas, while hand delivering ridiculous fakes to everyone else so that the “obvious fake is obvious” narrative drowns out the investigation of the real bombs by the secret service, who are professional and will run a tight ship?
        4. The Illuminati is beaming instructions into your brain with ultrasonic tooth filings.

        I am leaning more towards (2). And since there is at least a little bit that leans towards “inside job,” and a hell of a lot of why the heck would the (R)’s do this! They would know they would be vilified 24-7, and they are already pretty fucking sure they are going to win the election anyway. Would godly reason would they have to make such an enormously risky move? Even if they hold Congress, because of the antagonism of the “deep state,” how in the heck would they figure they could get away with it? Any attempts by the administration to quash the investigation would result in an immediate leak of everything to the media hostile to the administration. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

        (By the same token, why the hell would the (D)’s do this! is a legitimate counterargument, but I think they have a lot more to gain. And I feel like they have been making a lot of unforced errors lately. And I have been a lot less sympathetic to them in general lately.)

        Like, I want to keep an open mind on this, but damn is it hard.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yes, the whole postage thing is bizarre. At first I heard they were delivered by USPS, but then you see the package and the stamps aren’t canceled. And that’s not enough postage to send something that size. So then we hear they were couriered. But they were couriered on the same day to New York and Delaware and Florida? Without anyone seeing the courier?

          None of this makes any sense. I would very much like the FBI and the Secret Service to find whoever did this, and quickly, and get an explanation.

          • Matt M says:

            Why on Earth should I trust the explanation that either of those organizations would provide?

            This whole thing seems tailor made for controversy. I feel like it may be too early to speculate what actually happened. But it’s not too early to speculate that we’ll never know for sure, and at least 50% of the population is going to reject whatever the official narrative ends up being. I’m comfortable calling that now.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Eh, I still mostly trust the Secret Service to not be part of some Deep State conspiracy. They have an incentive to accurately identify threats because they’re the ones left holding the bag if someone under their charge is actually murdered.

            But I agree the entire thing is a shit-show and the vast majority of people are going to believe whatever fits with their priors regardless of any report that comes out.

          • The Nybbler says:

            None of those things are dispositive. The package is obviously non-machineable, so not being canceled just means a postal worker didn’t bother to hand-cancel it. Or count the number of stamps.

        • Matt M says:

          By the same token, why the hell would the (D)’s do this! is a legitimate counterargument

          The Ds (more specifically, the arm of the D’s known as “journalists”) have been loudly insisting for two years that Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric” is going to inspire the nascent white-supremacist movement in the US to start committing acts of mass murder upon anyone they don’t like.

          (All while, in actuality, most of the violent street mob style behavior has been coming from the antifa types, who outnumber the actual Nazis by at least 10:1)

          Their credibility is already near-zero and they can only keep loudly shouting a narrative that goes against what people actually observe with their own eyes for so long. They need something like this desperately. If you’re CNN, these events are manna from heaven.

          • gbdub says:

            more specifically, the arm of the D’s known as “journalists”

            Please don’t do this, and I say this as someone broadly in agreement that major media outlets lean left. The signal-to-partisan-rant ratio of this post is basically nil.

          • toastengineer says:

            While the first paragraph is good and makes perfect sense to me, this:

            (All while, in actuality, most of the violent street mob style behavior has been coming from the antifa types, who outnumber the actual Nazis by at least 10:1)

            needs to have some sources cited.

      • Another Throw says:

        police departments take bomb hoaxes very seriously.

        My one quibble is I think you overestimate the motivation for the NYPD to piss off the mayor, governor, and entire state legislature during an election year.

        ETA: Actually, I think the state senate is (barely) republican controlled but they are hoping to flip it this year. So… same difference.

        • Slicer says:

          I don’t think that the mayor, governor, or even the state Democratic party have anything to do with this, and I’m fairly sure that they don’t want this slime on them. Theoretically, they could tell law enforcement not to release their findings until after the election, or law enforcement could do this of their own accord.

          Realistically, though? This is a terrorism hoax in New York City. How many local politicians do you think are going to potentially get caught interfering with an investigation into it? How many law enforcement officials won’t immediately want to punish the perpetrator in any way possible, no matter who it is?

          • Another Throw says:

            They almost certainly don’t have anything to do with it. There is a significant distance between “don’t fuck this opportunity up for us” and “don’t do your job (at all) after the political moment passes.”

            And, you know, maybe if it turns out to be someone we don’t necessarily want taking the blame on this… you know… discretion or whatever.

            But I have an extremely low opinion of NYS politics, and the city especially.

      • Nornagest says:

        Timer with a clock display doesn’t necessarily make it a hoax. If I wanted to make a time bomb… well, I’d probably use a Raspberry Pi or a microcontroller, but if I didn’t know anything about hardware and wanted to make a time bomb, a reasonable way to do it would be to get a cheap battery-powered digital clock from the store and rewire the alarm to whatever I was using as a detonator. Set the alarm and that’s when it goes off. It would cost about five bucks and be as reliable as my wiring was, assuming the detonator could get enough juice.

        Wires on both ends is a tell, though, yes, and I addressed the problems with mailing a time bomb above. But, like I also alluded to above, the simplest explanation for all these problems is probably that CNN told their prop department to mock up a bomb for the article they’re writing about their bomb scare.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I remember when the media was wringing their hands about the climate of hate Trump had created leading to right-wing hate groups calling in bomb threats to Jewish community centers and desecrating Jewish cemeteries. And then it turned out the threats were made by an Israeli teenager and the cemeteries desecrated by a muslim anti-Trump journalist.

      I remember when a black church in the south was burned just before the election with “VOTE TRUMP” scrawled on it. And my FaceBook feed was full of “THIS IS TRUMP’S AMERICA!” posts. And then it turned out the arsonist was an anti-Trump member of the church.

      I remember when CNN reported about “Trump violence” after the election, including an anti-Trump protestor at a university student union who was tackled. And it turns out he was tackled by a (literally) mentally handicapped anti-Trump person who confused the speaker for someone pro-Trump.

      I remember when left-wingers rioted across the country after the election and Barbara Walters had the audacity to ask Trump to tell his supporters to knock it off.

      All the other times it’s been a false flag or media lies won’t prevent the Democrats, the media, my FaceBook feed, or apparently SSC posters from immediately laying this at the feet of Trump. But when they catch the perpetrator and prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law (as they should) and it turns out it was a deranged Democrat sending hoax bombs to prominent Dems to whip up sympathy before the election, I’m sure no one will ever apologize for falsely blaming Republicans/Trumpers and this will all go right down the memory hole.

      Deranged Democrat: 50%
      Deranged Trumper: 20%
      Deranged Other (mentally ill person, disgruntled former government employee, etc): 30%

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I know there were hoax hate crimes, but were there real hate crimes?

        • The Nybbler says:

          There’s some background level of real hate crimes all the time. Though as the Toxoplasma of Rage article would lead you to expect, I don’t think any of the most-publicized ones were confirmed real.

          There were also a lot of hate crimes, especially vandalism, whether publicized or not, which were not determined one way or another.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are hate crimes that get prosecuted every year. Over 6000 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2016.

            As with everything else, the media are a distorting filter. One interesting sideline, if you dig down a bit, is that, of the hate crimes motivated by racial hatred, 50% were anti-black, 20% were anti-white, 10% were anti-hispanic, and the other 20% was everyone else. This is quite different from the picture of the world you get from media coverage–I don’t recall *ever* seeing media coverage of an anti-white hate crime. Note, though, that blacks are a much smaller percent of the population and are getting a much larger number of hate crimes–the actual rate of hate crimes against blacks is way, way higher.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I suppose the guy at the Unite the Right rally who drove his car into the crowd?

          I’m not saying there are no hate crimes. I’m just saying there are enough highly publicized hoaxes that when something like this occurs, it is not unreasonable to say “this might be a hoax, let’s investigate and find out.”

          The hoax hate crimes tend to fit a pattern. The action is committed in a highly public way, no one is actually hurt, and the “message” made fairly explicit. The real hate crimes tend to have an easily identifiable assailant, a victim who is actually injured, and the hate/messaging portion of the crime is auxiliary to the crime itself. That is, committing a crime against someone because they’re a foreigner as opposed to committing a crime for the purpose of sending a message to foreigners.

          So when someone graffitis “FOREIGNERS GET OUT, SIGNED, TOTALLY REAL NAZIS” that says to me “hoax hate crime by someone who wants people to be scared of nazis.” But when nazis actually beat up a foreigner, that says to me “nazi who doesn’t like foreigners.”

          This thing, where what appear to be fake bombs that do not explode are anonymously sent to Democrats says “hoax.” But CNN “debunks” that theory as “despicable.” When they catch the guy and it turns out it was a hoax, I doubt they’re going to apologize for that.

          ETA: I would also like to add that none of this really matters or should matter in terms of politics or the culture war. Whoever did this, either real or fake is deranged. What one deranged Republican or one deranged Democrat or one deranged whatever does in a nation of 330 million people is irrelevant. I’m just mad at the media and Democrats for pretending it’s extremely relevant and Trump’s fault with no evidence.

          • CatCube says:

            Be careful of selection bias in the “no one gets hurt” limb of that heuristic. Graffiti is likely to only get a quick police report, cleanup by the affected group, and local media attention only. You’ve pointed out above the fake hate crime that included graffiti, but most instances of graffiti in Jewish cemeteries is real, not fake, but probably only appears on the local news.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That could be my mistake then. I only ever seem to hear about the graffiti when it turns out to be fake. Or I hear about it and it turns out to be fake later.

            Is there any way to get numbers on “times a hate crime vandal is caught and it’s real vs hoax?”

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, that’s the toxoplasma of rage thing–the modal hate crime is probably some pretty unambiguous situation where a couple drunken thugs beat some black guy senseless while screaming racial epithets at him. Everyone agrees that the thugs need to go to jail, and if the cops catch them, they will indeed be taking those thugs to jail, and the prosecutor will probably try to arrange for them to stay there awhile.

            OTOH, the hate crime where some messed up kid has racial epithets spray painted on her locker, a lot of the time that’s a hoax. And nearly every non-hoax case is a personal beef–she had a bad breakup and her ex-boyfriend spray painted that stuff on her locker because it was the most hurtful thing he could think of. It looks to me like those stories get massively amplified by media outlets looking for outrage-stoking stories, and by administrators and other students who want to show how virtuous they are by very visibly responding. In an ideal world, the first situation would end up with the girl in counseling, and the second would end up with the boy spending a few weekends cleaning up grafitti as part of his community-service sentence from the judge. Amplifying those stories never makes anything better except the ratings of the media types who do the amplification.

          • CatCube says:

            It’s hard to say. I’ve only got vague memories of some stuff in St. Louis–near where I was stationed at the time–but I don’t know that any of them got caught.

            I mean, the cops aren’t generally known for rabidly pursuing every lead in cases of property crime. If there’s no security camera video or bragging online–and low-level drunken Nazi-adjacents may not have either–it’s likely that it gets reported to the cops, rolled up in the FBI stats, and generally gets paid off by the insurer, and the owner cleans up. For a one-off event, I don’t know that the cops going to do much more than they would for any other graffiti.

            Now, if there’s a spate of it in one place, with multiple instances pointing to either copycats or an organized effort, I think there’ll be more effort on the part of law enforcement, as well as national media attention. But I think the modal hate crime is as I said in the previous paragraph–a one-off small event by drunken late teens/early twenties roughs.

            This isn’t to minimize this–I’d be pretty upset if somebody desecrated my grandfather’s grave, even if it was just “Kilroy was here.” It’d be even more terrible for a family that had a member die in the Holocaust to have the desecration be “Hitler was right!” It’s just a caution that there’s a continuum of behavior rolled up in “hate crime,” most of which is “low-level,” and you’re probably not going to hear about it because it doesn’t get picked up nationally.

            I’ve referred to an incident that happened when I was at Fort Leonard Wood where a guy blew through security at the west gate, led the MPs on a high-speed chase out the north gate, led the state police on a high-speed chase down an interstate while shooting at them with an AK-47, then ran into a college and back out, robbed a homeowner nearby of his keys and car, then got stuck on a back road where he was finally apprehended. As far as I could tell at the time, there was very little national coverage despite there being some possible hooks in there to natter about on camera. Some other thing made the media at the time go “squirrel!” and this incident never got mentioned more than once. Don’t confuse what you see in the media with what is actually happening.

    • J Mann says:

      I’d guess about 15%.

      (1) There’s an obvious motive for a false flag.

      (2) None of the bombs seems to have exploded.

      (3) There are a number of historical examples, particularly around threats.

      The deciding factor for me would be the probability that one of these bombs would explode? If they were almost certain not to explode, that would increase my probability of false flag, while if there were a reasonable possibility of them injuring someone (particularly their target), that would lower it. I haven’t seen clear coverage of that but would be very interested.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I’m planning to observe the 3-day rule whether it’s intended to apply to a case like this or not. Playing Internet Detective is a mug’s game.

    • Protagoras says:

      The apparently odd design (though that’s based only on pictures) and zero success rate of the bombs suggests that they might not have been intended to go off, but I question the step where so many here seem to conclude that means it’s obviously a false flag. It’s hardly unheard of for people to engage in threats with the intent of sending a message without actually hurting anyone.

      • Another Throw says:

        Any sort of confidence that it is a false flag is rather unwarranted. But the whole thing seems awfully suspicious. Coupled with a culture warriors drive it is very compelling. (Robert DeNiro, seriously? On what planet is he even remotely noticeable other than a left wing bubble?? Screaming obscenities at Hollywood shindigs does not an enemy make. A Larry the Cable Guy sticker. You have got to be freaking kidding me.)

        Disguising the real target amidst a flurry of fakes using the political charged atmosphere as cover is a very, very real possibility. It is just hard to know how much political bias to subtract from the assessment.

        Also, having pictures of the envelopes and devices and X-Rays of the devices plastered all over the news is just screaming out for copy cats. Maybe even politically motivated false flags from dummies. If CNN didn’t know that is exactly what was going to happen and make the investigation that much harder, fucking shame on them.

      • I think “obviously a false flag” is too strong, but it’s evidence in favor of it being a false flag. The obvious alternative is someone on the right who is incompetent.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          People who through a rock through a window with a note on it that says “Boom” clearly are just incompetent bombers.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            This is a snarky response almost identical in form and purpose to one you (rightfully) complained about in another thread.

            You obviously have a more thought out point, but you went with snark that doesn’t really explain your position well, and leaves people to interpret it, with the strong potential for a mistake. I don’t mind snark, but with your recent strong attempts at removing it, this comes across as highly hypocritical.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Sure, it’s hypocritical. I admit it.

            But damn, the ping ponging of stupid arguments here make me irate.

            The obvious alternative is not someone on the right who is incompetent. The obviously alternative is someone who sees value in threatening people with death. If I am an incompetent bomber I create something that I think will actually explode. I don’t know if these bombs are plausibly actually explosive, but the conversation her is occurring in the framework of “clearly, can’t possibly, just looks like it will, a “movie bomb”. People who create movie bombs and think they will explode are themselves movie creations (unless they are literally mentally incompetent).

            And the entire conversation is taking place under the faux umbrella of “clearly highly unlikely to be a false flag” while continually tacitly assuming that it it is highly likely to be one.

            The fact that no one is considering the idea that “I want to terrorize my enemies” is a likely answer seems bizarre to me.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Thanks for taking the same to write out your more complete thoughts.

            I agree that “false flag” seems to be considered a more likely solution than being said explicitly. I happen to think that’s because “false flag” is a more interesting scenario, and because we honestly have no idea who it would be otherwise. We’re at the speculation stage of all this, waiting for the FBI or whoever to give us enough information to actually form an opinion.

            “Incompetent right winger” also goes beyond the poorly made bombs, in that anyone who thinks two weeks before the election is a good time to threaten the D leadership really is incompetent. I think a right winger trying to make it look like a false flag is significantly more plausible than a competent right winger trying to actually scare someone. If the bombs are real (as in, real explosive material), then I think it’s much more likely that it’s an incompetent bomb maker trying to hurt someone. This whole last paragraph speaks more to my internal biases than noted fact, though, because we really don’t know much yet.

          • The fact that no one is considering the idea that “I want to terrorize my enemies” is a likely answer seems bizarre to me.

            I believe I did list that as a possible answer quite recently, although it might have been after you posted your comment. It doesn’t seem likely to me, perhaps because I am attributing too much rationality to the actor.

            The obvious result of the bombs is to help the Democrats in the midterms. I can see someone who really wants to kill his enemies ignoring that, or thinking that the benefit of establishing the pattern “if you are a prominent leftist you will get killed” is worth the short-run political cost. But I find it hard to imagine someone accepting the political cost merely in order to pretend to try to kill his enemies.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mr. Doolittle:

            I happen to think that’s because “false flag” is a more interesting scenario,

            That is probably correct.

            But there is also a particular slant to the “interesting scenarios” that people want to explore here.

            As a random for example, do people want to explore the “interesting scenario” of secret back channel communications between Trump and Russia? Not particularly, other than to reject it out of hand.

          • sentientbeings says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I am having trouble following your points. The explanation you gave in response to Mr. Doolittle makes some sense to me – it is plausible that the threat of severe attack is a successful lesser attack – but other parts do not.

            And the entire conversation is taking place under the faux umbrella of “clearly highly unlikely to be a false flag” while continually tacitly assuming that it it is highly likely to be one.

            How is it you determined this faux umbrella? I have read some responses over the course of the thread that have what I regard to be unreasonably confident estimates of very high false flag probability, but those people were forthright and named a percentage or said “near certainty” or the like. I have also seen low estimates, or people noting that they think others’ are too high, and explaining evidence for or against. You seem to be interpreting the second groups’ comments as something other than what the plain text suggests.

            What reason, especially given the relative abundance of high estimates, would people have to dissemble?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            How rational would it be to have the bomb actually explode, for the same reason?

            How rational was it for the 9-11 bombers to expect that the US would take troops out of Saudi Arabia, or whatever the fuck was in their head as their goal?

            How rational is it to threaten to dismember and rape people you get into an internet flame war with?

            Really, the idea that people are “rational” is entirely ridiculous, especially when we are talking one individual in a population of half a billion. Even economists dispensed with this idea of rationality and went with “revealed preference”.

            So, it’s the revealed preference of the median terrorist to themselves be dead or in prison having made martyrs (alive or dead) of their enemies.

          • Nornagest says:

            Okay, let’s run with the message theory. What we have here is a half-dozen bomb-like devices sent two weeks before a midterm election to a seemingly random assortment of prominent left-wingers (most of whom are not in power), and which didn’t work and possibly couldn’t work.

            Now, first of all, there are easier ways to send a death threat, starting with literally mailing someone a brick with “boom” written on it. But maybe our faux bomber’s got a lot of time on his hands. So let’s say you’re one of the targets. You find a package in your office, or your intern does, or the Secret Service does. Whoever finds it opens it up and gets the dickens scared out of them. Once.

            What happens then? In a few days the bomb squad’s going to look at the devices and tell you that they could never have worked. That doesn’t send a scary message; that sends the message that you’ve got a hopeless incompetent gunning for you. You probably start having the police screen your mail, just in case, but the brick would be scarier. And in the meantime, the press is talking you up as the photogenic victim of an assassination attempt.

            Maybe the bomber didn’t think about all this, but then we’re right back to “incompetent”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @sentientbeings:

            Any sort of confidence that it is a false flag is rather unwarranted. But the whole thing seems awfully suspicious.

            I think “obviously a false flag” is too strong, but it’s evidence in favor of it being a false flag.

            I’m not sure I want to put a number on it, but there’s some things about this that don’t quite add up for me.

            The fact that it is just before an election, combined with the fact that none of the bombs seem to have gone off, raises it–I think above 1%, although still less likely than the straightforward interpretation.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            perhaps because I am attributing too much rationality to the actor.

            The obvious result of the bombs is to help the Democrats in the midterms. I can see someone who really wants to kill his enemies ignoring that, or thinking that the benefit of establishing the pattern “if you are a prominent leftist you will get killed” is worth the short-run political cost. But I find it hard to imagine someone accepting the political cost merely in order to pretend to try to kill his enemies.

            I do not think this is the right framing for this kind of question. The kinds of people who attempt assassinations are often mentally ill, or otherwise not particularly rational, and also often quite incompetent. So the fact that the bombs didn’t detonate isn’t really very good evidence that they weren’t meant seriously.

            And serious assassins don’t usually think in terms like “establishing the pattern that if you are a prominent enemy, you get killed”–they are just angry and acting out. Whether the modal would-be assassin even considers the likely political outcome, much less whether they are capable of accurately assessing such, is pretty dubious. One of the plots against Obama came right before the 2012 elections; while it’s obvious to you or I that a successful or near-successful attempt on Obama’s life would only have helped Democrats, the would-be assassin, who was mentally ill, presumably just felt the stakes getting higher and higher as the election approached.

            Finally, the best way to evaluate something like this is to just go to the record and see how often fake-flag assassination attempts are carried out, vs. how often incompetent failed assassinations are carried out. I haven’t done this, but my impression is that the latter far outweigh the former, and so should be considered the most likely scenario until more information emerges.

          • Nornagest says:

            @HBC —

            And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.

            Seriously, dude. OP’s question was “does anyone assign >1% probability to this being a false flag?”. That’s what the quotes you cite were responding to. I hedged my answer because I really do think that a spectacularly incompetent assassin (or a moderately incompetent assassin plus a few of the usual presentation mistakes that happen early in a breaking story) is the way to bet here, but it’s kinda disingenuous to get all bent out of shape about people answering the question as it was asked.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            And the people who sent talcum powder or the like to people? Were they simply “incompetent”? Do you think everyone who got those letters simply brushed them off once they knew they weren’t reallly anthrax?

            I mean, Scott just spent an entire post about how the things we manage to be concerned about can be altered.

            John Hinckley was “incompetent”, Jodie Foster wasn’t ever going to put with him, but that didn’t stop those bullets from entering Reagan’s body.

          • Nornagest says:

            And the people who sent talcum powder or the like to people? Were they simply “incompetent”?

            It takes a lot less effort to shake some talcum powder into an envelope than to mock up a half-dozen bombs (allegedly complete with gunpowder), and it’s implausible that you thought the talcum powder was anthrax. It’s not perfectly comparable, but it’s closer to the brick example we’ve both brought up: the message is “I want you dead, and here’s how I could do it”, not “I want you dead, and I’m such a fucking idiot that I can’t figure out how to build a letter bomb”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            We crossed replies.

            I’m just pointing out that “X is unlikely, but here are all the reasons it could be true” is the kind of argument pattern that shows the moon landing was faked. If you are not presenting the reasons why the likely thing is likely, you are talking yourself into why the unlikely thing is actually what happened. This can be just be the genuine fault mode of contrarianism or more intentional.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            You surely don’t think it’s plausible that some who has talcum can get a hold of anthrax? Because that’s how your reply scans.

          • Nornagest says:

            You surely don’t think it’s plausible that some who has talcum can get a hold of anthrax? Because that’s how your reply scans.

            It’s not very likely, but as long as the victim doesn’t know anything about the perpetrator, it’s plausible enough to be scary. There have been successful anthrax attacks, and I don’t think the average politician knows anything about how hard anthrax spores are to get ahold of. But sending a broken bomb does tell the victim something about the perpetrator: it tells them they don’t know how to make a bomb.

            The bottom line is there’s a big difference in messaging between a mock attack and a botched attack. When a Mafia boss wants to intimidate his debtors, he doesn’t go around and pound on their knees with a whiffle bat.

            If you are not presenting the reasons why the likely thing is likely, you are talking yourself into why the unlikely thing is actually what happened.

            Did you miss the part where I gave plausible alternative explanations for each of my points? I was very specifically trying not to do the moon landing thing, and I don’t appreciate being called out as some kind of conspiracy-monger.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            a seemingly random assortment of prominent left-wingers

            That’s one way to phrase it. Another is to say that it’s an assortment of right-wing bogeymen; with the exception of DeNiro, I think all the targets are pretty standard lightning rods for right-wing ire of late: just about a week ago, a Minnesota House candidate blamed an assault on Eric Holder, Maxine Waters, the media, and Hillary Clinton.

          • Nornagest says:

            Another is to say that it’s an assortment of right-wing bogeymen

            Yeah, I used that exact phrase in my first post of this thread. At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t think it makes sense that they’d all be targeted just for that: they’re boogeymen, but they’re boogeymen in different ways and for different reasons, and attacks like this usually have more specific motives than “they’re people my side hates”. Not necessarily rational ones, but still. It’d be like a left-wing bomber targeting Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, Brett Kavanaugh, Peter Thiel, Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, and Mel Gibson.

            But, again as I said above, there might be some kind of theory pointing to all these people that I just don’t know about. The Pizzagate thing, back when that was current, named a pretty weird grab-bag of left-wing personalities too.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            with the exception of DeNiro,

            The most recent prominence of DeNiro in the media is many rounds of contemplating what it meant, and how uncivil it was, that he said “Fuck Trump!” when accepting an award.

            Plenty of right wing, left wing and mainstream ink spilled contemplating that.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Sorry, didn’t notice you’d said the exact same thing up above. I guess to my mind, the fact that they are objectively a random collection just shows that it’s not likely a well-orchestrated terrorist plot; but it’s pretty consistent with “guy with mental issues wants to kill all the people he’s been mad about because of what he’s read on the internet”, which I think is the vastly most likely perpetrator here.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I guess I don’t view it as at all implausible that a left wing maniac would target Fox News, the Koch Brothers, Trump, Dick Cheney and Steve Bannon, conspiracy theory or not.

            ETA: many of the people targeted are one specifically named by Trump in various stump rants.

          • acymetric says:

            that sends the message that you’ve got a hopeless incompetent gunning for you.

            There are a lot of comments along these lines, and while I guess I can understand that the situation could be parsed this way, isn’t it more likely that this comes off as “you can be got” kind of message? As in, I just sent out a bunch of bombs with all the necessary components to be deadly, but they were not wired to explode. Next time, they will be.

            Of course everyone is just speculating (my suggestion above is barely even speculation, just a plausible interpretation of the intent), but I think we have moved pretty far past that since people are not just offering speculation, but aggressively pushing their wild speculation as somehow the only plausible interpretation of events (which conveniently aligns with the narrative that would be best for their preferred political group).

          • Nornagest says:

            There are a lot of comments along these lines, and while I guess I can understand that the situation could be parsed this way, isn’t it more likely that this comes off as “you can be got” kind of message?

            See everything I said to HBC above. That’s a plausible message but this isn’t an effective way to send it. Largely because the devices don’t include the parts needed to be deadly, and might not include the parts needed to work at all.

            As to preferred political groups, I’ve never voted for a Republican for federal office in my life. (I have for state and local, though.)

          • How rational would it be to have the bomb actually explode, for the same reason?

            If you hated those people and wanted them dead, sending them bombs that would actually explode when the target was nearby would be a rational way of achieving that goal.

            How rational was it for the 9-11 bombers to expect that the US would take troops out of Saudi Arabia, or whatever the fuck was in their head as their goal?

            Interesting question. Ex post, they imposed very large costs on the U.S., mainly due to our reaction to what they did. If they view the world as a conflict between Islam and the west, with the U.S. the leading western state, it was a low cost/high payoff move in that conflict.

            Alternatively, the people who organized it may have been aiming at leadership within the anti-west parts of the Islamic world, and seen a successful blow as a way of getting it.

            How rational is it to threaten to dismember and rape people you get into an internet flame war with?

            About as rational as yelling at people you get in an argument with. It doesn’t achieve anything, and may have costs in its effect on the opinion third parties have of you. But you may not care, may even want people to be deterred from publicly disagreeing with you by the thread of unpleasantness. So likely a low cost activity enjoyed by those who do it–like cheering for a football team.

            Even economists dispensed with this idea of rationality and went with “revealed preference”.

            ???
            Revealed preference isn’t an alternative to rationality, it’s evidence of the actor’s utility function.

            So, it’s the revealed preference of the median terrorist to themselves be dead or in prison having made martyrs (alive or dead) of their enemies.

            Enemies who have survived your attack uninjured are not martyrs.

            And the entire conversation is taking place under the faux umbrella of “clearly highly unlikely to be a false flag” while continually tacitly assuming that it it is highly likely to be one.

            My original response to the question was:

            The fact that it is just before an election, combined with the fact that none of the bombs seem to have gone off, raises it–I think above 1%, although still less likely than the straightforward interpretation.

            If it turns out that they were not supposed to go off, that would raise it a good deal more.

            I do not think that is consistent with either half of what I just quoted from you.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Thanks for this whole discussion; I learned a lot from it – both from @DavidFriedman’s points about how it’d be totally irrational for a right-winger to send bombs like this, and from @Eugene Dawn’s point about how the sort of right-winger who’d send bombs like this is statistically likely to be insane and therefore liable to act irrationally.

            Initially, my estimate was ~1% that this was a false flag; since reading this thread and learning how unfit the bombs were for their ostensible purpose, I’ve raised it to ~20%. What I’m left with is weighing what marginal fringe group is more likely to be doing something so outlandish as this – and I don’t think I’m really in a position for my guess there to be at all educated.

            Fortunately, unlike the questions about Kavanaugh, this has no larger implications for national politics. Its effects on the midterm will depend on how it’s perceived in the public mindset, which is almost totally independent of who actually sent the bombs.

          • It’s worth noting that if it is a false flag operation, it’s unlikely to be the work of any prominent individual or organization in the left, given the risk that if detected it would have precisely the opposite of the desired effect. But it could be a single individual or a small group.

          • John Schilling says:

            There are a lot of comments along these lines, and while I guess I can understand that the situation could be parsed this way, isn’t it more likely that this comes off as “you can be got” kind of message?

            Not to the sort of person who already has guards and/or minions to open their mail for them anyway. Such a person can’t be “got” by this method, and choosing a fundamentally unworkable attack to signal a threat is usually counterproductive.

            It is, however, quite possible that the attacker is so deeply stupid as to believe that e.g. George Soros opens his own mail.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            HBC, can you put some numbers on your predictions?

            I said above:

            Deranged Democrat looking for sympathy: 50%
            Deranged Republican/Trumper making threats: 20%
            Deranged Other (mentally ill, wants Jodi Foster to date him, Islamic threat, Russians, etc): 30%

          • Matt M says:

            It is, however, quite possible that the attacker is so deeply stupid as to believe that e.g. George Soros opens his own mail.

            Didn’t this recently work against Trump Jr? More specifically, that his wife opened the package and got powdered?

            “Haha, you didn’t kill me, you only got my wife instead” seems like it would be of little comfort had the powder been real.

          • I just read a story that had a diagram of the “bomb” with dimensions. Assuming it is right, it was a six inch long PVC tube–maybe an inch in diameter from the picture–stuffed with broken glass and flash powder. I gather flash powder is used in fireworks, which are freely sold in many states, so it wouldn’t be hard to get. No explanation of what was supposed to set it off.

            The size explains why it could be sent through the mail with six stamps on it, but the whole thing looks more like a fake bomb, whether by someone trying to scare people, someone trying to make Trump look bad, or someone too crazy to distinguish fantasy from reality, than an attempt by anyone close to sane to actually kill the recipients.

            They have arrested a suspect, so we may soon know more.

          • One reason that I don’t think a three day delay on this kind of conversation is a good idea is that the immediate comments get us a chance to calibrate our own views of reality, and do it in public. If it turns out that the person responsible is an enthusiastic Trump supporter, anyone who was sure it was a false flag operation now has reason to revise his view of reality. Similarly if it turns out to be someone hostile to Trump for anyone who was sure it couldn’t be a false flag.

            The only hint I’ve seen so far in the stories suggests a Trump supporter, but I expect we will know more shortly.

    • dodrian says:

      We have another situation which has resulted in deep mistrust and mud-flinging all over America in a very politically charged time.

      Are there any actors that more than anything else are seeking more distrust and political instability? Perhaps ones that have recently demonstrated an ability to carry out a sophisticated (albeit ultimately failed) attack?

      Seeing as how the entire internet is quick to blame even the existence of an opinion they disagree with on those pesky Russians, I’m surprised I’ve heard no one floating the R word in connection with this event yet.

      Presumably some poor innocent tourists, having heard how wonderful the Sawgrass Nature Sanctuary in Sunrise FL is, decided to take a quick 48hr jaunt over from Moscow, only to be caught up and implicated in this whole sorry state of affairs.

      • mdet says:

        I don’t think Russia did it, especially now that a not-Russian suspect has been arrested, but good point that the perpetrator could be a false flag by a third party who just wants to make the MAGA crowd and the liberal media tear each other apart. Doesn’t always have to be a binary Left vs Right

        • dodrian says:

          No, I don’t think Russia did it now. I was floating it as an option given the (wrong) assumption that the packages hadn’t actually been through the postal system but had appeared simultaneously at different parts of the country. That implied more coordination than a random crazy, which is what I would have (correctly) assumed if only one bomb had appeared, or if the rumors flying around hadn’t implied that they weren’t sent in the mail.

          Truthfully I should have stuck with Paul Zrimsek’s assessment – that’s what I try to do most of the time, but the apparent facts were so weird in this case I couldn’t help speculating.

    • Deiseach says:

      The migrant caravan is going to be an unholy mess whatever happens. I read one sympathetic article where they mentioned one of the Hondurans, Maria. Who is a seventeen year old mother of two children under two, which means she got pregnant around fourteen/fifteen, and I’m guessing didn’t complete her education.

      So if she gets to America, what is she going to do? There was mention of a husband, but no details about him (which sounds incredibly sketchy; if you’re going to tell me how old Maria and her two kids are, why not mention her husband’s name and age?) Does she speak any English? Is she going to be a stay-at-home mother and if so, what is her husband going to work at? If she is going to go out and get a job, what kind of job can a teenage highschool dropout get? And who will look after her kids, given that her family support network would all be back in Honduras? In other words, what are the options for Maria as a productive member of American society?

      Also another young man, aged sixteen and a (former) coffee plantation worker. Again, what is he going to do? His options seem to be farm labour or unskilled manual labour of some kind, which is not going to be very high-paying, and probably hired on as a known illegal which leaves him open to all kinds of exploitation.

      This is not the 19th century anymore, and even if America is still seen as the Land of Opportunity, you can’t arrive as a farm labourer and hope to make it by getting a farm of your own anymore. I don’t know. Maybe Honduras is so shitty that even working as manual labour for very low wages and living in ghettos is better, but then that requires acknowledgement that hey, some countries are horrible places that their inhabitants can’t wait to get out of, and that didn’t go down any too well when it was mooted.

      I’m feeling very cynical about this caravan because it seems a bit too well-organised, rather than real desperate individuals all trying to make it to the Land of Opportunity. I’m sure there are real desperate individuals there, but I don’t see how arriving in the US with no money, skills, education or family support is going to make your situation better (apart from “my country is a dungheap and even living on the bottom rung of the ladder here is miles better”).

      • I’m not sure you are allowing for how large the wage gap is between Honduras and the U.S. If a former coffee plantation worker can get hired as unskilled labor in the U.S., he can probably support himself and a wife and kids if there is one better than he could at home, even if much worse than the American norm.

        • Aapje says:

          Cost of living is also higher in the US, so you can’t just equate the wage gap to an increase in well being.

          Furthermore, there is often an expectation on the migrants to support family back home. That expectation may be so large, that the migrant is actually worse off than if they had stayed in their home country.

      • SteveReilly says:

        I assume most hotel maids in the US are better off than they were in their home country. I’m not sure sure if that’s what Maria will do, but if she does, yeah, I’m guessing she’ll be better off.

    • John Schilling says:

      Hanlon’s Razor still applies, and this is probably still an idiot Republican and/or Trumpist striking a blow against what he sees as the most hated enemies of his tribe. But I’d put straight-up false flag at 10%, and something inexplicably weirder at 20%, and both of those rising with time.

      Because if this was a Trumpist, it was a particularly idiotic one – for multiple reasons other have already mentioned. It is extremely unlikely that someone that idiotic, would have successfully scrubbed every forensic trace of their plotting, or that someone who couldn’t resist carrying out such an idiotic plot would have resisted bragging about it. If we’re still wondering whodunnit a month from now, I’m going to be saying it was probably anyone but the obvious suspects.

      More likely, we’ll just be able to ask the guy. Well, the FBI will be able to, and they’ll probably be straight with the rest of us.

      • Randy M says:

        More likely, we’ll just be able to ask the guy. Well, the FBI will be able to, and they’ll probably be straight with the rest of us.

        But not before a week has passed with the name being leaked and the nation scouring the perp’s social media for ways to toss him into the enemy camp.

    • Garrett says:

      One of the inherent problems in the question is what you mean by “false flag”. If you mean something planned and orchestrated by the DNC or senior Democratic officials, then I’d have to go with pretty close to zero on that. If you mean a US voter who thought that they would be “helping” the Democrats with this action, then that’s a bit more plausible. If you mean a non-US voter (say, a foreign government) who’s working to stir the pot, slightly favoring the Democrats this time, also a bit more plausible.

      • Nornagest says:

        Yeah, my estimate of this literally being a DNC plot is close to zero. Besides all the usual problems with conspiracy theories, cost/benefit doesn’t work out.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Higher than HBC and a few other seem to think is reasonable, but still low. Mostly I think it’s best to wait and see what turns up. See the other comments about playing Internet Detective.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I actually don’t think we have much to go on in terms of evidence here. Based on priors, odds are high that it is someone who hates someone or something.

        What I was objecting to was a conversation primarily centered around showing all the ways that it was reasonable to conclude it was a ”false flag”, without discussing all of the reasons to conclude it was someone attempting a “true flag”.

        • albatross11 says:

          Assuming it’s not the RNC or DNC mailing those bombs, it’s not even clear what a “true flag” would be. Some nutcase who thinks Trump’s enemies are all secret lizard people who need to be blown up doesn’t really *have* a flag.

        • gbdub says:

          Eh, I think you might be reading a bit too much into it. The question was posed, “what are the chances this was a false flag” and the reasons it could have been a “true flag” are boring and obvious: They basically consist of “a nut who doesn’t like Democrats wants to kill Democrats but apparently isn’t very good at it (or wants to scare them a lot while putting in more effort than necessary)”, which… what more do you say? Talking about why it might be a false flag lets people nerd out about piddly details like whether the stamps were canceled.

          Overall, I think “sending lots of bombs to people” is sufficiently nutty that even if it’s “guy who hates Democrats”, they probably shouldn’t map to “representative Republican or Trumpist”, so trying to turn it partisan either way at this early stage is dumb. Who knows though. Loughner was a nut. Hinckley was a nut. The guy who shot Steve Scalise seemed a bit more straight partisan political with a side of nut?

          Surprised no one here is talking about the targeting, which seems like just general “high profile Democrats” (most of whom are now out of power). That seems a little odd. For what it’s worth I think that makes it seem more likely to be either a false flag and/or someone with only superficial involvement in politics. Or I suppose maybe someone who picked their targets in 2016 and didn’t bother to check the news in the interim? (Compare to the Scalise shooting, which was a bit more inside-ball, bad pun shamefully intended).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I mean, what would you call the Comet Ping Pong shooting?

            As to the targets, I believe they are all people Trump has spoken out against during his “rallies”.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            This has come up already, but Obama, the Clintons, Soros, Maxine Waters, and Eric Holder are current bogeymen for the right: as I mentioned elsewhere in the thread, a Republican candidate for Minnesota State House who was assaulted blamed his assault on Clinton, Waters, Holder, and the media. It’s not someone who hasn’t paid attention to the news in two years, it’s someone who pays attention to certain kinds of right-wing media who have been elevating these figures as “leaders of the Democratic party”, or particularly unhinged and prone to stirring up mob violence.

          • gbdub says:

            I had honestly forgotten that the Pizzagate restaurant was shot up, and I don’t know much about the shooter. How mainstream partisan you think that was is going to depend almost 100% on how fringey you think that particular element of the all trite is. Obviously less nutty than Hinckley or Loughner, slightly fringier than the Scalise shooter is probably fair?

            Anyway not trying to draw a partisan distinction at all. Political assassination attempts are almost tautologically fringe in the USA (knock on wood). So all I was driving at is that there is a pretty good chance that the perpetrator’s motivations won’t really be comprehensible if you try to map it to standard partisan politics.

          • gbdub says:

            Actually, thinking about it more, I actually was aware that the Pizzagate restaurant got shot up, but I don’t remember ever really knowing the name of the place (so I had to look it up when you mentioned it by name).

        • Some Troll's Serious Discussion Alt says:

          The post the conversation is under opened with “does anyone think the odds of a false flag are over 1%?” Of course there are gonna be a lot of people explaing why their answe is yes.

    • gbdub says:

      So we’ve allegedly seen the theatrically fake looking CNN bomb, which was apparently nonfunctional. Have we actually seen the other bombs? Are they all the same design? Are they all nonfunctional? They seem to have been intercepted in different ways too.

      Probably too early to draw any broad conclusions that rely on all the (possibly fake) bombs being the same.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      1% is a very low number. How do you justify it?

      What do you put at the base rate of terrorism being false flag? As low as 1%?
      Are you aware that the 2001 anthrax attacks were false flags (p>90%)?
      Study the bombings in Italy in the 70s. It’s pretty murky, but it’s plausible (>10%) that it was all false flags.
      (I include agents provacateurs in false flags.)

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The 2001 anthrax attacks weren’t really “false flag operations” in the sense discussed here. Yes, the perpetrator attributed them to another group, but this doesn’t seem to have been with the intention of turning people against that group. Probably it was just done to throw off the trail.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Sure, pretending to be a Muslim was incidental, but pretending not to be an employee of the Army was the point. The flag of both those attacks and the recent attacks was judged mainly by the choice of victims, not on the cheap talk included with the packages. The purpose was not to make any particular group appear more evil, but to make terrorists in general appear more competent.

          • albatross11 says:

            Maybe. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think the bomber[1] was working on behalf of the US government in mailing the anthrax letters.

            The weird thing about the anthrax letters is that they were optimized for telling people they’d been exposed to anthrax. If he hadn’t included warnings in the letters, I wonder if we would ever have heard about the attacks. A few people working in media company newsrooms would have died of some kind of weird respiratory thing, and years later, the CDC is still trying to figure out how on Earth inhalation anthrax turned up in the middle of NYC.

            [1] It’s not 100% clear to me how certain I should be that they identified the right guy, or got everyone involved. He was announced as the anthrax bomber after he’d poisoned himself. This means that if he had any co-conspirators who realized the feds were closing in on him, they had the best motive imaginable to poison him and make it look like a suicide. It also leaves open the possibility that his suicide was a good chance to close a case that nobody had ever quite managed to close, after many years of searching.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The evidence is pretty strong that the anthrax came from Fort Detrick. That probably narrows it to 20 people. The evidence that Bruce Ivins was the right 1/20 is not so hot. Presumably the terrorist wanted more funding for Fort Detrick. “Working on behalf” of his employer, is your phrase, not mine, so I don’t know what it means. Some people would say that counts.

          • John Schilling says:

            “We’re certain it was a researcher at Ft. Detrick, and we’re certain it was this one specific researcher. Mind you, we don’t have enough evidence to convict or even arrest him, but we’re going to name him and shame him and hound him in private and public until he, er, wait one…”

            [Multi-million dollar lawsuit]

            “We’re certain it was a researcher at Ft. Detrick, and we’re certain it was this one specific researcher, not the other guy, silly mistake, could happen to anyone. Mind you, we don’t have enough evidence to convict or even arrest this guy, but we’re going to name him and shame him and hound him in private and public until he, yes!, this one committed suicide so there’s no one to challenge our story in court. Case closed!”

            So what are the Bayesian odds on the FBI having got the right guy, when they are 0 for 1 in correctly identifying bioterrorists when the results can be verified?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Douglas Knight: Huh, interesting. I wasn’t aware of that. Yes if the goal was more funding for Fort Detrick — which I guess is the present best understanding of the situation — then yes that does indeed count.

    • skef says:

      My take on the bombs, just trying to work through the question from psychology:

      A completely, top-to-bottom fake bomb is slightly more likely to be from someone genuinely angry at the recipient, like the envelopes of white powder. But it could also be used as a false flag to generate sympathy.

      An object with real explosives in it is different. But for a false flag with real explosives, why bother without putting some effort into making the rest of the device at least plausible? And to just scare someone, what do the real explosives add once it’s clear there was no detonator?

      An object with real explosives that is very unlikely to explode seems intended to look dangerous or not dangerous depending on who is looking. In my mind that points most strongly to some “outside” actor wanting to increase U.S. polarization and dysfunction. But “most strongly” is far from “definitively”.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        A lie gets halfway round the world before the truth gets its pants on.

        “They are bombs capable of detonation. That has been established,” Mr. Cuomo told CNN. “Was that purposeful or incidental? Was it a poorly constructed bomb?”

        Is Cuomo stretching the truth … I don’t know, but I don’t know of a reason to suspect that he is other than that people like to make incidents they are investigating seem consequential.

        Nonetheless, the bombs did have a detonator or some kind.

        The pipes were also equipped with a small battery, a digital clock as a timer and an initiator, which causes the bomb to explode, a law enforcement official said.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          … and apparently along with the bomb in at least one instance was an envelope with white powder.

          I assume that’s just to ramp up the fear factor, and isn’t actually anything lethal, but who knows.

        • skef says:

          In that case, a more plausible seeming bomb with actual explosives.

          A couple thoughts that I think are reasonable on that premise:

          1) The more actually dangerous the devices are, the less likely it’s a false flag short of “very likely to explode”. The planner of a false flag operation is going to decide up front whether or not they’re killing someone on their own side and plan accordingly, if only because a killing operation entirely different from a scaring one. One can imagine someone on a different side caring less about such consequences.

          2) A plausible but not actual bomb is consistent with a false flag operation.

          3) It’s hard to imagine this being initiated by party figures of any significance on either side, because anyone with decent political instincts would anticipate that a) it will become clear and publicized that the bombs were not designed to explode and b) once that’s clear, the rest doesn’t “read” any particular way.

          4) Which points to either: i) individual disgruntled with liberal politics, ii) individual cooking up unilateral false flag operation in basement iii) arsonist analogue doing it for the media firestorm or iv) outside polarity-increasing agent.

          I don’t have strong views about those sub-options. With i and ii i would guess it’s more likely the evidence will lead back to the culprit.

          • gbdub says:

            “Has all the parts needed to make a functional bomb” is not necessarily “an actual functional bomb”. “An actual functional bomb” is not necessarily “a bomb armed to explode”.

            A functional pipe bomb is dangerous but it’s not going to “just go off” from normal handling. So it’s not necessarily the case that the bombs were intended to explode.

            I guess if you deliver an intentionally nonfunctional bomb they can’t charge you with attempted murder?

            Could also be a probing of defenses? See how far a realistic bomb gets? The point of including real gunpowder would then be to see where in the process explosive detectors would be employed.

          • skef says:

            Sorry, I meant “plausible seeming” on initial analysis. Something it takes more than a glance to determine wasn’t intended to actually explode.

          • acymetric says:

            @gdub

            Probing defenses is possible, but I think it is more likely (I mentioned this in a thread further up and got nothing but pushback) that it would be a message of “I can get this bomb to you”. Showing that you can deliver “all the parts needed to make a functional bomb” means that even if they aren’t rigged to explode this time they could be next time. Loosely similar to the people who post online about what they were able to sneak through TSA screening, but with more animosity.

          • gbdub says:

            Right, scare tactic or bungled genuine attempt are still your leading candidates. This whole thread is in the context of “things that are plausible but still unlikely”.

          • Slicer says:

            I posted this idea downthread but it bears repeating here:

            Cargo cult mail bomber.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          “They are bombs capable of detonation. That has been established,” Mr. Cuomo told CNN. “Was that purposeful or incidental? Was it a poorly constructed bomb?”

          Strictly speaking, a car is capable of detonation (I understand having a near empty tank is better for this than a full one).

          The interesting question is – given that none of the bombs exploded – what would it have taken for the bomb to detonate and what was the probability, based on the established method of construction/operation that such a bomb would explode?

          Essentially, we are either living in a universe where we just got extremely lucky that nobody got hurt, or in one where there was no great danger at all, because the bomber was either incapable of making a working explosive, or did not intend to make one at all.

          The other thing I find a bit surprising is that we know so much about the bombs. I’m only marginally familiar with bomb disposal, but my understanding has always been that if you have something you suspect to be a working bomb, you probably won’t bother to try to disarm and disassemble it (risking an accidental detonation), but instead destroy it under controlled circumstances.

          The fact that these bombs were examined in such detail would seem to suggest that those in charge of disposing them had them classified as “not an immediate danger” pretty early on.

          • Aapje says:

            my understanding has always been that if you have something you suspect to be a working bomb, you probably won’t bother to try to disarm and disassemble it (risking an accidental detonation), but instead destroy it under controlled circumstances.

            I don’t think that this is correct. My impression is that the disposal method(s) are tailored to the device and the environment. For example, a WW 2 bomb that had an impact on the fuse may be very unsafe for transport, so the fuse is generally removed first (although some bombs have anti-defusing devices, requiring specific fuse removal techniques).

            In general, moving explosives is in itself risky, yet many explosives cannot just be detonated where they are found. Disarming the device in situ may then be safer.

            Disposal units seem to commonly X-ray improved explosives, which can often allow for pretty safe disarming/disassembly. Note that this is nowadays very often done with robots, so no one gets hurt even if the bomb goes off.

            One defusing technique is to use a shaped charge to destroy the detonation circuit. This was attempted on the most impressive bomb ever planted in the US. However, the bomb had more countermeasures than the X-ray revealed, so it went boom.

          • John Schilling says:

            In general, moving explosives is in itself risky, yet many explosives cannot just be detonated where they are found. Disarming the device in situ may then be safer.

            If you can’t detonate the bomb where it is found, then you almost certainly can’t defuse it where it is found, because you can’t be confident that defusing it won’t detonate it. Hence the robots. The exceptions are mostly military ordnance where we have detailed technical information about what sort of fuzes it does and does not have.

            And for a bomb of this size, you can just transport the thing safely in a container designed specifically for that purpose. That would almost certainly be the preferred solution, whether moving the bomb from the mail desk to the container was done by hand or by robot. From there, you either defuse or destroy it at a safe, remote location.

            The pictures we are seeing of bombs next to their open packaging seem a bit off and I would like to know more of their provenance. But most likely it is something boringly uninformative like a mail-room clerk opening the package without knowing any better and then leaving “bomb” plus package next to each other while running off to get a phone and/or camera.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            If you can’t detonate the bomb where it is found, then you almost certainly can’t defuse it where it is found, because you can’t be confident that defusing it won’t detonate it.

            I don’t think it works that way. During the disposal process, people are typically evacuated from the area, but that doesn’t mean that the disposal team can just blow up the property that is in the blast zone.

            We treat accidents differently from intentional actions. It’s like how if I drive into a house by accident, my insurance pays out and I get to go home. If I do it intentionally, I go to jail and will probably be sentenced to paying the cost myself. The outcome is the same, but the difference in intent makes me personally liable.

            The container does seem like a likely solution to use in a case like this. However, I still think that they may typically want to try to defuse the bombs rather than blow them up, to preserve the evidence.

            I would not be surprised at all if a clerk took a picture to send to his or her mom or something idiotic like that. There was a story in my paper recently how many people die a year while making ‘exciting’ selfies.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think it works that way. During the disposal process, people are typically evacuated from the area, but that doesn’t mean that the disposal team can just blow up the property that is in the blast zone.

            They can have a robot pick up the bomb and move to a truck with a reinforced container, which takes it to the sort of place where the Mythbusters used to play (literally), and then they can either blow it up or see if their robot can defuse it. That’s pretty standard.

            If you can’t do that because you think the bomb has an antitamper fuze, then you’re almost certainly not trying to defuse it either, because same reason. At that point, they’re basically going to evacuate the area and have the robot plant small shaped charges one-shot water cannon in what they think are the best spots, and see if that results in a little bang or an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.

            There are exceptions, but I believe they are fairly rare. The bit where someone dikes the red no green no red you fool wire, in any location, is very 20th century.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I don’t think that this is correct. My impression is that the disposal method(s) are tailored to the device and the environment. For example, a WW 2 bomb that had an impact on the fuse may be very unsafe for transport, so the fuse is generally removed first (although some bombs have anti-defusing devices, requiring specific fuse removal techniques).

            Given that ’round these parts (Warsaw, Poland), WWII bombs are still dug up on a fairly regular basis, you’ve now got me wondering. Having done a bit of googling, the only information I was able to determine was that each piece of unexploded ordnance was removed by the bomb disposal unit – no information whether any disarming took place.

            That said, I’m inclined to agree with John Schilling that one would expect bombs of this size to be removed from the scene prior to doing anything else with them.

            Also, since you’ve brought up the X-ray, that would offer a good reason why the bombs may have been classified as safe to tamper with and you are – of course – correct that preserving evidence is a good goal to have, if you think you can do so without the object going boom.

        • John Schilling says:

          Is Cuomo stretching the truth … I don’t know, but I don’t know of a reason to suspect that he is other than that people like to make incidents they are investigating seem consequential.

          Cuomo isn’t investigating anything; he’s a politician. And this is the sort of information that is in almost every other case either withheld to protect the investigation, or released by a law enforcement official directly to the press. If the only source of this factoid is a game of telephone run through a politician, I’m not considering anything to have thus been “established”.

          The New York Times is still saying that they don’t know whether the bombs were real. Nobody I can find is citing any law enforcement source as saying the bombs were real, or that they were not real. The assessments by various outside experts that the bombs appear to be hoaxes, stand as the most credible thing we have, which should not be the case but for the moment still is.

          • gbdub says:

            Didn’t Cuomo already exaggerate a claim of a suspicious package sent to his office? I think he’s grandstanding and trying to insert himself into this and his comments should be taken with a grain of salt for that reason.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Note that I pulled a quote from a law enforcement official that the device had an initiator that would cause the bomb to explode. It’s not merely Cuomo, and Cuomo seems to be merely echoing what that law enforcement statement says. I think the article I found post-dates the one John found, as his is from yesterday morning and mine was from yesterday evening.

            Cuomo also, garbledly, indicates that it’s unclear if the the fact that none of the bombs actually exploded is intentional or not.

          • John Schilling says:

            You didn’t actually pull a quote, only a reporter’s paraphrase, and a fairly ambiguous one at that. The law enforcement source almost certainly said that the device had an “initiator”, but “cause the bomb to explode” was a separate clause as likely as not added by the reporter in a failed attempt at clarification.

            And “digital clock as a timer and an initiator” suggests that “initiator” is not being used in the sense of “blasting cap” or any such thing, unless the reporter e.g. left out a really important comma. So we’ve unambiguously got a timer, which is itself very out of place for a mail bomb, and some other stuff that vaguely looks pyrotechnic but nobody is willing to commit to and which didn’t ever actually pyro. And we’ve got sloppy reporting, because that’s par for the course.

          • gbdub says:

            If the quote ultimately came from the investigators, “initiator” is usually a technical term for a device used to set off an explosive process that is not itself necessarily an explosive. Note that this was gunpowder based so it wouldn’t require a “detonator” or “blasting cap” to set it off. Something like an electronic match would count but they wouldn’t refer to the clock as an “initiator”.

          • Matt M says:

            Re: The device not being operational.

            I’ve never looked myself… but is it possible that the internet is filled with fake “how to build a bomb” pages?

            I feel like the FBI, etc. would have a strong motivation to either directly create, or at least, to allow such pages to exist. And the major search engines might presumably be complicit in moving those results to the top of any relevant searches.

            And as much as I generally oppose big tech being in the pocket of the USG, uh, in this case, I think that would be a just and proper outcome.

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt M:

            This would certainly seem like the wrong time to start looking 😉

          • John Schilling says:

            I run across how-to-make-a-bomb pages fairly frequently when googling possible rocket propellant combinations. Most of them are unlikely to result in a working bomb in that they presume more skill and tacit knowledge than an internet wannabe mad bomber would likely possess, and/or assume Murphy is on vacation for the duration, and it’s possible some have subtle defects deliberately incorporated in the recipe by FBI/BATF authors, but I’ve never seen an outright recipe-for-failure like these appear to have been. And I have seen sufficient technical knowledge in the commentariat that I expect anyone who did put up blatant recipes for unworkable bombs would be called out on it in a way that undermines the goals of any such scheme.

            It seems most likely that this guy came by his ineptitude the old-fashioned way, and/or sincerely didn’t want to do more than send a warning to his targets. It has been reported that he is claiming the latter, and while that is obviously self-serving at this point, it is also plausible.

          • I’ve seen the claim, long ago, that the Anarchist Cookbook contained deliberately bad instructions. The implication was not that the bombs wouldn’t work but that they would work too well, be likely to kill the people making them.

            I have no idea if it’s true or just the sort of rumor that spreads because it makes a good story.

          • TakatoGuil says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Having read The Anarchist’s Cookbook, I can confirm there’s definitely fake instructions in there. However, I’m not sure if it was deliberate, or just the result of someone accumulating every halfway believable set of instructions they could into one volume.

      • Garrett says:

        I’m reminded of one of the early episodes of Burn Notice where the protagonist is frustrated by his inability to get any information on why he’s been burned. So he sends a fake bomb to his handler to get his attention. In that case, it’s shown being built deliberately to trip all of the bomb detection equipment without there being any possibility of detonation (eg. using a sprinkling of fertilizer instead of real explosives) with the goal of actually being able to get someone to return his calls.
        But that’s spies playing office politics, not strange political motivations. It’s unlikely that this is eg. a Democratic donor who’s upset that their donations aren’t leading to the policies they want having been enacted.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      One theory that (IMO oddly) has been coming out on the left is that this was possibly a foreign power (aka Russia the current target). This was floated by Chuck Todd.

      This is clearly the most insane theory of all for a left winger to float. If you don’t think so you have some sort of malfunction in your system.

      1. If it was a Russian (or Chinese, etc) op why was it so incompetent? The Russians would easily had bombs that actually explode. Even the Somalian government would have done better.

      2. If it was Russian (etc) what would they gain from these bombs (even if 100% functional and killed all targets) other than them acting as a false flag? No sane person thinks these things benefit Trump. The standard Left line is that Russia loves Trump. If Russia loved Trump they would have sent these bombs to Kushner.

      • skef says:

        Like I said above:

        An object with real explosives that is very unlikely to explode seems intended to look dangerous or not dangerous depending on who is looking. In my mind that points most strongly to some “outside” actor wanting to increase U.S. polarization and dysfunction.

        Facebook ad evidence from the 2016 election points to Russia (which I’m using as an example, not to suggest they’re behind this) pushing to increase polarization from both sides. Their interest seems to be less in putting a thumb on the scale for favorable candidates than trying to reduce the extent that the U.S can function. What a foreign power would gain is both sides accusing the other of manipulating public opinion with fake bombs containing real explosives.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Yes. I agree. But that is considered by many on the left to be a right wing conspiracy theory regarding Russia-2016.

          So I am saying this idea is incompatible with the previous position in the extreme.

          • skef says:

            So maybe Chuck Todd isn’t a left wing figure?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Maybe he isn’t a left winger, but he is an adamant proponent of the Russia conspired with Trump to win Trump 2016 via social media and wikileaks theory.

            Which is the exact theory I’m saying is incompatible with his current theory.

            The only fact pattern that supports both positions would be something like, “Trump and Russia are in cahoots, both are incompetent, indeed they would be outsmarted by squirrles, but they got super lucky in 2016. Also they are lucky again because they aren’t caught for this devious plan.”

          • skef says:

            There are versions of the Russia-pushed-Trump story that aren’t compatible and versions that are.

            If the theory is that Russia colluded with Trump in order to get Trump to do a specific thing for them, then the generic polarization goal is at least a different story and perhaps an incompatible one.

            If the theory is that Russia colluded with Trump to help him win because he is polarization personified, that’s compatible. A variation on this theory: They colluded with Trump so that they would have evidence of colluding with Trump, to use either as leverage for specific goals or to promote further polarization as future needs required.

        • What a foreign power would gain is both sides accusing the other of manipulating public opinion with fake bombs containing real explosives.

          Real bombs would create a lot more polarization.

          • skef says:

            That’s true, but there are lots of reasons why foreign powers might want to increase U.S. dysfunction while staying below levels that tempt civil war.

            Added: Another factor of all this that I think points in the direction of low-level individuals rather than party or state-level actors is that nothing exploded (yet?). You’re using real explosives; is it that hard to arrange for at least one mailbox to blow up when no one is around? It is if you actually are just some rando sending them in the mail. So in that sense yes, you would expect Russia or whatever to blow up a mailbox.

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s true, but there are lots of reasons why foreign powers might want to increase U.S. dysfunction while staying below levels that tempt civil war.

            You don’t need the word “civil” in there. Per generally accepted international law and custom, a Russian agent killing a Russian citizen in a foreign country is an act of espionage that justifies a murder conviction for anyone responsible if you can catch them and if they aren’t protected by diplomatic immunity. A Russian agent deliberately killing a foreign citizen in their own country is an act of war, strictly worse(*) than having a Russian bomber fly over the US and drop a JDAMski on George Soros’ bedroom, and if we catch them at it justifies anything up to and including ICBM strikes on every Russian military asset capable of attacking the United States. And it would invoke Article 5.

            What the US and NATO would actually do if they caught Russia outright murdering US citizens on US soil would probably stop short of ICBMs, but it would still be very very bad for Russia. So it’s quite plausible that they (or China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, take your pick) would stick to a level where they sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt without killing anyone.

            * Strictly worse because it’s the same thing except done without the insignia of a lawful combatant.

      • Montfort says:

        This is clearly the most insane theory of all for a left winger to float. If you don’t think so you have some sort of malfunction in your system.

        I don’t really think “you must be crazy if you disagree with my analysis” is an approach I would condone here.

        If it was Russian (etc) what would they gain from these bombs (even if 100% functional and killed all targets) other than them acting as a false flag? No sane person thinks these things benefit Trump. The standard Left line is that Russia loves Trump. If Russia loved Trump they would have sent these bombs to Kushner.

        If Russia loved Trump and wanted the Republicans to (on the margin) win more of the midterm elections and Russia was reasonably sure their efforts could be blamed on a Democrat-ish person, or at least not attributed until after the election, then they would have targeted the Republican establishment with the attacks.

        In contrast, some people (see, e.g. dodrian, upthread) believe Russia intends to stoke partisan mistrust and bickering, and a mail-bombing campaign where people can argue about how many levels of false-flag it is plausibly fits that goal as long as they’re reasonably confident the culprit can’t be clearly established before doubt takes hold.

        I’m not in a hurry to attribute these crimes to anyone, but it’s not “insane” to propose an explanation you think fits even if it doesn’t work with (what idontknow131647093 thinks is) the party line.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          But the Democratic party line is that Russia has an extremely complex and good handle over us culture and uses ads and targeting to influence the elections in particular to benefit Trump. I personally find this to be an overstatement, but this is 100% incompatible with the idea of Russia sending prominent Democrats bombs or even fake bombs.

          The only theories compatible with Russians sending these are: 1) They are chaos agents on all sides (which I think); 2) They are Democratic sympathizers; or 3) They are totally incompetent (IMO least plausible).

          • Montfort says:

            Accepting arguendo your characterization of the party line, people speak out against message all the time, and I don’t think these people are insane (usually). It just so happens that sometimes an individual sees things differently from the party bigwigs, or sees some personal advantage to pretending they disagree.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I dont understand what your argument is. Its not like Chuck Todd, who is the main guy I recall floating this idea, doesn’t toe the line at almost all times. Its not like Todd doesn’t still hold up the idea of Trump-Russia collusion being central to 2016.

            Its true that there are sometimes deviations. But the only deviation that makes sense in this case is a Dershowitz style deviation where you declare, “It looks like Russia might be involved, thus its obvious Democratic Party line has been disproven.”

          • Montfort says:

            I guess what I’m saying is that a) people in the Republican and Democratic parties are not 100% party robots, b) parties do not always have one “line” they get whip everyone onto (though they try for many things, with varying degrees of effort), and c) the positions “Russia did the mail bombs” and “Trump colluded with Russia to get elected” are not inherently contradictory.

            Imagine for a second Chuck Todd really thinks it was the Russians. It is possible he would feel obliged to publicize this information. It is possible he wants to sound smart and in control during a “crisis” and expects to be vindicated by future evidence. It is possible he thinks voters aren’t buying the current “party line” and is unilaterally trying to produce an alternate narrative for people to latch onto. It is possible he wants a more russophobic US and thinks blaming everything on russia will accomplish this goal. Or many of these, or other things I can’t think of.

            Moreover, you can still hold the idea that Russia is now playing agitator and that in 2016 they colluded with Trump simultaneously – for example, one might think that, having seen a number of hostile actions from the current congress, Russia decided to change strategies. Or that they specifically prefer Trump, but are indifferent about who’s in congress. Or that they were only agitating all along, but colluded with Trump because they thought that’s what it would take to make the election maximally divisive.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Mont. I think you are being eminently reasonable. But that is because you are defending the “weak” version of Trump-Russia, and by weak I mean more plausible and harder to disprove because it simply says Russia is acting in Russia’s self interest.

            That position is the fallback to the fallback to the fallback position that I see most commonly articulated which is along the lines of, “Trump and Russia colluded in the election. Putin and Trump are hand in hand on most political matters and are secretly international allies attempting to uproot the current world order, and Trump is therefore treasonous.”

            Imagine for a second Chuck Todd really thinks it was the Russians. It is possible he would feel obliged to publicize this information. It is possible he wants to sound smart and in control during a “crisis” and expects to be vindicated by future evidence. It is possible he thinks voters aren’t buying the current “party line” and is unilaterally trying to produce an alternate narrative for people to latch onto. It is possible he wants a more russophobic US and thinks blaming everything on russia will accomplish this goal. Or many of these, or other things I can’t think of.

            All these are plausible, but none of them are honest unless he recants his previous positions.

            Moreover, you can still hold the idea that Russia is now playing agitator and that in 2016 they colluded with Trump simultaneously – for example, one might think that, having seen a number of hostile actions from the current congress, Russia decided to change strategies. Or that they specifically prefer Trump, but are indifferent about who’s in congress. Or that they were only agitating all along, but colluded with Trump because they thought that’s what it would take to make the election maximally divisive.

            These are all fine ideas. Like I said, they are fallback positions from the current stance. They do not fallback to my position (the chaos idea) which I think is most supported.

            But I will go one step further. The implication of the Russia-Mailbomb stories is that this is Russia attacking the Democratic party and attempting to help Trump. Which again, I think is laughable.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        To be honest, this is one of the few instances where I think “it’s the Russians” is not totally insane.

        Russia does have a goal of disrupting US politics and US elections. A bizarre and incompetent hoax right before midterms that has everyone pointing fingers at each other accomplishes that goal nicely.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, for anyone whose goal is “sow division within the US” (a group that includes, but is hardly limited to Russia), this seems like a low-risk high reward play. A lot cheaper than taking out a ton of Facebook ads, and far more effective. Pretty much the only way it doesn’t work is if the devices somehow fail to attract any attention and simply get thrown away without comment (and the safeguard against that is sending out 10 of them rather than 1)

    • Chalid says:

      Can’t believe there are this many posts in this thread and there isn’t any serious attempt at figuring out the base rate.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        I made some attempts, but it’s really hard. First of all, some sites only list successful terrorist attacks, but we want foiled ones as well, since that’s what happened here. Second, most sites don’t give enough information to be sure about what is a false flag or not, and it’s tedious to check the details by hand. And finally, it’s hard to decide what is in the reference class: are all ‘politically motivated’ acts of violence? Only ones targeting high-profile political figures? Only assassination attempts? Inside the US only?

        I think no matter what the percentage is quite low: the only really clean example I can find of a false flag of this sort is this one; Douglas Knight mentions the Anthrax scare of 2001 which sort of fits, though it doesn’t seem Ivins was trying to frame his political enemies; there are also a few lower-level examples like Ashley Todd and the other ones listed here; and there are government-backed false flags in wartime. Putting all the examples I can find together gives me on the order of 20-30 examples of false flags and hoaxes; using one of these lists, there are plausibly ~200 or so events in the reference class. However, some of my false flag examples suggest a wider reference class (including events outside of America, for example) so the 10% is likely an overestimate.

        I think you could probably justify a number between 1-10% but being precise is going to take more work than I care to do, and the methodology will be highly contestable.

    • j1000000 says:

      As others have said, I would put it higher than 1% mainly b/c not a single one went off and it lines up with mid-terms pretty well. But I’d also put the DOUBLE false flag that others have mentioned greater than 0% because we live in a strange time currently.

      Also as you and others have said, I still think the likeliest possibility by far is that this was a Trump supporter/far-right person of some sort of who actually hates those people.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Well looks like they got him. What a deranged moron. Hope he never sees the outside of a prison cell.

      (blah blah blah caveats about due process)

      • John Schilling says:

        (blah blah blah caveats about due process)

        And about e.g. Steven Haftill, but odds are pretty good they got the right guy or that we’ll know fairly quickly that this was a mistake.

      • Slicer says:

        Well, I’ve just had my priors updated about just how much people are willing to go along with obvious insanity.

        This guy is basically the poster boy for batshit insanity. He got fixated on Trump but could have easily been fixated on something else.

        He walked into at least at least one courier service telling them to deliver one of the world’s most obviously suspicious packages (one of which reached the CNN mail room) with USPS stamps on it, containing one of the world’s most obviously fake and ridiculous-looking bombs, and they just went along and delivered it.

        Then somebody (with either no concept of danger or a serious death wish) in the CNN mail room stood around taking pictures of a cartoonish-looking fake bomb from a madman, presumably thinking it’s a real one. (And if the mail room employee knew it was fake, then… isn’t that just turning a threat into a hoax?)

        Everything about this is just so laughably on-the-nose. Absolute wacko, mislabeled packages that might as well have been labeled “BOMB”, schizo-looking fake bombs inside, world’s most obvious and well-protected targets, clueless (presumably small?) courier services that don’t put any markings on the packages, suicidal mail room employees.

        I don’t know what to think. I’m completely confused. “Who behaves this way? Why?” And that’s not just the nutjob himself.

        Oh, and he was from Florida, because of course he was, right? My priors are confirmed in that regard, at least.

        • meh says:

          He got fixated on Trump but could have easily been fixated on something else.

          Sure, but
          1) Some things are easier to get fixated on than others
          2) Different things, when fixated on, promote different actions. If he had gotten fixated on Christianity or Buddhism, would we have had the same result?

          • Slicer says:

            Christianity has lost its mojo as a source of terrorist acts (although it has been, historically), and Buddhist terrorists actually exist right now, although that’s in Myanmar and not the US.

            I don’t think someone like this would get fixated on something that he saw as harmless. It wouldn’t appeal to him.

            Nobody believed Trump’s common media portrayal harder than this guy. He just ran with it.

      • sty_silver says:

        Just to be clear, this is slam-dunk evidence that it wasn’t a false flag, right? Or is there any credible basis to still think it was?

        I also just want to point out that I checked the prediction markets for the midterms quite frequently, and there was no significant movement due to any of this. It seems like, as long as the bombs don’t go off, this kind of story isn’t enough to sway anyone’s vote.

        • It is good enough evidence to reduce the probability of a false flag operation below one percent, probably well below. One could still imagine some scenario where the person sending them was either someone pretending to be a Trump admirer or a real Trump admirer manipulated by someone else, but the straightforward explanation seems much more likely.

    • Plumber says:

      @Hoopyfreud

      “So, bombings. Out of curiosity, does anyone here think that the probability of “false flag” is greater than 1%?….”

      I haven’t read anywhere near all of the posts in this exceedingly long thread so apologies if this has already been posted, but it appears that they have made an arrest and they have a suspect who seems to identify as a Trump supporter, but it wouldn’t have suprised me if it had been some other flavor of nutcase.

      • gbdub says:

        This guy seems pretty wack. Peak “Florida Man”. Seems to have latched onto pro-Trump, but honestly seems like someone that was going to latch onto something violent eventually and happened to pick Trump rather than a political activist that went off the deep end.

        • Plumber says:

          Agreed.

          He seems like one of Eric Offers “True Believers” and if it was the 1970’s I could imagine him becoming a leftist extremist.

          It does seem to me that after the 1980’s more of these types identify with the “Right” in the U.S.A., if you don’t include Muslim extremists (where do you place them?), and I’m reminded of the non-American Horst Mahler who went from a leftist extremist to the far right but still claimed to be “Fighting for the same cause”, which in a way he was, the cause of violence.

          What violent extremist latch unto seems to be a matter of fashion.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I definitely think there’s a lot of mobility between the fringes, but it seems this guy was quite the racist, anti-Semite, and homophobe, who loved Hitler, and who told his lesbian supervisor that because she was lesbian she should be “put on an island with all the other gay people and burned”. I don’t think it’s accidental or arbitrary that he became a right-wing nutcase and not a left-wing one.

          • Plumber says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            “…, but it seems this guy was quite the….”

            I didn’t know those details about his madness, so yes I imagine that would lean him towards one side.

  4. arlie says:

    This morning I found myself in the dentist’s office, being subjected to a television presenting a bunch of talking heads discussing some celebrity having worn “blackface” as a Hallowe’en costume, or something like that. It irritated me so much that I asked them to turn off the TV. The dental work was far less unpleasant 🙁

    I’m not black. I don’t have personal experience of being black in the USA – or anywhere else. I’m pretty much allied with the blue tribe, and culturally closer to that bubble than the red one. If someone black wants to tell me why they are annoyed by that particular costume choice, I’ll certainly listen politely, on the grounds that I simply can’t know their experience. And there are very few venues where I’ll publically express disgust with blue tribe shibboleths – but this happens to be one of them, and I feel like venting.

    I find myself comparing Black Lives Matter with this exhibition of what basically looks like whining to me. And not just whining, but whining on the part of an unusually privileged middle class black guy at that. Black people have a lot of far more significant problems in the USA. Being reminded that – at some time in the past – white performers were hired to pretend to be black, rather than hiring black performers to actually be black – just doesn’t strike me as especially important. (That seemed to be the essence of the offence, according to the rather angry-sounding black talking head.)

    One of the worst things about the culture wars, IMO, is that it’s next to impossible to tell one’s supposed allies that they appear to have lost all sense of proportion.

    OTOH, damned if I know how the whole thing really feels to someone more directly affected. Maybe it really *is* bad enough to be worth this giant fuss, and I just can’t see it.

    But oh dear I’m sick of offended whiners, especially ones combining this with self righteous anger.

    And just to head off culture wars at the pass – I’m sure we can all list more self righteous whiners from the other team than we can from our own. That’s human nature, and says precious little about how many actually exist. But maybe it would be better for us all if we thought more about our own team’s absurdities, and less about the other’s.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      I cannot comment on how black people feel about white people costuming as black. But I feel that something important is lost if every aspect of culture is subjected to political correctness. I see Halloween as an example of a “transgressive” holiday – like carnival, the bacchanalia etc., where the normal standards of social decorum are loosened (rather than raised, as in many religious holidays), and you’re allowed to do stuff you normally can’t. In this case, be shocking, be threatening, be offensive. So “yes, by all means, dress up as undead and go around threatening people with tricks if they don’t give you candy, but don’t pretend to be a black person, someone might be offended” sets off my cognitive dissonance sensors.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        It’s not “don’t pretend to be a black person”, it’s “don’t use blackface to pretend to be a black person”. For example, I’m not aware of any controversy when Miley Cyrus dressed as Lil Kim nor when Ellen DeGeneres dressed as Nicki Minaj.

        An analogy might be: you can dress up as an Asian person, but not by wearing exaggerated buck-teeth and taping your eyes slanty; or you can dress up as a Jew but you probably shouldn’t wear an exaggerated fake hooked nose.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s not “don’t pretend to be a black person”, it’s “don’t use blackface to pretend to be a black person”.

          Wrong. There are plenty of articles out right now debating whether or not it’s “appropriate” for white children to dress as popular superhero Black Panther for Halloween.

          Note that Black Panther, although he happens to be black, mostly wears a full body suit in superhero form, so no “pretending to be black” would actually be required in order to dress as him.

          Still, there is absolutely no shortage of people who think it is entirely unacceptable for any non-black child to dress as him.

          An analogy might be: you can dress up as an Asian person

          Also wrong. See: “My culture is not your prom dress.” Not only can you not dress up as an Asian person you can’t even wear a single garment of Asian character while engaging in an activity completely and wholly unrelated to Asians or costumes.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            It would be great if you could cite some of the people saying these things.

          • J Mann says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            Here

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Most if not all of the links I see are people asking if it’s ok. The answer seems to be “yes, but there’s an important caveat: there can be absolutely no Blackface.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Well, you can’t dress up as black panther/wear a Chinese dress without *some* rando somewhere on the internet taking offense. But the only reason to pay attention to those folks is that lots of real-world institutions give them more attention and deference than they deserve.

          • J Mann says:

            I would say the answer is a mix of:

            1) Yes, your kids can wear the costume

            2) But maybe it would offend someone, so maybe you’d be safer not doing it, and

            3) Maybe only if you give your kids a lesson in racism and why T’Challa is so awesome, and

            4) Definitely no blackface or attempts at the accent from the movie, though.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I think that’s a fair summary; I don’t think that’s incompatible with my statement that

            It’s not “don’t pretend to be a black person”, it’s “don’t use blackface to pretend to be a black person”

            given the context, but it’s worth noting that there will always be at least some people who think you shouldn’t dress up in anything that can plausibly be construed as being from another culture, and depending on your circumstances (Hallowe’en on a very liberal college campus), you should keep that in mind.

          • Matt M says:

            or attempts at the accent from the movie, though.

            But, it was a fake and artificially designed accent that the actors themselves are also attempting….

        • Fluffy Buffalo says:

          So, what would have been the big deal with putting on dark makeup in the instances you cited? From what I understand, the problem with blackface was that white performers put on blackface to then perform mean-spirited imitations of stereotypical black behavior. So the issue was the intention.
          If you dress up as some specific, recognizable black person in order to make fun of them without putting on blackface, would that be okay? If so, why?
          If you dress up as some specific, recognizable black person you admire as an homage, that’s apparently okay. But if you did put on blackface to increase the semblance, that would apparently not be okay – why? Is there anything wrong with dark skin?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            What’s the issue with putting on a fake hooknose to dress up as a Jew? Even if the Jewish person you’re dressing up as has a large nose? Does suggesting that this is tasteless and offensive imply that there is anything wrong with big noses?

            The issue is not exactly intention, since even minstrel show performers might not have intended for their performances to be mean-spirited. Rather, it’s that the portrayal of black people in minstrel shows, intentional or not, was propagandistic and dehumanizing, based on cruel stereotypes. Dressing in a way that draws attention to a cruel and dehumanizing stereotype is itself cruel; it’s the same reason you wouldn’t dress up as a Jew by trying to make yourself look like an illustration in Der Sturmer.

            Obviously, there are other ways to be cruel and mocking without putting on blackface, and you shouldn’t do those either.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The firing offense was not wearing blackface, but asking questions, specifically the questions that Fluffy Buffalo is asking.

        • Matt M says:

          From People Magazine:

          Parents of white children may want to think twice before purchasing a Black Panther Halloween costume this year.

          The blockbuster superhero film is sure to spawn some of the most popular get-ups this season, but many are advising parents to consider all angles before giving in to their children’s wishes — namely, exploring the idea of whether a white child dressing up as any of the film’s black characters would be considered cultural appropriation.

          From the Washington Post:

          Daum decided to browse a vintage store in downtown Salt Lake City, where she came across a red cheongsam, also known as a qipao — the high-collared, form-fitting traditional Chinese dress.

          “My culture is NOT your …. prom dress,” a man named Jeremy Lam tweeted days later, sharing the photos she posted.

          “I’m proud of my culture, including the extreme barriers marginalized people within that culture have had to overcome those obstacles,” Lam also wrote. “For it to simply be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience, is parallel to colonial ideology.”

          The tweet, which has been shared nearly 42,000 times, spurred an onslaught of similar criticism of Daum’s prom dress, with many people on Twitter accusing her of cultural appropriation.

          “This isn’t ok,” wrote another Twitter user. “I wouldn’t wear traditional Korean, Japanese or any other traditional dress and I’m Asian. I wouldn’t wear traditional Irish or Swedish or Greek dress either. There’s a lot of history behind these clothes.”

          These controversies are highly publicized and were all over mainstream media, but congratulations, you just wasted 5 minutes of my time “proving” to you something obvious and non-controversial.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The “white people can’t dress up as BP” side of the argument is being held up by Twitter randos in that People magazine article; the guy who says white people can only dress up as Martin Freeman’s character has fewer than 5000 followers. So, yes, there are people saying it, but it’s not clear that they are mainstream or influential.
            When I googled “black panther costume” the first controversy results showed up only on page 2 or 3, and most of the results were stores selling the costumes. And I genuinely had not heard any controversy about this beforehand.

            The prom dress is a better example, and genuinely was a mainstream controversy. I still think in most cases you can dress up as an Asian character for Hallowe’en without attracting much trouble except from the most outrageous Twitter warriors.

          • rlms says:

            The prom dress incident is obviously completely different, because the criticism was that someone was wearing a specific traditional dress, not pretending to be a fictional character of a certain race. Congratulations on stupidly conflating things.

          • Deiseach says:

            namely, exploring the idea of whether a white child dressing up as any of the film’s black characters would be considered cultural appropriation

            Given that Wakanda does not exist, is totally fictional, and is a made-up fantasy nation in a comic book, not a real culture of a real society in a real country, I think the answer there is “no”. Unless you are going to make the argument that dressing up as Glinda the Good Witch of the West is culturally appropriating the Land of Oz, this is not even a reasonable comparison to make. “Maybe don’t dress up as Martin Luther King if you’re white, go right ahead and dress up as T’Challa though”.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Deiseach, given that Oz is an “American Fairyland,” would dressing up as Glinda be culturally appropriating American culture? Worse, given that she’s the ruler of the Quaddling country which Baum describes as “red,” would it be culturally appropriating Native American culture?

          • quanta413 says:

            @rlms

            The prom dress incident is obviously completely different, because the criticism was that someone was wearing a specific traditional dress, not pretending to be a fictional character of a certain race. Congratulations on stupidly conflating things.

            How traditional are you talking here? Because the modern versions of the dress have noticeable western influence. Wikipedia’s got a citation to a Chinese author who goes further and claims the style since the early 1900s is a hybrid of Chinese and Western styles. Not just western influences modifying a Chinese dress.

            Wearing a qipao is not like wearing a war bonnet.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413
            Irrelevant. I’m not defending “my culture is not your prom dress” (and if you’ve been round here a while your prior probability that someone would do that should be pretty low); I’m pointing out that that controversy is not what was asked for.

          • quanta413 says:

            @rlms

            Irrelevant. I’m not defending “my culture is not your prom dress” (and if you’ve been round here a while your prior probability that someone would do that should be pretty low); I’m pointing out that that controversy is not what was asked for.

            Then don’t bring it up. The thing being discussed is not necessarily that different. It depends on what arguments are being made. So if you would like to make a case about how it is different then you should give more accurate descriptions of how traditional some clothing is.

            And I’ve been around long enough to be aware of how you post. I’m not going to pretend you are near the median here.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413
            Again, the merits of the case against qipao are not relevant. Maybe it was invented by white people in 2013, I couldn’t care less, and I don’t know why you would think otherwise. Perhaps I am the nearest thing this comment section has to a raging SJW but that doesn’t mean I’m inclined to defend every cry of cultural appropriation Matt M can find.

            The point is that the original question was whether there is widespread opposition to white people dressing up as non-white characters for Halloween. A prom is not Halloween and a dress is not a fictional character, so examples of widespread opposition to things involving those do not answer the original question. If you want to claim that they are similar enough, the onus is on you to justify that.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I don’t think the prom dress thing would have been anywhere near as big an issue if they hadn’t taken the group photo with everyone making peace signs. It was pretty clearly mocking Asians and quite tacky. Without that I suspect it never would have made twitter, even though that part of it didn’t seem to get mentioned much.

          • quanta413 says:

            The point is that the original question was whether there is widespread opposition to white people dressing up as non-white characters for Halloween. A prom is not Halloween and a dress is not a fictional character, so examples of widespread opposition to things involving those do not answer the original question. If you want to claim that they are similar enough, the onus is on you to justify that.

            This is pointlessly narrow. The opposition to the dress was also on twitter and I’d venture a guess that most Americans would have found it stupid so you shouldn’t accept that as real either if you don’t accept random people on twitter saying stuff about Black Panther costumes. Not splitting hairs about how it’s so different because one thing is a prom and the other is Halloween. Matt provided a bunch of people on twitter saying you shouldn’t and an article about it after a source was requested.

            Which was followed by a swift retreat from “source please” to “well these people and their answers don’t count”.

            The idea that I should pretend when people talk about cultural appropriation they don’t include Halloween costumes in that bucket and only mean wearing the clothes of another culture but not dressing as a specific character is daft. Yale had a controversy over an e-mail about Halloween costumes just a few years ago. Inappropriate Halloween costumes is literally a central example of cultural appropriation. I’m sure if I gave a shit I could find concrete examples of how it was supposedly wrong to dress as a certain character but for every 3 people I asked, I’d get 4 answers.

            The whole idea is so ill-defined though that you could play these games endlessly of “that example is different because it didn’t occur during the gibbous waxing phase of the moon accompanied by latin chanting.” Magazine articles and dumb tweets are most of what we get with any public cases of cultural appropriation anyways.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Black people have a lot of far more significant problems in the USA. Being reminded that – at some time in the past – white performers were hired to pretend to be black, rather than hiring black performers to actually be black – just doesn’t strike me as especially important. (That seemed to be the essence of the offence, according to the rather angry-sounding black talking head.)

      If nothing else, I agree with you completely here. I think this is a weird pseudo-academic dance people do in order to present an object-level target for their opponents to attack that they aren’t personally invested in. Saying “I am hurt and saddened by you dressing up as a black person” only works if the person you’re talking to gives a fuck, and it really hurts to get run over on, so [cultural anthropology] presents a framework to explain why people are right to be hurt by it.

      It’s often safe to transgress the norms of the ingroup in ways that aren’t hurtful, and it’s always safe to transgress the norms of the outgroup. If you transgress a group’s norms hurtfully, you are framing them as the outgroup, and effectively saying, “I am your strategic ally, but I will not make an effort to respect or understand your norms. Fuck off, it’s fun for me.”

      There is a norm against dressing as black among black people. I don’t really understand why the violation of this norm is so distressing, and I assume that it’s not enforced for purely rational reasons (and that demanding a rational justification for its perpetuation will be counterproductive). That said, I don’t see a compelling reason to refuse to observe it. If I had a good reason for violating it, I’d endeavor to understand what I’d be doing better, but as of now I have never felt compelled to do so.

      On the receiving end, it’s like seeing your best friend show up to a Halloween party dressed as the man your wife cheated on you with and left you for. Is it objectively funny to some people? Maybe. But goddamn, it’s a tasteless kick in the teeth to you, and you thought you were both here to have a good time.

      • arlie says:

        *sigh* You are probably right. and at a micro level, I’d have very little issue with it, perhaps because it would in fact be person-I-actually-know explaining that/why they find some particular behaviour unpleasant.

        It’s the macro level that bugs me – and talking heads on TV certainly count as macro. I don’t know any of these pundits, or the celebrity they were talking about. I don’t even want to know any of them – all I know about them is their participation in this not-so-attractive activity. And being visibly angry is good for threatening people into co-operating with you, not for getting them to like you, or even cooperate with you willingly – however natural and satisfying it may feel.

    • Aapje says:

      @arlie

      What I’d like is some recognition that scapegoating (falsely blaming people for creating problems that they didn’t cause) is:
      – often a mistake where people are looking for the cause of a problem they have and want solved, not malice where they want to hurt someone else
      – something that humans are prone to in general, not just extremists and certainly not just people on the other side

      Secondly, I’d like people to accept that being offended to some extent is necessary to have a functioning and tolerant society. The transgressive holidays that Fluffy Buffalo points to are an example of ways to let people express transgressive feelings and beliefs they do have, or push up against taboos to experiment, while keeping this behavior contained. It’s wrong to treat this as a threat to civilized society outside of this context.

      • Well... says:

        Re. scapegoating, what you’re describing in your first bullet point is a real thing but it isn’t scapegoating. Scapegoating inherently means pinning guilt on some thing, person, or group for the sake of distancing oneself from that guilt. You lay your hands on the goat and then kill it to symbolically pass your sins onto it and then, by killing the goat, absolve yourself of those sins. So, while scapegoating is indeed not necessarily malicious, I don’t think you can say it’s often a well-intentioned mistake either. For well-intentioned but mistaken blame-finding, find another term.

        But I do agree with your second bullet point, that scapegoating is something humans are prone to do in general, and I would also add that it can even serve a useful purpose in the right context (the religious context is the one I have in mind but there could be others).

        I heartily accept that being offended is to some extent necessary to a functioning and tolerant society, provided “to some extent” is italicized. Taking offense is basically a cultural immune response; obviously, societies need that. The issue is limiting it so it doesn’t get out of hand and become a chronic cultural autoimmune disorder like allergies or lupus, which I think are fine analogies to overzealous political correctness.

      • arlie says:

        @Aapje You’re right on both counts, though maybe Well… is more right on terminology.

        People want answers badly enough to jump to conclusions, and ignore evidence that their conclusion was hasty and their results probably wrong. Other people get hurt because of this, fairly routinely, so it’s not a trait to be encouraged. But it’s very human.

        @Well… I love your analogy between being offended and the body’s immune system, particularly the part about auto-immune disorders. Taking this a bit farther – I wonder if there’s anything analagous to the hygiene hypothesis – if people don’t routinely live with a certain amount of offensive behaviour, they become hypervigilant, aka overzealously politically correct, or worse.

    • Matt M says:

      And not just whining, but whining on the part of an unusually privileged middle class black guy at that.

      Upper class whites being offended on behalf of oppressed minorities is the single most annoying thing about the culture wars.

      If something offends your own sensibilities, fine, but we seem to have embraced a societal norm where someone can call something offensive, not because they themselves are offended by it, but because they simply assume other people might be.

      • Well... says:

        It’s hard to know for sure since we can’t actually see into people’s minds, but maybe this is really people wanting to show they are offended on others’ behalfs, for ultimately self-interested reasons.

        I liken it to the painting of lamb’s blood on doorposts to ward off the plague of the firstborn, where the lamb’s blood is the statement of being offended and the plague of the firstborn is some subconscious fear about (e.g.) minorities rising up in mob violence or something.

        • mdet says:

          That’s plausible, but I also think it’s a result of not actually knowing too many people in the minority group. If only 10% of black people actually think X is offensively racist, but it just so happens that many of the black people you know personally are in that 10%, then you can get a skewed picture where you think all black people are offended by X.

          I don’t think this applies to blackface. In general I would not recommend walking into a black neighborhood with your face painted dark, even on Halloween. But a Black Panther costume? I wouldn’t expect any real pushback.

    • J Mann says:

      AFAICT, there are two parallel issues:

      1) Blackface is offensive because it references, intentionally or not, a history of very offensive stereotyping in the US, and because it often leads to more stereotyping.

      2) However strongly you feel about #1, if someone goes ahead and does it anyway, then it’s offensive that the person either didn’t educate themselves that it was offensive or didn’t care.

      The OK symbol is a little earlier in this process – yes, it was all a 4-chan prank, but some people do it with the intention of offending others, and if you do it notwithstanding knowing that other people are offended, you’re a jerk too. I’m not sure which way it will tip, but my guess is that in a year or two it will either be totally rehabilitated or basically taboo.

      Some of this is also determining who we are going to recognize as important. If you’re offended by tweets about “stupid white people,” or you don’t like Gina Gershon playing a Mexican national in Z-Nation*, whether we recognize your concern says something about whether we think you’re oppressed and deserve some relief.

      * I’ve never seen anyone actually be offended by that, so maybe Gershon is latina, but her performance was quite broad.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        There’s a much less strong norm against people playing Mexican (or other South American) nationals in general – I think because there’s less of a history of perceived (and very arguably actual) exclusion and caricature within those communties than among (for example) Asians, Jews, or Blacks.

      • albatross11 says:

        There’s a question that’s worth asking, about how much we should be willing to change our behavior in response to people who are, in large part, being offended as a strategy to get power/attention. A lot of the panics about alt-right symbols now resemble the panics about Satanic symbols/meanings in everything I recall from my youth. Taking them seriously probably just makes the world a worse place.

    • Deiseach says:

      Eh, all I can comment about is traditional Hallowe’en where people used to blacken their faces with burnt cork, not to pass as black people but in the same way of wearing masks and cross-dressing (the origin of the costumes for Hallowe’en thing, where women would wear trousers and men’s caps and put their hair up and men might wear skirts and aprons) – to change your identity, disguise and protect yourself from the spirits and fairies who were out and about on that particular night.

      Nowadays of course, it’s all Americanised Hallowe’en (you kids get off my lawn!) 🙂

    • skef says:

      Any discussion of the significance of blackface in the United States that the rules are a form of *etiquette* is going to quickly go off the rails.

      Why shouldn’t it be fine to burn this or that piece of cloth? People burn cloth for all sorts of reasons. What’s the big deal? Who does it hurt? None of these questions are going to change anyone’s mind about flag burning. Not only are people not supposed to burn flags, but they’re supposed to be aware enough of their culture to know that you’re not supposed to burn flags.

      Similarly, because of its past connotations, as an American who is white you’re supposed to know enough about your culture to know that putting on blackface has a particular symbolic significance and is going to piss a lot of people off. It is, in effect, one of the symbolic acts “reserved” for pissing those people off.

      All of the “it doesn’t make sense” commentary in this thread works just as well against any other form of etiquette. We could have that conversation, but it’s probably easier to just do it in internally: Think of the symbolic acts that would piss you off and the case you would make for doing them, and generalize.

      Now, is it silly and irrational that this particular rule can bleed over into a more general prohibition that includes things like white kids dressing up as Black Panther? I think it probably is. But “tending to bleed over” is all that is happening — there is no wide agreement on the subject. The analogy would be someone wearing a swimsuit with a flag pattern. Should “the flag” really be treated that way, without even underwear between it and some guy’s ass? Go out that way and someone may well yell “that’s disrespectful!” at you. But there will be no wide agreement.

    • gbdub says:

      Minstrel shows were super-offensive, full stop, and obviously anything carrying on that legacy is also offensive. It doesn’t take over-the-top political correctness to be sensitive to that. But there does seem to be a lot of collateral damage -a few years ago there was a spat over someone dressing as a shadow version of Link (from the Zelda games) which consisted of all-black clothing and accessories and all over black body paint. That (and anything else that is just “portraying something black that is not a person of African racial extraction”) should be obviously not “blackface”. That starts to veer into “niggardly is a racist word” territory – a fundamental misunderstanding of etymology.

      On the other hand it does seem a bit backwards to no-exceptions discourage children from dressing up as characters or real people from another race. If a little white kid looks up to T’Challa, isn’t that a good thing? At what point do we say the good of encouraging kids to see heroes in all shapes and colors outweighs the negative of increasingly distant connections to old minstrel shows.

      I know that nobody does “subtle” any more when it comes to Culture War, but most individual people ought to be able to distinguish between “indulging in stereotypes” and “attempting to faithfully and positively portray a character”.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        I think the Zelda thing is not offensive per se, but is the sort of thing that is easily confused: a person with black paint on their face as part of a costume is easy to misconstrue. The same way that “niggardly” isn’t a racist word, but you still don’t want to have anyone mishear you when you say it.

        We’ve discussed elsewhere in the thread Black Panther costumes, and the consensus (which I agree with) seems to be that they’re fine so long as you don’t do blackface, though as always there will be those who disagree, or people who are too scared to do it just in case.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        Minstrel shows were super-offensive, full stop, and obviously anything carrying on that legacy is also offensive. It doesn’t take over-the-top political correctness to be sensitive to that.

        Okay, fair enough for now, but how do you ever get out of that rut? In an ideal, non-racist society, a white person dressing up as a black person would be just as inoffensive as vice versa, but I don’t see a realistic way to get there. Ironically, if you’re whipping up outrage over obviously non-malicious use of blackface, it’s you who is perpetuating the legacy of the minstrel show by reminding everyone that blacks were thought of as inferior and implying that they’re too weak to tolerate a Halloween costume. If everyone treated dark makeup as just another option for a costume and judged the performance by the intent of its wearer, minstrel shows might eventually become one of the many barbaric traditions we’ve thankfully left behind and don’t worry about anymore, like burning witches or flogging whipping boys.

        BTW, a roommate of mine once did a “negative” version of a stereotypical Goth kid for Halloween – blackface, white lips and eyeliner, all white clothes. It looked hilarious, and since this was in Germany, no one even thought of being offended.

        • Aapje says:

          One way would be to stop being so sensitive about things that are in the past and only condemn things that are actually serious problems right now.

          If (practically) no one does or wants to do offensive blackface impersonations right now, then what is the taboo protection against?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            This idea works best if you think it’s intent that matters for how offensive something is. If on the other hand you think almost all blackface impersonations currently are offensive, whether or not anyone wants them to be so, the taboo is protection against blackface impersonations–which are offensive.

          • Aapje says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            The very nature of a taboo is that it results in things being considered offensive, so I think that you are engaging in circular reasoning: we should taboo offensive things, where the taboo makes people regard it as offensive.

            That logic ignores that being offended is a means to an end and should not become an end in itself.

            You can also never get rid of a taboo unless you question whether the perceived offensiveness is justified by something more real than hurt feelings.

            If you hold hurt feelings as sacred, then this results in noxious conclusions, like that certain countries are justified in oppressing gay people, because many are truly offended by gays.

            Note that I never said that ill intent should be used to distinguish between behavior that should remain a taboo and behavior that should no longer be a taboo. It is one factor that can be considered, but I personally think that the kind of harms that result are a very important consideration, where merely seeing something that offends a person should not hold too much weight.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            People think things are offensive for reasons other than that they are taboos; supposing that the taboo arises first is not always accurate.

            And all ‘offensiveness’ is determined by hurt human feelings, but I don’t think that’s sufficient to declare it a result of ‘oversensitivity’–compare “no one wants to tell offensive Holocaust jokes”. Obviously, to some extent it’s true that Holocaust jokes are only offensive because people find them offensive, but it’s also pretty clear that it’s not just an arbitrary sensitivity. The same is true of blackface–if tomorrow everyone woke up un-offended by blackface, blackface would cease being offensive. But the reasons why it’s offensive are not arbitrary, and can’t be easily made to go away by trying to change peoples’ responses.

            When you say “(practically) no one does or wants to do offensive blackface impersonations right now”, what determines whether a blackface impersonation is offensive?

          • Aapje says:

            When you say “(practically) no one does or wants to do offensive blackface impersonations right now”, what determines whether a blackface impersonation is offensive?

            That was a sloppy statement, where I followed your lead and used ‘offense’ instead of the more correct ‘unacceptably harmful.’ Please don’t hold me to that phrasing.

            And all ‘offensiveness’ is determined by hurt human feelings, but I don’t think that’s sufficient to declare it a result of ‘oversensitivity’–compare “no one wants to tell offensive Holocaust jokes”. Obviously, to some extent it’s true that Holocaust jokes are only offensive because people find them offensive, but it’s also pretty clear that it’s not just an arbitrary sensitivity.

            I really wish you’d address my example of tabooing gayness. Many people are genuinely offended by gays. Do you think that they are oversensitive? If so, what makes that a case of oversensitivity and other cases not? The disapproval of gayness is not arbitrary either, as no society disapproves of heteros…

            But the reasons why [blackface is] offensive are not arbitrary, and can’t be easily made to go away by trying to change peoples’ responses.

            Whether or not their feelings can be changed is a very different question as to whether their feelings are justified. I want to discuss the ‘ought,’ not the ‘is’ or the ‘can.’

            Imagine a man who was raped by a woman and now feels a deep hatred for all women. Regardless of whether this person can change this feeling, I think that it is meaningful to discuss whether this is a justified feeling. This is especially true because that person is not alone in the world. People around him interact with him in various ways. For example, if the man demands that all women are removed from his vicinity, others can respond by:
            – “Your feelings are understandable, but wrong and your demand is excessive and punishing for people who are not to blame for what you experienced”
            – “Yeah, fuck these women that harm you by existing. Let’s go and pelt rocks at them.”

            I hope that the answer is more like the former. Of course, I chose an example here where the right answer is fairly obvious, but as a society we also need an answer for the situations where the right solution is not so clear (at the time). This is especially true as societal progress depends in part on getting rid of obsolete taboos, like the aforementioned taboo on gays.

            Ultimately, many taboos that we now consider absurd, once had lots of support. Having a functioning and somewhat rational process to dismantle these taboos is important.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Aapje

            There are clear negative impacts resulting from a taboo on homosexuality, and gay people are, right now, making the decision to transgress the taboos of the anti-gays and expose themselves to backlash. The public sentiment is that the distress resulting from the transgression is overcome by the benefits, so people support it. If you make the argument that the blacks should get over their blackface taboo so that you can dress up as Robert Downey Jr. in Topic Thunder, you probably won’t get most people to agree that that’s worth it; in a hundred years, they might. Taboos can decay over time, and they’re pushed towards dissolution by people like you, so I don’t begrudge you your opinion; you just haven’t convinced me that now is the time.

          • Aapje says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            Sure, but we live in a globalized world where people come in contact with and migrate to other cultures, including those where blackface is part of their cultural celebrations with no intent to mock black people (Iran, The Netherlands, Panama, UK). Then people try to import this taboo from the US into those cultures, which tends to cause friction along globalist/localist lines, destabilizing society.

            Similarly, you have people who bring their foreign culture and thus their foreign taboos into the US, including a taboo on being gay. They can also resist conforming to the taboos of the US.

            Since many people now reject nationalism and monoculturalism, those people no longer have that defense against people who import or transgress against taboos. So then you need some other way to decide what and what not to allow. Currently, you see that a lot of people fall back on tribalism instead, but that is a society-destroying solution, as well as not being very moral or rational.

            Anyway, my interest is in a generic solution for this.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Aapje

            The loss of metic awareness is a much bigger problem, though, and probably not one that a rational approach is well-suited to dealing with. I don’t see why a reasonable response isn’t for the majority culture to just… be upset. Let the traditions and taboos fight and die in the world of today. There’s no need for a “solution” – the metic roots have all gone up in smoke anyway.

            I do my best not to enforce the taboos I don’t have a personal stake in, but I do usually observe them. I only sometimes observe traditions (let’s define a “tradition” as “a customary violation of an internal or external taboo”) that I don’t have a stake in, so I suppose I passively support taboos over traditions. I suspect this kind of behavior will favor meaningless taboos over meaningless traditions in the long run, but I think I’m ok with that.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Aapje

            I wrote a response a few hours ago that seems not to have posted, so sorry for taking so long, here’s more or less what I tried to say:

            I followed your lead and used ‘offense’ instead of the more correct ‘unacceptably harmful.’ Please don’t hold me to that phrasing.

            No problem; I think that clarifies things for me. Would you say then, that the issue is not that blackface isn’t or shouldn’t be offensive, but rather that it isn’t very harmful, and insofar as it is harmful it’s by means of offending people. So if we want to reduce harm, we have two options: stop doing blackface, or stop being offended by it?

            I think that’s basically right, and don’t really object to that.

            As the most malign aspects of the history of blackface fade maybe there’s some room here to try and take less offense, but a) I think people doing blackface while feelings are still raw aren’t likely to convince people that the malign era is over and b) there’s still a limit to how successful this will be: I find it pretty hard to imagine that e.g. wearing a fake nose to pretend to be Jewish or pulling your eyes horizontally to look Japanese will ever not be offensive to those groups–being singled out on the basis of physical features seems to be a deep-rooted thing that people react to, and having this done in a caricaturish way that also targets you not just at a personal level only exacerbates it.

            I guess this is a long way to say that taking offense at blackface is comparably justifiable to taking offense at being mocked for any set of physical features, maybe a little moreso because of the specific history involved.

            As to people being offended by homosexuality: I think the big difference here is the reason underlying the offense taken. I genuinely don’t get what there is to be offended about. I can see disgusted, or morally opposed, but not offended. Whereas, as I say, caricaturish exaggerations of physical features is something that seems pretty close to universal at striking chords in people.

            Finally, I’ll note that this doesn’t address the issue of what bar we should set (if any) for how offensive something has to be before we decide that it’s over the line.

          • Aapje says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            I don’t think that blackface is inherently harmful. Take the Panamanian blackface that I linked to, where people remember the slavery of the past by using blackface to play their ancestors or masks to play (devilish) Spanish colonizers. The festival is like a play that tells a story, where the blackface accurately reflects that the escaped slaves were black. The people with blackface are the heroes in the narrative of the festival.

            Blackface has other reasons in other traditions. For example, Morris dancing may have preserved or adopted blackface (in part) to have it function like a balaclava, where they could transgress a bit, without this being held against them later.

            So…

            being singled out on the basis of physical features seems to be a deep-rooted thing that people react to, and having this done in a caricaturish way that also targets you not just at a personal level only exacerbates it.

            From my perspective, not all blackface is a caricature (just like whiteface that some clowns wear isn’t either) & not all caricatures are hostile. Yet this understanding seems to be missing in the (blue tribe of the) US (and globalists in other countries who adopted parts of US culture). They can only imagine blackface as a hostile caricatures. You treat it as a given that we ought to see it that way, appearing to not realize that your perception is heavily influenced by your (sub)culture.

            Proponents of the Dutch Black Pete don’t see the character as a stereotype of black people and certainly not as caricature of a slave, as the detractors tend to claim (despite there being no credible evidence in favor of that claim and strong evidence against it, like the originator of Black Pete being an abolitionist).

            As far as I know, the Morris dancers don’t mock or disparage anyone. It may be that the name ‘Morris’ comes from Moorish and that the dancing initially presented as a dance coming from the Maghreb. However, I don’t see how that is disparaging. If I eat ‘French toast’, am I disparaging the French or just giving a description that includes the origins? Furthermore, as we see with many traditions, they gradually change where certain parts, like the name ‘Morris’ lose their meaning.

            There is such a thing as oversensitivity, where people see things that go way beyond reason.

            As to people being offended by homosexuality: I think the big difference here is the reason underlying the offense taken. I genuinely don’t get what there is to be offended about.

            Many taboos are strange to outsiders, who don’t get it. If your understanding doesn’t go beyond the emotions that you feel due to enculturation, then your analysis has no validity outside of your culture. So that is only feasible if you either have a mono-culture or if you apply Foucaultian solutions, for example by resolving conflict with a power struggle with no understanding of what the other wants and why.

            If you want to go beyond that and rationally decide what to taboo and what to allow, you need escape the bonds of your own (sub)culture and adopt an outside view.

            PS. One why people reject homosexuality is because they don’t distinguish between men having sex with underage boys and men having sex with men, so in their eyes pedophilia and homosexuality are the same category, where immoral people try to get others to also engage in immoral behavior that harms people and society. This is a bit like many opponents of blackface who fail to distinguish between hostile caricatures and blackface that is used to play a specific person or character, where they see both as people harming others by showing harmful caricatures of black people.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Yes, I agree that blackface in other cultures can have different meaning and valence; I didn’t respond to that aspect of your argument since I was trying to reconstruct a comment I had made before you posted that. Everything I said before is meant in the context of American culture.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, white kids wanting to be Black Panther is the kind of thing a sane person wants *more* of.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      In regards to blackface, I think the most important point is one that I don’t see having been been brought up.

      Imagine a kid, any kid, wearing a hulk costume. You wouldn’t find anything strange about them having green face or body paint.

      I imagine someone in an X-Men Mystique costume or an Avatar Na’vi costume. Blue face and or body paint certainly wouldn’t be unexpected as part of the costume.

      Now imagine a Black kid, wearing a Captain America, Wolverine, Black Widow, or Wonder Woman costume.

      Does white face paint come into this costume in any sort of expected way, or would it strike you as strange? I submit that it would seem very odd for someone who does not have normally white skin to paint it white for this costume.

      And that’s the essential difference.

      • Matt M says:

        I think it would be odd but not offensive.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          But you wouldn’t find the white kid putting black face on odd, correct?

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, I guess it would depend on the context.

            In the case of superheroes that have masks or weapons or other identifying information, I probably would.

            If he was trying to dress up as Django or something, I probably wouldn’t. White kid playing Black Panther is still recognizeable as Black Panther because he wears a Black Panther mask. But if you’re trying to emulate a black character who mainly looks like a regular black person, some sort of paint may be necessary (and the same would be true reverse, for a black person trying to be a normal white character)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            I think you are shading your answer here. I think you would find it much less unusual than the other way around.

            But either way, the idea that black face paint is somehow as integral to a Black Panther costume as Green or Blue skin is to some other costume shows the underlying foreign and alien nature ascribed to the skin color (and the people) at, at least, an unconscious level.

          • Matt M says:

            But either way, the idea that black face paint is somehow as integral to a Black Panther costume as Green or Blue skin is to some other costume

            I must have misstated. This is NOT what I am claiming. I think black face paint is incidental to a Black Panther costume because you can easily make it obvious you are emulating Black Panther through other means (such as a mask/suit).

            But black face paint would be integral for a costume of any black character that doesn’t have other obvious physical characteristics that you can emulate.

            A costume needs to be detailed enough to make it obvious who the person is attempting to emulate. Whether this will require face/body paint will vary on a case by case basis.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            I know you aren’t claiming it. But the conversation is taking place under a rubric where that is the underlying assumption, that wearing black skin paint (for Black Panther) is no different than wearing green skin paint.

            As to Django, I’d like you to again imagine a black kid going as any Clint Eastwood movie character and think about how odd it would be for them to wear white face paint.

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt M:

            I don’t think face paint really makes the Django costume much clearer, that one is going to require explanation (or some obvious prop/partner) to pull off. In the same way, a black kid going as Billy the Kid is going to require explanation (or some obvious prop/partner) but painting his face to look like a white person isn’t going to help at all.

            I don’t think people should be raked over the coals if they make an innocent mistake on this (if it is intentionally offensive provocative that is another story), but they should be informed that it was a mistake and adjust their future behavior accordingly.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @acymetric:
            Yeah, I’m trying to get at the underlying reasons, not chastise some kids or their parents. This is a discussion about societal level assumptions.

          • albatross11 says:

            acymetric:

            I dunno. If you start lecturing my nine year old on how her halloween costume is problematic, I’m probably going to vigorously invite you to autoreproduce.

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            Sure, but I wouldn’t be lecturing your 9 year old (or anybody). I almost certainly wouldn’t say anything to a stranger. If I were close to you I might suggest (hopefully in advance of putting on the costume) that the blackface were unnecessary to your daughter’s costume and why maybe you shouldn’t use it, but I certainly wouldn’t make a big deal about it and you could ultimately do whatever you wanted (the social repercussions that may or may not happen would come from other people, not from me).

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @Heelbearcub

            Isn’t that partially a problem of pigments?

            By way of analogy, my brother wanted to make a green drink for Halloween, but the drink had Grenadine in it so he ended with sewer water color. Not saying it is impossible, but its much harder to lighten than to darken with facepaint.

            Not that I even care. I was just reading through and this struck me as an important note.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Interesting question. I guess I’d find the whiteface very odd and the blackface somewhat odd; in both cases I wouldn’t take personal offense but would wonder what the hell the parents were thinking just the same. The general idea is that Captain America could just as well be black as white, while a non-green Hulk wouldn’t really be Hulk. Black Panther (to the extent I know about him; I don’t do superhero movies) is an intermediate case– to have a white Black Panther you’d need to change a number of other things about the story. Still probably closer to Captain America than to Hulk.

        • Enkidum says:

          I mean… Black Panther is literally called… Black Panther, and was created at the time when the Black Panthers were a real organization. It’s hard for me to see how his skin colour could be more integral than it is.

      • lvlln says:

        This is a good point and reminds me of this amusing exchange from a Halloween episode of Community.

      • gbdub says:

        I think I’d find both kids odd for a couple reasons:
        1) The current cultural sensitivity around dressing as another (real) race
        2) There are noticeable differences in facial structure that tend to correlate with skin color, and this throws my pattern matching for a loop when I see someone in X face unless it’s done really really well. E.g. the Wayans brothers in White Girls look like black dudes with oddly toned skin, not like White Girls.

        The first difference is the main reason it would seem “odd”, and for the purposes of this discussion that’s circular reasoning.

        I think you’re right that part of the key is how much skin color is “essential” to the character being portrayed. This collides with the cultural standard “white is default”. There are very few characters whose whiteness would be considered essential (at least not in a positive way that you’d want to emulate). On the other hand there are a lot of black characters (and black historical figures) whose blackness is definitely essential. Can’t exactly be “white MLK”. Of course the reason their blackness is unusual and essential has more than a little to do with the reason blackface became offensive in the first place. So it’s tough.

        I’ll flip one around on you: in the current climate, there is a new Spiderman movie coming out where the teenage boy Spiderman is black (although it also features a white Peter Parker). This is seen as not only not offensive, but something to celebrate.

        What would the reaction be if, in Black Panther II, Black Panther was a white guy? In both cases, the “hero” is a suit and a title .But consider why the race of one hero is critical, and the other is ancillary.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Black Panther is very special in the Black community, especially the Black comic book geek community. My understanding is that it is hard to overstate how special he is. TNC was effusively overjoyed to be able to right a story arc for the character, so I think Blackness is particular to that character in a way that whiteness is not particular to Spiderman. Make Peter Parker a rich jock from a very happy home and see how it hits people, although that’s not even really analogous.

          That doesn’t mean you couldn’t write a “White Panther” arc, but you would need to be damnnnnnn good about it and definitely not just fit it into the standard white savior trope. You couldn’t simply swap the race and pretend it had no import (especially not when the entire origin story of the character is rooted specifically in sub-Saharan Africa). You would have to have a very good, in universe, reason for doing so and it would need to be concordant with the history of the hero. Especially because the standard reason these things have been done is “let’s appeal more to whites”.

          The other is simply the dearth of black super heroes, and the relative abundance of white ones. Changing out one white super hero leaves you with … essentially an unchanged number of white super heroes. Change out any black super hero and you are left with a fairly significant diminishing. This is especially true for major, tent-pole, type super heroes, of which there are vanishingly few.

          • albatross11 says:

            It also seems really hard to spin out a story that explains how he ends up being white, given his backstory. I mean, a geeky kid in New York getting bitten by a radioactive spider doesn’t really exclude having a black (or Asian, or hispanic) spider-man. But while you can spin out some kind of story of adopting a white kid into the royal family of Wakanda, it’s a pretty big stretch. It would be more like casting a black guy as Thor.

          • Evan Þ says:

            To do a White!Black Panther, you’d pretty much have to sub out the whole history of Wakanda. I suppose you could almost do that with a Poland-expy, but even then it’d be a huge stretch. It’d probably need to be in an entirely different world, which would destroy a lot of the Wakandan feel.

            Now a Native American Panther…

          • dndnrsn says:

            Bitten by a radioactive white person?

            EDIT: That really actually sounds like one of those weird and tasteless one-issue-gimmicks Batman and Superman had back in the day.

            Issues of appopriation and so forth aside, it just seems like a dick move… I mean, now nerdy black kids have a superhero who’s theirs. That’s a good thing. Why try to take that away from them?

          • Matt M says:

            Didn’t they try a Mexican Spiderman once?

            I don’t really follow comics but I remember hearing something about that.

          • Matt M says:

            It would be more like casting a black guy as Thor.

            They cast a black guy as one of Thor’s gatekeepers or guardians or whatever, and nobody seemed to have a problem with that.

            You could easily re-write Wakanda as a white colonial expedition that discovered vibranium and went “off the grid” to protect their secret. There’s no particular reason it has to be ancient. There are (or at least were, until the last few decades) plenty of white people in sub-saharan Africa.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            White Panther would need to get the tech/magic from Wakanda, but s/he wouldn’t be Wakandan and he wouldn’t supplant Black Panther. S/he’d be someone Wakanda recruited to do their larger work of spreading the Wakandan way to the globe as a whole. The origin might involve them doing the work, mortally wounded, saved by Wakandan magic out of necessity.

            But … man that starts to look a lot like the “white savior” trope, so you’d really need to keep them far away from Wakanda for the most part. Make them dependent on frequent aid from Black Panther. If you want do something that has an actual White Panther leading the Wakandans, it would need to be something like spirit transfer where an a Wakanda elder spirit/former Black Panther needs to ride the body of the White Panther to accomplish something broader.

            Maybe. Seems like it could hokey and clunky in a hurry.

          • Vorkon says:

            Make Peter Parker a rich jock from a very happy home and see how it hits people, although that’s not even really analogous.

            Or perhaps more to the point, make Peter Parker a Too Cool For School skaterboy, perhaps played by Andrew Garfield, rather than a proper nerd, and see how THAT hits people…

            They cast a black guy as one of Thor’s gatekeepers or guardians or whatever, and nobody seemed to have a problem with that.

            There were a LOT of people who had a problem with black Heimdall, on the grounds that Heimdall is an actual figure from Norse mythology, and so presumably he should look at least something like the myths describe him. It was a fairly fringe minority, because in the context of the movie they’re also aliens who just happened to have had some contact with ancient Norsemen in the past, and only served as loose inspirations for the myths, plus pretty much nobody plays a better Stoic Guardian figure than Idris Elba, but they definitely existed.

            Didn’t they try a Mexican Spiderman once?

            You’re probably thinking of Miles Morales, the same one they’re using in that Enter the Spider-Verse animated movie mentioned above. He’s only half black.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            As to “Black Thor”, we are operating in an era where no one cares about Norse mythology as personally sacred, so you can do mythological stories that diverge radically from the source material and it’s just interesting. If we had a group of indigenous Norse who still worshipped that pantheon, Thor as character would be under immense pressure already and likely no longer utilized, or at least completely changed.

            And it’s not like black skin isn’t contemplated in Norse mythology. It’s attributed to various figures, especially the dwarves, which is rather ironic, considering.

            ETA: The Garfield Spider-Man was still an outsider though, but still a valid point.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Also Heimdall is not a very well-known figure (at least not in the US). Everyone’s heard of Thor and Odin and Loki and maybe Baldur, also Freya and Hel and Brunhilde. But the Norse had all sorts of mythical figures who didn’t look much like them (e.g. frost giants, trolls, and dwarfs), so while a black Heimdall doesn’t fit with the myths, most Americans wouldn’t know.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            It would be more like casting a black guy as Thor.

            Yeah, that would be almost as weird as making Thor a woman. Oh, wait…

          • dndnrsn says:

            Plus, these discussions generally ignore that the understanding of “race” differs over place and time. If Wakanda was a real place, there would definitely be Wakandans upset that non-Wakandans were being cast in roles that should go to Wakandans. People from the “Old Country” (wherever that might be) are able to spot differences that Canadians or Americans or whatever are completely unaware of, and that’s without even going into differences across time.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            If we had a group of indigenous Norse who still worshipped that pantheon, Thor as character would be under immense pressure already and likely no longer utilized, or at least completely changed.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81satr%C3%BAarf%C3%A9lagi%C3%B0

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jon Gunnarsson:

            Not particularly relevant? I think you were just posting it as a point of interest, but perhaps with the name Gunnarson I shouldn’t be so cavalier.

            Given that the organization started in 1972 and performed, according to them, the first religious ritual of it’s kind in 1000 years, I don’t think it qualifies for what I am talking about. As a pantheistic religion without any particular dogma, it seems more in line with something like Wicca, which wasn’t what I was trying to reference.

          • gbdub says:

            Interesting discussion – I agree that Black Panther is an essentially Black character, in a way that Spider Man is not essentially White. So if you wanted to tell a White Panther story, you’d need to do a damn good job setting up a backstory to justify that. While for Spider Man, a simple skin swap is sufficient (at least that’s what it looks like for the new animated movie – from the previews he seems like the standard “teenage nerd outsider” but African American).

            Are there any originally black superheroes that don’t have Blackness essential to their character? Are there any white superheroes with essential Whiteness? Thor seems to be the best answer so far.

            Back to the original question, given that it’s essential that Black Panther be Black, wouldn’t a faithful, positive portrayal of Black Panther by a white costumer need to include something to indicate that to not be offensive? But blackface is offensive. So that does seem to create the scenario where somebody is going to find “white kid dressed as Black Panther” as offensive either way.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Bruce Wayne was essentially white when originally written; a vigilante avenger like Batman isn’t, but a scion of wealthy industrialists in 1940 would have been, so a black Batman would have needed a different origin story, alter identity, and source of toys (though I don’t know when all that came about in the Batman comics)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            I don’t think there is really any significant feeling that white kids/people can’t dress as Black Panther, or that it is offensive. I’m quite sure you can find some people saying it, but …

            As to mythical characters that are essentially “white”, I’m not sure there are. I think you probably can find mythical heroes that are essentially “some specific sub-culture” especially if they are excluded from, or highlighted as different from, a larger sub-culture.

            An American re-boot of Dr. Who would probably have gone very poorly, and lots of people would have been pretty angry? He doesn’t need to be White, but he probably needs to be from the UK in some way. But an American going in costume as Dr. Who is absolutely not an issue.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            but a scion of wealthy industrialists in 1940

            I mean, there were certainly wealthy, Black owners of large scale businesses in the 1940s. And anger and disillusionment with society is an essential part of Batman. Not sure that really holds. Plus, any re-boot doesn’t need to be in the 1940s (and they haven’t been recently, AFAIK).

          • dndnrsn says:

            Why is it so hard to market a new big-name superhero? Is there just a certain amount of “space” in the canon of mainstream comics? There seems to be far more possibility for retconning a given superhero as a different race or ethnicity, changing up their story slightly, whatever, than for creating a new superhero so you have, say, a black superhero where that’s just incidental to the character.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            I’m not sure what exactly you mean. Marvel is leveraging their existing IP, and very successfully, so you see lots of movies made from existing IP.

            But overall, I think their are many stories being created for new super heroes, anime and manga being notable here. Big tent pole movies tend to draw more on existing content, but not exclusively. The accounting projections involved just make it look more attractive to make an expensive movie that has a certain built in baseline of demand.

            But again, there are lots of new characters, why but why would you expect new characters to be in anything close to a majority of the stories?

          • gbdub says:

            I think dndnrsn’s question to be more like:

            Why, in response to a perceived need for more black superheroes, does Marvel say “Spidey is black now!” rather than creating a new character to fill the role? Race and gender swapping of tent pole characters seems to be fairly common recently in the books (less so on screen).

            You note they are mostly going off old IP in the shows and movies – has Marvel or DC created any memorable main characters in the movies or tv series that didn’t come from the books?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            Ah, yeah, that does make sense.

            I do not believe they are making any new character IP for the movies or shows.

            Again, leveraging existing IP is highly profitable. Attach Spider-Man to a new hero has a guaranteed base. Hell, re-telling the same story is sort of what humans do, anyway. I don’t think it really needs explaining?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @gbdub

            That’s not exactly what I mean; I’m more wondering why exactly it’s so much harder to market a new superhero than a new spin on an old one. Maybe they’ve run out of quasi-mythic archetypes?

            Spidey’s archetype is “dweeb who has great powers, but also is still dweeb” – being able to swing around and fight evil can’t make being a nerdy teenager not suck.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            Have you read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods?

            My point is that re-using archetypes, or even actual characters, is in no way inimical to creating original stories. That doesn’t mean that retellings don’t run a significant risk of being reductive or hacky, but completely “original” stories run this risk as well.

            Each new generation wants to put their spin on stories and archetypes and I don’t begrudge them.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I have, and I’m not saying it’s inimical to telling original or creative stories. More that, it’s unlikely that there will be originally-black big-name superheroes whose blackness is incidental in the same way that Peter Parker being originally white is incidental, because we’ve passed the point where it’s easy to introduce a new big-name superhero.

            And, at least, rebooting Peter Parker so that kids from a given ethnic group get to see a nerdy kid who saves the day who looks like them, is better than the ol’ “quick, make some money by restarting the comic so we can sell a first issue special!”

          • Nornagest says:

            has Marvel or DC created any memorable main characters in the movies or tv series that didn’t come from the books?

            Phil Coulson (the lead of “SHIELD”) is probably the best example: he debuted in the Avengers films. Aside from that, they’ve been more inclined to revive old or obscure superheroes (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Falcon, the entire cast of Guardians of the Galaxy) than to create new ones, which makes sense given how huge the Marvel Comics universe is.

            For whatever reason, though, cartoons often introduced original characters that then migrated to the comics: Harley Quinn’s probably the most famous example.

          • Perico says:

            ; I’m more wondering why exactly it’s so much harder to market a new superhero than a new spin on an old one. Maybe they’ve run out of quasi-mythic archetypes?

            It’s largely a matter of incentives. Marvel and DC have thousands of already existing characters lying around, so reusing them or slightly modifying them is a better use of their IP than trying to create something completely new. And a writer with a great idea for a brand new character doesn’t really want to publish it under Marvel / DC if there’s any chance of going with an independent publisher and keeping the rights for themselves.

          • mdet says:

            Magneto is a character whose Jewishness is pretty important to his story — the reason why he’s so militant in defending mutants is because he’s already witnessed his entire family and community be genocided once before (although he’s getting a little old to personally be a Holocaust survivor at this point). I don’t know if Jews are “white” but he’s another example of a character whose ethnicity is directly relevant. Superman is traditionally from rural Kansas. This isn’t absolutely crucial, and doesn’t necessarily specify any ethnicity, but strongly implies white.

            Kamalah Khan and Squirrel Girl are examples of brand new Marvel heroes who are not white men and seem to be popular. I think the hard part is that most superhero comic buyers are people who’ve been following their favorite characters for years like a soap opera, and aren’t really looking to pick up a new storyline.

            By the time Thor was recast as a woman in the comics, there had long been a story arc where a horse-faced alien named Beta Ray Bill picks up Mjolnir and gains the power and title of Thor. Marvel’s Thor is both the individual person Thor Odinson and a title that anyone can earn by wielding the hammer. If fans can handle “Thor, the horse-faced alien”, I think they should’ve been able to handle “Thor, the woman”.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            …huh, I was about to point out that Squirrel Girl is not new, having been around nearly 30 years, but apparently she only appeared sporadically for most of that time, so I guess she is mostly new after all.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            @HeelBearCub

            You said there weren’t any “indigenous Norse who still worshipped that pantheon,” so I the link I posted is obviously relevant. These are people who are indigenous Norse who worship the Norse gods. There may not be very many of them, but they do exist.

            (And just to clarify, I’m not a pagan and not associated with Ásatrú in any way.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s largely a matter of incentives. Marvel and DC have thousands of already existing characters lying around, so reusing them or slightly modifying them is a better use of their IP than trying to create something completely new.

            I don’t agree that it’s better, but it’s definitely what the creativity-averse blockbuster movie industry of the 21st century is going to do if it can, and the depth of the Marvel and DC stables mean it can do that for a very long time to come.

            Television would have a bit more latitude for original characters, but again, there’s plenty to steal. Netflix’s version of Jessica Jones might as well be an original character, but there was a C-list Marvel superhero available that would only have to have ~75% of her backstory excised to fit, and I guess that sort of thing makes it easier to get buy-in for a new show.

            About the only time you’ll see original superheroes is when somebody wants to do an outright parody of the genre, e.g. The Incredibles, or something along those lines that might be seen as damaging to any non-parody IP adapted for that role.

          • Possibly relevant to the question of new/old superheroes …

            Eric Burns-White writes quite good online fiction, much of it involving superheroes and supervillains–his best known piece is probably “Interviewing Leather.” As best I can tell, most of his characters are his versions of specific characters from the existing literature. Different names, and no doubt different details, but a pretty recognizable one for one linkage.

            He doesn’t have the same incentives to reuse old characters as the copyright holders do–if anything the opposite. But he apparently thinks that tying in with what his readers are already used to makes his stories work better.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:

            That might be the case for movies, but manga and anime seem to be creating new heroes at a pretty good clip. My Hero Academia is roughly a full Marvel universe of heroes all on its own…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jon Gunnarson:
            Yeah, that org is just not at all the kind of thing I’m talking about. That org is to the Thor comic as Wiccans are to Harry Potter.

          • John Schilling says:

            That might be the case for movies, but manga and anime seem to be creating new heroes at a pretty good clip.

            Not for American cinema they aren’t, and not often for American television. And that’s really what we are talking about, because the number of people who care about what happens between the pages of a literal comic book (no matter which direction it is supposed to be read) is tiny.

            If the Social Justice Brigade were to notice that anime and manga exist and demand representation for oppressed minorities therein, they could probably signal-boost the issue to a level where that genre’s ability to generate new characters might give it options other than trying to figure out which member of Tenchi Muyo’s harem was really black all along.

            But, for the moment, we’re mostly dealing in this context with genres that have a large mainstream presence in the United States, and that does put the DC-Marvel superhero movies front and center.

          • brmic says:

            Netflix’s version of Jessica Jones might as well be an original character, but there was a C-list Marvel superhero available that would only have to have ~75% of her backstory excised to fit, and I guess that sort of thing makes it easier to get buy-in for a new show.

            I assume you’re aware of Alias the Marvel MAX comic series which was the basis for Jessica Jone’s first season.
            Characters at that level of prominence get their backstories altered all the time, and I think it even makes sense from a reader perspective: It’s interesting to have the option of having the character interact with other Marvel characters, the existing backstory allows some economy of storytelling, provides plot hooks. Creating a new character in the MU is not obviously superior.

            Concerning the general topic: Marvel and DC try to reboot/launch/promote new of less famous characters all the time, e.g. by putting creators with good track records onto the book. However, frequently, these efforts fail (I’d say something like 1 in 20 succeeds) for various reasons, whereas Batman and Spiderman essentially always sell and even B-list characters attract larger audiences on average than the experiments. It would be great if there were a strong market for new characters, but empircally, there isn’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Sure, but that’s more of an issue of DC and Marvel being entrenched IP machines, not having anything to do with the possibility of new characters. Live action super hero films are expensive, and the studios that produce them want a built in audience. But perhaps I misunderstood, and that was really your original point?

            It’s also probably relevant that we might not even have all the super hero movies right now if it weren’t for the fact that Marvel was looking to publish their own stuff. No surprise Marvel is making movies with Marvel heroes.

          • AG says:

            @John Schilling:

            Manga and anime are different because they have a vast amount of turnover, whereas American superhero comics are enslaved to continuity and shared universes. In that American TV has also become less and less reliant on long-running shows, with many not getting past 3 seasons, you see similar rates of character creation.
            Also, Anime Feminist exists (as do a number of other SJ-centered anime blogs). No sign of them ruining anime or whatever yet. On the other side, Beyond the Tangle also exists, as a case of a Christianity-centered anime blog. Other happily degenerate aniblogs have both AF and ByT in their own blogrolls, because they recognize that, surprise surprise, you don’t have to outgroup people if you don’t want to.

            Someone mentioned Harley Quinn further up in the thread, but Chloe Sullivan is a case that came from Smallville. Meanwhile, the DCTV slate of shows are both continually making comic book character adaptations that are basically remakes from the ground up (most notably the Batmanning of Oliver Queen), and creating new ones wholesale, many of whom are even primary protagonists.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Evan

            Very far down in the thread, but isn’t this basically the “good” interpretation of Dr. Doom, but with magic instead of metal?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Hoopyfreud, maybe? I don’t follow comic books, so I don’t know Dr. Doom.

      • Humbert McHumbert says:

        Nice point.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Imagine, for a moment, tasteful blackface.

      Does it look like blackface, imagined without that word prefixing it?

      The answer is going to vary, which is basically the problem here. The supporters, I’d wager, are more likely to think of makeup, well-applied, to darken your skin tone to match some specific thing. The opponents are more likely to think of black greasepaint.

      In order to have a meaningful conversation, somebody needs to put up a specific picture, and ask it that specific instance is okay. Because I am going to guess that our intuitions about a white guy who manages to look exactly like Steve Harvey aren’t going to be the same as blackface, pictured in an ambiguous and generic way. I suspect the conversation will be a little more… useful.

  5. Erusian says:

    I just read this article:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/why-black-men-relate-brett-kavanaugh/572776/

    The article basically argues that black men are sympathizing with Brett Kavanaugh because they see him as a man who was accused and almost punished without justice. That they are accustomed to being accused and, while perhaps it doesn’t go through the courts, punished for things with no chance to defend themselves. And this leads them to sympathize with Kavanaugh.

    The journalist argues this is wrong. These black men miss that blocking Kavanaugh dismantles systemic oppression and that it’s unfair that Kavanaugh might not suffer the way they have. It laments that black men instead see it as a situation as analogous to their own.

    But their perspective makes perfect sense to me. The article’s argument seems to be that the system that protects men like Kavanaugh also persecutes black men, so by opposing Kavanaugh we hurt that system and thus protect black men. But I think there’s a more direct link: A society primed to believe and act on accusations against men will be a society primed to believe and act on accusations against men at all levels. And for most black men, who are less powerful and important than Kavanaugh, there will not be a powerful community or party invested in their success. Nor is it a realistic goal to create such a community, since there will always be an elite and a non-elite, and most people will always be non-elite. So it’s more useful to demand fair hearings for all. This is both less obviously selfish and makes common cause with the powerful.

    Basically, there was never a right that was denied to the elite and simultaneously available to the less powerful. If the powerful do not have free speech, the average worker definitely won’t. So it makes sense to defend any rights the elites have in common with you. It bolsters your own case and encourages certain elites to defend you for the same reasons.

    I’m curious on thoughts. Less on Kavanaugh specifically than on which analysis is more correct.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I’d argue the initial thought is the most correct: Seeing that even someone like Kavanaugh can be almost destroyed by an allegation should mobilize you.

      However, I don’t know what party that would mobilize you to. Currently both parties are not good on criminal procedure. If you are in college you would obviously select Republicans because Democratic Title IX policies are so hard on the accused, but in a federal court I’m not sure I’d like to be a black man facing a drug crime with Sessions as prosecutor as opposed to Holder/Lynch (not that they actually conduct trials).

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Seeing that even someone like Kavanaugh can be almost destroyed by an allegation should mobilize you.

        I have a friend who was hyper-Republican (for reference, I am only mega-Republican), pro-police all the way. And then he got a DUI, blew .085. Thought he was safe but he wasn’t. Sucks, but not that huge a deal. And then they found his safely holstered, legal firearm in his glove box and charged him with a felony that’s really for someone brandishing a weapon while drunk. They held him over the weekend in the urine-soaked felony jail and spent the next ~9 months trying their hardest to convict him of this felony and lock him away for 2 years, largely because the DA wanted to be governor and said “be tough on drunk driving and guns.”

        I said to him, “look what they tried to do to you, and you’re rich and white!

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          What are his current political beliefs?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Went from hyper-Republican to…hyper-Republican who maybe thinks we need some criminal justice reform.

          • Eric Boesch says:

            Oops, I accidentally pressed the “report” button instead of “reply.” Well, I guess the “report” button may not work anyhow?

            A tangential issue that’s small but stupid beyond belief: in many places, you can receive a DUI for sleeping in the driver’s seat of a parked car with the engine on to run the heater. (In Canada, an especially forward thinking judge convicted someone of DUI for sleeping in the *back* seat, because of the risk he might move to the front seat later.) Who gets cited for this? Mostly people who made the correct decision not to drive or at least realized they needed to stop. But they didn’t know they could be cited for driving under the influence without actually driving, so they didn’t know they had to switch seats. Giving people criminal convictions for doing nothing wrong, just in case they might later stop doing the right thing and start making the wrong one, is not the way to make the world better. I have no personal connection to this problem — it just offends me.

    • Aapje says:

      @Erusian

      This is basically a clash between Social Justice ideology and those who have a different belief.

      Those who believe that there is no systemic ill-treatment of men, but who do believe in a system of oppression where white men keep the black man down, don’t believe that black men and white men have a shared & legitimate complaint. From their perspective, black men speaking up for a white man is like chickens speaking in support of a fox.

      From that perspective, if there is any ill-treatment of Kavanaugh, it has to be something that is generic to all people, not just men. So black men should then demand to be treated more like Kavanaugh (and thus like everyone else), rather than defending due process for everyone.

      But I think there’s a more direct link: A society primed to believe and act on accusations against men will be a society primed to believe and act on accusations against men at all levels.

      The evidence actually suggests that black men will actually be disproportionately be accused and disbelieved. For example, those dragged in front of Title IX courts and convicted seem to be be black far more often than you’d expect based on the number of students who are black.

      The article also provides evidence of how false accusations may be far more common for black men.

    • Black people are 90% Democrat and the Kavanaugh confirmation was notoriously partisan. I doubt this story is based on anything other than a few anecdotes, rather than a meaningful trend.

      • Matt M says:

        Black people are 90% Democrat

        For now. But man is the left trying its best to lose them!

        • I can’t imagine a defensible version of this claim.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Could you have imagined a defensible argument for “The left is trying its best to lose the rust belt” during the last election?

            It is hard to articulate the argument, which ultimately boils down to “Perception that a group is feeling ignored, used, and taken for granted”, which isn’t exactly a logical construct.

            But, lack of a strong logical construction for the argument aside, I do think there is something to it. And like the rust belt, I think everything will look the same, until abruptly it doesn’t.

            But that is a prediction, not an argument.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The defensible version is that Democrats are taking black votes for granted to a point where their actions will cause them to lose some.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, that’s why Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum are highly celebrated Democratic gubernatorial candidates, and Corey Booker and Kamala Harris are early likely presidential candidates, because we take the Black vote for granted.

            In fact, Stacey Abrams is a picture perfect example of how the broad Democratic Party is not taking Black votes for granted, but rather leaning into effectively mobilizing that vote.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Actually yes, mobilizing a group to vote is taking their voting pattern for granted.

          • Thegnskald says:

            HBC –

            This feels a little bit like “But the Democrats have lots of black friends, they can’t be racist”.

            Which isn’t to say the Democrats are racist, but rather to wave in the direction of the issue. To a lot of Democrats, it seems having black politicians is the same as representing black people. And it is progress in one direction, but it is also emblematic of exactly the schism I see starting to form in the Democratic party.

            Namely, that the Democrats cater to upper-middle class values. And in a very real way, an upper middle class black person has far more in common with upper middle class white people than they have in common with, well, most black people.

            And I think most Democrats will scoff at the idea that the Republicans might do something like, say, run Kanye West as Trump’s successor, and shatter one of their core constituencies. Much as they scoffed at the idea that a Republican could win in the Midwest.

            It is all scrying, of course, and guesswork, and a sense that there is mounting frustration. I could be entirely off base.

            But… well, we won’t know until we know. If I am right, I will seem prophetic, and if I am wrong, nobody will remember. We will see.

          • Matt M says:

            Actually yes, mobilizing a group to vote is taking their voting pattern for granted.

            Isn’t conventional wisdom that a huge factor in Proposition 8 having passed in California was that an inordinate amount of blacks showed up to vote for Obama, and then were also asked what they thought about gay marriage, which was not at all what Democrats expected them to think about it…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No, Stacey Abrams is not “my Black friend”. Nor is she “asking Black people to vote and just assuming they will vote for the Democrat”.

            Rather, she has been pretty clear that the Democratic Party in Georgia has not done enough to motivate Black voters to vote in the past and making that one part of her overall campaign. Responding to the hopes, fears, needs, concerns and values of a specific constituency and then asking them to vote for you is the opposite of “taking the votes for granted”.

          • Could you have imagined a defensible argument for “The left is trying its best to lose the rust belt” during the last election?

            If we took that claim literally, then it would be obviously false. But the defensible version of that claim is that the left scared working class voters enough with their rhetoric and policy ideas that they voted for Trump. The essence of Matt’s claim is that Democrats are doing something to make black people defect to the Republicans, of which there is no justification for thinking that’s true.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Trump:
            – Talks tough and politically incorrectly. Tell it like “it is”
            – Hates “those people” from shithole countries who are taking our jobs.
            – Hates trade agreements.
            – Likes protectionist tarrifs
            – Claimed not to like foreign military entanglements.
            – Claimed he was for universal American healthcare and jobs for everyone, and there was plenty of money for it and we ours actually save money “on the back side”
            – Claimed rich guys didn’t need a tax cut and that corporations were screwing the American people.

            That working class guy who always wanted a union job who wants to send his kid to private Catholic schools in Cleveland because of all the Blacks in the public school? Trump appeals to him in a way Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney could never do. That and ten or a hundred other factors put Trump over in the Midwest.

            And lest you think I’m making things up, I know about ten guys my age who all grew up in Cleveland, and have pretty deep connections to people in Illinois unions.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ HBC

            Georgia had a democratic governor from 1872 to 2003, followed by 2 republican governors, followed by a candidate who is attractive to the large black minority in the state, and Florida went to Trump in a relatively close race with some of the lowest minority turnout in the last 5 elections (at one point it was called that, but revisions do happen and I might not be aware) This is hardly evidence that the Democrats have been and will continue to take a proactive stance in working the black vote.

            You can view it as a cynical take, but responding with examples that can readily be taken as reactions to bad results shows you don’t understand the take.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And lest you think I’m making things up, I know about ten guys my age who all grew up in Cleveland, and have pretty deep connections to people in Illinois unions.

            And I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, have 10 nieces/nephews there, and I suspect that 100% of their parents voted for Obama/Clinton in each of the last 3 elections (unless they didn’t vote at all). Strangely not one of them is sending their kids to predominantly black schools, nor lives in a predominantly black neighborhood.

            ‘Black’ schools in the Cleveland area have been bad schools for decades, the wealthier white liberals pay for public schools in expensive areas, the poorer white populations pay for cheap private schools. Hell, it isn’t even just whites, Shaker Heights had multiple years, perhaps even every year for significant stretches, where the total black student body as freshman in high school outnumbered the total black student body the the 8th grade class from the year before. This was such an issue that there was a federal investigation into the black/white split between CP/H/AP classes when I was there.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @baconbits9:
            I’m sorry, what is your point about the “Democratic governor from 1872 to 2003”?

            I guarantee you the Democrats weren’t taking Black votes for granted in 1872.

            As to the rest, I guess I’ll just say that you can’t think that Democrats are too quick to pay attention to BLM and also simultaneously think that we aren’t paying attention to Black concerns.

            The standard argument here is things like BLM are “how you got Trump” (in part, by taking those ex-union working class “blue wall” votes for granted, which might actually be true.)

            But, at the end of the day, we are talking about marginal votes as to why Trump was elected. You don’t need everyone to be persuaded, just enough.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m sorry, what is your point about the “Democratic governor from 1872 to 2003”?

            I guarantee you the Democrats weren’t taking Black votes for granted in 1872.

            Its difficult to take your replies charitably when the rest of the post makes it clear that it is about the shift in 2003, not the fact that a democrat was governor in 1872.

            As to the rest, I guess I’ll just say that you can’t think that Democrats are too quick to pay attention to BLM and also simultaneously think that we aren’t paying attention to Black concerns.

            Absolutely you can, as the original argument is that the Ds treat black votes as inevitable and non divisible which will end up cracking the voting block.

            The standard argument here is things like BLM are “how you got Trump” (in part, by taking those ex-union working class “blue wall” votes for granted, which might actually be true.)

            It is not at all the “standard argument”, it is one argument that has some popularity.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @baconbits9:
            From the tail end of reconstruction until 2002 Georgia was one party rule at the state level. The Democrats were taking everyone’s votes for granted when it came to the general election for state offices until very late in that process. They were not at all that hospitable to the policy preferences of Black Georgians until quite late in that run, nor did they particularly want their votes.

            Since that time the state has been one party Republican rule, with voters switching party label preferences without particularly changing their policy preferences, having long before changed their party preference at the federal level. The Democrats of yesterday are not the Democrats of today. They are a different, changed coalition, one that has found itself in the extreme minority in almost every former Southern state.

            The Democratic coalition of Georgia, like the national coalition, is more and more respondent to the concerns of its members who are Black as they make up a more and more important segment of the coalition. Correspondingly, the concerns of unions are given less weight as the number of union members shrink in the US, especially in the Mid-Western states which once formed the base of union power.

            The idea that the ascendancy of Black Democrats to ever greater representation in various positions of power within the party is somehow a marker that Democrats tale their votes “for granted”, is odd. There are tensions within the current national Democratic coalition, just as there within the Republican coalition, but the existence of the tension does not mean that coalition doesn’t serve the overall interest of its members.

          • Matt M says:

            The essence of Matt’s claim is that Democrats are doing something to make black people defect to the Republicans, of which there is no justification for thinking that’s true.

            I said they were trying, not that they were succeeding…

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ HBC

            Everything fact that you have cited can be interpreted through the lens of “Dems* didn’t care about blacks when they were in power, and only care about them now to the extent of returning to power. Nothing you wrote makes it clear that the Democratic Party is particularly interested in Black voters beyond their tendency to vote 80%+ for Dems when they do.

            Again this all started with you stating that

            I can’t imagine a defensible version of this claim.

            *As in the broader Democratic party/leadership not the individual Democrats running for those individual elections.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @baconbits9:
            I didn’t say that.

            The claim is “Democrats are trying their best to lose black votes”, which your claim doesn’t seem to be.

            If you are saying the defensible version is “after passage of the CRA and the resulting politically realignments, Democrats were forced into a situation of attempting to hold as many of their previously solid, but fairly conservative voters along with their liberal base, while Republicans left blacks with no choices of who to vote for, therefore Democrats could count on the black vote to swing their way without specifically serving their distinct interests”, I would agree with that as historical fact.

            But that isn’t the state of play today, because the Democratic party of today is continually moving towards a majority-minority coalition. The white vote is less and less important to that coalition, and it becomes more and more important to motivate, energize and serve the entirety of the coalition. Bill Clinton’s triangulation of the past doesn’t work anymore.

            This isn’t a particular novel observation on my part and represents a fairly common view on the part of the party.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Well, mostly the Democrats seem to be trying to lose men, not black men in particular. I wish them success at this endeavor 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            I can’t help but think that there might be a cost to having one political party represent the men, and another the women…..

          • Matt M says:

            I think a lot of the basic concepts of SJW thought are less popular among blacks than they are among whites.

            And I know SJW =/ Democrat, but they’re certainly shifting in that direction…

          • Thegnskald says:

            Do you wish them success? Would you count it a net positive if the Republicans won every election for the next twenty years and got to.pass whatever they wanted, confident in their public support and claiming popular mandate for their policies, a chain that can only end when they piss the voters off enough for everyone to forget how angry they were with the Democrats?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Thegnskald

            At the moment, there is as far as I can tell the Democrats have nothing for me. I’m not particularly fond of the Republican’s drug policies, but I didn’t see Obama fixing them on a Federal level and my state Democrats are so busy trying to divide the spoils over legalized pot that they’ve failed to actually legalize it. (Also I wouldn’t use it even if it was legal). I don’t like the Republican pro-police law-n-order policies, but the Democrats haven’t shown any real objection to that either.

            On immigration, I don’t like loose borders with a welfare state and immigrants legally catered to (as Democrats seem to favor), and I don’t like very strict Trumpian borders either; I’d prefer something like the points system (with higher numbers of immigrants than Trump’s plan), but that’s not in the cards. Or nearly-open borders, no welfare state, and strong incentives to assimilate, but that’s even less likely.

            On culture war issues… well, I’m a cis white male. Gotta go with my identity there; I don’t need to be self-hating, enough people hate me already.

            Would you count it a net positive if the Republicans won every election for the next twenty years and got to.pass whatever they wanted

            Heck no, they’d probably restart the drug war in earnest and probably we’d get the religious groups pushing all sorts of objectionable things. I would hope that after driving away a bunch more men (without attracting a bunch more women) and thereby losing a bunch of elections, the Democrats would re-align in a way that was less inimical to my interests.

          • the Democrats would re-align in a way that was less inimical to my interests.

            I’ve been arguing for a long time that the Democrats should try to pull the libertarians, broadly defined, out of the Republican coalition. I had some hopes that Obama would do it, given some of his Chicago associates and their associates, but it didn’t happen.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t see how Dems can ever peel off libertarians. My sample may be biased, but I know a large number of libertarians from my college days, early online internet days, family, current friends, neighbors, etc.

            They hate Social Justice, and they see modern Dems as being in bed with it. I cannot possibly describe the level of hatred they have for SJWs. It makes the SSC commentariat look like docile fellow SJW travelers. If you gave these guys the options of pressing the button to erase all SJWs, they would slam that thing like a gambling addict at a free slot machine, until their hands bled and they lost all feeling in their bony little fingers. And then they would cut off their hand, slam it against that button, and smack a brick on top just so it stayed there, and then they would wander the streets just to make sure all the SJWs are really gone, and then they would party for a fortnight.

            The only thing that comes close is how much my Scottish labor friend hated Thatcher.

          • cassander says:

            @davidfriedman

            Liberaltarianism is doomed, I think, by the structure of the democratic party. Too much of it is based on interest groups that benefit directly from the state’s largest to ever bring libertarians into the fold. If it were possible, I think you’d see it somewhere like school vouchers, with democrats pushing for an increase in school funding and bringing libertarians on by voucherizing that funding. But you don’t see that, because the democratic party’s priorities on schools are ultimately determined largely by the interests of teachers unions. If democrats can’t even bring themselves to do vouchers, there’s no hope for almost anything else libertarians want.

      • Deiseach says:

        Black people are 90% Democrat

        Which is what seems to be annoying the writer of this article; they’re supposed to be opposed to the tribal enemy and gloating over any chance to do him down, not recognising that dumping due process to go after someone is unfair and foolish and that the accused have rights and need protection too! Who cares about your “lived experience” this time, when you know all too well how a hanging judge model works, you are supposed to go along with the party line!

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        A CNBC report from Oct 1 (a few days after the hearings) confirms that black Americans opposed Kavanaugh 81-11 (I suppose the rest must be no opinion, but the article doesn’t say).

        It’s of course possible that black people oppose Kavanaugh for reasons unrelated to the allegations against him, but I think the default position here should be to assume that the stories of black men worried about Kavanaugh’s due process are not-necessarily-representative anecdotes, and not some trend.

        • Matt M says:

          At one point, the black approval rating for Obama was 100%

          If the Democrats are pushing any particular thing hard and only getting 80% black approval, that’s newsworthy.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Quinnipiac, the same pollster, asked in 2010 if people approved of nominating Elena Kagan to SCOTUS. Black approval was 79% approve, 10% disapprove, 11% not sure.

            Sotomayor fared a little better: 85% approval among blacks and only 2% disapproval, but this still seems pretty normal.

            That black voters oppose a Republican nominee in exactly the same proportion they supported one of Obama’s nominee and a little less strongly than the other, does not strike me as very newsworthy.

      • mdet says:

        I don’t have anything other than “a few more anecdotes”, but there were definitely black men defending Bill Cosby, a line in a recent Kanye song along the lines of “Damn, what if I got Me Too’d?”, a joke I saw someone make on social media that a white woman accusing a black man is the exception to “Believe Women”. There’s definitely a segment of black men who are partisan Dems yet skeptical of zero tolerance for those accused of sexual assault. It’s possible that they recognized this in Kavanaugh, even if they still came down on partisan lines.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s unfortunately hard to find anything that isn’t anecdotal. How even would you phrase polling questions in a way that would get people to answer honestly?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          On the other hand, it was a Black comedian (Hannibal Buress) who basically brought the hammer down on Cosby.

          And I think both things, general recognition that sexual assault is too easily dismissed as unprovable, and that Black individuals are too easily presumed guilty of criminal behavior, co-exist within the Democratic party currently.

          Yes, there will be pains when trying to fully work out solutions to some of the contradictions therein, but it’s not the case that Democrats aren’t aware of both issues simultaneously.

    • albatross11 says:

      At a guess: How plausible is it that some kind of baseless accusation from a crazy woman could destroy your life? Probably that depends on your experiences and the stories you’ve heard from people close to you. It would not be the least bit surprising if black men had experiences and lore from other black men that made them think this was a pretty plausible thing to happen–something that could happen to them, and everyone might believe the crazy woman and her made-up story, and they’d lose their job or be hounded from their social circle.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      In Social Justice To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is the bad guy.

      • Statismagician says:

        This is not a connection I’d made before, and is more than a little disconcerting.

      • SamChevre says:

        I agree with this comment: I also think it exemplifies an unhelpful approach to culture-war topics, and would like to see less like this on SSC.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Genuinely curious: how so? It wasn’t snarky, or mean, and I thought it was somewhat insightful. I would also be genuinely curious to hear how a person who was very into social justice would summarize that novel.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            One-liners on CW topics are very very easy to interpret as snark. This happens on both sides.

            (Not that I’ve never been guilty of it but) In general if it’s less than a paragraph it’s a driveby quip.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Not Sam, obviously, but I agree with him. I hate statements like

            [The outgroup] interprets [a reasonable person, situation, or society] in [acclaimed piece of media] as [bad], which is laughably unreasonable.

            This is often at least moderately true, but when deployed as a drive-by comment, it doesn’t really mean anything or offer any surface for engagement. It doesn’t convey what [the outgroup]’s criticism is or explicitly respond to it, instead putting the burden of understanding the argument on the reader; if you offer your best interpretation of the argument, it can be dismissed by “that’s not what [the outgroup] says, they’re much more unreasonable than that.” If you claim to be an [outgroup member], you’re immediately put on the defensive, and rather than try to build an argument from common understanding, you have to build one while under the fire of someone who is free to argue against your conclusion rather than your premise, which is often easier. The net effect is to depress the likelihood of a response while successfully making fun of [the outgroup] for reaching a particular conclusion.

            The anti-pattern to this is,

            “In light of this, what would an SJW reading of To Kill a Mockingbird look like? Would they conclude that Atticus Finch is the bad guy?”

            Or, if the argument has actually been seen before,

            “I saw an SJW claiming that Attocus Finch is the bad guy in To Kill a Mockingbird. I think [the above] is the reason why.”

            In both cases, the statement is focused on the premise rather than the conclusion and invites debate. It doesn’t treat the conclusion as a pin to knock down, but as the inspiration for a discussion.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Fine, comment withdrawn. Apologies to all.

          • BBA says:

            I would also be genuinely curious to hear how a person who was very into social justice would summarize that novel.

            It’s a white savior story, and therefore #problematic without even going into any further details of the plot.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s a white savior story, and therefore #problematic without even going into any further details of the plot.

            I was just reading about this book being banned, I think in the r/SSC forum.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            Of course it’s mean, and also dishonest – you’re accusing your outgroup of believing something obviously absurd and evil, when five minutes with google would show you that they believe nothing of the sort.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Randy M, I take it you’re referring to the discussion of how one school took the book off its required reading list? AFAIK, they didn’t even remove it from the school library.

            No longer requiring people to read a book is very different from banning it.

          • SamChevre says:

            To me, it’s a good example of a place where the rallying flag is not the tribe. Slogans are slogans; arguing as if they were the entirety of the ideology isn’t generally helpful. If your argument is “that’s a bad slogan,” that’s one thing; but arguing “your slogan gives obviously-terrible results in this one case, so you must think that’s the right outcome” doesn’t make sense.

            In other words, it reminds me of the kind of people who can’t get through a discussion of homosexuality without bringing up shellfish.

          • Randy M says:

            No longer requiring people to read a book is very different from banning it.

            Whoops, I was sloppy, you’re very much right.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Bullshit.

        I see we have another rip roaring SSC OT.

        ETA:
        I’m not sure you could have custom designed a better OT to make me not particularly inclined to engage with the “better” arguments.

    • dndnrsn says:

      When I read this article, I thought it was bizarre.

      There’s two quotes I found really interesting.

      White men don’t ordinarily face the kind of suspicion and presumptions of guilt to which men of color are routinely subjected. If Kavanaugh were black, how many people would empathize and relate to his circumstances?

      But if it’s possible to look at Banks’s example and understand why some black men identified with Kavanaugh, it’s impossible to look at it closely without arriving at a very different set of conclusions. Banks had none of the advantages that Kavanaugh enjoyed: no legions of well-connected friends to vouch for him, no army of partisan defenders, no politicians rallying to his defense. Banks faced spending the bulk of his life in jail; Kavanaugh risked losing a promotion. The reason black men are three and a half times as likely as whites to be exonerated after being convicted of sexual assault is that there’s generally been one standard for suburban prep-school athletes, and another for the Brian Bankses of this country.

      Black men have every right to be frustrated by the lack of due process and the inevitable rush to judgment they often face in sexual-assault cases. But that’s not because they’ve so often been treated like Kavanaugh—it’s because they so rarely have.

      Presumably, black men know that they will get treated much worse if accused than Brett Kavanaugh. What if these black men are worried that if the Brett Kavanaughs start getting treated like the Britan Bankses, the Brian Bankses will get treated even worse? Or, what if they would like for the Brian Bankses to get treated better, like the Brett Kavanaughs are?

      Consider that college tribunals seem to hit guys who aren’t white way harder than guys who are. The black men who sympathize with Kavanaugh presumably are worried about a trickle-down effect, and the (admittedly anecdotal) evidence is that, on campuses at least, they do have something to worry about.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I think it’s slightly weird to say, “Gosh, what if Kavanaugh were black??”

        I mean, we sorta know, right? His name would be Clarence Thomas. Of course, the parallels aren’t perfect, and Thomas was confirmed quite a while ago, but it seems weird not to comment on it at all if you’re drawing that counterfactual.

        • dndnrsn says:

          There’s enough differences I don’t think you can draw a straight counterfactual. What would happen if Clarence Thomas were nominated today? What would happen if Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual assault, rather than harassment? What if Clarence Thomas’ alleged victim was white? Etc.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I agree it’s not a straight parallel, but I think you have to reckon with it as well.

            I mean if your argument is that Thomas wouldn’t have been confirmed today, are you suggesting that black men were better liked 30 years ago than today? That goes against a lot of SJ theory.

            More plausibly, you could say that the competing status of women versus blacks has a different balance today than 30 years ago, though again I’m not sure that’s something that’s super flattering to the modern left.

            I’m not saying you can’t address this parallel, just that it requires addressing if your case is staked on “what if Kavanaugh were black?”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @sandoratthezoo

            Whose case? I didn’t actually speculate anything about what might have happened were Kavanaugh black or stake anything on it. I’m pointing out why the author’s reasoning seems a bit faulty to me.

            If you want me to reckon with the Thomas case, well, I don’t think Thomas would have been confirmed today. We take complaints of sexual harassment and assault more seriously from women today; I think the lot of women alleging sexual misdeeds has improved more than the lot of black men accused of sexual misdeeds in the last 30 years. The lot of black men accused of sexual misdeeds may have gotten worse in some contexts (universities, where the lot of men in general accused of sexual misdeeds has gotten worse). Further, weren’t there more people willing to corroborate Hill’s claims?

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I was just using your quote of

            If Kavanaugh were black, how many people would empathize and relate to his circumstances?

            As a jumping off point.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Ah, from the article.

            I think that in an identical case, where a black prep school guy up for the Supreme Court as a Republican was accused of having assaulted a black prep school girl (black guy accused of assaulting white girl opens a different can of worms; what happens there for the mainstream left-wing zeitgeist probably comes down to a coinflip whether it’s hashtag believe women or hashtag Party Patricia or whatever they’d call her, though I’m guessing everyone whose opinion counted would side against him because gotta keep the court from bringing in the Handmaid’s Tale or whatever; Republicans would probably have swallowed their fear of scary black guys menacing white womanhood in order to get that supreme court pick in, with the bonus of being able to scream that it’s the Dems who are the real racists), it would have gone similarly in terms of whether he’d have been confirmed or not. I don’t think the accusations against Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh’s behaviour, whatever, really changed the vote that much. Most everyone picked their side based on what they thought going in; it might have shifted the vote by 2 or 3?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Kavanaugh risked losing a promotion.

        That is some…really telling rhetoric. It is true that if one is thought likely to be a serial gang rapist they should not be appointed to the highest court in the land. But they should also not retain their position on the second highest court in the land, or be welcome anywhere in the legal profession or society at large.

        • Matt M says:

          Keep in mind this sort of rhetorical trick is also often used to dismiss the seriousness of false accusations in college environments.

          “Oh no, spoiled white boy might get kicked out of Harvard and have to go to Yale instead, who cares if he receives due process or not?”

          • albatross11 says:

            In both cases, there’s some truth to the claim–having your reputation dragged through the mud and losing out on your dream job, or getting booted from Harvard and finishing up your degree at State, isn’t *as* bad as getting sent to prison. But it’s still pretty awful, and people will still very reliably fight against having those things done to them, and most won’t be swayed by arguments that somehow, you should let your own life be screwed up because there are a lot of other people who look like you that have gotten away with screwing other peoples’ lives up.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, keep in mind Kavanaugh knows the truth. We’re all guessing and inferring and reasoning and employing probabilities, but he knows whether or not he did this or whether or not something like this is even in his character, drunk or not.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @Conrad

            I think that’s an overly strong statement. Plenty of people lie to themselves about what’s “in their character,” and Kavanaugh may have been blackout drunk, or he may have just altered or invented memories in the 30+ years since this (may have) happened.

            If Ford’s memory is fallible, so is Kavanaugh’s.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            “Oh no, spoiled white boy might get kicked out of Harvard and have to go to Yale instead, who cares if he receives due process or not?”

            Remember that in this case it was the Democrats who were arguing for due process – that is, a full and thorough investigation – and the Republicans who insisted on rushing Kavanaugh through with the most cursory investigation imaginable of some of the accusations, and none whatsoever of others.

            And even that is granting the assumption that there is such a thing as “due process” for a Supreme court nomination, which of course their isn’t – post-Garland, it’s absurdly hypocritical to argue that “we don’t like the look of him” isn’t a good and sufficient reason for turning down a SCOTUS nomination without further inquiry, let alone “he’s probably an attempted rapist and a perjurer, and these accusations haven’t been properly investigated yet”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Tatterdemalion:

            The principle, post-Garland, seems to be that whichever party has the Senate majority will decide who gets on the SC, and to hell with other principles. You can make arguments either direction for Kavenaugh, but what actually happened doesn’t seem to call that principle into question.

            However, that kind-of misses the point. The stakes for Kavenaugh were not just not getting a job–he was accused in public of terrible crimes–in front of his friends and family and the whole country. The Democrats got behind these accusations and pushed, for partisan reasons[1]. From his perspective, the stakes were not “Does he get a promotion,” but rather “Is he vindicated before the world?”

            [1] I’m pretty sure the Republicans would have done the same. Sociopathy is almost a requirement for high political office, and the folks at the top don’t have *principles* or *morals* so much as they have *interests*.

            [2] And I can’t see any realistic way that a longer FBI investigation would have resolved the actually credible accusation against him.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            The Democrats got behind these accusations and pushed, for partisan reasons[1].

            I don’t agree with this. I’m sure partisanship was a motivating factor for some Democrats, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that the fact that Kavanaugh is very likely to be guilty wasn’t one too, and almost certainly a more major one, especially given that they’ve shown that they care more about sexual assault than partisanship by e.g. pushing out Al Franken.

            By contrast, I don’t think there is any possibility that there was anything other that naked partisanship and motivated reasoning behind most of those claiming Kavanaugh is probably innocent.

            From his perspective, the stakes were not “Does he get a promotion,” but rather “Is he vindicated before the world?”

            If we’re talking about outright vindication rather than merely avoiding consequences, we need to abandon all the principles that give the benefit of the doubt to the accused – vindicating one party is branding the other a liar, and vice versa. And given the likelihood that they’re the ones telling the truth, it’s much more likely that Kavanaugh’s accusers deserved vindication than he did.

          • cassander says:

            @Tatterdemalion says:

            I don’t agree with this. I’m sure partisanship was a motivating factor for some Democrats, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that the fact that Kavanaugh is very likely to be guilty wasn’t one too,

            I don’t think this is very likely at all. it’s very possible that he’s guilty, but not very likely.

            especially given that they’ve shown that they care more about sexual assault than partisanship by e.g. pushing out Al Franken.

            There was no partisan cost to doing that. And there are plenty of democrats that haven’t been pushed out with far more credible evidence against them.

            By contrast, I don’t think there is any possibility that there was anything other that naked partisanship and motivated reasoning behind most of those claiming Kavanaugh is probably innocent.

            He was accused by a woman that he claims he never met, that no one else seems to claim to have seen him in a room with. Do you truly think that partisanship is the only possible reason to doubt her story?

          • albatross11 says:

            Tatterdemalion:

            I suspect we’re never going to agree on the probability that Kavenaugh was really guilty. And there appears to be no way to determine the answer to that.

            I will make a falsifiable prediction: If we see the balance of the supreme court turn on a credible accusation of sexual assault with no actual evidence behind it, where the Democratic nominee is the one accused, I predict that we will see the Democrats and Republicans mostly swap sides on questions of burden of proof vs believing women. The closest situation to that I can remember in somewhat recent memory was the accusations against Bill Clinton. In that case, Republicans were about believing women and Democrats were about due process and worrying about accusations with political motives.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            He was accused by a woman that he claims he never met, that no one else seems to claim to have seen him in a room with. Do you truly think that partisanship is the only possible reason to doubt her story?

            Absolutely not – I doubt her story myself. But I think that partisanship, or being mislead by the partisanship of others is, while not the only possible, much the most likely reason that someone might go from “this might possibly be false, but is very likely to be true” to “this is probably false.

            The best summary of why I’ve seen is by Kelsey Piper, at https://theunitofcaring.tumblr.com/post/178821571726/is-there-actually-any-evidence-for-the-kavanaugh

          • cassander says:

            @Tatterdemalion says:

            Absolutely not – I doubt her story myself. But I think that partisanship, or being mislead by the partisanship of others is, while not the only possible, much the most likely reason that someone might go from “this might possibly be false, but is very likely to be true” to “this is probably false.

            And you don’t think it’s possible, or at least common, that partisanship is leading people from
            “this might possibly be true” to “he’s definitely a rapist”?

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            And you don’t think it’s possible, or at least common, that partisanship is leading people from
            “this might possibly be true” to “he’s definitely a rapist”?

            If I saw anyone asserting that he was definitely a rapist, I would indeed assume that that was motivated reasoning due to partisanship. But I have literally never seen anyone claiming that – not even one – and I read a fair number of left-wing sources, albeit mostly from the top half of the internet.

            I’m sure there are some out there, especially on comments pages, but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the “he’s probably guilty, and even though it’s not certain beyond reasonable doubt, that’s sufficient reason not to put him on the SCOTUS”.

          • cassander says:

            @Tatterdemalion

            If I saw anyone asserting that he was definitely a rapist, I would indeed assume that that was motivated reasoning due to partisanship. But I have literally never seen anyone claiming that – not even one – and I read a fair number of left-wing sources, albeit mostly from the top half of the internet.

            How on earth is tens of thousands of protestors waving signs that say “I believe ford” or some equivalent not meeting your standard of saying he’s guilty?

            I’m sure there are some out there, especially on comments pages, but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the “he’s probably guilty, and even though it’s not certain beyond reasonable doubt, that’s sufficient reason not to put him on the SCOTUS”.

            I think this is special pleading, but let’s run with it. If I grant you that most people on the left are saying “he’s probably guilty”, how is that different from people on the right saying “he’s probably not guilty”? Why is the one partisan and the other not?

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            I think this is special pleading, but let’s run with it. If I grant you that most people on the left are saying “he’s probably guilty”, how is that different from people on the right saying “he’s probably not guilty”? Why is the one partisan and the other not?

            Because the evidence clearly supports one conclusion and not the other; I’ve linked elsewhere in this thread to a summary of it by Kelsey Piper.

            I think that people making up their minds on partisan grounds will split approximately 50/50, whereas people making up their minds based on bayesianism will/have overwhelmingly come to the conclusion that Ford’s accusation is very likely to be true, Ramirez’s probably is, and Selnick’s may or may not be.

            (Among those, the split on whether or not that standard of probability disbars him will probably mostly be on partisan grounds, but my quarrel here is with people who say “he’s probably innocent”, not with those say “he’s probably guilty, but it’s not proven so go ahead”).

          • Thegnskald says:

            Tatter –

            You realize, of course, that “The evidence clearly supports my side” is what partisanship is going to feel like from the inside?

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            I will make a falsifiable prediction: If we see the balance of the supreme court turn on a credible accusation of sexual assault with no actual evidence behind it, where the Democratic nominee is the one accused, I predict that we will see the Democrats and Republicans mostly swap sides on questions of burden of proof vs believing women. The closest situation to that I can remember in somewhat recent memory was the accusations against Bill Clinton. In that case, Republicans were about believing women and Democrats were about due process and worrying about accusations with political motives.

            My counterprediction, in the literal situation of the hypothetical you describe, would be that the Republicans would homogenously swap sides, whereas about half the Democrats (possibly slightly less) would, and there would be a horrible, acrimonious schism in the party; I have no idea how it would end. If there were other accusations that didn’t hit a specific point of tribal division – a candidate accused of taking bribes, say – I think you’d be more likely to see the Democrats close ranks.

            But I don’t think that’s quite the mirror image situation. The balance of the Supreme Court didn’t hang on Kavanaugh’s nomination; the Republicans could have pulled his nomination and gotten someone else through in time. Doing that would have made them look weak, and involved an inaesthetic rush to get the other candidate through in time, but it wouldn’t have cost them the court, just some votes. And in that situation, I think that even unprincipled partisan Democrats would see the cost of the schism and change horses.

            (I also think that 20 years ago, in Clinton’s era, your prediction would have been more likely – I think that things have changed a lot since social justice activism replaced liberalism as the dominant ideology on the list)

          • gbdub says:

            Remember that in this case it was the Democrats who were arguing for due process – that is, a full and thorough investigation – and the Republicans who insisted on rushing Kavanaugh through with the most cursory investigation imaginable of some of the accusations, and none whatsoever of others.

            Feinstein sat on the accusation for weeks that could have been spent thoroughly investigating. Even charitably interpreting that action, it seems pretty clear that she didn’t want to use the accusation initially (whether to avoid dragging Ford through a hearing or because Feinstein thought it was weak or both) and only sprang it as a last second Hail Mary when it was clear confirmation was otherwise imminent.

            That makes the call for a “thorough investigation” out of care for due process ring hollow. More likely, it was a partisan delaying tactic to push confirmation past the midterms.

            It’s also not really clear what a longer investigation would have accomplished. Lack of time wasn’t really the problem, it was lack of leads. All the key named players got talked to, all that could come of more investigation was more weak circumstantial evidence and hearsay rather than anything definitive.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, the typical “due process” for a claim made for an incident that happened 30 years ago with no exact time or no exact place named and absolutely no evidence in existence is a prompt “go away lady, we have better things to do” which is exactly what she would have gotten if she went into any police office rather than a secret letter to a politically motivated ally.

            Ford got significantly more opportunity to prove her allegations than anyone else in a similar situation would have, and still didn’t even come close.

          • cassander says:

            @Tatterdemalion

            Because the evidence clearly supports one conclusion and not the other; I’ve linked elsewhere in this thread to a summary of it by Kelsey Piper.

            Respectfully, it doesn’t. The “evidence” assembled by piper is almost entirely circumstantial (seriously, she sites the fact that Kavanaugh drank in high school as a meaningful corroboration), ignores the fact that ford has said a number of things that have been contradicted, ignores the many problems with her story, and completely ignores the fact that no one seems to be willing to attest that they ever so much as saw the two in the same room. Her summary of ford’s case adds up to nothing more than “this is not demonstrably false”. And this is coming from someone who thinks that the rape gang accusations are not just plausible, but more than likely true.

            whereas people making up their minds based on bayesianism will/have overwhelmingly come to the conclusion that Ford’s accusation is very likely to be true, Ramirez’s probably is, and Selnick’s may or may not be.

            One must love emotive conjugation.

            My counterprediction, in the literal situation of the hypothetical you describe, would be that the Republicans would homogenously swap sides, whereas about half the Democrats (possibly slightly less) would, and there would be a horrible, acrimonious schism in the party;

            You mean exactly the sort of split that didn’t occur over Hillary Clinton tweeting believe all women during her campaign? Or that isn’t splitting the party now over Keith Ellison?

            And let us not forget, the Kavanaugh accusations concern events that were contemporaneous with the worst accusations against Bill Clinton. If the new standard is condemnation for people accused of assaults in the late 70s and early 80s, he should be up on the docket.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            “due process” means having procedures in place to protect the rights of those accused of wrongdoing. One such procedure is the concept that stale accusations will not be entertained, depending on the nature of the wrongdoing. The reason for this concept is the recognition that memories fade; documents get destroyed; and it is unfairly difficult to defend oneself against a stale accusation.

            Another concept of due process is that an accused has a right to advance notice of accusations against him; if the accusation is sprung at the 11th hour, it will not be entertained.

            Note that both of these ideas concern themselves with the rights of the accused — an accuser has no due process rights. It’s all about protecting the accused.

            So due process does NOT mean “all accusations are carefully investigated and entertained.” It’s actually more likely to mean the opposite — that some accusations are disregarded regardless of their merits. Because due process is about protecting the rights of those accused of wrongdoing.

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        Presumably, black men know that they will get treated much worse if accused than Brett Kavanaugh.

        I think you’re missing two absolutely fundamental point here.

        Most black men know that they would be likely to be treated worse than Kavanaugh in the same circumstances. But very few innocent men end up being the target of multiple independent credible accusations of sexual assault with circumstantial evidence supporting them, so it’s not something they worry about much.

        Plus, the proposed consequence to Kavanaugh – that he should be denied a political office (which post Garland it’s impossible to deny the SCOTUS is) – is one which we already accept can be visited on anyone for any reason whatever, and is not relevant to most people.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The article was written in response to some black men who evidently do feel sympathy for Kavanaugh. I imagine that those men are not worried about the chance of not getting to be on the Supreme Court, either.

        • But very few innocent men end up being the target of multiple independent credible accusations of sexual assault with circumstantial evidence supporting them, so it’s not something they worry about much.

          Nor was Kavanaugh. He was the target of one credible accusation–meaning that there was no reason why it couldn’t have been true–with no circumstantial evidence supporting it, and two less credible accusations with no circumstantial evidence supporting them.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I wouldn’t say no circumstantial evidence. There was very little, but there was some.

          • I think the only evidence was Ford’s husband’s account of what she had told him and her psychiatrist’s account of what Ford told her. That is consistent with a false story invented when Kavanaugh was earlier discussed as a possible candidate for the court, a false memory that appeared at that point, or with her husband, who is the only one who says she mentioned Kavanaugh, lying in her support.

            You could consider that weak circumstantial evidence. But at that level of weak, the fact that the friend she said was present did not remember the party happening and the other man involved denied that the assault had happened is circumstantial evidence on the other side.

            Have I missed something more substantial?

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            You could consider that weak circumstantial evidence. But at that level of weak, the fact that the friend she said was present did not remember the party happening and the other man involved denied that the assault had happened is circumstantial evidence on the other side.

            Have I missed something more substantial?

            I think you’ve missed a couple of details, and your analysis of the ones you haven’t missed is off.

            I think that the most significant corroborating detail is the therapists’s notes. They prove that Ford was saying that she was sexually attacked years ago, long before she accused Kavanaugh. So either

            1) She is telling the truth throughout.
            2) She was not assaulted, and talking to the therapist was just a way of establishing corroborating detail for an accusation that she then didn’t make for years.
            3) She was genuinely assaulted, by someone else, in circumstances in which it could plausibly have been Kavanaugh, and is lying about the identity of the assailant. 3) She was genuinely assaulted, by someone else, in circumstances in which it could plausibly have been Kavanaugh, and is lying about the identity of the assailant.
            4) She was genuinely assaulted, by someone else, in circumstances in which it could plausibly have been Kavanaugh, and is mistaken about the identity of the assailant.

            1) is totally plausible. The vast majority of rape accusations are genuine; there’s no good reason to believe this one isn’t.
            2) requires her to have been following the news closely, spotted that one of the potential supreme court nominees was someone who had grown up near her, decided that if that man got the nomination then she would make a spurious accusation of sexual assault to keep him off the court, but if anyone else did she wouldn’t, set about laying some, but not very much groundwork, for it, researched obscure details of his and his friend’s behaviour (see https://theunitofcaring.tumblr.com/post/178830918691/i-found-your-analysis-of-the-ford-accusation-a-bit), and then not gone through with it. Neither personal motivation nor political motivation fit here, and her actions don’t make sense if that was her motive – why tell her therapist, but not anyone else, and why not give a name?
            3) has all the problems of 2, plus it also involves a woman who was a victim of attempted rape willingly exploiting that, and hence giving up all chance of naming her real attacker. Totally possible, but unlikely, and what we’re talking here is odds.
            4) requires her to have gotten the behavioural details right by accident in a way that’s hard to imagine, especially if we accept Kavanaugh’s testimony that he didn’t know her.

            There are also Ramirez’s and Swetnick’s accusation. Contrary to your assertion, I think these are both perfectly plausible, although unlike Ford’s their not being true also wouldn’t particularly surprise me. Of particular note is the fact that Ramirez has a classmate who says she told him about Kavanaugh long before Ford went public (by contrast, I think it’s totally plausible that Swetnick is just jumping on a bandwagon). It’s possible that he’s lying, and it’s much less unlikely than with Ford that Ramirez misidentified Kavanaugh, but unless one of those two things happened then Kavanaugh is guilty there too, and given Ford’s testimony I think the odds of either are significantly less than 50%.

          • baconbits9 says:

            1) is totally plausible. The vast majority of rape accusations are genuine; there’s no good reason to believe this one isn’t.

            The vast majority of rape accusations aren’t made 30+ years later in a letter to a senator, and there is a gap (of unknown size) between “genuine rape accusation” and “correct identification of the rapist in the accusation”.

            Starting from the general case to the specific only works when the specific is representative of the general.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think that the most significant corroborating detail is the therapists’s notes.

            Which were never made available to the Senate Judiciary Committee or the FBI.

            2) She was not assaulted, and talking to the therapist was just a way of establishing corroborating detail for an accusation that she then didn’t make for years.

            Which is possible, if she was trying to establish corroborating detail to derail President Romney’s likely Supreme Court pick.

            You also left out

            5a) She was not genuinely assaulted, but believed she was assaulted by Kavanaugh.

            5b) She was not genuinely assaulted, but believed she was (but not necessarily by Kavanaugh)

            6) She was not genuinely assaulted (and knew so) but claimed she was for reasons unrelated to Kavanaugh; Kavanaugh being the attacker was a later addition.

            That she was telling the truth throughout is possible, but contradicted by the testimony of those who were supposedly at this event — Judge, PJ Smyth, and Leland Ingham Keyser. While Judge has a motive to lie, the other two do not. So, as the Republican attorney pointed out, we have less than a he-said/she-said here. We have evidence which should be present, but is absent.

            As for the behavioral details, there weren’t any. TUOC refers to something about Judge jumping on Kavanaugh’s shoulders, and claims witnesses said Judge did this only to Kavanaugh. But Ford’s actual testimony is this

            During this assault, Mark came over and jumped on the bed twice while Brett was on top of me. And the last time that he did this, we toppled over and Brett was no longer on top of me. I was able to get up and run out of the room.

            No jumping on the shoulders. The initial letter is slightly different but doesn’t mention shoulders either, just Judge jumping on top of Kavanaugh and the bed. As for those witnesses who say Judge did this… TUOC doesn’t cite them anyway. Ford mentions seeing Judge later at the Safeway… but that’s not an obscure detail of Judge’s life, it was in his memoir.

          • AG says:

            The vast majority of rape accusations aren’t made 30+ years later in a letter to a senator, and there is a gap (of unknown size) between “genuine rape accusation” and “correct identification of the rapist in the accusation”.

            How is this different from p-hacking?

          • albatross11 says:

            If I do a correlation between IQ and income on 25-year-old Americans, is it safe to assume the results hold when applied to 60-year-olds?

    • gbdub says:

      “Supporting the confirmation of Kavanaugh” and “being troubled by Kavanaugh and other men facing old unsupported claims of sexual assault” are not at all synonymous, so I don’t see the relevance of polling data here.

      A lot of the racist stereotypes against Black men portrayed them as insatiable sexual predators, so it’s hardly a big leap for Black men to be uneasy with rhetoric about “toxic masculinity”, “rape culture” and otherwise assuming that all or most men are likely either sexual predators or sexual predator enablers (to the extent that all it takes is an accusation to move the presumption to guilt).

      It’s ridiculous to say that Democrats don’t care about the Black vote, but I do think this is one case where the Dems are particularly likely to get bit by intersectional schisms as identity politics get higher profile. Then again African Americans are still voting 90% for Democrats despite a seeming mismatch on a lot of social issues where they tend to be more conservatives. Then again again maybe there’s a lag and the vote will seem solid toward the Dems until it isn’t.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        They’re not synonymous, but they are presumably correlated. Anyway, I finally found some actual direct data: a Reuters/Ipsos poll that asks “do you believe the allegations against Kavanaugh” and breaks respondents down by race and gender. Black men believe the allegations Yes 57.6 No 12.4 Not Sure 29.9, this is virtually identical to Black women, who are 58-10.8-31.1, so there is no gap between black men and black women.

        Both of these are lower than the Democratic totals of 70.5-9.1-20.4, but interestingly are higher than single women, 18-29, of whom only 51% believe the allegations.

        I’m not sure what other groups we should compare against to get a sense of whether this is a real thing–on the one hand, the comparison to Democrats suggests that black men believe the allegations less than you’d predict based on partisanship, but the same is even truer for single women, 18-29 for whom I’d expect the opposite effect.

        I’m open to suggestions as to how else we could test this.

        • gbdub says:

          What would pure partisanship predict for single women 18-29? What if you restrict it to college educated women? Or break it down by socioeconomic class? One argument could be that pop-feminism as portrayed in the major media is somewhat out of touch with women outside the upper middle class college set. Another could be that Kavanaugh v. Ford was a spat between elite rich people, and was relatively uninteresting/unsympathetic outset that group.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Maybe another check is to track black male opinion about Kavanaugh over time and see if there are changes after the allegations came out?

      • dndnrsn says:

        There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of mainstream-left recognition (at least, I don’t see it in the various mainstream-left publications I read) that a movement towards assuming truth of accusations by women, lowering standards of proof and due process where possible (not in actual legal contexts, but in pseudolegal contexts like university discipline proceedings), etc, dovetails really uncomfortably with societal tendencies to assume guilt of black men, stereotypes of black men as dangerous (especially sexually speaking), etc.

        Black people who vote will probably continue to vote heavy Democrat, because white anti-black racists who vote are heavily likely to vote Republican, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will turn out in the same numbers, does it? If the US had a remotely functioning electoral system, the black people currently voting Democrat would by and large not be voting for the same party as the degree-holding white women currently voting Democrat.

        More generally, there’s this sort of tendency to assume that prejudice, discrimination, and oppression are a single-source thing. Here in Ontario, there was some surprise among the educated centre-left that it’s not just white social conservatives opposed to the previous provincial government’s proposed sex-education changes. The Star (a centre-left paper that’s taken on increasing SJ flavour in recent years) ran an incredibly softball interview with a Muslim woman (Middle Eastern or perhaps South Asian; I can’t recall) who’d written a guide for Muslim parents to the new curriculum – she was anti-gay and anti-trans, and the paper just sort of let her say whatever without challenging it; I do not for a second believe it would have gone like that were she a white Christian. The paper (or at least the interviewer) just didn’t seem to recognize that sentiments along the lines of “Boys like girls and girls like boys; anything else is sin; boys are boys and girls are girls; God doesn’t make mistakes” means the exact same thing regardless of who’s saying it and what language’s word they use for God.

      • Plumber says:

        @gbdub

        “…African Americans are still voting 90% for Democrats despite a seeming mismatch on a lot of social issues where they tend to be more conservatives..…”

        The Democratic Party, even the “left” of it, is a coalition and African-Americans are usually considered an integral part of the Democratic Party coalition just as church going Christians are usually considered part of the Republican coalition, but “….Nearly half (47%) of black Democrats say they attend church at least weekly….” compared to “…Republicans overall (44%)…”, and you’ll find that black Democrats are less supportive of legal abortion and gay marriage on average than other Democrats, but they’re other issues that they on average mostly agree with Democrats, among which are economic issues (which is also true of most Americans, in general voters are left of the Republican Party on economics, and to the right of the Democratic Party on cultural/social issues), also let’s face it, the Democratic Party is mostly urbanites, and most black Americans grandparents or great-grandparants moved to Cities in the 1940’s and ’50’s, just as Catholics who live in the suburbs are now mostly Republicans (unlike their grandparents), but a lot of the reason is history.  

        I’m old enough to remember “pro-choice” Republicans and “pro-life” Democrats, as well as conservative “boll weevil” Democrats, and I know that the current coalitions used to be quite different, it wasn’t too long ago that the college educated were more likely to vote for Republicans for example) and if we look at the 1896 election it’s the reverse of today with the cities voting Republican and the south voting for Democrats. 

        Much of the following will be old news to Americans my age and older but let’s look at the coalitions of the 1940’s: Republican voters tended to be Business owners, and northern Protestants, especially New England rural Protestants. Democrats tended to be southern whites, Catholics, Jews, and the urban working class (especially union members), and blacks (where they could vote, as southern blacks usually couldn’t vote) and they were a new part of the Democratic coalition, as before FDR, and especially before Truman and his desegregation of the military, blacks were more likely to be Republicans.

        Some parts of those coalitions still exist, but there has been many changes in the last 70 years! 

        First off with the mass post war movement to the suburbs many Democrats started to become Republicans when they became property tax paying homeowners (we can see this in reverse today with the movement back to cities), from it’s mid 1950’s high the number of union jobs has been decimated despite government employees being more likely to be unionized (a typical 1948 union member would be an assembly line auto worker, today it would be a school teacher), I know in my area the shipyards and two automobile factories during my lifetime with only building trades and the longshoreman at the Port of Oakland hanging on and without that lingering gratitude to FDR for their union paychecks men, especially white men, turn Republican, but the big switch was southern whites (the “solid south”) becoming Republican.

        Democrats and Republicans, even in my lifetime, were hardly as ideological bound as they are today, often what Democrats and Republicans stood for was different State to State, and the real big switch came after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and especially the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Black Americans had already moved north in the 1940’s and ’50’s (for example the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco was mostly black in my lifetime with it’s residents being those who’s parents and grandparents had been shipyard workers), and along with white men they became union members and a convergence of black men’s wages towards white wages happened in the 1940’s as well as after 1964, which was because the wartime government favored labor unions who continued to gain members after the war, and F.D.R. issued  executive order 8802 that banned discrimination in defense industries.

        In tandem with the decline of unionized jobs the median hourly wage for men’s has fallen from it’s adjusted for inflation 1973 peak, and those wages have fallen further for black men….

        • Brad says:

          I don’t see why hourly wages are a relevant figure. I’d think compensation is the appropriate one to look at.

          • Plumber says:

            ????
            I’m unclear of the difference

          • Brad says:

            Suppose you get a pension. That’s part of your compensation but it isn’t part of your hourly wage. Health care is an especially relevant part of this story. I’m pretty sure Scott has a post on that if you check the archives.

          • Plumber says:

            @Brad

            “….Health care is an especially relevant part of this story. I’m pretty sure Scott has a post on that if you check the archives….

             You mean the  “Considerations On Cost Disease” post?

            Yes, that was an excellent one of Scott’s, and he hasn’t been the only one to notice the problem, even I noticed that for over a decade (when I worked union construction for the private sector) that while we’d negotiated more from the contractors, our take home pay shrank as more was going towards health benefits, the bitterest union meeting I every attended was one over what allocation should go towards the health plan, in particular I remember one man I knew shouting to another “Well quit having so many kids then!”, the vote was so close that “divide the room” was called instead of the usual voice vote, which meant that each side had to stand on one side of the room and glare at each other, and it was clear to me that those of us who were mostly older and had families were on one side, and mostly younger single men (and one women) were on the other side, still the vote was very close and I could see guys I was at my current jobsite on both sides, and if you voted one way you were taking money out of every mans pocket (as well as the few ladies in our local) and if you voted the other way you’d make having a sick kid very much more costly. 

            Not a good night!

      • Plumber says:

        ….Remember, lately the most loyal voters for the Democratic Party aren’t black men, but instead are black women both in 2016, and in 2017.

        In common with white men, while some black men have achieved heights that just weren’t available to them before, the fortunes of the median black man has declined in the last 45 years, besides lower wages more are imprisoned, in contrast black women’s wages have risen, just as have white women’s. 

        Just as 1973 marks the peak in men’s adjusted for inflation hourly wages (and the end of the draft, and the first oil embargo…) 1973 also marks the Roe v. Wade decision which I believe caused a political re-alignment similar to the one’s caused by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of ’65.

        In 1967 conservative Republican Governor Ronald Reagan signed a bill which allowed abortions in California which he was urged to do by Republican legislators in California, but by 1981 when he was President he was vocally anti-abortion as increasingly the Republican Party, and in response religious conservatives leaned Republican.

        By the late 1970’s unions could see that they were in decline and started advocating for “card check” which would make it easier to unionize workplaces, President Carter and a majority Democratic congress could have done passed that legislation but didn’t, in 2009 and 2010 unions urged Obama and a Democratic congress to pass what was now called “The Employee Free Choice Act” (card check) but that “wasn’t a priority”, but what was a priority for Democrats was keeping Roe v. Wade the law of the land.

        After 1935’s National Labor Relations Act made it easier to unionize workplaces, and the “weaponized Keynesianism” of the second world war a great broad based middle class come about, and while some “leftist” unions such as the I.L.W.U. made what later became called “affirmative action” their policy many times (especially in the older A.F. of L. “craft” unions such my own U.A. Plumber and Steamfitters) unions kept things “in the family” guild style and nepotism made membership for black men difficult, but growing industries such as automobile manufacturing led to many black men into C.I.O. unions such as the U.A.W. in the 1950’s and they started to become middle class, a process that accelerated after 1964 and black men’s wages were converging with white men’s until about 1975, but then that convergence stopped. 

        When I was a little boy in the 1970’s I lived in majority black neighborhoods that had lots of black homeowners, but in time they moved or passed away and far fewer blacks live in the neighborhood and those that do are mostly tenants in apartments and are women with children. 

        I may be extrapolating too much from my childhood next door neighbor too much, but a remember a black man who had a military pension, a steady job, a Buick in the driveway, and many grandchildren who visited, and maybe it was because of all those grandchildren, that upon his death none of his kids inherited the house (which ones would it be?) and the house was sold to a white couple with college educations (still there last I checked, the husband works for the University, the wife is a massage therapist who once ran for the school board), the same thing happened with most of the houses on the block, which I suppose is normal, I’m told that the neighborhood was mostly “Portuguese” before (as was the now defunct Oakland, CA Plumbers local 444), but where are the blacks in the Bay Area now? 

        Asians, Latinos, and Whites have been replacing blacks in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco (except in County Jail #4, which is still majority black despite blacks now being less than 7% of the population of San Francisco), though I’m told that there’s a growing black community in the far suburb of Antioch which is nominally still the Bay Area. 

        Starting in the 1970’s without union cards white men ceased to vote for Democrats, and is it any wonder? In most men’s lifetime the gains of the past are stories of the fathers or grandfathers with the Democratic Party mostly appearing to stand for (largely female) public school teachers and “the right to choose”, meanwhile Republicans have told them “We’ll fight for you to keep your guns and pay less taxes”.

        In terms of “What have you done for me lately” black men can look back at the 1960’s for something a Democratic President did for them (which was also with the support of many Republicans in Congress, but that was before the re-alignment), but for many black men that was in their grandparents lifetimes and memories fade.

        In 2009 there was the “stimulus” package, and there was talk of 1930’s style public works, of the kind that employ many men, instead the fund went to tax cuts and to keeping school teachers employed, so jobs for college graduate women, not working class men.

        In my writing this out and thinking about it who votes for whom makes much more sense to me, and I can imagine the Democrats losing the votes of black men the way the have white men if they don’t do more actual deeds to benefit them, I don’t forsee them voting Republican yet, just not voting.

        So far recent Republican efforts to “fight voter fraud” (make it harder to vote) have backfired and black voter participation is up which has benefited Democrats, but if Democrats keep chasing “suburban women voters” I don’t know how long that will continue. 

        From my perspective the Democrats pay lip service towards “protecting the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society” but are far more successful at keeping abortion legal, while the Republicans pay lip service to “traditional values” but mostly they deliver tax cuts for the wealthy.

        Donor class vs. “the base” in both parties, but as time goes on more of the base abandons the Parties, and I can imagine a future Democratic Party that is only college graduate women, and while Trump spoke populist and got enough of the “Rust Belt” to switch their votes giving him the Presidency, since the major thing he’s accomplished is massive tax cuts (and deficits) for the wealthy the Republicans could lose their “base” as well.

        Right now Democrats are campaigning on health care which makes sense since “Obamacare” (ironically modelled on Romneycare) is their biggest accomplishment, while Republicans have stopped campaigning on tax cuts after finding them unpopular

        For a long time black poverty was blamed on “social pathologies” (drug addiction, fatherless families, et cetera) but I’m pretty certain that the jobs left first, and I point to as more jobs paying a “family wage” to those without a college diploma disappeared those same “pathologies” have grown among whites (and I really don’t think that it’s coincidental that both union jobs and the male labor force participation rate peaked in the 1950’s).

        Looking at a piece on competing canidates in very white West Virginia a supporter of the Democrat ““says he and his wife don’t have health insurance. He’s hoping Ojeda’s support for a public insurance option will lower health care prices…” while a supporter of the Republican candidate said of the Democrats “They left me. They left me, my morals. I think they’re getting very weak on the Second Amendment. I’m pro-life 100 percent“, and I see some parallels with the black men I know, and while anecdote isn’t scientific polling, in 2012 the strongest voice against the courts repealing California’s Proposition 8 that made gay marriage illegal in California that I heard was a black male co-worker who was quite angry about the possibility (“disgusting!”), yet he approvingly spoke of Obamacare with vintage 1930’s CPUSA lingo (“I like it because I’m for the masses!”), would you characterize him as an “SJW”? Is he Left or Right (I’ll add that another co-worker, a 40 year-old white man was extremely anti-immigrant, pro-gun, and pro-Trump, but was very anti-Wall Street, and ask the same question)?

        Given the Trump family history I very much doubt that a Republican party headed by him could win many black voters, but could the Democrats lose them?

        Sure, by failing to deliver anything that could be spun as improving their lives and be emphasis on social issues to capture “suburban women”.

        How could Republicans win their votes without drastically changing their platform (though they kind of did that already, I remember when Republicans were more “free trade”, and Reagan giving amnesty for illegal immigrants!)?

        Easy, have the majority of black Americans have high enough incomes that they chaff from paying taxes.

        I think that will do the trick.

        Your welcome!

        • Brad says:

          The piece you seem to be missing is that the only way to ever go back to Americans being as rich as they were in the 50s and 60s is for the entire rest of the industrialized world to be destroyed again, with the US being unscathed. That seems unlikely to put it mildly.

          Private sector unions have declined because they there isn’t enough margin left in manufacturing to pay them off anymore. They remain in the public sector, public sector contractors, and sectors strongly protected from competition by the public sector and that’s about it. Any kind of federal law about check off cards isn’t going to change that.

          Sure we could spend enormous amounts of money–either directly in the taxes or indirectly in the form of trade barriers–to create fake make-work jobs, but frankly there aren’t enough “working class” men to make us and the rest of us don’t want to. Certainly none of those “just cut taxes” people are going to stay in a coalition with people that want either massively increased taxes or a cessation of international trade. You’ll even start to lose the war hawks as the general impoverishment caused by bad economic policies starts impacting the ability to buy military toys. Even if this fake jobs coalition managed to pull in significant number of black men I still don’t see how it would be competitive.

          • The piece you seem to be missing is that the only way to ever go back to Americans being as rich as they were in the 50s and 60s is for the entire rest of the industrialized world to be destroyed again, with the US being unscathed. That seems unlikely to put it mildly.

            I’m curious about the economic theory that underlies that. The rest of the industrialized world being destroyed makes us relatively richer. Why do you think it makes us absolutely richer?

            Also, is it your view that average real income at present is lower than it was in the 50’s and 60’s? Median real income?

          • Brad says:

            Relatively richer is what I meant. Obviously we are absolutely richer now.

            As I understand it there was a confluence of events, of which the destruction of the European industrial base was a large part, that lead to outsize bargaining power for unskilled American workers in the post war years. Unions took advantage of this circumstance but they didn’t create high wages out of thin air. Is that an unorthodox view?

          • Plumber says:

            @Brad

            “….Sure we could spend enormous amounts of money–either directly in the taxes or indirectly in the form of trade barriers–to create fake make-work jobs…”

            What makes the jobs “fake”?

            The public library branch closest to me has a “WPA 1936″ plaque on it, the bridge I drive over most days was a massive  PWA project (the WPA did smaller scale public works, the PWA larger ones), when I take my sons to Tilden Park I walk on trails cut by the CCC, I drive on Eisenhower’ s Interstate Highway System, most of the High School I went to was built by the WPA, my current job is mostly repairing the San Francisco “New Hall of Justice” built from 1958 to 1960, and I see a lot of the grand works of that generation badly in need of rebuilding, plus the population of this Republic has more than doubled since then, doesn’t this and future generations want libraries and schools? 

            At the very least solar panels could be put on top of roofs, new nuclear power plants could be built to replace coal, and lots of good could be done by taxing and spending (or even borrowing and spending), and I believe that while median wealth and income is down from their peaks, average and total wealth is up, so I think it’s time for some of that wealth to go for public purposes. 

          • Brad says:

            If I can build a library for $4 million dollars but I decide to instead to spend $12 million dollars because I want more people to have good jobs, are those real jobs? I’d argue no. I have a real project–building a library–and a welfare program and I’m deliberately mixing the two together so it is hard to tell who exactly is getting a handout. But that slight of hand doesn’t mean that people aren’t getting handouts.

            The same analysis applies whether I’m hiring 3x the necessary workers or hiring the necessary amount and paying them 3x market rate.

            A little more indirect, but still boiling down to the same thing, if someone works in a factory making a widgets and that factory only exists because the government it illegal for people to buy the cheaper, better widgets made in Mexico, I’d argue that’s a fake job too.

            BTW, I think if one were to propose to revive the WPA today some of the fiercest objections would come from public sector and construction unions. Oh sure they’d love to have the increased spending but not a giant labor pool outside their purview, job rules, and wage scales.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Pseudoerasmus is skeptical of the idea that the destruction of Europe had much to do with America’s postwar success, based on the fact that the postwar boom was global, and that the ‘destroyed’ countries were back on their feet pretty quickly–too quickly to account for effects that persist into the 60s. I’m not remotely enough of an economic historian to debate this, but those sound like pretty important points to address.

          • CatCube says:

            @Plumber

            I don’t know about plumbing, but for the structure of buildings there are substantial differences in how buildings are built compared to the ’30s, ’60s, and today. Some of them are due to structural behavior that would be absolutely unacceptable in a modern structure (that survives only through grandfathering). Some of them are due to the fact that when they were originally designed people were cheap and materials were expensive. The reverse is true today, and some design details that were done then would never be considered in a modern design because of the labor required to construct them.

            I’m thinking specifically right now of features such as cover plates, used to increase the bending strength of rolled steel members. Basically, the bending capacity of a steel member needs to be higher at the middle than at the ends*, so a common detail up to the late ’50s and early ’60s was to weld, bolt, or rivet plates to the top and bottom of the rolled section in the middle, and step the capacity down as you worked to the outside. Another possibility is to use different sections in the middle than on the outside and weld them together end-to-end, or use cover plates to connect them. At work, we had several gates on dams from the ’50s that used this kind of structural detail. This was done not only to reduce the use of steel, but to reduce pick weights to economize on hoisting equipment.

            But the critical thing to realize about these is the “weld[ed], bolt[ed], or rivet[ed]” part of that. These are all very labor intensive processes. Nowadays, it’s far cheaper to just use more steel by using a bigger section for the whole way, and to just use a bigger hoist. The old WPA projects just threw a bunch of people at a project–not quite “strong backs and weak minds,” but they definitely used a lot more “general labor” that consisted of picking up heavy things, moving them to another place, and putting them down, that we’d use heavy equipment to do today.

            I don’t know what kind of access you have to your billing records for your job, but food for thought: as an design engineer employed by the federal government, I get paid $35.67 per hour. The total cost to the government (that is, what it costs to my organization to have me as a worker) is about $95 per hour (the exact number is on my computer at work). That is, almost two-thirds of my compensation comes in forms that I cannot fold up and put in my pocket–annual leave, health insurance, sick leave, retirement, the other half of social security, etc. Check to see what the difference between what the City bills for your services–and make no mistake, somebody is doing this calculation before sending you out to fix something–compared to what shows up in your paycheck. Whatever might be happening with wages, people are still very expensive to employers.

          • disposablecat says:

            @CatCube: oooof. You’re a structural engineer with a postgraduate degree and about a decade of experience, right? And that’s all they’re paying you, base?

            Point of comparison: I am a very junior product manager (read: requirements gatherer and progress driver with a side of coding) at a large tech company, having come up through operational IT support. Two years ago I was in tech support. Five years ago I was a $10 an hour call center wage slave. I’m about 8 years out of college.

            I make just a few cents per hour less than you, salary. If you count stock compensation at value when awarded (not accounting for growth since, which is substantial), it’s actually a couple bucks more, assuming I stay long enough to vest all of it (4 years). And this is at a satellite operation in a VERY rural area where that income easily goes 30 plus percent further than it does in any city (50 plus over SF or NYC). I know guys in operations shift work with more time in grade making the same, and operations managers making way more. And of course in the cities you have software guys younger than me with more straightforward careers making 200k plus.

            I’m not saying this to be a dick, and if it comes off that way I apologize. It seems like you enjoy your job, and that’s worth lower comp in many cases. But yeah, based on the impression of what you do I have from your effortposts, compared to what I and my coworkers do, you are being drastically underpaid, and I’d recommend doing some interviewing in the tech sector if it’s at all feasible for you, just to see what they put on the table even if you aren’t interested in switching jobs (we do hire mech and structural engineers – we aren’t building dams, but we absolutely do build large industrial buildings with complex internal structural systems, for several purposes. There’s also project management in those areas, that you’re likely very qualified for).

            If this isn’t totally out of line (and if it is, again, I apologize), happy to discuss more specifically in private – drop me a good avenue of contact in a reply. I’m being deliberately vague here for the usual reasons.

        • Interesting piece–a different perspective than most of us have, based on a different life.

          One minor point that struck me:

          since the major thing he’s accomplished is massive tax cuts (and deficits) for the wealthy

          The point about deficits is correct, but why do you view the tax cut as for the wealthy? A sizable part was reducing the corporate tax, but corporations aren’t people. The burden of a corporation tax is divided among customers, employees, and stockholders, and there is no particular reason to expect it to be more of a benefit for the wealthy than for other people.

          One of the most objected to features was the capping of the deduction for state and local property taxes (at $10,000) and for mortgage interest (at the interest on a $750,000 mortgage). Even in California, people who pay more than $10,000 in property tax or have a mortgage of more than $750,000 aren’t poor, and in much of the country they are rich.

          The Democrats claim the tax cut was for the rich, but why do you see it as such?

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “….why do you view the tax cut as for the wealthy?….”

            Mostly because of how the press has reported them and because they cut income taxes but not “payroll” taxes, if the Earned Income Tax Credit was expanded instead than that would be something I would regard as for the working poor.

          • skef says:

            The burden of a corporation tax is divided among customers, employees, and stockholders, and there is no particular reason to expect it to be more of a benefit for the wealthy than for other people.

            Could briefly lay out the economic reasoning for this view? I have heard this expressed about that cut in a number of contexts. The idea seems to be that economic considerations mean that no one of those parties is more likely to have a claim (or “leverage”) on the taxed money than any other.

            I at least some of the logic of that view for a tax on gross revenue. But the tax in question is definitely not that, it’s a tax on profit. So employee wages and other compensation are already mostly out of the picture.

            Now, there is general economic argument from competition that if you change one variable (like taxation level) across the whole market, competition will tend to even things out. Having more money available might let wages rise through competition for employees, for example.

            But you can also use that model for arguing that profits will be modest — they’ll settle at the lowest level that still makes it worthwhile for investors. In that case you might think the corporate tax rate shouldn’t matter that much either way. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. There are many companies making impressive profits, and even stashing the money overseas for periods of time in the hope of avoiding the tax.

            Profits are, almost by definition, the money you manage to get out of the market after dealing with employees and customers. According to the theory in question, even if the tax is only on profit one has no reason to think lowering it is more likely to benefit shareholders than employees or customers. But if customers have leverage, why are the profits there in the first place? And if employees have leverage, why hasn’t the foreign money come back to pay them higher wages, in which case the companies would not pay the corporate tax on that money at all?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Corporate tax cuts are a tax on corporate profits. Corporate profits ultimately benefit shareholders. Shares aren’t held by anything like an even distribution of the population.

            On the margin, they reduce some incentive to engage in economic activity, but how are corporate taxes a burden on the employee or customer? Corporations don’t make a profit and then distribute it to the employees in wages or customers in lower prices. Their duty is to is the shareholder. The latest corporate tax cuts produced mostly stock buybacks, not wage growth.

            I believe the standard Econ argument against corporate taxation is that it is subsequently taxed again as income when distributed to the shareholder, thus the same profit is double taxed.

            ETA: Skef beat me to it.

          • Profits are, almost by definition, the money you manage to get out of the market after dealing with employees and customers.

            Profits, in equilibrium, are the market return on capital. Anything above that is “economic profit,” which in a market with open entry averages zero.

            There is a world capital market, so to first approximation the market return on capital isn’t affected by the U.S. corporation tax. In order for U.S. firms to attract capital they have to offer the same return as everyone else, so the tax comes out of wages and/or prices.

            Of course, the U.S. is a large part of the world economy. So the second approximation allows for the effect of the corporate tax on interest rates in the world market. In addition, there are going to be short term effects as everything adjusts.

            A different way of making the point … . Suppose you are Honda, deciding whether to invest your stockholders’ money in producing goods to be sold in the U.S. or somewhere else with a lower corporate tax rate. You only do it in the U.S. if the return is enough higher than the return in (say) Canada to make up for the fact that you will be paying higher taxes on that return. That return depends on how much you have to pay your U.S. employees and how much your U.S. customers pay you.

            The U.S. had unusually high corporate tax rates, which gave corporations an incentive to either actually earn their money outside the U.S. or use creative accounting to pretend to. The former is my Honda case, the latter a problem for enforcing the U.S. tax.

          • skef says:

            David –

            I read most of that as reasons for lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate in light of global conditions. Can you connect it a bit more directly to the question?

            I take it the idea is something like: Even profitable U.S. businesses face disproportionate obstacles to obtaining capital. By evening things out the U.S. business climate should improve, leading to more jobs and therefore more wages payed to employees. (How the customer benefits is still unclear.)

            So would it be fair to say:

            1) Any potential benefits to employees are much longer term than the benefits to shareholders.

            2) The adjustment from holding money overseas to not doing so is likely to benefit shareholders almost exclusively

            ?

          • Chalid says:

            for U.S. firms to attract capital they have to offer the same return as everyone else, so the tax comes out of wages and/or prices

            or equity prices, i.e. from the owners’ pockets.

          • Chalid says:

            Complications: the buyers of US corporations’ goods are fairly likely to be international (30% of the S&P500’s revenue comes from abroad), so to the extent that consumers benefit, 30% of it is foreign consumers to a very crude first order approximation.

            I have no idea what the equivalent figure is for workers. Probably lower than 30%? And for wages, probably lower still… Goldman Sachs has a very big Bangalore office by headcount but hardly anyone there is earning the million dollar bonuses.

            I was under the impression that people who did thorough research on the topic concluded that the effect would be pretty regressive. Note that if you find half goes to “workers and consumers” and half goes to “owners” you’d expect that the “workers and consumers” benefit approximately proportionately to their income. You could call that a flat tax cut if you’re talking about percentages, or a regressive tax cut if you’re talking who gets the most dollars. The half that goes to “owners” is quite regressive by any standard.

          • I take it the idea is something like: Even profitable U.S. businesses face disproportionate obstacles to obtaining capital. By evening things out the U.S. business climate should improve, leading to more jobs and therefore more wages payed to employees. (How the customer benefits is still unclear.)

            An American company wants to raise money by selling stock—in the simplest case, imagine it’s a brand new company. It has to offer the purchasers, on average, the same return they would get if they invested their capital somewhere else.

            Suppose the U.S. has a corporate income tax of 50%, everyone else of zero. To pay the same return as a foreign company, the U.S. company has to make twice as much accounting profit, revenue minus costs, per dollar of invested capital as a foreign company. The price of the goods it sells has to be enough above the cost of producing them (not counting the cost of capital) to give it that.

            Now the U.S. abolishes its corporate income tax. The U.S. company can now reduce its prices and still give the same return to investors. Of course, the investors would rather keep the price high and convert into profit what was before taxes, and if the company was a monopoly they could do that. But now a new competitor can undercut that price and take business away from it, since it too can raise capital with a lower return than before. So when everything finishes adjusting, companies are getting their capital more cheaply and competing the benefit away in lower prices.

            Since they are selling at a lower price they are selling more, which means they want to produce more, which means they have to hire more workers, which bids up the price of labor. They also have to use more capital, which bids up its price.

            If the supply of capital is very elastic, meaning that the total amount used by companies can increase without the cost of capital increasing by much, then the return to capital stays almost the same. If the supply of labor is very elastic, meaning that the number of workers employed can be increased by a very small increase in wages, then wages stay almost the same. If the demand for the products is very elastic, so the companies can sell more without dropping prices much, then price stays almost the same. The relative elasticities ultimately determine how the reduction in corporate taxes is divided among providers of capital, providers of labor, and consumers.

            Obviously it is a much more complicated system than this sketch can show, but that’s the basic logic of it.

            Note that this doesn’t depend on starting with U.S. corporate tax higher than that of other countries. The logic would be the same if they all had a 50% corporate income tax to start with, and abolishing the U.S. corporate income tax meant U.S. companies could get capital at a lower cost than foreign countries.

            The important effect of the U.S. having much higher rates than most other companies was that it gave companies an incentive to do the accounting that made it look as though as much profit as possible came from overseas operations, and it’s hard to entirely prevent that, since there isn’t a simple way by which the IRS can judge what the prices should be for transactions between parts of what is really the same company.

          • I should probably add that the sensible way of handling tax on corporate profits is to recognize that the corporation is only a middleman. Abolish the corporate income tax and tax stockholders on their share of corporate income, whether it is paid out as dividends or retained by the corporation. That eliminates a bunch of distortions due to the present system.

          • I should probably add that the point about elasticities applies much more generally. People routinely assume that you can judge who is bearing the burden of taxes by who hands over the money, but that isn’t in general true.

            Consider the simple case of a tax on transactions, such as a sales tax. It could be collected from the seller, it could be collected from the buyer, but in terms of the actual burden that doesn’t matter. The buyer hands the seller a dollar. Ten cents goes to the government. It doesn’t matter whether the ten cents is taken out just before the money is handed over or just after.

            For a real world example, Social Security is nominally paid for partly by the employer, partly by the employee, but that’s irrelevant to who really bears the burden—that depends on the relative elasticities of demand and supply for labor.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            One more piece of anecdota. The Minnesota Department of Revenue periodically publishes what they call a tax incidence report, which calculates Minnesota state and local taxes by income (divided into 10 deciles). Here.

            This study indicates that business tax (mostly corporate I believe) is highly regressive. There is a table on page 16 that in 2014 indicates the lowest income decile indirectly paid 14.5% tax on its income, and the highest decile indirectly paid 2.3% tax on its income. I tried to take a screen shot, but I guess I can’t do that.

            It is kind of humorous (but annoying) that anti-business politicians in Minnesota very much do not understand this point. One often hears them complaining that our corporate taxes aren’t high enough, and in the next breath that the poor pay too much in tax (based on this report of the DOR), not realizing that they are contradicting themselves.

          • Brad says:

            A couple of questions / points:

            If we take the corporate income tax to land on employees, shareholders, and customers — can we take, at least as a first approximation– the distribution within those categories as: proportional to pre-tax change compensation, proportional to ownership percentage, proportional to pre-tax change consumption? If so wouldn’t it still make sense to characterize it as a tax cut for the rich, given that all three sub-components would dollar wise, disproportionately benefit the rich?

            Abolish the corporate income tax and tax stockholders on their share of corporate income, whether it is paid out as dividends or retained by the corporation.

            How would the retained earnings part work? Wouldn’t that look an awful lot like an income tax?

          • If so wouldn’t it still make sense to characterize it as a tax cut for the rich, given that all three sub-components would dollar wise, disproportionately benefit the rich?

            That’s an odd way of describing a cut as disproportionately favoring the rich. If you simply reduced everyone’s taxes by one percent, people who paid a lot of taxes would save more dollars than people who paid few taxes. I don’t think that’s what Plumber, and other people who claim the recent cut favored the rich, mean.

            How would the retained earnings part work? Wouldn’t that look an awful lot like an income tax?

            What I am suggesting is including corporate earnings, retained or paid out, as income to the stockholder, taxed as such.

          • Brad says:

            I frequently see in the newspapers claims of the sort “$60B of the $80B in tax cuts will go to households making more than $500k/year” (numbers made up). So clearly at least some people think that’s a relevant way in which tax cuts can favor the rich.

            Ah, I see. But what do you do about owners that live outside the jurisdiction?

          • skef says:

            Abolish the corporate income tax and tax stockholders on their share of corporate income, whether it is paid out as dividends or retained by the corporation. That eliminates a bunch of distortions due to the present system.

            I don’t particularly object to this in spirit, but in practice we currently have a system that is particularly lenient in how it taxes capital gains, and the move towards stock buybacks artificially shifts corporate distributions into that category.

            There has been a long tradition in the U.S. of selectively applying libertarian arguments against “imbalances” when they work against the wealthy and then leaving imbalances in place when they don’t. Any changes should be judged against the actual political landscape rather than an abstract ideal people pretend to be motivated by*.

            * I do not mean to imply that David is one of these people.

          • The main problem with current capital gains taxation is that it is based on nominal rather than real values, so if there is inflation you end up being taxed on fictitious gains.

            With my system, if the company reinvests the money the stockholder is taxed on it as ordinary income. He has a capital gain only if the increase in the value of the stock he sells is more than the amount of reinvested corporate income that he has already paid income tax on–and a capital loss if it is less.

            One of the advantages of that is that it eliminates the tax incentive to reinvest rather than paying out dividends, in order to convert the money into capital gain rather than income.

          • Lillian says:

            Isn’t reinvesting something we want to incentivize?

          • skef says:

            With my system, if the company reinvests the money the stockholder is taxed on it as ordinary income.

            Is “reinvestment” distinct from other expenses (e.g. is paying salaries a form of reinvestment), and if so how are they distinguished?

          • skef says:

            Isn’t reinvesting something we want to incentivize?

            In a free market presumably not: whether you should reinvest should depend on the chances of the investment paying off. Eliminate the bias and companies would reinvest to the extent that makes sense and distribute the remaining profits as dividends.

            Part of the obsession with the “growth” of public companies comes from the tax advantages of stock price increases versus dividends. More recently that has led to a focus on stock buybacks, which have similar advantages at the price of further divorcing the relation of price, price changes, and earnings ratios to intuitive attitude towards those.

          • Skef’s basic point is correct.

            A dollar invested internally in the company earns a rate of return of X%. A dollar invested by the stockholder wherever he thinks it most useful earns a rate of return of Y%. If X>Y, the stockholder will prefer to have the company reinvest its profits. If Y>X, the stockholder will prefer to have the company give him the money to invest as he wishes. In both cases that’s the right answer–but under current circumstances the stockholder may prefer the company to reinvest even if Y>X, because that way the money eventually comes to him as capital gains instead of income.

          • Is “reinvestment” distinct from other expenses

            Yes. It’s using profits to acquire additional capital assets, not just spending on inputs to production.

          • skef says:

            Yes. It’s using profits to acquire additional capital assets, not just spending on inputs to production.

            That’s very quick. Too quick.

            What about new intellectual property? What about the distinction between an employee working on an “existing investment” versus a “new project”? Are they tracking their hours based on what kind of intellectual property they produce? Is there any kind of intellectual property that is not a “new investment” in some sense?

            If new intellectual property is not reinvestment, and Apple contracts all of its factory work to third parties, how would such a tax apply to Apple?

            In terms of manufacturing: If an existing machine is repaired with a module that contains a new option, where does that fall on the line?

            Once you attach a large monetary significance to the line between “expenses” and “reinvestment”, it transforms from a mere conceptual question to one that many parties have great interest in seeing answered a certain way. It would reach into every aspect of business.

          • The distinction between expenses and reinvestment is already there in the definition of corporate profits. If not, then any firm that failed to pay dividends would count as having zero profits.

            Are you suggesting that reinvestment that consists of buying land or another firm or paying off bondholders counts as a use of profit, while reinvestment that consists of building a factory counts as an expense to be subtracted from revenue in calculating profit?

          • skef says:

            The distinction between expenses and reinvestment is already there in the definition of corporate profits. If not, then any firm that failed to pay dividends would count as having zero profits.

            There are more than one mechanisms for distributing profits back to shareholders. Stock buybacks are another.

            Are you suggesting that reinvestment that consists of buying land or another firm or paying off bondholders counts as a use of profit, while reinvestment that consists of building a factory counts as an expense to be subtracted from revenue in calculating profit?

            I’m suggesting that there is no straightforward way of distinguishing between business expenses and reinvestment. Say that every year corporation X tends to distribute 5% of its gross receipts as a dividend. Then after the proposed law gets passed, it distributes a 1% dividend. Based on past patterns, you might think that the company is now reinvesting at least 4% of its gross. But the company can also claim that the business environment has changed and profits have decreased.

            To tax reinvestment as distinct from expenses there needs to be a standard for what constitutes reinvestment. The standard “what would have been a dividend” is counterfactual and accordingly not very useful. If there is no standard, every business will claim that whatever isn’t returned by a dividend or by a buyback isn’t reinvestment.

          • To tax reinvestment as distinct from expenses there needs to be a standard for what constitutes reinvestment.

            This sounds as though you think that isn’t already the case under the present tax law. Do you?

            There are more than one mechanisms for distributing profits back to shareholders. Stock buybacks are another.

            So is reinvesting the profits, since it, like a stock buyback, raises the value of the stock.

          • skef says:

            This sounds as though you think that isn’t already the case under the present tax law.

            If I’m being asked to clarify my understanding, the first issue is to distinguish two uses of “reinvestment”.

            On the shareholder side, that term can be used to refer to a policy in which any dividends are automatically directed towards new purchases of the stock. This is just an investment policy and does have clear tax implications (although they don’t much differ from a different policy of investing dividends of stock A in stock B).

            On the business side, reinvestment refers to directing money that could be used to pay dividends to increase the business opportunities of the company. This can be a useful way of thinking about a corporate balance sheet. How “real” the category is depends on the type of business and the way it is managed. There is not a line in the books next to each debit indicating what percentage of it is an expense and what is a reinvestment. Ask a manager how many hours one employee worked on maintaining existing business and how many (trying to) open up a new market, and the manager might not know.

            Still, a typical business probably has a reasonable idea of the split. But (I would say) this reasonable idea depends in part on reinvestment not being a measure of much legal significance. At the end of the year, the tax man is interested in what does and does not count as profit, not in a tripartite categorization into profit, standard expenses, and reinvestment. If you spend all of your “spare money” on attempting to set up new business this year, you haven’t made any profit and you won’t pay any tax.

            Any proposal to 1) tax corporate reinvestment while 2) considering “normal expenses” to not count as reinvestment faces the usual Goodhart’s Law problem. What was a measure is now a target.

            Anyway, as I’ve said my understanding is that there is no current accounting standard for that tripartite distinction. A record of every corporate credit and debit can tell you the difference between the numbers, but not the ratio between standard expense and reinvestment.

            Is that wrong?

          • On the business side, reinvestment refers to directing money that could be used to pay dividends to increase the business opportunities of the company.

            That’s what I was referring to.

            At the end of the year, the tax man is interested in what does and does not count as profit, not in a tripartite categorization into profit, standard expenses, and reinvestment.

            Yes. But the issue you raised of distinguishing expenditure on reinvesting profit from expenditure on producing goods is crucial to what counts as profit.

            A company pays an employee $50,000 in wages. If he is producing goods to be sold for revenue, that expenditure is a cost and so gets subtracted from revenue in calculating profit. If he is building them a new factory, that expenditure is coming out of profit, so they don’t get to subtract the cost of his labor from their revenue in calculating the profit they are taxed on.

            If you spend all of your “spare money” on attempting to set up new business this year, you haven’t made any profit and you won’t pay any tax.

            On the contrary. If your revenue is a million dollars greater than the cost of producing that revenue and you spend that million dollars increasing the firm’s assets or decreasing its liabilities, it was a million dollars of profit and is taxed as such.

            Other than dividends, what are you imagining happens to profits? On your model they don’t seem to exist. Building a new factory, buying stock in another company, paying off loans, are all ways of spending the money but they are not expenses of earning it so don’t get subtracted from revenue in calculating profit.

            A record of every corporate credit and debit can tell you the difference between the numbers, but not the ratio between standard expense and reinvestment.

            Is that wrong?

            Yes.

            In your view, if a company makes a profit and doesn’t pay it out as dividends, what happens to it?

            In my proposal, the information the corporation has to provide to the IRS is the same as at present–how much profit it made. The difference is that the profit is then attributed to the stockholders as income, whether the corporation pays it to them as dividends or invests it.

          • skef says:

            If he is building them a new factory, that expenditure is coming out of profit, so they don’t get to subtract the cost of his labor from their revenue in calculating the profit they are taxed on.

            The subject you are raising here is capital expenditures. Conflating this subject with taxation of “reinvestment” is dubious for (at least) two reasons.

            1. Capital expenditures are not fully expensed in the year of purchase because they are treated as assets. The company pays for the factory but then also owns the factory. If a company could treat the purchase as a single expense, they would look less- or un-profitable in the first year and unrealistically profitable in later years. Partly to avoid that, tax law spreads the tax advantage of the asset purchase out over a period of years via depreciation, which is not an actual measure of the changing value of the asset but a mechanical way to make the tax advantage gradual.

            2. One of the ongoing sources of amusement about crude versions of contemporary Marxism is the tendency to look at economics through the lens of a 19th century factory, when things have become rather more complicated. To take capital expenditures and relabel them “reinvestment” makes just that mistake.

            This is why I asked about Apple as the example of an intellectual-property driven company (a question you never answered). If corporate taxation is to be based on “reinvestment”, and Apple’s hard assets mostly amount to some real estate*, would they pay any taxes under that scheme? And speaking conceptually, do they reinvest in other important ways?

            * I know that Apple owns some chip firms; I don’t know if any of those actually own fabs. It wouldn’t be unusual if they didn’t, there are lots of chip design firms that farm out all the fabrication to the few huge companies in that market.

          • skef says:

            In your view, if a company makes a profit and doesn’t pay it out as dividends, what happens to it?

            The manner of the question suggests that I’m missing something obvious, and if that’s the case I’m still missing it. Setting aside issues like capital expenditures that get special treatment, profit can be more or less the money that is left over.

            Now, you raise some significant points about the games a corporation can play with that simple notion. If they don’t want there to be a profit some year, or want to limit what is considered profit to be whatever is returned via dividend, they could for example move the money into a shell company. But as far as taxes go that doesn’t just magically solve the problem, because the shell company would itself be a corporation and would have this money go onto its books and not off. Given the premise, that money would be profit for that company and be taxed.

            In practice, companies will arrive at dubious ways of shuffling money around, and the government will have to intervene to identify and, if necessary, shut down those patterns. Enron famously did a lot of that sort of thing, although mostly as a means of debt hiding and profit-faking.

            But those problems don’t make the basic idea stupid on its face. If the goal is to tax profits you can tax them where they wind up. A company that moves assets to third parties and then back would under ordinary circumstances wind up being taxed more, as the assets are taxed as the profits of the off-book company and then taxed again when moved on-book. The “control” is the need to provide some value to the shareholder and (at least in our system) the significance of profitability measurements to shareholders.

          • The manner of the question suggests that I’m missing something obvious, and if that’s the case I’m still missing it.

            At least one of us is.

            A company makes a profit. It uses the profit to buy assets. It’s still a profit and taxed as such.

            In my proposal, the company calculates its profit the same way it currently does for corporate income tax, then attributes it to the stockholders as income instead of paying corporate income tax on it.

            How does that require the company to make any distinction it isn’t already making?

            You do realize that the corporate income tax is on profit, not revenue?

          • skef says:

            You do realize that the corporate income tax is on profit, not revenue?

            This is what we’ve been talking about the whole time, so I don’t see how you can be asking this question is good faith. Don’t be an asshole.

            Why don’t you explain how:

            1) My description of capital expenditure taxation versus expensing is inaccurate

            or

            2) How the capital expenditure system is equivalent to a tax on reinvestment in your eyes

            (That is, explain specifically, if at a high level, how in practice the current system distinguishes between normal expenses, reinvestment, and profit, whether it be by capital expenditures or some other mechanism, rather than simply asserting once again that it does. That way everyone reading, including me, can know why what you say is true is true.) And:

            3) Roughly speaking, how your tax would apply to Apple.

            I have been patiently offering answers, right or wrong, to a number of your questions and you have left almost all of the questions I have raised unanswered.

          • 3) Roughly speaking, how your tax would apply to Apple.

            Apple would calculate its profit in the same way it does now. Instead of paying corporate income tax on that profit, as it now does, it would attribute all of it to its stockholders, each of them would report his share of it as income and pay income tax on it.

            Do you see some problem with that?

            I haven’t been responding to all of your points because I have not been able to understand what your model of the system is. In particular, why do you think my proposal raises any accounting questions that the present tax system does not raise, given that the calculation of corporate income (i.e. profit) is the same in both?

          • skef says:

            Apple would calculate its profit in the same way it does now. Instead of paying corporate income tax on that profit, as it now does, it would attribute all of it to its stockholders, each of them would report his share of it as income and pay income tax on it.

            Do you see some problem with that?

            The question I have been asking from the start is whether that process would count as having taxed “reinvestment” separately from routine expenses.

            Setting aside whether capital expenditure rules count as taxing reinvestment in the first place, suppose person A says there is a tax on food. Person B buys a loaf of bread and notices it isn’t taxed and asks A about that. A responds that the tax is specifically on chocolate, and given that chocolate is a food there is a tax on food. This is a valid applications of the term “tax on food”, but that does not mean that in this system there is what would normally be understood as a tax on food.

            Now, exceptions do not of course generally invalidate rules. A system in which all but three foods are taxed can be a system with a food tax as normally understood. Somewhere between three exceptions and a chocolate-specific tax is a fuzzy line, and it is not necessary to determine what that line is to have the discussion about whether a particular system is a food tax — you can just discuss that system and consider if it is near enough to the line so that vagueness intrudes.

            What I am doubting is whether given the information currently collected in the process of corporate accounting one can introduce what would be commonly understood as a “reinvestment tax”. I don’t doubt that one could introduce a tax on particular forms of reinvestment. I am doubting whether, in the contemporary economy, the forms you can straightforwardly tax cover enough of what would commonly be considered “reinvestment” to constitute a reinvestment tax. Hence the analogy above.

            I have discussed a couple features of the actual tax system at a high level, and also offered an explanation of how profits can be classified and taxed based on simple balance sheet accounting. You have said little about concrete issues and said that you can’t understand my model of the tax system. Would it be accurate to say that you have strong a priori reasons to believe that the corporate tax system must work the way you say it does, but don’t actually know any of the details of the accounting? If you do know how the accounting level works, can you say a few words about that? Are the capital expenditure rules what you have in mind, or something else? Nothing about confusion in my model prevents anyone from explaining how the current system allows what you say it allows.

          • What I am doubting is whether given the information currently collected in the process of corporate accounting one can introduce what would be commonly understood as a “reinvestment tax”.

            It isn’t a “reinvestment tax.” It’s a tax on corporate profits. Reinvestment is one of the things the corporation can do with the profits. Paying dividends is another thing. Piling up dollars in a safe is another thing.

            The question I have been asking from the start is whether that process would count as having taxed “reinvestment” separately from routine expenses.

            I don’t understand the question. Expenses are not taxed–they are what is subtracted from revenue to calculate profit. Reinvestment is one of the things that can be done with profit. Profit is taxed–under present law and under my proposed change.

            You asked how, under my scheme, Apple would be taxed. I replied that profit would be calculated just as it now is. Given that answer, which I had already given for the general case, I don’t understand why you asked the question. You seem to think that what I am describing raises accounting problems that don’t already exist, and keep ignoring the fact that it uses precisely the same accounting as the present system. The only sense I can make of that is that you are somehow misunderstanding what I said, and I can’t figure out how.

          • skef says:

            It isn’t a “reinvestment tax.” It’s a tax on corporate profits.

            David, this discussion started with you saying

            With my system, if the company reinvests the money the stockholder is taxed on it as ordinary income. He has a capital gain only if the increase in the value of the stock he sells is more than the amount of reinvested corporate income that he has already paid income tax on–and a capital loss if it is less.

            and my asking

            Is “reinvestment” distinct from other expenses (e.g. is paying salaries a form of reinvestment), and if so how are they distinguished?

            and you saying

            Yes. It’s using profits to acquire additional capital assets, not just spending on inputs to production.

            I’ve been asking how one could implement the system you describe as one where “if the company reinvests the money the stockholder is taxed on it as ordinary income.” That is the topic of discussion.

          • I’ve been asking how one could implement the system you describe as one where “if the company reinvests the money the stockholder is taxed on it as ordinary income.”

            And as I thought I had explained several times over, the stockholder is taxed on it not because it is reinvested but because what was available to be reinvested was profit.

            Suppose the company earns a profit and puts it in the safe. Some of the money is on the top shelf of the safe and some on the bottom. If I wrote “the stockholder is taxed on the profit in the safe, whether it is on the top shelf or the bottom,” would your response be to ask how the tax authorities could know which shelf it was on? That’s exactly the same as my saying “the stockholder is taxed on the profit the corporation makes, whether it is reinvested, paid as dividends, or used in some other way.”

            And, not for the first time, why, in your view, does my proposal raise any accounting problem not raised by the present law, given that both are defining profit in the same way and taxing it? You keep ignoring that.

          • skef says:

            And, not for the first time, why, in your view, does my proposal raise any accounting problem not raised by the present law, given that both are defining profit in the same way and taxing it? You keep ignoring that.

            No, I have not been ignoring it. I have been trying to communicate the accounting issue the whole time.

            To use your metaphor, what will be in the safe is the money left over after spending of whatever kind the company engages in. An accountant can tally that up; it will be a combination of normal currency-denominated accounts and assets that are legally considered investments.

            Any funds that are spent by the company will not be in the safe, although assets purchased with those funds may be.

            What current tax law considers treats as an asset is, roughly:

            1) Currency denominated accounts and other standard investments (e.g. if the company buys some other company’s stock).

            2) Assets with a clear book value (which in almost all cases have a clear book value because they were bought by the company from some other company or individual). This includes things like concrete assets (computers, factories), rights to use someone else’s intellectual property, and so forth. Many of these will have a depreciation schedule, such that the book value decreases with time and the company gets to expense the difference.

            What is definitely not in the safe is any money spent by the company. If the company spent money on an asset with a book value, that will be in the safe and therefore that spending will be “counted” in that sense.

            What this means is that any reinvestment on the part of the company that is not in an asset with a clear book value is not differentiated from a standard expense under current tax law.

            So, to give a clear example: suppose the company pays workers to develop a new device that it then patents. In doing this the company has spent money on an asset. The money spent is treated as an expense — the company does not pay any tax those funds because the corporate tax is a tax on profit. Is the patent treated as an asset? No, because it does not have a clear book value. It was not purchased from another company, and it is difficult to determine what it will be worth. Current tax law currently shrugs and says “well, if it winds up being worth something later, it will probably be profitable and we will tax those profits.”

            This is the sense, which I have repeatedly tried to explain, that current tax law cannot provide a general reinvestment tax. Companies can reinvest by developing their own new things (by paying employees to do that), or by buying them from outside sources. Only the latter kind of reinvestment is distinguished by the current accounting laws so that it could be taxed separately.

            To claim that only purchases that fall under the capital expenditure rules should count as “reinvestment” is to make the same mistake as some Marxists are prone to, which is to model the modern economy as a 19th century factory. Paying employees to develop new intellectual property is a form of reinvestment. If the payroll is treated as an expense, and the new intellectual property is not treated as an asset, the reinvestment is not being taxed.

          • nkurz says:

            Reading the back-and-forth, I think the issue is that skef and DavidFriedman are using slightly different definitions of “profit”. Making up terms, for David “profit” is synonymous with “taxable profit”, whereas skef is using a more inclusive definition that I’ll call “accounting profit”.

            In the current system, each company fills out a form, and at the bottom is a number which gets multiplied by a corporate tax rate to calculate the amount the company owes. David is saying the company does everything the same up to this point, but instead of paying this tax to the government, allocates a portion of the “taxable profit” to each shareholder, who then pays it at their personal rate. Everything taxable remains taxable, everything nontaxable remains nontaxable, the only differences are who pays and the rate that individual pays.

            I think skef is confused by this because his “accounting profit” includes items that have already been excluded from “taxable profit”. I think he’s using “profits” to mean something closer to the amount of money the company has left over at the end of the year, and some expenditures that are considered investments or assets are deducted from “accounting profit” before “taxable profit” is determined.

            As for how David’s system accounts for these exclusions, I think the answer is “it doesn’t”. The company calculates a number using the same methodology it currently does, but instead of paying taxes based on this number, it assigns others to be responsible for amounts adding up to the same total.

            Now is this is a good idea? I don’t really see the advantages. How does the company fairly allocate the “taxable profit” between different classes of stock? Does an employee with unexercised restricted stock option immediately owe taxes? Does it benefit the US government to forgo collecting taxes from non-US shareholders? Is compliance better when collecting from a few corporations rather than lots of individuals?

            My guess is that many of the largest owners of the stock (college endowments, trust funds, offshore shell companies, the really-really-rich with teams of lawyers and creative accountants) are going to figure out ways to pay lower than the current corporate rates, and thus if one wanted to make the change revenue neutral, the overall rates for the rest who pay they tax at personal rates would have to go up.

          • How does the company fairly allocate the “taxable profit” between different classes of stock?

            Fair question that hadn’t occurred to me. Probably the same way it allocates dividends, since that’s how the money eventually gets through to a shareholder, whether the current one or the one he sells his shares to.

            I don’t really see the advantages.

            First, it eliminates the illusion of a tax that the government collects but no person pays, corporations not really being people.

            Second, it eliminates the double taxation of income that comes through a corporation.

            Third, it eliminates the incentive for corporations to reinvest rather than paying dividends in order to convert the income that reaches the stockholder into capital gains.

  6. a_lieb says:

    So, modafinil is finally starting to become affordable in generic form. $40 per month for the 200mg tablets (max normal dose) at many pharmacies with a GoodRx coupon. The prices seem to be still bouncing around at most pharmacies, but there’s been a generic at Costco for around $40 for at least two years. (I’m not clear whether their online pharmacy has it, but the brick-and-mortar stores definitely do.)

    I want to propose that patients and doctors should now consider off-label modafinil as a first line treatment for ADHD.

    More recent studies tend to show that modafinil’s effect is stronger in people who are starting off from a lower baseline (e.g., lower IQ groups do better), which starts to make modafinil sound as much like a treatment for cognitive handicaps as anything else.

    As gwern has pointed out, there was an ADHD trial in children that looked promising, but it was pulled because of a single subject that might have gotten Stevens Johnson Syndrome.

    Current ADHD meds aren’t really that good, with widespread concern about “zombification” and growth stunting in kids, tolerance, effects regressing to the mean over years, habit-forming potential when not used as directed, etc. Modafinil studies have not shown much evidence for any of these problems, although there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for tolerance, and I don’t think there have been a lot of long-term studies yet.

    The tiny risk of SJS seems massively outweighed by the benefits of a better treatment for ADHD. SJS is so rare that there’s a case to be made that by making a better ADHD drug an option, even the reduction in accidental deaths from poor focus and impulsive behavior would offset SJS on its own.

    Even if modafinil only works roughly as well as the other stimulants (or less!) on average, in the spirit of personalized medicine, it would be really good to have another stimulant on offer, just for those for whom the current meds don’t work well. Modafinil works on totally different systems of the brain than the current ADHD drugs. Anecdotally, 50mg of modafinil once a day works way better for my ADHD than any of the normal stimulants I’ve tried. I also had no problem getting an off-label script from my doctor. Since the drug has a very long half life, sleep deprivation is obviously a concern. But I’ve been able to manage it by sticking to a low dose, skipping days occasionally, and very good sleep hygiene (sleep mask, f.lux, low screen time in the evenings, melatonin every night, etc.) Even with all of that I will occasionally wake up at night and have trouble getting back to bed, but I make sure to make up the sleep debt quickly, and the life-changing improvement to my ADHD is worth it.

    • bean says:

      Yes, the Costco online pharmacy has it, too. I’ve been getting it from there for the last 6 months because the nearest store is 2 hours away. I switched because of insurance and because i could get a 90-day supply under Oklahoma’s ludicrous drug laws, which limit you to 30 days of schedule II stimulants. I’m a firm convert.

    • Brad says:

      I also had no problem getting an off-label script from my doctor.

      Was that a PCP or a psychologist? I don’t know if there’s been some legal change but it seems like PCP have been more reluctant to prescribe on their own in the last decade or so. Now it feels like they do check ups and refer to specialists. At that point I’m not sure they need to even be a doctor …

      • a_lieb says:

        He’s a PCP internist. I don’t know if it’s a representative sample, because we have a good relationship, and I know in general he doesn’t go out of his way to send people to specialists.

        I did once have a psychiatrist for prescribing my ADHD meds, who declined to try modafinil because he’d “tried it with three patients and it didn’t work.” (Airtight reasoning there, huh?) More often, though, the reaction of medical people seems to range from “haven’t heard of it” to “that’s that newer stimulant, right? Schedule 4? Eh, I don’t see why not.”

  7. johan_larson says:

    No mission this time. Instead, a question.

    What is the biggest historical mystery? I’m looking for something we sure wish we knew, and might possibly know, but just don’t know right now.