Open Thread 113.75

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

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732 Responses to Open Thread 113.75

  1. metacelsus says:

    So, I thought I had a nice Halloween date set up, but then I was ghosted.

    I ended up just sitting at home watching Youtube videos. SSC, how was your Halloween?

    • As usual, my daughter was on her balcony over the front porch with a uv shining on her, playing mournful tunes on her harp as the house ghost. I was near the door wearing mail with a great sword over my shoulder, pretending to menace the frightening creatures knocking on the door. Things were a little slow–probably fewer than fifty kids. Quite a lot of them took the lady apples that I had picked earlier in preference to candy–eating apples the size of crab apples.

    • Aapje says:

      No Halloween for me, because I reject the faux Halloween that is gaining popularity in The Netherlands, which primarily revolves around giving candy to spoiled kids who barely put in any effort (and neither do home owners).

      My first Halloween was in America, when I was living in the US as a toddler and my parents tried to raise me without candy. So suddenly being inundated with candy was an amazing experience (that’s how my parents describe my reaction that is, I was too young to retain memories).

    • Vorkon says:

      So, I thought I had a nice Halloween date set up, but then I was ghosted.

      Not sure if I should offer commiseration or congratulate you on the one-liner.

    • RDNinja says:

      Watched the second half of Ghostbusters 2, then Hocus Pocus, then Jaws. Had 5 sets of trick-or-treaters, and they all pet our dog. Then the dog threw up his dinner, ate it again, then crashed for the night.

    • J Mann says:

      We had three sets of parents over for beer and snacks while the kids went candy hunting. The dads and one dog went walking to keep an eye on the little ones, and spent the time discussing football, shop talk, and politics. (The last two were fairly intertwined, but the football was distinct). The older kids went out by themselves, and near the end of the night texted us that it was too dark to recognize landmarks and were lost. The moms stayed back to hand out candy, but it was a slow night, so we’re swimming in candy. A couple more entrepreneurial kids showed up at the end of the night with a pitch that “the night is almost over and you don’t want all that candy” and were told to take 3 handsful each, but it didn’t help. The dads ended up at a house that was handing out shots as well as candy, and one of my drunken neighbors treated a dad in a way that would (threaten to) disqualify her from the Supreme Court.

      Now that I write it up, it seems very suburban. I guess I’ll have to do some self-examination regarding whether I am living a life of bucolic Rockefellerian Americana or quiet desperation.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The kids dressed up like aliens (space, not illegal) and my wife took them around the neighborhood while I sat in the driveway, handing out candy and playing Dark Souls on my Switch. Was fun.

    • AG says:

      Watched some animu, almost got a PB in UCP, and then decided about 10 minutes before my usual bedtime to stay up another half hour to write posts on some classical music appropriate for Halloween, which resulted in a bit of a wiki walk on some said pieces of music, half of which I didn’t even get around to writing about, so at least I have some of that ready for next year.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Got home later than I expected. Handed out a bunch of Christmas candy, drank some beer, watched some TV. Wife came home after she came back from trick-or-treating with our nieces and nephews and watched some more TV, then went to sleep.

      Pretty lame Halloween, but not really all that close with the neighbors. We do not have kids, so we don’t interact with them all that much.

    • LewisT says:

      I spent the night binge-watching Alfred Hitchcock movies. Rewatched Psycho and Rear Window, and also watched The Birds for the first time. I was supremely unimpressed with The Birds. Probably the worst Hitchcock movie I’ve ever seen.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        THANK YOU

        Aside from the premise, the acting and pacing in The Birds is horrible, and Hitchcock’s wonderful tension-building is thoroughly sabotaged by the fact that the actual shots of the birds look like a nature documentary.

      • AG says:

        Last year I attended a friend’s Halloween stream of horror movies and horror-ish musicals all featuring a certain franchise of idol groups as actors, which was pretty good times, and all definitely better than The Birds.

        Vertigo also isn’t really all that, but Bernard Herrmann’s music for that film is exquisite, especially the Scene D’amour.
        Apparently, Hitchcock original didn’t want any music for Psycho’s shower scene! Thankfully, Herrmann wrote something anyway.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I, uh, filed away a lot of Magic cards.

      But I guess I did have LSV streaming Innistrad draft in the background, and later I played The Last of Us a bit, so… vaguely horror-related?

    • TheMadMapmaker says:

      Eh, the kids went trick-or-treating with some neighbors in a little French village, but the villiage was a bit small, only two or three houses answered when they rang. One house had really decorated halloween-style. We also carved some (homegrown) pumpkins. Pretty nice overall!

  2. Just a reminder that we are having another South Bay meetup this Saturday.

  3. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to give a Big Mac to every American. All of these Big Macs must be given out within a 24 hour period and you can’t miss more than 5% of the population. The Big Macs must be fresh. No more than one hour may pass between preparation and delivery. Some Americans will not want their Big Macs. That’s fine, but in order to count as successful deliveries, they must be given the chance to turn them down the Big Mac in person. How will you accomplish this?

    • Aapje says:

      That’s impossible without drastic measures. It’s unlikely that its possible to even meet 95% of the population in 24 hours if they are going about their business, let alone offer them fresh Big Macs.

      So any solution would require some drastic herding of people, forcing them to visit centralized locations in a 24 hour period or if they are disabled, to register their location so they can be visited by a mobile Big Mac truck.

      • johan_larson says:

        Oh, this definitely won’t be simple.

        There are 14,000 McDonalds locations in the US, so if people were maximally cooperative, every location would have to serve a Big Mac to more than 20,000 people. I’ve never worked in food service, but I would guess that’s not possible.

        I think we need to convert every fast food joint in the country into a Big Mac factory for the day. Many of them will need training and some of them will need equipment.

        Also, what portion of the population will show up just for a free meal? And if they won’t, how big an incentive would it take to get them to come?

        • zarraha says:

          How long do we have to prepare ahead of time? If it starts immediately in the current world state, we’ll run into a massive bottleneck in terms of supples. You need to have enough buns, patties, special sauce, etc, and there probably aren’t enough of those in existence for every single person. Even if there’s enough buns or cheese, running out of any one ingredient will be fatal and hard cap us unless it’s simple enough that more can be made and shipped within the 24 hour period. My guess is something like the mac sauce will kill us, as only McDonald’s will have it, so even converting other fast food restaurants won’t help (unless you allow substitutes, but is it even a Big Mac then?)

          If we get some amount of time to prepare ahead of time, then this can be resolved by stocking up ahead of time. Having preparation time also simplifies a lot of other issues like converting restaurants, training employees, and setting up delivery routes and advertising this event, but if taken too far it completely breaks the spirit of the challenge. If you can just deliver Big Mac ingredients to every household over a lengthy prep time, then if you just have them assemble them within the allotted 24 hour period and then everyone has a Big Mac.

          So maybe the challenge is most reasonable if we assume that McDonalds and other fast food chains are conspiring together in secret ahead of time and can prepare enough ingredients and supplies and get them in the right location, but they can’t announce anything to the public or start assembling/delivering until the 24 hour period starts.

          • johan_larson says:

            Take any reasonable amount of time to prepare. You need a year? No problem. Also, secrecy is not required. I think you’ll have enough to deal with in handling the logistics of the customers.

      • Aapje says:

        Also, what portion of the population will show up just for a free meal?

        Way below 95%. A substantial part of the population see fast food as bad for you and they will proudly proclaim on social media that they will shun this. Of course, you could try to manipulate them into coming to turn it down as a virtue signal (and filming this & putting it on social media), but I doubt that more than a fraction of them will do this.

        Even if you could somehow make those people show up, you’d still have to deal with a substantial percentage of the population who are lazy, poorly informed/unreachable, busy with more important things, out in the boonies and not able to show up without huge effort, mentally deficient or ill, incapable of eating Big Macs due to being too young, allergic, toothless, etc.

        To get 95% to show up, you basically have to make almost everyone come who is capable of turning up, no matter whether they would like a Big Mac. So you could offer a substantial sum of money to turn up, although to be an incentive to the richer Americans, that has to be quite high.

        PS. How do you define ‘every American?’ By nationality, including people who are abroad? By location, including undocumented migrants who fear being arrested? Or only American civilians who live in the US?

        PS2. How will you count the number of people reached? Just by the number of Big Macs handed out or refused, which will result in fraud? Or by ID, which limit the offer to people who are able and willing to show an ID.

        • johan_larson says:

          I’ll be satisfied with 95% of American citizens resident in the 50 states or DC. But they need to provide ID. If the odd Japanese tourist grabs a burger, that’s fine, but they don’t count.

          • Aapje says:

            About 1% of Americans don’t have a government-issued photo ID, so that’s already 1/5th of the citizens you allow us to miss.

            In general, the US does a very poor job knowing its citizens compared to my country.

          • Scudamour says:

            When the plan is announced to the nation, vast numbers of refugees from the US will flood into Canada and Mexico or anywhere else they can go. That’s fine, because they will no longer be citizens resident in the 50 states or DC, making the task ahead slightly simpler, and much more humane. Even so, this will not be fun.

            Conscripting much of the population into the army of McDonald’s workers will not be the hard part, in that the McDonald’s system is already streamlined for this. Every restaurant and cafeteria in the Safe Zones (more on this later) can be retrofitted to become a McDonald’s, and the necessary supplies can be acquired. The Big Macs will be made.

            The hard part will be making sure that at least one Big Mac is offered to every American citizen. The obvious solution is to herd the remaining American population into very temporary concentration camps where monitoring is possible. These camps and their associated McDonald’s restaurant will be located inside Safe Zones.

            Of course, there will be some stragglers within US borders, but not in the Safe Zones. Prior to Big Mac day, these portions of the country must be cleared of human life, presumably by nuclear weapons.

            ETA: Maybe it would be a better idea to pass a Constitutional amendment revoking citizenship for the vast majority of Americans, and providing a mechanism for restoring it the next day.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Tons of people (kids!) don’t have government ID.

    • toastengineer says:


      Activate Project Sneak King.

    • J Mann says:

      Ok, I think hiring enough people to prepare Big Mac base ingredients, then assemble them, is a fairly obvious process. The trickier bit is how do you get in front of 95% of the population. Even for the documented, we don’t have a list somewhere of every American. (I don’t know if you consider illegal residents to be “Americans” for purposes of this question – are we in a culture war thread?)

      If you hired some percentage of the population (10-15%) to visit 6 people each and offer them a Big Mac, I think you’d have a decent chance of getting a Big Mac in front of 95% of the population, assuming you had a way of listing them and finding them.

      Maybe you could offer a substantial payment, but only if the Big Mac delivery succeeds. Still, you’re basically asking people to register their identity and location for a list, which more than 5% might well balk at. Can I ask for help from Chinese intelligence?

      • johan_larson says:

        Even for the documented, we don’t have a list somewhere of every American.

        Why not use the census lists?

        • woah77 says:

          Predominantly because they’re not accurate?

        • J Mann says:

          They’re every ten years, and I would be curious even for a recent list, how close they get to 95% of Americans.

          • Statismagician says:

            This is really hard to assess, because the Census is the most complete estiamte of US population there is. The Census finds that they do a decent job of raw population estimates, with something like 94.7% of the US housed population correctly counted, but have the biases you’d expect based on who’s home when the ground teams come round and who’s got time/inclination to fill out the forms properly.

            Also, Census Day is apparently April 1st, which is deeply pleasing to me.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I think payment is a requirement to get enough people to show up. Just offering a big mac is going to fail for the 3-4% of the US that is vegetarian. Between them and the prison population alone you are on the edge of failure.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      I’m wondering what effect a free Big Mac if you vote would have on voter turnout.

      (The famous Australian democracy sausage is not free- it’s community organisations taking advantage of compulsory voting to have a captive audience for their fundraisers. I can’t easily find a number for how many they sell.)

      • Aapje says:

        That seems rather irritating. Perhaps an Australian #metoo is needed to stop those charities from pressuring voters to swallow their sausage.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          The other aspect of it is that Australians can vote at any polling station, and there are websites detailing which food is available at which one- so if you are opposed to sausage, you can find a polling station where cake, or no food at all, is on offer instead.

          • Evan Þ says:

            That sounds delicious.

          • SamChevre says:

            Australians can vote at any polling station

            How does that work? (I’m genuinely curious.) Is the person voting identified on the ballot somewhere? Because in American elections, every precinct can (and generally does) have a distinct set of candidates.

        • Michael Handy says:


          You cast what is called an Absent vote (or an Interstate Vote), which is checked against records to prevent double voting in the coming days (though not on election night itself.)

          Yes, every electorate has a distinct set of candidates, but as the Senate list is the same for the entire state, and the Ballot paper for the House is usually less than 10 names, it’s not an issue to keep a small supply of other ballots nearby.

      • Statismagician says:

        I am not familiar with the Australian democracy sausage, but this idea intrigues me and I wish to learn more.

        • Michael Handy says:

          Voting by post is technically quite hard to do (though practically very easy if you lie.) So everyone turns up on the weekend to vote and we generally have a small fair at the school/chuchyard whatever.

          This is made possible by the fact that political parties and their ads need to stay well away from the polling place.

          So there’s usually a bunch of local group cake and BBQ stalls selling various things. Sometimes a religious group will even provide free sausage (usually outside the polling zone) for a chance to be insufferable in your general direction.

          People enjoy voting here, for the most part.

    • Skivverus says:

      Worked for the 2010 Census, so I’ve got a little bit of an idea how difficult this would be (namely, much, much harder). Tacking it on to the Census is probably still a relatively good place to start, though, to minimize the going-out-to-people logistics you’d have to spin up from scratch.
      You’ll still have to hire ~30-60x (Fermi estimating, based on what I remember of how many days it took with the people we had) the number of people going door-to-door, and for that matter the people *hiring* the people to go door-to-door, and you will probably have to seriously break speed limits to handle the one-hour-maximum requirement in rural areas.
      Also, enough people will probably be suspicious/paranoid enough of your free food offer that the “in person” requirement might well make this impossible without casualties.

    • bean says:


      Let’s try an automated solution. We’ll use drones. Specifically small-medium quadcopters. Each probably carries 2-4 Big Macs. They search for people, then offer via an automated interface. (Maybe you dangle the microphone and burger to avoid annoying the person too much.) Once the offer has been made, you somehow mark the person to keep from double-offering to them. Maybe some dye which doesn’t show up in the visible spectrum. Or maybe some very slightly radioactive isotope. Set up giant mostly-automated Big Mac stations in major urban areas, and use existing McDonald’s in ones with lower population density. If the quadcopters can make, say, 40 mph, you should be able to cover at least a 20 mile circle around each base station.

      • johan_larson says:

        Who would have thought that something as innocent as free hamburgers would turn dystopian enough to have concentration camps and aerial hunter drones that spray people with radio nucleides?

    • David Speyer says:

      Some numbers for scale — Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day gives away 1 million cones over 8 hours at 215 stores. (The last number seemed surprisingly low to me; I counted the list at . Other info from .)

      The USA has 14,000 McDonalds, which could be kept open 24-7. Crude multiplication suggests that they could handle 200 million Big Macs, if we could keep customers coming fast enough. The US population is 300 million.

      In the last presidential election, 139 millions of Americans voted. 46 million of them voted early, so that suggests we can get at least 93 million Americans to do something on the same day.

    • pontifex says:

      Simple. Issue an executive order revoking the citizenship of anyone who doesn’t eat a government-provided Big Mac in the next 24 hours. The Big Macs will be auctioned off on the top floor of every local Trump Tower.

      Of course, in reality we wouldn’t want to be so strict. We should allow people to order a Trump steak instead, to keep their citizenship. Well done, with ketchup, of course!

    • zqed says:

      I issue an executive order reverting American citizenship rules to Spartite standards: the only people considered American citizens are active servicemen of the U.S. military who have been deployed outside the United State at least once in the last 4 years. The <10k remaining citizens will be issued orders to report to the nearest McDonalds for chow.

      edit: ninja’d by the pope

    • Dack says:

      We already have a national agency mandated to visit every residence most days of the week. The Postal Service. Let’s use them.

      Free Big Mac day can be on a Sunday for less disruption to the mail. We’ll hire every fast food restaurant to convert to making Big Macs that day. The Mail carriers will take the Big Macs from the restaurants to every doorstep/mailbox and deliver one for each occupant. The event will of course be advertised in advance, so everyone has the chance to be present to turn down their Big Mac in person if they so choose.

      Maybe hire all of the food trucks to drive around to homeless camps to make sure 95% gets passed.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I feel like everyone in this thread is missing the obvious solution: Santa Claus.

      Why spend time and effort figuring this out ourselves when we can hire an independent contractor?

    • Rowan says:

      Create a one-use device that prepares a Big Mac from stored ingredients, and set them so they’ll only work on one particular day several weeks in the future (or however long the shortest-lived ingredients will last). Mass-produce those and distribute them instead of directly distributing the sandwiches, so now it’s just a matter of getting one of these boxes to every American by a certain date, which is much easier logistically. Turning down the Big Mac in person doesn’t necessarily mean within the 24-hour period when actually offered the fresh sandwich, so I just have to make receipt of the box conditional on agreeing “if I vandalise, throw away, dismantle or sell the box, I have waived my right to have this free Big Mac” so that none of those eventualities count against me either.

  4. Aging Loser says:

    Does anyone else not care at all about Scissor-issues such as football-kneeling, the past misdeeds of nominees, possible scandalous stuff involving other-team-members, and so forth, while caring a lot about the Overall Deep Conflict (e.g. The Old Ways vs. The Brave New Ways) — seeing the Scissor-issues as annoying boring distractions?

    Another example — remember how back during the Iraq War lots of people were arguing about possible motives involving Halliburton and oil pipelines? I thought that those arguments were boring distractions from the really interesting issue — whether the project of liberalizing the Fremen was noble or deeply misguided (not just impractical).

    • Rohan Crawley says:

      Agreed with respect to trivial individual scissor issues. But the motives behind the Iraq War aren’t trivial- it concerns whether the government even intended to liberalize the Fremen, and what you believe about that has implications for all further thoughts on the issue. If you’re a Chomskyite who believes war is imperialist by nature, it’s barely even worth asking whether the project was noble or deeply misguided, because it never existed in the first place.
      Besides, realpolitik is interesting in and of itself.

      • albatross11 says:

        I find the scissors-issues interesting and sometimes captivating, but they’re usually not very important, and they definitely take attention away from more substantial stuff. A lot of times, the scissors issues are selected for being impossible to resolve.

    • Plumber says:

      @Aging Loser

      “Does anyone else not care at all about Scissor-issues such as football-kneeling, the past misdeeds of nominees, possible scandalous stuff involving other-team-members, and so forth, while caring a lot about the Overall Deep Conflict (e.g. The Old Ways vs. The Brave New Ways) — seeing the Scissor-issues as annoying boring distractions?…”


      …what “Old Ways?

      The median age of Americans is 38.1 so the majority of Americans are born after the “progressive” cultural and social changes of the 1960’s and ’70’s and were not born yet or children during the ascendancy of the neo-liberal “conservative” economic changes of the 1970’s and ’80’s and thus have no memory of our society being any different.

      As far as I can tell they were lots of changes from 1968 (the year I was born) to 1988, but the changes afterwards have been mostly been just mopping up.

      Probably the biggest changes of our society in the last hundred years was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and afterwards adjusted for inflation wages for men peaked in 1973, the “great compression” ended that year, the ever growing gap between rich and poor started, legal abortion was the law of the land, the draft was ended, the gay rights movement had started a few years earlier in 1969, divorce was becoming more common, women started entering the labor market in massive numbers – all before the 1980’s, and the firsr known use of the term “Rust Belt” was in 1982.

      So what “Old Ways” are left?

      • Aging Loser says:

        The Old Ways are eternal — they exist as empty roads exist. I agree that nobody lives in those ways anymore. But they feel very real — they’re just beyond the sky.

        • Plumber says:

          @Aging Loser

          “The Old Ways are eternal — they exist as empty roads exist. I agree that nobody lives in those ways anymore. But they feel very real — they’re just beyond the sky”


          …that seems more like a poem or a riddle to me than an answer I may understand.

          Good luck with your query. 

      • toastengineer says:

        Prostitution being illegal, monogamy, marijuana being illegal (in large parts of the country), the taboo against public nudity…

        There are a few more I can think of but I don’t want to bring them up.

    • arlie says:

      Hmm. I hadn’t heard the term “scissors issues” before. And I’m still not sure I understand what it means.

      Bottom line though – I want the society I and my peers dreamed of/expected in my childhood, not e.g. the one some other posters would prefer. I care about freedom, about people being treated as individuals rather than being relegated to more or less desirable roles based on category, and about human innovation being used to improve the overall human condition, not to enrich a minority at the expense of either the majority or the future.

      This wouldn’t be the “old ways” you refer to, most likely, though I don’t remember whether you are one of the posters who regularly expresses a preference for a time when people (especially female ones) knew their place – and liked living in it. (Presumably liking that place would be why my great(+?) grandmother left her husband, took the kids to the local big city, and claimed to be a widow – at least in family lore. No divorces then, except maybe for the 1%.)

      But it’s not the “Brave New Ways” either.

      On the other hand, the latest indignation-of-the-month fest is often about some issue I regard as trivial, don’t personally care about, or sometimes even disagree with my political allies about.

      At any rate, being middle aged and cynical, I don’t expect to get what I want. The older I get, the more I believe in something a lot like original sin, though without the religious overtones. Humans screw things up in fairly predictable ways, and utopias can’t really be created. But that’s still where my ideals lie.

      • AG says:

        Scott just coined the concept in the recent “Sort by Controversial” story. Read that post to get the context people are working with.

      • lvlln says:

        “Scissors issue” refers to Scott’s last post Sort By Controversial, which used the term to refer to an issue that was spit out by a machine learning algorithm to cause controversy and infighting in a community.

      • toastengineer says:

        though I don’t remember whether you are one of the posters who regularly expresses a preference for a time when people (especially female ones) knew their place – and liked living in it.

        Don’t strawman. No-one here wants that.

        Some people want a society where everyone has a place, but implying that means “ALL WOMEN MUST BE SHOELESS IN THE KITCHEN BRAWERGRG” is just silly.

        • arlie says:

          I didn’t say that. You did. The pseudo-nostalgia being expressed is for fixed roles.

          Most of those expressing it either don’t believe that any people, properly raised, would passionately hate their assigned roles, or are avoiding acknowledging/thinking about/posting about such a potential problem.

          One poster has gone so far as to express the possibility that cultures of this type might have alternatives for those aberrant women who’d hate being a wife-and-mother so much as to become suicidal, which would be OK as long as those alternatives were unpleasant enough not to be attractive to the majority of women. (IIRC, he suggested alternatives like becoming a nun.) But he’s the only SSC poster I recall who has both posted in favour of roles assigned by category, and actually granted the idea that some people raised in such a culture might nonetheless do badly with whatever role was assigned to them based on appearance and accidents of birth [aka immutable and possibly divinely appointed gender and/or racial and/or class categories].

          In my experience, most people in favour of fixed roles insist that everyone would be happier in them, whatever they are. The idea of having to choose may be painted as so horrible that anything would be better than choice, but they rarely take the concept to that logical extreme. More likely they are thinking that there’s only room for so many people in the best roles, so it’s kinder to pre-ordain who gets them, and allow everyone else not to add “I’m a failure” to their self talk on top of “I’m stuck doing this shitty but necessary job”.

          • Aapje says:

            In my experience, most people in favour of fixed roles insist that everyone would be happier in them, whatever they are.

            Are you now talking about specific posters here or people elsewhere?

    • Randy M says:

      I suspect you’ll find accord here in caring much less about individual incidents of bad actions or just expressions of values at odds with one’s own.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      It’s not so much the kneeling itself that bothers me as it is the injection of non-sports stuff like politics into football. Bill Burr explains it better than I can.

      • albatross11 says:

        I truly DGAF about football, but it seems like a bad idea to incorporate yet another area where people previously could connect across party lines into the endless rage-driven culture war.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yeah, but I also can’t say “the left is injecting politics into sports!” Apparently the DoD pays the sports leagues millions of dollars to do the whole flag-waving show.

          I would prefer an organic tradition of just “everybody stands and we play the national anthem before the event so we all agree that no matter what else divides us we’re all on the same Team America” but when the DoD is purposely pushing a pro-military PR show it’s already about politics.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I think the point of the scissors is not that anyone cares about them to start with (Scott’s post said that they read as ordinary truth statements that were either correct or incorrect), but that the reaction of the opposing side energizes us in a way we would not be able to identify prior to it happening.

      I don’t think I care about Kaepernick, but I was bothered by Nike taking a stand on the issue. I can’t rationalize why I was bothered by that, and would not have expected that response prior. My solution is to avoid talking about that case, because I don’t want to argue about something that I understand is irrational on my part. It simply doesn’t affect me. I know that there are people who have a different opinion than me on that subject could get me engaged and upset if I tried to discuss the topic.

      I’m more convinced than I used to be that almost everyone could become engaged in a topic that they did not realize would be triggering to them. The stronger the bubble someone is in, the less they are aware that such topics exist, and less aware that some opposing viewpoints may actually make more sense than it first seems. That’s part of the reason I decided to come to SSC – to see opposing viewpoints from a variety of topics. I am actively opposing my bubble, to reduce scissor-issues.

      • Jiro says:

        I was bothered by Nike taking a stand on the issue. I can’t rationalize why I was bothered by that,

        I can.

        1) The fact of Nike taking that stand under those circumstances is correlated with Nike acting badly in ways I do care more about.

        2) Nike acting this way contributes to a general bad political environment. Making the environment worse this way makes it hard to name a specific bad consequence, because there’s a slight dust speck-sized worsening to almost every political thing in society, rather than a single large bad thing that I can point to.

        • albatross11 says:

          I guess I just assumed that Nike took a stand on this issue as part of a marketing strategy, not as part of any kind of moral or factual evaluation of any political movement or policy or anything. Nike is pro-Kapaerernick kneeling in the same sense that Budweiser is pro-scantily-clad-girls-in-beer-ads.

        • mtraven says:

          Nike acting this way contributes to a general bad political environment.

          Um, why?

          I think maybe you mean “Nike acting this way injects politics into a place where it doesn’t belong”. That at least makes sense and is defensible, although I would disagree.

          But what does “contributing to a bad political environment” even mean? There are lots of bad things about our current political environment, but protesting racism is not one of them. Racism is bad, protesting it is not, nor is supporting those who protest.

          Is it that it’s polarizing and divisive? But Kaepernick and Nike aren’t creating the polarization, they are just revealing it. That too is a good thing.

          • albatross11 says:

            And here, I thought it was about whether Kaepernick was disrespecting America or not.

            Oh, wait, maybe there’s a problem with accepting one side’s characterization of a dispute uncritically….

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I think maybe you mean “Nike acting this way injects politics into a place where it doesn’t belong”.

            I agree with this. It adds to polarization when everything is about politics. It adds to polarization when even buying a product means you are making a political statement. It adds to polarization when one can’t watch sports without making a political statement. It is a good thing when people with diverse political views go to the same store or play in the same activities. Kaepernick and Nike are keeping us more firmly in our bubbles, which prevent us from empathizing with political opponents. I also don’t like having the national anthem before games, because that injects a bit of politics. But at least that isn’t controversial, so it doesn’t add to polarization.

            Is it that it’s polarizing and divisive? But Kaepernick and Nike aren’t creating the polarization, they are just revealing it. That too is a good thing.

            You really need to explain this one. Does anyone not know of the polarization? What are they revealing that others didn’t know? And please explain even one good thing about it.

    • Civilis says:

      It’s because I feel I’m forced to care about the Overall Deep Conflict that I’m forced to pay attention to the football-kneeling. It, taken alone, is nothing, but viewed as part of the larger pattern, it is significant.

      For a long time, I regarded domestic politics itself as a sport, and one far more interesting to me than athletic competition. I grew up in the DC suburbs, and given how bad our sports teams often were for most of my life, and how important politics was to the local culture, team politics may as well have been our local sport. Sure, I had my team that I wanted to win (full disclosure: the Republicans, as the best proxy for my conservative/libertarian values), but if we lost this year, we’d hopefully do better time, be it two / four / eight years down the line. Democrats were fans of a rival team, and even if they beat us, they still wanted the sport to continue. Just as there was no reason to care if someone was a fan of a rival sports team, on subjects outside politics, there was no reason to care if someone was a Democrat. Further, there was evidence that politics was cyclical, that the system functioned like a pendulum.

      Over time, several things changed. I suspect these are related, but I’m hesitant to call out which part started the process.

      First, politics got more hostile. There seemed to be an increasing trend that people on the other side in politics were no longer fans of a rival team to be defeated this game, but enemies to be destroyed outright. I can see the Clarence Thomas nomination and the impeachment of Bill Clinton as being early blips on this trend, but I think it reached a critical mass with the response to W’s election, and has reached a far worse critical mass with the response to Trump’s election. I know that there are times in the past where it was also hostile, but to see it get hostile again has an impact.

      Second, politics got everywhere. We can’t take something like sports as isolated from politics anymore. Every hobby I’ve had has been infected with the modern strain of politics. Everything has to take a political stand, and will be judged on that basis. Everything must be political, nothing is apolitical, nothing can ever be apolitical. The insidiousness of it is that insisting that something be free from politics has become a political statement, making this self-reinforcing. Worse, because everything has to share its purpose with politics, it’s often reduced in quality.

      Finally, we’ve lost our ability to understand and empathize with those we disagree with. People that disagree with us are not just wrong, but evil. They don’t weigh things differently than we do (and hence come to a different best course of action); they obviously do what they do because they’re evil.

      (There are other factors that have made this a perfect storm: the rise of social media combined with the self-inflicted suicide of conventional media, the practical end of the rule of law, the death of personal responsibility, etc.)

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        but I think it reached a critical mass with the response to W’s election

        My usual theory about this is that 9/11 was the true agent of polarization, since this is where the stakes got lethal. If 9/11 hadn’t happened, then I think the 2000 election would have gone down in history about as memorably as the elections of 1800, 1824, and 1876. Instead, it fell somewhere between those three and 1860.

        I meanwhile concur that social media played a metastasizing role. Or rather, the World Wide Web, which made it much harder to raise journalism revenue via subscriptions, leaving advertising as the primary source, and therefore a focus on attracting eyeballs over attracting brains.

        I expect things may settle down even so. I keep seeing people express weariness with Facebook and Twitter, and “clickbait” appears to have become part of the layman’s vocabulary. It’s possible, then, that the outrage machine I see still plugged in is really the wails of a crowd in decline.

        • cassander says:

          If you’re going to pick a point, I see the Iraq War and the 2004 election as a bigger deal than september 11th and 2000. You see big partisan swings in attitudes towards policy questions (the dems spent the 90s hawkish on iraq and pro-nation building, the republicans the reverse), completely non-credible conspiracy mongering (Cheney did it for Haliburton, Bush stole the election in Ohio), and both candidates/parties embracing more confrontational, base raising politics than in 2000.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I see the Iraq War and the 2004 election as events that made the polarization readily apparent; by contrast, it was 9/11 and 2000 that were the agents of that polarization. Especially 9/11, although I think the 2000 election is what assured how the axis would align.

            Democrats feared Republicans could steal an election via court (just as Rs feared Ds could steal major issues). There was also the latent worries that the Rs were fascists / Ds were soft on crime, etc.

            9/11 is what likely convinced a significant number of Americans that the stakes were now deadly serious. Without it, the usual outrage over the foibles of the other party probably warranted no more attention than the fact that there were inexplicably many fans of other football teams.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the financial meltdown did a lot to undermine the idea that the people running things were as wise, intelligent, or well-intentioned as they claimed. It turned out that a bunch of the smartest guys in the room (who were making tons of money for their smarts) got badly burned when the meltdown happened, and a whole bunch of them got bailouts from the federal government in ways that looked corrupt as hell. Alan Greenspan stopped looking like the wise man who knew how to run the economy, and we had to find some new shaman to take his place. The leadership of both parties was strongly behind the bailouts, so that if you disagreed, there was nobody to vote for. (That was also true for ongoing stupid wars and foreign interventions and massive domestic spying.)

            I don’t much care for the way a lot of voters responded to that, but both the Democratic and Republican wings of the ruling class[1] lost a hell of a lot of credibility between the Iraq War and the financial meltdown, and didn’t regain all that much over the intervening years when the foreign policy fuckups and consequence-free screwups by elites were dialed back to their normal background level.

            And then, we had this election where the two big parties were lining up for a Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton election. That was like a commercial for a bunch of the things that were wrong with the country. And here we are, with Donald f–king Trump as the president, as a result.

            [1] That’s not a great term–it’s not quite a closed class, but it’s an interconnected set of people who consistently stay at or near positions of power in government, law, media, and to some extent academia.

    • Well... says:

      Lots of people said the story was spookily plausible, but one thing I thought gave it away as fiction was how scissor issues appeared to be able to go back and forth between virtual and real interactions very easily. I think people treat each other worse when there are screens and keyboards and software between themselves and others. I’d say this is also true when there are cars and road between them.

      So while I agree that Scissor Statements about ideas are usually more enticing than Scissor Statements about events or individuals, to me what really makes them boring is the context in which they’re raised. On the internet I might get sucked into a debate over a Scissor Statement (about journalism, let’s say), but I usually get bored with it after a few days even if I’m not walking my epistemic status back by then. I need to retreat and think about the argument on my own for a while, and then I almost always speak more softly about it afterwards, if at all, while I move on to some other thing I’m thinking about.

      Whereas if I’m sitting in a room with a person and we get going on that same topic, discussing that one thing can become the main pillar of a friendship that lasts years and years.

      • albatross11 says:

        Facebook does a lot of analytics to try to find ways to make the site “stickier”–that is, keep people on longer, and get them coming back more often. I think clickbait media companies do the same. To the extent scissors issues are optimal for getting people engaged and coming back/getting clicks, there are ML algorithms effectively searching for scissors issues right now, and have been for some years. And this might plausibly explain some of the way public discourse has fallen apart over the last few years.

    • Baeraad says:

      Eh, kind of. Most controversies make me feel very strongly that I absolutely refuse to have an opinion because I don’t want to encourage (or, conversely, further aggravate) either side. But I do care very strongly about… well, not about The Brave New Ways we’re getting, but of The Brave New Ways I was promised growing up, the ones whereby everyone was going to become nicer to each other and we were all going to work together to ensure that no one had to suffer and that everyone’s uniqueness was respected. Those I would happily fight to the death for if an opportunity presented itself. It’s just that they never seem to be the table anymore.

      • albatross11 says:

        I hear you, but it’s worth remembering that in terms of actual day-to-day life (as opposed to the crap produced by outrage-factory media), life is better in most ways we can measure now than it was in our childhood. That is, in terms of wealth, life expectancy, probability of being a victim of a crime, probability of being killed in a war, etc., things are better now than in 1980 or 1970 or 1960. I’m pretty sure it’s better overall to be black or gay or hispanic in the US now than in any of those years. (Especially 1980, when the gay male community was being wiped out by an incurable disease.)

  5. Aapje says:

    I listened to Dan Carlin’s newest Hardcore History addendum (podcast) and what was discussed was the misunderstanding on the part of the US during the Vietnam war that North Vietnam was under control of the other communist nations. In reality, North Vietnam was fiercely nationalist and held as part of its ideology that all communist nations were equal and independent. Russia’s influence was limited and bought with $3.6 billion to $8 billion in aid. Vietnam was highly suspicious of Chinese imperialism and tolerated China during the war, but the relationship soured immediately after the unification of Vietnam and a few years later, they started a prolonged border war. There was a war between Cambodia and Vietnam that resulted in the communist Khmer Rouge regime dissolving itself to form a broader coalition rallying around nationalism and against Vietnam.

    The podcast had an amusing anecdote about Tom Hayden, who supported the North Vietnamese. A POW talked about him with his interrogator, who said that Hayden’s ideology was impeccable, but that despised him as a person, for betraying his country.

    Critics of nationalism often portray it as an oppressive ideology, but nationalism is fundamentally anti-imperialist in that it strongly discourages submitting to a foreign power. For example, I would argue that nationalism allowed many countries to kick out their colonizers, which would have been much harder or impossible if they didn’t set aside their ideological differences to rally around their national independence. So it is interesting that those who most strongly oppose colonialism also tend to oppose nationalism.

    I would also argue that nationalism provides some defense against echo chambers, as a focus on preserving the unique culture of the country and to fight for its interests, provides a barrier against cultural and political influences from abroad. So when one or more countries adopt a culture or politics that bans or mandates certain things, other countries can act differently because they see themselves as a culturally and politically independent unit with its own interests. The result is then that nations can look to other nations to see alternatives and how that works out.

    Of course, as with most things, moderation is key to get the main benefits without the huge downsides of trying to attain ideological purity.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Well on that second point I am consistent — I think that in fact many now independent countries would have been better off if had they remained part of a rich and relatively stable empire instead of becoming poor and failed states. There are exceptions (eg: Finland), and in those cases secession happens to have been the right choice, but seems to be something that can only be asserted in hindsight.

      The problem of course is that Empires largely failed to reform sufficiently fast and take into account the growing demand for rights and autonomy of their peoples, and so they were completely blindsided by nationalist memes. In an ideal alternate history, the world would now consists in a dozen countries all organized on the model of the Swiss confederacy.

      It’s also worth pointing out that most of the newly independent countries didn’t gain their independence through armed resistance. Rather the colonizer just said “you know what, not my problem anymore”, installed a friendly puppet dictator and basically let a completely inexperienced country fend for itself, with the success we know.

      • Aapje says:

        There are exceptions (eg: Finland)

        And The Netherlands. And the US.

        Anyway, I agree that a gradual path to independence would be better for these nations, but I also think that this rarely was on offer.

        • Statismagician says:

          I think the Netherlands and the US are sufficiently different from extractive imperial colonialism to make this an apples-and-oranges situation. Spain, and later France, wanted the Netherlands to be economically, politically, and militarily useful, read: self-sufficient, read: basically a functional proto-state, and set up their administrations accordingly. Similarly, Great Britain (and France again, and Spain again, though to different degrees) wanted what would become the US to be a net source of goods, money, and troops, plus it’s not really possible to run anything less self-sufficient than a proto-independent state from across the Atlantic using pre-19th Century technology.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m not sure whether there is such a clear difference between extractive colonialism and having a vassal state. It also seems to me that it makes a lot of difference what already exists. If you have a decent Western state, you don’t have to create your own political system from scratch or most other structures, because it is already provided. If you colonize African land where there are mostly herders and some very basic dispute solving rules for when two people claim ownership of the same goat, then you will have to create a system and import quite a few people who are familiar with Western law & technology, if you want to do some serious resource extraction.

            I also disagree that Spain was extremely laissez-faire. The three main reasons for the revolt were that Philip II:
            – Taxed very heavily to pay for wars against the main trade partners of the Low Countries (so they didn’t support these wars)
            – Stepped up the suppression of the increasingly popular Protestantism
            – Centralized government, supplanting the local nobility* & wealthy merchants

            * Which were not the traditional type of nobility, but came from non-noble families that gained stature over time. This made them relatively down to earth compared to nobility abroad.

            As for France, Louis Bonaparte wanted a high level of independence (perhaps to prove himself, as he may logically have felt inferior to his older brother). However, Napoleon disagreed and fairly quickly replaced him, but in turn he found his Waterloo rather soon thereafter. Note that at Waterloo, there were nearly as many troops from the Low Countries as from Britain.

          • Statismagician says:

            I don’t say Spain was laissez-faire, I say Spain was interested in ‘the Spanish Netherlands’ being a functional political and economic unit, which happens to also set up the governmental infrastructure for just-plain-the-Netherlands. I’m not wedded to this, my knowledge of the period is entry-level, so I could just be totally off-base.

          • Aapje says:

            But extractive imperial colonialists also prefer to have the colony be independently functional, because that makes it much less costly to govern.

            It’s just that more functional countries are generally harder to oppress, because it makes the people more capable of resisting. So Spain, France, etc couldn’t get away with as much in The Netherlands as Leopold or Belgium could in Congo.

          • John Schilling says:

            But extractive imperial colonialists also prefer to have the colony be independently functional, because that makes it much less costly to govern.

            And yet the British Crown passed laws prohibiting the manufacture of iron and steel goods in the North American Colonies. This increased governance costs due to enforcement of the law, increased governance costs due to needing to manage and tax all the pig iron being shipped to England to be fabricated into goods to be shipped back to the Colonies, and reduced the functional independence of the colonies(*)

            Making colonies independently functional, makes them less costly to govern, yes. You know what else makes colonies less costly to govern? Not colonizing them in the first place. The existence of colonies is a strong indication that the colonizing power finds some other factor to be more important than the governance cost of a colony. If that factor is e.g. a taste for mercantilism, or anything else that correlates with dependency, then the colony will likely be made and kept dependent even if that does increase governance costs.

            * Except insofar as it contributed to their deciding to make themselves in all ways independent and absolve the British Crown of any expenses in governing them, but I don’t think that’s what you were going for.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Rather the colonizer just said “you know what, not my problem anymore”, installed a friendly puppet dictator and basically let a completely inexperienced country fend for itself, with the success we know.

        I think it’s more like they said, “ya know what, we can more efficiently exploit the resources of this place if we don’t have to bother with the whole ‘building schools and roads’ thing to justify our occupation by installing a native puppet dictator and then ‘negotiating’ extremely favorable contracts with him.”

        • Butlerian says:

          I recall doing a 4-month high school module on “Decolonisation by the British Empire” in the mid-noughties which, by the end, had furnished me with plenty of dates (Statute of Westminster 1931!) and zero *explainations*.

          The glaring hole where an official narrative was supposed to be rendered me quite sympathetic to the Death Eater interpretion when I eventually stumbled across it: that the only “reason” for decolonisation was academic institutional capture by Marxist ideologues, who needed the facts to fit the theory so just kept pestering the natives that “You’re under colonialism and you’re not revolting? What are you, CHICKEN?”. Then pointed to the astroturfed native revolts in the metropole parliaments as justification for withdrawl from a previously mutially beneficial colonial arrangement.

      • albatross11 says:

        A lot of the history of decolonization is extremely bloody, as the colonial power could hold off various internal ethnic / religious / regional conflicts, either by being a neutral power, or just by the threat of dire retaliation for rebellion. Think of the partition of India as an example, or the Nigerian civil war. Or the expulsion of Asians from Uganda.

        I wonder if there are parallels with the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman empire.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I wonder if there are parallels with the aftermath of the collapse of the Roman empire.

          I once read a book (Britannia: The Failed State) arguing that the immediate aftermath of Roman rule in Britain was a lot like the collapse of former Yugoslavia, with people using the lack of central authority to settle old grudges against the neighbouring tribes.

      • Aapje says:

        @Machine Interface

        Rather the colonizer just said “you know what, not my problem anymore”, installed a friendly puppet dictator and basically let a completely inexperienced country fend for itself, with the success we know.

        I’ve been thinking about this a little more and it seems to me that this often is a matter of wishful thinking, hubris and lack of understanding.

        For example, in South Vietnam the US installed a puppet dictator and made most decisions without consulting him, but they were clearly very committed.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Critics of nationalism often portray it as an oppressive ideology, but nationalism is fundamentally anti-imperialist in that it strongly discourages submitting to a foreign power. For example, I would argue that nationalism allowed many countries to kick out their colonizers, which would have been much harder or impossible if they didn’t set aside their ideological differences to rally around their national independence. So it is interesting that those who most strongly oppose colonialism also tend to oppose nationalism.

      I don’t agree with this. Pretty much all imperial nations have been strongly nationalist, while non-imperial ones have been a mixture, so clearly the correlation between imperialist/unimperialist and nationalist/antinationalist is in the opposite direction to the one you claim.

      I think that there’s a difference between a philosophical belief in strong independent nation states with an emphasis on patriotism everywhere – which is what I think you may be thinking of as nationalism? – and a specific “my country over all” mindset – which is what I think most people referred to as nationalists actually believe.

      X nationalism is strongly opposed to Y imperialism, but it’s strongly in favour of X imperialism, and that’s the brand on which the opinion of citizens of X is most significant.

      • quanta413 says:

        Pretty much all imperial nations have been strongly nationalist, while non-imperial ones have been a mixture, so clearly the correlation between imperialist/unimperialist and nationalist/antinationalist is in the opposite direction to the one you claim.

        I think you both need to be more specific about these claims.

        The Ottoman empire and Habsburg empire were both less nationalist than what succeeded them. A lot of the old empires were less nationalist than their successor states. Instead of being nationalist they were more religious or hierarchical based upon a king etc. For the newer empires, the British empire’s level of nationalism seems… similar to the British now. Arguably Nationalism is higher now because Britain looks more likely to break into its constituent nations now than it did when it was an empire. But I think that’s just a power difference. The Soviet Union was less nationalist than modern Russia. On the other hand, the Nazis were hyper nationalists, but they didn’t last long.

        Off the top of my head, I think Aapje’s claim is more accurate than yours, but I’d need a list I didn’t just make by looking at what bubbled to the top of my head to decide what I should think.

        • WarOnReasons says:

          The Soviet Union was less nationalist than modern Russia.

          Do you know that in the USSR several ethnic groups (Koreans, Crymean Tartars, Germans, Chechens etc) have been deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan?

          • Aapje says:


            The forced deportations were specifically intended to weaken nationalism.

            Of course, one can question to what extent this was done to make these nations more exploitable to the benefit of Russia.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Well, the deportations were made to weaken *non-Russian* nationalism. There are essentially two stages: before Stalin, the Soviet policies were an attempt to exhalt local cultures and peoples within the framing of communism — this was done in part to reverse the previous Tsarist policies of russification and gain support from the non-Russian populations.

            With Stalin these policies were reversed and agressive russification became the norm again (except for the Georgians — Stalin actuall wanted to nearly empty the Armenian SSR so that he could then justify its annexion into the Georgian SSR).

            However, this is just the non-Russian people. During all this period, Russian nationalism remains extremely strong. If you watch Eisenstein’s last films, Alexander Nevsky and Ivan The Terrible, those are *brutally* nationalistic in content, so much so that if you didn’t know they were produced in Russia during the Soviet era, these could just as well pass for nazi propaganda films.

          • Protagoras says:

            Why does everybody pick on the Armenians?

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Russia has always had the issue of having large numbers of non-Russian ethnics around its periphery. I don’t know enough Russian history to know to what extent this is a problem of the country’s own making. But I also understand why someone who is ethnically motivated in favor of the Russians doesn’t want to have to cede territory simply because other ethnicities live there. There’s also the concern that even if you do cede territories the new non-Russian nations will; 1. migrate their citizens further inland into Russia and make claims on those territories 2. Ally with powerful hostile foreign entities

            Also, Caucasian (the region) oil.

            Ethnically self-interested parties can and will want to weaken potential rivals and depending on your point of view this can be described of as being nationalistic or anti-nationalistic.

          • WarOnReasons says:


            Can you explain how the deportation of ethnic Bulgarians and Greeks from the Black Sea area to Siberia was supposed to weaken their nationalism (other than by thinning their numbers)?

            Also, are the benign explanations for such policies as preventing certain ethnic groups from serving as police and army officers? Or being accepted to certain prestigious universities? Or teaching schoolchildren that most major scientific inventions were made by ethnic Russians (radio invented by Popov instead of Marconi, printing press by Fyodorov instead of Gutenberg etc.)?

          • Tarpitz says:

            Why does everybody pick on the Armenians?

            Misunderstanding of the sort of time travel we actually have. A System of a Down album fell through a temporal anomaly, and various people have understandably seen genocide as a small price to pay to prevent such horrors. Unfortunately, closed timelike curves, self-fulfilling prophecies etc. are in full force, and here we are in a world with sundry terrible crimes against the Armenian people and System of a Down.

      • Aapje says:


        and a specific “my country over all” mindset – which is what I think most people referred to as nationalists actually believe.

        Most of the colonialism had the goal of benefiting the home nation by getting resources from the colonies, so in that respect it fits your definition. However, there was usually also the intent to improve the colonies and help the people. For example, the substantial effort that many colonizers put into bringing their religion to the people, which was clearly an attempt to better them (given their world view, in which being ‘saved’ was one of the most important things).

        Sometimes these conflicted. For example, King Louis Bonaparte ruled The Netherlands briefly, but was deposed by his brother, Napoleon, for not serving his interests enough. He refused to raise enough troops and kept trading with the enemy (Britain).

        Anyway, I do think that the most common belief by imperialists is that they create a win-win situation, where the colonized people get a fair deal (like: resources in return for advances in economics, religion, and health). They usually put in effort that doesn’t benefit themselves and that they didn’t have to do if they were purely raiding the place.

        The worst case of colonial exploitation, the Congo Free State, was actually privately controlled by Leopold II. When his misbehavior became public, he was forced to turn Congo over to Belgium, after which things improved (to some extent), suggesting that a purely selfish mindset was not accepted at the time.

        PS. An issue that may make it hard for modern audiences to understand the past is that I think that ‘we’ nowadays consider sovereignty extremely important, favoring it over people’s well-being in many cases. From that perspective, colonialism looks extremely exploitative. I think that many people in the past focused more on (their) measures of well-being, that were different, so didn’t see themselves as being as exploitative as most people see colonialism today.

    • cassander says:

      The Vietnamese weren’t a puppet state under the direct control of Moscow, and the belief that they were was part of a broader failure by the US to realize that the stalin era level of unity in the communist world didn’t persist after his death. However, even if the US had realized that, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that they were a militant, expansionist communist state and part of a broader communist bloc that was dangerous and needed to be contained.

      Remember, France wasn’t a US puppet either, and they were often deeply distrustful of the US, but that doesn’t mean that weren’t counted on as allies, or rightly considered to be part of a broader western coalition.

      • Aapje says:

        How was (North) Vietnam expansionist in a dangerous way?

        They did invade Laos, but that was because they needed the land to fight the Vietnam war. They didn’t invade Thailand after they won. Instead, they started fighting with other communist countries.

        • bean says:

          The bit where they tried to take over the South seems rather expansionist to me. There were some existing cultural differences, IIRC, and they were exacerbated during the split, when a bunch of people chose to flee south to avoid the regime, Catholics most prominent among them.

          As for Thailand, some of that was that the Thais had spent the previous decade preparing for a fully-communist Vietnam. And some of it was logistics. That area of the world isn’t a place I’d want to launch an invasion over.

          • Aapje says:

            Come on, it’s not expansionist to want to kick foreigners out of your country.

            And if there was no reasonable way for Vietnam to conquer Thailand, then there was nothing to contain there.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I wouldn’t describe Vietnam’s relationship to Thailand as docile. The two had numerous border conflicts throughout the 70s. Vietnam was more or less contained, but it would’ve been better had the communists been contained to NORTH Vietnam rather than controlling Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia for a long time.
            You also are only containing Vietnam by using a different Not So Nice entity. This…isn’t exactly ideal.

          • Aapje says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I don’t see how anything near ideal was possible, nor was it what we got. So I don’t understand why that is your standard.

            In an alternative history where the US and South Vietnam would have accepted unified elections, even if that meant a win by Hồ Chí Minh, would things have been worse?

            In that reality, North Vietnam would have no strong need to occupy Laos. There would have been no demand on Cambodia to have communist troops stationed in Cambodia or to have supply routes to the country. So most likely there then never would have been a Khmer Rouge army and thus it seems quite likely to me that the non-communist Cambodian government would have survived in that scenario.

            Ultimately, it was the actions by the US that strongly incentivized Hồ Chí Minh to interfere with Laos and Cambodia, so arguing that US involvement was important to prevent North Vietnam from doing this seems silly, especially when the US clearly was not able to contain North Vietnam.

          • bean says:

            Come on, it’s not expansionist to want to kick foreigners out of your country.

            What foreigners? You’ll notice that North Vietnam didn’t exactly decide to give up and let the south live in peace when we pulled out. The Catholics in question are Vietnamese Catholics, thanks to French missionaries.

            And if there was no reasonable way for Vietnam to conquer Thailand, then there was nothing to contain there.

            Not necessarily. Was a Vietnamese conventional invasion of Thailand out? Probably. But a heavily-supported insurgency wasn’t, and that could eventually weaken the Thai government enough that it either falls to the communists or becomes vulnerable to an invasion. The decade we bought them gave them time to get that threat under control.

            More generally, I think you underestimate the chances of even a peacefully reunified Vietnam to decide to go the expansionist route. Even leaving aside ideological reasons, there’s a bunch of long-standing feuds in the region. Why wouldn’t Ho Chi Minh decide to go after the half of Cambodia that Vietnam used to own, if he’s such a nationalist?

          • Aapje says:

            The South Vietnamese elections were obviously fraudulent. For example, Ngô Đình Diệm got 98.2% of the vote during the 1955 referendum. So it was not unreasonable for the North Vietnamese to not consider them legitimate. It was also not unreasonable to consider the government a puppet government, because we know that many decisions were made by the US without even talking to Diệm beforehand. When Diệm turned out to have ideas of his own, the CIA helped with a coup.

            During the 1954 Geneva Conference a fairly reasonable Final Declaration was issued that proposed a general election to achieve a unified state. The US refused to support this.

            Of course it is quite possible that Hồ Chí Minh would have won such elections and would have been an oppressive asshole. However, in the real history, Hồ Chí Minh won and was an oppressive asshole, plus you had an enormous number of deaths due to the war. It seems very unlikely to me that things would have been worse, especially since many of the things you argue that the American intervention intended to prevent, weren’t prevented at all.

            The only claim that you make about something that actually might have been prevented, the conquering of Thailand, is extremely speculative. Was the possible prevention of a war with Thailand worth 1-4 million deaths? You have to be extremely confident that a war with Thailand would have happened for that math to work out.

            Why wouldn’t Ho Chi Minh decide to go after the half of Cambodia that Vietnam used to own, if he’s such a nationalist?

            Without the Vietnam war, the incentives for both Vietnam and the surrounding nations would have been different. The USSR gave a lot of aid to North-Vietnam. They would have far less reason to do so if the opponent was Cambodia, rather than the US. Furthermore, it would be very much in China’s interest to preserve the existing borders. Without the treat of the US at their doorstep, the next biggest treat in Indochina would be a unified Indochina.

            Furthermore, even if Hồ Chí Minh had conquered all of Cambodia and ruled it, it would have been a better outcome than what happened: Cambodia becoming communist and having the Killing Fields.

          • bean says:

            Look. I’m not going to defend US conduct in Vietnam in general. We screwed that one up by the numbers. And by we I mean, Kennedy, Johnson and especially Robert McNamara. But the screwing up was not in the fact that we got involved in the first place. There were lots and lots of places we went in to prop up a teetering government (dictatorial or otherwise) against the communists. Only in Vietnam did we end up in that kind of mess. Go in hard and fast early on, and shut down the big pipeline flowing south, instead of running a strategy that assumes everyone not in the White House is straining at the leash to have a nuclear war.
            Or to use a less controversial example, maybe Nixon hushes up Watergate successfully, and is able to send weapons and air support in 1975. That might well lead to two Vietnams today. If that happens, the cost/benefit ratio changes a lot.

            As for containment and the domino effect, it’s not just Thailand. Thailand falls, and then Malaysia is on the front line. A country that had a fairly serious communist insurgency in the 50s, and that is astride one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, not to mention a lot of oil.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            It’s really easy to make claims about what we should have done given almost 60 years of hindsight. At the time of the 1950s and early 1960s, global communism was essentially a unified juggernaut expanding everywhere. US intervention in Vietnam comes off the heels of North Korea invading South Korea and the USSR trying to strong-arm West Germany out of NATO and the West out of West Berlin.

            If you don’t intervene in Vietnam, it’s not at all clear where you DO intervene. Why bother with Berlin, should we really risk WWIII over half a city? Why not let the Soviets have missiles in Cuba, there’s no reason to risk WWIII over it? There’s active communist insurgencies in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, why bother helping any of those nations? What’s the point in getting involved in the Greek Civil War again? Taiwan and South Korea are essentially dictatorships, why should we support them? Italy has a Red Brigade problem, why is that our business?

            You’re also making a supposition that the withdrawal of the US from the region somehow turns this nation into something resembling peaceful. Why? The Sino-Soviet split is coming no matter what, that means China and Vietnam are fighting each other no matter what. Cambodia will ally with China, and Vietnam will invade Cambodia, and Vietnam will likely try to turn Laos into a puppet state to deny China the ability to do the same. Maybe you don’t get the killing fields, but that’s really skeptical. It’s not like the US made the USSR do the Holdomor and it’s not like the US made China do the Cultural Revolution and it’s not like the US made Ho Chi Minh send people to re-education camps and it’s not like the US is making China send Uighur Muslims to re-education camps today.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I think the argument is more or less that the Communists would still have had the reeducation camps – there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t have – but with ten fewer years of war, there would be fewer corpses on all sides.


            There’s a recurring lesson to be learned about the value of going in hard and heavy from the get-go, if you’re going to go in at all; too bad everyone keeps forgetting it.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I think the argument is more or less that the Communists would still have had the reeducation camps – there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t have – but with ten fewer years of war, there would be fewer corpses on all sides.

            We can’t rerun the simulation. However, like I said, the Sino-Soviet split is coming. Vietnam is a Soviet ally no matter what. Cambodia is tremendously unstable and Vietnam and China will likely compete for influence and it will likely collapse.

            So what 10 years less of war? Vietnam continued fighting in Cambodia until the collapse of Soviet communism. Maybe you get the Killing Fields, maybe you don’t, but you aren’t avoiding a Cambodian civil war. That requires Cambodia, China, and Vietnam to agree on a peaceful solution, and that’s just not realistic. Vietnam and China were ridiculously bellicose, they aren’t Bhutan.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I’m pretty sure what Aapje means is that, of the people who died in 10 years of fighting over South Vietnam and all that entailed, fewer would have died had the fighting been shorter: fewer North Vietnamese military and civilian dead, fewer South Vietnamese military and civilian dead, certainly fewer American civilian dead. Shorter war: fewer corpses.

            Alternatively, if people making decisions in the US hadn’t read The Art of War on opposite day, and had just gone hard from the beginning, maybe the North would have given up. The way the US did things seems to have been interpreted – fairly accurately – by the North as indicating that they could outlast the US. I don’t know how feasible this would have been domestically, and victory might well have required the US to push significant changes in South Vietnam, and I don’t know how feasible that would be either.

            The way things went seems like one of the worse possible outcomes: the US supported some nasty stuff, a lot of people died, and the South fell in the end anyway. Hindsight is hindsight, of course.

        • cassander says:

          They invaded first south vietnam, then laos, then cambodia, killing millions of people in the process. And in addition to what bean says about hte thai preparing, it wasn’t the vietnamese who decided to start fighting the chinese. It was the chinese, afraid that the vietnamese were getting too big for their britches, who started that particular conflict. And it was the need to defend against china that ended the ability of vietnam to project power westwards

          • Nornagest says:

            I’d have a hard time condemning Vietnam for invading Cambodia given that it was the Khmer Rouge on the other side, who at the time were committing genocide against Vietnamese people (and anyone else who looked at them funny).

            Not gonna try to justify South Vietnam or Laos, though.

          • cassander says:


            They’re the ones that propped up the Khmer Rouge in the first place.

          • Nornagest says:

            True, but if a faction you had a hand in creating goes off its meds one day and starts saying “you know what, I think our opponents’ propaganda isn’t cartoonishly villainous enough“, putting them down is still the right thing to do. Granted, it would have been even better if they’d done it before the mountains of skulls had gotten quite that tall.

    • rlms says:

      [Nationalism] it strongly discourages submitting to a foreign power.

      Well, yes, but it also often encourages foreign powers to submit to nationalists. In cases where there is no danger of that (i.e. nationalism in small nations) it frequently has left-wing support; for example consider foreign supporters of Scottish or Catalan nationalism, and to a lesser extent Palestine and Tibet.

    • Uribe says:

      Wasn’t the race to colonize Africa the result of competing nationalist forces among the European powers?

      Isn’t WWI generally blamed on the competing nationalism of the major European powers?

      It seems to me the problem with nationalism is that it fosters a zero sum view of the world, resulting in destructive competition for resources and strategic real-estate, as opposed to the more constructive competition offered by the neo-liberal world view. (Feel free to replace the loaded term neo-liberal with other loaded terms: globalist, capitalist, laissez-faire, libertarian…)

      • quanta413 says:

        The U.S. for the last several decades has been very neoliberal and invaded a lot of places. The cold war was pretty bad for a lot of countries, and driven largely by ideologies which were not nationalist. Of course, all of it was put in moral terms, but it’s pretty rare for someone to argue for things in what they would consider immoral terms.

        Early Muslim empires and the later Ottoman empire were not very nationalist and had larger and longer lasting empires than many European nations.

        It’s not clear to me that taking other people’s stuff is a particularly nationalist preoccupation.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Rivalries between the most militarily/economically powerful of states seem to be a constant whether the states are monoethnic or multi-ethnic. The Monoethnic state seems to have the advantage of greater cohesion and the multi-ethnic one usually has the advantage of greater land-space, population, resources, etc.

        Both the neo-liberal and nationalist models have belligerent variations that violate internal sovereignty (and are willing to inflict economic and possibly military harm to do so). The modern kind of neo-liberalism in its worst form wants international bodies to have the power to conduct massive infusions of alien and potentially hostile populations or compel certain kinds of fiscal policies, etc. And it’s not clear that there aren’t potentially ethnic or selfish motives that underlie self-described neo-liberal policies.

        The kind of nationalism you see today doesn’t involve, for example, members of the Visigrad group making militarily backed territorial claims on their neighbors due to some ancient dispute. It’s “my sovereignty ends where yours begins”.

  6. theredsheep says:

    To riff off the last reply, to what extent is nationalism a modern ideology? We’ve all read in history textbooks that nationalism really took off around the nineteenth century. But most old societies I read about were aware of the distinction between themselves and other people, thought their way was better, and resented being ruled by other people with different customs. Certainly the Greeks had a strong awareness of Greekness, the Chinese of the uniqueness of the Middle Kingdom, the Persians as better than those other weirdos, etc.

    Even in explicitly multiethnic states like Rome and its successor Byzantium, where belonging meant believing right and submitting to an authority, there was a sharp distinction between good Romans and barbarians. Is the key supposed to be the presence or absence of vaguely science-y racism?

    • Aging Loser says:

      I was just reading in Werner Jaeger’s book about Aristotle’s development that Democritus the Athenian patriot favored an alliance with Persia against Macedon while Aristotle the Greek (Pan-Hellenic) Nationalist and son-in-law of the northwest-Anatolian Greek strongman Hermias promoted an alliance between Hermias and Macedon that would give Macedon a beachhead for the conquest of the Persian Empire (which Aristotle saw as a Greek/Pan-Hellenic project). That’s kind of an interesting criss-crossing of opposing nationalisms (Athenian vs. Greek) — sort of analogous maybe to German Nationalists seeking support from Russia (if that’s true) while Western Super-Nationalists oppose Russia.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I personally can’t really comment on this, but Razib Khan suggests that nationalism is ancient but went away for a long while.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I’m not sure the Greek really had that strong of a concept of Greek vs non-Greek as is sometimes claimed. For instance it is often stated that the Greek called “barbaric” the languages of non-Greek speakers. But when you read Greek writers, they also call each other Greek dialects barbaric. What’s more, there is actually no word to distinguish the concept of “dialect” from that of “language” in Ancient Greek — “διάλεκτος” can mean all of “discourse, conversation, manner of speech, language, dialect, accent”. Saying that someone spoke a “βαρβαρικός δῐᾰ́λεκτος” is something that an Athenian would have equally said of a Theban, a Spartan, a Phrygian or a Phoenician.

      Something I see as good evidence of the lack of strong nationalist feelings in ancient people is the easiness with which they switched languages and accepted multilingualism. Entire empires sometimes abandonned their “native” language for a more prestigious neighboring language in the span of a few centuries. Many societies had several different and unrelated languages with religious, administrative, auxiliary or literary purposes *on top of* the multiple native languages of the population. The elite ralrely spoke the same languages as the people.

      • theredsheep says:

        Well, what about the awareness of “Ionic” versus “Doric” Greekness, then? It sounds like there may be a more local degree of nationhood. Of course, at some point, you’re going to have some concept of Us and Them, and it’s not always going to be something identifiable as nationhood.

        I’ve heard that, for example, the English resented the Normans for a while, until the cultures merged. Do you know if that’s correct?

        • Statismagician says:

          In a word, yes.

          There was huge resistance to the Norman conquest, with multiple rolling revolts from 1066 onwards, ending only after William the Conqueror burned as much of the North of England as he could reach in what’s often referred to as the first modern genocide. Contemporary commenters apparently called it ‘a stain on [William’s] soul,’ which considering the standards of 1068 is absolutely appalling.

          Everything I’ve read, as well as basic logic, suggests there may have been some mild resentment over all of this. Hell, I believe ‘get the French back for 1066’ is still a fairly common joke in British popular culture today, a thousand years later, when the two countries have been firm allies for a century.

          • Machine Interface says:

            “I believe ‘get the French back for 1066’ is still a fairly common joke in British popular culture today, a thousand years later”

            There doesn’t need to be continuity there. Since the Normans pretty much eradicated the old English aristocracy, they effectively controlled the discourse around British history for the following centuries.

            But the following centuries were essentially 300 years of conflict where the French-Norman rulers of England tried (and at time almost succeeded) to wrestle the throne of France from the French Capetian dynasty. After their final defeat in 1453 and subsequent war of the Roses, the very resentful French-Norman nobles effectively rethought their idendity and got rid of their Frenchness, started speaking the English tongue of their subjects, and distanced themselves from their own ancestors by depicting them as “French invaders” against their own native “English” legitimacy.

          • Statismagician says:

            Good catch, that should have occurred to me.

          • spkaca says:

            “After their final defeat in 1453 and subsequent war of the Roses, the very resentful French-Norman nobles effectively rethought their idendity and got rid of their Frenchness, started speaking the English tongue of their subjects, and distanced themselves from their own ancestors by depicting them as “French invaders” against their own native “English” legitimacy.”
            This is largely true though the process (i.e. of distancing from Frenchness and adopting a distinct insular identity) started well before 1453. You could even trace it as early as Henry I (12th century) marrying a descendant of the house of Wessex. Edward I was making explicit appeals to ‘Englishness’ in the 13th century, English began to replace French in law courts in the 14th, and Henry IV took his coronation oath in English not French. His son Henry V routinely used English for official business. (All of this from memory so I might be off on some details, but the trend is there.)

        • Machine Interface says:

          theredsheep > the ancient Greeks were aware that their dialects were related; it’s just that to them, speaking the “wrong” Greek dialect was as good as not speaking Greek at all. As far as I can tell, Greek loyalty and identity was primarily organized around the city-states, which is why the debate mentionned above by Aging Loser about whether Athen should ally with Persia or with Macedon can even exist (also it’s not clear how “Greek” Macedon was considered — the classification of the ancient Macedonian language (while clearly related to Greek) is still debated, and by the time of Aristotle the area was still in the process of switching to Attic Greek).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Also, at least some Greek intellectuals recognized that Phrygian was related to the Greek dialects (eg Plato’s Cratylus 410a).

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I’m not sure the Greek really had that strong of a concept of Greek vs non-Greek as is sometimes claimed. For instance it is often stated that the Greek called “barbaric” the languages of non-Greek speakers. But when you read Greek writers, they also call each other Greek dialects barbaric.

        I don’t think that’s true. At any rate, I’ve never come across any ancient Greek using the term “barbarian” to refer to speakers of other Greek dialects.

    • Thegnskald says:

      My understanding is that nationalism is an old idea, but that mass participation is new. Democracy gives the masses a sense that their nation belongs to them as much as they do to it; so, where previously “nationalism” from a peasant perspective largely amounted to “Those other guys are even worse than our guys”, now they feel like they are the guys, at least in part.

      Which implies that when people feel like they -aren’t- the guys, they either don’t participate in nationalism, or believe in a version of nationalism which treats the current government as illegitimate.

      I honestly believe this is a major part of the current hostile political climate. It is very important that the public feel like their participation matters, that their views are taken into account – possibly more important, in the long run, than whether their views are actually good national policy. You need a little bit of populism, just to promote national unity and hence stability.

    • Garrett says:

      What became popular around the 19th century was the concept of anation state where people with a common culture have self-rule. This has the advantage of either avoiding or facilitating the codification of normative behaviors.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Yes, I think that’s the main difference. People were aware of us vs. them differences for millennia, but the idea that there ought to be a one-to-one correspondence between national groups and political entities is an 18th/19th century one.

  7. Vermillion says:

    Hello all, just a reminder that there’s still time left to submit powers and sign up for the Inaugural SSC Rumble! You can get more info and see submitted powers here

    If you haven’t read in the last couple OT’s I’m hosting this showdown between brawling super beings, and one can be you! So long as you’re signing up before the start of the next OT I mean. It’ll be fun, probably!

    • Vermillion says:

      So far 5 people are signed up and 44 powers submitted.

      Question for them and other interested parties and potential players, do you think that we should have all player communication be out in the open? I mean I’m fine with people being like, FYI I’m not going to attack you and then surprise double cross but I feel like that should maybe be information that should be easily discoverable as well? Like it’s a good trick but it probably shouldn’t work more than once.

    • Vermillion says:

      I’ve worked through every power submitted so starting next open thread the players will nominate two powers from they want to bid on from the master list. Please comment on the powers you’re nominating so that other players can see. Power submissions are closed now but I’ll accept new players until nominations are closed in the following OT.

  8. nkurz says:

    A few threads ago there was some discussion of China’s one-child-policy, and DavidFriedman characterized it as a enormous mistake, implying that China would have been better off if its population had grown more rapidly. Is this commonly believed? Is it true? Would China have done even better with a many-child-policy aimed at faster than “natural” growth? Would the rest of the world better off, or just China?

    Personally, I view overpopulation as the largest risk factor for future of humanity. While it’s possible that technological advances will allow the Earth to support larger human populations, I think the increased demand for natural resources has to magnify our risk of eventual societal collapse. Add on the obvious impact on the non-human world, and I can’t convince myself that adding more humans can possibly be an improvement.

    Do those in favor of continued population growth think that this risk doesn’t exist (that an eventual global population of 10B will be more stable than any lower number) , or do they think that the reward of having more humans around is sufficient offset? Or do they agree that there are risks to further population growth, but believe that any attempt at a “cure” (such as China’s one-child-policy) is bound to be worse than the “disease”?

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      Removing the one child policy does not imply a “many-child-policy.” Since David is a Libertarian, I would venture to say that he would remove any official policy, including those pushing incentives, that tries to set or change the birth rate.

      Presumably, birth rates in places where people want more children (rationally decided that was optimal?) would go up, while birth rates in places it doesn’t make sense would not. Even if the net result were higher population, it’s almost undeniable that the population would be a more rational distribution.

      As for whether it’s a good idea? To my knowledge, there are two giant problems for China that stem from the previous policy. One is the demographic effects of an aging population and an intentionally small upcoming generation. If the new generation is half the size of the older one, that’s obviously a massive problem. Secondly, because couples were limited to just one child, they were under a lot of pressure to select for their preferred gender. In this case, that means a dramatic abundance of boys relative to girls. That causes problems for finding mates and companions, which then results in a large number of unattached young men. That tends to be a bad thing for a society.

      Are those problems worse than a growing population? Hard to say, and it would depend heavily on your priors. It’s easy for an American to complain about population growth in another country, but if we had the demographic problems here, we would certainly be more sympathetic to it.

      • albatross11 says:

        I would expect most people in the US to oppose the actual one-child policy, since it was pretty horrible and coercive, even if they accepted the goal of limiting overpopulation.

        • AG says:

          I’d support a one-child-cap-and-trade system. A significant number of people aren’t interested in having children, so they can sell their slot to families that want more. The trick is to prevent seller’s remorse, but I think that solely buying from childless people out of safe fertilization age is fair.

          The other aspect would be to enforce punishment. Forbid abortion of additional pregnancies, combined with a stipulation that they aren’t allowed to keep them. This then allows for a supply to gay couples who still want a kid.

          • quanta413 says:

            I don’t see how cap-and-trading children winds up as anything but social Darwinism. Is this intended or unintended?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Aside from moral objections,

            Forbid abortion of additional pregnancies

            seems counterproductive, like forcing polluters to continue polluting to the end of their license despite going bankrupt. Sincere question, is this purely intended to be inflammatory?

          • AG says:

            @Hoopyfreud: It’s meant to be a punishment, forcing people to got through the hassles of pregnancy without the payoff of keeping the child, and therefore hopefully disincentivizing people who want more children from doing it. For them to carry to full term also reduces how frequently they can get fertilized, which would be the case for a revolving door of getting pregnant and aborting.

            I’m not sure I follow. Do you mean that rich people who want more kids will coerce the poor to sell their slots? The hassles of raising a kid are already depressing the birthrate for the rich now, so I don’t see why they would do it that much. We can harshly penalize the case of buying an extra slot and then not producing the child within a certain timeframe (as well as forbidding resale of slots), to discourage the rich from forcing the poor to sell their slots just for the eugenics effect.
            But the current situation is that some people want zero children and some people want more than one child. Why not set an upper bounds on total population growth allowed, and then let the people redistribute who contributes to said growth as per their own preferences?

            Is the social Darwin effect only relevant to birth control in the literal sense? Or how does it not apply to cap-and-trading of other things?

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            I remain genuinely confused as to why, if we’re capping and trading reproduction, abortion is bad. If you’re concerned about the “revolving door,” well, abortion is by almost all accounts much less pleasant than birth control for most women, and having an abortion is a real but much less extreme disincentive than being imprisoned for 6+ months.

            If the objection to abortion is moral, that’s one thing, but it’s quite another to claim that banning the process by which unwanted pregnancies are eliminated is a reasonable component of population control.

          • Why not set an upper bounds on total population growth allowed

            Because there is no good reason to.

            I can’t tell if the line of argument assumes there is, or if it is only a discussion of “if population is to be limited by law, what’s the best way to do it?”

          • AG says:

            @Hoopyfreud: in this hypothetical system, abortion is morally neutral. The point is to force people have a “whoops I accidentally an extra baby” to suffer consequences (regardless of if they were trying to game the system to have extra children they don’t have the slots for, or out of other carelessness).
            I figured that we might as well use the baby instead of killing it, so we don’t want abortion to be the default end for unlawful babies.

            This should be paired with easy availability of various birth control methods, of course.

            My general stance is that we could do with a significantly lower population growth rate until the inequality issue is solved first. Currently, the continued availability of a desperate underclass gives the powers that be disincentive to work towards Automated Luxury Communism.
            And then, yes, this hypothetical cap-and-trade system is mostly just a “if population is to be limited by law, what’s the best way to do it?” thing.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            I’d propose that forcing women to give birth is worse than forcing them to get an abortion. One requires you to be locked up for most of a year when your birth control fails; the other requires you to submit to an unpleasant medical procedure (if abortion is morally neutral). Better yet, let people choose which one they’d rather. Insofar as it’s possible to do population control without being… troublingly inhumane, I think yours is the worst system for it.

          • AG says:


            Your comments have somewhat convinced me, in that abortion would be the means for most people who accidentally got pregnant in good faith to comply with the policy, and so should not be penalized.

            However, I’d still require that surplus children born to families without the legal slot for it would be forced to give their child up for adoption to people who still have their slot. Also, add a financial penalty of the market rate for a slot in their area, to further disincentivize ignoring the restrictions.

            And, I think there should still be certain situations where forced carrying to term should still take place, for people who are getting pregnant at a greater frequency than birth control failure rates. We don’t want abortion-as-compliance to be the default mechanism of compliance, we want people who desire to have no more children to practice safe sex.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’d propose that forcing women to give birth is worse than forcing them to get an abortion. One requires you to be locked up for most of a year when your birth control fails; the other requires you to submit to an unpleasant medical procedure.

            Plan B also requires you submit passively to the murder of your own child. That is how it will be seen and experienced, by anyone who needs to be forced to get an abortion. I’m going to hazard guess that murdering someone’s child, in their immediate presence, is much worse than being imprisoned for a year.

            (if abortion is morally neutral).

            Talk about burying the lede.

          • albatross11 says:

            If I lived in a country with laws like these, I’d be a big advocate of the guillotine as a method of regime change. [As a bonus, it would also reduce excess population.]

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            I’ll point to the fact that I suggested that letting people choose is ideal, and that abortion being morally neutral was stipulated by AG. If you bury the lede yourself, is it really that indefensible to put it to rest?

            My aim here was not to make an object-level claim about abortion, but to convince AG that, under his own moral system, he’d hit upon a particularly strange repugnant solution.

          • quanta413 says:


            Do you mean that rich people who want more kids will coerce the poor to sell their slots?

            I don’t mean it will be coercive. I mean that over time, we should expect that rich people are more able to buy additional children than poor people and with the population destined to halve until you reach your target, we should expect a lot of rich people who want two children to buy a second child. And a lot of poor people who might normally have children decide not to when not having children nets them tens of thousands of dollars.

            I am not claiming that rich people will intentionally try to make the system eugenic or social Darwinist. I’m saying it’s the obvious outcome of the incentives of a system where you have to pay money to buy child slots from other people when you want to have even a second child. A lot of American families have two children. But those with more money will be able to pay that more often and those with less money will have 0 children more often than currently.

            The hassles of raising a kid are already depressing the birthrate for the rich now, so I don’t see why they would do it that much. We can harshly penalize the case of buying an extra slot and then not producing the child within a certain timeframe (as well as forbidding resale of slots), to discourage the rich from forcing the poor to sell their slots just for the eugenics effect.

            The birth rate for wealthier people still isn’t down to 1.0 as far as I’m aware so on average the rich will need to buy children form someone else. They have less utility from more money than a poor person so I expect rich people to buy child slots from poor people on average.

            I have no worry about rich people intentionally buying slots to burn them.

            Is the social Darwin effect only relevant to birth control in the literal sense? Or how does it not apply to cap-and-trading of other things?

            I always took social Darwinism to be an idea about reproduction being supposed to accrue to whoever is most “successful” by their society’s standards (which tends to be highly correlated with wealth) which makes it the wrong term for basically every other type of cap and trade which has little to do with reproduction.

            I’m not sure how birth control without a one child policy would be relevant on its own to causing that sort of outcome.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Those countries in which women are permitted an education and/or culturally encouraged to find personal employment already have below replacement birth rates. Social liberalism also reduces the incentive for men and women to seek long term partners and increases the incentive for existing long-term partnerships to end in divorce. (less taboo to divorce and also there seems to be a relationship between social liberalism and a more ligitous society)

            These same societies also generally practice graduated taxation and some have welfare states; which increases the financial cost of having children and reduces the benefits of having had said children at an older age.

            In other words most western countries don’t have a long-run overpopulation problem [except one created from immigration] and so I don’t see why a general policy to lower births is necessary. Moreover those east Asian countries that adopt western economies and [to a limited degree] culture have the same demographic problems.

    • IrishDude says:

      Human ingenuity comes up with more efficient ways to use resources, so the more people around the more minds that can be used to solve resource scarcity problems. This should be incorporated into the cost/benefit analysis of the size of the human population and how resources get consumed.

    • albatross11 says:


      There’s clearly some limit to human population on Earth. I don’t think we’re all that close to the limit in any first-world country, and I think that limit expands over time (but not without bound!) thanks to better technology.

      I also think that just because a goal (stopping overpopulation) is worthwhile, we ought not to support every way of reaching that goal. A full-scale nuclear war between the US and Russia would be a *great* way of reducing global population, now and in the next several decades. But perhaps we should consider the downsides before we advocate for it.

    • sentientbeings says:

      Do those in favor of continued population growth think that this risk doesn’t exist (that an eventual global population of 10B will be more stable than any lower number)

      Saying that I “favor” continued population growth strikes me as an odd phrasing, although I suppose it is true. I think the global risk of overpopulation is basically non-existent, on par with aliens invading Earth in my lifetime. In my view, the critical error in your thinking is related to the following:

      I think the increased demand for natural resources has to magnify our risk of eventual societal collapse.

      I consider the idea of increasing demand for natural resources to be an unfounded assumption (at least as I understand your meaning – there’s another way we could discuss it that would hold true, but it wouldn’t result in collapse).

      My guess is that on reading that, you’re thinking, “What? That’s nonsense. Of course increasing population means increasing demands on natural resources.”

      But there is serious discussion that we might already be at something like peak farmland, and that total land usage for agricultural purposes will decline in coming decades, even with a growing population. I’m more skeptical of decline than stabilization, but there’s evidence for it in the references of that Wikipedia article.

      • fion says:

        I don’t think the peak farmland discussion is all that serious. Many of our large-scale agriculture practices are terrifyingly unsustainable, causing rapid soil degradation and erosion. And vast areas of rainforest continue to be cleared for farmland, largely to meet rising demand for meat.

        Also, this is in the context of demand on natural resources. Food isn’t the only resource we rely on. Fossil fuels, rare earth metals, helium and even sand are all being used at an unsustainable rate. Increased population will result in increased demand for almost all natural resources.

        Even more generally, but still on the subject of human overpopulation, biodiversity loss is becoming a huge problem. We rely very heavily on the biodiversity of our environment, especially on insects. I feel as though you can only be unconcerned by human population if you’re super-concerned about the sustainability of our lifestyle and industry.

        • sentientbeings says:

          We rely very heavily on the biodiversity of our environment, especially on insects.

          How is it that we rely on biodiversity? I’m not saying biodiversity is undesirable – I can think of several ways it might be – but I’m not sure how we rely on it exactly.

          Regarding insects, the only serious decline or alteration I’ve heard about (beyond local changes that have to accompany radical ecosystem alterations in very large cities) is with respect to mosquitoes. The actual evidence I’ve seen suggests that the harm hasn’t been found*, while the gains from mosquito elimination are pretty goddamn enormous.

          *Was there a post on SSC about that? I vaguely recall one.

          • fion says:

            It’s kind of hard, because we rely on it in so many ways, but I’ll try to give examples of what I think are the most important ones. Note that I’m not a biologist.

            Pollination: 75% of staple crops rely on animals (mostly flying insects) for pollination. Flying insect populations have been declining very rapidly. A recent German study found that flying insect numbers are at 25% of what they were 25 years ago.

            Also on insects: they are the base of many food chains, play a crucial role in various nutrient cycles, and they predate on various pests, keeping those populations from increasing.

            Soil degradation/erosion: plant biodiversity is greatly reduced by various modern agricultural practices. This has resulted in rapid degradation of the soil. Think the dustbowl but less dramatic. (Insects are important here too…)

            I could go on, but I just want to pick up on mosquitoes. I actually agree with you that the benefits of eliminating malarial mosquitoes would outweigh the costs, but we’re only talking about a couple of hundred species here. The most conservative estimates of human-driven extinction is more than that each year.

            Sorry for not giving sources for everything I’ve stated, because that tends to quadruple reply-time. Most of what I’ve mentioned (and much, much more) can be found on this wikipedia page.

    • There is surely some level of population which would raise serious problems given current technology, I just don’t think we are close to it–and I point out that the people who were confident fifty years ago that we were then made predictions based on that belief which turned out to be the opposite of what happened.

      I don’t think natural resources are a serious constraint. We don’t use up things like iron or aluminum, we merely convert them from a more useful to a less useful form. The only thing we do use up is usable energy–that can’t be recycled due to the Second Law.

      But current technology offers a supply of usable energy, via nuclear and solar, much larger than current consumption at a cost not enormously larger than the current cost via fossil fuels–some would argue lower than current cost if you include indirect costs such as air pollution.

      Mr. Doolittle is correct that I am not arguing for a many child policy. I concluded, in a piece published in 1972, that I could not sign the net externality from population increase. Hence I think the sensible policy is to leave people free to decide for themselves how many children they want to have. That also, of course, fits my moral intuitions in favor of individual freedom.

      • nkurz says:

        Thanks for your response.

        I point out that the people who were confident fifty years ago that we were then made predictions based on that belief which turned out to be the opposite of what happened.

        The Erlichs wrote a 2009 assessment of how well “The Population Bomb” was holding up. I thought it was solid. Their conclusion was that the title was terrible, they were overly confident and wrong about specifics and timing, but that overall they got the major things right. Their current conclusion is that 1.5 to 2B people would be much safer global population. I think you might actually like parts of it:

        Mr. Doolittle is correct that I am not arguing for a many child policy.

        I realize you wouldn’t want it to be government policy, but I guess I was trying to ask a slightly different question. I took your comment to mean that you felt that China would be a better place today if it had not gone with a a one-child-policy and instead had grown its population more rapidly. But maybe you don’t, and you were making the different claim that China would be a better place without the policy, because of carry-on effects of the policy separate from population?

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Thanks for that link. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

        • Their conclusion was that the title was terrible, they were overly confident and wrong about specifics and timing, but that overall they got the major things right.

          They predicted, with great confidence, mass world famines in the 1970’s with hundreds of millions of people dying. What actually happened was that calories per capita in the poor parts of the world trended pretty steadily up, extreme poverty sharply down.

          “Wrong about timing” is something any end of the world prophet can say when the world doesn’t end on schedule.

          I realize you wouldn’t want it [a many child policy] to be government policy, but I guess I was trying to ask a slightly different question. I took your comment to mean that you felt that China would be a better place today if it had not gone with a a one-child-policy and instead had grown its population more rapidly.

          Correct. It would be a better place and it would have avoided the evils of that policy–couples would have been able to have the children they wanted.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            They predicted, with great confidence, mass world famines in the 1970’s with hundreds of millions of people dying. What actually happened was that calories per capita in the poor parts of the world trended pretty steadily up

            Wasn’t that due to the efforts of literally one guy (Norman Borlaug)? What would have happened in an alternate timeline where he got hit by a truck?

          • We don’t know. But the effects of the Green Revolution should have tapered off over time as population caught up with the increased productivity of agriculture. So while that might explain the famine not happening in the 1970’s, I don’t think it explains that at present, with twice the population, the world is farther from famine than it has ever been.

            Also, the population bomb was written in 1968, by which time the Green Revolution was well along–Borlaug got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

      • fion says:

        We don’t use up things like iron or aluminum, we merely convert them from a more useful to a less useful form

        This is true of pretty much every element that we use up. All the atoms are still on the planet, we “just” need to recycle them (with the exception of helium, that actually escapes the Earth’s gravity). But any chemist or materials scientist will tell you that my “just” and your “merely” hide a hell of a lot. Perhaps iron and aluminium aren’t too bad, but hydrocarbons are a nightmare to reuse and recycle. When we talk about running out of natural resources, we’re not talking about the limits of thermodynamics; we’re talking about the limits of technology.

        • but hydrocarbons are a nightmare to reuse and recycle. When we talk about running out of natural resources, we’re not talking about the limits of thermodynamics; we’re talking about the limits of technology.

          Are you saying that there are serious problems with converting hydrogen and carbon into hydrocarbons, given an unlimited supply of useful energy to do it with? I would have said that the problem with hydrocarbons is the energy (more precisely entropy–the energy is still there after you burn them, but as heat) problem.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            There are proven techniques for doing this, starting with water, air and stupid amounts of power, but it falls into the category of “Neat stunt, not very practical” – Noone is ever going to move the process off the lab bench, not even for aviation, NH4 being far, far easier and cheaper to synthesize in bulk.

            If you start with food waste, the price comes way down, and that plus recycling will keep us supplied with plastics – Not fuel, because it is a finite stream (and growing crops specifically to feed into the process ruins the economics, and is also extremely bad for the environment) but it is a constant cheap supply, so..

          • John Schilling says:

            There are proven techniques for doing this, starting with water, air and stupid amounts of power, but it falls into the category of “Neat stunt, not very practical”

            Annual production of biofuels exceeded ninety million tonnes oil equivalent last year. That seems like rather more than a stunt, and the people who did it apparently thought it was practical.

          • fion says:


            It’s more complicated than the amount of useful energy you need (which is, as Thomas says, very large indeed). You need the chemical methods (because we can’t just put atoms together: we need to come up with reaction pathways), the technology to scale them (again, as Thomas says, existing pathways are mostly done in small quantities in lab-based batch processes), methods to deal with waste products and, perhaps most limitingly, a huge amount of labour time to make all this happen.

            So to answer you question, I am not saying that what you’re talking about violates the laws of physics, but due to the other hurdles involved, it is firmly in the realm of science fiction.

            @Thomas Jørgensen

            that plus recycling will keep us supplied with plastics

            I’m not a materials scientist, but I think you are underestimating the difficulties of recycling plastic. Every time it is recycled, structural weaknesses are introduced. In fact most plastic recycling is more like “downcycling” where high-quality plastics are recycled into low-quality plastics. This can only be done a few times before the recycled plastic is unusable. Modern recycling methods are getting better at increasing the percentage of usable recycled material, but I don’t think any materials scientist, even allowing for optimistic future technology, believes it will ever be close to 100%.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Biofuels from dedicated crops are the children of subsidies and people not understanding irresponsible landuse is bloody terrible for the planet- Plants are shockingly bad at converting sunlight to chemical energy, and the process of turning the plants into fuel introduce further losses.

            You can produce liquid fuel with a factor of twenty or higher less land-use by paving over some patch of desert in solar and feeding the power to ammonia synthesis. And ammonia is, in some ways a far better fuel than hydrocarbons can ever be – It is, for example a fuel you can feed to a fuel-cell, and the only exhaust is water vapor and N2.

            RE: plastics – the recycling does not need to be indefinite – There is a constant stream of new raw material, so recycling just stretches that.

          • John Schilling says:

            Biofuels from dedicated crops are the children of subsidies and people not understanding irresponsible landuse

            Anything other than “burn coal, it’s dirt cheap on account of being just fancy dirt, and damn the environment” is a child of subsidies or worse, and people legitimately disagree with you about what should be subsidized. But even if we agree on this point, that still leaves us with all the biofuels that aren’t from dedicated crops.

            You can produce liquid fuel with a factor of twenty or higher less land-use by paving over some patch of desert in solar and feeding the power to ammonia synthesis. And ammonia is, in some ways a far better fuel than hydrocarbons can ever be

            But much worse in some other ways, like boiling at -33 C to produce vapors that are lethal in under a minute at STP equilibrium. Of course, it’s a strong enough irritant that nobody is going to stick around for more than fifteen seconds at even one percent of that concentration, but the bit where we have to evacuate the block around every filling station, every time someone tries to refuel a car with a leaky seal, is going to be a rather troublesome operational constraint.

            Your taste for synthetic ammonia as the fuel of choice for the 21st century energy economy is, I think, highly idiosyncratic, and most of us will stick with second- or third-generation biofuels or with less obnoxious synthetics.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            I expect cars to be mostly battery-electric. Fuel is for flying and heavy machinery, both of which can expect higher standards of maintenance and trained operators.
            If someone wants a 1000 hp ammonia-converter to break all speed limits with, they can take the hazardous materials handling course with the local farmers.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Direct conversion of water and air into ammonia is possible but not at all efficient or practical. NH4 is relatively easy to synthesize in bulk, but that’s starting from natural gas (to provide the hydrogen), not water and air and sun. So you’re going to a noxious fuel for nothing.

          • John Schilling says:

            I expect cars to be mostly battery-electric. Fuel is for flying and heavy machinery, both of which can expect higher standards of maintenance and trained operators.

            Here and now, most airplane crashes don’t actually kill anyone. That’s probably going to change when the tanks are full of anhydrous ammonia at ~100 psig – not to mention the design implications of trying to fit 100 psig tankage into airplanes.

            Also, the industrial sites I have seen are mostly very well maintained by professionals, but they still have leaks.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Nybbler: Ammonia from air and water is the original recipe – Bulk ammonia synthesis started in Norway near a dam and ran with electrolysis sourced hydrogen. People still do this, in bulk, at a profit.
            Incidentially, the natural gas->hydrogen -> NH4 process suppliers are almost certainly a cartel, because whenever I try to work out their profit margins, the results are fucking stupid, but that does mean that changing things to an all-electrolysis supply will not hit the customers in the pocket book. another cartel in the world creating billionaires, we can do without.

            John: There are some very noteworthy upsides to justify the hassle – For example, this is electric aviation by way of fuel-cells.
            Air-quality impact of normal operation? Nil. Noise levels? Enormously reduced. That is worth a lot of money.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      To judge whether it was a mistake, you have to know what the goal was.

    • Eric Boesch says:

      Between the death of Mao and now, China managed to accomplish the largest drop in poverty in world history — 900 billion predominantly poor people becoming 1.3 billion while the absolute number of very poor dropped by about ninety percent. I realize that the one-child policy was hardly the only notable factor during this period (i.e. much less ideologically driven government after Mao’s failures), but I imagine the economic success was helped by the attention children were given in an environment of scarcity. That’s not proof of anything, but it is evidence that should affect one’s confidence in one’s beliefs.

      • but I imagine the economic success was helped by the attention children were given in an environment of scarcity. That’s not proof of anything, but it is evidence that should affect one’s confidence in one’s beliefs.

        Your conjecture about causes is not evidence. The fact of China’s extraordinary growth is. But since it occurred in a period when China was radically changing its economic system, from the system it had used unsuccessfully for the previous thirty years to something much closer to what other parts of the world had done successfully, it isn’t evidence of the good effects of the one child policy. One explanation is sufficient.

        Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea did not have a one child policy or anything close, and what China did after Mao’s death was to shift to something closer to their economic system, resulting in outcomes closer to theirs.

  9. Hoopyfreud says:

    Ok seriously what the fuck

    I’m so deeply confused as to what anyone involved in this could possibly have intended. There was an email about someone being bribed to make sexual assault investigations against Mueller, which appears to have been planted by some right-wing Twitter shitposter. This circulates to journalists. They figure out it looks fake. Then a real person claims that she was approached by someone fishing for claims to make against Mueller, and the same person seems to be responsible for the fake email, by way of a fake company staffed by fake people with stock photo LinkedIn photos.

    Congratulations, you played yourself???

    Also, in this kerfuffle, has anyone actually made any accusations of sexual misconduct against Mueller, aside from a different conspiracy theorist? Like, any alleged victims?

    • albatross11 says:

      I wonder if there’s anything at all here beyond someone trolling the media. My guess is that there’s not, but who knows? The media are certainly willing to run with bizarre stories with very little in the way of verification, when those stories seem to be in demand. (See the Kavenaugh gangrape story, which fell apart under minimal fact-checking.) Especially when the topic is Trump.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The woman has panicked and fled:

      The woman accusing Mueller of rape was slated to detail her encounter with the special counsel at a press conference Burkman and Wohl are hosting in Arlington, Virginia Thursday at noon.

      See you at press conference

      12pm ET at Holiday Inn in Rosslyn

      — Jacob Wohl (@JacobAWohl) November 1, 2018

      However, upon arriving in Washington, DC, Wohl said she panicked and boarded a flight to another location. Below is a photo of Wohl and the accuser, who at this time is fearful for her life and requests to remain anonymous.

      1) If this was all fake, man screw you Wohl, you are not helping.

      2) Even if it’s real, it’s still not “helping.” If Mueller is a rapist (and I mean, he is an entitled white male Republican so def a rapist) he should be brought to justice, but that doesn’t end the interminable Russia witch hunt, it just gives the Democrats an excuse to say “oh no, guess we’ll have to start all over with a new special counsel!” for another 2 years.

      • AG says:

        2) Even if it’s real, it’s still not “helping.” If Mueller is a rapist (and I mean, he is an entitled white male Republican so def a rapist) he should be brought to justice, but that doesn’t end the interminable Russia witch hunt, it just gives the Democrats an excuse to say “oh no, guess we’ll have to start all over with a new special counsel!” for another 2 years.

        This was not helpful. I don’t know what the charitable version of your point is in this beneath all of the potshotting.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The part about white male Republicans being rapists was a joke. I am a white male Republican and not a rapist.

          I’m saying that, from the point of view of political activism, even if Mueller can be proven to be a rapist (and I mean for real, not just smeared in the media) and therefore removed from his position as special counsel, that doesn’t accomplish the political goal of ending the investigation. Democrats would just want another investigator, and that process would drag this thing out even longer. I would prefer Mueller not be a rapist, release his no-findings in the investigation and go away.

          • AG says:

            Thanks for the clarification.

          • dick says:

            I’m with AG. Many indefensible things were said by people on both the left and right, but constant minor harping on those things in asides and jokes adds nothing and subtracts a lot.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think the part about “white male Republican” is that Mueller is the same as Kavanaugh in background, and a lot of commentary at the time was making allegations that of course men of that background with their privilege and so on were rapists, no more need be said.

          Plainly this Mueller accusation/series of accusations/whatever the heck is going on is fake, but the attitude about privileged white males being rapists was very much on display at the height (nadir?) of the whole Kavanaugh inquiry.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, that was an especially entertaining bit of that whole public-discourse train wreck. I very much enjoyed seeing people and organizations assume he was probably guilty based on his race and social class, when exactly those same people and organizations would be absolutely clear about why this was wrong to do in any other situation (say, with a poor black guy accused of a crime).

            Why, a cynic might begin to suspect those people and organizations of not really having any principles.

          • AG says:

            These kind of potshots are what was not helpful in the comment I responded to, and they aren’t helpful here.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Not only that, but I’m supposed to believe that a pedigree from the nation’s flagship institutions (Georgetown Prep, Yale College, Yale Law), the ones specifically geared towards turning out the very finest citizens, most worthy of public trust and acclaim, were in fact obviously turning out serial gang rapists.

          • meh says:

            Not only that, but I’m supposed to believe that a pedigree from the nation’s flagship institutions (Georgetown Prep, Yale College, Yale Law), the ones specifically geared towards turning out the very finest citizens, most worthy of public trust and acclaim, were in fact obviously turning out serial gang rapists.

            yes to this! our universities are definitely most worthy of public trust.

      • broblawsky says:

        It was definitely, definitely fake.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          At least she specified a time, date, and location. It would be possible to corroborate or falsify her story in a way Christine Ford’s could not be.

          • broblawsky says:

            Cheap shot. That’s beneath the intellectual quality I expect from someone who reads this blog.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ broblawsky

            Maybe he intended it as a pithy statement/cheap shot, but I didn’t read it that way.

            The reason conservatives were often frustrated with the Ford allegations was that there was no mechanism by which we even could differentiate truth from fiction. I see Conrad’s response here as positive and not taking a CW stance. He’s pleased that an allegation specified details that make it possible to confirm or deny it’s truthfulness, even when this episode is a black mark on his “tribe.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That was not a cheap shot. That was a legitimate concern.

            I read the statement from the Mueller accuser, and she listed the date (approximate?) and the location, a hotel bar in New York where Mueller was attending a law enforcement conference. This gives us things we could actually investigate:

            1) Did this conference take place? This should be easy to check.

            2) Did Mueller attend? Perhaps the conference has records of the attendees? You’d think someone of his stature would have been a speaker, even, or certainly remembered by the other attendees. If he did not attend, Mueller probably has his calendars and can show where he was, and perhaps credit card statements showing he was buying gas and dinner in De Moines that week instead.

            3) Was the accuser at this bar or frequently attend this bar as she claimed? She as well might have a credit card receipt from her drinks or meal, or at least statements showing she had a habit of attending this bar. It was alleged this happened only a few years ago. I can go on my bank’s website and get my credit card statements for the last 10 years instantly.

            So her claim was specific enough that it’s possible for Mueller to definitively falsify it if he was not at the conference, and possible to corroborate (which does not mean prove) the story by demonstrating that she and Mueller were at least in the same place at the same time.

            This was not the case for Ford, whose claim was so vague that it was unfalsifiable (with no time or location provided it’s impossible for Kavanaugh to prove he was somewhere else), nor was it corroborated by any other information.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      I saw this story, and I have to say that some of the details just aren’t adding up. I kinda suspect there was actually three different things that happened:
      1) These guys call women who they think have actually worked with Mueller and offer them money in exchange for making an accusation. This appears to have happened to Jen Taub, who reported the contact to the FBI without replying to the offer.
      2) Option 1 didn’t work, as the women didn’t want to commit perjury against a former FBI director. So they make up a fake woman, and dangle her in front of several mainstream journalists, hoping that they bite and run stories on it. Either the stories sound credible and make Mueller look bad, or they get run but are not credible, in which case these guys say “See! Don’t just believe any sexual assault story you hear!”.
      3) Option 2 doesn’t work either, because the reporters actually tried to confirm the story instead of blasting a poorly-sourced accusation out to everyone. So these guys decide to hold their own press conference announcing their fake woman’s accusation, hoping that the proximity to elections will buy them time and give Trump an excuse to fire Mueller. Except that various journalists had already started digging around during the second plot, and the FBI leaks that they’re investigating the first plot, so the story becomes “Idiots try to fake an accusation against Mueller” instead of “Credible accusation against Mueller”.

      Obviously this is all speculative. If it sounds like a plot from a Coen brothers movie, well, I’ve watched a lot of their movies.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Nooope, lots of people having a field day digging up other examples of Whol being an incompetent conartist, however.
      This, and the mail “bombs” are, I think, both examples of people “working towards the Kremlin”, Russia style (that is, doing things on their own recognizance because they think it will please the emperor), except Trumps followers include so very much stupid and crazy that the plots read like they come out of the onion writers room.

    • Deiseach says:

      The best sense I can make of this whole bizarre event is that this guy seems to be the Other Side version of Avenatti, with who knows what kind of goals going on. I haven’t dared try tune in to the Holiday Inn press conference because this is the season of Hallowe’en and that much reality warping is dangerous at such a time 🙂

    • dick says:

      The past month has spawned a few billion amateur essays on how simple and straight-forward and fool-proof it is to manufacture a false allegation of sexual harassment and get the mainstream media to take it at face value; the parsimonious explanation is that someone tried it out and found out it’s a little harder to do than advertised?

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s clearly not hard for someone who knew you in the past to make up a false accusation against you, as long as they’re accusing you of something that wouldn’t have left any evidence. That could be sexual assault, racist jokes, devil worship, anything.

        Coming up with someone willing to make such an accusation in public, with the whole Washington press corps digging into your story and your life, that sounds harder. If she had the chance to send advice back in time, I wonder if Ford would advise her past-self to go ahead and send that letter making the accusation–I suspect not.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        It’s much simpler to manufacture a false allegation of sexual harassment and get the media to take it at face value when the target is someone the media does not like, like Brett Kavanaugh, as opposed to someone they’re enraptured with, like Mueller.

        This person provided enough specifics (date, time, location) and it was recent enough and public enough that it should be easy to corroborate or falsify the accusation in a way it was not possible with the Ford accusations. But that would require the media to investigate Mueller, and while the media had no problem asking the most salacious questions of Brett Kavanaugh, they would never dare stoop to asking Mueller if he so much as knew the woman or attended the law enforcement conference where this is alleged to have happened.

        ETA: Oh, and I think it’s highly unlikely that Mueller is a rapist, just like it was highly unlikely that Kavanaugh is a rapist. But the media double standards are pretty obvious. Ford’s vague, unfalsifiable, uncorroborated accusations, while flanked by partisan hacks are “credible” and disqualify Kavanaugh. This woman’s specific, falsifiable accusations are unworthy of investigation for corroboration and she’s OBVIOUSLY a liar because she’s flanked by partisan hacks.

        • albatross11 says:

          I suspect you are right about this, but I can’t think of how we would check to be sure. I mean, what would evidence that we’re wrong look like, and where would we look for it?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Wrong about what, exactly?

            There’s a couple of assertions here:

            1) The media takes seriously accusations against people they don’t like, even when the evidence is non-existent and the story incredible. Examples: Kavanaugh, especially Swetnik’s claims about the gang rape parties. Trump and the Russian hooker pee-pee tape.

            2) The media does not take seriously / memory holes / covers up accusations against people they do like, even when real, official evidence exists. Examples: Keith Ellison, Bob Menendez. Counter example: Al Franken, but I would say that’s because it was at the height of #MeToo and there was undeniable photographic evidence. They were reluctantly forced to shuffle him off the stage.

            One of the big differences in the coverage is the way the media uses (or does not use) the event to drive other aspects of the news cycle. When a Republican is accused, every other Republican is hounded to either defend or denounce the accused so the media can report either “see, the accused is totes guilty, ‘Top Republican’ thinks so” or “‘Top Republican’ maligns brave Republican rape survivor.” But Corey Booker is stumping for Bob Menendez and nobody asks Corey, “so, what do you think about Bob and the underage Dominican hookers?”

            Insert the quote from LBJ about accusing his opponent of fornicating with pigs.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ albatross

            You would need a scenario very nearly identical to the comparison, but with the tribal identifiers switched. Mueller is a potential perfect example, but it’s n=1 and we aren’t sure of confounders. The right isn’t a big fan of blowing up accusations against prominent figures that do not have much empirical backing – so even connecting Mueller to this person in a public place means little to them. So whether this case matches our perfect test or not is hard to parse. Presumably the fringe right outlets would run the accusation purely for partisan reasons, but nobody cares.

            The left doesn’t have incentive to go after Mueller, so that might be our clue on partisanship. It might also just be the weakness of the allegations and the early and obvious falseness of a related one.

            So we would probably need a case that appears more grassroots, without any kind of obvious falsehood (completely unverifiable should be acceptable, and obviously anything better than that).

            I’d bet that partisanship has both sides quibbling over whether the situations are in fact similar, rather than accepting any individual case.

        • meh says:

          This was such a bad execution that I don’t think it shows falsifying allegations as hard or easy.

          But we have an answer to your accusation against the media… Wohl’s own site took down the story and is running away from it. They have fired him as well. That’s just how incompetent the execution was. The site is not a liberal or mainstream media outlet and even they are not investigating this.

          Your reasoning here is just so biased. The left has a much higher likelihood of eating their own (they are not 100% consistent, but are in general much more willing to hang their own, ie franken). Yes, you would be correct in saying that their threshold for evidence is much lower, but it is not zero. This allegation was just so poor. If there is a credible allegation out there, the media of course would run with it. I would bet on this.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, I agree this accusation was garbage. But so was Swetnik’s, and Ford’s was not much better and the media ate those up.

          • meh says:

            yeah, but those were at least real people, willing to go under oath. they ate it up, but at least it passed at least some small threshold… i’m not in a newsroom, but they must get lots of bs they would love to eat up, if only it had a sliver of believability. like how gatewaypundit wanted to eat up this acusation, which they did briefly, but then thought better.

            so sure a point can be argued about the media and ford/swetnik and allegations against people they like, etc. (as it has been), but don’t use this Wohl example to prove anything about it. It is making your argument weaker and look motivated and biased, because this clearly is an instance below the threshold of the ford/swetnik allegations.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Only because Mueller got out in front of it by saying they knew about phoney accusations coming from partisan hacks. Before the accuser could even speak her accusations the story was already about the hacks around her. She allegedly is a real person who was willing to make these claims until that happened.

            The media didn’t even bother looking at the people around Ford. They just referred to them as “her lawyers” without letting the audience know these are political partisans. One of her lawyers was even a former DoJ official who was with Peter Strozk during the “questioning” of Hillary Clinton about her email server, and was also Andrew McCabe’s lawyer. Everyone around Ford was the lawfare division of The Resistance. But the media pretended like they’re just neutral, concerned, compassionate lawyers who want to see justice served.

            The media goes like a laser after the people behind/around the Mueller accuser (correctly! These are partisan hacks!) and deflects all attention from the people behind/around the Kavanaugh accuser (incorrectly! These are partisan hacks!).

            Let’s either “take allegations of sexual misconduct seriously” and give a fair hearing to accusations put forward by hacks (which in this case would have been very easy, as her specific accusations are easy to check up on and therefore falsify), or let’s never hear that rhetoric again and it’s fair game to go after the hacks.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            If this person had come forward publicly, or come forward to an established media outlet who could protect her identity, I’d consider the allegations much more credible, and I’d be quite concerned. A major newspaper, The Hill, or Fox would count. As of right now, the only people supporting the claims are literal con men, and that makes me quite suspicious.

            I said in another thread that a woman saying she’d been raped should move the needle pretty strongly on people believing she’d been raped. I stand by that, but I’ll also note that right now the needle hasn’t moved much on whether a woman has actually claimed she’s been raped.

          • meh says:

            Only because Mueller got out in front of it

            My preference would be if every one who is accused would have gotten out in front of it as Mueller did (turn over information to the fbi to investigate). So yeah, I’m glad Mueller didn’t try to bury this… what would you have wanted him to do?

          • dick says:

            The suggestion that the Ford allegation and the Burkman allegation are similar enough to draw parallels is plainly absurd and you’re willfully ignoring obvious evidence of that. The suggestion that the media (including Fox!) ignores sex scandals against the left, ditto.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            You all seem to think I’m defending the Mueller accuser and the people around her. I’m not. I believe these people are frauds.

            What I’m saying is Ford and the people around her were also frauds and should have been treated the same way. The reasons you don’t think that are because of your biases, not mine, and because the media refused to look at the people around and behind Ford.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            Ford came forward publicly. That makes me much more likely to believe her. I don’t understand why you’re claiming that these cases are equivalent when there’s a massive differentiating factor.

          • albatross11 says:

            The Kavenaugh gangrape accusations don’t look to me to be a whole lot more solid than this bizarre attempted frameup/media trolling operation on Mueller. They were taken seriously in a lot of parts of the media during the confirmation debate. I don’t know whether that would also have happened to a controversial Democratic supreme court nominee. I don’t think we can get a very good read on the answer by looking at Franken (senate seat whose replacement would be appointed by a democrat) or Ellison (questionable accusation of domestic violence).

            I don’t remotely think that there’s some kind of conspiracy of liberal journalists to undermine conservatives with these kinds of stories. I *do* think that liberal journalists, like all other humans, are affected more than they think by their tendency to support their own side and see the other side as worse people, and by their desire for one side of a question to prevail for partisan reasons.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Ford came forward publicly. That makes me much more likely to believe her.

            If the media had immediately gone after Feinstein for the naked political stunt of waiting until days before the Kavanaugh vote to release the accusations, and if when they learned who her lawyers were derided them as partisan hacks, Ford would probably have thought better of her perjury. She would not have come forward then.

            If the media did not immediately expose Wohl et al. as the partisan hacks they are and instead treated the accuser with the softest of kid gloves as they did Ford, the Mueller accuser would have come forward and told her “story.”

            Partisan media and partisan hacks “on your side” tell you vague, contradictory, full of holes, unfalsifiable things you want to hear about your political enemies and you believe it.

            Partisan media and partisan hacks “on my side” tell a specific, falsifiable, perhaps verifiable story you don’t want to hear about your political ally and you immediately recognize the partisan chicanery, as do I.

            Which one of us here is blinded by bias?

          • meh says:

            partisan hacks “on your side” …

            Which one of us here is blinded by bias?

            I’m going go with the person who assumed someone was on a side because they gave an honest take on things that is contrary to their own view.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            Given that there is no accuser here to treat with kid gloves, I still don’t think the equivalence holds.

            Let’s say Feinstein gets ripped apart for her political hackery; you surmise that Ford doesn’t come forward. If that’s the case, I probably don’t believe the accusations, unless – MAYBE – a reputable media source vets her and keeps her anonymous.

            But she did come forward, and you’re asking me to treat Ford as if the other thing had happened. No, you’re asking me to pretend that she immediately goes underground and never talks about it again.

            That doesn’t make any sense.

            I feel like you’ve started from the premise that Ford was lying, worked out why she would have felt comfortable doing so, and then pattern-matched to the opposite circumstances here. Here’s my take.

            Chance that Feinstein makes this letter up on her own: 1%-ish. This is suicide if it comes out.

            Chance that Feinstein’s letter comes from a person who was actually raped, based only on the existence of the letter: 50%

            Chance that Feinstein’s letter comes from a person who was actually raped, if the person who wrote the letter is willing to come forward publicly: 80%

            Chance that Wohl makes this accusation up on his own: 90%.

            Chance that Wohl’s testimony, if he can produce it, comes from a person who was actually raped: 50%

            Chance that Wohl’s testimony comes from a person who was actually raped if that person is willing to come forward publicly: 80%.

            Chance that Fox news makes a story like this up on its own: 1%.

            Chance that any of this is true, given the conditions stated above: as above.

            Do you see what I’m getting at? Do you agree that there’s a fundamental difference between Feinstein and Wohl in terms of their trustworthiness in relating things that have actually happened? Because I feel like you’re accusing me of believing something else, or else you’re claiming that they’re actually equally trustworthy, and that I disagree because of bias. On the contrary, I think I have good reasons to disagree.

          • dick says:

            Partisan media and partisan hacks “on my side” tell a specific, falsifiable, perhaps verifiable story you don’t want to hear about your political ally and you immediately recognize the partisan chicanery, as do I. Which one of us here is blinded by bias?

            Which partisan media on your side is telling this story? I don’t see it on Fox News, or even Breitbart. Are they also blinded by bias? Meanwhile, Robert Mueller is a Republican hired by Republicans to investigate a Republican, and by some strange cooincidence he hasn’t found anything, and that makes him an ally of the left? You’re kind of off the reservation here man.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            We’re arguing in circles, but I think we all agree that this was extremely poorly done, and doesn’t prove or disprove anything about how easy it is to get a false rape accusation going as dick claimed.

            We don’t have the counterfactual worlds in which the media treated Ford worse or Wohl better to see what the reaction would have been.

            I’m just glad Robert Mueller is probably not a rapist.

          • meh says:

            I think we all agree that this was extremely poorly done, and doesn’t prove or disprove anything about how easy it is to get a false rape accusation going as dick claimed.

            What we don’t agree on is that the proper thing for Mueller to do when accused is to refer the matter to the fbi for investigation.

    • meh says:

      They are insufferable.

      They are mad Mueller referred the matter to the FBI (and somehow him telling the fbi about it became him ‘ordering’ the fbi). They kept saying along the lines of imagine if Donald Trump had ordered the FBI to investigate the accuser of the Kav case. Imagine the frenzy and the reaction!

      What world are they living in where they think the media would have been mad if Trump had ordered an FBI investigation?? And pretty telling they are upset about an investigation in their case.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      To me it reads as a 4channy prank that has succeeded.

    • BBA says:

      Jacob Wohl, one of the people behind whatever the hell this is, first entered the public spotlight in 2016 at the ripe old age of 18, claiming to be the world’s youngest hedge fund manager. Last year he set another record as the youngest person ever banned from the financial industry. Here’s one of the fraud rulings against him.

  10. DragonMilk says:

    Whole Foods

    My fiancee claims that the meat and fruit there is far better than other places, but I’m not sure if it’s psychological. Does anyone have a second opinion or care to confirm that their meat department offers higher quality cuts? I’d rather go to the nearby Stop & Shop, but am ok with paying a little more for now…

    What things, if any, do you get from Whole Foods over a different retailer?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      My dad likes getting organs there – chicken livers, mostly. He claims they’re better. That said, he doesn’t have access to avoid actual butcher, which he’d prefer. Not being a fan, I couldn’t tell you if it’s true. Their seafood is comparable rather than better. They do (or did – I hear they may have stopped since the Amazon acquisition) occasionally have local varieties of seasonal produce, which I like.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I’ve never shopped at Whole Foods, but I have a pretty strong prior against any claims like this (which is why I don’t shop at Whole Foods). See Penn and Teller on organic food and bottled water.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’m similarly skeptical of organic foods having any health benefits. On the other hand, “organic” food often codes for higher quality, since it’s a luxury good. (And locally-grown food is usually a lot tastier if it’s available–it didn’t have to survive a truck ride from California!)

        Bottled water is a huge convenience for me and my family–having a bunch of water bottles in the basement means that every time someone’s headed to the gym/soccer practice/a long walk, they can just grab one and have some water on the go. I’m pretty sure the cheap bottled water I buy is bottled from some city water supply somewhere, maybe run through a filter before bottling. But outside of Flint, MI, US city water supply is generally safe, so that’s fine with me.

        • Statismagician says:

          Genuine curiosity here, and I want to be transparent about the fact that my city is one of the ones which sells its water for bottling so I may be missing obvious reasons like ‘the local water tastes like sulfur’ – why not buy a reusable water bottle and re-fill it?

          • albatross11 says:

            Just convenience. We have and sometimes use refillable water bottles, but disposable water bottles are broadly more convenient–we don’t have to find a clean one and the matching cap, we don’t have to worry about bringing it home, can keep a few in my trunk[1] so my kids have something to drink when I take them to soccer practice, etc.

            [1] But not for long in the summer, because they’ll get a plastic flavor that can’t possibly be good for you.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I don’t know about albatross, but my dad has been buying Sam’s Club bottled water for years. It’s like 5-10 cents a bottle and is way more convenient than trying to rotate a bunch of bottles through. Keeping the bottles after use, in a clean environment, with the lid, is a bunch of small pains. Also, you don’t have to clean the bottles between uses, which is a big hassle.

            For people who pay for their tap water, there’s also a cost to filling the bottles, which is not high, but compared to super cheap bottled water, makes the whole process worthless.

            That said, I think $1+ bottles of water is incredibly stupid and wasteful.

          • SamChevre says:

            For my family, it’s both cheaper and easier to use disposable water bottles than refillable ones–so, basically, sheer laziness.

            Using refillable bottles means keeping track of the lids, not forgetting them at the park/kung fu/dance/etc, remembering to bring them in from the car and wash them so they don’t mold. ..and I can buy a giant pack of cheap bottled water for about the same price as a decent water bottle that won’t leak. Multiply by 5 kids, and it’s cheaper and easier to just buy bottled water.

          • Statismagician says:

            That all makes sense. I tend to just chug a glass of water whenever I pass by the sink rather than carrying around a water bottle, personally, and don’t have a great feel for the costs involved.

          • nkurz says:


            For my family, it’s both cheaper and easier to use disposable water bottles than refillable ones

            I guess the “easier” part could be true, but the “cheaper” seems like it must be false. Do you reclaim the deposit that you pay on each bottle? Instead of buying an expensive “reusable” water bottle, would it not work just to refill the disposable bottles that you are already have? If you lose the lid, you throw it away/recycle it as you already do, but it seems likely that with only a small change in mindset that you’d reduce your purchase rate by half.

            Rather than actually arguing for cheaper, I’d guess your real point is that the economic cost of buying bottled water strikes you as low enough to be ignored. Depending on your income and how much water you go through, perhaps this is true. Environmentally, though, I’d guess that a lifetime worth of bottles for 5 kids would make a surprisingly large pile, to the point where getting it down to just half the size would be a useful accomplishment.

          • SamChevre says:


            We frequently refill the disposable water bottles if they are intact.

            There are no deposits on water bottles in MA. There are bottle deposits for carbonated drinks, including beer, but not for water, milk, juice, wine, or liquor. (I know–it seems really random).

            And it’s not that the cost is low enough to ignore: its that it’s genuinely lower given our difficulty in keeping track of lids and keeping the bottles clean, and the high cost of buying one bottle of water because the water bottle you brought is entirely gross. Bottles water costs roughly $0.10 a bottle, and we buy a 4-dozen pack every month or so; a decent water bottle costs $5.00 and we seemed to need to replace one at least once a month.

          • albatross11 says:

            You’re right that I’m thinking in terms of total cost, including hassle.

            I don’t actually think disposing of plastic bottles is all that hard a problem. Around here, we recycle them. But even if you can’t, it’s not like landfills are all that hard to build. (They’re sometimes hard to build politically, but really, there’s a lot of unused land around.)

      • meh says:

        I’ve heard grass fed beef has benefits ( (but maybe not totally proven yet..?) While not the same thing, I find grass fed options more likely to be organic in large grocery stores.

        Also if you eat meat yet still care about animal welfare, whole foods explicitly gives welfare ratings:

    • albatross11 says:

      The Whole Foods near where I live tends to have much better produce than other grocery stores. You do pay for it, however.

    • Statismagician says:

      There happens to be a Whole Foods near my office and they’re much less horribly expensive since Amazon took over, so I stop there for incidental items fairly regularly – things I forgot last time I did a proper grocery-shopping trip, sudden dinner cravings, a bottle of wine, etc. I don’t notice any particular difference in meat/produce quality, but to be fair the two local grocery chains I go to for larger shopping runs are unusually good about that. Compared to e.g. Krogers or Giant, and as I recall, yes they’re a bit better, and more likely to have unusual items.

      Their prepared foods are in fact excellent, and a lot of the store brand items they carry are head and shoulders above their equivalents at other stores, to my mind at least.

    • arlie says:

      When my local Whole Foods was newly opened – well before it was bought by Amazon – it reliably had a broader selection of meats than any other local grocery store, and an even better selection of fish. I went there expecting to be able to get black cod, to get a variety of cuts of various not-very-exotic meats (lamb, pork), and various other things in neither frozen nor previously-frozen form. The local Nob Hill was briefly even better for organ meats, but currently neither one is any good for that.

      The cheese selection was also excellent – and still was at the point when they were bought by Amazon – but the local Nob Hill also does that very well. They’ve also been known to have a better selection of freshly baked bread, but seem to have given up on that; now the only thing I care about that only they carry is Challah – the only other chain store carying it locally carries only Challah that’s previously frozen. No chain grocery store reliably has a rye bread I like.

      This Whole Foods is also good for just-about-anything in bulk (much more selection, usually good prices), and for unusual ingredients for baking (multiple types of rye flour, gluten flour (you need that to make good breads with mostly non-wheat flours), every non-gluten flour substitute you’ve ever imagined, multiple types of molasses (e.g. blackstrap), etc. and if you are into e.g. variety in your probiotics, they can and will get just about anything. They also have (or had) the broadest selection of herb teas I know about in the area (but I still find myself ordering specific things online – it’s not as broad as my tastes ;-))

      They are also the best local source for exotica, such as butter made from goat’s milk.

      Other than that, half the store is full of over priced junk that isn’t even food – and of course they put that part in the center. And between the Amazon purchase, and my housemate referring to them as “Whole Paycheque”, I haven’t been there in a fair while. Things may have changed.

      [Addendum: good produce, and they clear out any that’s past its prime. You won’t find pre-composted fruit and veggies here, unlike the local Safeway. Nob Hill also promptly discards expired veggies, but the Whole Foods has a larger selection, and makes it easier to buy small quantities – Nob Hill too often wants to sell me a bag of 30 – no other size available for that specific fruit – with half sure to go off before a 2 person household can possibly eat them.

      They are also notable for having even their top shelves within reach of people under 6 feet tall. Locally, both Nob Hill and Safeway fail on that score, leaving many customers a choice between either asking a stranger for help, or balancing precariously on e.g. a stack of bags of water bottles… or buying something else entirely.]

    • The Nybbler says:

      If you’re comparing Whole Foods to the cheap stuff (e.g. “select” beef) from another supermarket, it’s going to be better. But its meat is ridiculously overpriced and not better than the USDA choice from other retailers, IME. Though some of those other retailers in my area have raised their prices to WF levels, so…

      What things, if any, do you get from Whole Foods over a different retailer?

      A lighter wallet. There’s a reason it’s often called “Whole Paycheck”. The other retailer in my area with the high prices is King”s, which is “King’s Ransom”.

    • lvlln says:

      Why not try a little double blind experiment? Find a friend to buy some equivalent meat/fruits from Whole Foods and Stop & Shop. Then you receive the ingredients labeled just A & B and prepare them the same way. Then your fiancee judges the results. Do a few trials of this and see if your fiancee consistently rates the Whole Foods versions as better.

      Even a single-blind version where you do the shopping and preparation could work, though obviously you might be subconsciously motivated to do a poorer job of preparing the Whole Foods versions (and vice versa if your fiancee does it with you as the judge).

      It seems like it’d be a fun activity to do either with your fiancee or with your fiancee and friends.

    • AG says:

      My palate isn’t sophisticated enough to differentiate high quality ingredients (it gets vastly outweighed by the quality of the cooking). But I get better prices from farmer’s markets or Asian retail places on produce.

      For meat, I’ve actually found that Grocery Outlet ain’t bad, because they can get deals on stuff from premium suppliers for bargain bin prices, since it’s excess product they couldn’t offload to the usual retailers. It does mean that I can’t rely on any particular product being there at any given time, though. This also applies to produce at the dollar stores. I’ve gotten blackberries and blueberries at amazing prices, cheap chopped veggies to save me so much prep time, but also rarer produce like coconut, guava, or nopales.
      Costco is also pretty good, so long as you’re okay with the bulk quantities.

      Apparently, Aldi is expanding in the US. Otherwise the grocery-focused retail (Safeway, Albertson’s, Tom Thumb, Kroger, etc.) are fine.

      And then there’s also Trader Joe’s to compete directly with Whole Foods’ niche.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Trader Joe’s has items that compete with bargain retailers, like wine, beer and coffee. They’re not just a Whole Foods clone.

      • Nornagest says:

        Trader Joe’s has a very different model from Whole Foods. They target superficially similar demographics, but Trader Joe’s is much further downmarket (unless you want to buy meat that isn’t sausage or bulk chicken) and focuses more on prepared foods, packaged goods, and cheap staples: you’re not going to find two-buck Chuck at Whole Foods. They’re also owned by Aldi, and most of their stuff is rebranded Aldi goods.

    • Nornagest says:

      I used to go to Whole Foods a fair amount when I lived a block away from one. They have a decent (if overpriced) produce section, but what makes it decent is the variety, not the quality: anything you can get there is going to be the same stuff you can get in the organic section anywhere else, and these days even Safeway’s got an organic section. (Not that I’d shop at Safeway, but that’s another complaint.)

      The one I went to had an underwhelming meat selection, but a pretty good fish department and the best cheese selection of any grocery store I’ve frequented.

    • gbdub says:

      There aren’t any Whole Foods super convenient to me, but even if it were more convenient I wouldn’t visit it often.

      My main grocery store is Fry’s (an AZ exclusive Kroger affiliate) and they’ve really stepped up their game recently with a new store near me that added a lot of Whole Foods-like options: a dedicated cheese counter, expanded beer and liquor selection, an in-store bar offering beer/wine and growler fills, more bulk foods, and a much larger prepared foods section (including some cooked-to-order options). They have a “premium” version of their store brand that offers more specialized options (e.g. you can get Kroger “medium chunky salsa” or you can get Private Selection “fire roasted corn and chipotle salsa”), on par with the Whole Foods store brand. All of it is pretty good quality and at this point I’d only want to go to Whole Foods if I were an organic-anti-GMO-evangelist.

      The main upshot of this new store is the breadth of options – the high end isn’t quite as good as Whole Foods, but the overall variety is much larger particularly at the “cheap staples” end of the scale, which is always a place where Whole Foods lacked. And of course the equivalent foods are priced quite a bit lower.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Fred Meyer (Kroger of Oregon, Washington & Alaska) is like that too, except for the in-store bar. Hot and cold prepared foods with a lunch counter, large wine and beer selection (it’s illegal for retail businesses to sell liquor in Oregon – that’s the state’s job), even growlers in the most hipster neighborhoods along with a cheese counter, sushi bar, a young male greeter wearing a suit and pomade in his hair…

    • Aapje says:


      A major factor in the quality of fruit is freshness, which means that the number of customers for the fruit matters a lot. In my country, the best fruit can be found at the cheapest supermarket (Lidl), because they have many customers and they only stock the more popular kinds of fruit.

      So I’d expect Whole Foods to have better fruit if they have more customers who buy fruit than the other supermarket(s) near you.

  11. vV_Vv says:

    Continuing this thread from the previous OT, a wild speculation: are Japan’s fertility problems and the related unusual male behavioral patterns (e.g. hikikomori, herbivore men) caused by an unusual level of plastic pollution? Various plastics are known to release xenoestrogens upon breakdown in the environment.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Wouldn’t soy be more likely?

      • Thegnskald says:

        Environmentalists who hate plastic blame plastic. People annoyed by environmentalists who hate plastic and eat soy blame soy. MRAs who are concerned about the decline of local male role models blame the lack of local male role models. People who are concerned about genetic load blame that.

        My personal guess is that it is a mess of factors, probably including lack of sunlight, which all amount to “Low physical stress environment”. That is, things like testosterone levels are sensitive to environmental factors telling the body to crank up production, and we have systematically eliminated all those factors because they tend to correlate with “Unpleasant environment”.

        Ingested hormones looks unlikely to me. But if you feel that way, you should probably only eat animals that are the same sex as you are. And maybe men should eat more animal testicles. That just looks like sympathetic magic, though.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Ingested hormones looks unlikely to me. But if you feel that way, you should probably only eat animals that are the same sex as you are.

          Probably wouldn’t help, since male meat animals are generally castrated. Also apparently US and Canadian beef cattle are given implants with hormones, including estrogen-like ones. These supposedly aren’t “orally active”, but that’s just what the beef industry says. Japanese beef cattle are not.

          • Thegnskald says:

            That’s why you should step up your testicle consumption, if you believe in that. They’re supposed to be pretty tasty; I would assume they are cheap, as well, but have no idea where to buy them to find out.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That’s why you should step up your testicle consumption

            SSC quote of the week right there.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I am already sufficiently manly; any manlier and it’d be grounds for a sexual harassment complaint.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Thinking about it, if oral hormones are effective in changing body chemistry, does modern ranching, including factory farming, involve higher rates of castration than historical ranching? Reducing available male hormones might be sufficient in itself.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m fairly sure castration of meat animals is traditional practice.

          • Skivverus says:

            They’re supposed to be pretty tasty; I would assume they are cheap, as well, but have no idea where to buy them to find out.

            Not sure off the top of my head either, but can confirm that bullfries are pretty tasty, and you should be able to find them in the midwest. (Might also be able to find them online, but not particularly inclined to search; they were not sufficiently different from chicken strips to pique further interest)

          • Basil Elton says:

            Can proteins as complex as hormones survive cooking? Well, not counting bloody steaks and sashimi.

          • Aapje says:

            What about hormones in dairy? Asians have started consuming a lot more dairy products.

      • vV_Vv says:

        As funny as the soyboy meme is, no.

        East Asians have been eating soy for thousands of years without any fertility or masculinity problem. The Japanese were hyper-masculine up to WW2.

        Maybe all the masculine men died a heroic death in battle and the current Japanese descend from the anxious, weak, risk-averse men who were either deemed unfit for service or somehow managed to avoid combat? Or it’s plastic turning the frogs gay Japanese otaku.

        • AG says:

          Funnily, the Japanese are actually now recording that people are getting bigger because of meat and dairy being so much more available (and so more a part of the normal diet of the newer generations), so if the soy theory had any credibility, we should be seeing a rise in masculinity from WW2 on.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Nope, it is mostly related to doing gender norms in the stupidest way possible.

      Women are free to have careers and independence as long as they are childless, but there is enormous pressure to be a stay at home mother and give up your career as soon as you have children.
      Fathers, meanwhile, are expected to work insane hours to support their family.

      This means that the choice facing Japanese women is
      a: Be an office lady. The hours are long, but the work is not hard, and you socialize at work.
      b: Be a mother, and be financially dependent on a man you never ever see anyway. And also, shockingly often, do not sleep with. 40% of japanese marriages are sex-less!

      Mostly, they pick (a) due to not being idiots.

      The choice facing men is a: Stay single.. which is.. a whole lot like choice (a) for the women.
      (b): Be a father, which is a whole lot like choice (a) except you are expected to just hand over your paycheck to your wife and let her run the entirety of the household finances.

      So men mostly also pick option a. Due to not being idiots.

      The norms about sex are also extremely daft, and in need of a good sexual revolution. Lets just say there is a reason for those sexless marriages.
      And finally, – which, I suppose, we can blame on the insane work-weeks, there is just shockingly few spaces for Japanese people to socialize outside of work, full stop.

  12. AG says:

    Wow, somehow there were zero results for an “index” search in the “Sort by Controversial” comments.

    Money and inventory are 1-based indexing. Your fingers and toes are 1-based indexing. “Number of things in the box = index +1” is stupid, and no one would stand for it if the Amazon interface (quantity of things in this product, quantity of products in the cart, amount you are paying) had such unnecessary steps, just like the fact that sales tax doesn’t get added until the receipt stage is also stupid.

    • Statismagician says:

      Sorry, could you unpack this a bit?

      Also, yes, whoever it is at the Evil Retailers Lobbying Firm who keeps the sales tax step separate should be fired. Out of a cannon, into the Sun. Similarly with the Evil Tax-Preparation Lobbying Firm who keeps the IRS from just sending us all a bill in the mail.

      • AG says:

        It’s a shitpost about how no one brought up 1-based indexing vs. 0-based indexing as a potential Scissor Statement in the “Sort by Controversial” comments. Given that a majority of them likely are professional programmers, they probably all tend towards favoring 0-based indexing already. But watching the argument elsewhere is always fun, so I though it would be interesting to see how it happens here.

        As for the link between sales tax and indexing, the annoying non-intuitional thing about 0-based indexing to most any person being introduced to it is that in order to find out how many elements are in an array, you query for the index of the last element, and then have to add 1. That’s like how in US retail, you get the subtotal price on the price tag (the index value), but you have to add the tax (the plus 1 to offset the 0 index) yourself, instead of the price tag/index simply matching the actual price/quantity, as is intuitional for counting things.

        The year 19xx/20th century disconnect is a counter-example. 0-based indexing makes more sense for measuring distance or time (continuous values), but I don’t feel that arrays also fall into that category, as arrays are clearly more of a discrete values thing.
        And for that matter, all programming should be fundamentally a discrete values thing, what with the binary, and therefore should be 1 based indexing, says a non-programmer. 😛

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’ll bite. Is there such a thing as a programmer who prefers 1-based indexing for general programming? Not just for mathematical/statistical languages?

          • Walter says:

            In general, you are stuck with 0 based counting, cuz the programmers who came may never be questioned.

            But, like, if you are looking over into an alternate universe where you didn’t have to adjust by 1 every time you compared the index to the count? Sure. Who wouldn’t bite?

          • AG says:

            VBA gives you the ability to use 1-based indexing, so draw implications about Microsoft and their userbase as such.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I prefer 0 based indexing. More specifically, I prefer that -other- programmers use 0-based indexing.

            There is already too much distance between “How things actually work” and “The way things are written”.

            My opinion is biased by the fact that I spend a lot of my time fixing errors created by people who don’t understand the way things work. I am pretty much the guy, when it comes to making inefficient things efficient.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            In general, you are stuck with 0 based counting, cuz the programmers who came may never be questioned.

            Well, no we’re stuck with zero-based counting because at the instruction level that’s most efficient. Your array pointer holds the address of the first element, so when you use the indexing addressing mode, the offset is 0. If you want it to be 1 instead you either need to waste additional instructions to subtract 1 from the offset instead, or additional hardware in the CPU to subtract 1 every time you use that addressing mode. That’s a waste of transistors.

          • AG says:

            Aha, a hardware-based explanation for 0-based indexing! See, if that was more publicized, this debate would probably go away.

            But just as embedded programming has become less of a thing because of the abundance of resources, just how much of a hit in inefficiency is occurring for a 1-based indexing program on the scale of an OS? Is brute-forcing over that gap viable (while bleeding-edge tier applications would likely maintain that efficiency edge)?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Not really, no. It would be trivial to have the compiler or interpreter translate the index into the index-1 the processor needs. But it would be very slightly less efficient.

            From the address of the start of the array the offset to the address of the first element is zero. Wanting it displayed as a 1 in your human-readable code is basically an arbitrary preference. It sort of makes sense for mathematical languages like MATLAB or something where you’re using mathematical notion, and [1,1] is the first element of the first row of a matrix. But programming is not mathematics, so there’s no reason to use mathematical notion for a programming concept.

          • nkurz says:

            just how much of a hit in inefficiency is occurring for a 1-based indexing program on the scale of an OS

            Contrary to Conrad, I’d argue that there is very little hardware reason to prefer zero-based indexing. For current CPU’s, the indexing is part of the “addressing mode”, no additional instructions are required, and the extra transistors are already required for the cases where this optimization is necessary. On Intel (at least), there is no visible penalty for accessing a fixed +/- 2048B offset from the base pointer. In contrived microbenchmark you might be able to see a 1 cycle additional latency from L1, but on an OS level this would be lost in the noise. Code-size might be measurably different, but since compilers already rewrite loop variables to optimize other factors, I’m not even sure which way this would go. So while I prefer 0 indexing, at least for full sized modern processors, I don’t think there is a valid hardware argument to be made.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That’s only true if your processor has a base plus index plus offset addressing mode, which means that it already has the hardware required to do the subtraction. By default the compiler would just fill the offset part of the instruction word with all 1s. But there are plenty of microcontrollers and the like which don’t have that addressing mode.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There have to be a few FORTRAN and COBOL people left. Also the quite new “Lua”.

            Anyway, inventory is not 1-based or 0-based. It’s based on some weird inventory control number that has some huge number of digits, sometimes with outright leading zeroes, and sometimes a non-zero prefix with a bunch of zeroes in the middle which will never be anything else. And that’s when its actually numeric and not some base-34ish code with letters and stuff.

          • Lancelot says:

            Not really, no. It would be trivial to have the compiler or interpreter translate the index into the index-1 the processor needs. But it would be very slightly less efficient.

            Why would it be even slightly less efficient, considering that the compiler or interpreter is able generate exactly the same code?

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I can’t see how it would be any different–the compiled code would be the same.

          • skef says:

            Any explanation only in terms of computation expense seems strained to me. To treat access to the initial element differently you would have to test for access with zero, which has its own expense. If doing that is out of the picture, you could achieve 1-based indexing by conventionally pointing just behind the first element rather than at it. Sure, that requires a subtraction on initialization and perhaps destruction, but those operations tend to have high fixed costs anyway.

            As a means of understanding why programming language designers tended to prefer 0-based indexing, I find it most useful to look at C, and in particular its duality between array addressing and pointer arithmetic. Array notation in C is basically a shorthand for a pointer arithmetic expression. Add 1 to a pointer, and the result increases according to the size of the object pointed to, in virtue of the pointer’s type. Which syntax you use depends mostly on whether you want to access the object or have a pointer to it, although these can also be exchanged.

            1-based indexing looks more attractive now because of the general acceptance of higher levels of abstraction. For anyone working at both a language-level and peering into the hardware-level representation, 0-based is going to be more straightforward.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Why would it be even slightly less efficient, considering that the compiler or interpreter is able generate exactly the same code?

            Because then the compiler or interpreter is working (very slightly) harder.

            At the end of the day, the offset from the address of the array to the address of the first element is zero. If you want it to look like a 1 in the human readable code, something somewhere is doing additional work, purely to satisfy your arbitrary indexing preference. You might as well say you want to access the first element of your array at myarray[A], and the second at myarray[B]. You can do that! But you’re doing additional work for no reason when you could just recognize the index represents an offset from the start of the array, so the first element is located at 0 offset.

          • dodrian says:

            Why don’t we use JavaScript, python, or any language that implements dictionaries, then we can index from 1 by converting each number to a string before storing its associated value.

            myarray['1'] = a
            myarray['2'] = b
            myarray['3'] = c


          • toastengineer says:

            I’ve worked in languages that use 1-based indexing (Lua) and can confirm that it is in fact a pain in the ass. Sure, you don’t have to do the “max index = count – 1” thing, but it comes with a million other annoyances that more than make up for it.

        • CatCube says:

          Part of the disconnect about year numbering/century start is that year numbering isn’t intended to be continuous–it’s intended to be ordinal.

          That is, the original way of talking about the year would have had the year of Jesus’ (notional*) birth as “the Year of our Lord the first”. That is, this is the first year in which Jesus has been incarnated. Similarly, the next would be the Year of our Lord the Second. Given that, you can see why there was no year zero. Calling the year before the Incarnation as the “Year of our Lord the Zeroth” is meaningless if you’re talking about the year as a discrete thing–hence, the first year before Christ is 1 BC.

          We use this locution all the time when talking about people. If somebody told you their kid had a rash in his “first year”, they’d understand that to mean, well, the first year of his life, between ages 0 and 1.

          Fun fact: the US uses the ordinal system for its own calendar in some formal documents, such as presidential proclamations and military commissions. For example, yesterday President Trump issued a proclamation for Native American Heritage month, which ends: “IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
          thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-third.” That 243rd will remain so until July 4th of next year, when it will become the 244th.

          *I’m aware of the error and taking the originally-intended meaning of the year numbering as a given for the sake of argument.

          • albatross11 says:

            In his book _Human Accomplishment_, Charles Murray introduced the notation of using negative numbers for BC/BCE and positive numbers for AD/CE, with the noted caveat that there wasn’t a year 0 in there. It made the writing a lot easier to read once you got used to it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It made me feel really good to know that President Obama was issuing proclamations mentioning Lord Jesus Christ even though the white part of his base would consider it “cringe.”

        • Statismagician says:

          Thanks – I mostly use SAS, which is abstracted enough that the issue rarely comes up.

      • CatCube says:

        I’ll fight you about the sales tax thing. I want to see what I’m paying in tax, and consider any attempt to roll it in to the headline price as the worst kind of “hide the true cost” imaginable.

        This is already a problem in gas sales, where people don’t know that they’re paying between $0.35 and $0.67 in taxes per gallon (depending on state)*. Expanding that ignorance is a step in the wrong direction.

        *NB: I don’t have a problem with the level of taxation at the low end of those numbers. My objection is that people don’t know they’re paying them.

        • AG says:

          I have no issues with noting the price components on the tags. “This T-shirt is $15 subtotal and $1 tax” would be a dream.
          Most food price tags already include per-ounce/per count type breakdowns, which is nice. More info is good.

        • Statismagician says:

          This is trivially solved by keeping the tax as a line item on the receipt as it is now, and just putting the total price on labels instead of the pre-tax price.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            That works for a particular tax jurisdiction, but would not work across them, since the rates are usually different. Most item labels are applied prior to showing up to the store for efficiency purposes, as that would be quite inefficient at the individual store level.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            You are proving too much. This is handled by retailers in the EU trivially, by having price signage on the shelf, not the merchandise. All the goods have on them is a barcode and the legally mandated nutritional information. (Putting up the signage is done with a hand-scanner/printer gizmo. )

          • Nornagest says:

            All the goods have on them is a barcode and the legally mandated nutritional information.

            This is true in the States, too. A few items have an MSRP on them, but most don’t, probably to allow more pricing flexibility (the same item might cost half again as much in a Whole Foods as in a discount grocery).

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I believe we are talking about different things. I should clarify that I am talking about retail, primarily clothing. You appear to be talking about food?

            I would agree that food price labels appear to be separate from the items themselves and applied at the store level.

          • Lambert says:

            Multiple prices on a label isn’t at all difficult.
            Prices Including/Excluding Value Added Tax are common in shops that sell to both trade and individuals.
            And plenty of international brands have a table of different currencies and prices on them. (£x, €y, z Dollarydoos, etc.)

          • AG says:

            In the US, clothing, books, and chips are the things off the top of my head with prices printed on the packaging. The latter two tend to get overwritten by a shelf-label price tag at the store, and some clothing stores also still overwrite the price tag with rack LED display prices.

            Most all items that get stores on shelves in retail (food, decor, electronics, appliances) have tags applied locally by the POG team.

            Also, price tags are already frequently overwritten whenever sales occur, or when products move to clearance.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            the same item might cost half again as much in a Whole Foods as in a discount grocery

            After I read Tim Harford asserting the opposite, I paid attention for a few years, and it seemed to me that identical items are just as likely to be cheaper at Whole Foods. (But not systematically cheaper.)

          • CatCube says:

            I keep seeing that we can “handle” this by not putting price info on the merchandise, and then we can put an arbitrary amount of information on the shelf tag. When I worked in a grocery store in Michigan, you had to label all the items. You had a little label gun, you read the price off the shelf and set your gun, then priced all of the items in the box before shelving it. Having more than one piece of information (i.e., both total price and tax) on the label would be a pretty severe additional burden on the stocking crew. Now, it’s possible that this requirement has changed in the 15 years since then, but in at least one jurisdiction, at one point in time, adding a pile of separate info to provide was a hardship.

            I also, admittedly, still have a great deal of difficulty understanding why treating the tax as a separate line item is anything other than trivial. I think I was in about 4th grade when I learned you needed to add 7 cents for every dollar of items you were buying, so I’m baffled that people see this as some hardship.

          • AG says:

            @Catcube: Your experience is very different from mine. The only items in the Target I worked at that got individual tags (as opposed to shelf-only labels) would be clearance stickers.

            Big box retailers like Target and Walmart have intermittent “find out the price!” scanners in the store because if an item is mis-shelved a customer may need to verify the price, since it’s not on the product itself.

            And as I said before, prices are continually updated for products anyways as sales come and go, so even in the case where items are individually priced, it would happen anyways.

            The solution would be on the tech side, of the label printer auto-calculating the tax number to add to the value, as the user inputs price. But that’s already assuming a very low-tech system, compared to the standard today where you scan the product barcode with the PDT and automatically get all of the info needed. No manual user input necessary.

      • bean says:

        I’m of mixed opinions about the tax thing. On one hand, the retailers will point out that in the US, with its seven zillion sales tax jurisdictions, they can’t possibly hope to label everything with the relevant sales tax. Particularly because some states waive sales tax for people from other states. (This is idiotic, and really annoying to the store employees who have to implement it.)

        On the other hand, when I was in Singapore, which does roll in the tax, it was incredibly nice to be able to just look at, say, a menu, count out exact change, and hand it over. I’d implement it at places like fast food who can do it without needing to relabel a huge amount of stock and where you’re likely to be buying only a few things, so counting exact change is practical.

        Also, abolish the penny.

        • AG says:

          Price tags are already applied locally. A can of beans costs different things across different cities in California, much less in a different state. So they’re already doing that level of customization.

          Yeah, the first time I bought stuff from the grocer’s in Europe while on vacation, I explained to my friend like 3 times that there was no sales tax, so we only had to pay what would be the subtotal in the US. She was amazed. “Wha….the shelf price said this salad is only 3 Euros, and now I only have to pay 3 Euros at the cashier? What magic is this?”

          (And then there was restaurant payment, where not only do you not have to worry about sales tax, you also don’t have to wait until the receipt to calculate tip on a post-tax total, since tipping is rare!)

    • achenx says:

      There are two types of people:

      1. People who use 1-based indexing.
      1. People who use 0-based indexing.

  13. Conrad Honcho says:

    Self-driving car trolley problem solutions by country.

    The Japanese sure are civic-minded, but China, what the hell?

    • Unsaintly says:

      I took this test using a very simple logic:
      1 – Take the option resulting in the fewest human deaths. If there is a tie then
      2 – Do not intervene (the thought being that a car behaving predictably can be avoided easier by pedestrians)

      It picked up on those two rules, but assigned a bunch of other judgements to me as well, such as strongly preferring to save old people rather than children, or saving men over women. Regardless of how I would personally feel about the relative value of these groups, I ignored them for the purposes of the test and just followed two two rules above.

      This has lead me to not trust the results of the test even more than I normally would for something like this. It seems that it very frequently results in false positives (and not in the same direction. I took the test again and got different biases)

      • DavidS says:

        This is really helpful input!

        It’s possible (and in line with good methodology) that the cases are randomised so that population level trends still tell you something even if individual ones are skewed?

      • Ghillie Dhu says:

        My logic was quite different:
        0: Only humans count (there were pets in some scenarios)
        1: Save passengers (I’m not handing my life over to a machine which will trade it off for others)
        2: Prefer to hit those who are violating a traffic rule over those obeying them (a meta-level predictability; pedestrians wouldn’t need to observe each vehicle)

    • Guy in TN says:

      The strangest finding to me, was that east Asian cultures are the least likely to favor swerving and hitting less people, as opposed to not swerving and hitting more people. Am I reading this right?

      The authors speculate on why western cultures would favor hitting less people (“individualism”, which doesn’t make much sense, but okay). But this is the less interesting question from my perspective. I’m curious why east Asian cultures would favor hitting more people, which seems totally counter-intuitive, based on my prior understanding of differences in western and eastern culture.

      From people I’ve talked to in the US who favor not swerving, they typically base this on some type of deontological morality, usually tied to religious beliefs. But Japan and China are far less religious than western countries, and I would have suspected their ethics would have leaned towards utilitarianism, which I can’t see easily rationalizing not-swerving. Is it the social shame involved?

      I’m still not sure I’m not just misunderstanding the study.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        From people I’ve talked to in the US who favor not swerving, they typically base this on some type of deontological morality, usually tied to religious beliefs.

        How about “the car should behave predictably so others can react accordingly”? With a side of “these scenarios are spherical-cow-in-a-vacuum grade bogus”

        • John Schilling says:

          Yeah, for a combination of pragmatic, legal, and non-consequentialist ethical reasons, the actual algorithms are going to basically never swerve into a known collision, but brake to a stop as quickly as possible within the current lane and swerve if and only if that is assured to collide with nothing. And to keep the speed down to a level where the robocar can stop safely in the current lane, barring an incursion that is officially Someone Else’s Fault.

          But if I have to answer a poll, I’m going to role-play a Lizardman Cultist who expects to receive divine favour in proportion to the number of sacrifices I can offer to the Trolley Gods.

      • Skivverus says:

        I’m curious why east Asian cultures would favor hitting more people, which seems totally counter-intuitive, based on my prior understanding of differences in western and eastern culture.

        It’s not (necessarily) a matter of favoring hitting more people; I read it as “caring about the number of people less, and the qualities of the people more”. E.g., “one innocent vs. a dozen criminals, swerve to hit the criminals”, but with “innocent” and “criminal” replaced by attributes actually mentioned in the study.

        • Guy in TN says:

          See, this is where I was wondering if I was misunderstanding the study. There are two separate questions:
          1. The classic trolley problem, i.e. is it better to actively kill one person to save two, or to passively let two people die
          2. The question of how the factor of “number of people” compares to other factors in your moral formula, as explained in your post above

          So when the author says that western counties “placed a stronger emphasis on sparing more lives given all the other choices”, I don’t know whether they are talking about question 1 or 2.

          It could be that east Asian cultures are more likely to pull the switch in the trolley problem, and simultaneously also more likely to devalue the number of people compared to other qualities. Its unclear without access to the main dataset.

    • toastengineer says:

      And this is your monthly reminder that the real answer is “the car doesn’t know any of this anyway, upon detecting a stationary obstacle it will apply the brakes and stay in its lane.”

  14. Zephalinda says:

    I’m looking for some punchy, just thoroughly engaging and expertly crafted science fiction or fantasy short stories with mainstream appeal– basically, the kind of thing that will make it into the student anthologies alongside Poe and O.Henry decades from now.

    Shorter would be better. Ted Chiang is probably just a hair on the too-cerebral side. Can any SFF folks share recommendations?

    • AG says:

      My stance for a long time has been “the cultural equivalent of those things are now produced in other mediums.”

      Like “Batman: Killing Joke,” or that All-Star Superman excerpt that everyone loves where he helps a teen on the verge of committing suicide by jumping.
      Or a particular one-off TV episode, like Buffy’s “Once More With Feeling”, or iconic single installments from anthology series like The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror.
      Even certain viral videos may apply, like the section of The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo from which “Sometimes… Things That Are Expensive… Are Worse” comes from, or how the opening skit of Letterkenny has been excerpted into a thing passed around the internet. (Apologies, these aren’t genre.)
      It might not apply, in that there’s no pre-scripted narrative, but a surprising number of media critics have written in depth on the McElroys’ Monster Factory, including an observation that these kinds of shows have become the new “appointment consumption” media that reading used to occupy.

      Perhaps some of the short stories our host has created?

    • SamChevre says:

      Does it have to be current?

      The ones I would think of are older, and some I think I’ve seen in anthologies already. In no particular order, below:

      Nightfall, Asimov
      Report on the Barnhouse Effect, Vonnegut
      The Nine Billion Names of God, Clarke
      Superiority, Clarke
      Flowers for Algernon, Keyes
      The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Le Guin

      Nightfall and Nine Billion Names are in my list of “stories with the most memorable closing line”.

    • AG says:

      I think it’s very difficult to get to “punchy, just thoroughly engaging and expertly crafted” short story while also doing thorough world-building from the ground up, which is why it’s much more difficult to do so with fantasy or science fiction.
      With super soft world-building, you either rely on well-known cliches and tropes of the genre, and so are basically writing serial-number-filed-off fanfiction, or you have something that is only speculative fiction because it isn’t set in our world/history, but there are no specific speculative mechanisms at play. For example, Omelas is often paired for required reading with The Lottery, but the latter isn’t genre by whim of the author, and Omelas could easily be retooled to be a non-genre piece.
      And then hard world building squeezes out one of “punchy” or “engaging” when it also has to tack on a narrative, and so easily fall under “too cerebral,” or would be better off as a non-fiction article.

      But still, Cory Doctorow’s written some short stories that might work. Pratchett, too.

  15. Uribe says:

    Is there any possibility that a civilization existed on Earth a hundred million years ago?

    I’m thinking some species of dinosaur that developed big brains, used tools, developed language and domesticated crops and/or animals?

    What are the reasons for believing this couldn’t have happened?

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      It’s quite possible, at least up to a certain level of technology. For that timescale, the level of technology may even be higher than our own, possibly minus nuclear technology. I’ve heard of it before, but I can’t remember the timescale for the (obviously artificial) radiation levels to diminish.

      The biggest reason to doubt it is also the most obvious. They went away and left no visible sign. One would have to posit a mechanism by which this previous civilization is completely gone, as well as adjust all of our theories about the evolution of life to incorporate the existence of a smart species that we don’t currently see. It seems more of an Occam’s razor response to say that it’s more likely they never existed, than that they existed and there is zero trance (genealogical, fossil records) that indicate an advanced species existed. At the level of basic agriculture and domestication of animals, for that timescale? There could have been dozens of distinct civilizations in the 100 million years you posited, but that requires expanded theories without much basis to conclude.

    • nkurz says:

      It’s definitely been suggested. It’s even been suggested that because of the time scales involved, the best place to look for evidence is on the moon:

      Does anyone have a link to the referenced paper: McKay 1996, “Time for intelligence on other planets”? I searched a bit for it, but couldn’t find the full text.

    • proyas says:

      It’s incredibly unlikely. If they existed, why haven’t we found fossils of big-brained dinosaurs with stone arrowheads lying next to them?

      • Nornagest says:

        Fossils in general are pretty rare; a lot of dinosaur species are described from single bones or from very partial skeletons. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if we’d missed e.g. a big-brained troodont lineage, especially if it was only extant for a couple million years. But I think we would have found at least the stone arrowheads themselves: they’re the sort of thing that should preserve well, and they ought to be a lot more common than the species that made them.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          IIRC, the Hell Creek formation Troodontids are known from nothing but teeth. It also shows a dramatic reduction in biodiversity compared to earlier Cretaceous deposits. Angiosperms are >90% of the flora. Triceratops, Edmontosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Ankylosaurus, and T. rex together comprise something like 99% of megafauna fossils, and as noted smaller animals are typically known from teeth only.
          All we’re missing to demonstrate Troodontids practicing agriculture is their stone tools. 🙂

          • Basil Elton says:

            And their graveyards. Fossils are pretty rare unless the species to whom the fossils belong lives in the permanent settlements with huge population density (compare to the natural density for a species of this size) and therefore has to deal with piles of corpses, by either burying them, or burning them and than burying bones. Presumable in more or less the same place over the course of many generations.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            How do we know the rate at which bones in graveyards or tombs fossilize rather than biodegrading to nothing? Also, lots of human cultures don’t use them. Cremation and sending bodies to the sea deprive us of certain types of knowledge that tomb-building cultures give us. So does eating your dead ancestors.

          • John Schilling says:

            Preindustrial cremation doesn’t completely destroy bone, and the remaining bone fragments are clearly recognizable as having been cremated. So if someone stumbles across a Cretacious Crematorium, that’s going to be a strong indicator of intelligence at work.

            And preindustrial burial at sea tends to leave bodies in silty, shallow areas of the sea floor that I think are pretty good for fossil creation and which often turn into another era’s dry land via a hundred million years of plate tectonics.

          • My problem with this line of discussion is that it assumes that an intelligent species in the very distant past would create a civilization rather like the civilizations humans have created. I don’t think you can draw that conclusion with a sample size of one.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @DavidFriedman, in that case, how do you define “civilization”? I completely agree that another species’ civilization would most likely be different from every human civilization in recorded history, but this line of discussion has made enough points that I think at least some of them would be present among any sapients.

          • Basil Elton says:

            Only to the extent that both civilizations are in the same universe on the same planet, and gradually learn optimal ways of dealing with it. I assume they’ll bury their dead not because humans do, but because if they’d just let them lie around in their settlements, or even eat them, it would cause spread of diseases. And settlements are necessary for agriculture, and agriculture is necessary to be able to support all those craftsmen and scientists and other not food-producing specialists who actually create what we call civilization.

            As for the shape and material of the instruments, it’s dictated mostly by their purpose – to pierce skin and flesh, if we speak of a weapon. And stone is still the hardest and toughest material available before you discover metals, now or 100mln years ago.

            Same for the geometrical patterns (which I’ve mentioned in the comment below, I assume they also fall into “this line of discussion” category) – they are mostly dictated by physics, not by taste. Mayan and Egyptian pyramids are both squared (in base) even though the two branches separated millennia before any civilization.

      • Skivverus says:

        I’d say one set of plausible reasons would be because fossils are ridiculously rare, and the older ones (that we’ve found) especially are formed under circumstances that one would file under “you’d have to be pretty dumb or very unlucky to get stuck in that” (tar pits or similar); but also because the half-life of a stone arrowhead (never mind a skyscraper) is probably not on the order of millions of years.
        (Note: IANAPaleontologist.
        Also note: ninja’ed by Nornagest, who evidently disagrees with me on the durability of arrowheads. Still no idea either way on that point.
        Further edit: good further explanation by Nornagest.)

        • Nornagest says:

          Stone arrowheads might remineralize depending on their chemistry, but they’re usually made of obsidian or chert or another hard silicate rock, which will preserve at least as well as teeth and bones will under the same circumstances. Loose arrowheads would probably get eroded beyond recognition on average, but if e.g. an hunter shot a hadrosaur in a shallow, silty, anoxic bog that would turn into sandstone in a million years, and lost both hadrosaur and arrows when it spooked and jumped straight into a pit, then we’d see the arrowheads when we dug it up.

          Analogously, we know a lot of dinosaurs had gizzards, because we’ve found the gizzard stones they swallowed.

    • Guy in TN says:

      If the species reached a level of civilization comparable to ours, we would be seeing lineages of other species undergoing long-distance intercontinental travel in the fossil record, like mice, rabbits, and weeds do today. But things on Gondwanaland tended to stay on Gondwanaland, and don’t just show up on the other side of the planet unless they had a natural dispersal mechanism. Unlike today, where the distribution of species has become globalized.

      If the intelligent life never invented long-distance oceanic travel, I suppose they could still go under the radar in this case.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        So the Great Race of Yith with their nuclear-powered ocean-going ships are right out, then?

      • The Nybbler says:

        But things on Gondwanaland tended to stay on Gondwanaland, and don’t just show up on the other side of the planet unless they had a natural dispersal mechanism.

        The other side of the planet was ocean, so this is a less-than-convincing objection.

      • CatCube says:

        By the time you were inventing long-distance oceanic travel, you started getting engineering works that might show up in the geologic record. Where’s the equivalent of the Sideling Hill Cut of this civilization?

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      One reason I would be skeptical of dinosaur era civilization is that plant evolution had also not come along that far.

      Flowers first emerged ~130 Million years ago. Grasses evolved just before the end of the cretaceous ~ 66 million years ago. Even if you aren’t going to be eating grain, its way easier to feed your “dino cattle” with grain than trees and ferns.

      Certainly I don’t want to support a “just so” theory of human civilization, I’m just saying that the distribution of fruiting plants and grasses by the time humans started walking gave us a leg up.

    • AG says:

      They wiped themselves out via time travel paradox.

    • INH5 says:

      I believe that a modern major city would leave traces visible in the geological record for a long, long time, much like traces of similarly large accumulations of “unnatural” rock such as coral reefs or lava flows are visible to us now. I suspect that an ancient city the size of, for example, Teotihuacan, would leave similar if somewhat smaller and less distinct traces, so that would place a pretty low bar on the development of any “civilization” that could have preceded us.

    • Basil Elton says:

      Because we would’ve most likely found the traces of that civilization if it existed. Even though hundred of millions of years would’ve eroded a lot of things, there’re at least 3 types of artifacts that would’ve persisted:

      1) Bones of the civilization builders. Yes, fossils are rare, but a well known side-effect of civilization is that you become the dominant species on the planet and spread all over it in numbers and densities far exceeding anything possible for a critter of your size naturally. Which is more important, living in the same place in high density over a long periods of time, you have to deal with the corpses. Lots of corpses. You either bury them, or burn them and then bury the bones (as long as you use preindustrial technologies, that is). In both cases you basically create a perfect fossil site. And those should be all over the planet. Such a global spread and concentration in small places would’ve marked a species as intelligent even without looking at their skulls and even if their culture was perfectly secular, pragmatic and non-sentimental, so they’d bury their dead without any belongings and without any gravestones.

      2) Stone tools. As Nornagest explained, some of them would’ve survived in identifiable form until now.

      3) Geometrical patterns – right angles, straight lines and circles first of all. Our civilization has been creating them everywhere it went, in every available medium, for as long as it was a civilization. Of course wood or metal don’t normally survive that long – though in some cases they do, and it takes only one single fossilized wooden spoon to give out the whole civilization. But the stone monuments, blocks, hearths, basements, roads, fortress walls; as well as dams, irrigating channels, city neighborhoods, mines, ramparts, aforementioned graveyards, even landfills – all tend toward geometrical forms not found in nature and are much more likely to preserve than metal or organic.

      So I think we can safely rule out anything from Neolithic up, and any tool-making intelligence seems at least very unlikely. Of course it’s hard to be certain that there were no australopithecus-level intelligent dinosaurs, but that’s where the Occam’s Razor comes into play.

  16. proyas says:

    What would a robotic tank look like? By deleting the human crew, it could be significantly smaller and lighter than today’s manned tanks, without sacrificing firepower, armor or mobility.

  17. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Can anyone here recommend me a book covering archaeological cultures of Eurasia (or the whole Old World)? When I try to research a question like “What were the prehistoric cultures circa 1500 BC?”, academics have reams of data but it’s barely usable to outsiders due to poor organization.

  18. Le Maistre Chat says:

    D&D discussion, Monstrous Manual edition:

    Next up is aurumvorax. This is a badger-sized burrower with eight legs, which strangely has more hit points than an African elephant and can hit like one if it first grapples with its relatively weak bite.
    Because its name is Latin for “golden gorger”, the unwary might be led into thinking that a souped-up badger associated with gold is a monster from Pliny’s Natural History, but nope, it’s another Dungeons & Dragons original. Its ecology perhaps gives it away:

    “In order to survive, the aurumvorax supplements its carnivorous diet with quantities of gold. The ability to digest and utilize gold and other ores makes it possible for the creature to develop the dense fur, hide, and bones that protect it so well.”
    Yep, it’s an alien, a product of modern xenobiology speculation that conveniently metabolizes the substance Spaniards adventurers need most. They were created by Gary Gygax as an alien animal for the spaceship in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (1980), and seeing them stripped of context in a monster manual is rather different. As I said, you could be forgiven for associating the thing with Pliny rather than xenobiology.

    • Nornagest says:

      Pretty basic monster, IIRC, but you could break it down nose to tail for valuable parts: the claws, teeth, and fur are all individually priced, and you can throw the rest in the oven for a couple of days and come back to find enough gold to retire on. The description doesn’t say, but I’d like to imagine a Looney Tunes aurumvorax-shaped ingot.

      Not as creative as the death kiss’s 50GP soft organic gems that glow when you’re feeling emotional, but a lot more lucrative. You could fund a small army with monster parts in 2E, though, as long as you were selective in what you went after.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        the claws, teeth, and fur are all individually priced, and you can throw the rest in the oven for a couple of days and come back to find enough gold to retire on. The description doesn’t say, but I’d like to imagine a Looney Tunes aurumvorax-shaped ingot.

        Ha ha, exactly. 15-20,000 gold pieces for the hide garment plus 150 pounds of gold from the carcass leftovers is a fabulous amount of money. Of course finding a buyer for the garment should be a quest in itself. I can imagine the party leaving a trail of offended petty kings in its wake as they go from one to the next asking “Will you buy this for 20,000 gold?” and they don’t even have half that in any form but land…

        You could fund a small army with monster parts in 2E, though, as long as you were selective in what you went after.

        Yep, the trick would be to research where your DM stocked the most valuable creatures, then march your small army there on safari.

        • woah77 says:

          I saw that Jurassic Park movie. It didn’t go well for the Safari members.

        • Nornagest says:

          Really, you ought to give the clothes to the party mage. A sane DM would probably disallow it, but rules as written, I’m not seeing anything except the weight that would prevent one from using them; and a nonmagical AC 2 (so it can be augmented with protection magic) is nothing to sneeze at in 2E.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            … huh, I think you’re right. Rules as written, Mages are banned from wearing any armor but clothes, aren’t they? It’s not “all metal prevents casting spells”, “unable to perform tasks while wearing weight”, or anything like that. Nothing makes AC 2 clothes stop counting as clothes.

        • Unsaintly says:

          The funniest part to me is that the teeth and claws are worth 1gp each. 32 claws, and probably it’s the big fang teeth that are worth gold, so about 36gp worth there. But… who’s going to bother? 15,000 gp from the hide. 1,500 gp (in raw gold) from the leftovers. Why bother also removing the fangs and claws for an extra 36-50 gp?

          And yes, I know the answer is “the same PCs who steal door hinges to sell for a silver each” but in-fiction it remains a pretty funny waste of time

    • Le Maistre Chat says:


      The baatezu are a group of evil extraterrestrial. They wish to fulfill their ancient quest to destroy the tanar’ri, their blood enemies. The baatezu also know that by infiltrating humans and entering their world they will gain power over the tanar’ri. The baatezu the primary inhabitants of… the Nine Hells?
      … dammit, guys, that’s the most half-baked attempt at fooling people I’ve ever seen.
      Yeah, this is an relic of the Satanic Panic, which I would have thought was stronger in the ’80s than the ’90s. Oh well. In any case, they’re the Lawful Evil demons, which in D&D terminology makes them devils, not demons at all. Yyyeah.

      The main source for these beings is Dante, as “Nine Hells” should give away, but Pop Cultural Osmosis gets to trump Dante. More on that later.
      Being Lawful Evil, they live in a strict caste system. At the bottom are Lemurs, after the Roman name for the evil departed. Above Lemurs are species called nupperibo, spinagon, and then abishai… which I think were invented for Planescape? Originally the hierarchy jumped from Lemurs up to the Furies of Greek mythology and Barbed Devils, a caste of enforcers who liked to throw any poor soul they saw without authorization into cubicles.
      The highest of the lesser devils/baatezu are the Bone Devils/Osyluths:

      Osyluths are the only baatezu to have power over baatezu of higher station. They roam the layers and observe the actions of other baatezu, ensuring that they act properly. An osyluth can send offenders into the Pit of Flame for 101 days of torment. After the torture, the offending baatezu returns to its former position. Osyluths have this power over any other baatezu save for pit fiends, who are above their discipline.

      But with this power comes danger. Any baatezu that has the opportunity to destroy an osyluth without being discovered usually does so. If caught in this act, however, the offender is instantly reduced to marked lemure status. These marked lemures never advance beyond their station and are particularly hated by all baatezu.

      Because the osyluths are charged with disciplining other baatezu, they are supposed to be absolutely loyal, never step out of line, nor do anything against the nature of baatezu. The osyluths generally obey the stricture, although several historical exceptions are known.

      The Ring of Cantrum: Once per century, 100 osyluths meet with the Dark Eight to promote gelugons to pit fiend status. The moot is named after the pit fiend Cantrum, the founder of the Dark Eight. The 100 osyluths gather in a ring around the pit fiends and present information on promising gelugons, including major campaigns and compliance with the nature of Baator. All 100 osyluths combined have one of the nine votes cast in the Ring.

      About that gibberish: gelugons (Ice Devils) are baatezu who outrank cornugon… which were originally horned devils/Malebranche, the demon species Dante and Virgil meet Circle Eight of Inferno. And what’s below Circle Eight? That’s right: the ice of Circle Nine, hence Ice Devils. I have no idea, though, why Gary Gygax decided that devils of Hell’s icy circle should look like this.
      Also, because pop culture dictates the strongest demons must be firey, there was a power level beyond Ice Devils: the fiery Pit Fiend, or winged sumo wrestler from Hell. That’s what “gelugons” aspire to be when they grow up.

      Pit fiends are the lords of the Nine Hells. They are the baatezu of the greatest power and the highest station. Pit fiends are found throughout the various layers of the Nine Hells, but are very rare on the upper layers.
      Wherever they are found, these mighty lords hold a position of great authority and power. They sometimes command vast legions consisting of dozens of complete armies, leading them into battle against the tanar’ri.

      Despite that, they’re outranked by named devils, which each get a unique body.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Oh boy, Baatezu!

        The heirarchichal structure makes them a lot more interesting than the chaotic Tanar’ri or the never-discovered-by-PCs totally unassuming and never-behind-any-nasty-plots Yugoloths. Selling favors for souls to throw into the Blood War is a favorite, and even provides a way to Save Private Ryan. A bit tired, admittedly, but very nice.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Definitely. Chaos is an important concept, but an organized enemy is more interesting.
          It’s worth noting here that D&D’s unique demons Orcus and Demogorgon come from Paradise Lost II, where Satan meets Chaos while looking for Earth and smooth-talks him into believing that in return for help, he will reclaim the territory of the Earth system, thus returning more of the universe to chaos. His betrayal would be the real origin of any “Blood War.” 😛
          Odd how they never statted up Chaos himself, Old Night, or Discord.

          • Nornagest says:

            Definitely. Chaos is an important concept, but an organized enemy is more interesting.

            It’s not like D&D hasn’t tried to have its cake and eat it too, there. The first example that comes to mind is old-school dark elves, before they were all brooding iconoclasts or nudist Wiccan pastiches: you’ve got this ancient society entirely dedicated to the monotheistic worship of its demon goddess, rigidly hierarchical, full of highly organized caste, lineage, and gender roles, where any deviation is punished with death or worse, but which is nonetheless statted up as Chaotic Evil because look, a three-headed monkey.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Oh yeah, that’s right: the gravely punitive about enforcing monolithic behavior Chaotic Evil dark elves.
            — wait, nudist Wiccan pastiches? The women started harming none and wearing even less?

          • Nornagest says:

            I forget her name, but there’s a Forgotten Realms goddess of redeemed drow whose rites involve moonlight and nudity. Ell-something. She must have been introduced prior to 3E, because she got a mention in Baldur’s Gate II, but I never saw her in any game material until 3.5.

            And now I want to roll a dark elf character who was raised on the surface by two loving parents who make a living raising pet bats for sale to local aristocrats, worships Chauntea or something, and has absolutely no angst.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            goddess of redeemed drow

            I honestly can’t tell if this is lampshading, but it’s definitely heresy.

          • Jiro says:

            The good goddess of renegade drow is Eilistraee.

            She was actually killed off, but seems to have returned.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:


      “The banshee or groaning spirit, is the spirit of an evil female elf – a very rare thing indeed.”

      Uh, OK. Banshee is the standard English rendering of Irish bean sidhe, literally “woman of the mounds.” The mounds of Ireland usually turned out to be burial mounds, leading to the hypothesis that aes sidhe were the pre-Celtic occupants of Ireland. But in story, they’re not human but approximately the same thing as fae. So D&D gives us this systematized version where a mound woman must be the spirit of a buried female elf.
      But a banshee is scary, so must be evil, and most elves are Chaotic Good. This is getting over-complicated.

      Ecology: Banshees are a blight wherever they settle. They kill without discretion, and their only pleasure is the misfortune and misery of others. In addition to slaying both man and beast, a groaning spirit’s keen has a powerful effect upon vegetation. Flowers and delicate plants wither and die and trees grow twisted and sickly, while hardier plants, thistles and the like, flourish. After a few years all that remains within five miles of a groaning spirit’s lair is a desolate wilderness of warped trees and thorns mixed with the bones of those creatures that dared to cross into the groaning spirit’s domain.

      I think I like the folklore version better.

  19. SamChevre says:

    We haven’t had a book recommendation thread in a while. Let’s compile “recommendations” of books that meet a very specific set of criteria:

    1) You expect that you are the only person reading SSC who has read the book
    2) It’s a book that other readers might find interesting*

    *Use your judgment: two book that I’ve read that meet criterion 1 but not 2 are US GAAP for Life Insurers and Life Insurance and Modified Endowments Under Internal Revenue Code Sections 7702 and 7702A

    • SamChevre says:

      My entry:
      St Croix: 500 Years pre-Columbus to 1990

      My father grew up in St Croix, and this history of St Croix was written by a friend of his. It gives an interesting overview of the changes in agriculture and economcis, and the strategic considerations, that drove the settlement and cultural patterns of the Caribbean. It also has a great first-person account of what St Croix was like in the early 1900’s, when the authors’ father moved there from Denmark.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Ok, I’m reaching beyond my normal recommendations into the much more niche and less-good here…

      Lord Toede, by Jeff Grubb – a Dragonlance tie-in novel about a hobgoblin and his quest to understand nobility.

      The Woman in the Dunes, by Kōbō Abe – a Kafkaesque Japanese nightmare novel about a man who is trapped in a fishing village.

      The Stainless Steel Rat, by Harry Harrison – a parodic future-gonzo-crime novel. Reads a bit like Al Bester.

      Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, by Isaac Asimov – well-written commentary on The Bard’s plays that gives both a literary and historical interpretation, along with the history of each play’s treatment.

      Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by Miyazaki Hayao – the pencil manga the movie of the same name is based on. Much less sure about this one. Fairly misanthropic, but quite beautiful.

      I wanted to stick Silverberg on this list, but I strongly suspect anything he’s written will have been read by someone else, and I’m already on thin ice here. Regardless, Lord Valentine’s Castle is quite good.

      • Nornagest says:

        Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by Miyazaki Hayao – the pencil manga the movie of the same name is based on. Much less sure about this one. Fairly misanthropic, but quite beautiful.

        It’s not misanthropic, IME, so much as just extremely Gaian/pastoralist; all of Miyazaki’s works are like that to some extent, but it probably finds its purest expression here. That leaves me disagreeing strongly with some of its takes, sometimes to the point where I have to tie my thinking in knots just to understand what it’s going for in the first place, but it’s such an incredibly imaginative setting that I can set that aside pretty easily. I’ve ripped it off in the past and I’ll probably do it again in the future.

        And everyone in it is likeable. Miyazaki’s got a real talent for humanizing his characters, even the ones he obviously hates. The Holy Emperor might be the closest thing to a pure villain in his bibiliography, but even he turns out to have pretty understandable motivations once you get to know him.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Aw man; that’s one down. I had a feeling that was my weakest submission. Great review, by the way.

        • John Schilling says:

          Miyazaki’s got a real talent for humanizing his characters, even the ones he obviously hates

          For example, the gun-wielding ironmongers of Princess Mononoke, positivley Sarumanish in their anti-Gaianism and anti-Pastoralism, but the only ones who will take in the the prostitutes and cripples and other outcasts of the suitably pastoral feudal Japan.

          I’m not sure he even hates Lady Eboshi at all.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah, I agree, but I also think that’s sort of the point of the movie. Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa have more in common than any other two of Miyazaki’s works, and they aren’t subtle about it: the former isn’t quite a remake of the latter, but almost all their major plot elements and characters map to each other pretty well. A big part of me thinks that Mononoke was written specifically as a more mature take, by an older and less cynical Miyazaki, on the same themes.

          • Jiro says:

            Mononoke (which I first watched this year as several Ghibli films were brought to theaters) seemed a little odd to me. There was an old Muppet Show episode where the Muppets tried to make a Thanksgiving dinner and had to serve vitamin pills because everything else is a sentient creature who complains about becoming dinner.

            Whether it’s okay to disturb the forest is affected by whether there really *are* forest spirits who live there in the same way that whether it’s okay to cook dinner is affected by whether your dinner is able to verbally object. Yet clearly the film is trying to make statements about the real world, where there are no forest spirits, but by adding those spirits, it also keeps the answers to those questions from being able to carry over.

      • Protagoras says:

        I’ve read The Stainless Steel Rat. I didn’t make a recommendation of my own because I can’t imagine what kind of book would be likely to be read by no SSC commentator other than myself.

        • Brad says:

          Two of my high school English teachers wrote novels, separately, that were published by real publishers but not successful in the marketplace. I’m almost certainly the only commentator here that’s read either one, but even aside from doxxing implications I wouldn’t especially recommend them.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Oof, there’s two. Time to put my trust in Kōbō and Grubb.

      • Matt says:

        Lord Toede – partially through with it, though I set it aside for ‘later’ a couple of months ago and I’ll probably have to start over at this point.

      • Plumber says:


        “…Lord Valentine’s Castle is quite good”

        Oh! I haven’t read that since I took it on a camping trip at “Castle Lake” near Mount Shasta in the early ’80’s.

        I remember liking it, and that dreams were important but little else.

        Time for a re-read!

    • John Schilling says:

      The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States.

      Which is, fortunately, fiction. Well, mostly fiction. Not nearly fictional enough for my taste, but the non-fiction parts are what make it extra-interesting.

    • LewisT says:

      Somewhat related: I keep a partial index of past book recommendations for my own personal use. Would it be helpful to anyone here if I were to (slowly) compile and make available a master index of all book recommendations? Or if anyone wants to look up old book recommendations, is it easiest just to google it?

      (I also have been keeping a list with hyperlinks to several effortposts written over the past few months, which I should probably post online at some point.)

    • rlms says:

      Philosophy in the Bedroom (de Sade). Alternates between pornography and 18th century edgelording, which varies between the kind of thing you could see on 4chan today (“EUGENIE — Delightful arrangement! But, is not incest a crime? DOLMANCE — Might one so regard Nature’s gentlest unions, the ones she most insistently prescribes to us and counsels most warmly?” etc.) and completely inoffensive mainstream feminism (“Dread not [abortion]; the crime is imaginary: we are
      always mistress of what we carry in our womb, and we do no more harm
      in destroying this kind of matter than in evacuating another, by
      medicines, when we feel the need”).

    • Eric Rall says:

      The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. The author is a was born into a not-especially-wealth Samurai family in 1835 and was a 19-year-old language/gunnery student at the time of the Perry expedition (the US naval mission that coerced Japan into ending their policy of isolation). He wound up being one of the first Japanese people to learn English, and he went along with Japan’s first diplomatic mission to the US as their translator. During the Meiji era, he was an influential educator (including founding Keio University) and reform advocate. I found his autobiography very interesting as an account of the process of Japan’s modernization from the perspective of someone who’d been in the thick of things practically from the beginning and who was just barely old enough to have adult memories of what Japan was like during the isolation era.

      Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 by William Shirer. Despite the title, it’s a political history of France covering the entire Third Republic era (from the end of the Franco-Prussian war through the establishment of the Vichy regime in July 1940). It covers a lot of important (and neglected) context for France’s roles in WW1 and WW2 and both the pre-war and interwar years, and it also provides a fairly compelling argument against the conventional narrative that the Third Republic’s institutions were hopelessly dysfunctional (they became so by 1940, under extreme stress from several directions, but they had worked out pretty well for a long period of time before then). The book’s account of the interwar period also gives a good glimpse at the various way that mainstream parties on the left-right spectrum interact with the various extremist movements (communists, “Second International” socialists, fascists, various flavors of monarchists, etc) that sheds more light on the subject than I’d previously gotten from narratives that focused mostly on the rise of Naziism in Germany.

    • sentientbeings says:

      The Silent Traveller in Boston, or any of the other books Chiang Yee wrote about his experiences in different cities around the world.

      They are long out of print, unfortunately, but provide an interesting look into culture. Imagine a book written in a different era by a Chinese expatriate living in England, traveling to a new place and observing the people and culture from the point of a layman. As a bonus, the book contains beautiful illustrations and some poetry by the author.

      And he wrote a whole series of them.

      • sentientbeings says:

        The series, copied from the (possibly incomplete) listing on the Wikipedia page for Chiang Yee:

        The Silent Traveller: A Chinese Artist in Lakeland (London: Country Life, 1937 reprinted Mercat, 2004). ISBN 1-84183-067-4.
        The Silent Traveller in London (London: Country Life, 1938 reprinted Signal, 2001), six impressions by 1945.
        The Silent Traveller in War Time (London: Country Life, 1939).
        The Silent Traveller in the Yorkshire Dales (London: Methuen 1941), three editions by 1942. Not known if reprinted.
        The Silent Traveller in Oxford (London: Methuen, 1944, reprinted Signal, 2003), four editions by 1948.
        The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh (London: Methuen, 1948, reprinted Mercat, 2003). ISBN 1-84183-048-8.
        The Silent Traveller in New York (London: Methuen, 1950).
        The Silent Traveller in Dublin (London: Methuen, 1953).
        The Silent Traveller in Paris (London: Methuen, 1956; New York: W. W. Norton, 1956).
        The Silent Traveller in Boston (New York: W. W. Norton, 1959).
        The Silent Traveller in San Francisco (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963). ISBN 0-393-08422-1.
        The Silent Traveller in Japan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972). ISBN 0-393-08642-9.

    • Mark Atwood says:


      Back when the www was new, I transcribed it and put it up as a web page, and it got 100s of hits a day for years and years.

      There were a couple of years I would quote bits of it in my sleep…

      • The Nybbler says:

        DOD-STD-2167A is one of the reasons I left the defense business. If you want to make programming into pure drudgery, DOD-STD-2167A is the Army* way to do it. Later replaced by MIL-STD-498 and then EIA J-STD-016.

        (You’ve got your SSS, your SRS, your IRS, your SSDD, your SDD, your IDD, your DBDD, and your STP, all of which need to be linked into your RTM. Then maybe you can start coding. Maybe)

        *As in “there’s a right way, a wrong way, an an Army way”

        • SamChevre says:

          “It was still a disaster, but at least it was a very well-documented disaster.”

        • Mark Atwood says:

          It was drudgering if you let it be. A careful and close reading of the STD allowed you to collapse several of those docs together, and nothing ever said that each doc had to be 20 binder monstrosities.

          A lot of my SSSs, SRSs, SSDDs, and SDDs were no more than a handful of dozen of pages each, not counting the boilerplate, and when I was coding and testing, I was damn grateful I had written them.

          And the IDDs saved my ass (and my employers ass) more than once. Once the contract administrator and the company on the other side of the IDD has signed them, they have the force of law, and when the other side or the contract admin came back asking for waivers on the signed IDD… it cost them, in dollars and in schedule.

          I still write them today, just without the boilerplate.

    • nkurz says:

      I’ll offer two.

      The first is “The Report From Iron Mountain”, which purports to be a 1967 a government report on how to deal with the potential for the sudden outbreak of world peace. I guess someone here must have read it already, but it’s not as well known as it should be. At the time it came out, many felt sure that it was a genuine report. I found it brilliant. It’s described in more detail here: It’s available online here: If you want to skim to get some flavor, you might start here:

      The second is a not-well-known 1940’s Science Fiction novel called “Greener Than You Think” by Ward Moore. The basic premise is that Bermuda grass is taking over the world. It’s not great writing, but it’s a fun romp, especially if you’ve ever personally done battle with Bermuda grass. The full text is available here:, and a free audio version is here:

    • Atlas says:

      America’s Half-Blood Prince, by Steve Sailer.

      Heads in the Sand, by Matt Yglesias.

    • Protagoras says:

      So, it has to be something I don’t think anyone else on SSC has read, but which someone might find interesting? Difficult standards indeed! I think there are some around here who have some interest in Nietzsche, and I find it conceivable that perhaps none of them have read Lou Andreas-Salome’s book about Nietzsche (available in English under the title Nietzsche). She doesn’t seem to be very widely read generally. Her own observations about Nietzsche are not incredibly illuminating or insightful, but the book reveals a lot about Andreas-Salome herself, and so since Nietzsche was significantly influenced by her, it is useful to understanding where some of Nietzsche’s quirks came from (in particular, she seems to have heavily influenced his ideas about women).

      Paul Ree’s The Origin of the Moral Sensations is another mostly deservedly obscure work that similarly clarifies some things about Nietzsche (in particular, it is clear that when Nietzsche talks about English philosophers, he is often talking about Ree, even though Ree was not English).

      • James says:

        There’s a good chapter on Lou Andreas-Salome (and Nietzsche, and Rilke, and Freud…) in a book I’m reading at the moment, The Lives of the Muses, a book with nine chapters on nine muses of great (male) artists/writers/whatever. I guess parts of it are heavily sourced from her own book Nietzsche.

        Actually, The Lives of the Muses might be my nomination for the present category of things-no-one-else-has-read-but-in-which-they-might-be-interested.

    • I’m not sure I’m the only one who has read them, but here are two possibles:

      Engels, D. W., Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army

      Casson, Lionel, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World.

    • Anon. says:

      Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless. It’s basically just his diary from the making of Fitzcarraldo, but it’s absolutely brilliant. The style is a mix of Conrad and J. G. Ballard…a dreamlike and unrelenting account of his mono-megalo-maniacal obsession, reality as a fever dream, the ancient and terrible jungle.

      A fairly young, intelligent-looking man with long hair asked me whether filming or being filmed could do harm, whether it could destroy a person. In my heart the answer was yes, but I said no.

    • James says:

      One obscurity I’ve enjoyed is Peter Medawar’s autobiography, Memoirs of a Thinking Radish. It’s surprisingly entertaining for a scientist’s autobiography, partly due to his impeccable prose style, and would probably interest some here.

    • bean says:

      Probably Norman Friedman’s Seapower as Strategy. It’s an excellent work, but more obscure than his well-known naval technical histories.

    • Plumber says:

      Eh, I just gonna recommend some books, regardless over whether anyone else may have read them or not:

      First The Broken Sword by Poultry Anderson, both the original 1954 version (which I’m told was the better one) and the 1971 rewrite (which I read first), I didn’t read them back to back so I really couldn’t tell the difference between the original, which I paid $100 for at the now defunct Other Change of Hobbits bookstore (which had Poultry Anderson’s typewriter on display!) and the ’71 paperback ($2 at Moes’ Books), but it was good reading each time.

      Next Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber, just get it!

      The War Hound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock, it’s grim, but it’s probably the novel I’ve most re-read (and you have read his novel Stormbringer, right?).

      In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck, a gripping yarn.

      Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell plus Our Ladies of Grace Adieu both by Susanna Clarke. Just magical.

      The Magic Goes Away by Larry Niven (try to get the collection that includes the “Not Long Before the End” short story if you can).

      Okay, non-fiction:

      How to Tell When Your Tired: A Brief Examination of Work by Reg Theriault, if I was King of California this would be assigned reading!

      Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Michael Crawford, I keep it in the plumbing shop at work and I still peruse it almost a decade after I first read it, I highly recommend it.

      From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement by Fred Glass, this should be known! 

      Installing and Repairing Plumbing Fixtures, and Plumbing a House, both by Peter Hemp, the real deal.

      The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to The Fourteenth Century, and The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England: A Handbook for Visitors to the 16th Century, both by Ian Mortimer

      Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe by Steven Epstein, fills in too neglected history lessons. 

      Political Ideals and Proposed Roads to Freedom, both by Bertrand Russell

      How to be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life by Ruth Goodman

      And finally News From Nowhere (Or an Epoch of Rest) by William Morris, a completely uncredible late 19th century ‘after the revolution’ dream of a strangely medievalish future utopia, not believable but nonetheless compelling.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        You are not the only SSCer who has read “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” and though I suspect we agree on little else I heartily agree that it is a great book.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nicholas Weininger

          “…though I suspect we agree on little else…”


          I’m curious why you think so.

          “..I heartily agree that it is a great book”

          I’m glad that I’m not alone in thinking so!

      • @Plumber:

        I gather you haven’t joined the SCA. Why?

        • Plumber says:


          “I gather you haven’t joined the SCA. Why?”

          With my work and family duties (especially our two year old son) I have little time left for hobbies, plus my wife isn’t interested in anything like that (Renaissance Faires, Dungeons & Dragons, book signings, et cetera) and I don’t want to be separated from her long enough to make a go of it.

          • I can understand the time constraint. SCA isn’t all that much like the other things you list, and it’s at least possible that one of things it is would appeal to her.

            Every Monday evening, my wife and daughter do early music with a bunch of other SCA people–first instrumental than singing. Every Wednesday they do Renaissance dance. Time problems aside, is either of those the sort of thing your wife might enjoy?

            Writing poetry, telling stories, making jewelry, sewing, calligraphy and illumination, …

            Doing it without your wife, especially when you have a small child, would be a big problem.

      • Plumber says:

        “….Poultry Anderson…”

        Poul Anderson, not “Poultry Anderson”.

        Damn you auto-correct!!!

      • Deiseach says:

        The Broken Sword by Poultry Anderson

        Was this the author known for his use of fowl language? 🙂

        (I imagine auto-correct struck again there).

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      David Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_. Truly loopy meditation on language, physics, and the nature of reality and the perception thereof, tremendously thought-provoking and fun and smart and full of insight despite being totally bonkers. If you like Douglas Hofstadter you’ll probably like this.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Brilliant plays by young, not-especially-well-known British playwrights:

      The Sound of Heavy Rain by Penelope Skinner

      Funny-but-serious noir pastiche about a lonely, narcissistic PI.

      The Village Bike also by Penelope Skinner

      Comic drama about a woman who knows her husband is a good person and “good for her” but is maddened by his refusal to acknowledge (what she sees as) her fundamental badness.

      Skinner is like Graham Greene without the Catholicism or a less angry Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Her central theme is the human urge to be totally understand and accepted by a worthy other. Unlike Greene, she doesn’t believe in a god who can meet that need. Unlike (seemingly) Bob-Waksberg, she doesn’t believe the need can be overcome and a good life led without its being met. As you might imagine, this does not make her work very hopeful; however, she is a brilliant, witty observer of human foibles, with a broad empathy and a gift for dialogue, so the reading is still very enjoyable.

      Sparks by Simon Longman

      A woman turns up on her younger sister’s doorstep, years after running away during their mother’s terminal illness when they were teenagers. Beautiful, funny, elegiac play about depression, loneliness, love and affirmation.

      The greatest unironic, unintentional badfic ever (self-)published:

      The Archer’s Playlist by Daniel Burden

      Deranged wish-fulfilment fantasy in which a thinly-fictionalised version of the popular girl the author fancied in high school agrees to go to the sixth form ball with him… but then is kidnapped! By ninjas! As part of an Arthurian alien conspiracy! Highlights include such glorious imagery as “opening a can of worms full of snakes” and the moment when his “head was spinning like a dog following a man-sized sausage up a path lined with curious biscuits”. We can tell that the villain’s top lackey is gay (hence untrustworthy) because he wears a suit; in contrast, the nefarious Tarquin Dremord himself wears “normal trousers”. If you enjoyed the adventures of Enoby, this is for you.

  20. imoimo says:

    What libertarian-ish policies does Scott Alexander actually support? In trying to describe why I’m “left-libertarian” to a liberal friend, I couldn’t think of even one clearly libertarian position I take that disagrees with mainstream liberal thought, so now I look dumb.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      How do you feel about

      – gun rights
      – keynesian economic policies
      – manipulation of foreign governments in order to facilitate the creation of an export economy
      – the legality of discriminatory behavior by businesses and individuals
      – federalism (and the philosophy of maximally-distributed government)
      – the ability of central vs distributed agents to solve coordination problems
      – diversity (in this case, probably contrasting diversity as an end to diversity as a neutrally-desirable emergent property)

      • imoimo says:

        Gun rights is a good one. I’m uneducated on your #2 and #3 bullet points (something for me to work on). #4 has sufficient disagreement within the liberal mainstream that I don’t think I stand out.

        Maximally-distributed government is… sorta libertarian I guess? One weird sticking point with my friend is that he feels the common meaning of libertarian is “anti-government”, and I’m not sure he’s wrong that that’s what it usually means. So arguing “libertarian just means DIFFERENT government” is, I fear, confusing.

        Your suggestion #6 is indeed a liberal-libertarian divide, but it’s somewhat abstract. If you have specific, modern cases when that comes into play I’d be interested.

        I’m not sure #7 counts as libertarian. It’s more just anti-left.

        To make my goal here more explicit: I want to understand why “libertarian” is considered central to Scott Alexander’s philosophy. Why doesn’t he identify instead as “left-minus-identity-politics-plus-reading-more-studies”?

        • rlms says:

          To make my goal here more explicit: I want to understand why “libertarian” is considered central to Scott Alexander’s philosophy. Why doesn’t he identify instead as “left-minus-identity-politics-plus-reading-more-studies”?

          I’m not sure the extent to which libertarianism is a central part of his philosophy; he did write the anti-libertarian FAQ after all. I’d say he’s more left/left-libertarian/contrarian.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I fear that this is the great struggle of the left; progressivism and liberalism are great allies in times of social upheaval, but even though I nominally agree with the conclusions, a lot of progressive politics makes me retch.

          Also, libertarian = ancap is one of libertarianism’s worst memes, even if they buy into it themselves. I call myself liberal to avoid getting ree’d at by people I mostly agree with.

          Finally, I’ll note that one area where I notice #6 coming into play is occupational licensing; the theory goes, “if an agency certifies people for x, everyone will be served well and nobody will be taken advantage of.” The counterpoint is, “licensing does not and cannot tell you these things, and it is stupid to try to use a licensing authority to solve these problems.”

          • albatross11 says:

            And a midpoint is “There are some occupations where licensing probably makes some sense, because it’s hard for nonexperts to tell real experts from quacks and the consequences of getting it wrong can be catastrophic. But most of the time, this is just a way for existing people in the field to shut out the competition.”

          • 10240 says:

            Another argument against compulsory licensing is that it brings no benefit over voluntary licensing, even if licensing has some benefit. That is, rather than requiring hairdressers to be licensed, allow them to display a “LICENSED HAIRDRESSER” sign on their shop. If licensed hairdressers are actually better, then this has the same benefits as requiring a license (people go to licensed hairdressers and get better service). If they aren’t, whether because the licensing system is poorly set up or because it’s real goal is to shut out competitors, it causes much less harm (unlicensed hairdressers can operate, and people will use them).

            As a next step, if we want to be government-hating libertarians, we can argue that the licensing agency should itself be a private industry association (or perhaps multiple for-profit agencies), but that’s much less important.

          • The Nybbler says:


            I don’t think the midpoint is that common a position. A lot of people claim it, but as it turns out whenever there’s a dispute over whether a particular profession should be licensed they’ll always jump the same way.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            most of the time

            Do you really think this is true? Can you compile a list of credentials or licenses that are unnecessary and compare it to the list of licenses that you think are necessary and actually get it to balance out so that a significant majority are unnecessary?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not entirely sure any licensing schemes are necessary beyond laws against falsely claiming to have credentials you don’t have. The strongest case in consumer protection terms seems to be for medical practitioners, since they require deep expertise that’s hard for a layman to evaluate, and since they can kill or maim their patients by screwing up.

            And yet, in the current world, we have chiropractors and accupunturists and naturopaths practicing alongside MDs and DOs and DDSs and DMDs and NPs and PAs and PTs. For mental health, there are psychiatrists (MDs or DOs), but also PhDs, EdDs, MSWs, MAs, etc., all offering some kind of counseling or therapy.

            I can, if I want, go to a naturopath or a chiropractor to treat some serious thing that’s liable to kill me without proper treatment. Then I’ll probably end up dead. (Or more likely, they’ll take a look at me and say “I can’t treat this, you need to see a cardiologist.”)

            So even in the place where the case for occupational licensing is pretty string, we end up with, in practice, enough choice to kill ourselves. That’s true, even if the chiropractors and accupuncturists and naturopaths are all certified by the state. [ETA: But maybe the licensing from the state can be used to incentivize those guys to refer serious stuff to MDs and DOs, assuming they recognize it.]

            Another strong case is for expertise needed to ensure safety of some building or machine or something. Saying that an actual electrician or plumber has to sign off on some kinds of repairs to a building, and a PE has to sign off on some kinds of building plans, that seems like it makes some sense, because if they don’t know what they’re doing, they may leave an unsafe situation that’s very hard to see from the outside, once the walls are closed up. But then, plenty of homeowners and handymen do shitty work on those systems in the present world.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Are you saying that you want your psychiatrist to be able to do your root canal, and your dentist to be able to treat your depression?

            Or are you objecting that your dental hygienist can’t drill and fill your cavity?

            Or are you objecting that both your Psych NP and your Psychiatrist can both prescribe anti-depressants?

            These are honest questions, because I am not following your objection.

          • liate says:

            I decided last night that I was going to actually do this, and now I have!
            I went through the New York State Department of Labor list of occupations with state licenses or certification (probably not the best choice, but the one I found a nice list for), giving each one a 1-5 score on how necessary I thought official licenses for them were, along with giving the ones that appeared to only be required to claim have the cert or license a 0 (list pastebinned here, realize that most of the scores are semiarbitrary, although I tried to make sure that assistants got lower scores than full licensees and stuff). I got:
            14 things that are only required to claim have a cert
            8 1s
            40 2s
            40 3s
            22 4s
            6 5s
            I would probably put the boundary in the 3s, for between 88:28 and 48:68 not-useful:useful, so between vast majority unnecessary and slight majority necessary.

            I found the fact that so many were connected to horse racing interesting, along with the fact that there were so many different sublicenses for insurance and stuff.
            (ETA: There were also a surprising number of licenses requiring the licensee be over 21, which is…weird)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I believe that list mixes together license, certification and registration. Note that certification frequently is not required to work in the field, and registration is requires no proof of knowledge (and seems to mostly be about bonding).

            I’m not sure which is which there.

          • Garrett says:

            As someone in EMS and a libertarian:
            Until we’ve managed to find a way to solve efficiency/coordination/whatever other problems associated with emergency response, I’d argue that emergency medical providers need to be appropriately certified/credentialed simply because in the event of a severe emergency you might not be physically able to make decisions about which ER doc or trauma surgeon you see.

            This doesn’t mean that the current system is optimal, however, even inside that narrow scope.

          • albatross11 says:


            I’m saying that right now, while I can’t have a psychiatrist do my root canal[1], I can go to a naturopath/shaman/etc. for some highly-treatable form of cancer, and die in a year or so, full of natural herbal remedies and with all my chakras aligned. The actual legal constraints on practicing internal medicine seem to be about what a libertarian would want–you can’t call yourself a medical doctor without actually having the certification, but you can see sick people and offer them treatments (albeit not prescription drugs) without bothering with the MD/DO/NP/PA stuff.

            [1] If I asked a psychiatrist to do a root canal on me, I suspect I’d end up with a diagnosis of some kind, but probably not with a root canal.

          • albatross11 says:

            So, I’m somewhere between libertarian and conservative in the Hayek/Sowell sense of being skeptical of big intentional redesigns of society.

            The libertarian ideal would probably be something like: There are no mandatory licenses for occupations, but you will go to jail if you claim to have a certification or degree that you don’t have. Hang up your shingle as a shaman and witch doctor, treat anyone who’s fool enough to come in, treat heart attacks with incantations and appendicitis by chanting magical spells to drive away the demons, no problem[1]. But claim to be an MD when you’re not, and you’re in serious trouble.

            This seems to be pretty close to the situation for internal medicine for adults, as far as I can tell. (But that’s not very far–I am not any kind of medical person, and there’s zero chance I’m going to anyone for medical issues who’s not a pretty standard member of the medical care system.)

            This makes sense if you think in terms of bodily integrity and individual rights–you have the right to kill yourself being a damned fool, and nobody should take that away.

            The conservative way to look at this is that we’ve got a pretty well-functioning society now, and it’s easy to screw complicated things up, but there’s also a tendency for incumbents to want to impose licensing to protect themselves from competition. So we should look for places where we can see, for example, some states with licensing for flower arrangers or hair braiders or tour guides or whatever, and other states without such licensing. And if things are working out okay in the places without the licensing, then we should probably get rid of the licensing everywhere. By contrast, if we actually find places where, say, the unlicensed flower arrangers are somehow causing great hardship to the world by their use of clashing colors and flower types, but the licensed ones avoid such disasters, then we should go with licensing.

            [1] Though you may get sued by the families of your fatally gullible patients.

          • BBA says:

            The devil is in the details. My mostly-abandoned attempt to enter the legal profession convinced me that law school is completely worthless and the bar exam almost as much – but on the other hand, disbarment is absolutely necessary, so lawyers need to be licensed if solely so they can be threatened with taking their licenses away.

            I work in the securities industry now. One of my licenses (Series 63) is required by NY state law but administered privately by FINRA rather than by the state regulatory agency, so it doesn’t show up in the list. I could rant for hours about the brokenness of the FINRA system, but I don’t think it’d be any better if it were run by the SEC and state governments instead, and the need for some kind of gatekeeping is pretty obvious since one bad firm can bring others down. I’d prefer to have some way to keep my Series licenses even if I don’t work for a brokerage but they’ve got a vested interest in keeping their serfs bound to the industry.

    • Eric Rall says:

      “Against Tulip Subsidies” is a big example in Scott’s case, where he came out pretty strongly against increased federal subsidies for higher education and in places sounded an awful lot like Bryan Caplan.

      • imoimo says:

        That’s a good one. I actually no longer find Scott’s case there very convincing because he leaves out selection effects which, as I understand presently, is the heart of Bryan Caplan’s case. (Otherwise why haven’t employers begun profiting from ignoring degrees?) But I should certainly bring up Caplan’s case.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        IDK, I feel like Scott is pretty much against education at all (public, private, whatever). So I don’t know that this is a great example of genuine libertarian thought. A libertarian might prefer private schools, but the market is pretty clearly in favor of schooling for children.

        The FDA is one where he actually seems quasi-libertarian, but I don’t know that I’ve seem him actually wrestle with what happens without an FDA.

        • Butlerian says:

          A libertarian might prefer private schools, but the market is pretty clearly in favor of schooling for children
          Is the market in favor of schooling children or credentialling children?
          And to what extent is this dependent on a context of mandatory mass education?

          • quanta413 says:

            At the very least, people being able to read is a very useful skill. You don’t have to go to school to learn to read, but for a lot of people, that’s where they are going to learn to read.

            If school wasn’t already paid for, I think almost every parent would teach their children to read or pay someone to teach their children to read. Like 99% or more in the U.S.

            It gets hazy how much learning is being accomplished by high school across the distribution of student ability. A lot of people seem to learn little by that point, while others keep learning a lot. The efficiency of this whole process is another question entirely, but it’s not like any system does notably better than the U.S. public school system.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            The Amish reliably teach their children an acceptable level of reading, writing, and arithmetic by 8th grade. A libertariantopia where most people (though “99% or more” seems way too high to me) educate their children until age 14 because it actually teaches them useful skills as opposed to because it gives them a piece of paper and then start apprenticing those kids to their trades or sending them out to work would look very different from our society, where schooling is compulsory until age 18 (technically 16, but there is a lot of pressure against taking that option) and the current push is to turn college into high school 2.0 (everyone must go and the government must pay for it).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The market, which is the almost entirely the parents for K-12, clearly favors students (their children) being actually taught. Parents take a very dim view of a school if their children aren’t actually learning things, things that parents consider worthwhile.

            If we look at markets post Brown v. Board and look at the broad scope of the all white schools which were created or expanded, we can see a pretty clear example of the preferences of parents, at least at that time.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The market, which is the almost entirely the parents for K-12, clearly favors students (their children) being actually taught.

            I get the feeling that the concern is that the market favors education only up to a certain point, and past that, credentialism takes over. Furthermore, the concern is that this inflection occurs right around the high school level. My basis is my rough impression is that if a kid is flunking seventh grade algebra, the parent will tend to chew out the kid; if that same kid is flunking grade eleven pre-calculus, that parent will tend to chew out the teacher.

            What’s your sense of this? Is this roughly accurate, or off? Even anecdotal evidence might at least suggest something about local norms.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The market, which is the almost entirely the parents for K-12, clearly favors students (their children) being actually taught. Parents take a very dim view of a school if their children aren’t actually learning things, things that parents consider worthwhile.

            And on the other hand, we have the Washington D.C. school system. I think there are indeed a lot of parents who are far more concerned that their child gets a diploma than their child learns anything.

          • albatross11 says:

            Paul Brinkley:

            Where do you get your idea about how likely a parent is to chew out the kid vs the parent in those cases?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Where do you get your idea about how likely a parent is to chew out the kid vs the parent in those cases?

            Speaking clinically, I’d characterize my impressions as anecdata as well – a history of conversations with peers from school, parents, and teachers, plus a smattering of television (shows and news) and articles. The latter are least likely to be anecdata, but I’ve learned to be somewhat skeptical even of news.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          At least W.R.T higher education his position has been that the culture that surrounds it [education] favors a financial arms race that increases costs for parents/taxpayers, increases make-work burdens for students, and generates no noticeable aggregate improvement in scholastic ability or life-performance for young adults.

          The problem with the ‘pure’ libertarian solution is you’re still left with cultural assumptions [behavioral inertia?] that can and will persist for a long time and which were built up by the interactions with government schooling. If a race of aliens conquered the united states and abolished state funded schools and state-guided curriculums, I anticipate

          With higher education this is particularly pernicious as simply having ‘the government get out of postsecondary’ might do nothing to halt the arms race because the necessity of a post-secondary degree has been so thoroughly embedded into the corporate culture of the private sector. Hence why SSC and/or Bryan Caplan might advocate a more aggressive governmental approach like making asking for a degree for all but a select few jobs an illegal hiring practice.

          As for K-12 I think it’s also a case of the path of least resistance. There’s plenty of waste involved but it’s not as noticeable or egregious as post-secondary. I think the US average for k-12 is like 9-12k per child per year, and the private sector is slightly less than that on average.

    • 10240 says:

      Not sure about Scott’s positions, but they generally seem to be skeptical of regulation (less than card-carrying libertarians but more than most other ideologies), supportive of private solutions, prefering local regulation to large-scale one, but supporting a high level of income redistribution. A specific policy I recall is charter schools.

      Btw I’m not sure if left-libertarian is the right term. My impression is that right-libertarianism is the capitalist libertarianism that’s usually called libertarianism in the US, while left-libertarianism is a non-statist variant of socialism, supporting things like worker self-management. Basically you get left-libertarianism if you classify private property as a government regulation to be abolished or restricted, while you get right-libertarianism if you classify it as a natural right (or at least a regulation to be kept). If I’m right, little regulation + high redistribution is more like right-libertarianism with a major left-wing element tacked on than left-libertarianism.

    • mdet says:

      Despite his recent posts defending NIMBYs, he said he still leaned towards the YIMBY position.

      I think I remember reading him say something like “I have impulses towards decentralized decision-making, cutting back credentialism / regulation, and skepticism of the government’s ability to solve problems, but often when it comes down to specific existing policies I’m too cautious to just throw them out.” I have no idea where I read this and would not be surprised if I made most of it up.

    • Simulated Knave says:

      >I want to understand why “libertarian” is considered central to Scott Alexander’s philosophy. Why doesn’t he identify instead as “left-minus-identity-politics-plus-reading-more-studies”?

      Depends what standards you’re using. If you use, libertarianism vs authoritarianism is about whether your rights are more important or the state’s are. Left vs right is how much involvement the state should have in the economy (I score -.63/-4.36 currently).

      I note Scott mentions that site here (

      I think Scott’s demonstrated a number of times where the principle that individual rights are more important than the state’s do NOT line up with current US left wing thought.

      A good wedge issue for this is how you feel about individuals refusing to perform services that disagree with their beliefs. Take that gay wedding cake fiasco. If the baker is wrong because gay marriage is lovely and he shouldn’t discriminate, you’re a leftist. If the baker is morally wrong, but we shouldn’t make him do things he doesn’t want to do, you’re probably a left-libertarian.

      Basically, if it’s generally wrong to make people do things, even things that are good for them or that are better or that are the right thing to do, you’re a libertarian. If you think legislation is for doing what’s necessary, you’re libertarian. If you think it’s for telling people what they ought to do, you’re an authoritarian (and a shitty legislator).

      Also, there is a strong argument that identity politics is inherently authoritarian, focusing as it does on the importance of group membership. In that case, “left minus identity politics” IS left-libertarianism.

  21. johan_larson says:

    The Economist has an interesting article about what factors influence Americans to vote Democrat or Republican. The most influential factor is religion: atheists strongly swing Democrat while born-again church-going Protestants strongly swing Republican. The second most influential factor is race: blacks strongly swing Democrat while whites moderately swing Republican.

    • Plumber says:


      “The Economist has an interesting article about what factors influence Americans to vote Democrat or Republican….”

      I plugged in my demographic information for it’s “Build an American Voter” feature and it correctly predicted how I usually vote.

      It’s weird to know that my political biases are because of my background, and not from reasoning them out, yet I still feel them strongly.

      • albatross11 says:

        They may also be from likely shared experiences. For example, from polling data, whites tend to trust police more than blacks. It wouldn’t be a huge shock if that was the result of blacks and whites having, on average, different kinds of experiences with the police. The problems you run into as a farmer in Central Iowa or a union factory worker in Chicago are pretty different; the places where political policy affects you are different, and your environment gives you different problems that you wish the government was trying to solve.

      • Betty Cook says:

        I plugged in the information for both myself and David Friedman (he’s my husband, so quite a lot of it was the same for both of us.) I am predicted as 59% likely to vote Democratic on the demographics, he got 85% likely to vote D. The large difference is due to religion rather than sex: the difference between atheist and Protestant. Both of us actually tend to vote Libertarian when we have the option; last time I remember voting for R or D it was a Republican candidate for senator in California who had not much more chance of winning than the Libertarian I voted for in the presidential election.

        I suppose this is a case of Scott’s “grey tribe” being close to blue tribe on the numbers.

    • Deiseach says:

      Like Plumber, I plugged in my demographics to see “what way would I vote if I were American, at least how does The Economist think I’d vote?”

      What I found was that geography is the defining factor there – if I said I was a suburban dweller, then for every category (Northeast, Midwest and West) save South they gave me the chance of being a Democrat, only as a Southerner did they say I’d vote Republican. Switch from suburbs to country, and I’m Republican everywhere. Switch to city, and I’m Democrat in the South now 🙂

      To be fair, they did estimate me as slightly over 50% either way as Republican or Democrat, so it’s not like I’m very much more likely to vote one side over another as far as being an unmarried, childless, non-college educated, white straight Catholic woman earning a certain figure. Perhaps I am that much-desired category of the electorate, the swing voter who can be persuaded either way!

    • johan_larson says:

      I tried the tool and it predicts I would be very likely to vote Democrat, as an atheist white man who has a graduate degree, neither wife nor children, and lives in the west. I’m not sure that’s right. I think of myself as centre-right, at least by Canadian standards, so I would prefer to vote Republican. But it’s possible that if I actually had to make the choice I might find the actual Republicans to be snake-handling hell-fire preachers, and reluctantly vote Democrat.

      In the recent presidential elections, I think I would have voted Kerry(2004), McCain(2008), Romney(2012) and reluctantly Clinton(2016).

      • arlie says:

        I haven’t lived in Canada for several decades, but when I moved to the US I found that the Democrats were basically middle-of-the-road, by Canadian standards, and Republicans tended towards being beyond the range any halfway mainstream Canadian party would include, just as the NDP were (and remain?) mostly beyond-the-pale for US politics.

        OTOH, I’d only lived in Quebec and Ontaria, and my understanding is that the prairie provinces have (had?) a higher acceptability of US-like (US-lite?) right leaning politics, at least up to the point when I became an ex-pat.

        • Simulated Knave says:

          They do…but only to an extent, and a lot of it derives from the evangelical Christians. A centre-right Canadian wanting to vote Republican is…weird. Though understandable if you do it off their platforms rather than off their usual actual policies.

      • David Speyer says:

        Wow, you don’t support a lot of winners. 🙂 Though you don’t match my grandfather, who voted in every presidential election since 1940 and didn’t support a winner until 1992.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          There was an Addams Family episode like that. The family is completely oblivious to the fact that their candidate never wins. They even mentioned that Granny voted for the losing presidential candidate before women got the vote. 😛

        • johan_larson says:

          True. The first election I would have voted in had I been American would have been 1988. I would have backed the winner in 1988 (Bush over Dukakis) and possibly 1996 (Clinton over Dole.) Had I been slightly older, I would have backed Reagan over Carter and Mondale in 1980 and 1984.

    • Brad says:

      I get 95% chance of voting Democratic. At least if I pick atheist, if I pick Jewish it falls to 83%. I’d consider myself both so I don’t know which one is more correct for that question.

      Unexpectedly, at least to me, if I swap my race from white to black the chance of voting Democratic *falls* from 95% to 87%.

      • Jiro says:

        I got 100% chance of voting Democratic. I am Asian and Jewish. Changing Asian to white *or* changing Jewish to atheist causes the chance to fall.

        I can’t imagine there are many people in the set who are either Asian/Jewish or black/Jewish, which may explain the odd behavior you saw.

        • Brad says:

          The 95% => 87% was atheist white to atheist black. White Jewish was 83%. I didn’t try black Jewish.

          If Asian Jewish gave an answer at all then they must have a model rather than a sufficient survey.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Was marital status considered? I’ve seen some charts showing it drastically alters the likelihood even when you analyze it by age cohort [different age cohorts when grouped by ‘married’/’single’ have fairly similar party affiliations]

      • johan_larson says:

        It was. According to this article marital status matters (married people vote more Republican, as do people with children) but it’s a pretty small factor. You can find both toward the bottom of the tower of factors in the article.

    • Erusian says:

      I plugged in my information. It says 52% of voting Democrat. If I take out the fact I speak Spanish (which doesn’t come from being Hispanic but because I speak several languages) then it goes to 51% likelihood to vote Republican.

      Fear me, for I am the median voter. And I live in a swing state! Tremble at my power to tip the scales one way or the other!

    • mdet says:

      I think it’s interesting that, for a Catholic-me, attending mass regularly or not makes a 14 point difference, but for a hypothetical Muslim-me, attending worship regularly only makes a 4 point difference.

      • arlie says:

        That makes sense. No party seems to be regularly out to get Catholics. So strength of religious belief might be relevant for Catholics, or strength of cultural association. Whereas one party tends to make anti-Muslim pronouncements a lot, and you’d be vulnerable to them whether you were a quiet atheist of Muslim heritage, or a rabid Muslim fundamentalist. So even though religious Muslims have a lot in common with evangelicals, as seen from the non-Christian, non-Muslim left wing, being a target of Republican demagogues trumps e.g. believing in “family values”, hating abortion, etc. etc.

        • edmundgennings says:

          Indeed. There is no sense that either party or more importantly the unofficial nodes of power of either party is out to get Catholics as Catholics. However, if a Catholic holds to the Catholic faith as it is taught by the Catholic Church, then certain environments start to become considerably less friendly. Someone who viewed same sex sexual activity to be malum in se would relatively quickly be (informally) shown the door at a college democrats group if his or her views became publicly known. This will tend to push Catholics who hold to the Catholic faith as it is taught away from progressive social blocks. Thus even a Catholic who was on the American margins in favor of increasing immigration, redistribution, and decreasing military actions and believed abortion laws were unlikely to be changed would still be unlikely to vote Democrat if he or she also held to the socially controversial Catholic teachings.
          I imagine I large part of political success is preventing owns base from driving away or scaring swing voters.

    • Nick says:

      It says I’m a likely Democrat. Hah! You’re so funny, Economist.

    • Salem says:

      If I put myself in as a non-attending Muslim (my cultural background) it thinks I’d be a Democratic-leaning swing voter. If I put myself in as atheist (my religious belief), it thinks I’d be a hardcore Democrat. I find that fascinating (and completely contrary to arlie’s post above).

  22. dndnrsn says:

    Welcome to the fourteenth installment of my Biblical scholarship effortpost series. This time, we’re going to look at Jonah, concluding the coverage of the prophetic books (thus far: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Joel). Jonah is a story about a rather unusual prophet, extremely successful despite resisting God’s commands, and despite being annoyed when his words convince people. I’ll also introduce the next part of the series, covering the Ketuvim, or “Writings.”

    Usual caveats: I went to school for this, but I’m not an expert. I’m aiming for a 100/200 level coverage; if anyone is curious about something further, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. This is about Biblical scholarship, rather than theology. I usually don’t provide much in the way of summary, although Jonah is fairly short, so I do include a summary here.

    The book begins with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh (the Assyrian capital) to proclaim judgment against it. Jonah, however, flees in the opposite direction by ship. God sets a storm upon the ship, and the crew cast lots to find out who on the ship is responsible – they see that it’s Jonah. Explaining what’s going on, Jonah concludes that the best solution is to throw him overboard. The ship’s crew does; then, fearing God, they offer a sacrifice and make vows. Jonah, meanwhile, is swallowed by a big fish and prays to God (his prayer being a mix of different bits of Psalms); God commands the fish to spit Jonah out on dry land.

    This time, Jonah obeys God’s order, goes to Nineveh, and proclaims God’s judgment against it (extremely briefly, with a call for repentance only if you interpret ambiguous language that way, and with no message of forgiveness). The people of Nineveh (gentiles, remember) repent (thus making him instantly and dramatically successful), and immediately turn to God. Jonah, however, is upset – his pronouncement did not come true. He laments this, begging God to kill him; then sits in the shade of a plant God provides. God then kills the plant, and when Jonah complains about this, God makes the point to him – if he cared about the plant, should God not care about the people (and even the animals) of Nineveh?

    What sort of story, then, is Jonah supposed to be? There has been debate (in the world of theology, as much or perhaps even more than in the world of secular scholarship) over whether the book bears a universalistic message (for example, the gentiles encountered are awfully quick to accept or at least acknowledge God) or an anti-universalistic message (in this reading, Jonah is upset because he wanted God to smite the Assyrians specifically). Ultimately, neither position has much hard evidence behind it – although scholars seem to come down more on the side of Jonah being a universalistic text. The most defensible position may be that the book of Jonah is primarily intended as a humorous examination of the figure of the prophet.

    It probably dates from the postexilic period, during Persian rule. There’s influence from various other books which would suggest this, and whether the message is universalistic or not, these are issues that would have been current at the time. Some think the language fits with the 5th or 4th century, which backs up the notion that it is postexilic.

    The story in Jonah is extremely unlikely to be historical. There’s no evidence of any such repentance happening in Nineveh, and based on the archaeological evidence we have, the size of Nineveh described in the story is heavily exaggerated. The story of Jonah probably comes from folk tales about an obscure mid-8th century prophet who, according to the book of Kings, counselled Jeroboam II in war.

    Jonah, then, is rather different from most of the other prophets we’ve covered. Jonah disobeys God, at least initially; his words cause all Nineveh to repent, but he’s not happy about this. Scholars disagree over the purpose of this book, and even its genre; it’s probably best understood as a humorous look at prophecy. His story is in the prophetic books because it’s a story about a prophet (while the word itself is never used in Jonah, he clearly fits the role); it’s with the other Nevi’im for the same reason that the earlier historical books (which I covered along with the Torah) were included there – those historical books include many stories about prophets.

    This brings us to the next section of this effortpost series: The Ketuvim, or, “Writings.” This makes up the third part in the “Tanakh” formulation of the Hebrew Bible (Torah-Nevi’im-Ketuvim). The Ketuvim are a grab bag of material, canonized later than the Torah and the Nevi’im. That the collection was canonized later doesn’t mean that each individual book was later, though. The Ketuvim include more historical books, liturgical works, wisdom literature, poetry, short stories, and real-deal apocalypticism. Next time, we’ll start our coverage of the Ketuvim with its historical books.

    (If I’ve made any errors, please let me know in the next 55 minutes so I can edit)

    • johan_larson says:

      Any idea why Jonah was included in Bible? It seems like a pretty minor work.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Nothing I have at hand gives a secular scholarly theory as to why it was included. It’s used in the Yom Kippur service because of its theme of repentance, though, which would suggest that’s why it’s in there. Abraham Heschel (important 20th century Jewish theologian) covers it briefly in his book on the prophets; he thinks it’s about compassion, that God’s word is not inflexible, etc.

      • rahien.din says:

        It shows how life is a trolley problem, and how sin is a matter of intent. Read Jonah alongside the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Samaritan.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The original meaning of those parables might be different from the one that’s been attached to them (you can find entire doorstop scholarly books on a single parable, so, emphasis on might).

          Plus, it’s canonical in the Hebrew Bible, and was before Jesus was born, let alone the New Testament a thing.

          • rahien.din says:

            Maybe ur wrong tho

            See, the more interesting response would be your idea of the meaning of those parables.

            Jonah was canonical in the Hebrew Bible long before Christ was born

            Uh. Yeah. How is that relevant.

          • dndnrsn says:

            See, the more interesting response would be your idea of the meaning of those parables.

            Parables scholars oftencvb think they were meant as relatively simple metaphors, whereas the church tended to end up reading them as allegories.

            1. The parable of the Talents might be on the eschatological-related theme of those who have being given more, those who don’t have getting even that taken away. I’m not super confident on this one; I think the Talents is one of the parables that gives people special trouble.

            2. The Good Samaritan is probably about being helped by someone you despise while the great and the good don’t lift a finger to help; probably ties into the walk-before-talk theme found elsewhere.

            Uh. Yeah. How is that relevant.

            It’s relevant in that it wasn’t Christians who canonized it, but Jews. They hardly did so expecting either the teachings of Jesus or the eventual appearance of the Church.

          • rahien.din says:

            The Jewish authorship of Jonah is irrelevant because the entire post-Jonah Bible was written by Jews who regarded Jonah as canon.

            The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not about hypocrisy. The priest and the levite were adhering to their sincerely-held beliefs. The parable is about the dangers of unleavened sincerity.

          • dndnrsn says:

            johan_larson asked why Jonah is in the Bible – so, the question is, what purpose did it serve to the Jews who included it in the prophetic canon?

            With regard to the Good Samaritan, scholars argue over what it means, as they do with all the parables.There is debate over the role corpse-uncleanness might play: the priest and the Levite might have had an obligation to help the man (if they thought he was alive) or to bury him (if a neglected corpse).

          • rahien.din says:

            I’m claiming that Jonah is prt of the Christian Bible because Christians thought it belonged in the Christian Bible, likely because of its thematic resemblance to other important parables.

            You seem to be claiming that Christians included Jonah in the Christian Bible not for thematic reasons, but instead because their pre-Biblical Jewish ancestors told them to. And you go as far as to say that no one knows what the parables mean, anyway.


            But I am old enough to know when I am bested by experience! Cheers.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        It helps with the transition from Old Testament God Who Kills Everything to New Testament God Who Forgives People For Stuff, if I were guessing.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This can’t have been the intention of the people responsible for its canonical status in the Hebrew Bible.

          • Simulated Knave says:

            As in in the Torah or in the Bible? Because I think it absolutely makese sense for explaining its inclusion in the Bible.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s included in the Christian Bible because the Hebrew Bible was, along with some stuff that Jews produced but didn’t end up being canonical for them, canonized as the Old Testament.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It could have been the intention of, say, the Holy Spirit who inspired them to include it, though.

          • dndnrsn says:


            Speaking of the development of the various canons – I think you were asking about the deuterocanonical books earlier. Anything apocryphal, deuterocanonical, noncanonical I can’t fit in elsewhere I will probably throw on the end, once I’ve dealt with the New Testament.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Send half a dozen prophets with the message “God will forgive you if you turn from your sin, this goes for the Gentiles, too” and nobody listens. Wrap it in a big fish story and maybe people will finally pay attention.

      • David Speyer says:

        I know Jonah is officially grouped with the prophets. But I tend to think of it and most of the Ketuvim as “great literary works of ancient Israel”, and the connection to Judaism the organized religion is often strained. Ecclesiastes is a book of stoic philosophy, Ruth is a charming novella, Esther a bizarre comedy/romance, the Song of Songs is love poetry, large parts of Proverbs are practical advice. I think all of these, and Jonah likewise, got in because they were old books people loved and the editors didn’t think everything had to have a single coherent theological message.

        • dndnrsn says:

          One of the old textbooks I’ve got kicking around covers it along with Ruth, Esther, Tobit, and Judith as short stories. I figured I’d cover it with the other prophetic books because, as you note, it fits in well with the Ketuvim and so it makes a good segue.

      • marshwiggle says:

        Serious answer?

        It smells enough like the other interactions between God and his prophets for believing Jews to think it was for real something God wanted in the Hebrew Bible.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This is a good point. There’s other prophets who react to God’s commands by being upset. Jonah, on the other hand, gets in a boat and flees the other way. Comedy is always about exaggeration, isn’t it?

    • Jaskologist says:

      Could you expand on how an anti-universalist reading of Jonah goes?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Jonah’s complaint at the beginning of ch 4 seems to imply that the reason he fled doing God’s will was because God is compassionate, etc, and that Jonah wanted God to behave according to points in the scripture that state God’s will doesn’t change, but was worried that God would behave according to points which state God is merciful. However, some interpretations see Jonah as only upset because God decided not to punish non-Israelites, or specifically Ninevites – later oppressors (and the eventual destruction of the city would be understood as God’s work). In either case, there is something of a tradition of arguing with God – and sometimes of being right, of winning the argument – but the latter interpretation has the problem that there’s not a great deal in the text to directly support it, nor is there any mention of why you might want the Ninevites to get punished. It relies a lot on outside context.

        • marshwiggle says:

          So is the theory then that Jonah implies that God was only being compassionate on the Ninevites to use them as a tool later? Or am I misunderstanding the anti-universalist reading?

          • dndnrsn says:

            More that the intended audience would have seen the Ninevites as the enemy and their eventual destruction as a good thing, I believe? I’m a bit puzzled by the anti-universalist reading, myself; I think it’s a fairly old one, and one from a time with different attitudes than ours.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Oh, I can totally see how the intended audience would see the Ninevites as the enemy. Disliking Gentiles, especially ones who could/would/had burned down much of Israel, isn’t exactly implausible.

            I guess the anti-universalist reading might be more like ‘yes, those Ninevites are bad. But even those really bad people repented when a prophet called them to. Thought about repenting lately?’ That’s at least a plausible reading.

    • S_J says:

      I will say, the tale of Jonah is a whale of a story.

      It’s the kind of story that most children (who hear Bible-stories-for-kids) are told at least once. But it has a conclusion that isn’t typical for a children’s story.

      The first three chapters work, on a story-for-children-level, about a man who tries to run away from a Divine Command. He can’t run further than God, and God has arranged special transport to get him where he needs to go.

      The last chapter needs more thought. Why is Jonah angry? Is he angry at God, or at the people of Ninevah, or both? Why does Jonah react so badly when the small tree that he’s sheltering under dies?

      The story cares some about the people of Ninevah, but they are not the main focus of the story. The main focus is on Jonah, and his response to Divine orders. The people of that city are the kind of people that Jonah and his contemporaries would dislike, and wish great judgement on. God sends Jonah to proclaim judgement, and the message eventually reaches the city of Ninevah…and they change their ways, and God reacts with mercy. Jonah doesn’t like this ending to the story, and has further conversations with God about it. God tells Jonah that he cares more about himself and the vine he rested under than about an entire city of repentant people…even repentant people who are cultural and tribal enemies.

      This is usually classed as a Prophetic work, to my knowledge. It’s about a prophet delivering a prophetic message. But it seems to have some thoughts in common with the book of Job. In that book, men dispute with each other and with God about the meaning of the events they see.

  23. Hoopyfreud says:

    The dead

    Today is the day of the dead, when we the living recall those who have gone before, and so often too early. I wonder to myself what they would think of me, and what I’d say to them. What our relationships and lives would be like. It gives me an opportunity to miss them with brief intensity, and then return the pictures to the shelf for another year, the subjects of momentary glances and time-dulled idle thoughts.

    What’s your relationship with the dead, SSC commentariat? Do you make time for them in your thoughts, or avoid picking at old wounds? I myself am very fond of the dead, and find that keeping them close reassures me. It helps somehow to know that it’s possible to love somebody who is gone. It helps to know that I will leave behind love as well as pain.

    I apologise if I’m waxing too poetic, but it’s a good night for it; I’m preparing to speak with memories and shadows, and I feel a strong urge to set a mood, but I’m also sincerely curious about how different people feel about this.

    • Well... says:

      Only one person I’ve known well and cared about has died in my adult life, and it was a friend. More specifically, he was a former professor of mine and I was one of his favorite students. We became friends back when I was in his class, hanging out and talking in his office, going to lunch, etc. After I graduated and he went through a rather sudden and messy divorce I seemed to be one of the only people he trusted and confided in, as well as the first person he would call to help him around the house when heavy things needed to be lifted, etc. At times I felt like I was a son figure to him and he a father figure to me, though maybe just a shade on the casual side of that.

      He was old and his health was poor and he died during a few months’ pause in our communications. There were a lot of these after I moved to a new city. The last thing he said to me was in a text message, that his health had stabilized and he was looking forward to feeling better. So while I had my suspicions when I couldn’t get a hold of him, I wanted to believe his text. Learning about his death (randomly decided one day to look up obituaries in the town where he lived) left me a bit shocked for a couple days.

      I have fond memories of him as a kind, wise, complicated man who had been through a lot and had been my favorite teacher in college. The only palpable things I retain from him are a loving — and pretty accurate, in my opinion — impersonation of him saying certain phrases I remember him saying a lot in class, and a copy of the book he wrote. Meanwhile he died without returning a book I had lent him, and I’m not going to get it back.

      If there are people you care about, stay in touch with them –especially if they’re old or in bad health — because you don’t know when that yearly phone call or email will be the last you’re ever able to hear from them.

    • I’m older than most here, and quite a lot of people close to me have died. That includes the close friend—brother by mutual informal adoption—who my first child is named after. Both my parents. The uncle and aunt who were closest to me–my daughter is named after the aunt. A while back it occurred to me that I should get back in touch with a libertarian philosopher/Texas chauvinist who I once knew and greatly enjoyed, so I searched on the web–and discovered that he was no longer alive. Similarly for a sort of left wing economist who was one of the most original people I have known and in large part responsible for my interest in commitment strategies and their implications.

      I occasionally dream of one or two of them, more often think of them.

    • arlie says:

      Sometime last year, a sibling pointed out that I was the oldest surviving family member of my gender, with only one cousin older than me. That was a bit of a shock, but of course it’s true. We’d lost our last surviving parent earlier that year, to lung cancer. Our grandparents are long gone, and the siblings of both parents. Famous people from my childhood and young adulthood continue to die like flies. An old friend died in late 2017, after a long illness, but most of my friends of my own generation are still around.

      I’ve find myself thinking of mortality a lot, and of aging. Not so much thinking of specific individuals – except occassionally, when I notice something I would have wanted to show someone, or give them. But none I’ve lost so far were people I currently lived with, or very near. Even the ex-roomate friend was living in another country. (This is what comes of me being an ex-pat.) So I’m used to people not being ‘here’, and death just means we can never call or visit.

      I wonder in particular what my maternal grandfather would have thought of me and my ‘modern’ lifestyle. He died when I was still a child, but old enough to have a strong connection. (Unlike my paternal grandfather, who died when I was 4.) 50 years is a long time – this isn’t the world he lived in. And my lifestyle was probably inconceivable.

    • John Schilling says:

      My mother died when I was seventeen, and I’ve had a very good friend die in a light plane crash. Plus more distant relatives and more casual acquaintances.

      Once the initial grief and shock is done with (which can take a while) they seem to fit into the same mental space as friends and relatives who are still AFIK alive but with whom I am probably never going to interact again because our lives have moved in sufficiently different directions. There’s nothing particularly special to me about gone-because-dead compared to gone-because-distant, once the distance is sufficiently large and the probability of a non-trivial reunion is sufficiently small. The memories remain in either case, as does the occasional regret of lost possibilities.

    • b_jonas says:

      So far, I am lucky, because I haven’t had any people die who was very close to me. This won’t last forever.

      That said, about once or twice a year, I think of the people I have lost and the personal memories that connect me to them. Currently this is only two or three people: my grandmother, my great-grandfather, and the writer G. Szabó Magda who I only met twice ever. These days I listen to the sad pop song “Tell me there’s a heaven” by Chris Rea too, for the topic of that song is how we atheists relate to death and its unjustice, so I find it perfect for the mood.

      I don’t specifically think of the dead on November 1st, I just choose whenever this occurs to me regardless of the calendar. I’m not against having a holiday for this though, a holiday is convenient for those people who want to honor their dead relatives by visiting a grave in a cementary that may be far away.

      Also, I keep a list of some famous people (not family) who have died since 2001, selected by me subjectively, at “” , to remember and honor them. These generally aren’t people I have personal connections with, rather, they’re people who I feel are worthy of fame and many people should know them.

  24. HeelBearCub says:

    I know what I’m likely to get from the commentariat here, and I haven’t read every comment on the “Sort by Controversial” story, but nonetheless I feel compelled.

    Let me preface this by saying that artistic endeavors are always destined to miss some people, and I recognize that it’s hard to put your self out there. I’m not trying to belittle the effort to entertain. With that out of the way…

    Did anyone else feel like Scott was acting in bad faith writing that story? Particularly that in writing the story he was deliberately creating the kind of thing that theoretically the story is supposed to warning against?

    So many comments about how brilliant the story is, and my reaction was that it was so poorly written as to make me cringe. I had to skim half of it just to get through. The initial “scissor created” argument in the story just didn’t make any sense to me as a programmer, and a number of the examples weren’t things that are arguments that can be created from whole cloth, plus they are things that people actually care deeply about, they matter, they aren’t trivial. It’s a little like saying “who cares whether [x terrible thing] is true, what really matters is we shouldn’t be disagreeing about it”.

    Imagine if he had used “free speech on campus” as an example… but of course he wouldn’t use that as an example, because he thinks it’s important and impactful.

    So, it seems Scott is just creating a rhetorical weapon to be deployed whenever he (or anyone) wants to dismiss something. I’m seeing it deployed that way already.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nothing in the story says that the scissor statements have to be unimportant. A scissor that people didn’t care deeply about wouldn’t work. The scissor doesn’t create the disputes, it casts them in high relief.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t think so, because he posits the conflicts as novel and unexplored until the statement is out out into the world. It wasn’t important enough for it to even occur to anyone to disagree about it before.

        And remember that the central example is presented as fundamentally hysterical unhinged irrational reaction to what is essentially a daily occurrence on almost any new software project, people arguing about design standards.

        • Baeraad says:

          I don’t think so, because he posits the conflicts as novel and unexplored until the statement is out out into the world. It wasn’t important enough for it to even occur to anyone to disagree about it before.

          Hmm, that’s not the impression I got? I thought the point was that the conflicts were unexplored because until they were raised, everyone assumed that everyone else agreed with them. It’s not that they weren’t considered important, it was that they were considered to be too self-evident to need to be stated – but once they were stated, it turned out that everyone had a different opinion about what the “self-evident” answer was.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The set of “things I think are obvious but cause society wide schisms because they are actually important but no one realized there was disagreement about” is … small, to put it mildly. And, much more importantly, the differences aren’t caused by changes in wording. The differences are very real.

            It’s not like the BLM was uncontroversial, or even really much less controversial, before Colin Kapernick. The most you can say about Kapernick is that he pulled some football fans into engaging with the controversy. Those football fans tend to view it as annoying and not consequential, which is why he shouldn’t be protesting. Not important enough to get in the way of the football game, don’t want to hear about it, etc.

    • quanta413 says:

      Did anyone else feel like Scott was acting in bad faith writing that story?

      No. I didn’t find the story that interesting or insightful. Neither did I find it terrible. It was ok. I don’t think the idea was that the divisive issues were trivial though.

      And I’ve definitely seen some pretty uh… passionate arguments between programmers about trivia that boiled down to very little. Scott was vague and the point was to exaggerate, but it didn’t seem that far off. Like, step on Hacker News or the LKML.

      Imagine if he had used “free speech on campus” as an example… but of course he wouldn’t use that as an example, because he thinks it’s important and impactful.

      So, it seems Scott is just creating a rhetorical weapon to be deployed whenever he (or anyone) wants to dismiss something. I’m seeing it deployed that way already.

      Also I don’t see why he couldn’t have picked Campus Free speech or whatever. I don’t see an obvious tilt in his choice of examples. I think you’re reading negative motivations into him with very little basis. Many ideas can be deployed as a weapon if desired. I don’t even see how this is a useful or new one.

      I know what I’m likely to get from the commentariat here, and I haven’t read every comment on the “Sort by Controversial” story, but nonetheless I feel compelled.

      Please don’t open or close or whatever this way. You do it too often. It’s tiring and repetitive and drags everything down.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t think the idea was that the divisive issues were trivial though.

        Do you think we are seeing commenters deploy it that way? What do you think is appropriate deployment of the term “Scissor statement” ? Can you think of any examples in the real world?

        Yes, I understand it’s a magical power in the story, on the other hand he is linking to real world articles. Yes, it’s a nod to Orson Welles radio adaptation of “War of the Worlds”.

        At the very least, I hope we don’t see people deploying this as terminology here.

        Please don’t open or close or whatever this way.

        Eh. It was a recognition that I was the wrong person to offer the critique. But I understand why it annoyed.

        • quanta413 says:

          Do you think we are seeing commenters deploy it that way? What do you think is appropriate deployment of the term “Scissor statement” ? Can you think of any examples in the real world?

          I expect someone will probably deploy it in that way. Like I said, I didn’t find it super interesting so maybe I’m missing whatever emotional resonance it has and that’s sort of shading what connotations people read into it.

          At the very least, I hope we don’t see people deploying this as terminology here.

          Agreed. At least, I don’t think much of what is discussed here should fall under that. If someone uses the term once every couple months in some sort of super relevant situation ok maybe, but I don’t want yet another endless overused meta-argument meme.

          Eh. It was a recognition that I was the wrong person to offer the critique. But I understand why it annoyed.

          Thanks. I was probably being a bit too touchy about this. Meh week.

    • Nornagest says:

      it seems Scott is just creating a rhetorical weapon to be deployed whenever he (or anyone) wants to dismiss something. I’m seeing it deployed that way already.

      On the one hand, we need more jargon around here like I need a hole in my head. But on the other hand, I think you might have misunderstood what this nascent piece of jargon means. It doesn’t mean “this is a meaningless symbolic controversy” or “this argument is stupid”. It does imply “this sheds more heat than light”, or, more accurately, “this cleaves its audience along axiomatic lines”, but, you know, that’s actually a useful thing to say, as long as you’re interested in understanding the dispute in question rather than getting a sweet little dopamine hit from schooling your hated enemies. If it’s being deployed to identify those disputes, then good, it should be.

      Also, if we’re looking for questions that shed more heat than light, “is X acting in bad faith?” is almost always one of them. Just sayin’.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Is it useful? I don’t think it’s well defined.

        What do you think is appropriate deployment of the term “Scissor statement” ? Can you think of any examples in the real world?

        I guess I just hope we don’t see it being deployed as a term of art here, but the horse may be out of the barn.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I get the strong sense that it will be part of SSC jargon for a while. So, if you’re worried about what it will mean, best to get in front of it now – just like you’re doing.

          So you want it to not simply mean “this argument is dumb”? I can go along with that, and I think enough other commenters can, too.

          It might mean “this argument is a mindkiller”. Or we could stress the intent behind it – “this argument was designed to mindkill, albeit by an algorithm with no agenda aside from that”. This would make it pretty safely a fantasy concept. (I think.)

          Suppose you were forced to define it well. What meaning would you prefer?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I mean, this seems a little like asking the peasant which of the invading soldiers he would prefer to ravish his child? I’m the one objecting to the whole thing. I don’t think it’s useful, for reasons I think I have laid out.

            Elsewhere we have people claiming the following is a result of the scissor:

            Hillary was an extremely seasoned practitioner of state craft

            It seems likely to be employed frequently as an argumentum ad scissorum. Perhaps we can amend Poe’s Law?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I had to review that subthread in light of your objection. And… either I need to spend more time on it, or your objection is still vague?

            Here’s the thing: “Hillary was an extremely seasoned practitioner of state craft” seems to have earned a decent amount of discussion in this OT alone. Some seem to agree; some seem to disagree. Both sides seem include members who are stymied as to how the other side could even entertain its claim. So the third party observation would seem to suggest “scissor statement”, per its definition in the story, yes?

            I know you tend to side with causes I would characterize as left. Are you convinced HRC is a seasoned statecrafter, and boggled by how anyone can claim that she isn’t? I don’t want to kafkatrap you here, on principle, so the thought that “if you are, that it only confirms that this is a scissor statement” feels like something I should avoid. And maybe I’m missing something entirely and it turns out you don’t believe that claim to begin with, or you do with certain interesting caveats that avoid the scissoring (e.g. she’s good at it, but the problems are so intractable that even she can’t solve them), or something else I missed. I’m still feeling out the possibility tree here.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      TBH I also found it extremely tedious to read, and I found the “magic words” to be silly.

    • Baeraad says:

      I certainly think the story shows Scott’s biases, but I also think that if he wanted to make a genuine argument for something he’d write a straight article about it. If he’s wrapping something in a metaphor, then that to me suggests that he’s expressing his feelings, not making a case. Feelings are allowed to be biased.

    • Deiseach says:

      Did anyone else feel like Scott was acting in bad faith writing that story? Particularly that in writing the story he was deliberately creating the kind of thing that theoretically the story is supposed to warning against?

      No, because the point of the Scissors Statements are that they are unique triggers. If you deeply care about X, that will cause you to want to fight to the death anyone who prefers Y. Someone who doesn’t care a straw about X will not alone not be affected, they won’t understand why on earth two (or more) people are having a screaming row about “milk in first or tea in first?”

      Also, it will work even if you weren’t previously aware that you deeply care about X, and it pushes the right buttons to turn off “Come on, is X really that big a deal?” because now it becomes a moral/ethical point, not just a difference of opinion. X is really the most important thing in the world! X is self-evidently right, so self-evidently right that anyone who prefers Y can’t be merely mistaken, they have to be actively choosing to reject X and/or be bad, incompetent, stupid, ignorant, as well as wicked and evil!

      Yes, the principle can be applied to Real World Examples, but I certainly did not feel that Scott had any particular pro-X or anti-Y case in mind that he wanted us all to agree on. The fact that we can all think of Real World Example where we believe the Scissors Statement is being referred just means the idea works. (The mechanism of the execution of the idea – the magic algorithm – may or may not be credible to the reader depending on their view of the likelihood of computer learning/other tech buzzword being able to create such a thing, but personally I just took that as the usual McGuffin required for this kind of sci-fi/sci-fantasy story and didn’t worry too much about it).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        they are unique triggers

        I don’t think this is the case. Remember, he posits that they can destroy a country.

        The fact that we can all think of Real World Example

        I don’t think we can?

      • quanta413 says:

        “milk in first or tea in first?”

        Tea in first. Obviously.

      • Nornagest says:

        Tea first, milk never.

      • Spookykou says:

        Milk first, assuming you are pouring already brewed tea into a cup, the pouring of the larger volume of liquid second (it should be more tea than milk!) will stir the solution saving you the trouble of manual string.

      • Lambert says:

        For brewing in a teapot, the order is a historical wealth signalling thing.
        People back then used delicate porcelain teacups. The thermal shock of adding the hot water damaged them over time. Poor people added milk first to reduce the thermal shock, so their crockery would last longer. Rich people had enough money to replace broken china cups, so they added the tea first.

    • Brad says:

      Didn’t get that sense. Not a huge fan of Scott’s fiction (different strokes and all that), and I agree with Nornagest that we don’t need new jargon, but I think in bad faith reads something into it that isn’t there.

    • Thegnskald says:

      No, he wasn’t acting in bad faith.

      However, I suspect that it, like the conflict theory post, is ultimately harmful to norms. It is yet another reason to dismiss what other people say.

      At one level, it looks like he is grasping at epistemological self-defense. On another level, however, epistemological self-defense is exactly what rationalists reject. Reconstructing the biases and flaws with “normal” ways of thinking, structured in a way that appeals to rationalists, looks like a defection from rationalist ideals.

      But the thing is – I don’t think he knows that this is what he is doing. I don’t think most of the people who are convinced by these ideas know what the ideas are. They are, for reference, “normal”. This is the way normal people see the world. The language is different, the explanations are different, but from somebody who understands and rejects normality, it is just a translation of normal ideas into rationalist language.

      It is the same set of ideas behind postmodernism, behind death eater thought processes, behind the set of thoughts the death eaters call the endarkenment. It is the zeitgeist of the era, I think, and everybody seems to be buying into it. It is, fundamentally, a cynicism about reason itself, best expressed by the adage “Science advances one funeral at a time”.

      It is a rationalist horror story.

      • dick says:

        I just got to read it, and I found it very much descriptive, not proscriptive. Furthermore, I found it useful in the sense of giving a name to a thing that needed a name. If you’d asked me, “Would it be controversial if a black football player refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest against societal racism” I’m sure I would’ve predicted it would, but I wouldn’t have guessed it would turn in to the national obsession it became. And obviously any he-said-she-said allegation against a prominent politician is going to be controversial, but again, I wouldn’t have thought it would get like it did with Kavanaugh. I was fully prepared to come here and see a handful of “Well, I think he probably did/didn’t do it, but of course that’s what my bias would lead me to think anyway, and since there are so very few facts to discuss I will choose to be the rational creature I aspire to be and say no more” comments. The discussion that actually occurred was every bit as demoralizing to read as, say, watching two colleagues go ballistic on each other over whitespace.

        And it is in no way a natural result of the fact that people disagree on policy. I struggle to put into words what’s going on exactly, but I think for things to become mini-natural-obsessions is an indication that something deeper is going on, that a nerve has been touched that isn’t usually touched, or perhaps it facilitates an argument that people have been wanting to have but haven’t had a way to hash out yet.

        • albatross11 says:

          One thing that seems relevant here is that a lot of policy debates come down to some fundamental question of values or something. Think of a discussion of abortion laws–maybe we end up disagreeing, maybe even angrily and with a lot of bad blood. But the underlying disagreement is actually about some fundamental questions of values or morality or something.

          I think the scissors issues usually aren’t like that. It’s not that they’re meaningless issues, it’s more like they’re not issues where we’re battling over fundamental principles. Rather, they’re places where the facts or right interpretation of something is ambiguous. It’s a little like the idea in toxoplasma of rage, where the shooting of Michael Brown by police became the issue that got all the attention, rather than the choking to death of Eric Garner[1] by police. The fact that the interpretation is ambiguous, plus people lining up with their teams, plus confirmation bias once you’ve adopted one view, gets lots of people to become more and more certain that they’re right in their interpretation, and thus to feel like the other side is getting crazier and crazier.

          [1] Fixed! Thanks, Nornagest!

          • Nornagest says:

            the choking to death of Oscar Grant by police

            You’re thinking of Eric Garner. Oscar Grant was shot by BART cops.

          • dick says:

            I think you’re right, that the “perfectly splits people” quality Scott described in Toxoplasmosis is one ingredient, but I also think the “allows people to have an argument they wanted to have” effect is a big part of what makes something virally-controversial. Like, if you think young people are too disrespectful, or that liberals hate police, or that conservatives unfairly tar liberals as hating police, or any of a host of related things, each new development in the Kapernick saga was a fresh opportunity for you to inflict your spiel on some hapless person at the office water cooler. Maybe a scissor issue is one where, when you do that, the issue is controversial enough that the other person at the water cooler argues back.

    • Randy M says:

      The initial “scissor created” argument in the story just didn’t make any sense to me as a programmer

      There’s a challenge writers face when trying to portray a world where certain statements are extremely impactful, whether because they come from hyperintelligent ai or super charismatic speakers. It’s going to look like cheating if they don’t include some of the text, but then, they probably aren’t as genius as the fictional writer they are trying to portray.
      Scott, not actually being an ai version of Discord, is not going to be able to write a convincing scissor statement, and including the actual unconvincing one breaks the verisimilitude.

      • albatross11 says:

        Have you ever watched people argue about programming languages?

        • Randy M says:

          I’m not sure how that’s relevant. I take no position on whether or not the scissor statement on programming makes sense; I’m merely pointing out that it is very difficult for a writer to write an example of what someone supposedly smarter than them would write.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            My point is that the prototypical “vi vs. Emacs” debate is older than most anyone here, evokes white hot debate, and doesn’t lead to fistfights or unwarranted firings.

            If you tell a horror story where the right kind of thought enters the unique protagonists head and they then becomes insanely jealous of the supposedly secret relationship their spouse is having and murder people, this makes sense. We see this occur with some regularity.

            Do it for everyone in the world with one statement? Now you need to get into “actual magic” territory. Super natural phenomena of some sort.

          • Randy M says:

            I think you and I at least are in agreement on the plausibility, though I wouldn’t say bad faith, just not an argument.

      • It’s going to look like cheating if they don’t include some of the text, but then, they probably aren’t as genius as the fictional writer they are trying to portray.

        There is a bit in Heinlein I still remember, in a novel about a revolt against a theocracy. The protagonist has a friend in psychological warfare. The friend explains that it isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it. The protagonist responds that that might be true for uneducated peasants, but not for rational people like himself and his friend.

        The friend then says something. The protagonist attacks him and has to be pulled off. Heinlein never tells us what the words were–but the friend points out that all he said was that the protagonist was the legitimate offspring of a legal marriage.

    • AG says:

      It was a Halloween story. It’s a Twilight Zone or Black Mirror story, meant to contort a certain element of human nature to an absurd extent, in order to evoke a certain atmosphere. The atmosphere is what matters in the end, not the actual content.

      I don’t think Black Mirror episodes are that insightful. I don’t like that people think that Black Mirror episodes are super deep and imparting important lessons. But I’m not going to accuse Charlie Booker of producing Black Mirror in bad faith.

      And I really don’t like it when people slam a creator for the actions of the people consuming their works. See Fight Club, or Rick and Morty, for example. Do we slam Hideaki Anno as writing NGE in bad faith, just because that show is a huge reason waifu body pillows are sold in the 18+ section?

    • meh says:

      What the story was missing is the 6 other employees who found the statement unimportant, inconsequential, didn’t think it was worth arguing about, and were still powerless.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      So, for those who don’t detect an underlying bias or memetic push in the story, compare the overall message of the story to the ideas he has expressed against using a certain word beginning with R. (I don’t want to rehash that debate in this sub-thread, so I’m reluctant to bring it up).

      The underlying idea, that there exists a certain word, that we shouldn’t use, because it is too divisive, and has no “real” meaning, and therefore should not be discussed.

      • albatross11 says:


        I genuinely don’t think Scott wrote that story to push against your political side. I think he’s reacting to a phenomenon that appears from time to time in the world, where some apparently innocuous question just utterly rips apart some group of people, especially online.

        Scott wrote a post where he pointed out that there were a lot of competing definitions for “racism,” and it was not obvious which one was meant at any given time. That seems unquestionably true, to me, and it sure seems hard to have a discussion if we can’t agree on what our words mean, at least approximately.

        To my mind, the other major issue with using “racist” in political / social discussions is that it’s sometimes a moral label, and sometimes one linked to questions of fact. Mixing your thinking about questions of fact and questions of morality is a good way to sabotage your brain.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          As I said, I don’t want to re-hash that debate in this sub-thread.

          I’m likely to post something tomorrow around that issue, but I’d prefer to keep this issue about the meta-similarity.

          Again, it’s more than just “this is unclear” that he is objecting to in that post. It’s also the “it will tear apart the fabric of society”.

          His conclusion is “I don’t want civil war. I want this country to survive long enough to be killed by something awesome” He also rejects talking about it, even if it is true (although he is willing to talk about “root causes” [theoretically.]

    • John Schilling says:

      I thought the story was implausible because I’m pretty sure that human psychology has evolved defenses against that sort of social failure, at least in face-to-face social interaction, that are immune to anything or nearly anything that can be expressed in coevolved human languages. And if there are exceptions to “nearly anything” that will lead to fistfights, then I don’t think you can find them by applying AI to reddit wars.

      But I don’t think Scott was arguing in bad faith, just exaggerating or overestimating the range of plausible effects. I think it is very rare and not at all predictable for disputes over programming languages/tools/styles to lead to fistfights, but the same is true of every other sort of intra-tribal argument, and if we’re postulating a machine that can find and predict the exceptions, what I’ve seen of e.g. language wars makes them as likely a place to find such as the more conventional religion and politics stuff.

      Thinking about this a bit further, consider e.g. language-enforced memory management, or version control tools. Annoying and tedious to deal with, particularly if you are in the habit of doing without, and useful only in guarding against a class of error that diligent, competent programmers working alone or in pairs on smallish projects almost never make – but “almost” times enough programmers writing enough SLOC leads to inevitable catastrophe. I can easily imagine one group of coders becoming very irate that another group is insulting their diligence or competence by insisting they learn and use this nonsense, and the second group becoming very irate that the first group insists on being the sort of arrogant cowboys who will inevitably produce buggy code that someone else will have to fix. Even if those two groups were working happily as teammates during the early planning stages of the project before they’d officially settled on the toolkit. And I can imagine a talented social engineer deliberately exploiting those differences for maximal chaos.

      As I said, I don’t think fistfights can be predictably engineered this way and so the story didn’t work for me. But then, I’m not a psychologist, so I could be wrong and I’m willing to listen to informed dissent so long as it remains free of fistfights.

      • You don’t have to believe it would really happen for the story to work–it’s fiction. This is a greatly exaggerated version of a real effect, and the fact that the statement has been designed by a program that turns out to be amazingly good at designing such a thing makes it plausible within the story.

        • John Schilling says:

          Science fiction can fail by demanding of the reader an implausible suspension of disbelief. Possibly the most common way to accomplish this is with an implausible extrapolation of human nature, as opposed to something easy like FTL or perpetual motion. Those you can just hide behind a layer of technobabble. Here, technobabble just gets you to the maximally offensive statement, and the maximally offensive statement causing fistfights among friends and professional colleagues is the part that not so much suspends disbelief as hangs disbelief by the neck until dead.

          • sentientbeings says:

            Science fiction can fail by demanding of the reader an implausible suspension of disbelief.

            True, and in my opinion it often does – it’s my major criticism of Star Trek, which, although I like sometimes, I think suffers as a story universe because it’s internally contradictory in a very fundamental sense. That said, there is a difference between a story component that calls for suspension of disbelief and something that moves the story from pure science fiction (or fiction generally) to a different genre for which I don’t have a word, but would be approximated by The Twilight Zone, or perhaps Black Mirror. That is to say, the sci-fi is only a backdrop for investigating a broader question, and the accuracy or likelihood of various story details might or might not be important given the particular story.

            There is an episode of The Twilight Zone in which some thieves steal gold and then enter hibernation chambers (to outlast legal pursuit). Some of the chambers break, but at least one of the thieves wakes and tries to bargain with people in “the future” using his gold. They respond with mild amusement and confusion, something like “What special value would gold have, when we can easily make it?”

            The actual science behind an element becoming orders of magnitude more available is suspect, as are the hibernation chambers to begin with. The point about something that holds great value in one time becoming relatively cheap, even “worthless,” in another time, is still a valid concept.

          • CatCube says:

            I’m reminded of a quote by G.K. Chesterton in one of his Father Brown stories:

            It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible. But I’m much more certain it didn’t happen than that Parnell’s ghost didn’t appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand.

          • John Schilling says:

            So apparently, G.K. Chesterton said what I was trying to say, only incomparably better and about a hundred years earlier. Why am I not surprised?

          • dodrian says:

            One of my favorite quotes comes from Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novel The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul:

            “What was the Sherlock Holmes principle? ‘Once you have discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ ”

            “I reject that entirely,” said Dirk sharply. “The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbably lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is that it is hopelessly improbable?…The first idea merely supposes that there is something we don’t know about, and…there are enough of those. The second, however, runs contrary to something fundamental and human which we do know about. We should therefore be very suspicious of it and all its specious rationality.”

    • rahien.din says:

      Does anyone else find the discussion of Scissor Statements painfully hilarious?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Hmm. I enjoyed the story and continue to believe it had merit, and I wouldn’t assume bad faith, but…

      It’s definitely true that the story pushes the reader (at least if they share Scott’s general outlook) towards thinking of scissor statements as things that trick other people into irrational conflicts. Using campus free speech as an example would have helped a lot, as would have being a bit subtler about the unreliability of the narrator.

      (also agreed the first scissor is very not-compelling, but I just chalked that up to the author not being a programmer. Especially since programmers love to joke about how prone they are to this sort of conflict)

      I do think the concept of a ‘scissor’ describes something real, and more specific than just a ‘controversy’–roughly, “an issue that creates new conflict”. Iwo Jima hosted more intense fighting than the Falklands, but only the latter is a scissor.

      I think there’s a lot of interesting thinking to be done about these scissors–how exactly to define them, what causes them, how to identify them, how to avoid them, and certainly not least, under what circumstances they cannot (or should not) be avoided.

      But this concept is also sort of a motte that naturally commands a bailey. The bailey is exactly the thing you fear: calling an issue a ‘scissor’ is equivalent to calling it unimportant.

      So I’m going to call on anyone here defending the concept of Shiri’s Scissors: don’t let it become the rhetorical weapon HBC thinks it will. Be prepared to call out the Scissors-are-unimportant fallacy if you should ever see it deployed!

      • albatross11 says:

        I read it as being things that the narrator was also susceptible to, and presumably that the reader would be, too, if he was in the target audience for the scissors statement.

    • SamChevre says:

      I thought it captured something important, although I’m not sure if the examples captured it.

      The world I grew up in blew itself to smithereens, and people are still personally angry at the other side 40 years later, over an argument between the “we cannot be more just than God” crowd and the “justice must be done and be seen to be done” crowd (who agreed on 99.9% of what they were arguing about). And people did exactly what the Scissors article says–started thinking of a mostly-theoretical question as definitional of morality and digging in their heels.

      But it’s like James McDonald says about cons–the right day and the right con, and you will get conned.

  25. johan_larson says:

    Like a disheartening number of other men, I just can’t seem to find this “clitoris” thing to save my life. My current theory is that it is a settlement of some type, meaning a town or a city. Presumably it’s quite a small town these days, since it is so hard to find. It must have been quite a place back in the day, since people keep talking about it.

    Anyway, the word itself comes to us from ancient Greek by way of Latin. That should place this city (now town) somewhere within the ancient Hellenistic regions around the eastern Mediterranean. It’s probably in the back-country somewhere, away from other major cities and trade routes.

    Anyway, I’d appreciate any assistance in locating the fabled city of Clitoris.