Links 2/15: Linkconceivable!

When shoddy engineering caused a bridge to collapse in Quebec, Canada decided it needed to impress its engineering students with the sanctity of their duty. Their solution: call Rudyard Kipling to design a Ritual Of The Calling Of An Engineer.

Overlawyered: A man who performed under the name “Skull Von Krush” is now a plaintiff in a suit seeking class-action status that claims pro wrestling hid the dangers of concussion

Tom Loback makes beautiful illuminated manuscripts of the Silmarillion, in Quenya.

I Used To Be A Snob About Fake Meat. I Was Dead Wrong. A food critic argues that the moral imperative for vegetarianism is strong enough that he will grudgingly allow people to eat fake meat, especially since people eat their real meat with so much stuff anyway that the fake version doesn’t taste much worse. A lot of my vegetarian friends have also claimed fake meat doesn’t taste worse than the real thing. I’m curious which kinds of fake meat they’re thinking of. I use Quorn myself, but it’s not nearly as good, plus I’ve recently been told it uses factory-farmed eggs in the US anyway. Article is also notable for nominative determinism – food journalist Tom Philpott.

Speaking of nominative determinism, Wikipedia has a good list of examples, including a bunch of meteorologists with names like Storm, Raine, and Freeze, and DUI defendant Dr. Unk. (h/t Buck)

Reuters: Stop Adding Up The Wealth Of The Poor. You know all of those articles that tell you “The richest hundred people have more money than the bottom three billion”? The way they’re couinting it, a toddler with a nickel would have more money than the bottom three billion.

There is a Journal of Dracula Studies. (h/t Ozy)

A little late, but here you go: Cards Against Humanity: State Of The Union Edition. I have a feeling “NO, FUCK YOU, CUT SPENDING!” will end up as a trump card.

Contra some recent discussion on Xenosystems, a very interesting Noah Smith article in Bloomberg, Making Babies Makes A Comeback, says fertility rates have started rising again both in Japan and the West.

Elon Musk reveals that SpaceX’s new drone ships will be named Just Read The Instructions and Of Course I Still Love You, which fans quickly recognized as a Cultural refrence. Also a good excuse (as if you needed one) to read Wikipedia’s List Of Spacecraft In The Culture Series

More of poor people explaining why being poor is harder than you think on Reddit recently. I finally realized that one part of the answer to “Why don’t poor people leave expensive cities?” is “Because they can’t afford cars and are dependent on access to public transportation.”

In my post Social Justice For The Demanding Of Rigor, I listed a bunch of studies that I thought showed ironclad evidence of discrimination even when the usual confounders had been taken out. I was recently informed that one of these studies, the one showing discrimination against women in scientific peer review which disappeared when reviews were blinded to gender, has been – I don’t know if it officially counts as retracted, but Nature says after looking into it they realize it was false and they apologize for publishing the claim. Despite trying really hard to maintain skepticism, I am apparently still too credulous of gender statistics. I apologize for helping spread this falsehood and I have corrected the post in which it appeared.

Popehat: The Difference Between Us And Them. A really good example of isolated demands, proving too much, and meta- versus object-level.

Africa’s Quiet Solar Revolution. One of the factors behind Africa’s recent economic boom is that governments which continually botch infrastructure have been circumvented by technology and business that provide the same goods in a decentralized way. Thus the cell phone revolution and now solar power.

University of Chicago reviews Lee Dugatkin’s Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose, the story of Thomas Jefferson’s obsession with sending a giant stuffed moose to France as part of a plan to save America by fighting a weird theory of animal racism.

Related – Nations with moose cavalry: the elves of Mirkwood, the Soviet Union

Two new promising classes of cancer therapies.

Everyone is talking about Jonathan Chait’s article against political correctness, which is so boring I’m not even going to link it because it is exactly what you imagine it to be when I say “an article against political correctness”. On the other hand, some of the discussion has been worthwhile. Ross Douthat tries to pinpoint exactly what we mean by political correctness – though I’m not sure he succeeds – then argues contra Chait that, though it can be ugly, it does work. Meanwhile, Chait has a pretty funny analysis of the way people have responded to his piece.

India moves toward deal on global warming. For those of you keeping track, that’s India, China, and America at least making the right noises. Next step is a summit in Paris in December.

Libertarian book about how markets should be used for everything is, consistently, auctioning off its dedication to the highest bidder. Offer includes the right to write whatever message you want on the dedication page. Right now it’s at $180, so if you’ve ever wanted a libertarian book dedicated to you or a loved one, you’ve got another week or so before bidding closes.

Signaling and countersignaling: Even Airports Can Have Inferiority Complexes. Students from lower-level Ivy schools are more likely to talk about how they’re going to an Ivy, smaller airports that only have a few international flights are more likely to call themselves “X International Airport”, and so on.

Every news source’s employees donate more money to the Democrats than the Republicans, including Fox News. Perspective one: The liberal slant of the media is getting ridiculous. Perspective two: if a measure says Fox has a liberal slant, it’s probably not a meaningful measure; employees must not affect the tone of coverage much anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they all lean the same way.

Why Do Some Women Prefer Submissive Men?, asks a study that goes on to find that relationships with a power imbalance tend to produce more children, regardless of which partner is on top. Not sure whether they’re finding anything other than that if your relationship satisfies your fetish you’ll have more sex and therefore more kids.

There’s good April Fools’ Day jokes, there’s great April Fools’ Day jokes, and then there’s lighting a tire fire in the crater of the volcano outside town and making everyone think they’re doomed.

I thought the “ridiculous exaggeration of laws in new stories” trend had peaked with coverage of the right-to-discriminate law in Michigan, but I was wrong: Bill Would Allow Texas Teachers To Kill Students.

“So to recap: If you provide transportation services just for your own employees, people will say that you’re elitist, that you’re ‘letting’ the public systems crumble because you’ve got your own, and there’ll be protests wherever your buses stop. If you provide transportation services to everyone and thumb your nose at the regulators, they’ll say you’re a threat to consumers and should be shut down. If you try to provide transportation services to everyone while following the rules, you will get fuck-all done. Welcome to San Francisco.” – Mike Blume on Night School Failed Because It Followed Laws

DSM-V maintains diagnostic reliability by changing the goalposts (h/t James Wu and Kate)

This guy is really not impressed with that “amazing archery” video going around.

Study: half of the financial returns to schooling come from finding a better mate, at least in Denmark. (h/t Marginal Revolution)

I usually hate “It’s Not That Class That’s Ruining America, It’s This Class” almost as much as “It’s Not This Generation That’s Ruling America, It’s That Generation”. But Reihan Salam gives some not-at-all-bad political analysis of things like zoning laws and job licensing in the process of arguing that The Upper Middle Class Is Ruining America.

Andrew Sullivan retires from blogging, prompting suggestions from Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen that he was the most important public intellectual of our era, most notably as the leading voice for gay rights. Kevin Drum argues that blogging is dying; Ezra Klein argues that it isn’t and names some blogs he likes, including SSC (!)

YOUR SUPPOSED SOCIAL FINDINGS ARE CONFOUNDED BY BIOLOGY, part 5206851: claim that having daughters makes couples get divorced may be a misinterpretation; alternate explanation is that daughters survive stress better in utero and so couples with high level of marital stress (and therefore likely future divorce) give birth to more daughters but miscarry more sons.

Rand Paul claims that he has “heard of many tragic cases of children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines”, is soundly mocked. Backtracks, saying that all he meant was that some children get mental disorders, and in strictly chronological terms this is after they are vaccinated. Poses for camera getting vaccinated, blames “liberal media”. I’m not sure America is ready for a president who doesn’t practice Gricean implicature. I was kind of hoping Paul would end up as the thinking man’s presidential candidate, so this is a pretty big blow.

80,000 Hours on a rough non-rigorous estimate of how much of a positive or negative externality is produced by different professions.

The Emerging Republican Advantage claims that trends are in place for Republicans to keep winning elections, despite the much more obvious counter-trends (more immigrants and minorities, more old people dying, etc). Some of its points are good, but I think after every election I’ve seen a couple of pieces saying “Party X’s victory in this election foreshadows a new era of complete Party X domination, Party Y will never be able to recover” and so far they’ve always been wrong. [EDIT: And on cue, a commenter points out that this is the same author who wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority ten years ago.]

How Citation Distortions Create Unfounded Authority – if all the cool people make sure to get positive results and cite each other, it looks to everyone else like there is universal consensus on positive results in a field.

Speaking of which, some great discussion of the hype around telomeres, first from Slate and then from James Coyne. No, living with a depressed parent doesn’t “accelerate your aging”, no, you probably shouldn’t be looking at telomeres and talking about “accelerated aging” to begin with.

The English Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 defined and strengthened the writ of habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial that we still (sometimes) enjoy today. It was passed because the guy in charge of the House Of Lords counted an especially fat Lord as ten votes as a joke and nobody else noticed.

Related to the recent discussion on innate talent: Shakuntala Devi, an Indian lady capable since a young age of apparently impossible calculations, like giving the 23rd root of a 201 digit number in less than a minute. Her other achievements include writing one of the first books to openly discuss homosexuality in India, as well as another book which is not really what you would expect from a savant.

679 thoughts on “Links 2/15: Linkconceivable!

  1. Anonymous

    I saw the names of the ships and guessed that they were Culture references, but my first thought was not that he copied Banks’s names, but that he made up new names in the same style. Since it is possible, I think it would have been a better tribute.

    1. Nornagest

      It’s surprisingly hard to make up good-sounding Culture shipnames. I’ve got a file somewhere at home where I’ve tried, and I was only ever satisfied with two or three.

  2. Thomas M

    Does anyone have a link to the actual contents of the Dracula journal? Preliminary googling shows that it’s open access but sites that host the journal seem to be missing or broken. I’m curious about what’s in it!

  3. Ilana

    “I’m not sure America is ready for a president who doesn’t practice Gricean implicature.”

    I can’t stop laughing.

  4. UncommonMurre

    Speaking of moose cavalry, if you find yourself looking for some relaxing pulp-sci-fi brain candy some time I recommend Sterling E. Lanier’s “Hiero’s Journey” and “The Unforsaken Hiero”. Hiero is one of an order of psychic warrior-priests from post-apocalyptic Canada future who ride domesticated moose descendants to battle. A couple of opposing Goodreads reviews sum up to me who will like it and who will not:

    Hiero is also a very simplistic hero (the pun certainly isn’t my fault) who is basically almost always right, his enemies always wrong…there’s very little room for any grey in this world.

    OH MY HOLY JEEZ I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s ridiculous in all the best possible ways. It’s a beautiful artifact from a time before irony – a time when you could have a bad guy named “S’nerg” work for an organization called “The Brotherhood of the Unclean”, and not be kidding.

  5. Susebron

    I think the cookie bug is fixed. The “edit comment thing” still exists for more than three minutes, and my name is filling in automatically.

    1. DrBeat

      I think that’s less “people responding rationally to things that incentivize perverse or destructive behavior” and more “irrational people who are so selfish and ideologically blinded they are no longer capable of determining what behaviors are incentivized.”

  6. Shmi Nux

    Doctor-assisted death is now legal in Canada: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/scc-reverses-course-on-doctor-assisted-death-1.2223493#

    I wonder if this includes getting cryonically frozen…

    EDIT: from the decision:
    Insofar as they prohibit physician‑assisted dying for competent adults who seek such assistance as a result of a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering, ss. 241 (b) and 14 of the Criminal Code deprive these adults of their right to life, liberty and security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter .

    http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14637/index.do

  7. Scott H.

    This is a comment on how tough it is being poor. I read the linked article. I always find it odd when poor people quickly gloss over the fact that they have abused something and then want to dwell on how now life is very difficult when they are no longer allowed to utilize the thing they were abusing.

  8. Julie K

    The book-dedication sale isn’t such a radical libertarian idea – hundreds of years ago writers were dedicating books to their patrons, who paid considerably more than $180.

  9. namae nanka

    I remember the name ‘Maxine Clarke'(may she RIP) but not the studies themselves. Another such episode was from a certain Lutz Bornmann, the original published a year earlier and corrected a year later than the ones referred to in Maxine Clarke’s articles.

    It’s interesting looking at the flip side too,

    In order to test the influence of committee bias in general, we gender-blinded the committee members for the two rounds of application in 2006. Surprisingly, the difference in success rate persisted and even increased. We therefore concluded that the committee does not introduce a gender-based bias into the selection and that it must be aspects of the application itself that lead to the difference in outcome for men and women.

    http://www.set-routes.org/conference/abstracts/ledin_wallon.html

    The success rate was in favor of men, of course.

    But the data, she says, show that female professors in the study actually were more likely to be second through fourth authors than first. It knocked down her theory that male scientists had failed to ask her to collaborate on academic articles because she is a woman.

    http://chronicle.com/article/The-Hard-Numbers-Behind/135236/

    tee-hee it’s science!

    And when the right kind of ‘ism’ is under question,

    http://andrewgelman.com/2012/12/29/sexism-in-science-as-elsewhere/#comment-123122

    And someone broke down how she got that 23rd root on reddit TIL sub, impressive still but massively overstated.

    1. namae nanka

      Forgot to add,

      There is a real problem with some of the recommendations
      recently agreed to at MIT. Salaries have a natural error variance,
      if you take two groups of “equally” performing people,
      they will almost certainly have differences both in pay and
      in performance. The way it now stands, feminists planning
      to use MIT as a template want the right to demand a pay increase
      anytime they can identify a salary decrement, regardless of
      (a) whether any performance figures have been taken into account,
      and (b) whether “natural variation” has been examined. Similar
      venues are not open to men. So, in the future, we may find
      rapid “fixing” of even minor, well-deserved differences when
      women find themselves on the short end, but no such “fixes”
      when men find themselves on the short end. This merely perpetuates
      more unfairness, and will almost certainly result in a backlash
      some time in the future.

      James Steiger in response to this old MIT brouhaha.

      http://www.salon.com/2001/04/12/science_women/

  10. KidWinTinker

    There are wide spread allegations that Shakuntala Devi was/is a fraud. I personally believe those allegations.

  11. Paul Torek

    Perspective one: The liberal slant of the media is getting ridiculous. Perspective two: if a measure says Fox has a liberal slant, it’s probably not a meaningful measure; employees must not affect the tone of coverage much anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they all lean the same way.

    Don’t be silly, we all know the saying that he who is the piper, calls the tune.

  12. amiwelcomehere

    There is something more than a bit sad and even scary about this list of posts. A man was burned alive AS A RECRUITING TOOL the day before this post. When you utterly ignore an event of that magnitude, it sends a message. I’m not sure what the message is – moral vacuity? Denial motivated by fear? Denial motivated by political loyalty? Avoidance? Ignorance? Is there a rule I’m not familiar with, like, we don’t discuss the biggest moral, political and military threat of our time because it’s what? Too grown up? Too depressing? Too scary? Too complex? Too contentious? To someone rather new to SSC it comes across as rather strange and numb behavior. It’s not as weird as having a discussion on 9/12 that doesn’t mention the attack, but it is in that category.

    1. cypher

      A friend of mine is of the opinion that inflaming outrage so that massive resources will be spent to actually go over there and fight the dudes burning guys alive as a recruitment tool is actually a key purpose of those outrageous actions. If the West spends 20:1 against a bunch of guys with AK-47’s and improvised explosives, then they can fight asymmetrically against the powerful Western economies.

    2. MF

      Every single major news site already has a story on the person burned alive. No need for Scott to link to it. He doesn’t need to be a newspaper, as we already have plenty.

      Not sure what you want to discuss about it, exactly – burning people is bad? ISIS is horrible? If you want to declare a few opinions/conversation starters, that’s probably the best way to get people talking about it here on SSC.

      1. amiwelcomehere

        it’s something about being a feeling human being. even if you have nothing to say, you have something to acknowledge. maybe it’s because people here like to react to things on an abstract level that it seems ok to simply ignore a moral monstrosity as if it can be ignored. as if it doesn’t color the day. there are certainly other, smaller, news stories that are brought up here.

        here’s one SSC kind of topic on it: some people say there is no Islamic jihadi ideology threatening world stability, that this is something that should be addressed on an individual level. some people indicate that many of these murderers are mentally ill. is there any evidence of that? does it make logical sense? what diagnosis? I thought mentally ill people are generally not violent except to their immediate family and personal circle. can you explain away Hitler/stalin/mao the same way – as a collection of mentally ill people organized around an ideology and enjoying mass murder?

        1. James Picone

          I would strongly disagree that it is unethical to not bring up well-publicised highly-immoral actions so they can be ‘acknowledged’.

          What does the discussion gain from it? We all know it happened, and I rather doubt anyone here thinks ISIS made an ethical decision.

          There are broader questions about what ethical people should want their government to do in cases like this – go in with troops? Condemn the action? Do nothing? Economic sanctions? Those are more interesting. I, personally, don’t feel like I have any particular insight as to what the best action to stop that kind of thing happening is, though, so I don’t discuss it.

        2. cypher

          Do you have any idea how many horrifying catastrophes aRe going on almost every day, many with far higher death tolls than just one man? The earthquakes, the tsunamis, the ethnic conflicts and political conflicts, bombings of discotheques, internationally-trafficked sexual slavery…

          If one man being burned to death by radicals trying to outrage the world is enough, then we may as well close up SSC, as the world is racking up a lot more casualties than that each day.

          1. Deiseach

            Do you have any idea how many horrifying catastrophes are going on almost every day

            “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

            “You horrify me!”

            “But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

            – Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”, bolding mine.

            If amiwelcomehere wishes to be shocked and appalled by cruelty and wickedness in the world, all they have to do is look out their back window.

        3. Harald K

          Ah, here the skeleton is out of the closet. You aren’t upset because a man was burned alive, after all people suffer horrible injustices and death every day on this earth, and you don’t give it much attention or demand that others do.

          What makes this news different for you is that you see it as symptom of a willful, acute existential threat to everything we hold dear, am I right? I think this liberal cartoonist illustrated that attitude well. Well, probably a few people here share that belief, but they’re at least wise enough to realize that the rest of us don’t, so they don’t demand we focus on it at the expense of everything else.

          1. amiwelcomehere

            yes, thank you. that is exactly what I was wondering – if most of the people here don’t consider resurgent jihadism important, or different from a mugging in an alley, as indicated in the Sherlock quote above. your cartoon is a perfect illustration of the attitude I was afraid might prevail here. now I know what to expect. I actually did come here for escapism. I needed a break from how serious and dangerous our challenges have become, so much harder than the ones facing my generation. It’s outright and permanent denial that makes me ill at ease.

          2. Susebron

            Malaria kills an order of magnitude more people per year than ISIS. $3000 or so to the Against Malaria Foundation will save a life and prevent several non-fatal cases of malaria. If people here, in a space not oriented towards geopolitics, are terrible for not talking about ISIS, what does it say that the media doesn’t report nearly as much on malaria as on ISIS? An article about how to most effectively donate to malaria prevention would save more people than an article about ISIS.

        4. Deiseach

          it’s something about being a feeling human being. even if you have nothing to say, you have something to acknowledge.

          No. It’s Outrage Porn. It’s Emotional Exhibitionism. It’s treating an awful, horrible atrocity as if its sole purpose was to enable Western Europeans and North Americans to show how much feels they have.

          I’m not in any kind of position to do anything about this. Because I have devotion to the Holy Souls, I pray for the dying and the dead* every morning. You may say that’s useless. It’s as much, or more, or less use than going on here and saying “Somebody must do something!” about an event that has been very well-publicised in the media.

          Now, if this were something no-one had yet heard about, then publicising it would be a virtuous act. But as it stands, what are you asking us to do? What do you expect to achieve? Write to my congressman and demand – what? Never mind that I’m not American and don’t have a congressman to write to and demand they bomb ISISland and the ISISlandians right this minute!!!!!

          *Heart of Jesus, once in agony, have pity on the dying and all who are to die this day. There you go, I’ve acknowledged this death. Happy now?

        5. Shieldfoss

          I ignore a hundred terrible issues every single day. I’m quite happy to continue ignoring them as I read SSC.

        6. Troy

          some people indicate that many of these murderers are mentally ill. is there any evidence of that?

          No. People describe religious/ideological extremists as “mentally ill” or “insane” because the alternative — that there is a coherent perspective from which their actions are rational — is too troubling to contemplate. This is a very common trend, not at all unique to ISIS: this language has been applied to as diverse figures as Anders Breivik, David Koresh, and Baruch Goldstein (an Israeli Orthodox Jew who shot scores of praying Muslims in a 1994 attack on the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron). But this language is both inaccurate and unhelpful. If we want to address extremism in the real world we need to understand extremists’ motivations, and this involves trying to understand the internal logic of their actions. Perhaps, sadly, we will sometimes conclude that we cannot reason with them and must oppose them by force; but even this end is better served if we try to understand why they are doing what they are doing and don’t just treat them like an inexplicable force of nature.

    3. The Anonymouse

      Multiple people die every single day for undeserved, horrible, depraved reasons. Some make the media, some don’t. Is Scott obligated to write a post about each one? Each day? I enjoy the fact that Scott is a thoughtful long-form blogger and (mostly) avoids the outrage-of-the-moment.

      (There is also an issue here about media attention being exactly the reason terrorists do what they do, and a moral imperative to deny them that oxygen. But mostly Scott just isn’t a news blog.)

      PS, and unrelated: Welcome! We’re happy to have you.

    4. John Schilling

      You know the bit where on e.g. Tumbler, absolutely everyone is required to reblog the Michael Brown / Ferguson bit to absolutely everyone else they know to raise social consciousness, or be denounced by the SJWs as an abhorrent monstrosity conspiring to distract the populace from the great injustice of the modern era? Because that’s just as annoying when it comes from the right as from the left.

      The next time the Germans bomb Pearl Harbor or whatever, it is maybe reasonable to suggest that this is a problem for the entire human race. Anything less than that, and yes, ISIS is a vastly smaller problem than was Axis, anyone who isn’t specifically, professionally charged with dealing with that problem is perfectly entitled to say “I don’t want to deal with that; this here is more interesting to me”. Or not, their choice. But to be respected as their choice.

    5. Deiseach

      You want us all to be outraged, shocked, horrified and appalled? Or you just want us to put up comments saying so? I already ignore heart-wringing calls about “reblog this or you are a shitty not-even-human-being” all over the place on Tumblr, I have never liked or shared or whatever you do with things on Facebook, and I don’t have Twitter. So I would have no problem ignoring tugging at the heart strings “oh how awful” posts on here.

      I am finally old enough not to give a damn about being arm-twisted or guilt-tripped into exhibiting the proper response when poked with the Poking Stick Of Let’s All Join In Ritually on this. If I want to participate in communal ritual, I go to Mass, where I get two choreographed and scripted opportunties (during the Confiteor and the Agnus Dei) to engage in breast-beating calls to repentance.

      1. amiwelcomehere

        hi deisach – i agree with you completely on the moral nonsense of tweeting outrage and thinking you’ve done something. and i agree this is not the place where people want to argue in the same political terms as you find everywhere else. i even agree with you that this is a subject for prayer.

        but none of that rules out my hope (which i now see is quite unfounded, i accept that) that this might be a place people were interested in using their rational minds and curiosity to address one of the biggest challenges of our time. OK, this isn’t pearl harbor. the massacre of Christians by isis is closer to kristalnacht. if you think intellectuals and people involved in moral reasoning have nothing to say , i do strongly disagree. Nor do i agree that acknowledging jihadism as a morally depraved, global ideology on the rise is pornographic emotional indulgence. i don’t appreciate the rather nasty, bullying tone of your post.

        I am not too delicate to be involved in the big issues of our time. I try to find a course between poisoning my life with anguish over the big waves of history, and practicing some moral responsibility. I actually do believe in representative government, and it is helpful right now to write a letter to one’s Congressman, expressing concern, for example, that we don’t want the US to facilitate Iran getting nuclear weapons. Congress can do something to reign in this disastrous diplomacy, and they actually do respond to constituents on issues like this.

        Tweeting instead of action is not constructive. that doesn’t mean there’s nothing constructive you can do. There are heroic groups and people out there who are devoting themselves to fighting this issue (in our schools, campuses, domestic and foreign policy) and educating people. There are even amazingly brave church groups on the ground ministering to Christian refugees from ISIS, who can be supported. There are groups that go into the Sudan and buy chattel slaves and free them. There are probably people actually trying to help the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram,who you could find out about and support, which is different than tweeting about it for a week and then passing on to the headline du jour. SSC is interested in effective charity, yes? because we can’t control everything and don’t want to be miserable all the time, doesn’t mean it is most comforting to do nothing.

        1. Jaskologist

          It is, generally speaking, rude to hop in on a blog/conversation you’re new to and demand they start talking about your pet issue.

          In this case, the silence isn’t even that notable. This blog doesn’t do much discussion of geopolitics in general. Scott is a psychiatrist, so he doesn’t have any special expertise in the area. Follow the xenosystems link up top if you want that.

          I mean, I’m pretty angry about ISIS, too, but there are other things worth talking about.

          1. amiwelcomehere

            You’re quite right that my post was short on diplomacy. I’m very impatient and not at all cautious, so I am likely to just barge ahead and ask what is going on when it feels so strange. I am new and don’t know the norms/rules here, and I was trying to find out. I wasn’t demanding people discuss this issue, I was wondering why not. that was the question I really wanted answered. now I know.

        2. Anonymous

          the massacre of Christians by isis is closer to kristalnacht.

          Just by the numbers, Christians are a tiny target of ISIS, whose main victims are non-Sunni muslims. The Yezidis may be wiped out by them, but at least the Kurds are fighting back.

          Also, I hadn’t considered that Iran getting nuclear weapons could be helpful, but perhaps you’re right.

        3. John Schilling

          What does Iran have to do with ISIS?

          Yeah, I do have a bad habit of providing real answers to rhetorical questions, so…

          What Iran has to do with ISIS is that Iran is probably going to be the entity that actually goes out and destroys ISIS. They are in the right place, at the right time, with the right tools (including allies/puppets in Iraq and Syria), are motivated to get the job done and unhindered by any scruples that would get in the way of getting the job done. There will of course be unpleasant side effects to having Iran destroy ISIS. But the odds of Western civilization being inspired to go and destroy ISIS our way before Iran does it their way are about nil, so it’s hardly worth talking about unless you enjoy talking about that sort of thing for its own sake.

          Which I actually kind of do, when I’m in the right mood and the right place. But I respect that this probably isn’t the right place.

        4. Deiseach

          Okay, you’ve confirmed my suspicions. You’re not a straw’s worth interested in discussion or debate; you want us to be an echo chamber for you about “the present jihadist threat”.

          So, speaking of Kristalnacht, what night should we all pick to go out breaking windows of the Muslims amongst us? I’m sure there are a few in my town, though the woman working in the deli in the local supermarket is from Indonesia and not the Middle-East. Still, Muslim is Muslim, right?

          1. amiwelcomehere

            oh, dear Deisach. really? mentioning jihad makes me a persecutor of nice Muslim ladies? you really are a bully.

          2. amiwelcomehere

            this is a beautiful example of how you make a horse’s ass out of yourself by reaching for derogatory tribal ascriptions.
            you don’t know the least thing about me or my motives. I served in the Peace Corps in a Muslim country, risking my health to help the poorest of the poor. they were decent, peaceable country people (although it was before Wahabi islam became wealthy enough to reach into most mosques around the globe teaching their horrible, hateful form of Islam). I actually witnessed a female circumcision on a twelve year old. I care far more about the fate of Muslims who have to live under the reign of these jihadi monsters, and I am fully aware that fellow Muslims are their main victims. I actually care about that, I don’t use it as cheap debating points to pretend the real villains are people willing to be honest about the world we live in.

            and while all of us like to find people of like minds who care and think as we do, that doesn’t mean I expected an echo chamber here, or even want one. I did expect something more elevated in every way than what I have found.

          3. John Schilling

            Deiseach: The only person in this entire thread to use the phrase “present jihadist threat”, or even just the word “jihadist”, is you. It is uncharitable at best to put that phrase in quotes and ascribe it to someone else for the purposes of discrediting their argument.

            And, while I disagree about the ISIS executions being the equivalent of Kristalnacht, approximately nobody who brings up the subject of Kristalnacht thinks the appropriate response would have been to go around randomly terrorizing German civilians. It is worse than uncharitable to ascribe that belief to another on such a flimsy basis.

            It is one thing to not want to discuss such a politically charged issue in this particular forum. But if you are going to do so, do it fairly and politely, and do it with the actual people who are present and the actual arguments they put forth rather than the imagined stereotypes you for whatever reason want to shout at.

  13. Sniffnoy

    This post just went up on Language Log today, which I am linking to for the following quote:

    When I wrote The Language Imperative, I interviewed more than one hundred multilinguals, and one of the questions I asked them was “When you’re using a different language, do you feel as if you’re a different person?” The responses I got fell into two distinct groups, summarizable as follows:

    “Of course! What a ridiculous question!”
    “Of course not! What a ridiculous question!”

    (Relevant to typical mind fallacy stuff.)

    1. Deiseach

      I won’t say I feel like a different person, but it certainly does produce certain changes (I use my hands and gesture a lot more when speaking Irish, I have no idea why). And certainly my mind feels a little different when I’m thinking in a language different from the one I use commonly. I wouldn’t say this constitutes being a different person, rather a different persona or parts of myself come out or are used.

      1. Tracy W

        I heard of a person who moved from Germany to the USA during their schooling and consequently does their arithmetic in German and their calculus in English.

  14. Tomas

    You mention Shakuntala Devi, related to the recent discussion on innate talent. Interestingly, she herself has emphasised the importance of acquired skills rather than innate talent. For example:
    “Myth: You either have the ability to do maths or you don’t. Mathematicians are born,
    not made.
    Truth: …the truth is that one is not born a mathematician. It is
    an acquired skill, a skill that can be taught to everyone. But the false idea that mathematicians are born not made, raises mental barriers for most people. They tell themselves: ‘I can’t do it because I was not born with a maths brain.’ As they go on repeating it, they undermine their own self confidence.”
    Source: Shakuntala Devi, “Awaken the math genius in your child”, 1995

  15. BD Sixsmith

    As perhaps the only person who watches pro wrestling here, allow me to speak in defence of “Skull Von Krush”. I don’t know if he has a legitimate case but it is not as absurd as it appears. Officials in the business have long known that the cumulative effects of concussions are dangerous but the fact that their performers were still expected to endure, for example, repeated chair shots to the head suggests that this was not taken as seriously as it should have been. This changed in 2006 after veteran wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and child, along with himself, and was found to have had brain damage. The extent to which tragedies approaching even if not equivalent to this could have been expected is a fair question.

    This has been your threadly getting-earnest-over-a-humorous-aside comment.

    1. Jiro

      I think Scott’s reasoning is supposed to be something like “he has a stage name which explicitly refers to the dangers of concussions. Someone who chose a stage name which refers to the dangers of concussions must, of course, know of them, so a lawsuit which claims he doesn’t is frivolous.”

      I don’t think that’s a very good argument. Stage names are an exaggeration and refer to things that aren’t real all the time. Furthermore, there’s no reason to think the stage name refers to concussions as opposed to literal skull crushing.

      1. Irrelevant

        I don’t think there was an argument involved, simply a situation with potential for an amusing headline, ala “Director Slaughter Proposes More Bombings.” (Which she does about twice a year.)

  16. Daniel

    When you decide eating nourishing food (ie – meat) (not that most of the stuff Americans eat would be worthy of the name “food”) is “morally wrong”, you know your time at the top is coming to an end.

    The West had a good run, but has now become self-destructive.

    1. Muga Sofer

      Actually, I seem to recall that vegetarians are on average healthier than non-vegetarians.

      There’s no way to tell if that’s because the same things lead to vegetarianism and health, of because vegetarianism is healthier (unless someone’s got around to doing a controlled study), but it hardly seems “self-destructive”.

      1. thirqual

        A blog post with some link here. Probably horribly outdated by now. The relevant claim is from a meta-study from 1999, vegan and regular meat-eaters have the same mortality, occasional meat-eaters and vegetarian do better (0.84 vs 1 for the first two) and pescetarians do best at 0.82.

        There’s also this recent study in Nature which compared vegetarian/mediterranean/pescetarian/omnivorous. Vegetarian diet best for reducing risk of diabetes type 2, mediterranean best for heart disease, pescetarian best for cancer. Most important, pescetarian and mediterranean diets decrease all-cause mortality, but vegetarian diet did not.

        (it also looks at land use and sustainability of diets, which is great IMO, and there vegetarianism wins)

      2. Cadie

        I would think self-selection is a huge confounder. Vegetarians obviously take food choice seriously, at a minimum (you can’t eliminate a big group of foods without at least thinking about your food beyond taste and price), and most are health-conscious. The higher proportion of health-conscious people would explain at least some of the health outcome difference, if it’s really there.

        Also, vegetarianism forces you to avoid at least a portion of the available junk foods and encourages consumption of vegetables. Much like my gluten-free diet (which I’m on for medical reasons) somewhat improves my diet almost by itself. I can’t mindlessly snack on the cookies my co-workers bring in, and I also end up eating plenty of vegetables because they’re a good way to make a meal bigger and more varied without adding pasta or bread.

        This seems to square pretty well with thirqual’s info: if the main good things about vegetarianism are paying attention to your diet choices, eating enough plants, and limiting junk food, and meat ISN’T bad except for possibly displacing too many plant calories, then a deliberately planned diet including small portions of meats would have those same benefits while allowing more variety and protein sources.

  17. dlr

    re: Mike Blume on Night School Failed Because It Followed Laws

    This article was extremely disappointing. It presented what was clearly a case of bureaucratic inertia, or bureaucratic obstructionism, of some sort, that killed a public spirited, much needed business idea. But, the author didn’t try to figure out what had happened inside the bureaucracy, what their incentives were, why they strangled the idea at birth, if it was inadvertently, or on purpose, or what? He apparently had no theory as to why it had happened. He apparently wasn’t interested in that issue at all. To him, bureaucratic inertia apparently isn’t worth investigating or getting angry about.

    He apparently didn’t interview anyone at the agency, or the mayors office, or any one else involved in city government, to try and track down the cause, to see if private interests had killed it, or inertia, or public unions. Nothing. He didn’t advance any theories, or present any details about the frustrating process of not being able to get approval.

    He didn’t engage in any “name and shame” exercises either — He didn’t point out that ‘the buck stops here’, and the mayors name never came up, or the name of the head of the agency. He didn’t try to whip up any public indignation at the city, or the agency.

    Instead, all of his interest was focused on companies like uber, etc, and what seemed to be a moralistic disapproval of the fact that they HAD managed to get around the bureaucracy, and that they had managed to get around it by cutting corners, breaking the law, not asking permission, not following the rules, hiring lobbyists. His take away conclusion was “Whoever has the most gold wins.” ie, ‘the agency was pressured by money/political influence, and aren’t those rich/influential/lawbreaking people awful.

    This is just insane. Someone manages to put enough pressure on an inert, sclerotic, unresponsive bureaucracy, or just ignores the laws, because that’s the only way you can actually accomplish anything in this fine city of ours, and THEY are the awful ones!!?!?!?

    Any consumer with a grain of salt would say, you’re insane. At least the law breakers/influence buyers are providing the consumer with a valuable public service — transportation.

    Sure capitalism is bad. It’s got all sort of problems. But what’s the point in criticizing capitalism when the alternative is breshnevian bureaucratic sclerosis? Or rather, excuse me, San Francisco bay area bureaucratic sclerosis. At least with capitalism we actually GET the transportation.

    1. Nornagest

      Instead, all of his interest was focused on companies like uber, etc, and what seemed to be a moralistic disapproval of the fact that they HAD managed to get around the bureaucracy

      That’s not what I took from the article at all. I took it to be painting Night School as well-intentioned but naive, and therefore doomed, and Uber etc. as cutthroat but at least successful in creating a much-needed transit stopgap. It points to a sort of “this is why we can’t have nice things” message: we’d all prefer companies like the former, but if it takes companies like the latter to provide service, that’s what we actually need.

      Which, not to put too fine a point on it, seems to be entirely accurate.

  18. Dan

    Devi also wrote a book called “Awaken the Genius in Your Child” that teaches kids mathematics. No doubt the scheme of some marketer, but ironically supports the idea that kids can discover their mathematic genius with enough hard work, and access to this text.

  19. Vilgot Huhn

    The Greenberg paper was super interesting! Thanks for sharing. (:

    I also noted that it cited wikipedia, which obviously makes it completely untrustworthy (I’m sorry Scott).

  20. paper-machine

    Dammit, Scott. I’d almost forgotten that Iain M. Banks is dead and that there will never, ever, be another Culture novel.

    1. Nornagest

      The former does not, strictly speaking, imply the latter.

      Though I’ll confess that the right blend of space-opera utopianism and OH GOD NO would be difficult to find elsewhere.

  21. Stefan Drinic

    From an outside perspective, it is interesting to see how incredibly broadly Americans define their middle class. The Slate column already notes how upwards of 80% of Americans view themselves as some kind of middle class, but even the author goes ahead and uses people who earn into the six figure range and are doctors, lawyers or what-have-you as examples of upper-middle class people.

    Note how anyone earning a six figure income is well into the upper ten percent of society.

    What is the rationale behind this? Why is it that the US can have a group of people who wield immense political, cultural and economic power without even people criticising them noting that there is nothing middling about them?

    1. Nita

      It might be because they still work for a living (even if they only “have to” work to support a relatively luxurious lifestyle). In other words, they’re bourgeoisie, not proper aristocrats.

      1. Stefan Drinic

        That’s an interesting answer, and you’re not wrong in your descriptors, though I doubt many people think of middle-class folk upon hearing the word bourgeois.

        I also wonder how the US’ ‘upper-middle’ class folks would react upon being described/named America’s bourgeoisie.

        1. Anonymous

          Americans would respond just the same as to any other French word they don’t know. But there was a popular book that labeled the American upper-middle class “bohemian” (though it used the phrase “upper class”).

    2. John Schilling

      I would think the claim that the upper middle class “wield immense political, cultural and economic power” ought to be supported, rather than simply asserted. They are not the ones making the great political, cultural, and economic decisions, they are a smaller voting bloc than the middle-middle and lower-middle classes, have more disposable income but are more discriminating in how they spend it, so it isn’t obvious where this “immense” power comes from.

      1. Anonymous

        Yeah, that article was long on rhetoric and short on evidence. From purely personal experience I can say that the “middle class” definitely extends ridiculously far in both directions; nobody wants to be seen as “rich” unless they’re actively trying to flaunt their wealth. Nobody wants to be seen as “poor” except if they want sympathy to try and remove said poor status. Thus you have families such as my own, which at one point remarked that we were in the upper 3% of income earners, calling ourselves upper middle class, as it wasn’t until both children were out of college that they mortgaged the house to get a vacation home.

        The thing with the plan to remove the 529 plans was that it had PR disaster written all over it. You’re targeting funds for kids going to college for very little gain; even if most people don’t use one, that’s not exactly going to be a popular cut.

        1. Anonymous

          Using the term middle class is usually meaningless. In politics it is often an attempt to invoke tribalism.

          In my first year economics class the professor asked everyone whose families were middle class to raise their hands. Almost everybody raised their hands. He then asked us about our families and their incomes. It ranged from kids whose parents were successful MDs and business owners to kids who were obviously raised below the poverty line and just didn’t know they were poor.

          Interestingly, the only kids who didn’t initially think they were middle class were the black students. Their estimates of family income surprised many of them by putting them firmly in the middle of the group. I took this as further evidence of “middle class” being a meaningless (albeit politically useful) term.

          1. Nornagest

            It ranged from kids whose parents were successful MDs and business owners to kids who were obviously raised below the poverty line and just didn’t know they were poor.

            Okay, so this gets a little complicated.

            Anecdote time! My mother earned below the poverty line for much of my childhood. By strictly economic standards that would have made her, and by extension me, lower-class. But class isn’t just about economics; it’s also about culture, and my mother comes from a historically upper-middle-class family. Yes, I shared a room with my sister, I wore thrift-store clothes, and we didn’t take many vacations or eat out much; but the expectations, the broader family resources, and most other intangibles that I grew up with had a lot more to do with my family history than with my redneck neighbors. That’s something that led to a lot of ass-kickings (in both directions) when I was growing up, but also which I consider to have benefited me on the whole.

            So I consider my upbringing largely upper-middle-class, albeit tinged with an unusual perspective on money matters. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the students in your class were in similar situations, being that this is a freshman economics class we’re talking about.

          2. Harald K

            If you ask about class, you need to give some definitions since many are common. The one I usually prefer is that you’re upper class if your parents enjoyed significant inherited wealth, middle class if at least one of your parents had higher education, and working class if they didn’t.

            I think that class-specific values and cultural traits attach better to this definition than to income – at least here in Norway, where there’s not much the economic middle can afford that the poorer absolutely can’t.

    3. Tracy W

      In a similar line, I’m bemused that in Britain “middle class” is often used to refer to the group of people who just, without blinking, send their kids to private school (as opposed to people who make a very difficult decision). Even though less than 10% of British kids go to private school.

      1. Salem

        But this is the original usage. In Britain, upper-class means aristocracy, middle-class means bourgeois (e.g. doctors, lawyers), working-class means unskilled labourers (e.g. plumbers). A plumber likely earns much more than a lawyer scraping by on legal aid work, but that’s not what it’s about. For centuries, it’s been the case that the wealthiest of the middle class are richer than the aristocrats – if you’re watching Wolf Hall, you can see this with Wolsey/Cromwell versus Norfolk/Suffolk. You are the ones who have changed the meaning to be about wealth.

        1. Stefan Drinic

          We made it so because in the modern age, wealth is far more tied to class and overall personal welfare than before. A 15th century spice merchant in Venice would have outearned a random Duke in Germany many times over, but this did not make the merchant of a higher class than the Duke was. The 21st century is a little different in the sense that money decides class far more than it did in ages past, with some exceptions(sports millionaires, say.)

        2. Deiseach

          ‘Scuse me, plumbers are not unskilled labour. You have to serve an apprenticeship.

          Turning up with your shovel on a building site is unskilled labour 🙂

        3. Tracy W

          It may be that some of the middle class are richer than the aristocrats.

          But, with private school attendance of less than 10%, and presumably some of the private school attendance includes aristocrats’ kids, that implies that there’s a lot of people who aren’t unskilled labourers who also aren’t sending their kids to private schools. The thing that puzzles me is referring to the middle class as just naturally sending their kids to private schools, not that some members are ultra-rich and can do so.

      2. Anonymous

        I though that, in Britain, private schools were boarding schools, private day schools were public schools, and public schools were state schools. No?

        1. Peter

          More or less. British education splits into independent schools and state schools – independent schools are the ones you have to pay for. Independent schools split into public and private schools. Public schools are only allowed to select on academic criteria and ability to pay; private schools are allowed to select on other criteria. Confusingly, there are also state schools that are allowed to select on other criteria – for example, there are state church schools, like the one I went to. A boarding school is any school which you stay at; I don’t know if there are any state boarding schools, I don’t think so.

          Public schools have more of a posh reputation than private schools, although both have that reputation. Eton is a public school and has one of the poshest reputations going – it’s the one David Cameron went in to.

          To British ears, hearing about “public schools” as being the local sink school that’s no good sounds very odd.

          (These days there are these things called “academies” which I don’t pretend to understand – I think they’re some sort of semi-independent semi-state school. My old school is apparently now an academy.)

          1. Salem

            Academies are state schools in every way. The reason they are often described as ‘independent’ is because they are answerable directly to the DofE, not the LEA. In this respect they are basically the same as the old ‘grant-maintained schools.’ This is obviously very different to what we normally call independent schools.

        2. Tracy W

          The source I used to check the numbers used “private school”, being written for an international audience.

    4. Anonymous

      >Note how anyone earning a six figure income is well into the upper ten percent of society.

      Huh? From the information I seem to find, 100k income is roughly top 20%. For comparison, a net income of 7500 monthly Euros is a top 3% income in Germany (This data is what appears in a short google search, and it happens to coincide with the accounts of people from both countries, feel free to correct it).

      And this is part (but not all) of the reason to why middle class feels larger in the US: there are a lot of people who earn a lot of money, and there’s a a much smaller, but still significant, group of people who earn extremely large amounts of money, so they can point at them and say “Look, they are upper class, not us”.

      1. Stefan Drinic

        I stand corrected; I should be less trusting of people telling me random facts. My bad.

        That said, lumping people who earn 120K a year with those who earn 30K and calling them both middle class still seems off to me, even if the percentage of people earning over the big 100K a year is larger than I thought.

      2. Peter

        Does the US have much – or – anything – in the way of class accents? Anything like U and non-U English (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_and_non-U_English)?

        My own accent is odd – my grandparents were clearly working class, my parents sort-of felt they were heading middle-classwards, I had the complicating factor of Asperger’s, and a common Aspie trait is speaking with a more “prestigious” (i.e. likely to get you bullied) accent than circumstances would suggest… and then I went to Cambridge and got a taste for port.

        There’s also the stereotype of the broke aristocrat who goes deeply into debt trying to maintain a huge family home that they clearly can’t afford, and otherwise of being both upper class and short of cash.

        1. Nornagest

          Sort of. Generally American accents are more regional than class-based, but class is highly correlated with region in some places.

          There’s a well-marked accent around the Chesapeake Bay region that’s often associated with old money, for example, and Manhattan English is distinguishable from Brooklyn English if you live in New York. Similarly, there are some class markers among the various strains of the Southern dialect. Further west things tend to blend together more, but there are still recognizable regional dialects; any Californian will be familiar with San Fernando Valley English, for example. And AAVE is its own thing everywhere.

          My own accent is a fairly rare mixture of the dialects of Northern California and the Intermountain West; it gets a lot of comments. I’ve also picked up a number of Britishisms and Southernisms from various sources, which doesn’t help.

          1. AJD

            (As far as anyone knows, the difference between “Manhattan English” and “Brooklyn English” is only an epiphenomenon of class and ethnic differences, not actually a geographical dialect difference at all.)

        2. Not Robin Hanson

          Sort of? There’s the “standard” American English, which is associated with middle class and above. However, there’s not much class distinction within this level.

          Below this things are intertwined with race: redneck (white), AAVE (black), FOB (East Asian), etc. all of which include elements of both diction and accent.

          Edit: Also everything Nornagest said.

        3. Anonymous

          Degree of participation in distinctive regional dialect features tends to be class-stratified in the US. That is, working-class Philadelphians on average have more of the distinctive features of the Philadelphia accent than middle-class Philadelphians, working-class Southerners tend to have more distinctive features of the Southern accent, and so on. This is true for a number of reasons:

          1) People of higher class are more mobile: this means they’re more likely to have family and acquaintances who come from a different dialect region than themselves and therefore are more likely to have exposure to ways of speaking other than the local dialect.
          2) Many (not all) local dialect features are consciously recognized as diverging from the national “standard” associated with educated speech. Higher social classes have more incentive to conform to this standard, and thus to avoid recognizable dialect features.
          3) Even when local dialect features are below the level of conscious awareness, they’re often socially stratified just because novel dialect features typically originate in the mid- to upper working class, and take time to spread out from there to the rest of the community.

    5. Tarrou

      Even further than this, I’ve noticed my british friends refer to rich people as “middle class”, while Americans basically mean everyone who isn’t “rich” (however that is getting defined) and also isn’t “poor”. I think it is that in countries with a hereditary nobility, “class” wasn’t something you could buy very readily, so the “middle” class was actually tops in economic terms.

      Americans think of what most countries call the “working class” as middle class as well as more credentialed professionals. This is why our conception of it is so broad.

  22. SFG

    In terms of the study: it refers to social status. There’s no guarantee social status correlates with being tied up or doing the tying. In fact, upper-class women might be looking for rough, lower-class men who might be more ‘dominating’ in the physical sense.

    1. Nita

      No, it refers to status within a relationship (“in-pair hierarchy”). Of course, that’s also not the same thing as sexual dominance&submission, which is why they assessed these things with separate questions.

      Basically, if I’m reading the abstract correctly, 1) couples with internal hierarchy have more children, and 2) young people who want internal hierarchy in their future relatioships are more into dominance&submission.

  23. Rory O’Kane

    [The English Habeas Corpus Act of 1679] was passed because the guy in charge of the House Of Lords counted an especially fat Lord as ten votes as a joke and nobody else noticed.

    This is an exaggeration – your description is funny but not the way it happened. According to the article, the person who counted the fat Lord as ten votes was not “the guy in charge of the House Of Lords”, he was one of two Lords who the two sides appointed as counters just for this particular vote. And “nobody else” noticed because the low-vote-wanting side relied on their appointed vote-counter to check the other counter’s numbers, which he failed to do – it’s not like everybody was listening to the counting of the votes and they all missed it.

    More accurately, and still funny:

    [The Act] was passed because one of the two appointed vote-counters from the House Of Lords counted an especially fat fellow Lord as ten votes as a joke, and the other vote-counter didn’t notice.

  24. Peter

    I’m not surprised by a savant getting seriously into astrology. For a start, astrology is closely related to calendars[1] etc. and there are a lot of savants with calendrical talents, like you saying something like “12th July 1873” and them instantly being able to say which day of the week it was. For second, from what little I’ve seen, there’s lots of system in astrology, lots of stuff to learn, there’s much more to it than sun signs. Finally, the objection to astrology – “it’s all fundamentally empty, doesn’t actually relate to anything real” – doesn’t seem to be a thing that would get in the way of a savant’s inclinations.

    [1] The most sophisticated defense of astrology I’ve heard is: “the sky is basically a big clock/calendar, various sorts of things happen at various sorts of times, the stars themselves aren’t the influence”, and if you’re talking about ancient agriculture then looking at the stars may well be a good way of keeping track of when to plant which crops etc.

    1. Harald K

      I don’t believe in astrology, but I’m still annoyed at Phil Plait’s dumb strawman criticism of it, many many years ago.

      His argument was this: Star positions and our lives are correlated? Then either the stars must affect our lives in detail, which we don’t know of any forces they could do with, or we must affect the stars, which is plainly nonsense.

      No, Phil Plait. If they’re both affected by some third thing, then both of those things can easily be false. It’s a really obvious false dichotomy. As far as I’ve been able to work out, that’s what astrology folks really believe: that looking at the stars lets you examine the universe’s seed state, so to say, and that this lets you predict the universe’s RNG in entirely different areas.

      1. Ilya Shpitser

        “Astrology folks” is a pretty big set. I know for a fact some of them believe in the [stars] -> [you] causal arrow.

        I could even see how that arrow is even there (e.g. gravitational effect of the moon on water) in some cases.

    2. Deiseach

      Also, Indian astrology is a slightly different system – it takes account of the precession of the equinoxes, for instance (one common “gotcha!” by skeptics ridiculing Western astrology – ‘the star signs and the constellations don’t match up anymore!’).

      Not saying I think any system of astrology is real (apart from the amusement value and the interest of studying it as a system of historical thought), just pointing this out 🙂

      1. Peter

        Precession – I’d heard somewhere about a sneaky little astrological study – ah, here’s a report of it – http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/what-does-your-zodiac-sign-say-about-your-driving-114729224.html – where instead of using the traditional dates for star signs they used actual present-day astronomical data. It turns out that lots of Virgos had car accidents, much more than Sagitarii – because the sun spends much longer in Virgo than in Sagitarius these days! Also, Ophiuchus makes a showing.

      2. TheAncientGeek

        I notice you are all assuming she actually wrote the book, rather than lending gear name to a hack work.

    3. US

      “The most sophisticated defense of astrology I’ve heard is…”

      …this instantly reminded me of Daryn Lehoux’s book What Did the Romans Know? An Inquiry into Science and Worldmaking and some of the stuff he wrote about astrology in the book. I’m too lazy to find the book again, but I remember him going into quite a bit of detail – I decided to add a few quotes below; they’re from a blog post I wrote about the book (the book coverage is much more detailed), and so I didn’t have to go find the book for me to add these quotes:

      “On the ancient understanding, astrology covers a lot more ground than a modern newspaper horoscope does. It can account for everything from an individual’s personality quirks and dispositions to large-scale political and social events, to racial characteristics, crop yields, plagues, storms, and earthquakes. Its predictive and explanatory ranges include some of what is covered by the modern disciplines of psychology, economics, sociology, medicine, meteorology, biology, epidemiology, seismology, and more. […] Ancient astrology […] aspires to be […] personal, precise, and specific. It often claims that it can tell someone exactly what they are going to do, when they are going to do it, and why. It is a very powerful tool indeed. So powerful, in fact, that astrology may not leave people much room to make what they would see as their own decisions. On a strong reading of the power of the stars over human affairs, it may be the case that individuals do not have what could be considered to be free will. Accordingly, a strict determinism seems to have been associated quite commonly with astrology in antiquity.”

      “Seneca […] cites the multiplicity of astrological causes as leading to uncertainty about the future and inaccuracy of prediction.[41] Where opponents of astrology were fond of parading famous mistaken predictions, Seneca preempts that move by admitting that mistakes not only can be made, but must sometimes be made. However, these are mistakes of interpretation only, and this raises an important point: we may not have complete predictive command of all the myriad effects of the stars and their combinations, but the effects are there nonetheless. Where in Ptolemy and Pliny the effects were moderated by external (i.e., nonastrological) causes, Seneca is saying that the internal effects are all-important, but impossible to control exhaustively. […] Astrology is, in the ancient discourses, both highly rational and eminently empirical. It is surprising how much evidence there was for it, and how well it sustained itself in the face of objections […] Defenders of astrology often wielded formidable arguments that need to be taken very seriously if we are to fully understand the roles of astrology in the worlds in which it operates. The fact is that most ancient thinkers who talk about it seem to think that astrology really did work, and this for very good reasons.”

      1. Limi

        Is there a historical defense to the argument presented by twins? As a twin, that was always the reason I dismissed astrology – my brother and I were born less than 30 seconds apart, but we lead very different lives.

        1. US

          I got curious enough to go have another look at the book. This is not a problem which the coverage talked about, but I’d find it very hard to believe that this would be considered a serious problem for astrologers living in the far past. A bit more context which perhaps will make it easier to understand why:

          “[Imagine] for the moment that astrology is, in point of fact, true. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the world we live in is sensitively influenced by some force exerted by the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars — something like gravity, but with different effects. Gravity actually provides a nice parallel here, since it is something we all believe in, but something no one has ever seen directly. We are comfortably certain of gravity because we have so often seen what we take to be its effects, but of course such reasoning is not always foolproof.5 This is not to say that we should doubt gravity — not in the least—but only that for most of us our knowledge of it has more to do with all the things we think we’ve seen gravity do, with the class of things we know to be affected by gravity, and with what experts have told us gravity does, than with what gravity actually is. So without yet positing a material substrate for astrological influence, let us just accept for the time being that such a stuff exists, and then look to see what it explains and how it works. […] Given this shift, the affairs of humans ranging from the outcomes of political campaigns to the successes we have in love and business are now, to a greater or lesser extent, accounted for by stellar influence. Having opened up this possibility, we simultaneously open up an epistemological possibility, the possibility of our knowing more about the future than we could have otherwise. The epistemological problems that confront us with making astrological predictions themselves, though, may be no different from those that confront the modern physicist or the biologist. If the predictions are based to some extent in observations of past correlation, then we are faced with the same problems around induction and generalization that philosophers of science will be familiar with. To the extent that the predictions are based in an understanding of the physics of stellar influence, then the certainty of those predictions reduces to the certainty of that physics itself. In short, the strength of our belief in astrological prediction may be correlated with the strength of our belief in its physics, the sufficiency of the data set, or (most likely) some combination of both. And on the most complete view, we likely further have an understanding — and a confidence — that derives in part from the testimony of reliable authorities.”

          Given that this stuff is all imaginary and that there are no ‘effects of the stars’, I would find it hard to tell which specific arguments would have been considered most convincing to the people of the past; whether the twin case might have become the ‘Twin Problem’ dealt with in a lot of detail, or whether it would have been discarded by a flippant remark like ‘don’t be stupid (/question gravity)’. I’m quite sure they’d have had ways to deal with the issue. 30 seconds might have been more than enough time to allow for different effects. If not, it might have been thought that the effects of the planets and stars were shared, so that one twin got some of the effects and the other twin the other effects. This might lead to the prediction that twins were more likely to not be alike (perhaps depending on when they were born during the year). It’s a lot easier to defend ideas such as these if you start out with the assumption that most reasonable men would agree with many of the basic premises/assumptions.

          1. Johannes

            Before Newton, astrology was not at all irrational. It seems odd to defend it nowadays but it should be noted that many attacks are directed at strawmen and historically uninformed. The “Renaissance Mathematicus” blog is a treasure trove on medieval and early modern science, he also has some texts about astrology

            https://thonyc.wordpress.com/

          2. Jaskologist

            Twins were Augustine’s favorite proof that astrology doesn’t work (he references it in both Confessions and On Christian Doctrine), so it’s been considered a problem since at least the 400s.

  25. Justin

    There’s a shop around here that sells seitan (wheat gluten) kebabs. I find them more tasty than most meat versions, though this is partially due to the other ingredients.

  26. Dan Simon

    I’ve long predicted an uptick in fertility in affluent countries, on evolutionary grounds: if the only people reproducing in a society are those who want kids badly enough to buck the trend and accept the lifestyle hit, one would expect this to have a powerful selective effect on the gene pool, no?

    1. Harald K

      You underestimate the time it takes for such selective pressures to have an effect. Evolution has probably already primed us pretty heavily to be “rational” about when to have kids, too, and if that’s the case it has less genetic diversity to work with.

      1. Mai La Dreapta

        You overestimate the time it takes for such selective pressures to have an effect.

        Take the following toy model: there are two kinds of couples, 2-baby couples and 3-baby couples, and this trait is 100% heritable. At start, both groups are 50% of the population, so the total average fertility is 2.5 babies/couple. In just two generations, the average fertility goes up to 2.69 babies/couple, and the 3-baby couples constitute 77% of the total population. The Baby Boomers already have grandchildren, and that’s plenty of time for selective effects to start nudging fertility up by the modest amount seen here.

        1. Harald K

          I don’t find that model to be plausible at all. First, Dan Simon was talking about the gene pool, so you can’t just take genetic and non-genetic heritability and mix it together. Overall, the heritability of number of children may be quite high (nowhere near 100%), but a lot of that comes from traits such as Catholicism.

          There’s no way the genetic heritability of number of children is anywhere near 100%. You can expect evolutionary pressures have driven us to involve these great (and expensive) brains of ours to decide how many children to have, since what’s a good number in one situation is a terrible one in another. Having human children is risky, and raising human children is resource intensive.

          It’s the classic mistake those looking for easy evolutionary answers make: think only about what nature selects for, and not about what nature has to select from.

          1. John Schilling

            There’s no way the genetic heritability of number of children is anywhere near 100%.

            But MLD didn’t say that number of children had high genetic heritability. Catholicism, for example, is not genetic but very strongly hereditary.

            Obviously, the heritability of fecundity is not going to be 100.00%. It could, considering genetic, memetic, and other relevant effects, be close enough that rounding to 100% gives reasonable results for a simple experiment. But if you think that, say, 50% heritability is a better assumption, go ahead and model it.

          2. Harald K

            “But MLD didn’t say that number of children had high genetic heritability. ”

            No, but that was what Dan Simon was talking about, the gene pool.

            I don’t question that society can change a lot in two generations from varying birth rate, I’m questioning that it depends much on our genes, or that it has much effect on what genes may be involved in birth rates.

          3. Mai La Dreapta

            I wasn’t suggesting that my model was remotely realistic. That’s why it’s called a “toy” model. However, I am suggesting that the 0.2 increase in fertility could result from similar forces.

          4. Randy M

            Your link disagrees with you, at least if you click on M-W and read that able to be inherited is one of the meanings, which would include, legally, money, titles, etc.

            Now if the term is applied to non-genetic, non-legal categories, that might be novel, but I don’t think much out of line.

    2. Paul Torek

      I suppose, eventually – but I think any recent uptick has a different explanation. To wit: the Lesser Depression era that’s just, we hope, ending. Poorer members of first-world countries, who account for a lot of the reproduction, have seen their wealth decline. Their own personal human development index might be declining – and if that’s inversely correlated with birth rate, then…

  27. PGD

    Why Do Some Women Prefer Submissive Men?, asks a study that goes on to find that relationships with a power imbalance tend to produce more children, regardless of which partner is on top. Not sure whether they’re finding anything other than that if your relationship satisfies your fetish you’ll have more sex and therefore more kids.

    I’m guessing you don’t have kids, Scott. I think the more likely explanation is that division of labor pays off BIG TIME when you have kids, and since tasks differ in status (notably: child care is low status compared to paying work) a hierarchical imbalance helps a lot in keeping partners happy with a division of labor. How this works in practice — if both partners are egalitarian and highly committed to their careers, this leads to lots of fighting over who does the child care when you have the first kid, then you are dissuaded from having further kids. But if one partner is perfectly content to downshift when you have the first kid, then there is actually a positive incentive to have another kid, since there are also economies of scale in child care — if wife/husband is downshifting to take care of one kid then they also have time to handle a second.

    1. Nita

      This seems like a very reasonable explanation, although
      1) many breadwinner/stay-at-home couples insist that their relationship is complementary, not hierarchical;
      2) there’s the old, pre-feminism trope of the bossy wife, which decouples earning power from relationship dominance.

      1. roe

        FWIW, PGD’s description is congruent with my experience of starting a family.

        Addressing 1), because equality/feminism, couples are under (IMO) a lot of social pressure to be or appear to be egalitarian in structure.

        Addressing 2), bossy wives may be associated with high-conflict marriages, which may affect the # of children. (Hate to cite fictional evidence, but I’m thinking of The Honeymooners here). But “bossiness” or “bitchiness” or whatever is not the same thing as “dominant” in women any more than “domineering” or “abusive” need be associated with dominance in men.

        1. Nita

          Well, pre-feminism, any dominance of a wife over her husband was considered unnatural and unhealthy, so even non-domineering women would be called “bossy” (and their husbands — “henpecked”). And then there’s the Soviet trope of the wife who relieves her husband of all money on pay day, because otherwise he’d spend it on vodka. Is that abuse? Admirable stewardship? It depends.

          Personally, I think the trend may be driven by old-fashioned (Catholic?) couples having both more children and more traditional relationship structures.

          1. roe

            Right – but it seems to me the hypothesis we’re considering is that *any* sort of hierarchical relationship structure is associated with having more kids. There’s a long history of shaming male submissiveness (see “Riding the donkey backwards”) but as has been observed here and elsewhere, social rules don’t form around things that never happen. Did female dominant relationships = no kids?

            IMO, hierarchical relationship structures are *responsive* – two dominant people = high conflict deadlocks, two submissive people = nothing ever gets decided ie. mutual submission deadlocks ie. “I dunno, what do you want to do?”

            It doesn’t take much, but a little status differential is enough for someone to lead and break deadlocks.

            Um.. To give your hypothesis it’s due, religiosity is often a confounder in these sorts of things – but studies of this nature in my experience usually control for these sorts of things (this particular study is behind a paywall, so…)

    2. Matt C

      This makes more sense than a fetish explanation to me.

      The abstract doesn’t make clear what counts as a “hierarchic disparity”. If pretty much every family with a stay at home parent counts as a hierarchy, this makes your guess stronger.

      I certainly agree that a family division of labor with one parent staying at home is an underrated arrangement.

  28. Anonymous

    “Every news source’s employees donate more money to the Democrats than the Republicans, including Fox News.”

    I have sometimes half suspected that Fox News was set up as the ultimate Sun Tzu style subterfuge to discredit conservatives. Only the most extreme and/or dimwitted conservatives seem to get air time. It’s almost as if the sole purpose is to provide soundbites for Colbert and skits for SNL. The added benefit is that it seems to keep the conservative Overton window focused very nicely on largely irrelevant, losing-proposition social issues.

    hmmm…. conspiracy blog time?

    1. Paul Torek

      Outrage sells? A conspiracy to make money, filtered through people doing what people usually do (running on autopilot lots of the time), would seem to explain all.

  29. Elissa

    So I think the title is a pun on Lincoln, because Lincoln’s birthday? Or if it isn’t Scott should lie in order to make me look smarter ok

      1. Elissa

        Clearly that is the reference, but if Scott could be making a multilayered seasonal pun I just assume he is doing that on priors.

  30. ADifferentAnonymous

    The 80,000 Hours needs a stronger disclaimer. The externality numbers were made up in an attempt to quantify conventional wisdom and do not represent even a rough measurement of the actual values. Still a worthy pursuit, but don’t overpromise!

  31. Muga Sofer

    >A lot of my vegetarian friends have also claimed fake meat doesn’t taste worse than the real thing. I’m curious which kinds of fake meat they’re thinking of. I use Quorn myself, but it’s not nearly as good, plus I’ve recently been told it uses factory-farmed eggs in the US anyway.

    Anecdote: I once had a guy thank me for going to the trouble of buying real meat for our non-vegetarian party guests. I hadn’t.

    (We usually use Quorn – Irish – but it might have been some other brand, I’m not sure.)

      1. Deiseach

        Well, American Quorn must be the devil’s own hoof-clippings then, because I’ve eaten Irish Quorn when I’ve tried it and it was disgusting.

        1. Harald K

          That’s really strange to me. I’d imagine that the main complaint about quorn would be that it’s disgustingly bland, if anything. There’s really not much taste there to hate.

          Which is OK with me. It doesn’t have to taste exactly like meat to be a meat replacement, as I see it. It has a pleasant texture, which is a big deal to me (sticky food like dumplings or brown cheese I have real trouble swallowing, literally). The taste can easily be modified with other ingredients anyway.

          1. Deiseach

            I possibly have weird taste buds then; I was trying their range of substitute cooked meats (fake ham, fake luncheon roll etc.) and it wasn’t that they were just bland and that they tasted of nothing in particular, they definitely tasted “bleehhhh”.

            I’ve tried their fake mince etc. before as well, and that was just bland. I think it works better if you dump the contents of your herb and spice rack in with it when cooking, but unfortunately I don’t like really spicy food (my two brothers like very spicy and strong flavours, and one of them is vegan, which probably helps when cooking things like tofu and fake meats like Quorn).

  32. Anonymous

    >Not sure whether they’re finding anything other than that if your relationship satisfies >your fetish you’ll have more sex and therefore more kids.

    Sounds unlikely to me. Liking sex and having babies are not going to be very strongly correlated. I’d actually expect an inverse correlation. If you really like sex your incentives to not fuck up your sex life are much stronger.

    And I would bet money on an inverse correlation between kinkiness and tendency to have unprotected PIV sex.

    Isn’t it much more likely that being parents forces some couples to adopt a hierarchical relationship to cope? (I’ve only read the abstract not the paper. Maybe they somehow controlled for that possibility or it doesn’t apply here? But I’ve seen some really silly evo psych, so maybe also they didn’t.)

  33. Baby Beluga

    I’ve been getting more and more hopeful about meat substitutes lately. Even though it’s a totally different situation, I’m reminded of a thing Scott said about reducing crime; something like: “We can try to reduce crime by education and better societal structure, or we can try to reduce crime by deleading pipes and stuff. One of these is easier than the other.”

    In the same vein, fire-and-brimstone rhetoric and improving fake meat are two ways of ending the problem of factory farming, and I think there’s a good chance that improving fake meat is going to be what makes the change in the end. Hopefully one day we’ll have fake meat as tasty as the real thing, but only time will tell.

    1. houseboatonstyx

      I haven’t tried fake meat lately, but Morningstar Farms ‘breakfast patties’ (imitation sausage patties) were very good, at least with bread folded around. Maybe the key to any non-standard meat is, to mix it up with other things. Maybe one’s taste contrasts the ‘meat’ with the other things and labels it ‘meat’ — but if served alone, one’s taste would contrast it with the memory of real or better meat.

      1. CAE_Jones

        Maybe the key to any non-standard meat is, to mix it up with other things. Maybe one’s taste contrasts the ‘meat’ with the other things and labels it ‘meat’ — but if served alone, one’s taste would contrast it with the memory of real or better meat.

        This has been my go-to explanation for fake bacon for some time, now. It’s… different, by itself, but is perfectly fine with other things.

    2. 27chaos

      Baby Beluga is one of those rare literary masterpieces that come once only every few centuries. I applaud your tasteful choice of username.

  34. Barry

    I highly doubt that any Fox News on-air personalities or high-level editors donate to the Democrats. More likely that study is the result of the majority of the behind-the-scenes people (Who have no influence on the stations on-air political perspective) being more liberal. Which just goes to show that an incredibly lopsided majority of people entering the media industry lean liberal if Fox can’t fill a high percentage of off-air positions with conservatives. Not that I’m saying they would discriminate if they could, just that you would think that conservative-leaning media students and workers would be much more likely to apply for a job at Fox.

    (First-time commenter BTW, this blog has quickly become my favorite thing on the internet, so thank you Scott.)

    1. Anonymous

      Which just goes to show that an incredibly lopsided majority of people entering the media industry lean liberal

      This is a curious fact. When other industries are highly skewed from being a representative sample, we generally assume that there is some nefarious deeds giving rise to the troubling statistic. It’s a disparate impact test rather than an intentional discrimination test (…or at least that’s what petitioners in SCOTUS tell me).

      1. Andrew

        No, people don’t generally assume anything “nefarious” when an industry is not representative of the population’s *political orientation*.

  35. Muga Sofer

    >Everyone is talking about Jonathan Chait’s article against political correctness, which is so boring I’m not even going to link it because it is exactly what you imagine it to be when I say “an article against political correctness”. On the other hand, some of the discussion has been worthwhile. Ross Douthat tries to pinpoint exactly what we mean by political correctness – though I’m not sure he succeeds – then argues contra Chait that, though it can be ugly, it does work. Meanwhile, Chait has a pretty funny analysis of the way people have responded to his piece.

    You know, this may be because I’m not charitable enough, but: having found and read the piece, it’s actually quite a bit better than the archetypal “political correctness gone mad” article I imagined in my head.

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/not-a-very-pc-thing-to-say.html

    The section on trigger warnings overstates it’s case a bit – a good bit more than is usual or fair – but even there, it’s better than I would have expected.

    Vaguely relevant: the term “political correctness” has an interesting etymology. https://pseudonymwrites.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/political-correctness-gone-mad/

  36. youzicha

    Can someone explain what the effect of this “teachers kill students” bill is?

    The bill states that “It is a defense to prosecution for an offense committed by an educator […] that the conduct is justified in the manner described by Subsection (a)”. And subsection (a) says that the conduct is justified if “under the circumstances as the educator reasonably believes them to be, the educator would be justified under Section 9.31, 9.32, or 9.33, Penal Code”.

    But section 9.02 if the Penal Code is “It is a defense to prosecution that the conduct in question is justified under this chapter”, and the provisions in 9.31-9.33 already talk about what the actor “reasonably believes”.

    So just naively reading the text, it seems like self-defense was already a defense against prosecution, and that the new bill doesn’t change anything?

    1. Fnord

      I believe, based on the handful of apparently-not-hysterical articles I read, that it’s a defense against administrative discipline (aka, getting fired) under the Education Code (as opposed to the Penal Code sections, which apply to criminal sanctions under the Penal Code).

      1. youzicha

        I did read some comment somewhere saying the same thing, but I don’t understand how the proposed law has that effect. It doesn’t mention administrative proceedings, just prosecution, and the section of the Education Code it is inserted into is not directly concerned with administrative discipline either.

        1. Fnord

          Also possible that it’s a purely symbolic law, with no actual effect, proposed for political signaling reasons.

  37. Noah Siegel

    ” “For a while the CPUC loved us—’you guys are so much nicer than Uber!'” Kaufman says. “But in the end, it didn’t really help to play nice.” ”

    I think this is the real takeaway from the story. Uber is willing and, due to its investors, able to fight dirty.

    Put another way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LF0wa0W13yw

    Lady Lysa: “You don’t fight with honor!
    Bronn: (points to dead Ser Vardis) “No, but he did.”

  38. Sarah

    CAR-T is some comic book shit. I am waiting with bated breath to see how this stuff comes out.

    (BTW, anybody know if it works in solid tumors? my impression so far is that they haven’t got the hang of that yet.)

  39. Deiseach

    (1) I’ve tried Quorn and it is disgusting, even when I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. Until they make good fake meat, I’m sticking to real meat.

    (2) Dracula! Written by an Anglo-Irishman! So it’s all our fault (more or less)! 🙂

    (3) I’ve just had to throw a hissy-fit for the third time of counting on Tumblr about the goddamn Library of Alexandria and that [expletive deleted expletive deleted you kiss the bishop’s ring with that mouth?* expletive deleted] graphic about “we could have been exploring the galaxy by now” – you know the one I mean, in its various forms.

    Somebody please, for holy charity**, cheer me up 🙁

    *Yeah, I’m waiting for the first smart-alec to go for the double entendre

    ** Icham of Irlaunde
    Ant of the holy londe
    Of Irlande.

    Gode sire, pray ich the,
    For of saynte charite,
    Come ant daunce wyt me
    In Irlaunde.

    1. Jaskologist

      Save time on your hissy fit, and just link to Armarium Magnum next time instead. He’s an atheist who thinks that chart is “The Stupidest Thing on the Internet Ever,” which actually makes me question how much internet he’s seen.

      1. Deiseach

        I didn’t know Tim O’Neill had had a go at the chart, so thanks for the link! I did know he’d already taken on the Hypatia myth (and got the Usual Rejoinders), so this just makes me want to say “Good job, mate” even more than usual 🙂

  40. wadavis

    For those reading “Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer” and considering it as a rationalist ritual: It felt like a cult ritual, was uncomfortable and generally missed it’s goal.

    What did stick, and accomplish its goal, was the four hour ethics / professional conduct / liability seminar we did before the ritual. Not repeating 90 year old phrases, but discussing and training for the professional challenges that would face us in the future.

      1. wadavis

        From the wiki page:

        The Obligation is private, though not necessarily secret. However, it is customary for those who have gone through it to not discuss the details of the Calling with others, even engineers from other countries. The ceremony is open only to candidates or those who have already undergone the ritual.

        As part of the preparation for the ritual, candidates are instructed not to discuss the details of the ritual with the media. A reminder of this is provided at the end of the ceremony in the form of a written instruction that states: “The Rule of Governance provides that there shall be no publicity in connection with the Ritual.”

        I’m kinda impressed that the text of the ritual has remained private. It doesn’t help with the weird vibe, but impressive all the same.

  41. cassander

    >More of poor people explainomg why being poor is harder than you think on Reddit recently.

    I find this very unconvincing. the rent differential alone between where I live (downtown) and just 5 miles out is massive, enough to pay for a car in a couple months. And if your credit is so bad that you can’t get a bank account, that didn’t just happen because you’re poor, it’s because you have a very long and well documented history of borrowing money and not paying it back.

    1. CAE_Jones

      One can be poor, unemployed/unsuited for decent paying jobs, or otherwise unable to drive even if they can take out a sufficient loan which they may or may not be able to pay back because poor and hard-to-gainfully-employ. There’s also the matter of getting to the point that moving to the low-rent environment is viable.

    2. Anonymous

      >I find this very unconvincing. the rent differential alone between where I live (downtown) and just 5 miles out is massive, enough to pay for a car in a couple months.

      five miles is a hell of a lot to add to any trips you’re making when you don’t have a car

      >that didn’t just happen because you’re poor, it’s because you have a very long and well documented history of borrowing money and not paying it back.

      generally not paying back money is caused by not having enough money to pay back with; i.e., being poor

      1. jaimeastorga2000

        generally not paying back money is caused by not having enough money to pay back with; i.e., being poor

        A responsible man, rich or poor, only borrows money that he knows he will be able to pay back with high probability. Men who borrow money they are unable to repay have thereby demonstrated the limits of either their honesty or their ability to accurately asses their repayment potential. A poor man who makes a realistic assessment of what he can pay back and borrows only up to that limit is unlikely to find himself in this sort of situation.

        1. James Picone

          So now we’re back to not being to take out enough of a loan to buy a car, because you don’t earn enough to pay it back in a reasonable time (or can’t demonstrate that to the bank’s satisfaction).

        2. Tracy W

          Problems with this:
          1) “High probability” is not the same as “definitely”. Sometimes people have runs of bad luck.
          2) You might easily have problems calibrating what you can pay back with high probability, particularly when you’re young.

        3. Harald K

          A responsible man, rich or poor, only borrows money that he knows he will be able to pay back with high probability.

          For the first, rich or poor is not static. If the low-probability event happens that you aren’t able to pay back (and that will it happen for some is implied even in “high probability”), that’s often because you are now poor.

          Second, there’s a really basic mathematical fact, that is supremely underappreciated in all sort of ways, that can be expressed as this: Play it safe when you’re winning. Take risks when you’re losing.

          Say you’re playing a solitaire dice game, where the goal is to reach a sum of 40 points in 10 turns. One die is a regular six-sided one. The other has 1 on all sides except one, which has 14. Now, what’s your strategy?

          Obviously the normal die is best on average, since the sum of its dots is 21, whereas the sum of the dots on the other is just 19. But nonetheless, a simple strategy of using the best die all the time loses to a smart dynamic strategy. To convince you all of that with minimal math, ask yourself: what’s best to do if you have one roll remaining, and your score stands at 33?

          Real life has lots of threshold events that put you in situations similar to that game. Taking out a responsible loan is using the better, safer die. Taking a loan you suspect you might not be able to pay back, is playing with the riskier, worse die.

          (By the way, one of the areas this fact is underappreciated, is one of the ones we’re not supposed to talk about on the open thread…)

      2. cassander

        >five miles is a hell of a lot to add to any trips you’re making when you don’t have a car

        so you suffer for a couple months then use the money saved to buy a car. Ideal? Of course not. But possible? Unquestionably. Hell, for you could probably rent a car for the interim and still come out well ahead.

        1. Sophie Grouchy

          Even renting a cheap car is something like $700/month. (plus insurance, plus gas)…(plus parking, plus having an up-to-date license)

        2. Limi

          Rent a car? Earth really is a different planet for the poor and the wealthy. To rent a car for 4 months would cost you $5520. Now I just looked it up, so I’m sure you could find a better price by finding the best deal, but to get that down to a level manageable for someone straddling the poverty line, you would need to knock off at least three grand. And then you have to buy your own car on top of it?

          Alternatively, do all your grocery shopping on public transport – limiting the amount you can get and writing big items off, not to mention you have significantly less time to do your shopping – and everything else – because you spend your entire lifetime on a piss reeking bus sitting next to the world’s smelliest and loudest hobo.

          So you get to work, stinking of urine and skunk eggs or whatever that homeless man was rolling around in and naturally nobody wants to come near you, because they are afraid their noses will tear themselves from their faces and run into the night screaming in terror. So now your boss calls you in, and from as far away across the office as he can be while still remaining in the room, he tells you to go home and do something about the smell. So now you have been sent home from work for stinking – and if you can think of a more humiliating reason to be sent home I would love to hear it – and the worst part is, you can’t even smell it anymore. You’ve been sitting in it so long that your nose has grown accustomed to it and the only reason you even know you stink is because you part crowds like Moses parting the red sea.

          You need to pick up groceries on the way home or else you can’t eat – plus you need to buy the strongest soap imaginable – so you take a deep breath, lock your self loathing behind a mask of neutrality and do your shopping, avoiding eye contact with everyone to signal how ashamed you are. Ashamed of being too poor to buy a car.

          Now I’m not going to claim that situation happens to everyone who is poor, because obviously it is the kind of nearly impossibly unfortunate situation that only ever seems to happen to me. My point is simply that it’s not as simple as you seem to think. Being poor fucking sucks. I have depression, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia, and if I was given a choice to get rid of one disruptive element in my life, I would get rid of being poor every time. Every time.

          1. stubydoo

            Speaking as someone who frequently shares public transit with smelly homeless people, I’m pretty sure that never ever leads to anyone absorbing so much of the odor in their commute that they get sent home from work.

            Though I did myself at one time get sent home from a crappy office job because my skin had a bunch of bedbug bites.

          2. cassander

            I didn’t mean rent a car full time, I meant sign up for something like zipcar and use it when necessary. But I moved from where I live now to a few miles away, I could quite easily save a grand a month. trying to maintain poor people in city centers, i.e. some of the most expensive real estate in the world, is a fool’s errand.

        3. Andrew

          Suffer for a couple months… but suffer *what*? Because if you suffer being fired even once as a result of unreliable transport, the entire endeavor is now a loss rather than a gain.

    3. Anonymous

      >And if your credit is so bad that you can’t get a bank account, that didn’t just happen because you’re poor, it’s because you have a very long and well documented history of borrowing money and not paying it back.

      I can tell you with certainty that this is not true. I personally watched my then 22-year-old brother get rejected trying to open a checking account at three banks in a row, not because he had ever failed to make any (re)payment, but seemingly because he had no credit history and no recorded work history. Consider that day laborers never have a verifiable work history to point to.

      He found a bank which actually worked on the fourth try, but that might not have been good enough assuming some of the time/transportation constraints outlined in the Reddit post.

  42. TheAncientGeek

    “More of poor people explainomg why being poor is harder than you think on Reddit recently. I finally realized that one part of the answer to “Why don’t poor people leave expensive cities?” is “Because they can’t afford cars and are dependent on access to public transportation.”

    [Typo in original, btw]

    Why should the poor leave? Country-for-the-rich, city-for-the-poor works much better.

    The rich can hack living in the country because the can afford private transport to commute to work (where I come from, living in the country is a sign that you have arrived , because of , history, wealthy landowners and such).

    Cities are the most cost effective places to build public transit systems, and the poor benefit from them the most. And if the poor dominate cities politically, they will demand them.

    1. AspiringRationalist

      > Why should the poor leave? Country-for-the-rich, city-for-the-poor works much better.

      > The rich can hack living in the country because the can afford private transport to commute to work (where I come from, living in the country is a sign that you have arrived , because of , history, wealthy landowners and such).

      High-income workers’ time is much more valuable than low-income workers’ time, so it makes more sense for high-income workers people to live in cities, pay higher rent and spend less time commuting and more time working and for low-income workers to live in the suburbs, pay lower rent and spend less time working and more time commuting. It’s a terrible waste for workers with valuable skills to spend 1-2 hours per workday stuck in traffic.

      Of course this depends on there actually being reasonable transportation options for the working poor who live outside urban centers.

      1. TheAncientGeek

        If you make a threefold division, it makes sense for the richest to live in cities, or perhaps divide theIr time between their place in the city, their place in thecountry, and their place in Tuscanny,

        Its still not clear why it should be the poorest who should move out of the cities , which provide them with job opportunities and affordable transport…particularly when middle income types will do so voluntarily.

        1. John Schilling

          Very simplistically speaking, poor people live in rural areas where they can and do breed rapidly. Some of the excess rural poor will move to the city to make their fortune. If they fail, they become part of the dead-end urban poor. If they succeed moderately, they move to the suburbs and breed slowly because the suburbs are the safest and most pleasant place to raise a modest family on modest means. The ones who succeed greatly become rich and can live wherever they like, but probably one of their homes will be in the city so they can easily do business with other rich people.

          It would probably be better for everyone if the unsuccessful urban poor moved to rural areas, but they mostly won’t.

    2. Anonymous

      Why should the poor leave? Country-for-the-rich, city-for-the-poor works much better.

      I think that you are using the word “should” in a different sense than it was used in the original post. It’s that sometimes it is beneficial for an individual to avoid all costs that are associated with living in an expensive city. For example, there is much less land in cities for a given amount of people, therefore the cost of housing is usually significantly higher. Of course, building a lot of tall buildings might increase the supply of space thus partially alleviating the problem, but even then prices will rise again unless cities start regularly tearing down and rebuilding city centers, making them taller and taller.

      Of course, I think it would be great if we could avoid wealth stratification and have people of wealth levels living side by side.

    3. Anonymous

      >Why should the poor leave? Country-for-the-rich, city-for-the-poor works much better.

      Well rich people live in cities because they’re NICE. You go to your vacation home if you want to get away.

      Poor people live outside cities because there is more land outside cities than in cities.

      1. TheAncientGeek

        Where I come from, country dwellers generally arent poor.

        The poor moved into cities because there are more opportunities in cities

  43. Speedwell

    I was a vegetarian (for reasons of health, not because of sentimentality toward food animals) when I was diagnosed with diabetes. I immediately went low-carb without looking back, and dropped fifteen pounds, fifty fasting blood sugar points, and three medications in three months. Surprise! That didn’t mean I stopped eating vegetarian protein foods!

    Now that my blood sugars have stablized at a reasonable but watched pre-diabetic level (and it’s been several years since the diagnosis), I am happy to still include vegetarian protein foods in my diet. Today, in fact, I munched on a few slices of a Lithuanian garlic salami, got bored, went into the kitchen and whomped up a batch of ‘veggieroni’, a wheat-gluten-based, Italian-spiced salami analogue that hit the spice-craving spot. I just happen to be put off by Quorn, even though I live where it is popular.; it just doesn’t taste of much to me, and I am addicted to organic local free-range chicken and beef, so much better than the tasteless waterlogged sponge I used to eat in the USA. I have made my own tofu (and made tofu chicken, turkey, shrimp, and jerky) in the past, the latest time between meat-based meals. I still use a recipe for vegetarian chicken stock that I made up before I even was a vegetarian, back when I was poor and had to make a quarter chicken feed four people as a stew. I have enjoyed ‘Ma Po Tofu’, which in the Chinese restaurant I frequented included both tofu and ground pork.

    Vegetarian meat substitutes are not meat. They do, however, expand the category of and satisfy the appetite for flesh-type foods. As someone who eats and cooks with both freely, I would be happy to answer anyone’s questions about similarities and differences.

  44. Emily H.

    I finally realized that one part of the answer to “Why don’t poor people leave expensive cities?” is “Because they can’t afford cars and are dependent on access to public transportation.”

    Working-class New York City resident here. This is, indeed, a problem. Suppose that I want to get hired for a rural job. If the company wants me to fly out for an interview, do I have to get around by relying on taxis all day? If I get hired, do I spend hundreds of dollars getting licensed in New York, or do I move to Rural Location and try to get by without a car until I can buy one there? And even if I solve those problems, it’s really hard to figure out whether I actually end up with a better quality of life by spending $n less on rent if I’m getting paid $m less in salary and spending $x on gas, car payment, insurance, and repairs.

    At the same time, is it really government regulation that reduces transportation options in rural and suburban areas? In sprawly medium-sized suburban cities like Raleigh and Atlanta, there’s just not enough population density for public transportation to be efficient or economical.

    1. jaimeastorga2000

      At the same time, is it really government regulation that reduces transportation options in rural and suburban areas? In sprawly medium-sized suburban cities like Raleigh and Atlanta, there’s just not enough population density for public transportation to be efficient or economical.

      Based on third-world observations, my prediction is that without government regulation people would just become private rickshaw/taxi/microbus operators utilizing their personal vehicles until it no longer made economic sense for them to do so, which would probably past the point where a reasonable transportation network existed.

    2. haishan

      “…sprawly medium-sized suburban cities like Raleigh and Atlanta…”

      Mah pride is wounded, miss! A duel at dawn, ah say!

      But seriously, as a lifelong Atlantan, I have to point out that the ATL Metropolitan Statistical Area is larger than those of Boston and San Francisco, and, like, 4.5 times as large as Raleigh’s. “Sprawly,” I won’t dispute. “Suburban,” okay. But “medium-sized” only in comparison to NYC/LA/Chicago, and certainly not in the same weight class as Raleigh.

      More to the substance of your post, there are also political problems with funding public transportation at least in Atlanta. The state restricts how it can raise money, and won’t give it any money for operational expenses; some neighboring counties served by MARTA also won’t raise sales taxes to fund it. It’s a clusterfuck, and some of the clusterfuck (northern-suburban counties not spending anything) is certainly due to sprawl (and, uh, probably racism), but some of it genuinely is government regulation.

      1. ryan

        The people who don’t want a (direct quote from my Aunt) Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta drop off in their neighborhood because they think it will lead to increased crime rates are, yeah, maybe just a tad racist. Though it’s that super-annoying kind of racism where they’re probably technically correct about what to expect from crime rates.

        1. Nick T

          Why is the word “technically” here? Because they exaggerate the likely impact on their quality of life?

          1. meyerkev248

            The sentence “Letting lots of poor people who can’t otherwise afford cars from the high-crime regions of Atlanta (who are disproportionately black due to migration patterns and racial socio-economic demographics) take the train to our neighborhood will probably raise our crime rates, because a very small, yet noisy percentage of them will be here to commit crimes” is probably true.

            The sentence “Letting lots of blah people ride the train from Atlanta to our neighborhood will raise crime rates” is also probably true. In a much less specific, yet still technically correct way.

            Sentence #2 is however way more racist than #1, and you’re not entirely certain that the people saying #2 have actually thought it through to #1.

            So you can’t really be mad at the people saying #2 because they’re not incorrect, but you really strongly wish they wouldn’t say it that way.

          2. haishan

            Eh, I think it’s a little more complicated than that — anecdote is not the singular of data and all, but I grew up within walking distance of one of the more northern MARTA bus routes. I’ve taken said bus numerous times. The people on said bus almost without exception appear to either live in the northern suburbs, or work there. I have a suspicion that young black hoodlums have better things to do than spend 45 minutes riding up to the suburbs and then commit crimes there.

            If I wanted to steelman ryan’s racist aunt, I’d say that increased access to public transportation -> higher carrying capacity for the poor -> more poor blacks (and Hispanics? I’m not sure how normal peoples’ racism works) -> higher crime rate. But saying this out loud might be even more racist than “Letting lots of blah people ride the train from Atlanta to our neighborhood will raise crime rates,” so.

          3. houseboatonstyx

            I have a suspicion that young black hoodlums have better things to do than spend 45 minutes riding up to the suburbs and then commit crimes there.

            There might also be a problem if escaping after the crime involved a walk to the bus stop, a wait, and a 45 minute ride home. Also the bus driver might charge extra for a big bag of silver teapots and such.

          4. Tarrou

            ” I have a suspicion that young black hoodlums have better things to do than spend 45 minutes riding up to the suburbs and then commit crimes there.”

            In my experience, a common occurrence is a poor black mother figures that with public transport, she can commute to her job in the city better, so she moves out to the burbs to get her son away from all the crime and gangs……..and all that happens is it provides an outpost of crime and gang activity in the burbs. The mother is off working and the kids are inviting their friends from the old neighborhood to hang out in the new one. Perfectly understandable on all sides, and with tragic results.

            I get why you would want to get your kids out of a shitty neighborhood.

            I get why a kid would want their friends out because they have no friends in a new area, and the culture is so different.

            I get why all those kids don’t magically become middle-class people when they get there.

            And I get why the residents would be appalled by the process.

        2. Tracy W

          I grew up in a low-socio-economic area and for high school caught a reasonable train service to a high school that mostly drew on a much higher socio-economic area.
          Despite the reasonable public transport access burglary and the like was far more common where I lived than where my friends lived. My parents installed a very good burglar alarm and about four times a year there was evidence of an attempted break-in (eg chisel marks by the door locks.) Apparently burglary is mostly a very opportunistic crime.

    3. meyerkev248

      1) Overall, the standard of living for blue-collar working class people is probably the best in the Midwestern suburbs.

      If you go full rural, yes, you’re in the land of the $50K house, but you’re also still in the land of the $500 plane ticket, and the salaries reflect that you’re in the land of the $50K house. (Which is why those really poor rural people also have a ~75% home ownership rate, and the really rich SF people have a 40% home ownership rate).

      In return, you’re in NYC, land of the $3K/month 1BR after-tax. Which is really not a happy place to be if you’re not actively on Wall Street making a million bucks or you’re getting something out of being an hour on the subway from Central Park that you can’t get from moving to Cleveland and dropping one month’s rent difference on flying back to NYC for a week every year. If you take a 1/3rd pay cut after tax leaving NYC, pick up a house for $1500/month and a low-end new car for $400/month, you’re basically in the same spot, except you’re up a house. It’s a little harder to get your hands on a thousand bucks, but you don’t need a thousand bucks as often.

      2) Relating to the move stuff:

      Yeah, that’s an issue. There is a fairly large cost bump relating to moving. Especially when you’re moving to a place where you now need a driver’s license. Which takes 30 days plus some paperwork (http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,4670,7-127-1627_8669_9040—,00.html). Which is why I’m personally a fan of fiddling with the structure of income more than I am with actual amounts. (Or at least fiddling more than we do). Giving a lump sum all at once can be a useful shock to the system because it lets you do things like this.

      Or in your case, a short-term low-interest loan if you have decent credit might be an option. I’d do as much as I could over the phone, then get out there for the interview once you’re reasonably certain you’ll get hired.

      Cost-wise:

      *Takehome percentage is fixed. Because taxes are progressive and health insurance is constant. This might lead you to underestimate takehome a bit, but hey, that’s a special gift of a couple hundred a month.

      *Low-end new cars (Read: $20K) cost $5-600/month + gas (Take however long your one-way commute to work would be, double it, double it again and that’s your annual mileage). That’s an average over the decade life of the car, but it’s a bathtub curve from car payment + insurance + oil changes to no car payment + occasional maintenance to “This thing explodes every thousand miles and costs me a grand every time”.

      Used cars aren’t much better. They’re cheaper up front, but they don’t last as long and tend to skip over the honeymoon.

      * Rent is very cheap, things you get off Amazon are exactly the same price, the extent to which things are done via local labor determines the price differential on everything else.

      Mild Disclaimer: You have a lot of people driving nasty jobs for $20K/year (and I’m legitimately unsure how they haven’t starved to death yet). Those are usually slightly better paid professional jobs-ish in the rural areas.

      * The way people think about money in rural areas is going to seem weird. I (and to a point, you) live in a place where we cannot afford a 1BR apartment (probably), but that cross-country plane ride out to see family is a week’s rent and it’s just sort of that thing that you do.

      My stepbrother spends $200 on rent in Cleveland. I spend $3000 in the Bay Area (Well, ok, I get a roommate, spend $1500 and quintuple my petty cash). The way that we look at a $800 plane ride is completely different. My Christmas gift to my father was Red Wing’s tickets on New Years. They were the rent on my closet and 2 months of his rent on a 3BR/1600 sq. ft. condo.

      If you have large debts, pay them off and then move. Your ability to find a grand in NYC is much, much higher. It’s just that that grand goes much less farther.

      /And yeah, transit doesn’t work in the burbs. Not many people going too many places.

      1. Sophie Grouchy

        Lower and middle class people are NOT paying $3000/mo for a 1 bdr in New York. Sure, RICH people pay that (and more) to live in Manhattan, but lower class people live in the boroughs, and take transit in.

        I’m a middle-ish class person living in Bushwick, Brooklyn and working in Manhattan (20 minute commute to work), and my rent is $880/mo. My place is small, and I have roomies, but it’s also very nice and right off the subway stop.

        OTOH, you set your house price too low. There are very few $50k houses that are fully functional, and those are probably in the middle of nowhere. I would set a cheap house that is close enough to a city/town to drive to work at somewhere closer to $100k.

        For the car, you’re also not including $200/mo in gas, $70/mo in insurance, and having to spontaneously drop a couple thousand dollars whenever your car decides to break a part or two. (Poor people don’t get the credit scores to buy a nice $20k car, which you call “low end”. Poor people are lucky if they can get $5000 to buy a car that isn’t going to IMMEDIATELY break. I say this as a formerly poor person who had to keep dropping random thousands of dollars to fix my falling-apart car, because I worked under the table and so couldn’t prove that I had enough income for them to let me buy a car in payments.)

    4. John Schilling

      Y’all understand that New York City is really weird, right?

      In the United States as a whole, 80% of poor households have cars.

      In New York City, it’s only 32%. And since you ask, it, 90% in Raleigh, and probably about 85% in Atlanta. Yes, that’s specifically households living below the federal poverty line.

      At least in the United States, poor people generally can afford to own cars. Or they can afford to eke out a living in New York City. Just not both at the same time. Since the intellectual elite who debate the plight of the poor mostly live in the great cosmopolitan cities like New York, there may be an observational bias at work here.

      And, yes, there are probably transit issues at work for poor people who live in NYC and want to get out, but I suspect that’s a very small portion of the poverty problem in general.

      1. Tom Scharf

        Yes, a cheap used car never crossed anyone’s mind? People made it to California in covered wagons. Now they didn’t always survive the trip…

        People in Raleigh should worry a lot more about moving to NYC instead of vice-versa IMO with the living costs there.

        1. The Anonymouse

          People do seem to like to talk about how difficult it is to move to another area with a cheaper cost of living, and it is a PITA to do so.

          But PITA does not equal impossible. As you mention, people with far fewer resources took to the Oregon trail in wagons and handcarts to seek out economic opportunity. Today people stow away in storage containers and the wheelwells of jetliners, build makeshift rafts, and ride atop train cars to seek out opportunity in the US. After someone has ridden the top of a freight train, and braved bandits and border guards and coyotes, all to get the opportunity to trudge across the desert or contort themselves into the trunk of a car, it seems a bit disingenuous to talk about how hard it is to move out of NYC.

        2. Tarrou

          There is a surprisingly large percentage of the “poor” who drive really nice cars. The gf lives in an apartment complex that is two-thirds Section 8 housing. Her and my cars are by far the cheapest in the place. There’s a three year old Jaguar, a dozen Escalades, four STS’s, a half a dozen Mustangs……and my 1998 Honda Civic.

          Until the repo man finds you, a poor person can drive the hottest car on the block!

          1. Zorgon

            I’ll share with you a piece of wisdom I learned on the sink estates of my youth.

            The people with the incredibly nice cars outside their houses? Those are the drug dealers.

      2. Anonymous

        At least in the United States, poor people generally can afford to own cars. Or they can afford to eke out a living in New York City. Just not both at the same time.

        Do you know any actual New Yorkers? If you do, try asking them why they don’t own a car. It’s not so much that they can’t afford it, it’s that if they did, they would then have to either 1) park it, or 2) drive it. Neither of those things are either pleasant or all that necessary in a big city.

        1. Nornagest

          It can be both. I don’t know much about parking in New York, but I know quite a bit about San Francisco, and there street parking is basically unobtainable in the denser residential neighborhoods. Private parking will cost you about $200/month on an ongoing basis, if you’re lucky enough to have an apartment that provides it or be within walking distance of a garage that stays open overnight.

          For the middle-class people I hang out with, that’s unpleasant. For poorer people, it could easily be unaffordable.

        2. HeelBearCub

          “It’s not so much that they can’t afford it, it’s that if they did, they would then have to either 1) park it, or 2) drive it.”

          That would be included in the definition of “afford.” Parking is an expense of money or time. Driving is an expense of both money and time.

      3. Harald K

        80% of poor households having cars do leave a sizeable bunch who don’t have cars. Also, if you have a car that’s liable to fall apart at inopportune times, that has many of the same problems as not having a car.

        In a discussion about Uber I was shown the surprising statistic (to me, anyway) that in the US, most users of taxis are poor.

        1. Shieldfoss

          This is surprising? I used the taxi more when I was a poor European student (and, subsequently, when I was a poor European job seeker who didn’t want rain on his Interview Clothes) than I do now as an engineering consultant who can, you know, afford a car.

    5. David Friedman

      “At the same time, is it really government regulation that reduces transportation options in rural and suburban areas?”

      Reduces, yes. Consider the history of the Jitney industry in the early 20th century, regulated out of existence due to pressure from the trolley companies, which didn’t like the competition.

      But how good transportation would be without the regulation I don’t know.

  45. Noah Siegel

    From the Phillpott article:

    “Nor do I find the people behind these companies particularly appealing. Both Jacobson and Brownstone portray the shakers and movers driving the new-wave meat alternatives as Silicon Valley-funded, jargon-spouting techsters—the kind I look to for a clever smartphone app, not for lunch.”

    When acknowledging a good thing from the tech community in a left-leaning publication, make sure you are sufficiently apologetic about promoting something from these Bad People.

    1. Nita

      Yes, because creating clever smartphone apps is the epitome of EVIL. Why would this snobby food critic imply that techies might be bad at something? And why would he say that it’s not their personal charm that made him change his mind about fake meat? It must be the leftists’ fault, somehow.

      1. Nornagest

        I don’t know how mainstream it is, but there’s a meme among certain segments of leftists that… hell, I’ll just quote directly from an anarchist that I happened to be hanging out with a week or so ago. “The tech economy is all about inserting yourself as a middleman in processes that don’t really need one”. Clever smartphone apps, it follows, are the sum of the actual value that the tech industry produces.

        If our food critic is such a person — and I haven’t heard that kind of talk from anyone else — he’s actually being charitable by his own lights.

        1. Nita

          Apparently, in his ideal world, everyone would eat either luxury grass-fed beef or fresh veggies. To people like him, less “processed” food is inherently better food. They believe that too much tech applied to food is detrimental to its nutritional value, taste and “authenticity”.

          I’m not convinced that all fans of “authentic” food are leftists, or vice versa.

          1. Nita

            In addition to hipsters, other groups that immediately come to mind are rich people who enjoy “gourmet” food, and down-to-earth traditionalists who enjoy “wholesome” food.

        2. grendelkhan

          For the apotheosis of this perspective, here’s Rebecca Solnit’s London Review of Books essay on Those Darned Techies. (I especially liked the part where Greyhound buses with a new paint job are described as “luxury” travel arrangements. Snark.)

          (‘We want eternally rising property values for our houses, but stable rent costs, and no evictions, also a low unemployment rate and all the knock-on effects from the tech boom, but no new construction, certainly not in my backyard!’ Aargh the Bay Area Housing Madness.)

          TechCrunch has what I thought was an excellent summary of the issues, none of which, shockingly, center around tech workers being overly bro-y.

          1. Nita

            I read the beginning of Solnit’s essay (I’m nowhere near San Francisco, so I don’t care enough to read it all). So, yeah, she does compare techies to “alien overlords”, but she also compares them to exploited coal miners — in the very next sentence, in fact.

            It looks like she’s criticising the actions of Google and Apple, not nerds and techies. It’s like criticising the actions of Israel vs criticising Jews.

          2. John Schilling

            More like criticizing the actions of Israel vs criticizing Israelis.

            There’s infinite variations out there of “I hate [X], but oh, no, not all the actual people who comprise [X], they’re all on my side – or will be when I finish explaining to them how it is all the fault of a few inhuman Evil Overlords”. They’re pretty much all crap. If you want to compare Google employees to oppressed coal miners, you really need to get them to sign on to that argument with you – which is a tall order when you’re standing with the crowd that’s egging their ride.

        3. Anonymous

          When I think about “social lefties whining about ‘tech culture'” or whatever, I probably think of Katie Benner’s column in Bloomberg View. Not sure how mainstream that is.

    2. Andrew

      I think it’s just suggesting that technology people are not who you might expect to provide fine dining stereotypically. It _could_ be derisive, but also not at all.

  46. emr

    Here is another link with kappa values for different DSM versions:
    http://1boringoldman.com/index.php/2012/09/24/take-notic/

    As a layperson, I’m confused about how some of these values are possible. I can understand low agreement on e.g. personality disorders. But how does schizophrenia get less agreement than borderline personality disorder? And how could MDD and GAD be at .32 and .20?

    1. Harald K

      But how does schizophrenia get less agreement than borderline personality disorder?

      I have no idea, really, but I think of people like Philip K. Dick, who at some point seems to have visited every stereotypical crazy belief possible (alien satellites controlling your mind with pink beams? Yes please!) but still managed to be lucid most of the time, and even explain in powerfully eloquent terms some of the things he experienced.

      Also interesting to note that the “border” in borderline personality disorder was originally thought to be the border to schizophrenia.

    2. Adam Strandberg

      Huh- the link that Scott posted seemed to imply that the problem was just moving goalposts, but those graphs clearly indicate that agreement has gone down between DSM-IV and DSM-5. That seems even more transparently bonkers than redefining thresholds for acceptable kappa.

      The low kappa scores make me wonder exactly how they define the “chance that people agree at random.” Is it 1/2 (random “yes” vs “no” diagnosis)? If so, then I would expect kappa to be artificially low.

      1. Anonymous

        The reason that they redefined reliability is that the new criteria are not reliable.

        No, it’s not as stupid as assuming p=1/2. emr’s link gives the definition, which is clearly not that stupid. Or try wikipedia.

      2. emr

        There’s a commentary linked to from Scott’s link, where the author argues that the (most recent) DSM trials must have been really screwed up, because the diagnostic agreement was consistently higher in other studies that used the exact same MDD criterion as the current DSM.

  47. Anonymous

    “I thought the “ridiculous exaggeration of laws in new stories” trend had peaked with coverage of the right-to-discriminate law in Michigan, but I was wrong: Bill Would Allow Texas Teachers To Kill Students.”

    I don’t think either of those were really wrong, though. The right-to-discriminate law does mean that a doctor can legally refuse to treat a gay person and this does mean that a teacher can legally kill a student who assaults them. That’s not the way the lawmakers want it to be interpreted, but those are real implications.

    1. Patrick

      Yeah, even the most scrupulously generous headline would be something like “Texas considers letting teachers shoot students who damage school property.”

      1. gattsuru

        … at night. While entering a private building, while attempting to commit arson, or while threatening or causing bodily harm to another. In a situation where a reasonable person believed that shooting the student was the only way to prevent those harms. And where the shooter has been asked by the property’s owner to protect it.

        The criticism of the Michigan RFRA not only described allowing doctors to discriminate against gay patients (which might be theoretically possible, although there’s no legal history suggesting such), but that the law would allow discrimination even during emergencies, which clearly isn’t the case. The legal history of the EMTALA has countless examples of emergency care being considered a compelling government interest.

      2. Patrick

        You are completely wrong.

        First, go read Texas HB 868. You will find that it permits the use of lethal force in defense of property when permitted by Texas Section 9.43. Then look up Texas Section 9.43.

        http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/txstatutes/PE/2/9/D/9.43

        and note that it permits the use of lethal force to prevent, among other things, “attempted or consummated theft of or criminal mischief to the tangible, movable property.”

        Criminal mischief in Texas is defined under Texas Penal Code Title 7 Chapter 28.

        http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.28.htm

        It defines criminal mischief as

        Sec. 28.03. CRIMINAL MISCHIEF. (a) A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner:
        (1) he intentionally or knowingly damages or destroys the tangible property of the owner;
        (2) he intentionally or knowingly tampers with the tangible property of the owner and causes pecuniary loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or a third person; or
        (3) he intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner.

        It goes on to detail the various levels of criminal mischief, none of which are relevant.

        So yes, it permits the use of lethal force against a student who is attempting to damage school property. I don’t know who told you otherwise, but please update your priors on whether you believe them in the future.

        1. Randy M

          Beware that updating priors to be more credulous of click-bait internet outrage may be dangerous if taken further than warranted.

        2. gattsuru

          Section 9.43 only covers defense that could be covered under 9.41 (defense-of-others not relevant here) or 9.42 with further restrictions. Section 9.42 requires that the defense of other’s property not involve merely “criminal mischief”, but “criminal mischief during the nighttime”. Case law has further found that “necessity” and “necessary” as defined by a reasonable person standard, and generally require very specific circumstances.

          ((You’re thinking of a high-profile case a year back, but that involve burglary, which requires that the area not be open to the public, and the burglar commit or attempt to commit a felony, theft, or assault, not merely scuff a hall poster.))

    2. RCF

      If the headline is read as “Texas law would allow all teachers to kill any student in any situation”, then it is false. If it is read as “Texas law would allow teachers, in certain situations, to kill students”, then it is vacuous, as clearly there already are situations where a teacher killing a student would be legal (as with the reverse). There is no reading of it that is both true an informative.

  48. CAE_Jones

    I finally realized that one part of the answer to “Why don’t poor people leave expensive cities?” is “Because they can’t afford cars and are dependent on access to public transportation.”

    I’ve felt like the rationalsphere has completely failed to comprehend this until now, to the extent that my brain kept urging me to exaggerate to Grapes of Wrath levels of bad conclusions. (I knew I could never say anything nice or rational if I tried replying where I saw this sort of thing. I once agonized over how to respond over a particularly upsetting-but-clearly-not-meant-to-be comment on LW for a whole day before settling on quietly downvoting.)
    My communication skills are bad enough without getting mindkilled over the privilege gap. This goes a long way toward saying what I would have probably said, but more sanely.
    TL;DR: Someone finally gets it! Maybe p(God | doesn’t actually hate me)>epsilon after all!

    1. Anonymous

      You probability thingy reads “The probability of god given “doesn’t actually hate me””, when I’m pretty sure you meants something like “The probability god doesn’t hate me give he exists” or something.

      P(a|b) reads “Probability of a given b”. Unless I’m missing a joke or something.

      1. Anonymous

        Wow, I typed this terribly, sorry. I should have proof-read it, I forgot anonymous posters can’t edit comments.

    2. Irrelevant

      I was shocked for the opposite reason: I’d assumed most (intelligent, economically informed) people already knew that. Not sure whether I should feel more optimistic or more pessimistic now. On the one hand, if most people genuinely don’t grasp the relationship between poverty and our artificially propped-up population density divide, then the policies and incentives involved may be less politically intractable than I assumed. On the other hand, it suggests there are years or decades of work in evangelizing the idea before it reaches the point that it could even become politically intractable.

    3. Andrew

      It’s expensive and risky (both financially and otherwise) to move for a lot of reasons beside that.

      (It is interesting how homo economicus explains all human behavior, except of course for the poor, who have no economic reasons for their behavior but just make excuses.)

  49. Nornagest

    The Journal of Dracula Studies would have made sense to me if it was on almost any other influential 19th-century novel.

    The thing is, most influential 19th-century novels are actually good. Dracula is not one of those novels. It was one of those weird cultural bolts from the blue, where a guy that’s frankly a hack writes a book that’s frankly hackish but which hits on exactly the right combination of themes to catch fire.

    A book doesn’t necessarily have to be good to be worth studying, but if you’re interested in vampires as a cultural phenomenon, it’s the book’s tropes you should be looking at, not the text itself; a close reading won’t buy you much. And most of those tropes have antecedents elsewhere.

    (I recommend Carmilla, myself.)

    1. Doug S.

      I clicked the link – the Journal’s topic appears to be “vampires” (in literature and popular culture), not “Dracula, the novel by Bram Stoker”.

      Frankenstein, the book, also kind of sucked…

      1. Nornagest

        I was more impressed with Frankenstein. It’s bog-standard gothic novel in a lot of ways, but Mary Shelley was at least a technically competent writer. Can’t say the same for Bram Stoker.

        1. 5GhostFist

          Frankenstein is a rock solid introduction to romanticism. The superman against the herd. “As Pandemonium to the devils of hell”. “If I could not inspire love, I would instead cause fear.”

          In short, Y’all ninjas be trippin.

    2. John Schilling

      The part of Dracula I liked was the part where Stoker worked out the implications of an ancient monster out of myth and legend thinking it would be a good idea to invade the cosmopolitan center of a world of steel and steam and repeating rifles and lightspeed communications. When nobody understood what they were dealing with, he was a terror. When they got a handle on the threat, he literally could not run home fast enough.

      Stoker’s prose, yeah, that was a bit of a chore and I’ve never been inspired to reread more than a few select bits.

    3. 5GhostFist

      I canot comprehend the idea that Dracula is not a good book. Not as good as Frankenstein surely, but very good.

    4. Harald K

      It was one of those weird cultural bolts from the blue, where a guy that’s frankly a hack writes a book that’s frankly hackish but which hits on exactly the right combination of themes to catch fire.

      So “The Da Vinci code”, basically?

      But I think C.S. Lewis and his friends made a good practical case that there are things in “hackish” literature that are worth studying, learning from and even appreciating without shame. The skills Dan Brown lack are pretty easy to see (and ridicule), but maybe there is something there too?

      1. Nornagest

        I wouldn’t be surprised if a hundred years from now we were studying “The Da Vinci Code” as seminal to the conspiracy genre, even though “Foucault’s Pendulum” is better along every conceivable dimension.

        1. Deiseach

          a hundred years from now we were studying “The Da Vinci Code” as seminal to the conspiracy genre

          Oh Lord Thoth preserve us, I sincerely hope not! I loved “Foucault’s Pendulum” so much, I kissed the last page when I finished the book (what, the rest of you don’t kiss books regularly?)

          I couldn’t even force myself to read past the first paragraph of Dan Brown’s rehash of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (which I read first time round). And also some historical romance which I can’t remember the name of about Nostradamus, which I read as a teenager lo these many years past, and which revealed the Big Shocking Secret Dan Brown was trying to peddle about Mary of Magdala and Jesus.

          Yes, a lot of people got there first before Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code” and really the only wonder is why that book took off for such wild popularity?

      2. Limi

        Well you could certainly study the various templar myths the book draws upon, along with the bloodline of jesus myths. Although if you were going to study that, you’d be better off reading The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, the book that all of The da Vinci Code draws on. You would be wiser not to though, as The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail has been widely and very thoroughly debunked.

        In fact, and this is a completely unrelated tangent, The da Vinci Code was basically predicted well before it’s publication by Umberto Eco in Foucault’s Pendulum, where it is hilariously the output of a computer programmed to piece together random concepts to make a conspiracy. It’s like a modern day version of setting monkeys at a typewriter. So I would probably suggest not reading the Journal of The da Vinci Code Studies.

  50. Avi

    >More of poor people explainomg

    I’m hoping that was intentional 🙂

    Also:

    >how much of a positive or negative externality is produced by diffrent professions.

    should be different.

  51. Jaskologist

    The Political Correctness article came up in irc, and I commented then that this and the attendant debates of whether we need to draw up Black Lists for the Eichs of the world were all just a rehashing of classical liberalism/free speech. I would like to amend that. This is a rehashing of Socrates vs. the Sophists.

    A robust, open debate is a very important to the goal of getting at the truth. But that is not the goal of the PC Police/Sophists/SJWs. They aim at power.

    Chait is trying to argue that language policing is ineffective at gaining power. He is wrong. It is very effective, even against rationalists, which is why you’re all convinced that homosexual behavior is obviously morally good 😉

    The trouble is that he’s trying to convince people who are convinced that they already have the Truth to abandon a tactic that works in enforcing that truth. But what would can he offer in return? Would the open debate contradict the Truth we already know? Then it is heresy, and needs to be put down. Would it agree? Then it is superfluous. What is gained from the open debate? Much easier to just skip to the end.

    Socrates never exactly defeated the Sophists in Plato’s dialogues either. How could he? They weren’t even playing the same game.

    (Deep down, I think Chait knows language policing works, which is why he’s happy to use it against those to his right).

    1. Ialdabaoth

      which is why you’re all convinced that homosexual behavior is obviously morally good

      Morally neutral, not morally good.

      Carry on.

    2. TheAncientGeek

      ” He is wrong. It is very effective, even against rationalists, which is why you’re all convinced that homosexual behavior is obviously morally good ”

      Here’s a funny thing: when I was young, there was loads of language policing, all going in the other direction,

        1. Nornagest

          The only thing I can think of is “freedom fries” and related coinages, and I get the sense that that was, at best, ha-ha-only-serious even from its proponents’ perspective.

          There was plenty of policing of obscenity, pornography, and so forth, but that’s, first, somewhat different in character from this kind of policing, and, second, always been a bipartisan effort. (You know the old joke about how “bipartisan” means “stupid and evil”?)

          If you go back even further, you can find blasphemy laws, but that’s a stretch.

          1. Anonymous

            I wrote educational materials for the state of Florida about, oh, ten years ago. We couldn’t use the word “evolution.” We could describe evolution. We could talk about selection and adaptation. We just couldn’t *name* evolution.

        2. Anonymous

          You don’t remember this?

          In March 2003, when France didn’t agree with the United States about why the world should invade Iraq, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), chair of the Committee on House Administration, ordered all restaurants in the buildings of the House of Representatives to rename french toast “freedom toast” and french fries “freedom fries.”

          1. Mai La Dreapta

            As Nornagest said above, I really don’t think this counts as “meaningful” language policing. It was an item of ridicule on all sides, and if you got on TV and called them “french fries,” there was no chance for you to be fired or forced to offer a public apology. In contrast to the leftist version, in which failing to adhere to the speech codes can be seriously dangerous to your career and finances.

          2. Anonymous

            @Mai La Dreapta

            Perhaps the freedom fry example itself doesn’t work, but you could argue that there was right-wing language policing in the run-up to the Iraq War. There were a lot of people that shrieked that anyone who was anti-war was a traitor and un-American. The Dixie Chicks’ careers were destroyed when they publicly criticized President Bush.

            Of course, this seemed to have only lasted for about 24 months.

          3. RCF

            “There were a lot of people that shrieked that anyone who was anti-war was a traitor and un-American.”

            “The Dixie Chicks’ careers were destroyed when they publicly criticized President Bush.”

            Their career wasn’t destroyed. In fact, from what I could see, it gave them more exposure. And language policing isn’t the same thing as unpopular views leading to one being unpopular.

          4. Nita

            @RCF

            Larry Summers is doing quite well, too. But some people here at SSC still seemed upset, for some reason.

          5. RCF

            @Nita

            The Dixie Chicks faced criticism for what they said. Summers faced criticism for shit that people made up. Also, DC make their living in a field based on personal taste and triabl signaling, while LS makes his living in field ostensibly based on the search for truth.

          6. Mai La Dreapta

            I’ll count the Dixie Chicks as an actual example of rightist language policing with teeth. It’s definitely relevant, though, that the go-to case for rightist policing is a country music band, and the most salient cases for leftist policing are the president of Harvard and the CEO of Mozilla.

          7. RCF

            I don’t think that Dixie Chicks and Larry Summers are in the same category. Dixie Chicks were criticized over their particular views. Larry Summers, on the other hand, was attacked for not engaging in sufficient political obfuscation. The Mozilla CEO would fall more towards the Dixie Chicks side of that.

          8. John Schilling

            There’s also the matter that the Chicks’ “punishment” was to no longer be paid to entertain Red Tribe, a job for which their manner of expressing tribally significant political views was highly and directly relevant. It does I think count as language policing in that they could presumably have expressed the same views in more circumspect language to no great professional harm, but if this is the worst someone can come up with for alleged Red Tribe Language Policing, it’s pretty weak. Red Tribe’s major vices are found elsewhere.

          1. Anonymous

            extremely weak moral instincts, HOW DARE YOU, WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE THAT?
            WE ARE THOSE WHO CONSIDER SUICIDE AND CASTRATION ON GROUNDS OF “THAT WOULD DO LESS HARM THAN EXISTING”

            HOW THE FUCK IN ALL THE HELLS DO YOU EVEN DARE GO THERE

          2. Nornagest

            WE ARE THOSE WHO CONSIDER SUICIDE AND CASTRATION ON GROUNDS OF “THAT WOULD DO LESS HARM THAN EXISTING”

            What you mean ‘we’, kemosabe?

        3. BD Sixsmith

          Do you not follow Israel/Palestine or do you not think neoconservatives are on the right?

          I don’t think language policing is exclusive to the left. Conservatives often support harsh disincentives being applied to obscenity, blasphemy, sedition and so on. These taboos happen to be far less fashionable than the left’s.

          That “language policing” is opposed as a whole, or “free speech” is supported as a whole, tends to be at least in part because it makes more tactical sense than saying “our language policing is right and theirs is wrong”.

        4. RCF

          A lot of the rightist language policing is based on people not saying things. Don’t say Merry Christmas? That’s part of the War on Christmas. Don’t mention God? That’s part of the War on Christianity.

          There are also other areas. “Evolution” was mentioned in this thread as an example. There are also objections to “gay”, saying instead “homosexual” or even “same sex attraction”.

      1. ryan

        Which raises the question “why do people find it abnormal for taboo policing to take place?” Some 18th century French philosophers said it was immoral, but otherwise I’m pretty sure it’s existed in every society for all history.

    3. cypher

      Homosexual behavior is not inherently vampiric, and so is not inherently bad. We don’t have good reason to believe it harms people directly in practice, either. And if we’re not religious (which is entirely reasonable), there’s no argument that gays will be burned eternally for it. And a pretty good chunk of people like it and seem naturally inclined towards it.

      That only leaves us with the argument that it’s somehow going to destroy civilization, which most of us don’t find credible, especially when overpopulation may be a problem.

      I don’t see any language policing involved or necessary. In fact, it seems like perfectly ordinary Consequentialism.

      1. Anonymous

        Has it occurred to you that this reasoning might be a result of language policing? Note which moral axis you didn’t include there: purity/degradation.

        If you had made any mention or argument involving the idea that gay sex is inherently disgusting (which I don’t believe, actually), then you would have been shouted down. Even here.

        Now, I personally don’t buy Haight and that Moral Foundations BS. But if I did, I would be very suspicious of how much care liberals take to police mentions of the purity/degradation axis – it seems much, much more common in other societies, and it would make sense for us to be the crazy ones.

        EDIT:

        It’s crass to say this, since someone has already replied, but: cue a bunch of people shouting down this comment for daring to mention the purity axis. Don’t I know it’s badwrongevil?

        Yeah. I do. But I also posted this anonymously because I was worried I would be yelled at for merely mentioning an idea that was outside the pale.

        On Slate Star Codex.

        And I was hesitant to post it, even though I know consciously it’s anonymous and nobody will get angry with me, because I don’t like people yelling at me for mentioning an anti-applause light. I think it’s distorting my thinking process.

        I’m biased, because of this. And I hate it.

        1. Anonymous

          The purity/degradation axis is irrelevant (which is why I assume that the anon above didn’t include it.)

          You’re going to have to consider the possibility that other people actually think differently, and aren’t just holding back on the things *you* would say because they’re afraid to say them.

        2. cypher

          Each culture defines their purity axis differently.

          Westerners may be disgusted by the idea of eating a snake, or insects, but many other cultures would find it quite acceptable. Which of them is right? Clearly, in terms of considerations like whether it’s sentient, what Westerners eat isn’t so different. So it appears to be just a cultural difference without a whole lot of underlying meaning.

          What about interracial marriage? Disgust language was used against it, but society adapted.

          Now I’ll give you that there is a level of disgust reaction I would accept as a justification. If 90% of people became ill at the thought of homosexuality, I might well have a different opinion.

          But the track record for the purity impulse on non-vampiric, non-disease items is fairly poor in the modern era.

          Quite frankly, I don’t trust it, especially for something like this. It would take a lot to convince me to up-value it.

          1. Nornagest

            There’s a taboo against eating snakes? I’ve eaten snakes.

            They taste more like fish than chicken, for the record. Firm, not too flaky, more like trout than tilapia.

        3. Alexp

          Haidt’s Moral Foundations are descriptive, not prescriptive and he still believes that a mostly utilitarian Liberal Democracy is the best way to accommodate everybody’s moral intuitions.

          On a side note, regarding disgust at Homosexuality:
          I noticed that in a lot of Eastern/Central European countries, homophobia seems to be couched in nationalist rather than religious language. Obviously, religion and nationalism are often deeply intertwined, but it seems that justification is that homosexuality is just Western perversion infesting their pure, masculine and glorious nation rather than homosexuality is a sin.

          Can anybody who knows better expand on this or correct me?

          1. Nita

            Eastern European here. It seems like people grab onto whatever’s handy to justify treating their disgust as a moral intuition.

            Also, the “Western culture” argument is very useful for assuaging any potential guilt over mistreating gay teenagers — they weren’t born gay, they were persuaded to try homosexual sex and “gay” social behaviour by those horrible Western perverts.

            This is, in fact, pretty similar to what some Western Christians believe — e.g., Leelah Alcorn’s parents. But since many of our gayhaters are only semi-religious or even atheist, they have to find some other precious thing their gayhating supposedly protects — and hey, why not our precious culture, passed down from our noble ancestors?

        4. Anonymous

          Actually, Haidt would explain why so few people on LW and SSC make that argument. According to Scott’s surveys, people on LW and SSC are predominately either libertarian or progressive. According to Haidt, libertarians and progressives don’t really care about sanctity/purity all that much. Therefore, it makes sense that most people on LW and SSC would not factor in sanctity in most moral arguments, including this one.

        5. 5GhostFist

          The purity/degredation axis does not seem to exist. Something being disgusting is only the opinion of the observer and has no consequences in the real world.

          1. Shieldfoss

            This word “exist,” I don’t think it means what you think it means.

            It exists in pretty much exactly the same way as the other axes of morality – that is, as an aspect of human behavior.

        6. 27chaos

          I don’t think that anyone in the above comments called you bad or evil. You’re overreacting to their honestly intended and reasonably polite criticisms.

          1. RCF

            When I disagree with other people, it’s bravery! When other people disagree with me, it’s language policing!

      2. ryan

        I would echo anonymous that your analysis is blind to the purity/morality axis, but in a different way.

        The HIV virus was not a real danger to anyone until it found its way out of Africa and into gay communities in the US and Europe. Like any blood born disease would it spread rapidly in those communities, and eventually made it back to Africa in a much more dangerous form. As of now 29 million people are dead, tens of millions more will assuredly follow.

        I imagine you’re thinking “how were they supposed to know they were spreading an extremely deadly disease?” They weren’t. But they were supposed to know sodomy was immoral and not engage in it. And that makes them responsible for the millions dead.

        See how that just plain does not compute? That’s because you’re brain is missing the purity access.

        Or so the argument goes. I understand this only superficially because my brain is also missing the purity axis.

        1. Anonymous

          I imagine you’re thinking “how were they supposed to know they were spreading an extremely deadly disease?”

          I’m fairly disgust insensitive and I still find the idea of shoving my dick up someone’s pooper disgusting. That instinct is correct – diseases are a lot more likely to be transferred that way. I don’t think you need to be super “purity sensitive” to see the problems with anal sex, or to have your initial reaction be disgust. I mean, you’re putting your dick where someone poops, ffs.

          “They were supposed to know that sodomy was immoral and not engage in it” I feel like I am replying to an alien! No, they’re supposed to feel that it’s disgusting. In the same way I would expect people to not eat shit because it’s disgusting. People need to recognize the importance of disgust/purity sensitivity, and its prevalence – it’s super important sociologically and biologically. I feel like this community is EXTREMELY disgust/purity insensitive compared to the norm.

          I think a lot of disgust/purity sensitivity is outmoded simply because our health care is super overpowered, and the consequences of contamination aren’t as big as they used to be. But not all of it is. And it’s a suuuper bad idea to dismiss people complaining that you or your culture is disgusting. It’s a very strong, very dangerous, and very contagious reaction. I don’t know how to defuse/deal with it, but I know that aloof contempt is a terrible response. Especially when the purity sensitive people have not inconsiderable evidence to point to that there are negative consequences from dismissing/lacking that instinct.

          1. John Schilling

            Straight sex mostly just spreads STDs, well, sexually. Anal sex substantially increases the possibility of A: cross-coupling between the sexual and gastrointestinal transmission paths, each of which is bad enough on its own and B: tearing membranes which are being used outside their design limits for a direct blood vector. W/re AIDS, the actual risk of infection is greater for anal than for vaginal sex.

            Steelmanning the prior anonymous, and being less obnoxious about it: Until we completely conquer biology, ignoring your sense of disgust will increase the chances of you and your loved ones dying of an infectious disease. And if your sense of disgust is noticeably at odds with that of 90% of the population, their sense of what’s disgusting is probably a better guide for avoiding infection than your own. It is very unfortunate that this interferes with some people’s pursuit of various sorts of happiness, and it is neither surprising nor necessarily immoral that they go ahead with it, but it is nonetheless true that there is both added risk and clear warning of the added risk.

          2. Randy M

            “ffs”

            I see what you did there.

            “Straight sex would also spread STDs in the same way.”

            Hence disgust at promiscuity. Of course, in this case it has to be balanced with the biological imperative to reproduce, which doesn’t mitigate disgust at homosexual sex acts.

          3. ozymandias

            nydwracu: TBF gay men don’t have that many sexual partners. It seems like the primary problem is a high base rate of HIV due to mind-boggling amounts of promiscuity in the seventies.

            Also one notes that many straight women do, in fact, find lesbianism disgusting and yet lesbianism is far less likely to transmit STIs than heterosexual sex.

          4. Anonymous

            Which is why straight people spread diseases at exactly the same rate oh wait.

            Like Ozy says, that’s probably due to promiscuity in the 70s and 80s.

            But why would they be having all that promiscuous sex when they could just have committed relationships, out in the open, without fear of reprisal, loss of employment, risk of being murdered, condemnation from loved ones, excommunication from their religious communities…oh, wait.

          5. ozymandias

            Anonymous: I don’t think that’s quite fair either; lesbians had the same situation and a rate of promiscuity the same or lower than hets (afaik). I suspect the real cause is a combination of:
            –Men have higher libidos than women.
            –Higher libidos lead to the development of social tech that makes casual sex much easier (e.g. the bathhouse) and entice even lower-libido men to casual sex
            –Political commitments to mind-boggling amounts of casual sex as a sign of sexual liberation (vs. political lesbianism, the popular lesbian politics in the relevant time period, which entirely disconnected sex from lesbianism)

          6. jaimeastorga2000

            But why would they be having all that promiscuous sex when they could just have committed relationships, out in the open, without fear of reprisal, loss of employment, risk of being murdered, condemnation from loved ones, excommunication from their religious communities…oh, wait.

            Yes, the reason homosexuals are promiscuous is due to the persecution and oppression that our society bears down on them and has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that human males have a completely different mating strategy than human females and that men who “mate” with each other have effectively eliminated the role of gatekeeper–

            Oh wait.

          7. David Friedman

            A couple of partly tangential comments:

            1. Part of what’s interesting about the hostility to male homosexuality is how widespread it is across time and culture. Not universal, but very common.

            2. My impression is that hostility to female homosexuality is weaker and less common, historically speaking. To take one historical anecdote, Casanova is pretty negative on male homosexuality, despite one possible incident as a schoolboy and one pretty clear case much later. He takes female homosexuality—in practice usually bisexuality—entirely for granted.

            One possible explanation is the medical one suggested in comments—male homosexuality is and female is not much more likely to spread disease than heterosexual sex. Another is that men have more influence on culture than women, and men find the idea of being attracted to a man bizarre, of being attracted to a woman perfectly natural. One can imagine other candidates along related lines.

          8. ozymandias

            David: Pederasty is pretty common cross-culturally. Off the top of my head: Rome, Greece, medieval Islam, medieval Japan, some tribes in Papua New Guinea…

            If what you meant is that men tend to be disgusted by sex with adult men and okay with sex with teenage boys, then that seems plausible.

          9. TheAncientGeek

            Yet another is that a minority who are guaranteed to be a minority forever are a very safe target, eg left handers, redheads.

          10. Anonymous

            @Jaimeastorga, I don’t think bathhouses could exist, to the extent they did, in the same world as a married-with-kids Neil Patrick Harris.

          11. ryan

            And now I’m imagining message boards where the aliens who play pathogens on the Earth simulator complain to the devs that vaccines are OP and need to be nerfed. “FFS, no one’s even rolled Smallpox since the Jenner DLC was released.”

          12. Ghatanathoah

            @Anonymous

            I would say at this point that our disgust reaction is so outmoded by modern technology that it is probably better for our health to completely replace it with abstract reasoning. People at LW and SSC are unusually good at doing that relative to the population. It would be a mistake for people who are bad at overcoming their disgust reactions to act like these reactions are still extremely useful and important.

            To name just a few examples of the disgust reaction being wrong or backwards:
            1. Many people find being stabbed with needles and injected with chemicals to be disgusting. Having this done to you is essential to modern health.
            2. Most people do not find protected anal sex significantly less gross than unprotected anal sex, even though using a condom makes anal sex nearly as low-risk as protected vaginal sex.
            3. Many people used to find IVF and test tube babies gross.
            4. Our drive to make artificially grown replacement organs has probably been slowed by purity/disgust reactions.
            5. Our purity drives have led to resistance to GMO crops.

            It’s acceptable to say “We have this reaction for a reason, we should listen to it.” But it’s also acceptable for someone to say “I listened to my disgust reaction, compared it with the relevant science, and concluded that it’s full of it.” That is the state we are at now.

          13. Irrelevant

            @Ghatanathoah

            My own concern would be a level removed and in the opposite direction: The SSC community is heavily concerned with the nature of morality. The SSC community has extremely weak actual moral instincts. Is this typical of people interested in moral philosophy? And if so, doesn’t that call the entire project into question?

            I would expect people with weak moral instincts to be more interested in the mechanics of morality, just like I’d expect people with colorblindness to be more interested in the mechanics of the eye, but if those people form the majority in the field, we may have a problem. In particular, I see a huge potential issue with the conflation of morality –which as experienced by the majority of humans seems to be a very emotionally-loaded, biological thing– with the morality-adjacent intellectualizing we use.

          14. cypher

            @Irrelevant

            But at what rate do people such as the SSC commentariat or LW actually engage in criminal / harmful-to-others behavior?

            I expect that it would be lower than the general population, certainly for anything involving individual actions rather than the results of political organizations, the latter of which is often pretty vague.

          15. David Friedman

            Ozymandius:

            At least in the case of medieval Islam, while pederasty certainly existed, it was officially disapproved of–regarded as a serious offense. I don’t think that was the case in classical Greece, don’t know enough about your other examples.

            I agree that your distinction may be useful. It might also be useful to distinguish between sodomy in particular and other homosexual activities. I think that’s the only one that is particularly risky from a medical standpoint, and the one most likely to set off a disgust reaction, given our general attitude to fecal matter.

          16. Nornagest

            I don’t think that was the case in classical Greece […]

            The classical Greeks were ambivalent in the extreme about their practice of pederasty. I don’t know offhand of any times or places in that period where it was outright banned, but a number of writers spoke against it in strong terms and it was often restricted in some ways. (Other writers were highly enthusiastic.)

          17. nydwracu

            TBF gay men don’t have that many sexual partners. It seems like the primary problem is a high base rate of HIV due to mind-boggling amounts of promiscuity in the seventies.

            A high base rate of HIV and a higher likelihood of transmission, and that post doesn’t say anything about the difference in the top 2% or so (which could make a lot of difference, unless the top 2% are only fucking each other)…

            …but how much of this is politically contingent anyway? Push monogamous gay marriage, shut down the bathhouses, and patrol the parks, and the rate of casual sex decreases — possibly for strongly contingent reasons that usually didn’t hold and won’t hold in the future.

            Which they probably won’t — apparently Grindr noticeably increased the STD rate. I wonder how that compares to Tinder.

          18. Irrelevant

            @cypher

            No idea. Was criminality on the survey?

            My concern’s possible systemic myopia though. On the “are we even discussing the same thing most people mean when they say ‘morality’?” level.

          19. Shieldfoss

            I feel like this community is EXTREMELY disgust/purity insensitive compared to the norm.

            I, personally, still feel disgust at a lot of things that do not have an immediate or even secondary bearing on my survival, but you wouldn’t normally know this by reading about what I consider moral/immoral. This is because I have deliberately trained it out – reasoning that my personal prefernces are not grounds for condemnig others.

          20. cypher

            @Irrelevant

            My impression is that most people discussing morality that aren’t like LW or philosophers are talking about a vague and self-contradictory mishmash of ideas, emotions, and intuitions which are often in tension with each other.

            I don’t think we can trust that mishmash, because of cognitive biases and previous failures, among other things.

          21. onyomi

            I might also note that in most of the premodern cultures I’ve studied, it’s not the sex of your partner that matters as much as who penetrates and whom is penetrated. To be penetrated is low status, and is therefore for women, slaves, and maybe very young men. For an elite adult male to admit he likes being penetrated could be a problem, or at least a source of shame, but to admit that he liked to penetrate young boys in addition to, or even in preference to, women was not usually very problematic.

            Interestingly, one is more likely to contract a disease being penetrated than penetrating, but I doubt it’s because of that that the distinction arose. More likely, being penetrated is viewed as the more feminine, receptive, passive, and therefore, in patriarchies, low-status role.

        2. Jake

          > and eventually made it back to Africa in a much more dangerous form.

          Source? My understanding was that almost all HIV strains in Africa are native and there’s been minimal transfer back.

          1. Jaskologist

            Does it matter much if you just limit to American deaths? Either way, we’ve left the realm of tragedy and entered that of statistic.

            A little while ago, my father had his 30th (35th? 40th? Something like that) college reunion. He enjoyed it for the most part, but there was one sad takeaway: all of the gay men in his class were now dead.

          2. veronica d

            It matter because AIDS in Africa is largely not the fault of decision makers in the US. On the other hand, America’s homophobic bias *contributed* significantly to the spread of the disease here, insofar as the political class and a large segment of the medical community basically tried to ignore AIDS as long as they could politically afford to. This was because of homophobia. Likewise, much of the political intransigence in the gay community can be seen as resulting from their embattled minority status. Bathhouses were seen as symbols of liberation, which was foolish, but understandable given the prior 20 years of history.

            (People forget that the bathhouse debates came roughly twelve years after Stonewall. Some of the people shouting about bathhouses were the same men who threw bottles at cops.)

            Doctors in the CDC and a few other public health organizations had a good understanding of the spread of AIDS long before they could officially act on it. Even before HIV had been isolated, they had good reasons to believe that AIDS was blood-born, namely because it spread with patterns matching those of HepC. Many lives could have been saved if they had had political backing.

            So this is a two-edged sword. Yes, gay promiscuity in the late 70’s/early 80’s provided fertile soil for the spread of AIDS. And yes, this is to some degree a natural result of man-on-man sexuality. However, the following is the *result* of homophobia:

            1. The political isolation of gays and their sense of persecution

            2. The refusal of politicians to speak about AIDS

            3. Their refusal to properly fund AIDS research

            4. The resistance of public health officials to directly address AIDS

            5. The hesitancy of many AIDS victims to admit they had the disease (which allowed the blood industry to further delay expensive testing)

            On and on. To blame this entirely on gays is profoundly one-sided.

          3. Matthew

            A little while ago, my father had his 30th (35th? 40th? Something like that) college reunion. He enjoyed it for the most part, but there was one sad takeaway: all of the gay men in his class were now dead.

            While it would presumably have been less sad for your father had these men instead been forced to be celibate or live closeted lives — he loses nothing, after all — it’s not clear that his gay classmates would prefer that world.

          4. Jaskologist

            Matthew,

            Somehow, I doubt they realized they were making that choice.

            But, I must be upfront here. Even if they did, I wouldn’t agree. I do not believe they are better off dead (which is a harsh way of rephrasing what you said, but pretty much what it boils down to to me).

        3. Ghatanathoah

          @ryan

          But they were suppos ed to know sodomy was immoral and not engage in it. And that makes them responsible for the millions dead.

          This is not a valid argument against homosexuality, it is an argument against unprotected anal sex. A person who holds these views should have absolutely no problem with gay people who engage in sexual activities less likely to spread disease, such as frotting, or who use a condom when engaging in anal.

          They should also find heterosexual anal sex to be similarly gross. They should also encourage women to become lesbians and use IVF to keep the birthrate the same.

          I don’t think this describes anti-gay social conservatives. I don’t think they’ll stop saying homosexuality is a sin if gay people all agree to give up anal and switch to frotting.

          The entire “spreads disease” thing is just a rationalization. Anyone who approaches it as a problem to be solved, rather than an excuse to stop the conversation, can easily get past it.

          Also, people are not morally responsible for decisions they make that are morally good based on the information they have. If someone makes a decision and it goes wrong due to a factor they had no knowledge of, and could not have possibly had any knowledge of, they are morally squeaky clean. Gay people at the beginning of the HIV epidemic were morally clean and pure. (I’ve heard allegations that the gay lobby engaged in denialist behavior, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m talking about ordinary gay people at the beginning of the epidemic, not gay activists in the middle of it, so my point still stands).

          1. Peter

            “just a rationalization” – oh yes! See Haidt’s “moral dumbfounding” experiments. It’s right in there.

          2. ryan

            My point was that whether one thinks gay men responsible for deaths from AIDS depends entirely on whether they think promiscuous anal sex to be moral or immoral. Maybe I’m misreading you, but I think we’re in complete agreement.

          3. John Schilling

            I don’t think that promiscuous anal sex is intrinsically immoral, but I do think that promiscuous gay men generally are responsible for their own AIDS deaths, in roughly the same way that I think e.g. BASE jumpers are generally moral people who are responsible for their own frequent deaths. Both practices are extremely enjoyable for their adherents, and both are dangerous in ways that require willful blindness to remain ignorant of[*].

            And no, the state of medical knowledge re the HIV virus is not relevant. The reason we have a purity ethic is that there are always pathogens we haven’t identified yet. Or have we forgotten the reasons we want to teach everyone about evolution, when it isn’t just about rubbing Red Tribe’s nose in how wrong they are about everything?

            [*] in the former case, the danger is mostly from the promiscuity – which is why adherents of traditional morality and/or hygiene frown on straight promiscuity almost as much as the gay kind.

          4. David Friedman

            “They should also find heterosexual anal sex to be similarly gross.”

            I don’t know about “similarly,” but my impression is that heterosexual sodomy is also viewed as gross by a lot of people.

    4. Jaskologist

      I stand corrected! Seeing you all jump on my aside about homosexual behavior, and only that, has shown me that your beliefs are due to careful rational deliberation, and not the sort of knee-jerk mindkillery that would be brought on by language policing.

      I guess it is a noncontroversial view here that SJWs = Sophists who care only about power, not truth.

      1. Anonymous

        You explicitly stated, This is a thing that LW/SSC people think. Why are you surprised that people disagree with you, if they think differently? (Also, half the responses to your comment were about language policing in general.)

        has shown me that your beliefs are due to careful rational deliberation, and not the sort of knee-jerk mindkillery that would be brought on by language policing.

        Do you really think that there was no careful, rational deliberation involved in my coming to my beliefs? Note that this happened before SJ was a thing (and before the internet, actually).

        Do you see how you’ve created a seamless, perfectly circular logic? If you disagree, it’s because you’ve been mind-killed due to language policing. You disagreed with me, therefore you have been mind-killed by language policing. QED.

      2. Ghatanathoah

        If people were engaging in knee-jerk mindkillery their response would be to condemn you as a bigot, talk about how you are privileged, talk about how you don’t know what it feels like to be gay, threaten to kill you, threaten to rape you, doxx you, say that your views are so obviously wrong that they don’t need counterargument because everyone who isn’t evil can see how wrong they are, tell Scott you should be banned, etc.

        That isn’t what happened. Most of the people who replied to you made reasoned and coherent arguments against what you said. They didn’t meet your bad argument with threats, hysteria, insults or doxxing. They met a bad argument with a counterargument.

        An entire community of people just proved you were wrong about them.

        1. Anonymous

          “say that your views are so obviously wrong that they don’t need counterargument because everyone who isn’t evil can see how wrong they are”

          If you look, some of the first few replies below a few comments were this. Not that that’s necessarily bad, all the time; just that it can lead to bias.

          However, this did spark a productive discussion and I am both pleased and uplifted to see the response. I’d say Jaskologist is too, considering they said so above.

          1. cypher

            More circular logic. Any counter-argument from a “mind-killed rationalist” is just a “rationalization.”

            It was already explained

            1. How to reach the position from ordinary Consequentialism, without any language policing necessary whatsoever.

            2. Why there is significant distrust for the purity axis.

            I thought the purity axis was mostly crud long before I had any opinion on homosexuality, and was sympathetic to Consequentialism before I even knew what it was.

            So far there have been arguments in favor of the purity axis that I don’t find convincing – especially since it reduces it to the harm axis, and the counter-argument shows the purity axis can be harmful in the modern era even by the health argument.

            Can you show that #1 isn’t true, or that #2 is *really* due to language policing and not just noting that the purity axis can be contradictory, or just valuing harm way more than purity?

          2. Anonymous

            I’ve seen a few examples here where “is mind-killed by politics” has been used as a stand-in for “disagreed with/challenged me.” It all makes so much more sense now.

          3. Jaskologist

            I would measure mind-kill as follows:

            [Certainty of own position]/[Ability to explain the reasons for the other position] * [Percentage of population who holds the other position]

            (The first two would be on a scale of 1-10, to avoid illegal operations. The right way to weight against the prevalence of a belief probably needs some fiddling.)

            The upshot is that if you’re certain that the earth is round, and can’t really give flat-earth arguments, no big deal; basically nobody thinks earth is flat. If you think Obamacare will ruin the nation, and can’t comprehend why anybody would think otherwise, well, you’re not thinking rationally; there’s probably some reason half the country feels differently. If you think the sun revolves around the earth and anybody who ever thought otherwise was nuts, you’re wrong there too (even while right about the underlying facts); the ancients had good reasons to believe that. If you can explain those reasons and why they’re wrong, then congrats, you win on all fronts.

            So I pretty much consider anybody who said, “This is obviously right, and there is no valid reason to think otherwise” to be mind-killed. Prohibition of homosexual behavior is found throughout the world and history in many different cultures. Memes don’t do that unless they have something about them which makes them survivable. (Schilling hinted at some possibilities above.)

            But really, LW already accepts that politics is the mind-killer. How likely is it for that to be true, and yet for those same people to escape being mind-killed by one of the major political issues today, which is also the primary way Blue tribers signal virtue and which also might cost you your job if you take the wrong position?

          4. Anonymous

            Except you didn’t posit a valid reason for being against homosexuality, but for promiscuous sodomy.

            That’s a bit like saying that sex leads to pregnancy which is the reason why people are opposed to oral sex. The two categories overlap quite a bit, but they are clearly not the same and so aren’t a valid argument.

          5. Jiro

            “I would measure mind-kill as follows:

            [Certainty of own position]/[Ability to explain the reasons for the other position] * [Percentage of population who holds the other position]”

            Jaskologist: By that reasoning, everyone who believes in evolution is mindkilled about it; there’s certainly a large group of creationists, yet nobody can give any arguments for creationism. (At least not any that are not obvious fallacies.)

            (Of course, the reason that no evolutionist can give legitimate arguments for creationism is that there aren’t legitimate arguments for creationism.)

          6. Outis

            @Jiro,

            Geneticist here (albiet molecular not population): For what should be fairly obvious reasons I ‘believe’ in evolution, but it’s still possible to construct fairly sophisticated arguments for creation/ID. They’ll never convince a scientist who is intimately familiar with the evidence but easily good enough to convince an intelligent and well educated (200-300 level undergrad) layman.

            Of course there’s no reasonable way, and no need, to educate everyone to the graduate level in evo bio they’d need to actually evaluate this stuff properly. Most people are going to have to trust more-or-less on faith that it works the way we say it does.

            (I realize this seems like pedantic posturing but it does go somewhere interesting, promise)

            You’re right that Jaskologist’s definition of mindkilled is wrong, but I don’t think it’s too far off from the truth either. You’re mindkilled, on any topic, the second you decide you understand it without dedicating serious time to becoming an expert in it, usually at least a few years of study. The idea that we all need an _opinion_ on every real or imagined controversy is IMO at the heart of why so many of us end up believing bizarre falsehoods: realistically even geniuses need to acknowledge areas where they don’t understand things well enough to form an opinion of their own.

  52. moridinamael

    The Middle Class article seems to go about 50% of the way toward making a good point. In some cases it comes *so* close.

    The author, like most people I guess, is stuck in the view of the Middle Class as a group of people sort of like a tribe, rather than as an aggregate of many individuals each responding rationally to incentives. In each case where they accuse The Middle Class of doing something bad, one is forced to ask, “Okay, but why would they *not* do that?” I presume poor and rich alike feel compelled to benefit their own families. If the incentive structure is set up such that benefitting your family necessarily sticks it to somebody else’s family, that’s the occasion to talk about the the incentive structure. The most tragically telling part of the article is the beginning where the author confesses to having become a Middle Class Person, but fails to draw any conclusions from that.

    Solving the type of problem the author points out would require pretty epic coordination. That problem of coordination might be addressed productively. Insinuating that each individual Middle Class person should unilaterally act against their own incentives is not so productive.

  53. Ghatanathoah

    I wonder what effect the “people in submissive relationships have more children” thing could have on heredity. On one hand, the trait being selected for could be “likes hierarchy,” in which case we would expect that to be passed on to the children. On the other hand, maybe the traits being selected for are “dominant” and “submissive,” in which case perhaps the traits blend together in the children and result in people who are neither dominant nor submissive.

    Or maybe the trait isn’t strongly genetic at all.

    1. Nita

      and result in people who are neither dominant nor submissive

      Or both dominant and submissive. Like I said in the previous thread, they found positive correlations between dominant and submissive tendencies (0.4 in men, 0.6 in women), although their questions are kind of weird.

    2. Anonymous

      I somewhat suspect that it’s either genetic, or something weird to do with childrearing. And it can get oddly specific.

      I don’t really want to talk about why I suspect this.

    3. Corwin

      Seems to me that both dominants and submissive would share the trait of liking authority… (now how much of that is genetic vs taught, no idea. probably both, to a degree varying, between individuals, on the strength of the trait vs the strength of the teaching)

  54. Jacob Schmidt

    Students from lower-level Ivy schools are more likely to talk about how they’re going to an Ivy, smaller airports that only have a few international flights are more likely to call themselves “X International Airport”, and so on.

    Is that an example of an inferiority complex, or is the small airport making sure that everyone knows that it offers international flights? It might be less a matter of inferiority (e.g. “They won’t respect us if we don’t emphasize our international flights”), and more a matter of wanting to be considered (e.g. “We’re small enough that people might think we don’t offer international flights, and that costs us business”).

    Students don’t have much incentive to announce their attendance to an Ivy league school other than social gain; airports have other incentives to address.

    1. Anonymous

      The airport thing is something I’ve tried once or twice to think through.

      I think the confusing thing is that the only thing it reliably means is “if an international flight landed here, there are facilities to handle customs and immigration”. But the choice of when to apply that label in the name seems to vary a lot.

      On the one hand, there are cases where a city or metro area has multiple commonly-used airports but not all of them have lots of international service. Dulles and BWI vs. DCA, for example, or O’Hare vs. Midway, or IAH vs. Hobby, or DFW vs. Love Field, or JFK and Newark vs. LaGuardia… these are cases where the “international” label is actually useful to someone who doesn’t know which one you want to search flights at in order to go to another country, and are where the big airports seem most likely to use the label.

      On the other hand, there are cases where an “international” airport’s only year-round “international” service is a daily Air Canada flight to Toronto or Montreal, and those flights don’t even use the airport’s Customs facilities (since the return flight pre-clears in Canada and effectively lands as a domestic flight). Many of those have some seasonal flights to Mexico or the Caribbean, and that’s the only time the Customs office gets used. So maybe that is the inferiority complex.

      And on the *other* other hand there are airports that have genuinely unexpected service: Phoenix, for example, seems awfully likely to have service to Mexico (it does), and it’s not terribly surprising that it has service to the western bits of Canada, so I’d initially think the “international” in its name doesn’t actually tell me anything. But then I’d be (and am) flabbergasted every time I’m connecting there and see that giant British Airways 747 lumbering around. So the “international” in its name at least gets me to wonder “what service do they have that isn’t obvious” and discover that, oh, I could get to London from here.

      It also somewhat amuses me that the article’s example of whether an airport uses “international” in its name is Philadelphia, which actually *is* the international-connection hub of a major US airline.

  55. TheAncientGeek

    “Libertarian book about how markets should be used for everything is, consistently, auctioning off its dedication to the highest bidder. Offer includes the right to write whatever message you want on the dedication page. Right now it’s at $180, so if you’ve ever wanted a libertarian book dedicated to you or a loved one, you’ve got another week or so before bidding closes”

    I can’t imagine any outcome other than someone winning the bid in order to include a message snarking at libertarians.

    Yes, I’m British.

    1. Tracy W

      From the link, they’ve anticipated this:

      But you can dedicate book to, say, Charles Manson, Ayn Rand, or Karl Marx. You could write something nasty such as, “To Jason Brennan, may he die soon and in pain,” or, “To Nickelback, the best band ever.”

  56. Anthony

    The name of Houston Intercontinental Airport speaks of some sort of inferiority complex.

    After flying through the Niagara Falls International Airport in 1984, I realized that “International Airport” meant there was a customs counter, nothing more. (And not even one which was open 24 hours.)

      1. John Schilling

        There is the “Mojave Air and Spaceport”, on the basis of three manned space launches so far. And as with “International Airport”, that’s a legal classification that is maybe worth advertising if you don’t want to be overlooked by new entrants. But also a pride and ego thing no doubt.

  57. Blue

    “I was kind of hoping Paul would end up as the thinking man’s presidential candidate, so this is a pretty big blow. ”

    The correlation seems clear. A politician who questions common assumptions (like a Republican who questions “war is good”) is going to question a lot of them, and some of them will be assumptions you like. So sometimes you’ll read about them and think “This is a deep thinker who doesn’t take mainstream bullshit for granted” and sometimes you will think “How can they believe in stuff too crazy even for normal politicians?” Since no politician will agree with you about *everything*, the more you hear from them, likeliehood of both responses occuring approaches 1.

    In reality, whatever obscure philosophical thoughts they might have, in office they’ll act in fairly predetermined ways that fit within their system. If Rand Paul was elected, I’d bet $1k that we’d still have drone strikes within a year.

    1. TheAncientGeek

      OTOH, what he was going in this case was exactly and precisely treating “data” as the plural of “anecdote”.

        1. HeelBearCub

          Aren’t anecdotes essentially definitionally non-representative?

          In other words, data is the plural of datum, where each datum is gathered in a way such that the data can be assessed for its representative quality. An anecdote does not include the necessary markers to allow this assessment.

        1. Tarrou

          Blood taint eh? Interesting……I thought the constitution banned that, but I guess private practice is ok.

          1. RCF

            From someone else, I would explain why that’s not a valid objection, but for you, I think I’ll skip the part where I try to treat you like a rational human being, and tell you to fuck off.

          2. DrBeat

            Okay then, I’ll ask it.

            “Blood taint eh? Interesting……I thought the constitution banned that, but I guess private practice is ok.”

            There, now someone else asked for an explanation.

          3. RCF

            Blood taint refers to holding someone responsible for their parents’ actions. I didn’t say that Rand is responsible for his father’s actions, I said that his father’s actions are informative, and that there is no contradictory information. Children’s views are correlated with parents’ views, and if my father were a public figure who has said and done the things that Ron has said and done, I would make it clear that I objected. The fact that Rand has not done so very strongly suggests that he is okay with it.

            If George Wallace had a son who was running for president, and that son had not made any statements indicating opposition to his father’s actions, would that not be notable?

    2. David Friedman

      Your point about politicians generalizes. I think a good deal of what is happening in the context of vaccination, GMO food, AGW, nutrition, and probably other things reflects a distrust of official truth, of what claim to be authoritative claims put out by high status people. There is a good deal of basis for such distrust, some of which shows up in posts here. So although the consequences are unfortunate in (at least) the case of vaccination and GMO’s, they are consequences of what may be, on net, a desirable attitude.

      For a bunch of my old posts touching on this question, see:

      http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/search?q=official+truth

      And, a little more nearly on topic:

      http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/12/climate-and-elite-opinion.html

      1. Jaskologist

        You may also enjoy this post by the Scott A. of Dilbert fame:

        So you have the direct problem of science collectively steering my entire generation toward obesity, diabetes, and coronary problems. But the indirect problem might be worse: It is hard to trust science.

        I think science has earned its lack of credibility with the public. If you kick me in the balls for 20-years, how do you expect me to close my eyes and trust you?

        If a person doesn’t believe climate change is real, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is that a case of a dumb human or a science that has not earned credibility? We humans operate on pattern recognition. The pattern science serves up, thanks to its winged monkeys in the media, is something like this:

        Step One: We are totally sure the answer is X.

        Step Two: Oops. X is wrong. But Y is totally right. Trust us this time.

        Science is an amazing thing. But it has a credibility issue that it earned. Should we fix the credibility situation by brainwashing skeptical citizens to believe in science despite its spotty track record, or is society’s current level of skepticism healthier than it looks? Maybe science is what needs to improve, not the citizens.

        1. James Picone

          The problems with Scott Adam’s argument there are that 1) most of the claims he lays at the feet of ‘science’ were rather more provisional in the scientific literature than they were in the media, and while that might be a good reason to distrust popular media accounts of science, that’s not a good reason to distrust the actual scientific research when you go have a look at it.

          and 2) dietary/nutritional science isn’t quite the same thing as physical climatology or immunology.

          1. John Schilling

            Right, dietary and nutritional science are the ones where you can do actual experiments, and your field observations can be based on a sample size of thousands.

            As for, “not a good reason to distrust the actual scientific research when you go have a look at it”, reality check: 99% of the human race has no good reason to ever go look at the actual scientific research, nor the capability to understand it without unreasonable effort if they did. “Science” is either a giant circle-jerk in which scientists Know True Stuff Because They Are Smarter, or it includes not just the research part but the communication of the results part.

            To the extent that scientists focus on Knowing True Stuff, describing it to each other in language only they can understand and delegating to untrustworthy, ignorant, prejudiced journalists the job of conveying it to everyone else, then Adams is right. And he’s right, science is untrustworthy, even if the True Stuff Scientists Privately Know is entirely true due to the awesomeness of the truth-finding process.

          2. James Picone

            Right, dietary and nutritional science are the ones where you can do actual experiments, and your field observations can be based on a sample size of thousands.

            Well immunology can do some of that, and physical climatology is based on rather well understood physics that’s been tested for rather a lot longer and rather harder than dietary and nutritional sciences, and makes stronger claims. The heat transfer equation and the stefan-boltzmann law are pretty strongly supported.

            What are scientists meant to do? Up until the internet existed the media was the only mechanism Science could use to get stuff out to the public, and once you rely on the media, bang you’re dead.

            Nowadays you can just find the blogs of individual scientists and follow them. Distrusting the content of *those blogs* because nowadays and in the past the things that journalists have said about science are and were interestingly inaccurate is a mistake.

          3. John Schilling

            How many scientists’ blogs do you believe the average citizen should follow, and how should they decide which scientists?

            The blogosphere in its present form is not adequate for accurately conveying scientific information to anyone other than scientists and dedicated amateurs. The mainstream media, once upon a time, was actually better – but still inadequate. And the scientific community, which has caused the creation of thousands of peer-reviewed journals, libraries of academic texts, countless conferences and meetings, universities on six continents, and the actual internet, all for the purpose of communication within the scientific community, has created nothing of note for communication between scientists and laymen.

            A few scientists will answer questions when the media asks. A few maintain accessible blogs. There is the occasional Sagan or Tyson. This is not enough. And that is a failure on the part of science, for which science is rightly distrusted by most non-scientists.

            As for “The heat transfer equation and the stefan-boltzmann law are pretty strongly supported, therefore climatology is solid”, really? I mean, yes on one, but you’re really going to make the leap to part two? Because if so, why not diet and nutrition as well? We can work that out from just the first law of thermodynamics, which is way more solid than heat transfer and stefan-boltzmann, right?

          4. houseboatonstyx

            The problem is not just between the Real Scientists and the Yellow Journalists. People who are in the Scientists group contribute to the lack of credibility by refusing to recognize a problem.

            Dietician: As a diabetic, you need to xyz.

            Patient: I’m pre-diabetic. My A1c is still X.

            Dietician: You’re diabetic now.

            Patient: Your handout from last time shows A1c of x as pre-diabetic.

            Dietician: A1c of x is diabetic now.

            Mad Hatter, Red Queen. Today’s absolute certainty, absolutely wipes out last month’s absolute certainty.

          5. James Picone

            I think we might be thinking of a different argument here.

            I’m interpreting the stuff above as “The media fed be bad information and said it came from science, therefore it is rational to distrust science”. That doesn’t necessarily follow – if you have non-media routes to follow science, then the failings of the media have very little to do with them. And, also, every example listed is from a particular field of science that doesn’t much resemble other forms of science, and that changes things.

            I think it’s a very good idea to distrust mass-media descriptions of scientific results. I can understand why the public at large might not understand the differences between evolutionary science, dietary/nutritional science, immunology and climate science when it comes to maturity of field, rigor, and ability to make predictions.

            And physical climatology has a much closer link to thermodynamics than you think. Heat transfer, Stefan-Boltzmann and observations of the content of the atmosphere and how much sunlight we get gives you MODTRAN and the 1c/doubling of CO2 figure that you’re probably familiar with. Climate has changed before, so we know the second-order effects must be >-1c/doubling, and given that the obvious fast feedbacks are water vapour (large positive), lapse rate (large positive) and clouds (somewhere between large negative and large positive), second-order effects are probably positive and probably reasonably large. Sea-level rise is an obvious consequence of increased temperature, and changing weather patterns too. You can even, with this armchair analysis, work out that temperature should increase more in winter and at higher latitudes than in summer and in equatorial regions (because the less water vapour is in the atmosphere the larger the effect of increased CO2).

            Basically, the standard position on climate change is the ‘obvious’ outcome of some very well-understood physics and enough observations to nail down the content of the atmosphere. A deviation from that – like a large negative feedback we hadn’t thought of – would be surprising. So when climate scientists can’t find large negative feedbacks, and all the interesting statistical work and paleoclimate work to pin down the values for feedbacks seems to confirm the rough sketch above, then I feel rather confident in the results.

  58. Nornagest

    A lot of my vegetarian friends have also claimed fake meat doesn’t taste worse than the real thing. I’m curious which kinds of fake meat they’re thinking of.

    I think it depends more on the real meat you’re using, and on the genre of food, than the fake meat. I’ve had veggie burgers that would have passed muster as mediocre cow (don’t know the brand name; I didn’t buy them), but that’s mainly because mediocre burgers are defined mostly by their texture and a light flavor of smoke. Similarly, textured vegetable protein works in curry because you’re mostly tasting the curry.

    If you’re cooking something that relies on the actual flavor of the meat, you need actual meat.

    1. David Friedman

      I have nothing against vegetarianism, although I don’t practice it, but I do have a prejudice against fake meat. There are lots of tasty things that can be made out of vegetable products without trying to pretend they are something else.

      Quite recently I was at a restaurant that had black bean burgers. Very tasty.

      1. haishan

        Yeah, the really good vegetarian food is the stuff that’s evolved for centuries in cultures that practice vegetarianism. Tofu’s great if you do it right, for instance, and Indian food can be appreciated by the most dedicated carnivores.

        That said, when I was a vegetarian, sometimes I just wanted something that reminded me of meat, you know? A burger or a hot dog or whatever.

        1. Peter

          About a year or two into becoming vegetarian, I overcame my prejudices against fakemeat, and found it met a need. Perhaps not for flesh as such, but one thing it really does is when you want a nice simple meat-and-two-veg style meal, it’s there.

          You could imagine a scale of food with stuff lovingly home-cooked from raw ingredients at one end of the scale and Soylent at the other, and fakemeat is IMO further towards the Soylent end for me than non-fakemeat. If I wanted to cook a nice meal to share with someone (expect maybe a veggie flatmate), I wouldn’t use fakemeat, but if I’m just cooking for one, it meets a need.

          1. naath

            I think there’s a strong cultural prejudice for “meat-and-two-veg” that is adequately satisfied with “fake-meat-and-two-veg”… but the main reason I cook and eat a lot of vegetarian food (although I’m not vegetarian) is that I *really really hate* “meat and two veg” as a style of meal…

            So I’m prejudiced against fake-meat because it means that it opens up the possibility of nasty vegetarian meals much wider.

            But if people like it then they should certainly be “allowed” to eat it. I’m not sure who is doing the “allowing” here though.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      I didn’t know what NESCAC was so I looked it up.

      Turns out I also went to a NESCAC school.

  59. Ty Phon

    Megan McArdle on the John Judis thing. Title probably says all you need.

    Also, even if the Republicans do grab some sizable portion of the demographic, that shouldn’t lead to them winning all elections. Assuming the Democrats know what they’re doing (possibly questionable assumption), they’ll just move some part of their platform right to grab Republican voters until things are in equilibrium again.

    1. haishan

      Assuming the Democrats know what they’re doing (possibly questionable assumption), they’ll just move some part of their platform right to grab Republican voters until things are in equilibrium again.

      And if they don’t know what they’re doing, some new faction will seize control of the Democratic Party and drag it rightward to attempt to capture the median voter. Worst case scenario is that the Democrats crumble away and a new party comes in to replace them. Duncan Black is not mocked.

      (Also while I was googling for that I discovered that there is a gay porn actor who goes by Duncan Black. I have no interest in gay porn but I think I would donate to a Kickstarter for him to star in something called “Pubic Choice Theory”)

  60. Arthur B.

    Regarding that CS Monitor article about solar power in Africa:

    In the 70’s, Karl Hess , who had been an ardent supporter of nuclear power made the point that the value of solar power was political, because of the decentralization it permitted.

    It is argued in this book

    1. Doug Muir

      Karl Hess was writing at a time when solar power was ridiculously crude. Comparing solar panels of the 1970s to modern PV solar is like comparing modern gaming consoles to Ms. Pac-Man.

      — One of the cultural curiosities of energy discourse in the Anglosphere is that reflexive technophiles tend to espouse nuclear power. Yet nuclear power *as actually constructed* has advanced very little since the 1980s. Wind and solar, on the other hand, have advanced out of recognition. Modern windpower turbines and PV solar panels get cheaper, sturdier, and more efficient every year, and the cost of electricity from them has gone steadily, relentlessly down.

      The appeal of PV solar is not political. It’s that it’s cheap, and getting cheaper all the time.

      Doug M.

      1. cassander

        The US, France, and Russia combined add up to something like half of global nuclear power generation. France built a ton of generators in the 70s, while the US and Russia stopped building new generators in the 80s. Hardly surprising the industry hasn’t changed much.

        1. Doug Muir

          Japan went on a reactor-building spree in the early 2000s, and China is in the middle of one now. Neither showed much interest in dramatically new reactor designs. Most of China’s new reactors to date are Generation II, which is basically 1980s technology. Over the next decade they’ll start building more Generation III reactors, which is basically 1990s tech.

          Nuclear power is, for various reasons, really conservative. I’m not saying this is a bad thing! I’m just noting that, sociologically speaking, it’s odd that so many boosters seem to be people who self-identify as technophiles.

          At least in the Anglosphere, there’s a culture war aspect to this — wind and solar are still associated with hippies somehow, an expensive dead end that only still exists because liberal bureaucrats are forcing it upon an unwilling public. This is of course nonsense on stilts. These are advanced, technologically dynamic power sources that are attracting billions of dollars of investment and are already generating hundreds of gigawatts of power worldwide. Meanwhile nuclear power has been struggling for almost forty years, not because of the dirty hippies, but because experience has shown that nuclear power is rather expensive. Yet the prejudice is still maintained.

          Doug M.

          1. Nornagest

            Can’t we have wind, solar, and nuclear? They all have completely different output profiles and they seem to be naturally complementary.

            Granted, I think we could do better than more LWRs for the nuclear leg of that triad. My eventual preference would be thorium, but that’s a ways away.

          2. Anonymous

            Yeah. In particular, one can condemn Germany for shuttering nuclear plants while praising its wind and solar.

          3. Anonymous

            “Meanwhile nuclear power has been struggling for almost forty years, not because of the dirty hippies, but because experience has shown that nuclear power is rather expensive. ”

            Or regulation has made it exceptionally expensive. Nuclear power plants are expected to survive planes crashing into them.

          4. haishan

            …Should they not be expected to survive that? For a value of “survive” that doesn’t involve large-scale nuclear contamination? It’s not like terrorists haven’t shown that they’re willing to do that exact thing.

          5. Doug Muir

            Anthony, there’s not a simple answer to that. It very much depends on where you are, also what you define as a “subsidy”.

            But yes, a lot of the growth up until now has been encouraged by favorable tax policies and subsidies. Pretty much every form of energy receives subsidies of some sort. Coal, oil and natural gas are all subidized in various ways, and let’s not even discuss US ethanol. — At this point, though, both wind and solar are well past the takeoff point — they’re cost competitive with other energy sources, and will continue to grow unless they are actively disincentivized.

            Doug M.

          6. Doug Muir

            — Historically, of course, nuclear has tended to be very subsidized indeed. The simplest form of nuclear subsidy is also the most common: massive cost overruns. (Nuclear power plants always, always have massive cost overruns.) As in, planners project that a nuclear power plant will cost let’s say $2 billion. It ends up costing $4 billion. Everyone says, oh dear, it’s a shame, but we have no choice but to pass the costs along to the consumer. Consumers end up paying a lot more for electricity.

            That’s been pretty much the default for nuclear energy in the developed world for the last 50 years or so. But somehow people don’t like to process this as a “subsidy”. These are totally unanticipated surprise cost overruns that nobody could have expected!

            Doug M.

      2. Arthur B.

        My point is that the article suggests he was correct about the political implications of solar power. Now that it is cost effective, it’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out.

        1. Doug Muir

          I’m not sure he was right. Solar is decentralized, but that’s a long way from the “neighborhood power” that Hess and others dreamed of back in the 1970s. Basically they were dreaming of going off-grid. PV solar is good for many things, but that’s not really one of them.

          True, it can make being off-grid less horrible, which is what’s happening across Africa. But if you want to go off grid while still maintaining a First World standard of living, PV solar may be part of a solution package but is probably not a magic bullet by itself.

          Doug M.

          1. Richard Metzler

            Actually, if you combine photovoltaics with overnight storage technologies (i.e., cabinets of batteries) in a climate that guarantees 300+ daysper year of intense solar radiation, PV is pretty good for going off-grid. Storage is still fairly expensive, but it seems to be on the verge of become a mass-market technology – partly driven by middle-class Germans who find that it’s financially advantageous to consume the electricity from the PV panels on their roof as often as possible. Of course, in Germany, using PV to go off-grid is not feasible.

            And when it comes to Africa, we’re not talking first-world standards. We’re talking about replacing diesel generators and kerosene lights in villages dozens of miles from the nearest city.

          2. Douglas Knight

            Richard, are Germans really buying batteries? Is this really a “financially advantageous” decisions? Can you point to some numbers?

            My understanding is that the cost of storing electricity in batteries exceeds the cost of buying it from the grid. That is, the cost of a battery is greater than its lifetime capacity times the cost of electricity. And that’s not taking into account the cost of generation. I suppose that if German electricity is extremely expensive, the numbers might work out, but I doubt that individual households are going to use their batteries in the most cost-effective way.

            The situations are not completely analogous, but if storing solar power in batteries were a good idea, the German power plants would be doing it, and there would be no point in the middle class Germans doing so.

            (The situation is completely different in Africa, because there is no grid. I doubt that marginal battery power is cheaper than running a kerosene generator, but there are fixed costs to turning on the generator, so if you just want to run a night light, the battery is cheaper. Plus pollution.)

          3. Doug Muir

            I don’t think Richard is saying that /Germans/ are using batteries. (They’re not, or not much.) I think his point is that the German market for PV solar is shaping the technology worldwide, because the German market is both large and demanding.

            — Mind, the Germans are investigating a range of storage technologies. For instance, one group is looking at using off-peak windpower to crack hydrogen out of water. The hydrogen can then be used right away by pumping it into existing natural gas lines. Apparently, spiking natural gas with 5% or so hydrogen does no harm — the mix burns just like natural gas does, and you end up burning 5% less natural gas (and generating 5% less carbon dioxide).

            Let me make it clear that this particular process is not a game-changer. First, the efficiency of is pretty low — about 20% right now, though they hope to eventually double that. And it won’t scale up past a certain point, because if you increase the proportion of hydrogen too much, the natural gas/hydrogen mix begins to behave strangely (different combustion temperatures, physical characteristics, etc.) leading to equipment problems and such.

            The point here isn’t that off-peak hydrogen solves the storage problem (it doesn’t) but rather that the Germans are aggressively going after the storage problem using a range of techniques. (But closets full of batteries, not so much.)

            Doug M.

          4. Douglas Knight

            Doug Muir, if Richard doesn’t mean “middle-class Germans,” what does he mean by that phrase? Do you claim he doesn’t use that phrase?

          5. Richard Metzler

            Douglas: I don’t have the numbers here. What I wrote was the gist of an article in the German magazine “Photon”, which reported that a lot of new storage modules were hitting the market, and that producers were quite satisfied with the sales in Germany. I suppose we’re talking a few thousand units, not yet something that shapes the energy infrastructure, but something that makes research and large-scale production worthwhile.
            As to the financial side, it’s complicated. The law used to be that private producers (those with a PV installation on their roof) could sell the electricity and feed it into the grid at a price higher than the “retail price” (around 0.25EUR/kWh, whereas the compensation was around 0.40EUR/kWh in 2010). In the last couple of years, this compensation has been reduced dramatically, to a price significantly below the retail price (0.13EUR/kWh); however, there’s a subsidy for electricy consumed by the producer, so consuming as much of their own power and buying as little as possible from the grid makes sense for the producers.

            I’m not sure under what circumstances a storage installation is worth the price, but apparently it’s getting close to profitable for some people. Of course, you always have some idealists and early adopters who are willing to pay a few bucks for energy autarky.

            As to the question why utility companies aren’t using batteries on a large scale yet: they have to calculate with wholesale prices, not retail, and they don’t get subsidies.

          6. Doug Muir

            I imagine Richard can answer for himself. But FWIW, I live in Germany. PV solar is growing like crazy here, but storage is growing much more slowly (though it’s definitely growing). You don’t see a lot of private homes with banks of storage batteries; such things do exist, yes, but very few people choose to go that route.

            — BTW, your comment about “the cost of a battery is greater than its lifetime capacity times the cost of electricity” That’s kind of a strange metric. The issue that batteries address is not cost of electricity, but availability of electricity.

            Imagine a town where water is cheap or free, but is only available for a few hours per day. If you lived in that town, you’d really want to have a water tank in your home, yes? Now imagine a town where water is quite expensive, but always available 24/7. If you live in this town, you may grumble at the high cost of water, but you won’t bother blowing money on a pointless tank. Right? So the useful comparison isn’t “cost of tank vs. lifetime use of tank X cost of water”. It’s “cost of tank plus cost of water vs. cost of water when no tank is needed”.

            Doug M.

          7. Doug Muir

            Ha — Richard, our comments crossed.

            It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that sales of battery banks had increased sharply, but from a very low base. A few thousand household-sized modules would mean millions of dollars of revenue for the manufacturers, and they might be doubling sales every year or two — but the buyers would still represent a very small portion of ~40 million German households.

            As noted, German utilities are throwing R&D money at storage issues. One thing they’ve discovered: real baseload demand seems to be a lot lower than everyone expected. To make a long and complex story short, baseload demand been historically high because there were some heavy industrial users who were burning lots of electricity 24/7. But upon close examination, it turned out that many of these industries were doing so not because they had to, but simply because they could. Overall, the costs involved in shifting to less continuous usage are looking much smaller than originally anticipated. So while yes, we’ll still need baseload and we’ll still need storage, it looks like we might not need nearly as much of either as we thought.

            Doug M.

          8. Douglas Knight

            Richard, I would be interested in a link, even in German. The subsidy for individual consumption is idiotic, but it is probably way too small to make batteries a good investment. At the scale of a power plant, one can arrange to make efficient use of batteries (eg cycling them multiple times per day), but an individual is unlikely to get anywhere near that. While it remains, the option to sell electricity to the grid is the correct choice.

          9. Richard Metzler

            Douglas: I couldn’t find a link to the article I referred to, but I found a press release that supports the notion that storage modules are on the verge of becoming a mass-market product, and confirms the order of magnitude I estimated:
            “Prices for storage modules have fallen by roughly one quarter in the last months. At the same time, demand has increased significantly… More than 15000 households in Germany cover a significant percentage of their electricity consumption even at night using their solar collector and storage devices.”

            Also this prediction:
            “Residential Solar Energy Storage Market to Grow by Factor of 10 from 2014 to 2018”.

            Does residential storage make sense, and does it make sense to subsidize this? Under certain circumstances, yes. Right now, solar installations in Germany yield more electricity than anyone needs, but only at noon on sunny summer days – and that messes with electricity prices and puts a significant strain on the grid. So if the state can pay people a few buck to make the investment in a storage module worthwhile, and as a result they don’t feed any more excess electricity into the grid at noon, and don’t draw power from the grid at night, AND
            the money goes into the development of a technology that could be tremendously useful on a large scale… then it might not be so stupid after all.

            Doug, you mentioned power-to-gas. That’s a technology for which I predict a massive future. First off, you don’t have to stop at converting water to hydrogen. With a little extra effort, you can convert it to methane, which is completely compatible with the infrastructure for natural gas. And that infrastructure is capable of storing the required energy for several months – which is what you need if you want to use solar energy on a really large scale in this latitude. Batteries are fine for a few hours or days, but not months.
            Also, methane can be used for heating, as fuel for cars or for fuel cells, and as a raw material for organic chemistry. If prices for solar panels and wind turbines keep falling, excess capacities will happen more often, and storage technologies will be in high demand.

          10. Douglas Knight

            Richard, thanks for trying. A press release from a very interested source with no numbers only reaffirms my belief that they are lying. I am pretty sure that even with the consumption subsidy that it is not worth it to the residential customer to buy batteries.

            Now what about the claim that the cost of batteries has come down 25%? This is probably just the cost of packaging batteries for this particular application. There is a huge market for batteries and the relevant cost has not fallen for half a century. Adding a minuscule market is not going to put any more pressure on it.

            Maybe Germany is buying autarky, just like it is shutting gas plants and building coal plants? Just don’t pretend that it is Green.

          11. Doug Muir

            @Richard, 15,000 households in Germany is about a third of one percent of German households. Just sayin’.

            Turning hydrogen into methane is doable, but requires a carbon source, which means more energy inputs. And then of course, burning methane generates more CO2.

            Doug M.

          12. Richard Metzler

            Douglas: what non-interested source are you going to get your numbers from?

            I don’t know what goes into the costs of the storage modules – the batteries are probably a big part of it, but the electronics and control software probably play a significant role as well. Also, yes, batteries are a pretty big market already, but a storage module for a home (or an electric car, for that matter) is the equivalent of roughly a gazillion smartphones, so I expect some serious advances as capacities (of batteries, and of their production) increase.

            And yes, I’m aware that the numbers are not yet large enough to make a big impact. In fact, I said so. However, you could have said the same about photovoltaics for decades – and then, within few years, the gigawatts started piling up fast. That’s what happens when you develop a technology to the point where it becomes cheap enough to be economically viable, and I think storage modules are in the beginning stages of that process. I might be wrong, and it may turn out to be another dead end – we’ll see.

      3. nydwracu

        The appeal of solar is also political. It’s cheap and getting cheaper all the time, and you don’t have to tether yourself to a grid and pray that the government’s infrastructure doesn’t suck.

        1. The Anonymouse

          The cynical part of me suspects that if (individual residential) adoption of solar becomes a conservative viewpoint, localities will quickly find ways to obviate the energy independence solar provides.

          1. Ahilan Nagendram

            No. It isn’t. But if it does then of course that depends on the locality / thede / phyle in question.

      4. David Friedman

        “The appeal of PV solar is not political. It’s that it’s cheap, and getting cheaper all the time.”

        What I find amusing is that, in climate arguments online, the same people make that (quite possibly correct) claim and insist that we need carbon taxes, subsidies for renewables, and similar policies in order to avoid the IPCC 8.5 scenario, in which fossil fuel use rises exponentially with economic growth for the rest of the century.

        1. Doug Muir

          Not sure I see the contradiction there. Wind and solar could be cheap — but if you really want to aggressively cut carbon emissions, you might still want to use subsidies to make them even cheaper.

          Doug M..

          1. David Friedman

            You might want subsidies, but they no longer look like an urgent matter. And if you believe that wind and solar are getting cheap in the near future, it makes no sense to base your view of what will happen without subsidies on the 8.5 model, which assumes that fossil fuel remains the predominant energy source for the rest of the century.

        2. ryan

          It’s very hard to assess the cost of solar and wind energy. The issue is that electric generation has no inherent value. It only has value if the generation and transmission happen at the same time as consumption.

          Think of the electricity grid as a giant capacitor. Generation increases the voltage, consumption decreases the voltage. The grid operator’s job is to keep the voltage at a constant level.

          It’s not as hard as you might imagine. They have a hundred years of data to analyze, and they can reliably predict how demand will rise and fall over the course of any particular day. Then keeping the voltage constant is a matter of scheduling production in proportion to the expected demand.

          Solar and especially wind production of course cannot be scheduled. The solution to this problem is to build natural gas peaker plants. They can modulate their output at a high rate in response to changing production levels from wind or solar. If the wind kicks up they reduce production in proportion, if clouds form over the solar panels, they ramp up production.

          So, I did have a point here, the cost of building and maintaining the peaker plants is part of the cost of solar and wind energy. Any time you read about the “low low price” of solar or wind I can guarantee you they’re ignoring the peaker plant cost. The cost is also very hard to ascertain in general as it will vary from location to location.

          Another sort of funny aspect is that peaker plants are inefficient. Compared to a top of the line combined cycle gas plant they can require twice as much fuel to generate the same amount of electricity. This of course means twice the CO2 emissions. These emissions are also not accounted for as emissions from wind/solar generation.

          Finally, please do not believe a word I just said. Electrical Engineering is a hoax funded by right wing think tanks who want to kill all polar bears.

          1. Furrfu

            While most of what you say is true, barring numerous nitpicks, I’m not sure that your ultimate conclusion is correct for solar.

            First, solar PV generation might decrease, rather than increasing, the need for dispatchable power, so we should perhaps discount the reduced need for peaker construction from the construction cost of solar. Peaking power plants typically get turned on in the early afternoon every day in the summer (just look at any LMP graph), which is almost exactly the time of day when solar PV generates the most power; and clouds reduce not only PV production but also air-conditioning load (and over a shorter period of time than dispatchable power is typically dispatchable). So we would expect PV located geographically near the load to help, rather than hurting.

            I’m interested to see papers on how solar is affecting utility plans to build dispatchable plants, because I could be wrong about the above.

            Second, CSP plants are dispatchable and can even generate electricity in the middle of the night, although they’re currently only a tiny fraction of overall solar generation at the moment.

            I will allow myself one small nitpick: the fact that you say that maintaining grid stability is “not as hard as you might imagine” makes me suspect that either you haven’t worked in the area, or you have an astonishingly pessimistic imagination 🙂

          2. ryan

            @Furrfu

            Meh, call it “not as impossible as it sounds” maybe?

            I’d love to see papers on utility plans for plant construction as well. It would be the very best evidence.

            Yes the real gigantic advantage of solar is that its peak in output logically (and as far as I know empirically) correlates with peak demand. Most of the time. It’s the rest of the time that worries me (say if we start scuttling peaker plants because the sun has been shining very consistently lately, then clouds decide to be unpredictable again and we end up with brownouts).

            Wind on the other hand empirically tends to anti-correlate with demand, as crazy as that sounds. At least in Texas anyway:

            http://www.ercot.com/gridinfo/generation/windintegration/

            They do a report of wind generation over time in various pdf’s. So on the issue of peaker plant construction plans I would expect wind power to have a larger effect (if any effect is observed).

            One other issue about the correlation of solar generation and peak demand is the second order effect it will have on peaker plant economics. The spot price of electricity spikes with afternoon demand, and the peaker plants sort of rely on it being much higher than normal prices. It’s already hard for it to be profitable to build a power plant that in extreme cases may only operate 3 hours a day for 14 days every year. I’ve seen instances in Germany where solar ramps up so much that the spot price of electricity actually approaches negative territory. It’s hard to tell if they can deal with that competition.

            What we really need is for Commander LeForge to finish whipping up the low cost high capacity storage device he’s working on. Then it’s all gravy.

          3. Furrfu

            @ryan, agreed. A couple of things to add. First, negative LMPs were actually common in the US last time I looked, too. They happen at night. I’ve seen prices as low as -$60 per megawatt hour, which meant you could earn a lot of money by hooking up a big resistor to the grid. (I should look again. Last time I looked was a couple of years ago.)

            Second, at least some ISOs (like CAISO) pay direct compensation for load-following capacity, much as they do for black start capacity, rather than relying entirely on the LMP market incentives.

          4. Anonymous

            Obviously, some geographies are better for solar than others. It seems like it would be better to build it first in the best places to figure out how it works before extending to marginal places. Germany does not seem to me like a good place for solar, but the German Green Party can’t install solar in Spain. Similarly, America has subsidies for solar in Blue states, which mostly seem like lousy choices. I think the most subsidies are in New Jersey. California is great, though.

            Obviously, the further south and the fewer clouds, the more energy from solar. Dry climates have few clouds. But wet climates have another problem, which is that the water holds heat and so decouples heat from direct irradiation. So maybe solar is perfectly aligned with peak demand in Spain and California, but not in Germany and New Jersey. But it is certainly better than a random source like wind.

            Ryan, this is very misleading:

            This of course means twice the CO2 emissions. These emissions are also not accounted for as emissions from wind/solar generation.

            If solar requires more peaking plants, then of course solar should be blamed for the cost of those plants. But that is a capital cost. The pollution from an additional peaking plant is negligible because the peaking plant almost never runs, I point you yourself mention in the follow-up. So the inefficiency of the peaking plants is irrelevant. (But building the plant may itself cause pollution.)

      5. Paul Torek

        The appeal of PV solar is not political. It’s that it’s cheap, and getting cheaper all the time.

        +1 and doubling every 2 years. (Chips, photovoltaics, Moore’s law – not exactly, but close enough.)

        1. Furrfu

          As shown in the BCSE slides I linked from my main post, PV solar is not doubling every two years. It’s growing by about 70% every two years, so its doubling time is a bit under three years. Also, it’s anybody’s guess how long the growth curve will remain exponential, or if it’s already leveled off.

    2. Furrfu

      Nuclear plants currently cost about €3/W to build, which is to say, US$3.40/W, a number which more than doubled by the 1970s, in part due to needed safety improvements, and has since fallen somewhat. Currently, utility-scale photovoltaic costs US$1.56/W to build in the US. That makes nuclear sound a lot more expensive than solar, but those are nameplate capacities, and nuclear’s capacity factor is around 90% while solar’s is around 30%, in large part because the earth blocks sunlight half the time, so you end up with about US$3.80/W delivered for nuclear and US$5.20/W for solar PV in the US.

      In the 1970s, though, PV solar modules cost about US$30 (in current dollars) per watt (and up, if by “the 1970s” you don’t mean 1979) compared to today’s US$0.73 in the US. Also, the energy cost of producing the modules was very high, so high that modules at the time produced less energy over their lifetime than was consumed in their production. (By contrast, current energy payback times are around two years.) So it was a much more expensive power source, whose only real use was resilience and decentralization, at the cost of a great deal of efficiency.

      Today, however, solar beats nuclear not just on resilience and decentralization but also even sometimes on efficiency, for a few different reasons. First, that US$1.56/W number includes a punitive US$0.15/W tariff imposed by the US on Chinese solar panels, which accounts for 10% of the cost. Second, the efficiency advantage of decentralization is that you can eliminate transmission and distribution losses, which gives you another 6% boost, in the US (although if your infrastructure sucks, it might be more.). Third, only half of that US$1.56 is the actual module itself, while the rest is stuff like inverters, contract procurement and plant design (“EPC”), and offices and control rooms (“BOP”), but if you just want to listen to the radio, charge your netbook, or charge your cordless drill’s battery, you probably don’t need that stuff either. So solar can end up actually being cheaper per watt, as well as more resilient and decentralized.

      (I once thought that being more equatorial was a cost advantage for solar, and it is if your major cost is land instead of solar modules, which is to say it won’t be for a long time.)

      Maybe more importantly, though, every energy source kills people, We know that even rooftop solar kills about 200× fewer people than coal. Coal kills about 100 people per terawatt hour, which is to say that every US$400 000 (wholesale) of coal energy kills a person. That is, the vast majority of the cost of coal energy is the negative externality of killing people (and/or, depending on how you value it, damaging the environment). Nuclear energy so far has killed even an order of magnitude less than solar, but it seems likely that the majority of nuclear deaths will be a result of an unexpected event like Chernobyl or Fukushima, but larger. So it might turn out that nuclear energy actually kills more people than solar energy, or it might not.

      1. Anonymous

        Fukushima isn’t even the top killer among Japanese nuclear accidents. In the 90s three separate accidents each killed three people.

      2. James Picone

        I’ve seen plausible statistics that more people die per megawatt from wind power than nuclear power – basically, workplace accidents where people doing maintenance on a turbine fall off a ladder. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were similar numbers for solar.

        That said, it’s extremely difficult to compare, and the numbers I was looking at ranged from about-the-same to two orders of magnitude in favour of nuclear power, depending on which bits you count and which you don’t, and how many cancer deaths you attribute to Chernobyl. For example, the largest wind-related set of deaths I’m aware of involved a truck transporting turbines crashing into a bus. If you count that against wind power, arguably you should count mining accidents digging up uranium against nuclear power…

        1. Anonymous

          You definitely should count uranium mining accidents. Furrfu’s source specifically mentions it and implies that it is neglible (but does not quantify it). The source mentions that it does not include transportation accidents, and implies that with 40% of American rail devoted to coal that it is significant, but I doubt it.

          Furrfu’s 200x coal death number is dominated by the third world. The number for America from the same source is 35x. Since this is prompted by Scott’s link about Africa, so maybe third-world statistics are relevant. Except that’s about places where there is no grid, so coal just isn’t an option. Another thread is about Germany where the 35x number would be more appropriate.

          1. James Picone

            But if you count uranium mining accidents, then maybe you should count aluminium mining accidents against wind power. And then maybe you should count the knockon statistical deaths caused by environmental damage from mining. And maybe car accidents from people driving to work at a nuclear power plant. And so on.

            I think if you really tried, you’d be able to tie literally all economic activity to both wind and nuclear power, and so count every death against both.

            It’s really hard to determine where to draw the boundary of ’caused by X form of energy’ for deaths.

          2. Anonymous

            Sure, if you wanted to be thorough, you should count a proportionate amount of aluminum mining deaths to wind. Indeed, Furrfu’s source estimates this number at .06/TWh, though I’m not sure whether this is included in the final .15/TWh. Sure, you could count all aluminum mining as wind-related and that would be idiotic, just as counting all economic activity in the world to any or every source would be idiotic. (And you should not count all uranium mining to nuclear power, because some of it is for bombs. But a proportion of negligible is still negligible.)

            We count coal mining deaths because they are not negligible. To guess that, you either have to know that coal mining has a reputation as more dangerous than other forms of mining, or you could follow the heuristic that most of the cost of coal energy is the cost of coal, so you probably should pursue it. Whereas, uranium is only a small part of the cost of nuclear power. I don’t know about aluminum and wind.

            The studies cited by that source count “occupational safety” of the workers. There’s probably a standard of how to do it and it probably does include the death rate commuting. This probably isn’t a good measure because if the plant didn’t exist, they’d commute to a different job. In theory, it might be useful to measure the effect of long commutes to badly located plants (eg, due to nimby) but I doubt the number is significant in any event.

          3. Nornagest

            Let’s just skip to the moral of the story: when you’re dealing with something as ill-defined as knock-on deaths from a power source, you can make the numbers come out just about any way you feel like.

      3. Anonymous

        If you don’t count EPC and BOP, then nuclear plants are orders of magnitude cheaper than solar plants.

        1. Furrfu

          There are a couple of problems with your assertion: first, if true, it is irrelevant in practice; and second, it is not true.

          In practice, you see, you can get solar power without EPC and BOP, and you can’t get nuclear power without EPC and BOP, because EPC and BOP are costs of centralization, and you can’t get nuclear power without centralization without massive death tolls.

          Even if you could, though, a nuclear power plant without EPC and BOP is still a closed-loop steam-turbine Carnot engine which drives an electrical generator, and the cost per watt of systems like that still seems to be significant, even without the control rods etc. that specific to a nuclear plant. “Orders of magnitude cheaper than solar plants” would mean CAPEX of 0.6¢ per watt or less, which would suggest that US$6000 would buy you a 1MW turbine generator. If that were true I don’t think Pramac would be able to sell an 0.1MW diesel standby generator for US$45000, because you could buy a 7MW generator for the same price. (You can totally boil deionized water by burning diesel fuel, and under most circumstances it’s even easier than doing it with nuclear reactions! And you can buy off-the-shelf Siemens steam turbines for as little as 45kW and up to 12MW, although the little pricing data I can easily turn up suggests that in that price range turbines are considerably more expensive per watt than the above-mentioned internal-combustion power plant. More like 80¢/W than 45¢/W. If you get into larger gas-heated steam turbines you can get a 140MWe turbine for US$100M, which works out to be 73¢/W, same as solar, but potentially with a higher capacity factor.)

          US$45000 for 100kWe is, of course, 45¢/W, cheaper than solar at 58¢/W, if your fuel is free. And you can run the diesel generator at night, and probably there are some economies of scale from bigger generators, so maybe you can get down to 20¢/W or something. But I don’t think you’re going to get down to 1.5¢/W, or even 6¢/W, which would be one entire order of magnitude cheaper than solar.

      4. Doug Muir

        Note that Furrfu’s comment is a snapshot of a technology that’s moving very fast. PV solar’s price per watt has gone nowhere but down for forty years now. As Furrfu points out, it fell by about 95% between 1979 and 2014. It’s not quite Moore’s Law — it’s slower and more irregular — but the trend has been very consistent. (PV solar panels have also become lighter, sturdier, easier to install, and much more durable.)

        Most recently, prices fell by about a third in a two-year period, roughly 2010-12. The price has stabilized since then, in large part because of surging demand — but new production plants are being built rapidly, and a variety of new technologies and production techniques are about to come online. A further price decline of ~30% by the end of this decade seems likely. At that point PV solar would be past socket parity with nuclear, and socket parity with natural gas and coal would be visible in the distance.

        Doug M.

        1. Furrfu

          You’re right, I should have emphasized that more. It’s not moving as fast as GPUs and Flash but it’s sure moving a lot faster than nuclear.

          The long-term silicon PV trend is a decrease in cost per watt of about 7% per year, which would put us at another 40% drop by the end of the decade. The sudden drop in 2008–12 was a return to the long-term trendline; prices had actually risen slightly in 2006 and 2008, holding overall quite steady over 2002–8, which I think was due to the “polysilicon” supply crunch preceding the mass scaling of the UMG process, although I’m a little fuzzy on this. This is similar to that period in the 1990s when DRAM prices stayed constant at US$40 a meg for several years (due to a price-fixing conspiracy) before returning to the trendline.

          We can probably assume that the 20% of the US module cost that is currently a punitive import tariff will eventually go away, too.

          That aside, I don’t think we need to wait until 2020 to get to socket parity with nuclear and fossil energy. For situations where low-voltage DC during the daytime is sufficient, which is a surprisingly large collection of applications, we’re already at socket parity in much of the world, including most of the US. When you have to add in battery banks and inverters, it could take a while yet. But if you need to chill your fridge; charge your laptop, cordless drill, and LED lamps; and electropolish some steel — then we’re already at socket parity.

      5. Josh Sacks

        I find the coal-death estimates to be very questionable. Per Wikipedia, US consumes ~4000TWh/year of which ~40% was from coal (c. 2010). That’s 4000 * 0.4 * 15 = 24000 deaths attributable to Coal. This is a completely unrealistic number as it implies that coal causes ~ as many deaths as traffic accidents (32,000).

        Coal consumption has dropped precipitously in the past few years thanks to fracking. The ~15% decline should cause ~3600 fewer deaths, a number that should show up in public health stats, but as far as I know does not.

        Some further thought-experiment reasons for thinking this number is 10-100x too high:
        1) Prior to the Clean Air Act, air quality in US was far worse, often with 10-20x higher concentrations of SO2 and other pollutants than is common now. Even at a linear extrapolation, that implies ~240,000-500,000 deaths (err, lower since the total population was smaller, but you get the idea), a number which is far outside the bounds of the actual observed statistics.
        2) The dose makes the poison. It’s very unusual for a poison to have a linear dose-response. If dose D of something kills 1% of people, 10xD doesn’t kill 1%, it usually kills 50-100%.
        If the current levels of pollution are killing 24,000 people/year, then pollution levels c. 1975 would probably have killed millions/year.

        1. Douglas Knight

          It seems pretty plausible to me that the increased life expectancy in the past 50 years is almost entirely due to reduced air pollution.

          1. Nornagest

            That should definitely show up in public health stats if it’s true (which I doubt). If decreased air pollution is what’s driving life expectancy increases, we should see disproportionate losses in lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, emphysema… all the stuff you usually get from inhaling poison.

            It’s interesting to note, though, that the United States is high among Western countries in deaths from COPD and other correlates of particulate inhalation. I found that bizarre when I first came across it, because those usually point to high smoking rates and the US is a low-smoking nation. How do American air pollution rates look compared to European?

            …turns out most of Europe does worse. Pity; it was an elegant theory.

        2. Furrfu

          24000 deaths per year from coal is absolutely plausible. Lower respiratory infections killed 59800 people in the US in 2002, and trachea, bronchus; lung cancers killed 157,700; and other respiratory diseases killed 182,500. What fraction of those 400,000 deaths are from coal pollution (including coal pollution that hasn’t been in the air since 1975, but which is still killing people)? It’s easy to believe more than 6%. And respiratory insufficiency is a risk factor in many aspects of mortality, including heart attacks, and also both death from anesthesia and death from things that you could have cured with surgery if the doctors didn’t think anesthesia were an unacceptable risk for you. It’s difficult to untangle, but luckily for you, dozens of epidemiological studies by scores of epidemiologists have already been performed, and then carefully reviewed and digested, to arrive at numbers even worse than the totally plausible numbers given above, which are even linked from the blog post I linked to above, so we don’t have to rely on the guesswork you’ve done without, apparently, even realizing that air pollution causes lung cancer decades later.

          The WHO number given on that page for 2008 outdoor air pollution deaths in the USA is 56618, which is more than the 24000 number you think is implausibly high, and also more than deaths due to car accidents. That’s because, in the US, most of the outdoor air pollution is no longer due to coal-fired power plants.

      6. Josh Sacks

        Comparisons of Solar vs. Nuclear price/watt are interesting, but somewhat besides the point. When you pay for electricity, you are paying for 4 nine’s. That is you are paying for 99.99% uptime (well, 99.98% in the US mostly).

        Even as solar breaks parity in terms of cost/KHW, it imposes a reliability “cost” on the rest of the grid. At small scales, these costs can be absorbed by the grid as it has spare capacity, but as the scale increases, there will be an increasing reliability cost that will need to be paid for, probably by idle on-demand capacity.

        In the limit where all power comes from solar, you end up needing to build a very large set of “backup” conventional power plants to provide power at night, during the winter, etc…

        Of course, we live in a world where these “backup” plants already exist, so it’s not clear how exactly to score the costs of solar (and other “unreliable” power sources).

        For a full discussion of the grid issues with solar (and wind) beyond cost I recommend All Megawatts Are Not Equal

        1. Furrfu

          As I’ve argued above, it seems likely that solar PV will decrease demand on dispatchable capacity, even though it is not itself dispatchable. I’m skeptical of the claims to the contrary in the blog post you linked because ⓐ it doesn’t give any concrete cost numbers from actual ISO/RTO planning for dispatchable capacity in the face of increased solar PV, although those should be available by now and are public; ⓑ it claims that hydroelectric power can’t provide load-following, while in actual fact the ramp-up time for hydroelectric turbines is measured in seconds, faster even than the minutes needed for simple-cycle gas peakers. This total inversion of reality makes me think “All Megawatts are Not Equal”’s author knows even less than I do about the power grid.

          Getting more down-to-earth, I’ve experienced a lot of power outages in the last couple of years: one this morning in a community center where I volunteer, one a couple of weeks ago in my apartment building, and several over the last year or two, including one in my house that lasted three weeks and led to my neighbors marching in the streets. (My entire neighborhood smelled like rotting corpses for a week, because everyone had to throw away the meat that had been in their refrigerators.) Every single one of these blackouts was a result of inadequate distribution capacity. Generation and transmission are able to meet demand, but the distribution infrastructure is underbuilt and poorly maintained. The vast majority of blackouts I’ve experienced in my life, in middle- and upper-income countries, have been results not of grid instability but of failures of local distribution. I also lived through the 2001 rolling blackouts in California, which were failures not of system capacity but rather of politics and dysregulated energy markets. The majority of large-scale blackouts that I have heard about during my lifetime, none of which have I experienced personally, have been results of failures of transmission, not generation or distribution.

          To state what I hope is obvious, photovoltaic generation reduces the load on transmission infrastructure and decentralizes power; distributed photovoltaic additionally reduces the load on distribution infrastructure and the impact of a distribution blackout; PV should therefore reduce the risk of transmission, distribution, and political blackouts, which are orders of magnitude more common at present than the grid instability problems you’re worried about due to PV’s poorer load-following capacity. There are people whose job it is to worry about grid instability (a rather surprising number of them, if you aren’t familiar with the industry), they are doing a great job at preventing it, and even if PV turns out to make their jobs harder (as you suggest) rather than easier (as I have argued), it will take a really major change before the new unreliability outweighs the existing unreliability from the other sources I’ve called out above. I say, let them freak out for now, and worry about the problem in five years, at which point the US will have 40 or 50 GW of photovoltaic capacity installed, about 3–5% of the total. That’s the point at which we can start budgeting for new peaker plants if it turns out they’re actually needed at all.

          1. Anonymous

            No, it’s doesn’t say that hydro can’t provide load-following. On the contrary, it describes it as “excellent.” What it say can’t is “run of river” hydro, which can’t, pretty much by definition.

  61. E. Harding

    Scott, what did I tell you about generalizing economic situations? Africa as a whole is not having any boom, at least, on the scale of Cambodia or Bhutan. Kenya, Senegal, DRC, Burundi, Djibouti, Guinea, Gambia, Comoros, Zimbabwe, etc. are and will remain dumps for years to come. Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, etc., are different stories, and a large part (though by no means all) of those stories are high natural resource prices.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      See eg here. Not every single African country is having a boom, but the continent as a whole is doing well.

    2. Doug Muir

      Sub-Saharan Africa has had higher-than-world-average per capita GDP growth rates for over a decade now.

      I note in passing that “dumps” Kenya and Senegal have per capita GDPs much higher than “star performer” Ethiopia. More than twice as high, in Kenya’s case, and about 50% higher in Senegal’s — Yes, Ethiopia has had higher growth rates. Crazy high, like 10% per year. But Ethiopia was starting from a very low base. It took a decade of hothouse growth to raise them from “horribly poor, among the worst in the world” to just “quite poor”. It’s an impressive accomplishment, but they’re still a long way from catching up with Kenya.

      Note that Kenya is no slouch in growth either — it’s averaged about 6% over the last five years.

      Finally, I note that not much of Rwanda’s or Tanzania’s growth is due to resource extraction. A significant chunk of Tanzania’s growth has come from its success into turning Dar es Salaam into the entrepot/ transport hub/ investment center for much of southeast Africa — sort of a cut-rate Dubai.

      Doug M.

  62. DrBeat

    I call bullshit on that guy calling bullshit on the Danish archery video.

    Yeah, the guy is firing at super-close range and did multiple takes and that isn’t volley fire which is what the British used and blah blah blah. That’s not important. Instead of the ‘traditional’ European method of being a back-line almost-artillery piece, this guy is able to use a bow like a gun.

    Specifically, he’s able to use it like a gun in a pre-Counterstrike first person shooter, where mobility is everything and all encounters take place in close quarters and your mouse sensitivity is cranked up to maximum because being able to move and react quickly is more important than being super accurate.

    This guy might not be very effective as part of a formation of archers at Agincourt. But I’d like to see any of them circle-strafe or bunny hop or airshot, and I look forward to the video where the Danish archer reveals the ancient Mongolian technique of shooting arrows at the ground to propel yourself upward.

    1. Anonymous

      The issue is that even in light skirmishing people would have been likely to be wearing padded jacks that would do a perfectly good job of stopping most of an arrow going at that speed.

      1. DrBeat

        This is why, historically, archers would camp the armor power-up and ambush people before they could pick it up.

      1. AR+

        After being primed from reading about political correctness above I loved how he kept talking about arrows being able to “offend” their target.

        *arrowed by a Roman*
        “Oy! This is so anti-Semitic!”

    2. David Friedman

      Some of his criticism may be valid, but some is evidence of his own ignorance. Thus he writes, about the claim of three arrows in 1.5 seconds, “How Andersen arrives at this “fact” is anyone’s guess.” My guess is from Taybugha’s 14th c. Treatise on Mameluke Archery, which puts it as the third arrow being released as the first hits the target—the timing calculation is by the modern translators. And Geek Dad’s explanation of shooting off the left side of the bow ignores the fact that, while archers using the Mediterranean release routinely shot off the left side, archers using the thumb draw release shot off the right side.

    3. Tom

      I’ve read quite a few responses to this video and I think that the issue most of the writers take with the video is about the obnoxious voice over. In every criticism I have read, the author admits that the feats are impressive and skilful in their own right, but fall far short of the incredible reinvention of archery described. Personally this was exactly the impression I got from the video, despite knowing next to nothing about archery. Watch the original, it sounds like someone trying to sell one of those ridiculous exercise machines on daytime TV. If there was just some music playing instead I suspect there would be far fewer pissed off archers writing.

      1. Anonymous

        Yes, the link Scott gave is mainly a condemnation of the history, while praising the speed shooting.

        But it also accuses the original video of outright fraud, such as cutting between different shots, while making dramatic changes to the set up, such as removing the head from the arrow and changing the distance to the target. And in the case of splitting an arrow in the air, of picking up pieces of a different arrow off of the floor.

  63. Salem

    In the 17th century, members of the House of Lords did not vacate their seats in order to vote, but rather stayed in their seats and had their votes counted. It was only the Commons that voted by going through the ‘Division.’ In addition, Gilbert Burnet could not have been an eyewitness, as he didn’t get a seat in the Lords until 1689. Basically, this story is fishy. Now to be fair, the original doesn’t mention anything about a division. See here.

  64. Alsadius

    That list of nominative determinism names was awesome. I literally burst out laughing at “Philander Rodman, father of Dennis Rodman and 28 to 46 other children”

    I know one of the authors of that libertarian book, and was seriously considering buying that dedication as a Valentine’s present for my girlfriend until the bidding got higher than I was willing to spend.

    And yes, all books on how party X will win forever tend to be nonsense. As one party wins more, the voters get sick of them, their opponents start moving towards the new centre, and their base gets more strident and demands increasingly less popular policies on the grounds of “Why bother winning elections if we’re not going to ban abortion/raise taxes to 100%?”

    1. MrBreakfast

      The voters are libertarian at heart, they resent authority, and are put off by whatever side represents authority at the moment, looking forsomeone, anyone, who will help them break free.

      This is why two party systems are so stable in the long run.

  65. Jacob Schmidt

    Meanwhile, Chait has a pretty funny analysis of the way people have responded to his piece.

    You mean how he complains about people not criticizing him in 1 of 2 ways he deems acceptable, despite people on the list he himself selected having done so?

    One possible response would be to defend these practices on normative grounds — the sort of confident defense that a confirmed left-wing critic of liberalism like Catharine MacKinnon might make. Another possible response might be to question the veracity of the description I provided.

    Interestingly, the critics chose neither response.

    — Chait

    Rather than understand how trauma works, or recognize that trigger warnings are, in fact, about giving people the choice when and where to engage with potentially upsetting content, Chait prefers to patronizingly pooh-pooh the whole idea. Instead of recognizing that most people use trigger warnings as a way to facilitate the “controlled exposure” to trauma experts recommend — because, again, trigger warnings give readers the choice to make sure that they are in a safe space and a healthy mindset before engaging with potentially triggering content — he prefers to believe that anyone who asks for a content warning is a mewling infant who should just get over it already.

    Anne Theriault

    Theriault argues that trigger warnings facilitate controlled exposure, which is not only a defense of them, but a defense that specifically responds to Chait’s assertion that trigger warning do not work, while controlled exposure does.

    The article is full of other examples constituting either one or the other of the sort of response Chait seems to want, as are other on his personally selected list.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      The part I thought was funny was that he complains politically correct people prefer making things about identity to engagement, and many of the responses to him have started with jabs at how dare a white male talk about these things.

      1. desslok

        Indeed, to wit Alex Pareene’s response piece helpfully points out that Chait is a white male 13(!) times.

        Freddie DeBoer, though no fan of Chait, has written about the trend of white guys who loudly denounce Those Other White Guys on social media as a form of social signalling/status enhancement.

        1. Harald K

          DeBoer is a great guy who sees the problem. However, he’s also a nice example of the kind of blindness intersectionality encourages: Because he thinks it’s riskier for black people to go out and protest in the streets (reasonable), he also assumes it’s riskier for women to go out and protest in the streets.

          1. Harald K

            I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume that black people, especially young black men who go out demonstrating with other young black men, are more at risk for police violence. Is that what you’re disagreeing?

  66. Robbbbbb

    Re: Birth rates. There’s a fairly strong relationship between family size of parent and family size of kid. Bounce-backs in birth rates could very well be the result of natural selection.

    Birth control hits in the 60s. People who want one or zero kids do so. People who want to continue to have large families have large families*. A generation and a half later, the people with no kids start dying off. The remaining women come from families committed to having and raising children. Birthrates rise.

    I will leave the implications of this as an exercise for the reader.

    *The perception of “large families” is changing, too. We have four kids, and I continue to be amazed that people consider this a “large” family.

    1. Paul

      This seems like something you might be able to test by looking at rates of contraceptive use, abortion, and so on. Excluding immigration, how have such rates changed across generations?

    2. onyomi

      This is a very interesting potential long-term ramification of birth control I never thought of. In the past, people who weren’t very interested in raising children had little choice unless they wanted to remain celibate. Now that it’s a possibility, it does seem like we might start selecting for “wants to raise kids.” This seems good from a parenting perspective, as presumably people who want to be parents make better parents, on average, but one wonders if those non-breeder personalities contribute something else to society which it might be detrimental to lose.

      1. Nita

        presumably people who want to be parents make better parents

        It depends on their motivation. Do they see the kids as raw material for their “culture cloning” project?

        Likewise, those who don’t want to be parents. Do they hate “crotchfruit”? Or are they worried that their parenting might be non-ideal, this world is too brutal to non-consensually bring someone into it, etc.?

        1. onyomi

          Yeah, I don’t think it will apply across the board, as I’m sure there are people reluctant to have children who would, in fact, make great parents, as there are plenty of people who love the idea of having children, but for the wrong reasons.

          That said, all things equal, I’d expect people who want to have children to be better parents, on average, than people who don’t want to have children.

  67. Tom Scharf

    On Chait – I think the problem with PC is that many times it is more of a drive to pretend a problem doesn’t exist than it is a solution to said problem. It can be very unhelpful and counter productive. With the banning of the N word and making it socially unacceptable to speak on race except with very narrowly defined rules, it is much more difficult to determine who the real racists are because the rules are very bright. Paradoxically the end result of this is that many people now see racism everywhere instead of nowhere. So the PC advances to a new level because the new racism is micro-aggressions and privilege and so on. People who don’t yet know these new rules and slip up are of course racists, even if they don’t know it yet. People get confused on what all the new (secret) rules are and simply decide to never even talk about it lest they be called out. I’m not sure I would call this progress except in a beauty is only skin deep way. So, let’s have an honest conversation on race….just follow the rules….whatever they are…..you’ll be notified when you break them.

    1. ckp

      When people say they want to have an honest conversation on race they’re usually the ones who get to define what “honest conversation” means.

      1. Vulture

        The other day I actually heard someone say “People should have honest conversations about race. But I think one obstacle to that is that so many people have crappy opinions.”

      2. jaimeastorga2000

        – Let’s have an honest conversation about race.
        – Ok
        – It doesn’t exist and you’re a racist!
        – Bu–
        – Conversation over!

      3. Andrew

        That is extraordinarily implausible. And simply because, out of all the people who participate in conversations, a vanishingly small proportion of them have that kind of power.

        Indeed, right in this thread we have a counter-example. The only person with the power to say what an honest conversation is here, is Scott Alexander. Yet the person who said they want to have an honest conversation is not Scott Alexander.

    2. Anonymous

      Paradoxically the end result of this is that many people now see racism everywhere instead of nowhere. So the PC advances to a new level because the new racism is micro-aggressions and privilege and so on. People who don’t yet know these new rules and slip up are of course racists, even if they don’t know it yet. People get confused on what all the new (secret) rules are and simply decide to never even talk about it lest they be called out.

      Ayn Rand:

      The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws

      Replace word “government” with “people who try to enforce political correctness”.

      So, let’s have an honest conversation on race….just follow the rules….whatever they are…..you’ll be notified when you break them.

      Chinese censorship works in exactly the same way. If two influential groups decide to use the same strategy, maybe we should infer that this strategy works.

    3. onyomi

      I also bristle at the whole “honest conversation” thing, but I think I’ve figured out where it stems from: on the Noam Chomskyish left–the sort of leftists who may call themselves “anarchists” and who are really into labor unions and more serious about fighting corporatism than your average Democrat–there is a pervasive ideal of deliberative democracy. That is, the notion that there is this thing called “the will of the people” which can be discovered through adequate discussion and deliberation. This is a big reason why such people also emphasize education almost obsessively; the way they put it is that “a functioning democracy requires an educated populace.”

      Most people would agree that a democracy in which people are informed is likely to function better than one in which they aren’t, but I think this particular brand of leftism takes it much further. Though never explicitly stated as such, the assumption seems to be that there can be no fundamental disagreements among sufficiently well-informed people who have been given adequate time to discuss and debate. Therefore, anyone who doesn’t yet agree with me is either misinformed or just needs to participate in more “honest, open dialogue” in order to come around. Of course, the idea that entering into honest dialogue entails the possibility of finding one’s own position to be wrong never enters into the equation.

      This also shows up in political rhetoric. I’ve noticed that from the very beginning of his presidency, every time the democrats do badly in a midterm election or some program meets with more-than-usual resistance, his go-to line is “we need to do a better job of communicating.” There is no possibility that people have understood what we are proposing and rejected it. The only possibility is that they haven’t yet understood why it’s such a great idea. Therefore, we need more honest, open dialogue.

        1. Creutzer

          When will people finally stop citing that theorem in places where it is actually irrelevant? First of all, common priors? Second, and more importantly, the political issue is more about values than about judgments of fact.

          1. haishan

            Oh, I 100% agree with you. IMO, the conditions are so strong that they basically never apply to the Real World. (Any of them: common priors, common knowledge, and perfect Bayesians.) I’m making fun of people like Hanson who believe that AAT does have real-world significance.

        2. Barryogg

          >If two people […] share common priors

          Well, there’s your problem. For example: the patriarchy. In discussions about feminism, one side has a very strong prior about it being A Thing and the other often doesn’t.

      1. Nita

        the notion that there is this thing called “the will of the people” which can be discovered through adequate discussion and deliberation

        Hmm, that sounds like Eliezer’s “Coherent Extrapolated Volition”, only implemented with the technology we actually have.

      2. TheAncientGeek

        ‘I’ve noticed that from the very beginning of his presidency, every time the democrats do badly in a midterm election or some program meets with more-than-usual resistance, his go-to li’ne is “we need to do a better job of communicating.” 

        I’ve heard the same from the right. .

        1. onyomi

          Personally I don’t think I’ve heard them using this line nearly as much, though probably both sides are guilty. I feel like the right’s go-to explanations for why the left is wrong are more like “unrealistic,” “bleeding heart,” “naive,” “wasteful,” “paternalistic,” etc., whereas the left’s go-to explanations for wrongness of the right seem to be “uneducated,” “ignorant,” “biased,” etc. (though “uncaring” and “intolerant” are also common, there’s usually an implication that the intolerance stems from ignorance–look at all the articles with titles like “10 Things White People don’t Understand about Privilege”).

          My problem isn’t with the idea that object-level and even many principle-level questions have right and wrong answers, it’s that there seems to be a very thin line between “our side values rationality and objectivity” to “anyone who doesn’t agree with us is being IRrational and must just not have heard our arguments.”

          This does happen on the right too. I have the impression that this is how the inner circle of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden operated–another group which strongly valued objectivity, but which in practice was very intolerant of actual debate.

          1. Dude Man

            Many of the conservative go-to explanations you listed do in fact rely on “my opponent is mistaken.” The reason why “naive” and “unrealistic” (and, by extension, “bleeding heart” which implies “naive and “unrealistic”) are bad is because the person sees the world as they want it to be and not as it is, and if they only saw the world correctly they would come to their senses and become conservatives.

            What’s interesting to me is to look at the words that the left and right use to describe the politicians. The left (in America at least) seem to call Republicans “greedy” and “selfish” while the right (again, in America at least) calls Democrats “stupid.” If this was a predominately left-wing phenomenon, this seems weird. It’s also worth noting that, in response to recent election losses, the 2012 Republicans concluded they needed to change their messaging and not their ideas while the 2014 Democrats have just sort of written it off as “our people vote in presidential years.”

            I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes this is a problem for the left, but it is unwise to say that this is a result of left wing thought when it is a problem everywhere.

          2. onyomi

            Well sure, everyone thinks their political opponents are mistaken; the question is the cause of being mistaken. I find rightists are more likely to ascribe it to a difference of values or world-view, while leftists are more likely to ascribe it to a lack of information on the part of the rightists (in some ways, a more charitable interpretation, actually).

            In any case, I didn’t mean to say that the tactic of claiming “my opponent is misinformed” is always problematic; rather, I was offering an explanation, even a kind of apology for all the leftist calls for “an open conversation on x.”

            Right-wingers think tax policy and counter-terrorism are important, but how often do you see them calling for “an open dialogue on tax policy” or “an honest conversation about terrorism”? This seems to be a very left-wing thing to do, and I’m saying it may be because of the way left-wingers think about political disagreement, democracy, consensus-building, etc. i. e. the in my view naive notion that if you give everyone enough information and talk to them for long enough they will eventually become lefitsts.

          3. Dude Man

            And my point is that the same ” naive notion that if you give everyone enough information and talk to them for long enough they will eventually become [rightists]” can be seen coming from conservatives, too. That was the conclusion the Republicans came to after losing in 2012. The Republicans have, in fact, used the “honest discussion” rhetoric about tax policy. Hell, Paul Ryan is especially guilty of this, as he also used “honest discussion about the deficit” as a sort of catch phrase for a while there. The only way you can link this phenomenon to the left is to ignore all the examples of it happening on the right.

          4. Randy M

            Rightists complain that their condidates didn’t do enough convincing; leftists that theirs didn’t do enough convincing.

            This may be equivalen semantically, but I think it points to rightists seeing a difference in values, and leftists in education or knowledge.

          5. Dude Man

            @Randy

            It seems unlikely that two groups saying the same things in similar contexts should be viewed as having different meanings.

          6. onyomi

            As I said, I see it coming from both sides, but from the left a lot more than the right. Maybe I’m somehow missing it when the right says it, but I don’t think so. Also “we need to do more convincing” is different from “we need a national conversation about x.” Republicans certainly say “we need to do more convincing,” but I find leftists much more apt to say “we need a national conversation about x” (though that Paul Ryan thing may be a good counterexample).

          7. Randy M

            Sorry, yes, that was a typo; I meant convincing for rightists and communicating for leftists.

            Basically Dems like Obama say they didn’t tell the people what they did enough, and R’s say their guys need to explain to people why their ideas are right. Democrats believe their ideas are self-evident, if they aren’t being distorted, and R’s think theirs are right but non-obviously so.

        2. Christopher

          Bush said similar things all the time, and here’s the thing; I don’t think Bush or Obama say this because of their political philosophy, I think they say it because they’re Presidents.

          I suspect that “Maybe the reason people don’t like my policies is that I haven’t explained them well enough” is a pretty common form of thinking among managers and leaders, whatever their politics may be.

          1. Andrew

            Well, in the case of policies, it seems to be objectively true that the people are not informed about them. (This is demonstrated by Gallup polls, for example.)

            It is easy for someone like Obama to say “the right-wingers would like Obamacare if they knew what it actually said” because there is objective evidence suggesting that this is so.

            (I don’t mean to suggest that this is a right-wing phenomenon, but this is surely the best example from recent history.)

            On another level, most people are also uninformed about the process of negotiation and compromise that sits behind laws.

      3. Corwin

        [epistemic value : I really believe that]
        There’s also that, well, the anarchists would be entirely right but for that the little fact that there are people who have values totally incompatible with other people’s values…

        [epistemic value : not all that confident in base theory]
        … because apparently, there are people who are, from birth, evil mutants with hardware wiring in their brains that make them cherish things like Purity, Loyalty(to the ingroup), Tradition, and other toxic values that always, eventually, inexorably, end up with “(…) and that’s why we need to be the Last Tribe Standing, by genocide or conversion”.

        [epistemic value : logically follows from that base theory I’m not that sure about]
        Funny thing there is, such people can very well grow up in Leftist environment, and internalize the liberal values, *then* go tribalistically fight against the evil intolerant Other… to convert or shut them up and convert or scare the onlookers into compliance.

        1. Muga Sofer

          +1

          [epistemic value : I really believe that]

          There’s also that, well, the anarchists would be entirely right but for that the little fact that there are people who have values totally incompatible with other people’s values…

          Anarchists *are* entirely right, in the sense that they believe that order and cooperation would spontaneously emerge in the absence of government, creating a utopia compared to what came before. And it would.

          Because, y’know, that’s where governments and laws came from in the first place. I doubt the new regime would be distinguishable from the old, though.

          (With that said, could go into more detail on this? Sounds really interesting, but needs unpacking.)

          1. Corwin

            well, the point in my post is that if moral foundation theory is right, then it follows that anarchy can’t work, because people’s utility functions are too dissimilar from birth for their differences in outputs to not create frictions resulting in disutility.

          2. onyomi

            Why does people having fundamentally different preferences mean anarchy won’t work? If anything, that seems like a strike against a monopoly state, since some people are always going to be dissatisfied with whatever one-size-fits-all solution any government comes up with.

          3. John Schilling

            Some problems absolutely need one-size-fits-all solutions; examples mostly left as an exercise for the student, but among other things you can’t fight half a war. Well, most countries can’t; the United States is in a privileged position in that regard for now.

            If everyone has fundamentally the same preferences, you can maybe hope that the one-size-fits-all solution will arise from voluntary cooperation and coordination. I expect David Friedman would make an eloquent and well-informed argument for this thesis, and I expect his historic examples to be weighted heavily towards culturally homogenous populations.

            If there is a wide variety of preferences, then either you don’t get any workable solution and the whole thing collapses, or some power binds everyone to cooperate on the one-size-fits-all solution that at best fits most people’s preferences. That power is a government, whatever you call it.

          4. onyomi

            A lot of people agreeing on a particular solution does not a government make. A government requires political authority. If all the people in a certain region agree on a particular private defense agency to defend them from a foreign threat, then that does not make that agency a government so long as the people don’t imbue it with political authority (which includes power to tax, content independence, etc.). Some may argue that political authority and its attendant powers are necessary to do some things, like fight wars, but I don’t really see why.

            Of course, you can call anything “one-size-fits-all” if everyone in a particular area (even a small neighborhood, say) purchases it, but that, again, doesn’t constitute a government in and of itself. When I said “one-size-fits-all” I was implicitly referring to a large and diverse territory. It is definitely impossible for all the people in the territory of the US to voluntarily agree on anything. It is also definitely possible for.there to exist a neighborhood in which everyone who buys a house there has agreed to abide by certain rules. That doesn’t make their neighborhood association a government.

          5. Anonymous

            Why isn’t a neighborhood association a “government” any more than a town or provincial government is?

          6. onyomi

            Government requires political authority. Read Michael Huemer for a good description of what that entails. To summarize: governments claim extraordinary powers no group of citizens could claim, such as the power to tax, the power to unilaterally set the terms of its “contract” with its “customers,” “content independence” (the citizens don’t get to pick which of the state’s laws they find reasonable; they are expected to obey them all), and supremacy (there is no other organization within a geographic territory of equal or higher authority).

            If you sign an explicit contract (rather than the implicit “social” contract citizens of states are expected to abide by) when moving into a neighborhood, for example, and it says “you must do a, b, and c, and the neighborhood association has the powers to do x, y, and z,” then it would not be okay for the association to suddenly start demanding d, e, and f, at least not without some predetermined procedure. Unlike Darth Vader and governments, private associations can’t just “alter the deal.”

            And if they do, you can sue them with appeal to some authority other than the association itself.

          7. onyomi

            No, they do. Cities and provinces can tax, can unilaterally change the law, and do not allow competition from other law producers and enforcers within the same region. Of course the federal government acts as another “layer” of government on top of that, but is not in competition with state and local governments because it’s not as if one gets to choose whether to abide by the laws of the federal government or the state of Texas. If one lives in Texas, one must abide by by both.

          8. Anonymous

            Almost all that applies to (some) neighborhood associations. They can change taxes and regulations at whim. I do not know what “must” means here, but one does not get to choose between the rules of the neighborhood association and the laws of Texas.

            The only difference is that the neighborhood association does not have its own enforcement arm, but must rely on other governments’ courts. Enforcement at all levels is jumbled up. In America, most law is state law, but most police are local.

        2. ckp

          >… because apparently, there are people who are, from birth, evil mutants with hardware wiring in their brains that make them cherish things like Purity, Loyalty(to the ingroup), Tradition, and other toxic values that always, eventually, inexorably, end up with “(…) and that’s why we need to be the Last Tribe Standing, by genocide or conversion”.

          Projection much?

          1. Anonymous

            One would assume that’s not 100% serious. Even if it were, there’s plenty of reasons other than projection to make a reprehensible statement.

    4. Dan Simon

      If PC were only a matter of what’s “socially acceptable”, then there’d be no need for anyone to care about it, since anybody who doesn’t like what his or her social circle finds “socially acceptable” can always find a new social circle. It’s when people get fired, or not hired in the first place, or even threatened with violence, because of their political dissent, that we should all take notice.

      But that actually started decades ago–the purge of political nonconformists from universities and media organizations began during the 1980s. The only new development is that the least left-wing people still standing at these institutions–centrist liberals–are the ones now being targeted. When they came for the conservatives, they said nothing…

  68. Troy

    Paul’s original remarks were certainly ill-chosen. But reading the rest of the initial interview and what he says now suggests to me that he does not think that vaccines cause mental disorders, and was not meaning to allege that — even if what he said did pragmatically implicate that.

    I don’t think we should be as harsh on candidates for poorly chosen wording as our sound-byte media is prone to do nowadays. Think of it this way. You give hundreds of interviews, speeches, and other public appearances per year. You’re constantly asked to speak publicly on various issues, and you don’t always have time to come up with prepared remarks. Even if you are extremely articulate, you’re going to say some dumb things occasionally.

    1. Charlie

      On the other hand, if your opinion of Rand was already middling, this isn’t very surprising and requires no special explanation.

      Which of us has the confirmation bias? Both!

      1. gattsuru

        Depending on source and how you ask the question, between 20% and 35% of the population of the United States doesn’t believe vaccination should, 15% say that they or doctors believe in a link between vaccines and autism (despite the overwhelmingly weak evidence), and there’s a range of related questions.

        I’m much more worried about these numbers, than the politicians pandering to them. On the upside, MMR immunization rates remain around 95% on average, so revealed preferences show that the polls aren’t precisely designed.

      2. Nornagest

        I don’t know what his constituency in Kentucky looks like, but out west a lot of Rand Paul’s fans tend to be… let’s put it as politely as possible and say “indiscriminately contrarian”. Anti-vax is primarily a leftist phenomenon, but it does pick up some supporters among the chemtrails-and-one-world-government crowd.

        (Lest I be accused of partisanship, I’m saying this as someone that views him as one of the less bad of a generally bad lot.)

          1. Douglas Knight

            That’s the most fine-grained study, but keep in mind base rate in 13 Northern California counties.

          2. Nornagest

            If they’re covering Roseville, they’re picking up a few right-leaning counties. NorCal is actually pretty red once you cross the Coast Range, as you might guess from looking at that map.

          3. haishan

            That state-level analysis that Khan did? If you add one more variable, for percent of Mormon population, the adjusted r^2 goes to .2 and p = 0.002. You see something similar if you remove the heavily-Mormon outliers of Idaho and Utah. Here’s my data if you want to see for yourself.

            (Obvious criticism: I’m testing a hypothesis suggested by the data, specifically by choosing another predictor variable specifically to deal with the two largest outliers. FWIW, Mormonism is still a significant predictor at the 5% level even after you remove Utah and Idaho from the dataset. This makes me feel a little better about my sketchy methodology, although I fully admit: still pretty sketchy.)

            I think this is solid confirmatory evidence that actual non-vaccination — as distinct from anti-vaccine sentiment — is a white progressive phenomenon. Not exclusively, but there’s a real association.

          4. Douglas Knight

            Haishan, you find that Mormons predict non-vaccination, so you conclude that it’s just progressives? Are you saying that Mormons are progressives who voted for Obama in 2008 and only voted against him in 2012 for identity politics reasons?

            The question is whether Idaho is an idiosyncratic outlier or whether it is a sign of right-wing anti-vaxers spread throughout the country. If the reason it is so anti-vax is that it’s Mormons, that’s an argument against it being uniformly left-wing.

          5. haishan

            Er, no, sorry if I implied that. It’s clear that there are a few different thedes that don’t vaccinate their kids enough; some of them, like the Mormons, are indeed politically conservative. But in 94% of the U.S., the predominant non-vaccinating group appears to be white liberals.

            Anyway, I don’t think Nornagest or myself ever claimed that it was “uniformly” left-wing; Nornagest originally said “primarily a leftist phenomenon.”

          6. Anonymous

            I think this is solid confirmatory evidence that actual non-vaccination — as distinct from anti-vaccine sentiment — is a white progressive phenomenon.

            It will become a white conservative phenomenon. As surely as the sun rises.

          7. Anonymous

            Aaaand already, blame has shifted to “Obama’s open borders” as the cause of the Disneyland measles outbreak. IOW, blame has shifted away from U.S. anti-vaxxers and onto to those durty, durty immigrants and the evil, evil president.

            (Reports say that the source of the measles is foreign, likely from a tourist or an American who had been overseas. The *spread* of the disease is linked to an unvaccinated 20-year-old Seattle woman.)

          8. Anonymous

            >It will become a white conservative phenomenon. As surely as the sun rises.

            Of course it will. Isn’t that the fate of all progressive movements that fail to permeate into society?

    2. Anthony

      I *like* Rand Paul, and I’m not getting that impression from the link.

      I understand (though disagree) if he wants to say that parents should be free to have their children vaccinated or not – given his ideology, that’s completely unsurprising. But the backtracking sounds like someone trying to have it both ways. A more consistent libertarian position would be to say it’s the parents’ choice, but that they need to know that there are consequences of those choices, possibly including paying for the care of others made ill by that choice.

      (And the issue of vaccinations is one of the reasons I’m no longer a consistent libertarian.)

      1. ryan

        The thing that annoys me is this guy is a doctor. I mean yeah eyes but come on, can’t we get some passion for what are truly the greatest accomplishments in the history of medicine? Smallpox killed like a billion people and now it’s eradicated. People should be proud of that, the people who did it should be seen as heroes.

    3. Fnord

      It wasn’t just a one line gaffe. He also repeated some of the soft anti-vax tropes, like the supposed problem with getting multiple vaccines at once.

      It didn’t look dumb and implying something he didn’t mean to imply, it looked like pandering and strategic ambiguity (not, as Jackologist points out, that he’s the only politician who engages in pandering).

  69. Steve Reilly

    I live in Charleston, SC, and always wondered about the “international” airport serving the city. As far as I can tell, since 9/11 not a single flight from the place has left the US. But, to be fair, there’s a flight to Toronto leaving on the 14th, so good thing they never changed the name or people might not know that Toronto is outside the country.

    By the way, I joked in another thread about Hayek seeing the sign “Employees must wash hands” in a Starbucks bathroom, and then the place became a totalitarian nightmare. Senator Thom Tillis is clearly a reader of SSC who didn’t realize that that thread wasn’t entirely serious: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/02/gop-senator-let-restaurants-opt-out-of-handwashing-after-toilet-to-reduce-regulatory-burden/

      1. Alex

        I’m in for $20.

        Edit: That said, I’d prefer some manner of snark at the end. “Glad to see that worked out for you”, or some such. But the irony is still delicious.

        1. Muga Sofer

          I might be able to organize … some money, less than or equal to $50. Hopefully I can wrangle the nearest credit card owner into transferring the funds.

          Hey, you should make this a Kickstarter or something!

          [ETA: ahem, meant that to be one level higher in the comment threading. Still.]

          1. Alex

            Before you, the sum is $175. Current high bid is $180, so if you’re in for even $10, we can take high bid.

            Also, no need to pay those fees to Kickstarter – as long as n remains small, we can organize without its help.

            Edit: Let’s make this less abstract. If you’re making a pledge, send your pledge amount and contact info to buy.a.dedication@gmail.com

          2. Alex

            Yeah, I’ll take point. Just remember to contact that email address so that I can actually track you down if we win the bid. I’m not counting pledges until I get emails. (Someone who can reply to Ozy, please let them know – I’ve never figured out how to work Tumblr)

    1. Alex

      I’m collecting pledges, and counting my own and the three emails I’ve gotten, we’re at $150 so far. We need more than $180 to take the lead in the auction(which we can get to pretty easily if the other pledges in this thread show up). Thanks to Topher, Ozy, defectivealtruist, and Bugmaster.

      1. Scott Alexander Post author

        I see you posted “We got a group together, and because of the difficulties of coordination, we overshot a bit. So I’ll bid $260.”

        Come on. Bid $190 (or whatever is just above the last bid) and if you can’t coordinate a way to redistribute the extra, donate it to charity or something. Unless you really want to subsidize book-writing, this is just burning money and kind of embarrassing.

        1. Anonymous

          A sufficiently large bid can discourage a bidding war, I would’ve waited some more time before bidding, though.

        2. Alex

          The money was donated to make a bid for the book, not to give to charity. I figured it only fair to the donors to use it accordingly, rather than try to figure out who pledged that doesn’t need to pay, and/or what charity to give it to. And as Anon said, it seems likely to knock others out of the bidding. (I do wonder if I’ve put myself on the hook for any pledges that don’t come through, though…)

      1. Alex

        Huh, good to know. Personally, I’m feeling a bit hinky about paying money to have a book dedicated to a mass murderer, but it still feels like the Rule of Funny is at play here.

          1. Alex

            Marx weirds me out less(and is possibly even funnier), but the quote doesn’t work.

            Looking him up in Wikiquote, the one that pops out at me as the best choice is “The directing motive, the end and aim of capitalist production, is to extract the greatest possible amount of surplus value, and consequently to exploit labor-power to the greatest possible extent.”

            But that doesn’t have nearly the same punch(and I think it’s over the character limit). I’ll dig some more.

            Also, two more pledges(not on this thread), so that’s $170. Getting close, guys.

            Edit: Oh, this one’s way better: “Money is therefore not only the object but also the fountainhead of greed.”

            Edit 2: “Hence money may be dirt, although dirt is not money” or “One capitalist always kills many” are non-awful options, but I still like the prior one.

          2. Nita

            “The truth of any knowledge or theory is determined not by subjective feelings, but by objective results in social practice.”
            — Mao Zedong

            Too bad it’s way too long 🙂

          3. Alex

            We got four more donations overnight, so we’re up to $260. I’ll make the bid, and let all involved know if the auction goes higher.

            Anon: Meh? It’s not really related to the subject matter of the book.

            Nita: That’s boring, not funny. Also, I’m not paying money to dedicate a book to Mao.

          4. Nita

            @Alex

            Originally I was going to suggest something gently subversive, perhaps something from this:

            Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.

            But then I saw them calling themselves “bleeding heart libertarians” (awww!) and temporarily lost my snarking ability.

          5. Anonymous

            Misattributing the original quote to Marx is much better than any actual Marx quote. But still quite inferior to correct misattribution.

        1. Topher Hallquist

          I think the fact that the quote was probably misattributed–and that Lenin was a mass-murderer–just underlines the “hmmm… was auctioning off this dedication really a good idea?” point.

          My original idea was a short message directly anti- the thesis of the book. Then I saw the 100 character limit, and this was the best I could come up with on the “short and pithy” front.

          1. Alex

            Their point seems to be aimed mostly at things like prostitution and kidney sales – their thesis is “if you can do something morally, you can still do it morally for money”. And they did specifically allow dedications to murderers in the auction rules. I didn’t know why you’d want to, but hey, it makes more sense now.

          2. Alex

            What’s the act in question, shorn of money? A politician voting the way one particular person asks them to, without regard for what their own principles or other people’s opinions are, correct? (We can leave aside the case of a politician getting paid to do something they were going to do anyways – that’s not bribery, it’s a waste of money)

            I suspect they’d say that’s immoral, though I can’t find any of their thoughts on the topic to confirm that. And if it’s immoral to do it, then it’s still immoral to do it for money.

          3. Muga Sofer

            @Alex:

            So … you’re saying that if I wanted to say buying organs or prostitution is immoral, I should just say that it’s wrong for [specific individuals to be given unfair preference for receiving organs/people to have sex with people they don’t want to have sex with], then?

            And that’ll completely short-circuit their arguments?

            Disappointing.

          4. Alex

            How does that short-circuit their argument? If you actually believe it is immoral to have sexual preferences, then prostitution *is* wrong. Thing is, I don’t think you believe that. Unpack the word “unfair”, and I think you’ll find that your argument falls apart.

            Part of a politician’s job is to have a duty to the people. Bribery is wrong because it involves the politician ignoring that duty, not because it involves money.

          5. Muga Sofer

            Maybe there’s some important difference between “politicians unfairly supporting some individuals over others” and “organ sellers unfairly selling to some individuals over others” that I’m missing.

            But I think it’s just that you believe organ sellers don’t have that sacred obligation to be fair and unbiased, and politicians do. (Which, to be fair, is probably true; I don’t care all that much what organ peddlers do.)

            I think you got prostitution backward, though; it’s immoral if it’s bad for people to be having sex for reasons other than their sexual preferences, which is a common meme in our culture and may actually be true on some level.

          6. Noah Siegel

            ” the “hmmm… was auctioning off this dedication really a good idea?” point.”

            The contest’s rule #2 gives Karl Marx as an example of an acceptable dedicatee. I don’t think a bid to dedicate to Lenin will at all surprise them, or give them any reason to question the wisdom of auctioning the dedication.

          7. Andrew

            It strikes me that the whole argument is a distraction, a way to sneak in an assumption that we should be thinking about things like prostitution and organ sales solely in terms of two individuals participating in a transaction, divorced from the larger social context.

            In fact, one does not have to accept at all that an individual selling their organs is “immoral” on a personal level in order to believe that creating organ markets is an inferior system to the system of medical triage. It is certainly not for reasons of personal moral condemnation of individual organ donors that the triage system was created in the first place.

            To address organ sales on this level is to attack a straw opponent. The argument these libertarians must (but surely do not) make explicit is that people ought to view things in terms of the individuals transacting in a vacuum instead of viewing things in terms of a choice between systems.

          8. Pablo Stafforini

            Not suitable for a dedication, but on the subject of Lenin, I think the following quote from Bertrand Russel–who met the communist revolutionary in 1920–is quite revealing:

            When I put a question to him about socialism in agriculture, he explained with glee how he had incited the poorer peasants against the richer ones, ‘and they soon hanged them from the nearest tree— ha! ha! ha!’

            (source)

  70. Shenpen

    On adding up wealth: true and false. True: net worth does not predict quality of living. False: holy fuck there is something deeply fucked up in the global financial system and a debtocalypse is coming! There is no chance in hell this will be ever paid back (if it was, then of course their quality of living would be very low, imagine Kerviel working about what, ten thousand years without any more spending that is necessary for him to survive). Sooner or later they will have to be written off.

    I studied some economics, but cannot answer this question: what exactly would happen if suddenly tomorrow creditors would have to write off most of it?

    Some ideas:

    – the mother of all repossessing sprees
    – deflation?
    – fucking megabrutal deflation, hyperdepression?
    – ???

    1. even less econ

      – Pensions everywhere would implode — the retired would starve or, much more likely, there would be some political relief.

      The largest class of creditors by far are the retired. Because they consistently vote, governments are willing to bend over backwards to protect their assets. For example, like Syriza is trying to tell people, the Greek bailout had nothing to do with saving the Greek. It’s just that bonds released by EU countries were considered safe enough assets for pension funds, and so Greek debt was largely owned by French and German pensioners. Germany can talk as tough on monetary and financial policy as it likes, but as soon as their pensions were in danger, the Greek bonds were bought out by taxpayers, to be cut at their expense or inflated away.

    2. John Schilling

      Going by the numbers in the Reuters article, we are talking about half a trillion dollars in of net debt spread over two billion people. Notwithstanding a few outliers like Kerviel, that comes to an average of $250 per person. I suspect a fair number of those people will actually manage to come up with the money to pay it off. Note that one of the classic negative-net-worth cases is a recent college graduate with student loan debt. The whole point of taking on that sort of debt – most sorts of debt, really – is that it positions you to make much greater financial gains in the future, which you can use to pay off the debt.

      As for Kerviel, no, he’s not going to spend the next hundred thousand years toiling away to repay his debt. He destroyed $6 billion in wealth, and it’s gone and it’s never coming back. But Mohammed Atta directly destroyed about $12 billion when he flew a 767 into 1 World Trade Center, and the city government of Detroit mismanaged about $18 billion into oblivion; we’ve written off those losses and the world economy survived.

      Because the most important number in the Reuters article is $241 trillion. That’s the total wealth of the world. Half a trillion in net debt at the bottom tail of a distribution with five hundred times that sum in total net worth, is not a harbinger of the apocalypse. If we have to write off every penny of the net, the long-term average result is barely noticeable[*]

      It’s the way things are supposed to be if, e.g., we want promising smart young people to get a moderately expensive education first, and the high-paying and wealth-creating jobs later.

      [*] The local, short-term disruptions will of course be more substantial; if you can accurately predict these, fortune awaits.

      1. Andrew G.

        He destroyed $6 billion in wealth, and it’s gone and it’s never coming back.

        Did he?

        Unless I’m misreading his story, he made money-losing market trades, so he didn’t destroy wealth but transferred it to whoever was on the other ends of those trades.

        1. John Schilling

          He transferred money, not wealth, and he transferred it to people who could not rightfully have expected to receive it and so probably didn’t have the right tools in place to put it to good use. What happens then is dependent on second-order effects that are hard to quantify.

          Best case, the recipients of the money invest it as wisely and productively as the proper recipients would have, such that wealth is illicitly transferred but not destroyed.

          Median case, the recipients spend it all on hookers and blow on account of having nothing better to do and being vaguely afraid that the cops are going to show up to take back their illegal windfall. Or they stashed it in mattresses, or ran it through inefficient money-laundering schemes, all while the people who should have got the money are trying to run their businesses with inadequate working capital or a higher cost of borrowing.

          Worst case, same as the median case except the market misread the signals, assumed Kerviel was on to something, and sent another six billion down the same rathole.

          Absent specific knowledge, it seems reasonable to assume that it was a mix of all three with no net effect on the established first-order fact of six billion dollars having been squandered. If you’re a really big fan of the efficient-market hypothesis, that’s not entirely unreasonable and would justify skewing your beliefs toward the best-case scenario.

          1. RCF

            “He transferred money, not wealth”

            Exactly. Hence, your claim that he destroyed $6B is nonsense.

            “and he transferred it to people who could not rightfully have expected to receive it”

            That’s silly.

            “and so probably didn’t have the right tools in place to put it to good use.”

            It’s money. You don’t need special tools to spend money.

            “Best case, the recipients of the money invest it as wisely and productively as the proper recipient”

            “Proper recipients”? The fuck? They got the money. Therefore, they are the proper recipients. Whatever your opinions of who “should” get the money is not relevant.

            And the best case it not that they spend it as well as who would otherwise have it, the best case is they spend it better.

            “wealth is illicitly transferred but not destroyed.”

            There’s nothing illicit about it.

            “Absent specific knowledge, it seems reasonable to assume that it was a mix of all three with no net effect on the established first-order fact of six billion dollars having been squandered.”

            The first-order effect is not six billion dollars being squandered. The first order effect is nothing. If you think that the money being in different hands will cause different resource allocation, those are second order effects.

        2. Anonymous

          What Andrew G said. He transferred $6B in wealth; he didn’t destroy it.

          Now making bad trades is destructive, but if you were to put a number on it, it’d be less than $6B.

    3. aguycalledjohn

      States often run a budget deficit because inflation takes care of the debt in the long term by making it gradually worth less and less. I think something similar can happen with population debt on this scale, and the cash upfront often allows people to earn more than they otherwise would.

      there will never e a no debt situation since people will continue lending money, and I don’t think that necessarily bad.

      1. RCF

        “States often run a budget deficit because inflation takes care of the debt ”

        Because investors are idiots who don’t demand higher interest rates to cancel out the inflation?

        1. Paul

          Investors are not able to perfectly predict the long-term inflation rate, and nominal growth also has the effect of increasing the size of state economies and their flow of revenue versus the ongoing cost of the debt, which is fixed in nominal terms.

          1. RCF

            Governments are also not able to perfectly predict the inflation rate. And are you saying that inflation increases the real size of the economy?

          2. Tracy W

            If investors can’t perfectly predict the rate of inflation, they can refuse to invest unless they receive a premium to make up for the risk.
            Or they can write contracts so the debt isn’t fixed in nominal terms (there’s a fair few long-term production contracts that are written with costs to be inflated by a cost-of-production index).

        2. Andrew

          What investors demand (and receive!) from government borrowers in exchange is a very low risk of default.

  71. Symmetry

    Regarding wealth and poverty, I think an even more ridiculous example is that the study counts the person with ten mansions and a net worth of a negative billion dollars as worse off than the child with the nickle.

      1. RCF

        That article cites sources for neither of its claims. $240 b /100 = 2.4 billion. According to this link, the highest paid CEO made about $100 http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014/100-Highest-Paid-CEOs .

        ($240 billion / 7 billion)/4 = ~$8. According to this http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview 17% of the world population lives on less than $1.25 a day. So if we spread the money among them, that’s $60. So we can get people out of extreme poverty by giving them $60 a day?

        1. Andrew

          None of the world’s richest billionaires — indeed, no billionaire ever — became rich through CEO compensation.

          (You need to be looking at profits and capital gains.)

          1. Anonymous

            “No billionaire ever” is overstating it. Some people are, occasionally, paid a billion dollars. For example, when Tim Cook became CEO of Apple, the board created a block of stock as a retention bonus worth (at the time!) a billion dollars, to be paid in two installments, after five and ten years. This certainly counts as a billion dollar payment, even it is worth even more when it vests. (I guess “ever” means the past, not the future, but I doubt Cook is truly unique.)

          2. Andrew

            What’s your source on that? My googling shows that

            (1) Tim Cook’s compensation package was, in fact, very likely the largest compensation package ever received by any CEO (thus “singular” in the relevant sense).

            (2) Tim Cook’s compensation package was worth, at the time accepted, $376 million. At the current time, it is worth “only” $530 million. Over half a billion, but still well short.

            http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304019404577416790548164260

            So, I’m still thinking that literally no billionaire ever got that way through compensation.

            (It may not remain that way for very long, but then, you know what they say: a billion dollars isn’t worth what it used to be!)

          3. Anonymous

            I was wrong. Probably it was a billion dollars for the whole executive team, of which 1/3 was for the CEO. Or maybe I was confused by the round million shares issued to the CEO.

            FWIW, the $530m number is three years out of date. AAPL has about doubled since the grant, so $750m for Cook. But the whole point of this thread is not counting such appreciation.

            But that is just a single grant to Cook. I pointed to it because it was easy, not because it was his entire salary. I expect him and others to eventually accumulate a billion dollars in salary and simple bonuses. Indeed, the WSJ article you cited claimed that Ellison had received $1.8b in CEO compensation over the course of the first decade of the 21st century. It is probably not using quite the right metric, but my guess is that it is only 3x our metric and that Ellison should reach a billion by the end of the decade.

            Added: Actually, it looks like this grant is virtually all of Cook’s CEO compensation. The company seems to have paid him an additional $20m over the past 3 years. I do think that he was making $30m/year for his five years as COO, but that only adds up to a projected half billion over fifteen years. Plus whatever he gets in his second decade as CEO, but it probably won’t quite get there.

      2. Tarrou

        In what way? We define poverty as the bottom 10-99%, and there will always be a bottom set of percentiles, no matter how much we redistribute. If poverty is defined as an absolute, then we might be able to make progress, but as long as “poverty” is just the slightly less-rich, it will never go away. And we can “increase” the poverty any time we like by redrawing the line. Usually done under a Republican presidency.

        1. Anonymous

          What you say is true, but the post you’re responding to was talking about “extreme poverty”, which is defined in absolute terms.

        2. Andrew

          Poverty is almost always defined as an absolute level of purchasing power rather than relatively. (E.g., the USA poverty line is defined absolutely.) That is why it is possible to talk about rates of poverty changing over time.

          Of course, the absolute level does rise over time — for good reason.

    1. RCF

      Many of the measures simply throw out certain types of wealth, such as home ownership. Since home equity is as a percentage of wealth tends to go down as wealth rises, this makes the inequality look even worse than it is. There’s also the issue of non liquid assets, such as furniture. And of course they don’t include intangible wealth, so for instance someone who’s $100,000 in debt and finishing up a medical internship is counted as being poorer than someone who dropped out of high school and has $50 in the bank.

  72. Elissa

    To clarify, Quorn definitely doesn’t use battery eggs in the UK, but (as of last time I asked) they do in the US. Their US website is still silent on the matter which makes me suspect they haven’t stopped.

    1. James

      Yep, useful information. I’m vegetarian and use Quorn occasionally but can’t agree that it’s as good as meat.

    1. EricSlusser

      Mentioning because people might assume otherwise, John Judis is upfront about this being a change of his mind.

    2. Nicholas

      But for much of the last ten years there was a democratic majority at many state and federal legislators, and an electoral majority for them twice. Perhaps he’s good at judging short term trends, but not at gauging how long they will persist?

      1. Alex

        In the six elections since it was written, Democrats were 2-4 in the House, 4-2 in the Senate, and 2-1 in the Presidency. State houses are harder to find hard numbers on, but here’s some pics: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/images/5/52/Trifecta_visualization_3.png and http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/images/7/71/Trifecta_visualization_4.png

        I see no reason to believe that his last claim makes sense. The book was published in early 2004, they didn’t win until 2006, and they lost again in 2010.

  73. Max Bright

    Sure, of course… that’s way easier than actually learning engineering properly. The U.K. university where I studied had won awards for their Civil Engineering program (that’s the engineering discipline that includes bridges) and the graduation requirement was 40% on exams. 40%.

    But let’s all have a ceremony, that’ll surely help.

      1. Max Bright

        Yes, they’re hard.

        They’re not as hard as designing a bridge that won’t collapse in real life.

        Someone who can’t do the first should under no circumstances be allowed to attempt the second.

        1. John Salvatier

          Sorry, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

          Having tests that target ~50% scores on them is a common practice in all engineering fields in the US as well and I would expect lots of places. Its easy to make tests arbitrarily hard.

          1. Anthony

            The California Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors requires a score of 70% on the 8-hour NCEES exam to become a licensed civil engineer; most other states require the same. The test is hard, though more because of the breadth required – you have to have at least a couple of years of practice before taking the exam, and almost nobody works in as many subfields as they need to take on the test. So out of 8 questions, a typical exam-taker will be intimately familiar with two or three from work, and know something about maybe two more, and the rest will have to be remembered from college or exam review courses.

          1. Anthony

            All the time. They get to work for years supervised by people who actually have built bridges that have stood up before they get to lead the construction.

            (Or design, as that’s usually done by separate companies.)

        2. ryan

          Designing a bridge that won’t collapse in real life isn’t hard, designing a bridge that won’t collapse and doesn’t cost 10 times more than other designs which also won’t collapse is the hard part.

          But I joke, of course, and if I’m ever in Britain I’ll avoid their bridges like their food.

          1. Protagoras

            Kinda true. He also did a good job of building bridges, but since the knowledge of the exact nature and magnitude of possible problems and failures was very inexact, Isambard Kingdom Brunel notoriously overbuilt everything massively. I guess I’d rather cross one of his bridges than one built by a more optimistic engineer, but he surely did also waste resources that could have been better used elsewhere.

          2. Dan Simon

            I heard it as, “anybody can build a bridge that won’t collapse–but it takes a real engineer to build a bridge that *just* *barely* avoids collapse.”

          3. Tracy W

            Isambard Kingdom Brunel was writing at a time when the theoretical understanding of material sciences was much worse than it is now (although modern engineers still do overbuild substantially because said understanding is far from perfect).

            I really recommend J.E. Gordon’s “Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down”, which I bought based on Tyler Cowan’s recommendation to sometimes buy the top-rated book on Amazon in a subject area you know nothing about. J.E. Gorden notes that in the 18th and 19th centuries, the French engineers tried to incorporate the latest mathematical findings in their buildings and bridges, and the British sceptically ignored said findings, and both groups had their constructions fall down at about the same rate.

        3. Deiseach

          Engineering still has a lot of actual ‘hands-on’ work that gets marked as well as the academic exams, or am I the only person here who has seen the Engineering students at my former college traipsing around the grounds with theodolites doing their practical work? 🙂

    1. Anon

      Went to a Canadian University that has this Ritual, studied engineering and went through the ritual. Am not currently wearing my iron ring, but I have it at home. The ritual thing is only part of the major changes in the wake of the disaster – the more effective bit is the practice of regulating engineering as a profession legally with a lot of work done to ensure that getting a Professional Engineer (P. Eng.) designation requires knowledge and skill. You can only become a P. Eng. after both years of relevant work experience under a P. Eng., and sitting exams and demonstrating knowledge etc.

      Re the 40% requirement – here passes were 50%. The courses were sufficiently difficult that in a majority of cases getting 50% meant understanding all the material pretty well and preparing somewhat. Getting high grades (90%+) was typically being extremely natively smart/clever and preparing a lot *in addition* to basic knowledge of everything in the course. Courses are also for engineers more numerous per semester than for other students (engis might have 6+ courses of ~3 hour lectures ~3 hour tutorials or labs per week, while a more normal schedule does 4-5).

      However, Engineering courses at university will never teach everything required to design and spec a major bridge. That sort of thing is still locally done by working under other trained people for years dedicated to solely that specific subfield. Every subdiscipline of engineering is like that. Instead, University classes teach you enough to know the absolute basics and tests you enough so companies will know you are capable of learning the relevant material (you have the required amount of ability to learn technical material).

      Finally, ability to take tests is only a really weak proxy for ability as an engineer. In actual engineering practice, here are some things that are routinely done:

      1) Seeking advice/guidance from others ranging from e.g. superiors and supervisors and more experienced staff;

      2) Reviewing technical literature and recent journal publications and standards for the latest best practices in the field.

      3) Working with other coworkers and clients, collaborating and communicating effectively with them

      4) Doing major projects over the span of months or even years with hugely complicated systems.

      5) Working on problems that have not been previously tackled before, or which have no easy/simple ‘best’ solution, or which have step 1 be to quantify and define the actual problem.

      The ability to work alone with no supervision or coworkers and no access to technical literature in the space of 3 hours on technical problems with simple known solutions is positively correlated with the sort of skills an engineer needs, no doubt about it… but seriously, exams don’t test or touch on a ton of skills an engineer actually needs, and overemphasize things like rote memorization and ability to solve known problems that are not needed nearly as much in actual engineering practice.

      1. Max Bright

        All valid points that apply generally to many professions… but to design something that costs millions of dollars and, if it fails, may kill hundreds of people, would those people want this guy:

        “Getting high grades (90%+) was typically being extremely natively smart/clever and preparing a lot *in addition* to basic knowledge of everything in the course.”

        …or this guy:

        “getting 50% meant understanding all the material pretty well and preparing somewhat”

        1. Anonymous

          Do you mean for “basic knowledge of everything in the course” and “understanding all the material pretty well” to be equivalent? I interpreted the latter as being more knowledgeable than the latter (“basic” vs “pretty well”).

          1. Max Bright

            Sure it’s possible he meant to say that the “extremely smart” guy who “prepared a lot” understands the material equally or less well than the not extremely smart guy who “prepared somewhat”, but that would not be my first guess 🙂

        2. Anon

          Hilariously, my school actually sorts the students so that the tendency is for civil engineers to be the lower achieving academically. The school has a unified engineering program which teaches basics like the core math (Calculus, Diff. Eqns, and Linear Algebra), core science like Physics, Chemistry, etc. for the first couple of years, but then splits the student body into various subdisciplines (mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical, computer, etc.) with specialized courses for each. There are a limited number of slots available for each discipline, and the total number of all entering students is much greater than the slot for any subdiscipline, so they fill the disciplines on a ‘highest grades first’ system. Mech and Electrical are the high demand disciplines, and this means that the Mechanical engineers fill up with all the people best at taking quizzes who want to be mechanical engineers, and the only civil engineers who are high achievers academically are those who wanted to be civils over mechanicals/electricals. However, pretty much every engineering discipline has projects in it’s subdomain with the capacity to get people killed if done poorly – Mechs get for example a lot of the automotive and aerospace work, electricals do everything which involves electric systems more complicated than a single wire, etc. I think the tendency is for environmental guys to only get people killed in indirect and statistical and difficult-to-prove ways when *they* screw up monumentally on a critical project…

          However, the point of the system is that even the people who barely scrape by in university have enough ability to learn technical material to learn to design & build bridges to code/spec, without getting people killed much more than the average for a work site. The courses weed through people pretty hard – roughly 1/3rd of the entering class of students drop out or switch to an easier course of study. Those who are left, who persevered, are generally felt to be able to handle the technical side of most standard projects (building bridges is literally but not figuratively breaking new ground) given time and training in the particular details.

          Someone who graduates last in their class in med school is called ‘Doctor’, same as everyone else. The aim of Engineering in Canada at least is to be similar – ensuring that if you pass at all you possess the technical background and ability to learn technical details required of an engineer.

        3. jaimeastorga2000

          I hear this argument all the time. About doctors, too (“would you like to hear that the guy who is going to be operating on you got graded on a curve?”). It’s completely ridiculous, because it ignores the fact that the higher you make your standards, the less doctors/engineers/whatevers you are going to have, which is also going to cost lives and money.

          The sane response would be to perform some kind of risk-benefit analysis which maximizes the economic benefits and minimizes the frequency of catastrophic failures weighted by the magnitude of said failures, after having first looked into how score cutoffs affect these quantities.

          1. 27chaos

            Well said. But, legal costs are expensive. And so are the costs of creating a risk-benefit analysis such as that. I’m inclined to believe the status quo is not too far away from optimal.

        4. Nicholas

          It’s more like, would you rather have 1 of the first or 10 of the second. Because if only geniuses can build bridges, you won’t get very many bridges.

    2. Scott Alexander Post author

      Oooh, if you don’t like that you’re really not going to like that you can graduate medical school with a 50%.

      (In Ireland, at least. And the tests are really hard there.)

    3. Anonymous

      I’m doing a C.S. degree in Germany. Most of my exams have a pass requirement of ~40%, some are at 50%, and some more a bit above that. Most of my exams also have a >30% fail rate, despite the apparently low pass requirement. This isn’t pure difficulty – one thing is that you can fail each exam twice, so the entire student base could ditch their first attempt, getting each exam to fail rate 50% without anyone dropping out; another is that the exams I’ve been exposed to are those mandatory for a bachelor’s degree, so people who eventually dropout haven’t been filtered out yet and contribute to a higher fail rate. It’s still pretty hard though, usually you need serious practice to even be able to tackle all problems in an exam within the allotted time, much less to solve them for 90% of the points; you need to solve not only correctly but also very quickly.

      In the end, it’s clear who put in a month and who put in six months of studying consistently for each exam. On a scale of 1 to 4, an impressive few will graduate with 1.0 to 1.3, a rare couple with 1.3 to 2.0, everyone else will be below that. Do those masses hovering around 3.0 get a job? The market and their peers get to decide that, but I reckon the C.S. market has been starved for a while now and isn’t too picky. The bridge-building market may work differently.

    4. Max Bright

      OK, looks like not everyone understood the context, which is decades of grade inflation and artificially raised post-secondary education rates in the West, to which STEM has not been immune.

      To wit: Industry has solved the problem for themselves by importing engineers from other countries where only the smart kids get to go to college, which is how it used to be here years ago.

      The professors who’ve taught for 20+ years and the ones who’ve immigrated will tell you, in private, that the output quality of our universities today is shameful.

      …and apparently the Canadian authorities feel that the best way to approach this problem is with decorations.

      1. RCF

        To go from “one of the measures put in place is decorations” to “decorations is thought to be the best approach” is quite a leap. In fact, having anyone doing X to have to worry about people saying “So, you think X is the best solution?” is a really bad thing to have, and you really shouldn’t be contributing to it.

      2. Morgrim Moon

        I think the ceremony is a wonderful piece of (please excuse the phrase) social engineering. When studying at university there is a tendency to treat the presented issues as hypothetical. Adding a bit of pomp and ceremony can drive home that this is something serious and that the cost of screwing up is other people’s death. It also reinforces that members are part of a community and that they can and should seek assistance if required.

        Having a physical token to remind one is a very nice touch.

    5. eqdw

      I was enrolled in an engineering program in Canada, and while I dropped out into CS when I realized programming was more fun and more profitable, I still have a ton of friends in the engineering profession in Canada.

      Scott’s framing of the ceremony is a little flippant, but mostly accurate. The thing is, it’s not the only thing. The ceremony is part of an overall culture of professionalism in the Canadian engineering profession. It’s similar to the Hippocratic Oath for medicine. Nobody believes that the only reason doctors won’t try to kill you is because they took an oath, but the ceremony behind it helps to impress upon people the seriousness of the process

      For engineering specifically, the following are the requirements that Canada imposes on anyone who wants to be employed in a role with the title of “Engineer”.

      1. You must graduate from a nationally accredited engineering program. While I graduated with a B.Sc in Comp Sci, my friends have actually graduated with a Bachelors of Engineering. If you don’t have a B.Eng, you will never practice engineering in Canada

      Engineering programs are very very difficult. The engineering program at my university was one of the most difficult programs in the university. For example, a normal program courseload is 120 credit hours over 4 years (1 credit hour = 1 hour a week of instruction for one term). My electrical engineering program’s courseload was 184 credit hours. We were expected to complete this in 4 years, like a normal program, although it was common for people to take 5 or 6. I couldn’t speak to the pass/fail rate, since I dropped out in second year. I would imagine the pass/fail rate of final grads was high, mostly because they did a really good job of weeding people out. Less than half of the people in my first year EE class ended up graduating in engineering.

      2. You must be a member of your province’s engineering association. In my case, that was APEGM. Membership requires annual dues (a few hundred a year), requires passing a test of professionalism (not really a technical test, more a regulations and ethics type test), and requires agreeing to a code of ethics. Membership can be revoked for a whole host of reasons, usually related to professional misconduct or criminal activity. Enforcement of the code of ethics also has legal weight behind it, though in reality this only applies during disasters. In general, the government can file criminal charges against an engineer who causes a danger to public safety through incompetence or inaction on the job.

      3. You must spend 4 years working as an Engineer In Training. In effect, this means doing the same work as a real engineer, but getting paid half as much and having a real engineer (P.Eng) sign off on your work.

      4. When all of that is done, as long as you remain a member in good standing of your professional organization, you can claim the title of Professional Engineer (P.Eng) and you will be legally entitled to practice engineering in Canada

      Incidentally, I just checked wikipedia on the quebec bridge collapse. If I’ve understood the 15 seconds of reading properly, it seems that the quebec bridge disaster was the catalyst of professionalization in Canada, and so it’s not so much that they created the ceremony in response to that, but that they created the entire profession, of which that ceremony is part.

      Interesting aside: Canada takes this pretty seriously. There has been litigation initiated by some provincial governments towards Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers, due to the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have legal authority to certify engineers in Canada. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_and_licensure_in_engineering#Canada_2

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