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Links 1/16: Shaolink

The McCullough Effect is an optical illusion where after you stare at one picture, another picture looks like it has some different colors. But unlike normal retinal-satiety optical illusions which last a couple of seconds, the McCullough Effect can last hours to months depending on how carefully you prime it. Try it now.

Reddit: What would the person who named walkie-talkies have named other things? Defibrillators are “heartie-starties”; cruise missiles are “zoomie-boomies”. H/t Kaj)

Including ethnic studies classes in secondary school will increase school attendance by 21% and GPA by 1.4 grade points, is apparently by far the best educational intervention ever discovered, and can singlehandedly save the school system. Or possibly there’s a problem with the methodology. The paper’s paywalled, so who knows?

That star with the weird brightness fluctuations that some people thought might be an alien Dyson sphere has even weirder brightness fluctuations than we thought. And cometary clouds have been pretty much ruled out. [EDIT: or maybe not?]

IQ scientist and Intelligence: All That Matters author Stuart Ritchie reviews Garrett Jones’ Hive Mind for Intelligence. Brings up some of the same points as in my review; I feel vindicated! Also: Jones interviewed by AEI.

A lot of people have sent me this article where Carol Dweck says growth mindset is being misused. Certainly we shouldn’t misuse things, but I want to reiterate that my disagreement is prior to any misuse and I still am not sure that even Dweck-approved correctly-used growth mindset is as effective as generally believed.

Stumbling and Mumbling on capitalism vs. markets.

It looks like Greg Cochran no longer believes mutational load is a crucial determinant of IQ. As always, ability to change one’s mind is to be praised and celebrated as a rare but powerful talent. Also canalization.

New study finds that cannabis use does not affect IQ, apparently more authoritative than all the past studies that found it did. Why are cigarettes such an important confounder? Do they cause cognitive issues?

Mike Hearn says that Bitcoin is doomed. Bram Cohen says that Mike Hearn is a whiner who is ragequitting Bitcoin because nobody wanted to let him take it over. The Economist explains the controversy using the phrase “forking hell”. Other people roll up their sleeves and come up with a temporary but mutually agreeable solution to the supposedly Bitcoin-killing problem. We are all helpfully reminded that Bitcoin has been declared doomed 89 times so far, yet continues to exist.

In theory, an infinite number of monkeys could produce the complete works of Shakespeare. In practice, “[we] concluded that monkeys are not random generators“.

Conservatives always say, kind of as preemptive schadenfreude, that nobody would ever hire spoiled student protesters. But this article in the Financial Post is the first time I’ve seen an apparently apolitical, practical-minded discussion in a business context of how to avoid them; it suggests for example searching people’s social media for telltale signs [by employment lawyer; may be self-promotional]. I’m very split; on the one hand I believe in freedom of association and if somebody is clearly going to be trouble you shouldn’t force people to throw out that information and place themselves in a position to depend on that person anyway. On the other hand, I also think that part of meaningful freedom of opinion is that expressing your opinion won’t prevent you from getting a job twenty years down the road. I guess maybe look at the things people do as part of protests (eg if they burn something down or trash buildings) but don’t necessarily judge them for protesting something even if you don’t agree with their position? But I hope this reinforces what I’ve been saying about how getting good meta-level rules about not punishing people for speaking their mind is a common cause of all sides of political debates.

Sort of related: University of Missouri rumored to have declining application rate due to bad publicity from protests last fall.

Fossil words are antiquated words that only survive as part of an expression, like the “eke” in “eke out” or the “beck” in “beck and call”. Related: linguistic Siamese twins are two-word phrases that have to be in a specific order, like “hammer and sickle” or “salt and pepper”.

All-cause mortality over the course of a year rises with proximity to New Years’ Day, which is the deadliest day of the year. Nobody knows why, and it doesn’t seem to have to do with drunk driving, weather, or hospital schedules.

An easy way to fund some kind of important or charitable project you have going on: get a government grant. Related: the government grant process is a terrible confusopoly, which is mostly bad but can be good if you learn to navigate terrible confusopolies and don’t want too many competitors.

The Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster has been protesting people being allowed to wear hijabs in drivers license photos by demanding the same “faith-based” right to wear colanders on their head. Unfortunately one of them tried this in Russia and got his comeuppance: he is allowed to drive while wearing a colander on his head, and only while wearing a colander on his head.

Hitler is a rock star in South Asia. Not literally. Literally he’s a retired plumber in Argentina.

Over the past ten years, there’s been an almost 50% increase in deaths due to legal intervention (ie shot by police).

I’ve been saying this for a while, but I’m glad to have backup: pregnant women should supplement with iodine even in developed countries.

More neat methodologies: mental rotation is often used as a proxy for mathematical ability. Boys are usually better at mental rotation than girls, but it’s hard to tell whether this is biological or cultural. But girls who have a male twin get exposed to lots of testosterone in the uterus and probably have more male-like brains. So you might be able to distinguish biological from cultural effects by comparing mental rotation performance of girls who had male vs. female twins.

Related: straight men do better than gay men (and gay women better than straight women) on rotation tasks. Was Turing just a gigantic outlier, or what?

Related: why are gay men shorter than straight men?

While civilized countries debate how many new immigrants to let in, Britain is planning to deport all legal residents who have lived in the UK for more than five years unless they can meet an income threshold which is actually significantly higher than the average UK income. Is there anyone who thinks deporting upper-middle-class people who have been in Britain for decades and have houses and families there is vitally important important to national security? Especially bad because it’s a new law, so these people planned their lives in Britain around people not doing this.

Women whose resume suggests that they’re lesbian get 30% fewer calls for job interviews.

Charter schools in Boston get better test scores than public schools in Boston. Some argue this is because they teach to the test more than public schools do. A new study tries an interesting methodology: see whether these schools have a greater advantage on the higher-stakes, more traditional, more easily-gamed tests that teach-to-the-test schools would be more likely to be teaching to.

Related: state takeovers help failing schools. Public schools in Louisiana outperform voucher schools. I don’t really care that much about takeovers or vouchers, but results like this drag me out of my skepticism and force me to admit there’s some effect of how well schools are run on test scores. Whether that matters for real life applications ten years later is a harder question.

Not as related as it sounds: doubling teacher salary had no effect on any educational parameter in Indonesia. But they just kept all the same teachers and paid them more for no reason, so this doesn’t prove that increasing teacher salaries in the way people usually mean (ie in order to attract better teachers) wouldn’t be a good idea. And a new study does show pay for performance has improved DC’s public schools.

Thank whatever God you believe in that you’re not a junior doctor in the United Kingdom (I was a medical student in Ireland, which was close enough to inspire me to flee across the Atlantic). Proving that it is always good for making things worse, the UK government accuses doctors of killing people by occasionally having days off, but the evidence isn’t enough to support their claim.

Unfortunately-named consequentialist Max Harms has written a sci-fi book about the Singularity, Crystal Society. Haven’t read it yet but people I trust including Brienne Yudkowsky and Kaj Sotala say it’s good. Also: island exploration computer game The Witness (by the author of Braid) is donating 10% of sales to Against Malaria Foundation.

Ultra-premium water is on the rise. I didn’t even know “water sommelier” was a real profession.

Lots of people are warning against the alt-right these days, but needless to say Xenosystems’ warning is a little different. “For the Alt-Right, generally speaking, fascism is basically a great idea; for NRx, fascism is a late-stage leftist aberration made peculiarly toxic by its comparative practicality. There’s no real room for a meeting of minds on this point. From the NRx perspective, the Alt-Right is to be appreciated for helping to clean us up. They’re most welcome to take whoever they can, especially if they shut the door on the way out.”

The Dictionary Of Ancient Magic Words And Spells is a pretty good resource for all of the interesting things our ancestors thought you could do with garbled Latin and a copious supply of newt eyes.

Why does Donald Trump play Phantom of the Opera at all his campaign rallies? Does he just really like Phantom of the Opera? Sort of related: Developing And Testing A Scale To Measure Need For Drama.

The Empirics Of Free Speech (warning: long). What does free speech actually do or not do, according to the evidence? Does it let corporations buy elections? Does it result in heavily biased media? Can people use it to incite violence? Do people actually call “FIRE” in crowded theaters just to laugh as everyone tramples each other? This post will tell you much more than you wanted to know about all of these questions.

I’ve seen this idea floating a few places before under the name “proxy democracy” – a government that’s a direct democracy, but you can delegate your vote to anyone you like, be it a professional senator or just your friend who knows more about politics than you do. Now Google is calling it liquid democracy and testing it for some forms of corporate decision-making.

Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution Is True) reports on a controlled experiment on Facebook – make two otherwise identical Facebook groups, one anti-Palestine and the other anti-Israel. Sure enough, the anti-Palestine one gets banned and the anti-Israel one is left up [though the experiment itself is done by a pro-Israel group I do not trust as much as I trust Coyne]. And Marc Randazza of Popehat says that he’s tried a similar experiment and found that social-justice-branded accounts on Twitter can harass as much as they want up to and including death threats without consequences, but conservative-branded accounts are cracked down upon for slight offenses [though he does not post proof of this experiment]. Overall not likely to convince the not-already-convinced, but matches the anecdotal evidence I hear. Although private companies have the right to monitor their own customers as they see fit, I think FIRE’s philosophy – hold organizations to their stated principles and rules, but criticize them when they fall short or enforce them selectively – is fair. A Facebook that said outright “We’ll ban you for criticizing Palestine, but criticize Israel as much as you want” would have every right to go through with its policies as written – but also might not have too many users.

Studies traditionally show that immigrants do not “steal” native jobs or harm the native economy in any way. The major study to contradict this wisdom was Borjas on the Mariel boatlift of refugees from Cuba, but more recently reanalyses of the data by other economists (or as we now call them, “research parasites”) have cast doubt on that conclusion and the entire field has become an impenetrable quagmire. RealClearPolicy has an excellent and unbiased summary of the debate and of how people are getting such different results.

Philosophers experience silly cognitive biases even on exactly the kinds of problems where they should be most philosophical.

Quantifying Gains In The War On Cancer: ” We estimate that 3-year cancer-related mortality of cancer patients fell 16.7% from 1997 to 2007. Overall, advances in treatment reduced mortality rates by approximately 12.2% while advances in early detection reduced mortality rates by 4.5%.”

The New York Times has a hit piece perfectly nice article on the Center For Applied Rationality, a Less Wrong-affiliated self-help workshop group in Berkeley.

Who would Chinese people vote for in the US presidential election? Spoiler: Donald Trump, but only until somebody tells them what Donald Trump believes.

Related: @DPRK_News (parody North Korean Twitter account actually run by Popehat) covers the Democratic debate.

A pretty comprehensible explanation of what’s going on with Flint’s water. But I worry it might be too quick to exonerate politicians based on them not necessarily making bad water treatment decisions, when the things people are really angry about is them covering it up / not reacting fast enough.

Razib Khan predicts ISIS’ ideology will become more popular.

Dr. David Ludwig debates Dr. Stephan Guyenet on the calorie hypothesis vs. the insulin hypothesis of obesity. They’re both really smart and excellent communicators and this is a great demonstration of the level that this kind of debate should be held it.

This is a really neat new study: The impact of having a father who went to Vietnam. Since whether or not a 1960s American man went to Vietnam was partially determined by the draft lottery, you should be able to factor out all the other reasons someone might or might not go to Vietnam and get what was basically a randomized experiment sending people into war zones. The research finds that the children of people with bad draft numbers (more likely to have gone to Vietnam) make about $200 – $500 less fifty years later than the children of similar people who were less likely to have gone to Vietnam. That doesn’t seem like much, but since only about 10% of the people in the bad-draft-number category actually ended up in Nam and this is the effect that must be driving the average difference, it might be that those children are making $2000 – $5000 less, which actually is a lot (note that this was during a period when very few Americans died in Vietnam, so not much selection effect; the paper also adjusted for all the other reasonable objections I can think of). This is really weird. It’s unclear exactly how the father’s military service hurts the kid, but good guesses would be something like PTSD making the father less effective as a parent, or the father’s military service preventing them from getting as good a job. But that would be a shared environmental effect, which shouldn’t happen, and nongenetic intergenerational transfer of human capital, which also shouldn’t happen! Very interesting.

I’d never heard this before and it sounds fascinating: A Drug To Cure Fear. Apparently you can insta-cure a phobia by taking propranalol (a common drug that blocks some of the bodily effects of emotion) and then exposing yourself to the phobic trigger. Sounds plausible – you’re habituating yourself by “proving” to your brain that it doesn’t scare you – but the drug is so common I’d be surprised nobody noticed before. Anybody with a phobia and access to propranalol want to try this and tell me how it works?

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968 Responses to Links 1/16: Shaolink

  1. Jules.LT says:

    Anti-government legislators made it so complicated to get a grant that only professional grant-seekers can get them, thereby fulfilling their dystopic fantasies where the government can’t possibly do anything efficiently.
    Congrats!

  2. RJMeyers says:

    “It’s unclear exactly how the father’s military service hurts the kid, but good guesses would be something like PTSD making the father less effective as a parent, or the father’s military service preventing them from getting as good a job. But that would be a shared environmental effect, which shouldn’t happen, and nongenetic intergenerational transfer of human capital, which also shouldn’t happen! Very interesting.”

    My quick thoughts:

    a) Shared environment probably matters a lot more when its shared with someone with PTSD or other (moderate to severe) mental health problem. I saw a pithy quote online recently about shared environment not mattering much (paraphrasing)–“true, though if you want to have a major impact on your childrens’ future lives, beat them or starve them.” Does the “shared environment doesn’t matter” result hold up across all family types/situations, or are there particular situations where it could actually dominate due to heavy stress load at home, etc.?

    b) Intergenerational transfer of nongenetic material may be close to true. It may be something like epigenetics–information on stress levels from the paternal environment are transmitted to children via male sperm. Might be interesting to see if the children of men who have seen active combat generally have poorer life outcomes.

  3. PureAwesome says:

    Hypothesis: McCullough effect could be used to induce synesthesia (where some people see letters and numbers as having certain colours). To be more precise, I hypothesise that it would be possible to make someone become better at the twos and fives test: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/80/Synaesthesiatest.jpg

    My confidence in this hypothesis is not terribly high, but I would like to test it. Does anyone know of the McCullough effect having been tested with things other than vertical and horizontal stripes (say, concentric circles, zig-zagged lines or the like?).

  4. BBA says:

    Breaking out of the deeply nested prison thread to note that in the US, prisons have essentially replaced mental hospitals (see, e.g., this chart) and any efforts at prison reform need to take this into account.

  5. Rayner Lucas says:

    My favourite linguistic fossil is the were in “werewolf”, which I think is the only surviving (non-historical) use of an Old English word for “male human”.

    I can’t help feeling we’d be avoiding a lot of arguments about sexist language around now if we’d kept using “wer(e)” and reserved “man” for gender-neutral contexts. But noooooo, people had to screw it all up a millennium ago.

    • Mary says:

      For the curious: a female would be a “wifwolf” and the generic term a “manwolf.”

      • Tibor says:

        Wif…does the word wife come from the old English word for a woman? It would make sense, in German and Czech and I think that also in Spanish one can say what would be “my woman” or “my man” instead of my “wife” or “my husband”, in German it is even more common I think, probably due to the fact that husband and wife are words with the same root as man and woman but longer. And unlike in English, “my woman” has no negative connotations to it (I’ve never heard “my man” used in this context in English at all).

        Also, in German there is the word das Weib, which used to mean wife but nowadays is not used very much and has negative connotations. So it would perhaps be used if you are angry with that particular woman and want to tell someone about that.

        • nyccine says:

          Yes, wife comes from wif. Weib is a cognate (was Old High German “wib”). Woman still survives from its origin in “wifman” but “wereman” fell out of use around the 13th century, being replaced just by man.

          • Tibor says:

            I like wereman (but I probably like it because it sounds funny in the modern context where the only “common” were- word ist werewolf and in fantasy they use all kinds of were-somethings which are all creatures which turn from a human form to a something for…so a were man sounds like a creature who is usually a man and during the full moon turns into a … man :)).

            It is also quite funny that Weib has a neutral gender instead of feminine. Then again, the same holds for Mädel and Mädchen and those don’t sound funny to me probably just because the Czech equivalent děvče also has a neutral gender (but there is also a feminine word “holka” in Czech which might be more common nowadays, especially among younger people).

            I don’t know what it says about the languages that they use neutral genders with nouns that describe something obviously female 🙂 I also wonder if there is maybe an interesting history behind that. I sort-of could understand that by some reasoning a girl is not yet a woman and so, being a child, she is referred to using a neutral gender. However all the words for boys that I know are still masculine in both languages. Spanish does not have a neutral gender, which means that el bebé (baby) or el niño (child, boy) are both masculine by default which I find really weird since I am used to children and babies being neutral. I would expect the same pattern with other romance languages, but I only know a few words in Italian and the words for good day, hello, thank you, shop and drinking water in Romanian (those were quite useful when we went hiking there) 🙂

          • Rayner Lucas says:

            My (admittedly limited) understanding is that any German word with a -chen or -lein/-el suffix becomes neuter in gender. So Mädel/Mädchen being neuter seems to be a funny side-effect of a consistent general rule. I have no idea why “Weib” wouldn’t be feminine, though.

          • Tibor says:

            @Rayner: That is correct, -chen is basically a diminutive suffix and all words with this suffix have neutral gender. But some words, like Mädchen, don’t have the non-diminutive form…maybe there used to be a word “Mad” in German or some proto-Germanic but I’ve never heard it.

          • Rayner Lucas says:

            @Tibor According to my OED, there was a Proto-Germanic root “magaþs” that evolved into the modern German “Magd” (which is, indeed, feminine gender). In Old English, it got another diminutive suffix added and became “maiden” (apparently “maid” actually came later as a shortened form). Interesting!

        • Rayner Lucas says:

          Yes, and “woman” itself is derived from the weirdly redundant “wifman”. The original sense of “wif” survives in a few compound words such as “midwife” (literally someone “with the woman” to assist in childbirth).

          I’ve heard “my man” used informally to refer to a partner in British English, although it’s much more usual to use “husband”, “boyfriend”, “partner”, etc. It’s one of those things that could either be disparaging or affectionate, depending on how it’s said.

          I know only a little German, and no Czech or Spanish, so it’s interesting to learn how the equivalents work in other languages.

          EDIT: nyccine got there first 🙂

          • Tibor says:

            Oh yeah, midwife makes so much more sense to me now, thanks!

            By the way, “man” is not synonymous with “human” in either German or Czech (but it is in Spanish, just like in English) and means exclusively “human adult male”.

          • Mary says:

            Alewife, fishwife, housewife. . .

          • Mary says:

            “My man” is something I’ve run across in older British novels — usually in the mouth of lower-class women.

          • Rayner Lucas says:

            @Mary: Good point, I think you’re right about it being a class marker.

          • Tom Richards says:

            Definitely a (low) class-marker in British English (with the possible exception of ironic hipsterish usage); not necessarily archaic, I don’t think. Slightly feel like I may have heard it in an even-more-emphatically-low class-marker context in US English, possibly on some Jerry Springer-esque show (and/or South Park’s parody thereof?) but as a Brit I’m much less confident of that.

          • Tibor says:

            @Mary: Sure, but the meaning of “mid” in midwife is not as obvious as that of fish or ale (and of course the meaning of wife is entirely different from the modern usage but that is true of all these words…although a fishwife could also be what you get if you marry a mermaid :)).

          • keranih says:

            I’ve come across cross-pond confusion due to different interpetations of “partner” – in the US it’s still largely a business (or less commonly) sports term, while it appears to have almost entirely become a romantic term in the UK.

            I’m not sure that mistresses in the form that they seem to take in the UK & France were all that common across the USA. Long-term sexual relationships in the USA still have a predisposition to being formally shifted to marriage sooner rather than later, and “dating” is a thing for Youth, not for Adults, so we’re still clinging to “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”. There’ve been attempts to use something like “sig-o” (‘significant other’) but to my experience we don’t have good agreement on what terms to use for someone one is having sex with regularly but don’t (at least at this time) intend to permanently pairbond with.

            “Your woman” and “her man” are not common terms, and they seem to occupy a weird out-culture but still formal/mature niche.

          • nydwracu says:

            Both elements of “midwife” are archaic: “wife” in the sense of “woman”, and “mid” (cf. German mit), which was displaced by “with”, a contraction of *wiþer, which originally meant something like “against” (cf. German wider).

            In some other Germanic languages (including German itself: wider ‘against’ and wieder ‘again’ both come from Old High German widar), *wiþer is reflected as the word for ‘again’. I don’t know how they got from “against/opposite” to “again” (then again, “against” and “again”…), but semantic drift is mysterious as hell, by which I mean mysterious also hell, because the one is a contraction of the other.

          • Nornagest says:

            Slightly feel like I may have heard it in an even-more-emphatically-low class-marker context in US English, possibly on some Jerry Springer-esque show (and/or South Park’s parody thereof?) but as a Brit I’m much less confident of that.

            I associate “your man” (as romantic marker) with urban blacks, poor rural whites from the South and West, and older country music. I’m not sure I’ve heard “your woman” at all, but I vaguely associate it with bikers and similar characters.

    • “which I think is the only surviving (non-historical) use of an Old English word for “male human”.”

      “Wergeld” is the damage payment for killing someone. Do you exclude that as historical? It’s a term I could (possibly do) use in a modern context, such as a description of traditional Somali law, as well as a historical context.

      • Rayner Lucas says:

        That term was actually the reason I put the “(non-historical)” in there. I’ve only ever encountered it in history books, but I’d say using it to describe present-day legal systems would make it into a second surviving instance.

      • Mary says:

        “Wergeld” is the damage payment for killing someone.

        Regardless of sex — go figure

  6. Re: employment and student activism

    Many here consider the possibility of legal liability. Throwing out another question: what about cultural fit?

    This is a non-trivial issue. I am 60 hours clocked in for the week for my non-elite, crappy-cubicle farm job, and I’m about to log in for another 8. I need to get along reasonably well with my coworkers.
    I do not need some over-entitled Oberlin graduate coming into my office and whining that I am a privileged shit-lord that needs to get a pay cut, and by the way you really should be eating more organic, you don’t want Monsanto to rule the world, do you?

    Similarly, were I a hiring manager, I would be cautious about hiring anyone flying Confederate flags, because 30% of my coworkers are black. That’s not a legal liability issue (though that factors in, too), that’s just making sure my team can work effectively.

  7. Shmi Nux says:

    Re the McCullough Effect, SMBC has a timely strip: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?id=4002

  8. michael w says:

    My girlfriend is from India. I told her the story about Hitler, thinking it was exaggerated or a local phenomenon. Boy was i wrong.

    She told the following story: every year in school, she would win the award for being the student who’d read the most books that year. One year the prize was Mein Kampf. It was her second copy. Her father had given her the first.

    Her best friend is a Hitler fan. Her telling me this included the line “yeah, Hitler is one of the things we never agree on.”

    • Karthik says:

      This is still an exaggeration, Michael. While it is true that Mein Kampf is freely available and stocked by bookshops, it is not like it is considered as one of the ‘must reads’ by a large portion of the country (forget majority), it is one of the coveted prizes in any school competition and so on. (Am an Indian, avid book reader, used to participate in school competitions like crazy and have lived here for all my life – 36 years).

      PS:: And yeah, I have not read the book and no one has given it to me as a gift or a prize in a competition 🙂

      • Kyle Strand says:

        India is a big place. Perhaps you and Michael’s girlfriend have had different experiences.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          While it’s true that India is about as populous and diverse as all of Europe (think of Sanskrit as Latin, Hindi as French, and the Dravidian-speaking ethnic groups as, I dunno, Hungarians or something), it was all ruled by the British during Hitler’s rule and one would guess that any positive feelings about the bastard would be rooted in a pan-Indian antipathy to the British Empire.

          If there’s one specific region where Hitler is popular with parents and teachers, I’d be curious to know the story behind that.

      • Esquire says:

        The impact of Michael’s story to an American is not that Mein Kampf must be so loved in India that it is a coveted prize. Rather, the impact is that in India it is not seen as absolutely radioactive as it would be here.

        Mein Kampf is freely available here too for historical interest, but it would be offered as a prize never ever ever ever.

  9. James Hedman says:

    Alt-Right as a descriptive word for fascistic politics comes from Usenet where back in the pre-WWW days the alt.right newsgroup and its offspring alt.right.white.nationalism, alt.right.monarchy etc. sprang up in the late 1980’s as part of the unauthorized (anyone could create an alt group) alt hierarchy. alt.sex was the first alt newsgroup as I recall. Respectable admins did not include the alt hierarchy on their servers as they often contain child pron binaries or instructions on how to make non-metallic detonators and such.

  10. JM says:

    I used to take propranalol for performance anxiety around giving talks (fairly standard use). After 2 or 3 talks (which went well and I didn’t stutter in) I found that I didn’t have especially high levels of anxiety in the runup to talks and stopped taking it. I imagine this is a fairly similar mechanism.

    FWIW, people have also been talking about propranalol treatment for PTSD for ages along the same lines, so I’m not sure the idea is that surprising.

    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/729444
    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/02/ending-the-nightmares-how-drug-treatment-could-finally-stop-ptsd/252079/

  11. Koo says:

    Hi Scott, long time lurker and a huge fan, I think I may finally have something to contribute. I may know a little about why propranalol has been suggested to help with phobic triggers as my research is a little related to this area. Don’t question me too hard though because I can only vaguely remember the research now. From my understanding, the psychological process of consolidating and reconsolidating memories has a material basis. The physiological process has to do with protein synthesis (vague I know) in hippocampus, amygdala and PFC (that we know so far). When you retrieve a memory it is in a labile state, and when you reconsolidate that memory into long term memory, protein synthesis occurs (still vague I know). The labile state is called the reconsolidation window, which is around 15mins-1hr after the memory is retrieved. When you retrieve a stressful memory such as a fear memory, the propanolol is supposed to interrupt the reconsolidation of that memory. It’s something to do with the protein synthesis and I remember norepinephrine is involved.

    They’re unsure whether it’s overwriting the original memory or if it’s creating a new more salient, less fearful memory. My friend’s doing her PhD on this now.

    Sorry if this is incoherent, it’s 4am now and I just really wanted to comment before I fell asleep.

  12. Steve Sailer says:

    “Why does Donald Trump play Phantom of the Opera at all his campaign rallies?”

    Mark Steyn says it’s because Andrew Lloyd Weber owns an apartment in Trump Tower. Same reason why Trump plays the rather melancholy “Rocket Man:” Sir Elton is a tenant.

  13. Ptoliporthos says:

    As someone who was subject to the old NIH rule (inspired by tge Ft. Lauderdale agreement) that genome sequencing data be deposited to a public database within 24 hours after assembly with no restrictions on use, I can assure you that research parasites are real.

    Under the old rule researchers were encouraged (but not required) to respect data depositors’ privilege to publish the first comprehensive analysis of the deposited data. Funding agencies will expect data generators to publish analyses, and will factor publication quality and quantity into future grant decisions for data generators, so scooping data generators will have negative effects on the continued generation of sequence data.

    Every single project that I worked on under those rules faced at least one attempt by another researcher to publish an analysis of my research group’s data, often presenting the data as their own.

    I have no problem with other researchers using published data sets, and I do think public data deposition is good for science, but let’s not pretend that all people are capable of resisting temptation all the time. If you want public data deposits, you have to provide a mechanism to protect data generators so they can continue to do science.

    • Murphy says:

      That sounds like more of a problem with the funding agencies.

      Funding agencies will expect data generators to publish analyses, and will factor publication quality and quantity into future grant decisions for data generators

      So they created a structure where data generators weren’t rewarded for simply being good data generators, they put requirements on them that made it easy to scoop them then punished them if someone else scooped them. On the other hand, if they simply expected data generators to be good data generators then someone grabbing your data and publishing an analysis the next day their reaction should be “fantastic! acording to these stats the datasets you’re generating are so clean and in-demand by other scientists that you had x citations from people doing useful work with it within 48 hours. Keep up the good work and here’s some more funding!”

      • Ptoliporthos says:

        I think we agree that it’s a problem with the funding agencies but disagree about the solution.

        Academics didn’t go into science to generate data and never analyze it, and it’s absurd to expect them to do so. There’s also something important about analyzing your own data. Every process of generating data has limitations, and those who generate it spend a vast amount of time considering those limitations — a third party can’t come close to this level of awareness unless they have spent some time immersed in the data generation process. You see this all the time in science — and even in this very links post, if you follow the Tabby’s star debunking-debunking links.

        So there are at least 5 approaches for funding agencies:

        You can require immediate public deposits and reward raw data deposition. (your proposal — actually considered by NIH at one point; Data generators would publish a “marker paper” with data and no analyses, and data parasites would become analysis symbionts who cite the market paper and boost the data generators H index or what have you)

        You can require immediate public deposits and enforce the privilege of data generators to the first global analysis of their own data by punishing data parasites (nasty looks exchanged at the next scientific conference, academic sanctions at their university, journal blacklist, counts against them in their next grant application — nobody wants to spend time adjudicating these disputes so this could never go beyond nasty looks).

        You can require immediate public data deposits and punish data generators for being scooped by data parasites (NIH’s old approach to genomics)

        You can require public data deposits at the time of publication of the first analysis (NIH’s current approach to genomics)

        You can allow secret data and analyses (the approach taken by Renaissance kings and dukes employing court mathematicians who needed secret theorems to win mathematical duels for the honor of the realm — or modern militaries who need secret weapons to win the current and next war)

        I’m sure there are others. Only some advance public access to data, quality data analysis, and the careers of data generators.

        • Murphy says:

          Academics didn’t go into science to generate data and never analyze it

          This is just an argument about the division of labor as it applies to academia.

          Not many clog makers get into the business to cut down trees all their life, that’s why we have lumberjacks.

          Every process of generating data has limitations, and those who generate it spend a vast amount of time considering those limitations — a third party can’t come close to this level of awareness unless they have spent some time immersed in the data generation process.

          If you can’t provide all the important information in your methods section then how does it help to provide an analysis along with half the explanation that should be there?

          Option 1: you fail to provide enough detail on your methods/limitations when you publish the data.

          Option 2: you fail to provide enough detail on your methods/limitations when you publish the data along with your first analysis.

          Option 3: you actually do it properly and make an effort to provide as much of the important details than you can.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            I think most scientists do make a good faith effort at following option 3, but its very difficult to imagine what might be non-obvious to a grad student or post-doc trying to use (or replicate) your data in 5 or 10 years time. There are many things that are obvious to a biologist that might not be obvious to a computer scientist (and vice versa), but we have both working in genomics. It’s not as easy as you seem to suggest.

            Scientists need to be educated consumers of data and analyses. It’s hard work, but worth it. Honestly most scientists are thrilled to discuss their work with you and explain any misconceptions you might have about it. I know nothing warms my heart more than getting a question about something I wrote on page 50 of the supplementary information.

    • Jacob says:

      >often presenting the data as their own.

      That’s fraud.

      > If you want public data deposits, you have to provide a mechanism to protect data generators so they can continue to do science.

      I think we need to reward data generators, so instead of every group generating their own data and their own analyses, we have many different analyses on the same dataset, which was gathered by people who are experts on that domain. People seem to recognize this, that’s why Nature has a “Scientific Data” journal now (http://www.nature.com/sdata/about)

      • Svejk says:

        I think we need to reward data generators, so instead of every group generating their own data and their own analyses, we have many different analyses on the same dataset

        Re-analysis of existing datasets is good practice, but I don’t think the generation of multiple similar datasets is necessarily wasted effort. The process of assembling a dataset necessarily introduces some bias; e.g. the questions you frame a certain way or don’t ask or in a social survey, or ascertainment bias in genomics. This is true of both hypothesis-driven and data-mining approaches. Because of the intimate link between data and analysis, replication of dataset generation is often an important step in the scientific replication process.
        As Ptoliporthos says, dataset generation is expensive in time, treasure, and expertise, and difficult to incentivize without the assumption of first-mover status. I expect that most of the datasets deposited in Nature’s SciData repository will be placed there after or concurrent with their initial publications. The great potential for these open repositories is if they can become a de facto “Journal of Negative Results”, reducing the incentive to p-hack or discard data which fails to reject the null hypothesis.

      • Ptoliporthos says:

        >>often presenting the data as their own.

        >That’s fraud.

        I agree, and over the years several strongly worded letters were sent to journal editors and funding agencies explaining why it was fraud — some listened, some did not. I occasionally find cases of parasitism of unpublished data in papers I’m asked to review (and point it out to the editors and recommend rejection). I know I’m not the only person this happens to, and that some people make a habit of writing papers about other people’s unpublished data with few consequences.

        Ultimately, though, the burden of detecting and responding to this sort of fraud fell on data generators — not on funding agencies or journals, because they were not immediately harmed by it, and had no funding or mandate to protect data generators from “data parasitism”.

        It’s just as well, if NIH ever decided to do anything about it, it would probably just make all grant applicants fill out a form for every member of the lab with a dozen variants of a single question: “Are you a data parasite? Check yes or no.” Nobody would check yes, and they would declare the problem solved. You may laugh, but It’s what they do now for conflict of interest.

        • Murphy says:

          In addition I’d probably contact whatever body handles academic ethics violations at their institution as well if they were claiming the data to be their own.

          Simply scooping someone while properly attributing things is frowned upon but plagiarism tends to be a really big deal in academia.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            In general, it was easier to get a satisfactory outcome when the data parasites were NIH funded and at U.S. based academic institutions.

            I don’t have enough personal experience with data parasites from any one other country to compare non-U.S. institutions, but I’m told (by people who run a seminar on plagiarism for visiting foreign graduate students) that other cultures have different scholarly traditions about what constitutes plagiarism and even whether what Anglosphere scholars would consider plagiarism is actually inappropriate behavior for an academic. If that’s true it’s not surprising that institutions in other countries see things differently, especially with the confusion of genomic data being public, but not published.

  14. Katie Cohen says:

    A note on a possible confounder on the Vietnam draft.

    My father was drafted into Vietnam, but in the intake was given a battery of tests, including an IQ test. He scored high enough on this that he was snagged by a Navy recruiter, who offered him the deal of volunteering for the Navy, where he would be in a non-combat position, trained for a special program, etc, or continuing into the Army draft. Of course he chose to sign up for the Navy as a clear win!

    I don’t know how common this was, but if other military programs did a similar thing (and it wouldn’t surprise me), then a lot of the high IQ drafted people went into other placements, making it much less random.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Wait what does this mean?

      If I have an unlucky draft number then I’m either low IQ and more likely to be army and more likely to be dead, or I’m high IQ and less likely to be army and less likely to be dead.

      So the people we observe with unlucky draft numbers will be higher IQ on average than the random sample who got unlucky numbers because the dead ones unobserved are lower IQ.

      Is that right?

      • Nornagest says:

        Google informs me that about 660,000 draftees were sent to Vietnam during the war, and that of those about 17,000 were killed. I don’t think that’s enough to leave a strong signal in IQ, especially since both selection and deaths are likely to be pretty noisy.

    • PGD says:

      The study worked by looking at your draft number alone, not whether you actually went into the army.

  15. John Schilling says:

    On the subject of the freakishly variable star KIC 8462852, I also find this. The abstract says they looked for an excess infrared signature and didn’t find it, which is important because excess infrared would be associated with just about any solid matter obscuring the star’s light – including but not limited to Dyson shells. But the curious phrase, “….and a small excess of 0.43 +/- 0.18 mJy at 4.5 micron”, inspired further reading.

    So, yes, they did find excess mid-wave IR, at 2.4 standard deviations above the noise, but they aren’t willing to claim a detection without 3 standard deviations. Sensible and prudent, but it is still worth considering the possibility. The detection comes from observations in January 2015, when the star doesn’t seem to have been doing anything weird in the visible. Marengo et al correctly note that if the signature comes from close, warm (~500K) dust, it is too weak to be the source of the blocking. Close, warm dust is what they were looking for and what their instrument was designed to detect. But my reading of their results is that if they were seeing the high-energy tail of the IR emissions from cold, distant dust, it might be. Specifically, a small planet’s worth of very fine (~5 um) dust, or proportionately more of any more solid matter, at about 3 AU from the star.

    That’s if we confine the dust/whatever at a constant distance. The more likely explanation, given the periodicity, is that we are dealing with something in a highly elliptical orbit. Most of the time, like January 2015, there’s only a faint tail of dust close to the star. Every 750 days or so, a big dust cloud left over from some cataclysmic event passes between us and it, then swings back out into the cold and dark where we can’t see it. And in between, smaller clumps. This scenario requires less than a planet’s worth of debris and is consistent with things like comets that we know exist rather than requiring alien megastructures.

    What would help clear this up is long-wavelength IR data, in the 15-20 micron range. Unfortunately there is I believe only a single instrument capable of such observations, SOFIA, which is in great demand and has to be scheduled months in advance. And given the general bias against alien-hunting among “serious” astronomers, it’s not clear that KIC 8462852 is going to be a high priority target.

    • anon says:

      Thanks for the analysis. Too bad about the unlikelihood of getting time on SOFIA.

      On the topic, I have a random question that might be dumb. Regarding the periodicity, how strong do you think the evidence is that the light curve is actually periodic (viz, three observed dips separated by two roughly equal 750 day gaps)?

      I don’t know enough about astronomy to say. For example, it seems clear (?) that I should have a prior that most normal things you can observe in space are likely to be periodic, because the dynamics are governed at least to a first approximation by Newton’s laws in some 2- or maybe 3- body problem. So if I pick an astronomical observation of ~2000 days at random and observe three extrema separated by roughly equal 750 day gaps, presumably my posterior should be concentrated around “I have seen two observations of a 750-day-periodic phenomenon”.

      But if I am looking at a *very weird* astronomical observation (like a ~20% dip in a light curve) that can’t be easily explained by a normal phenomenon (like occlusion from a planet), maybe I should actually think that I’m more likely to be looking at a region of space governed by more unusual dynamics as well. In fact, I don’t even know whether Kepler’s laws are “likely” (in terms of density within reasonable regions of parameter space) to describe (reasonably well) the motion of a postulated comet swarm or cataclysmic dust cloud that is sufficiently massive to explain the light curve dips of the observed magnitude. For example, Neal Stephenson tells me that after the moon blows up I should expect a ring system to form eventually, with interesting dynamics (big rocks smashing into one another and sometimes falling to Earth) in the meantime.

      A possible (likely?) answer is that almost all parameters are irrelevant except for “time since the most recent very rare event” (like the moon blowing up in the Seveneves example, or two medium-sized [?] planets [?] colliding to create the dust cloud you imagine). That is, unless we are in the a priori incredibly unlikely scenario where Kepler happened to be looking at Tabby’s star “just after” (on astronomical timescales) a cataclysmic event, we shouldn’t expect to be seeing any fancy chaotic N-body dynamics, so our observations are *probably* explained by some interesting “chunk” (cloud of dust or whatever) that is in fact moving in a (perhaps highly eccentric) elliptical orbit.

      Anyhow, sorry for rambling. Insight from subject matter experts would be interesting to me.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’m not sure I’d go to Stephenson for the details on something like this; Seveneves in particular had a strong dramatic requirement for a precise, one-time Doomsday Countdown that one could see coming years in advance, and if that’s not a good fit for anything in astronomy, astronomy will be tweaked to fit.

        But more broadly speaking, you’re right to suspect that the evidence for periodicity is less than conclusive. Kepler’s laws are going to apply to any system dominated by a single large body, and there aren’t any good candidates for an unobserved secondary in the KIC 8462852 system(*). So whatever thing or things are blocking the light, are almost certainly in nicely periodic orbits. But if there’s more than one “thing” doing the blocking, the 750-day interval isn’t the period.

        One big thing in a 750-day orbit is just the simplest explanation, with “big thing” probably meaning tight cluster or cloud rather than solid structure.

        (*) Black holes or neutron stars in messy, cluttered star systems are going to have bright accretion disks.

  16. Linch says:

    “Including ethnic studies classes in secondary school will increase school attendance by 21% and GPA by 1.4 grade points, is apparently by far the best educational intervention ever discovered, and can singlehandedly save the school system. Or possibly there’s a problem with the methodology. The paper’s paywalled, so who knows?”

    My first thought: Huh, I didn’t realize that ethnic studies classes were THAT easy.

    • Deiseach says:

      ethnic studies classes in secondary school will increase school attendance by 21% and GPA by 1.4 grade points

      What is an ethnic studies class anyway, what does it involve, and were the SF schools running them doing them the way they’d be done in college?

      I can imagine students who are turned-off attending regular classes (for whatever reason) being happy to attend a class that, instead of “And now turn to page 76 in the text book”, was “Let’s play rap music! (because that is relevant to the cultural milieu of our students)” for thirty minutes. Being able to shout lyrics about sex, drunkenness, drugs and firearms in class and not get reprimanded for it would be very appealing to some kids, particularly getting away with language you would be punished for using in normal speech (“Now you know it is very, very bad to call a woman a bitch or a ho and you will be sent to the principal to discuss that” “But those are the words of the song” “Okay that’s different”), if they’re anything like the early school-leavers on the programme I was clerical support for.

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t know if ethnic studies in this sense is anything like the ethnic-and-multicultural requirement at my university, but there it had less to do with rap music and more to do with privilege and oppression. Generally in the context of some specific marginalized ethnic or demographic group.

        There were classes about rap music, but they were deep into the curricula of music or Studies majors.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, when it said “secondary school”, I don’t know about the US but over here that’s roughly 12-17 or 18.

          I think you’d probably want to be tackling poor attendance/low grades by 14 or 15 at the very latest, and I can’t imagine that you’re going to be teaching a class room full of 14 year olds who already have a bad attendance record and poor grades anything too heavy.

          So rap music as something that seems both relevant (so the curriculum can be tweaked to fit) and appealing to The Youth to get them to attend the class struck me as something likely to be put forward as a suggestion. I’m not saying it would be a solid three months of rap (or however long the project ran), just that I think it was more likely to be “rap as cultural expression” rather than “privilege and oppression political theory” periods of classroom time 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            Secondary school means the same thing over here.

            I didn’t have any modules like that when I was in high school (though at the primary school level I do recall spending quite a bit of time studying the Native American cultures that once lived in my area, and the story of their demise at the hands of drunken gold miners and plague-bearing Spanish missionaries), so this is speculative; but I’d expect “ethnic studies” to mean the roughly the same thing in high school that it does in university, just dumbed down and stripped of whatever nuance you can find in the original. So: the history of whatever ethnic group, with the focus placed on its interactions with the dominant culture and a side of political indoctrination. You might have a unit on rap, but you wouldn’t be listening to much of it, you’d be hearing about how NWA (whose music I actually rather like, for whatever that’s worth) raised awareness of inner-city violence while being exploited in turn by the music-publishing industry.

            Can that increase grades and attendance? 1.4 grade points for a three-month course would make it the most effective educational intervention ever devised, which puts it squarely in One Weird Trick territory and I don’t believe it for a minute. But I wouldn’t find smaller increases totally implausible — though I’d want to look at them closely and find out what’s driving them.

  17. Linch says:

    In case you missed it:

    http://www.wired.com/2016/01/in-a-huge-breakthrough-googles-ai-beats-a-top-player-at-the-game-of-go/

    For context, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_Go#Recent_results

    In about a year since no strong amateur has ever even *agreed* to play a serious competition against a Go program on even terms, DeepMind beat the European Champion 5-0.

    This is both very exciting and very scary.

    • anon says:

      Why exactly is it scary?

      • hlynkacg says:

        Skynet

      • Murphy says:

        Significant jump in AI capabilities.

        Long after chess grandmasters were being beaten at chess small children were still beating the best AI’s at go.

        For context, the kind of strategic thinking you need to win at Go is something that the field has struggled with for a long time and in theory generalizes to a lot of other areas.

    • Urstoff says:

      Gary Marcus on the achievement

      Maybe a big jump in how well an AI plays Go, but not necessarily an innovation in AI itself.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It is kind of disappointing how most of these achievements end up being the result of (more or less) brute-forcing the problem with a side of statistics, rather than something that would give us insight into just what the heck is going on in human minds.

        • youzicha says:

          But what if what is going on in human minds is also the brute-forcing with a side of statistics?

          I kind of seriously think that this kind of achievement *does* give some insight into human cognition. Not by directly characterizing how we do it, of course, but by giving more information into what classes of algorithms are suitable candidates.

          See the general shift in emphasis from “good old-fashioned” logica/discrete AI in the 1980s, to the current heavy use of statistics. Back then, I imagine that most researchers would have said that simple regression and function-fitting could do well for small low-level tasks like edge-recognition in images, but in order to compete in specifically human endevours (like natural language processing, medical diagnostics, chess) you would need to use specifically human methods (explicit logical reasoning). And the same general assumption held in descriptive cognitive sciences, e.g. Chomsky’s discrete mathematical treatment of language dominated linguistics.

          Now, “fuzzy, dumb” methods are working very well for machine translation. Maybe that will also lead to a shift where language is modelled as a fuzzy, probabilistic thing, and people will no longer try to exactly characterize what sentences are grammatical?

          • Jaskologist says:

            I don’t think it is. When you want to teach a human how to play a game, you don’t sit them down in front of a screen and have them watch thousands of games being played. You explain the rules and then maybe walk them through a few rounds, maybe giving pointers along the way as to X is a good strategic move.

            Then you let them win a few rounds to build up their confidence and recommend putting a little money on the table to “make it interesting.”

          • Zykrom says:

            Maybe humans do statistics with a side of brute forcing and AI does the reverse.

          • anon says:

            @Jaskologist, I think most go experts would say that watching (or more precisely, carefully reviewing) thousands of games was in fact a crucial — perhaps even *the* crucial — component of their training.

      • I was told, sometime in the past year or so, by someone at Google, that there was an important breakthrough in how AI was done. I’m guessing that this is a result, in which case it is evidence of an important innovation.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      It’s definitely interesting, and kudos to DeepMind for the achievement, but I’m going to have to contest the description of “scary.”

      The only people who should be scared here are smug sinophiles and/or weaboos who can’t dismiss chess as a game for machines anymore. A Go-playing computer is not a threat to anyone and it isn’t clear that the software behind it is particularly well suited for other games, much less to problems in the real world which cannot be so easily formally defined.

      We’re not living in the world of Code Geass here: playing chess very very well isn’t going to get you any practical power, as Gary Kasparov learned relatively recently, ditto with every other strategy game.

      • Urstoff says:

        Ha, the sentiment that Go is better than chess because “it’s so much deeper strategically; computers can’t beat humans at it” was incredibly annoying. Although I find both games to be pretty boring; we’re living right now in the great age of modern boardgames.

        • John Schilling says:

          So you’ll be frightened when computers regularly win at Settlers of Cataan, then?

          And yes, I share your distaste for the Go-enthusiasm in this context. Games with simple, precise, deterministic rules played on a grid, and we were to expect that these were the ones that would
          remain forever the domain of humans over computers?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Ugh. Settlers of Catan is Civilization Monopoly, and somebody’s suggestion of that barely-improved-version-of-the-same-nonsense as “modern” board gaming put me off “modern” board gaming for another five years. Catan fills out time rolling dice waiting for something to happen; that’s not a game, that’s a joke.

            If I want somebody to notice that board games have actually changed, I have them play The Captain is Dead, or Bring Out Your Dead, or any of a dozen other games where you actually get to make some kind of decision on each of your turns, which is the basic requirement for a game being any good at all.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I’ll be frightened when AIs both regularly win at Monopoly and don’t delete themselves 30 minutes into the game.

          • Urstoff says:

            I doubt I’ll ever be frightened at computers winning games, as any game is an artificially constrained situation. It will be interesting, though, when AIs are unbeatable at games with significant social elements, like Diplomacy.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            So you’ll be frightened when computers regularly win at Settlers of Cataan, then?

            I’ll be thrilled, since we might finally get a decent AI.

          • I think the point is not that Go is harder than Chess but that it is different, that a problem that for a long time had appeared insoluble was suddenly solved, which is evidence of some sort of breakthrough in how to solve problems.

          • Anthony says:

            I’ll be frightened when a computer can, with only a couple of photos of a decent-looking young man, and an internet connection, convince young women to fly out to the computer for sex.

            Though I suspect this is a rather easy problem, which is scary for different reasons.

          • Linch says:

            “I think the point is not that Go is harder than Chess but that it is different, that a problem that for a long time had appeared insoluble was suddenly solved, which is evidence of some sort of breakthrough in how to solve problems.” Yes, exactly. This was “supposed” to be at least a decade away. Further, unlike chess programs that are very explicitly programmed to play chess, DeepMind seems to be a lot more generalized and adaptive.

          • DrBeat says:

            When the AIs regularly win at Battlestar Galactica, then we know we have a problem.

      • roystgnr says:

        “it isn’t clear that the software behind it is particularly well suited for other games”

        Yes, it is. This isn’t software written to play Go; this is software written to make decisions based on grids of input. Their first famous results were from Atari games:

        http://arxiv.org/pdf/1312.5602v1.pdf

        “…achieves better performance than an expert human player on Breakout, Enduro and Pong and it achieves close to human performance on Beam Rider. The games Q*bert, Seaquest, Space Invaders, on which we are far from human performance, are more challenging because they require the network to find a strategy that extends over long time scales.”

        It sounds like they’re making pretty good progress on the long time scale strategy problem. They did bring in human game knowledge in the case of Go, but even that’s pretty automated – they don’t hire expert Go players to hand-code heuristics, the way typical chess AI design worked; they just hand their AI a database of human-played Go games to examine, and then they further optimize from there by letting the computer play itself.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I stand corrected. I had heard of both stories and even vaguely remembered the name DeepMind but hadn’t mentally connected them. Thanks for giving me something to chew on.

          That said, the clause right after where your quote cuts off is the more important one in my view. A program which can clean up in eSports or crush you in Stratego isn’t obviously any more dangerous than one that knows when the milk in your fridge is about to sour. Whether or not you think AI is something to be afraid of, this particular development shouldn’t budge the needle much either way.

        • Anonymous says:

          The problem of long timescale strategy can also be characterized as getting a decent value function. In more strategy-intensive games, the payoff from earlier choices may come much later. Worse, some games give very few intermediate rewards from which to attempt a value function. The Atari games the algorithm excelled at are nice for this. Breakout is obvious. Enduro is obvious (though it’s not clear whether they used cars passed or miles driven as the reward, but either is very well-behaved). Pong is the only slightly surprising game in this category (the only reward happens at the end of a round), but the input space is the most constrained of all the games, and the reward (or penalty, really) can be pretty quickly correlated with states where the ball is close to your goal and your paddle is not.

          Beam Rider is extremely similar to Space Invaders, but you have limited ammo. At first, this would make you think that the algorithm would perform worse (it has to realize that “using ammo” = “bad” unless they snuck ammo into their reward function), so my theory for why it did relatively worse at Space Invaders is because they normalized their reward function. In Space Invaders, you get random really valuable targets that disappear and never come back. Since they normalize their reward function, the algorithm probably doesn’t care about these targets nearly as much as a human or hand-tuned algorithm would.

          Seaquest starts to make the reward function choppy. If you spend time surfacing (and getting rewards), then you miss out on time you could be gathering more bodies. This is not the paragon of ‘long-term thinking’. You can imagine that these algorithms will straight crash and burn if you handed them Zelda and a reward function of “Save Zelda”.

          To me, the surprising fail of the group is Q*bert. It seems like a game that should be easy to automate, but here’s my best theory – the reward structure changes in time. As the levels progress, you have to visit each square an increasing number of times. This is something that is super easy to code if we were hand-coding it… but provides a much more difficult barrier for reinforcement learning. I would like to test this theory by giving the algorithm a version of the game that doesn’t change the reward structure like this. If it does much better, it really seals the deal for me thinking that any little f’ing with the rewards system from being very well-defined on sufficiently short timescales is still killing unsupervised machine learning.

          The supervised learning approach they use in Go doesn’t so much fix ‘long-term strategy’, it fixes the reward structure! (If you can’t tell, I think ‘long-term strategy’ is not well-defined and that it’s really a matter of how nice your rewards are.) We’re pretty sure that those games played by experts are pretty good at outlining a value function. If we gave it a database of thirty million games between five-year olds, the “play against itself a bunch” portion of the learning would have been pretty much as intractable as if we hadn’t given it a database at all. The expert database gives the algorithm two things: a reasonable shortcut to a vastly-reduced problem space (games that are close to expert games instead of all possible games) and a massive headstart on a value function. Supervised learning can do this… so long as you have a suitably large database for your problem space and your reward function isn’t super wonky.

    • Chalid says:

      I remember being informed in an SSC comment thread a few months back that AI beating top humans at Go was decades away.

      A reminder that predicting the future is hard, and that progress can be surprisingly fast as well as surprisingly slow.

  18. Bram Cohen says:

    The claim that there’s developer consensus around ‘bitcoin classic’ is a lie. Developers are just as vitriolically against bitcoin classic as they are against bitcoin XT, if not more so, because that bullshit lost already. What is technically true is that in an informal survey miners (who are NOT developers) seem to find bitcoin classic acceptable. But that’s very different from the developer community getting behind it.

  19. BBA says:

    Dialect-dependent fossil word: A “solicitor” in British English is a type of lawyer; in American English it’s only used in this sense in the title “Solicitor General.”

  20. Jamie_NYC says:

    “Studies traditionally show that immigrants do not “steal” native jobs or harm the native economy in any way.” Well, shouldn’t the priors matter? In what market the large supply shock leads to prices remaining the same? Steve Sailer pointed out, for example, that the period in question was also characterized by flood of illegal drugs, which boosted the local economy. The economists seem largely unaware of this.

    Chinese and The Donald: “but only until *somebody tells them* what Donald Trump believes.” Right… No need for them to listen to Trump (in translation), let’s just tell them how crazy he is…

  21. Mister Eff says:

    My experience with propranolol was well over a decade ago, but let’s say I did not find it to work the way you describe. (I haven’t read the article, so I’m going only by the paragraph you wrote.)

    I was prescribed it to deal with the school-related manifestations of anxiety, specifically the panic attacks which led me to rarely attend high school and, when I did make it there, frequently walk out half way through the day and head home. It was not an unhelpful drug, and as far as I remember I never had a panic attack while on it, but rather than having a lasting effect it only really worked when I was actually on it.

    Even then I wouldn’t really say it “cure[d] fear” – not throwing up outside the gates or running home fighting back tears was a significant improvent, but the longer-term dread didn’t go anywhere. On the other hand I’m only one person and was what you might call a deeply troubled teenager, so maybe others have fared better.

  22. Albatross says:

    The Drafted Dad effect makes sense. Drafted Dad was out of the traditional work force for years. This impacted pay and experience.

    Drafted Dad also was almost certainly negatively impacted by being involuntarily deployed. A bitter, resentful father with a hole in his resume he doesn’t like to talk about isn’t going to help parenting. In addition, the Vietnam conflict was very unpopular and children of the drafted likely dealt with stigma of having a parent who lost an unpopular war.

  23. Dude says:

    If you want a sci fi book that explores ‘Liquid Democracy’ check this out.

    http://www.amazon.com.au/Hunt-Pierre-Jnr-David-Henley-ebook/dp/B00BAL7Z2Y/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454022257&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=hunt+for+pierre+junior

    I believe it’s on sale in the US.

  24. “The New York Times has a hit piece perfectly nice article on the Center For Applied Rationality, a Less Wrong-affiliated self-help workshop group in Berkeley.”

    Joking aside, the article seemed fair to me. I’m not sure why one might think otherwise but have to wonder if this is the hostile media bias.

  25. Mike says:

    The college protesters have demonstrated that they do not respect or do not understand the concept of freedom of association.
    The reluctance of employers to accept such people is just as rational as a concern whether ones’ prospective mate has a history of spousal abuse.

    Capital is tools of production. If market exists, tools of production are subject to market like any other goods. Whatever you mean by “capitalism”, if capital goods are not part of the market, it is not market.
    Also, management of the companies are not capitalists. It’s labor. CEO is labor. The capitalist is the grandmother who owns shares of stock in her pension fund.

  26. Jacobian says:

    Re: lesbian resumes (AKA lezzie-rezzies).

    A friend of mine who went to a top business school in the US said that in his year there were no out LGBT people and there was a huge competition among everyone else to run the b-school LGBT club for a year because it was considered prestigious. He was elected president of the club, his wife was VP, and they both put it at the top of their resumes.

    • Deiseach says:

      RE: your surprise (as indicated by the bolding) that a man with a wife (or a woman with a husband) should be president and vice-president of the LGBT club – you’re forgetting the “B stands for bisexual” in the acronym 🙂

      • John Schilling says:

        “[Your new husband] is bisexual, you know”

        “Was bisexual; now he’s monogamous”

        – Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and would-be troublemaker, Barrayar, L.M. Bujold, 2003

        • Deiseach says:

          You don’t stop being bi by being monogamous, anymore than you stop seeing other people as attractive if you’re unisexual (is there a term for “not bi/pan/poly but not wanting to use gay/straight”?) and married/committed partnership; you merely do not act on that attraction. (Well, I say “merely” but some people find it very hard, apparently).

          So Cordelia is incorrect here: her husband may be currently married to a woman but that does not mean his capability to be attracted to men suddenly vanished. Just as if he had married a man, his capability to be attracted to women would not vanish either. “Bisexual” does not mean “Will bang anything until someone finally bags me, then I make up my mind one way or the other” 🙂

          The better way to have written that would have been “Is bisexual; is also monogamous now”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The better way to have written that would have been “Is bisexual; is also monogamous now”.

            But it would not be near so much like a good line.

            /adds _Barrayar_ to To Read list/

          • keranih says:

            D – you’re missing the point of the joke & the story – the trouble maker thought he was going to shock and shame Cordelia with his accusation. In fact, it went right over Cordelia’s head, because she’d mostly-suspected it of her husband before this, and didn’t care –

            – although she did care who her husband’s former lover *was*, because that was a thorough-going piecawork –

            – because what mattered to her was that she and her husband were completely, head-over-heels, Romeo & Juliet teenager in love at the advanced ages of 35 & 40 +.

            (Given that this was in a context of a number of previous extra-marital affairs, and of Cordelia’s homeworld having actual hermatophites, her faith in her husband’s on-going fidelity was touching and the primary point.)

            (PS, the Naismith novels were published back in the late ’80’s.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Wait, there are smart nerdy people who haven’t read the Vorkosigan saga yet? 🙂

            I am jealous. And Barrayar is a perfect starting point, seeing as how you’ve already been spoiled to the existence of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan.

            And so very many good lines. “Shopping”. You’ll understand when you get there…

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling

            Thanks. 😉

          • keranih says:

            I was always partial to “I’m going for two out of three.”

          • nyccine says:

            “You don’t stop being bi by being monogamous…”

            I have never seen any proof of this beyond just being insisted upon as an article of faith. This gets to hilarious levels as people adamantly insist that those who at one point had homosexual relations, but now only have heterosexual relations (in my experience, usually women), are not straight, just bi, and always have been (even when they previously only had homosexual relationships).

        • Tibor says:

          My exgirlfriend liked women as well as men (although she liked men more than women) and she had sex with another woman a few times when we were together (she always told me about that). I had no problems with that whatsoever, because I found it extremely unlikely that she would have left me for another woman and unless I missed some very crucial biology classes at school, she cannot get pregnant with another woman either…save for STDs (but it was not like she would have sex with random women, it was always just a few of her friends…and it happened quite rarely anyway), I cannot see why this would be a problem for anybody…

        • Tom Womack says:

          Many people in this thread of comments would be extremely well advised to read _Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen_ with some dispatch.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Regarding the phobia-stopping drug, one use that immediately sprung to mind was using it on homophobic people. Give them a shot of the drug and show them some footage of men kissing. Do they, or don’t they, become accepting of gay people? The results of this might help to answer the question of whether homophobia’s categorization as a phobia is accurate or just a political move: whether the homophobe’s defense, “I’m not afraid of gay people, I just don’t like ’em!” has any truth in it.

    • JBeshir says:

      You know, fear/digust seem closely related enough that (from my position of ignorance) it might be worth seeing what a thing that messes with fear does to disgust. If it can eliminate or even noticeably reduce disgust reactions it’s gone from cool to kind of terrifying.

      • The possibility of moving someone from disgust to acceptance is intriguing. Here are some unethical experiments one could perform:

        “OK, we’re going to give you this drug and then show you nude pictures of your siblings…”

        “OK, we’re going to give you this drug and then show you footage of Hitler…”

        “OK, we’re going to give you this drug and then show you footage of people engaging in what the kids are calling ‘water sports’…”

        “OK, we’re going to give you this drug and then show you footage of people eating at Arby’s…”

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Yeah, let’s force our political opponents into psychiatric treatment. That’ll learn ’em for not respecting the rights of others! #SluggishSchizophrenia

      Aside from the totaliterian abuse of power involved, there’s also the minor detail that homophobia is not actually a clinical phobia. I mean, I’m sure there’s someone out there who goes into panic attacks thinking about gays but those aren’t the people we’re talking about. Homophobia is an insult not a diagnosis.

      • Anonymous says:

        Who said anything about forcing?

        EDIT: having re-re-read my post, the answer is “me, kinda”, but that isn’t what I meant at all.

        • Echo says:

          You seem to be very good at those little slips.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do I? I only started using this Gravatar in this thread – which other of my posts do you think I display this tendency in?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            There’s another anonymous, lower case a and with a different gravatar, who likes to troll conservatives / libertarians with “lel muh freedom” quality bait and gratuitous insults to American troops.

            I suggest picking a name by the way, we’re really overloaded with anons and it’s kind of confusing.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            You’re probably thinking of “Xs and Os” Anonymous, who thankfully goes by just “nonymous”, currently, making them easier to find out.

            There’s also “Sakura” (lots of pinkish arrows that kind of look like petals) Anonymous, but they mostly make snide complaints about conservatives rather than outright trolling, and they often contribute to discussions (sometimes it requires some prodding).

            In general, it’s pretty pointless to go by Anonymous since they made email mandatory, you either have to change the adress constantly, which is a hassle, or you’ll be stuck with a gravatar, which will make you identifiable after a while, but really annoying, because you can’t be searched in a thread. I wish we could get the anonymous option back, but I doubt it’s a realistic possiblity in our current Reign of Terror

          • Echo says:

            Yeah, my apologies. I got you mixed up with the other anonymous. It’s like you’re legion or something.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not sure if this is what you meant by Sakura, but it’s been retired.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        I don’t believe that there was any suggestion that people be forced to participate, or that it would be psychiatric treatment rather than just an interesting experiment to see the extent to which “homophobes” (scare quotes because I generally dislike the term) have involuntary fear reactions to gay people.

      • Jaskologist says:

        A Clockwork Orange, but with gay porn.

    • hlynkacg says:

      What if the issue isn’t “fear” but “disgust” or a low tolerance for deviance from social norms? Does the drug work on that to?

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, I don’t know if I qualify as “homophobic”; as I see the term used, I probably do 🙂 My apathetic “Eh, sure, why not” to the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in my country was turned to incandescent “not just no but hell, no” objection by the gloopily meretricious campaign the “Vote Yes” side ran, not to mention the bandwagon-jumping by the government parties and others out of naked political opportunism, such that my envisaged “I’ll probably vote ‘yes’ to civil marriage” went to “I am making a conscious effort to get to the polling booth to vote ‘no'”. That alone would be enough to get me hounded out of any job à la Brendan Eich were it known, because of the risk I would create an “unsafe space” and evoke fear and anxiety in any LGBT co-workers should my noisome and intolerant opinions be a matter of public knowledge, because you know the next thing I’d do, having performed an actual action to harm and damage LGBT people by voting “no” in a referendum and not just talked about my horrible prejudices, would be to drag one of them into the binary gender-designated bathroom and attempt to burn them at the stake, right?

      (1) You want to show me footage of men kissing and see if I go “Oh, ew, yucky!” and/or run screaming from the room in fear of the gays! the gays are coming to get me!

      (2) No, it wouldn’t, and this is not theoretical, this is based on seeing footage in movies and TV shows of men kissing. And rather more than kissing. I am old enough to have seen the 1999 UK original Queer As Folk on Channel 4. In some parts NSFW silly music-video fanvid of the Stuart/Nathan ‘romance’, where Nathan is meant to be 15 years old when they first meet, and you’ll get an idea of the kind of scenes on view.

      (3) Still not going to change my noxious and horrible opinions through being gently led by the hand to “Oh, you mean gay people are humans, not baby-eating reptilians! I had no idea! Oh, that changes everything!” conclusions by such patronising thought- (and actual) experiments. Like this little gem: We asked 15 homophobic people to hug gay strangers. I eagerly (though without holding my breath) await the follow-up “We asked 15 smug gays and lesbians to treat rednecks as though they were intelligent thinking beings with reasons for what they do”.

      • Tibor says:

        I am for abolishing marriage as a legal term and keeping it private and let anyone recognize any form of marriage or not, just keep the state out of it (the practical stuff like seeing medical records, last will, alimony and so on can be done in separate contracts among any number of any people). That said, as long as that is not the case, I am also probably lukewarmly for widening the definition further from just “Man and Wife” (well, it has been legalized some 10 years ago in the Czech republic without too much fuss or campaign as far as I could tell, people just really don’t seem care much either way, except for gays of course)…

        But I totally agree that a lot of gay rights activists care probably more about activism than about gays (I have a similar opinion about the majority of feminists) and they can make people who would otherwise say “yeah, whatever, what do I care, do what you want” to their bitter opponents and polarize the society. Of course, for someone who mostly enjoys the feeling of righteousness and fighting injustice, this just means more fuel for his fire. I usually don’t take kindly to people who try to tell me what is the right and wrong way of thinking and condescendingly try to lecture me, so I can absolutely understand your change of attitude if the gay activists are overly aggressive in Ireland. It often turns into “you like gays or you are homophobic” and the word tolerant is swapped with “likes what I like”. As Scott wrote in one of his best posts here (forgot the name though 🙂 ), you don’t get points for tolerating what you already like.

        One could say that just because someone is campaigning in an aggressive and condescending way, it does not mean that their stated goal is suddenly wrong and deciding to go against them just because they are mean bullies is childish. But I think that one has to stand his ground and show the bullies that bullying is not the right way to accomplish any goals, even good ones. If everyone yields to the bullying, the bullies get more aggressive and (some of them) will start demanding things that one would not agree with in the first place.

    • Has anybody who uses the term “homophobia” actually ever intended it to imply that it is an actual pathological fear of the same kind as “arachnophobia” or “claustrophobia”, which yields the same kind of psychological response? I always thought it was just a figurative extension of the “X-phobia” pattern to mean “irrationally considering X a bad thing” rather than just “being pathologically afraid of X”.

      (How old is that extension anyway? The only other example of it I can think of is “Islamophobia”.)

      (It looks like “homophobia” did originally have a meaning of “being pathologically afraid of the male sex, in general”, but this is quite different and I wouldn’t imagine the newer meaning is a direct development out of the old one.)

      • Nornagest says:

        The words probably derive ultimately from “xenophobia”, but “homophobia” is the first unambiguously political coinage I can think of. More recently there’s “biphobia” (not a very euphonious word if you ask me), “transphobia”, “Islamophobia” of course, and, on the right-wing side, “hoplophobia” (fear of weapons).

        • Psmith says:

          According to Wikipedia, Jeff Cooper claims to have coined “hoplophobia” in 1962, whereas “homophobia” wasn’t until 1971. (Not that this makes much of a substantive difference one way or the other, but there you are.).

        • I’ve heard “oikophobia” (fear of the familiar) used by neocons to refer to wealthy, Western, white people in capitalist societies who believe that all the world’s evils are caused by wealthy, Western, white people in capitalist societies.

      • Mary says:

        “Has anybody who uses the term “homophobia” actually ever intended it to imply that it is an actual pathological fear of the same kind as “arachnophobia” or “claustrophobia”, which yields the same kind of psychological response? ”

        Duh, of course. Perhaps some just use it as the term, but obviously it was created and spread exactly to imply just a smear. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t have used the term.

        That’s the bailey, of course. When called on it, they often retreat to claiming it doesn’t mean “phobia” and when called on that (“you obviously mean it or you wouldn’t have said it”) the usual response is silence.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I don’t think that’s true at all.

          To call someone an homophobe is indeed an insult, but it’s not meant to imply that he is pathologically afraid of gays like an arachnophobe is afraid of spiders.

          Rather, as several people have pointed it, it’s modeled on the older term “xenophobia”, which refers to an irrationally negative assessment of foreigners and a consequent fear and hatred of them. But it was never meant to imply that a xenophobe will see a foreigner and immediately freak out like an arachnophobe will in a room full of spiders.

          And that’s what “homophobia” is meant to signify: that someone has an irrationally negative view of homosexuals, and consequently fears or hates them.

          So is opposing gay marriage homophobic? Well, that depends on whether, from a rational, clear-eyed viewpoint, gay marriage threatens to undermine society. In the opinion of many people, it obviously does not, and it offers many benefits to those who were previously denied the freedom to marry. Since opposition to it is not, in their view, rationally justified, that opposition must indeed be based on “homophobia”. That is, opponents of gay marriage irrationally exaggerate the dangers posed by homosexuals. Fearing them, they worry that gay marriage will undermine society. Hating them, they disregard the benefits that gay marriage provides to homosexuals.

          It would be senseless to call someone “xenophobic” if his fears of foreigners were actually justified. And similarly, it would be senseless to call someone “homophobic” if his estimate of the consequences of treating them equally with heterosexuals were accurate.

          • Mary says:

            Rather, as several people have pointed it, it’s modeled on the older term “xenophobia”, which refers to an irrationally negative assessment of foreigners and a consequent fear and hatred of them

            Except that when the term was invented, “phobia” was not an English word. “Xenophobia” is a word derived from Greek roots meaning merely “fear of the strange.”

            Since then, however, phobia has become an English word that means “pathologically afraid”. Furthermore, words formed since use that meaning, and are not entitled to use the archaic meaning no longer current in the language.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            This is tendentious bullshit.

            “Homophobia” does not use the word “phobia” in the psychological-medical context. It just doesn’t and never did. For one, you will note that it is never described or listed as a type of medical “phobia”.

            Context is also important in language. It’s just nonsense to say that people are “not entitled” to back-form words like “homophobia” off of perfectly current terms like “xenophobia”. The intended meaning is clear to anyone who isn’t trying to manipulate terminology.

          • “And similarly, it would be senseless to call someone “homophobic” if his estimate of the consequences of treating them equally with heterosexuals were accurate.”

            “Accurate” is too strong a requirement. One might be opposed to gay marriage or to foreigners for reasons that were rational but mistaken, or even for reasons that were irrational but not based on hatred or related emotions.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            Right. That’s absolutely correct, and a useful clarification.

            In that case, what you would be accusing them of is ignorance or honest error. And people are far too quick (in this debate as in many others) to conflate willful irrationality with blameless error or ignorance.

          • Tibor says:

            Maybe it would be better if people used the root -phobia in the specific case when one actually wants to talk about fear and -misos when talking about hatred. It would probably not be enough, the x-phobia in its political use usually means just “being against x when I am not”, the possibility that the person against x might have some good reasons is usually ignored by people who use the word -phobia in the non-medical context.

          • Mary says:

            ““Homophobia” does not use the word “phobia” in the psychological-medical context. It just doesn’t and never did”

            This is tendentious bullshit.

            You can not subjectively decide what meaning applies in an obvious attempt to manipulate terminology and then blame people when they instead use the open and obvious interpretation.

            And if you didn’t realize what the open and obvious interpretation was, the correct reaction when you realize that people are using it is to give up the subjective meaning. Doing otherwise is as silly as trying to claim that “capitalism” means “bad thing” when people do not use it as such.

          • Mary says:

            “Maybe it would be better if people used the root -phobia in the specific case when one actually wants to talk about fear and -misos when talking about hatred.”

            Not a cure because people use it when there is neither fear nor hatred involved.

            I have reliably heard of a homosexual being called homophobic for refusing the advances of a homosexual who wasn’t his type — and I have heard of and seen many more instances that don’t go that far but definitely lean that way.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mary:

            You can not subjectively decide what meaning applies in an obvious attempt to manipulate terminology and then blame people when they instead use the open and obvious interpretation.

            I’m not subjectively deciding anything! It’s very clear what is intended by the use of the term “homophobia”. And you know very well that the term’s users don’t mean to indicate that the person suffers from a “phobia” in the psychiatric sense.

            You’re saying that, because you are capable of deliberately misinterpreting them, they “aren’t entitled” to use that word. Every interpretation is “open” if you’re tendentious enough: that’s what it means to be tendentious!

            And if you didn’t realize what the open and obvious interpretation was, the correct reaction when you realize that people are using it is to give up the subjective meaning. Doing otherwise is as silly as trying to claim that “capitalism” means “bad thing” when people do not use it as such.

            Those people are doing with “capitalism” exactly what you’re trying to do with “homophobia”!

            They know damn well what “capitalism” means in ordinary discourse, but they argue that people “aren’t entitled” to use it that way because if you look back to the “original meaning” it basically meant “the system where society is controlled by capitalists, at the expense of the proletariat”.

            In contrast, the ordinary meaning is more like “the economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and controlled”.

          • nyccine says:

            [blockquote]This is tendentious bullshit.

            “Homophobia” does not use the word “phobia” in the psychological-medical context. It just doesn’t and never did. For one, you will note that it is never described or listed as a type of medical “phobia”.[/quote]

            No, [b]that’s bullshit[/b]. The guy who coined the term “homophobia,” George Weinburg, was completely upfront about his reasons for doing so, that he was in effect turning the tables on the “bigots” that pathologized homosexuality, that by using “homophobia” to describe those disgusted by homosexual behavior would make them feel as though something was wrong with them, that the establishment was declaring them mentally unwell.

            I don’t even see how this is controversial in the least; do you deny that we are introduced to the concept of phobias, and what they mean – something above and beyond normal dislike – at a young age, and thus there is very little chance that people using “phobia” are unaware of the implications? Are you unfamiliar with the historical tendency to declare those who don’t agree with “right-thinking people” as not merely being wrong but in fact defective, and that it would be reasonable to assume the same trick is being pulled here?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ nyccine:

            I am not too familiar with Weinburg’s use of the term. I don’t know whether he meant it in a strict clinical sense, or just as a term to describe people who have an irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals.

            I do think there are people who actually exhibit strong enough irrational revulsion toward homosexuals to be legitimately described as having a clinical “phobia” of them.

            In any case, the use of the term is hardly restricted to what he said. This is exactly the same as socialists arguing that, since “capitalism” was invented by socialists, it’s inappropriate to use it in any way that doesn’t conform to socialistic usage.

            I don’t even see how this is controversial in the least; do you deny that we are introduced to the concept of phobias, and what they mean – something above and beyond normal dislike – at a young age, and thus there is very little chance that people using “phobia” are unaware of the implications? Are you unfamiliar with the historical tendency to declare those who don’t agree with “right-thinking people” as not merely being wrong but in fact defective, and that it would be reasonable to assume the same trick is being pulled here?

            Do you think the same thing applies to the similar term “xenophobia”, or the many other similar neologisms formed after it, like “oikophobia”? I do not.

            Sure, the term does imply that the individuals it describes are mentally defective in some sense. An irrational fear of homosexuals, even if it does not literally rise to the level of a clinical disorder, is a mental defect. It’s not as if the causes of disorders like “narcissistic personality disorder” or “histrionic personality disorder” are really known with specificity.

            Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder because it was a certain pattern of thinking and behavior that was observed to be very maladaptive. But this was revised when psychologists determined that there was nothing intrinsically maladaptive about it; rather, the mental suffering and bad outcomes exhibited by homosexuals were the result of prejudice against them.

            There are specific criteria for a mental disorder: “a mental disorder is a psychological syndrome or pattern, which occurs in an individual, and causes distress via a painful symptom or disability, or increases the risk of death, pain, or disability; however it excludes normal responses such as grief from loss of a loved one, and also excludes deviant behavior for political, religious, or societal reasons not arising from a dysfunction in the individual.”

          • nyccine says:

            Do you think the same thing applies to the similar term “xenophobia”, or the many other similar neologisms formed after it, like “oikophobia”? I do not.

            I’m honestly curious as to if I’m being trolled. The origins of “xenophobia” included hopes for a “political Pastuer” to cure the world of the “disease.” I’m completely baffled at how you can look at the alt-right, who routinely refer to left-liberals as mentally ill, “suicidal” towards white/Western values, and who openly state that they adopted “oikophobia” to tweak libs, and then think to yourself “this has nothing to do with denigrating political opponents as mentally ill.”

            I don’t know whether he meant it in a strict clinical sense, or just as a term to describe people who have an irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals.

            How are you not getting this? Are you being willfully obtuse? The point is to use “homophobe,” and other “-phobe” comments, not to make a clinical diagnosis, it’s to dismiss opposition to one’s values as being illegitimate. It’s about pissing off your opponent, to get them to act in anger and say or do stupid things and then declare you were right about them all along. It’s about tribal signaling, to show you’re “on the right side of history.” It’s about communicating what will and won’t be tolerated, to signal to those who aren’t quite sure where they stand that they will suffer if they don’t toe the line.

            Sure, the term does imply that the individuals it describes are mentally defective in some sense. An irrational fear of homosexuals, even if it does not literally rise to the level of a clinical disorder, is a mental defect.

            This is the point – “irrational” is being defined as “not agreeing with us.” What, exactly, is “irrational” at seeing “You can fuck raw now!” posters plastered in gay communities in Melbourne after the introduction of PrEP, and being absolutely disgusted?

            Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder because it was a certain pattern of thinking and behavior that was observed to be very maladaptive. But this was revised when psychologists determined that there was nothing intrinsically maladaptive about it.

            I am completely over watching history I lived through be completely re-written to suit the needs of the Left. No, psychologists did not determine there was nothing maladaptive about homosexuality, that’s ad-hoc horseshit put out as cover for craven backpedeling in the face of massive political pressure; you would never accept this reasoning as an argument to, say, only issue a diagnosis of cognitive dissociative disorder if and only if it was making the patient feel sad.

            “Adaptive” and “maladaptive” only work when they reference behavioral norms – this behavior doesn’t result in self-destruction, so it’s ok, this behavior does, so it isn’t; this is why homosexuality was listed – it’s a hit on fitness equal to all Mendelian disorders combined! Changing the criteria makes the criteria meaningless.

            rather, the mental suffering and bad outcomes exhibited by homosexuals were the result of prejudice against them.

            Again, this is bs; an expression of the fervent desire that what one wants to be true is, in fact, true, not a reflection of what research actually tells us.

            Edit: here a link to Amanda Hess covering much the same ground w/r/t “phobia”:
            http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/magazine/how-phobic-became-a-weapon-in-the-identity-wars.html?_r=0

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I’m honestly curious as to if I’m being trolled. The origins of “xenophobia included hopes that for a “political Pastuer” to cure the world of the “disease.””

            Sources and links are wonderful parts of arguments.

            “The point is to use “homophobe,” and other “-phobe” comments, not to make a clinical diagnosis, it’s to dismiss opposition to one’s values as being illegitimate.”

            That is literally all of politics. I’m not seeing the point.

            “This is the point – “irrational” is being defined as “not agreeing with the us.” What, exactly, is “irrational” at seeing “You can fuck raw now!” posters plastered in gay communities in Melbourne after the introduction of PrEP, and being absolutely disgusted?”

            Would seeing an interracial couple kissing and being disgusted count as irrational? Do we get to feel disgust towards gays but not towards other groups? Because treating the different categories as deserving of different treatment without any stated reason is irrational.

            “No, psychologists did not determine there was nothing maladaptive about homosexuality, that’s ad-hoc horseshit put out as cover for craven backpedeling in the face of massive political pressure;”

            In 1973? What massive political pressure? Wiki states
            –Tests such as the Rorschach, Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) indicated that homosexual men and women were not distinguishable from heterosexual men and women in functioning. These studies failed to support the previous assumptions that family dynamics, trauma and gender identity were factors in the development of sexual orientation.–
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_psychology

            ““Adaptive” and “maladaptive” only work when they reference behavioral norms – this behavior doesn’t result in self-destruction; this is why homosexuality was listed – it’s a hit on fitness equal to all Mendelian disorders combined! Changing the criteria makes the criteria meaningless.”

            By that standards not desiring to have children and personality traits that lead to consistent birth control usage are also disorders. Also having interest in non-reproductive sex, not raping women when you won’t be caught, failing to be a sperm donor, etc, etc, etc. Psychiatry does not judge behavior as disorders based on if they make you more or less likely to want to have children.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Samuel Skinner

            Would seeing an interracial couple kissing and being disgusted count as irrational? Do we get to feel disgust towards gays but not towards other groups? Because treating the different categories as deserving of different treatment without any stated reason is irrational.

            Slightly off topic, but I will admit to finding anal sex kind of disgusting – whether gay or straight. And I would argue that this is an entirely defensible view. One: that’s where poop comes from. Two: prolapse.

            Although I can at least sympathize with gay men doing it, whereas for straight couples, it seems like a bizarre idea. You have two holes, one purpose-built for sexual use, the other really not built for it at all, right next to each other. Why anyone with a choice would ever take the latter over the former is something I have never been able to comprehend.

            Sorry if this is too explicit for SSC – or too repressed.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Slightly off topic, but I will admit to finding anal sex kind of disgusting – whether gay or straight.”

            I don’t think that is rare, although the exact feeling of disgust probably changes if you’ve ever had a prostate exam (pAiN). I have no idea how common or strong it is though; I’d imagine there should be similar feelings towards oral sex (since it is combining the area where you intake food with the end of the digestive track) but I have never been motivated to pursue such studies.

            “You have two holes, one purpose-built for sexual use, the other really not built for it at all, right next to each other. Why anyone with a choice would ever take the latter over the former is something I have never been able to comprehend.”

            /looks up on google/
            Apparently it feels better for some people. I suspect you have to be the kind of person who thinks that thinks combining sex, tools and planning is a good idea. And now I am saddened by the sexual repression in American society because we will never know American sexual tribes which means we will never get an SSC post identifying a group of people as ‘the Sodomites’ or get people in the comment section declaring they are ‘post-Sodomite’ or ‘neo-Sodomite’.

      • nil says:

        I think the root (and possibly etymological) truth comes from the fact that I, along with most hetrosexuals, have never tried gay sex. This is despite the fact that it bares a pretty close resemblance to something I enjoy a lot (hetrosexual sex) and the fact the people who have tried it mostly seem to enjoy it. Granted, I’ve never had the desire to try it in the same way I do hetrosexual sex, but I could say the same thing about all kinds of things that were great once I gave them a shot. There have been a number of occasions/periods of my life where it would have been very easy to try it, too.

        My aversion to giving it a whirl is based in part on an aversion that really can’t fairly be described as rational and in part on an accounting of other people’s irrational aversions, and I think “phobia” is a reasonably fair way to describe the emotional reactions involved all around.

        • That’s a reasonable defense of using “homophobia” to mean “irrational reluctance to engage in gay sex.”

          But that isn’t how the term is actually used. I find the idea of engaging in gay sex at least mildly repulsive but have no objection to other people doing it.

        • Deiseach says:

          But by the same token, you could then say that homosexuals were heterophobic, because heterosexual sex bears a strong resemblance to something they find enjoyable, is something that very many people enjoy a lot, and it is probably easy for them to try it and see if they’d like it or not. And if they weren’t wiling to try it, that would be probably an irrational aversion, and an emotional reaction best described as “phobic”.

          I’ve never seen homophobia used by the “homophobes” as a self-description. It was coined is used as a pejorative and relies very strongly on the notion embedded in the popular understanding that a phobia is an irrational fear. “Look at these silly and indeed contemptible people”, the term says. “They’re irrational, that means they’re incapable of using reason, driven by emotional reactions of fear, disgust and hatred!” It’s intended as an insult and ridicule and to be part of the method of overcoming objection by making those who object seem ridiculous and uncool and fuddy-duddy, not by arguing a case.

          EDIT: Apparently the term was coined back in the 60s by a psychologist:

          Coined by George Weinberg, a psychologist, in the 1960s, the term homophobia is a blend of (1) the word homosexual, itself a mix of neo-classical morphemes, and (2) phobia from the Greek φόβος, Phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”. Weinberg is credited as the first person to have used the term in speech. The word homophobia first appeared in print in an article written for the May 23, 1969, edition of the American pornographic magazine Screw, in which the word was used to refer to heterosexual men’s fear that others might think they are gay.

          • Tibor says:

            I think that in the Screw sense, that word also makes sense. I am heterosexual but I find it funny how some heterosexual men have a strong urge to prove to everyone that they indeed are not gay. I heard that in Colombia, two male friends will usually use the more formal usted instead of tú because that would sound like that they are too familiar with each other and that makes them look gay. Then again, if this is how the language works there – if men there actually assume that you are gay if you use tú with them, then it is not entirely irrational to try to avoid possible confusion or disappoint someone who thought you were interested in him.

    • Urstoff says:

      Does anyone seriously consider homophobia, as the term is commonly used, to be a real psychological phobia? I wouldn’t think so.

      • keranih says:

        Do you mean “anyone” to be “medical people who make clinical diagnosis of people with mental health issues” or “non-medical people who make value judgments of other humans?”

        There was some (over-amped) noise about including overt excessive bigotry as part of a diagnosis, as part of an over working disgust/distrust response, but I don’t know if it actually went anywhere.

        On the other hand, yes, there were plenty of people whose medical training was limited to a Red Cross CPR certificate and an undergrad degree in sociology (if that) who have been very clear that anti[X] bias is a sign of mental disorder.

        • Urstoff says:

          I mean, upon reflection does anyone consider homophobia in the same class of mental phenomenon as, say, acrophobia or claustrophobia? My wife is borderline phobic of frogs, and I’ve never seen anyone have a remotely similar reaction to homosexuals (ditto to foreigners and “xenophobia”). Seems like the root post is just speculating based upon an equivocation.

          • keranih says:

            I have not had the experience of seeing people who use the word ‘homophobic’ in the common insulting way independantly reflect on the implications of their use of that word, so I can’t say. Those whom I’ve challenged on their use of the word have indicated that they think there is something seriously wrong with such people.

      • Anonymous says:

        I know at least one person who experiences discomfort when in presence of public homosexuals, avoiding contact and interaction.

        • Urstoff says:

          Discomfort because of a disgust reaction (plausible) or discomfort because of fear/anxiety?

        • Echo says:

          Mate, I am homosexual, and there are plenty of “public homosexuals” who make me uncomfortable enough to avoid contact and interaction.
          If that’s a psychological illness, I don’t want to be sane.

          • Tibor says:

            I wonder what you think about gay pride parades. I am not a homosexual but I know homosexuals who really dislike those things. I myself see them as exhibitionist pride parades rather than anything else. Even in countries hostile to homosexuals they really seem to do more bad than good – instead of saying “we are like you, we just like to have sex with the same sex”, they conjure up an image of these weird queers. Obviously, there are gay who are perverted the same way some heterosexuals are, but the distribution is probably the same as with heterosexuals. I am sure some people would call me a pervert for being into some kinds of bdsm, it is maybe partly because of the social stigma and misunderstanding of what is actually going on but partly simply because of different tastes…If someone chooses to stop associating with me because of that then I have no problem with that – in fact I welcome that, I would probably not find someone like that very interesting anyway (not for disliking bdsm but for being so hostile to other people having different tastes). At the same time, I am not going to dress up in a latex costume (I am not so much into that particular thing anyway but just to conjure up a picture), or walk around in public with someone on a chain or being chained myself and expect other people to cheer for me, or even not to be annoyed by that…however, this is exactly what you can often see in gay parades.

  28. JuanPeron says:

    That’s an impressive NYT hit piece. I mean, there’s some truth in it, and I’m sure CFAR meetups draw an unconventional crowd, but wow did they butcher their context.

    I didn’t expect to see them get the Orthogonality Thesis right, but I also didn’t expect them to just outline Skynet and then claim it’s what MIRI is concerned with. Every other allusion to CFAR’s origins has that same insultingly reductive tone.

    • Joe from London says:

      I read the piece as a fair description of a CFAR workshop. Other than the possible misdescription of MIRI’s goals, which parts did you think were inaccurate and negative?

  29. koge_sano says:

    Semi open question

    How does everyone here reconcile how so many “This vitamin is recommended to supplement with” yet “multi-vitamins are not recommended and slightly bad for you”. The latter of which was posted months ago, with versions of the former posted once to 2x a month.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      When you find yourself asking “How should I reconcile…” it depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to show obeisance to authority and to look impressive, you should come up with complicated ways to reconcile facially contradictory claims. If your goal is to find the truth, you should put a lot of weight on the hypothesis that at least one of the studies is incorrect.

    • JuanPeron says:

      Multivitamins are not just a way to take several vitamins at once – they trap you into taking a wide spectrum of things, many at much higher levels than you would choose on your own. So calcium and iron are good for older women, Vitamin D is good for everyone at high-latitudes, etc, but multivitamins still give you things you don’t need at doses you don’t want.

      • koge_sano says:

        Assuming one has a somewhat balanced diet, would it then be a decent recommendation to simply take half a multi a day? 2/3rds? Assuming that multi went no higher then the recommended 100% daily value, that is.

        None of the 2000% vitamin XX sup garbage.

  30. 27chaos says:

    I think the problem with Dweck’s growth mindset arguments is that she describes it as though it is an internal personality characteristic, when really it is a process and tool that some people happen to use more than others. When you encounter a problem, and respond to that problem by thinking about it and trying to solve it rather than running away from it, that is rather obviously healthier and more productive. But because she characterized it as a mindset, it started to become more about the power of positive thinking in general, rather than about the importance of actually taking specific actions to overcome what challenges you encounter. Not all the blame for this rests with media misinterpretation, because her own writings describe growth mindset in a very passive and general way.

    “Children who don’t even try achieve worse life outcomes” would also be an accurate description of her findings, and less misleading, but also less sensationalist, unlikely to receive quite as much attention in the publications.

  31. dvasya says:

    The correct order is sickle (серп) and hammer (молот) 🙂

  32. Adam Casey says:

    “An easy way to fund some kind of important or charitable project you have going on: get a government grant. ”

    For people reading who aren’t aware, this was the initial idea behind what is now Charity Science, see initial report on the subject and compare to later updates.

  33. The original Mr. X says:

    Matt Walsh on why America’s falling apart, and it’s all your fault:

    http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/america-is-falling-apart-and-its-your-fault/

    Short version: people complain about the political establishment, but since this establishment is elected by the people, its shortcomings are the result of people not voting in very good candidates.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Except that most of the establishment is, in fact, unelected.

      Of the three points of the Iron Triangle only one is an elected politician. And both parties (wow, two parties, what a deal!) have done the best they can to minimize the chances of any ‘upsets’ in congressional races, to the point that incumbents often serve for decades uninterrupted.

      That’s not mentioning the establishments in academia and media which have their own roles in crafting and pushing policy, or the appointed judges who guard them from being undone by popular action.

      I think we should hold ourselves to account for bad decisions, and democracy does nothing if not produce bad decisions, but the elected government is just the tip of a massive iceberg. It’s not my decision if the BLM wants to play cops and robbers with ranchers in the middle of nowhere or if the TSA thinks it would be fun to play keep-away with my batteries.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        Exactly.

        Where do I cast my vote to get Bill O’Rielly, George Stephanopoulos, or the Director of the BLM fired? If Walsh has a ready answer I’ll concede his point but I don’t think he does.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        But non-elected government agencies owe their existence to laws and funding passed by the legislatures. Even if they’re not directly under the control of the electorate, the electorate is still responsible for choosing the people who define their scope and role, give them their resources, etc.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          In theory, yes.

          In practice, these organizations have essentially guaranteed budgets (remember the “government shutdown” where nothing actually shut down?), and all but a handful of their employees essentially cannot be fired. The laws establishing them are often a century old or more, having never come up for a vote since. And their cronyism ensures friends with debts and deep pockets, whether that means big business or professional activism.

          Sometimes they’re even designed that way explicitly. Look at the Federal Reserve: the idea that monetary policy is insulated from the ordinary political process is viewed as a feature. Ditto with the federal courts. Are the elderly republicans who elected Reagan responsible for Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion on Obergefell?

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Why is he using a meme-photoshopped version of a trump rally picture?

    • stillnotking says:

      That may be the dumbest article I’ve ever read. Walsh’s only real thesis is that government would be easy if people were perfect, a sentiment James Madison expressed better two hundred years ago (and Plato long before that). Then it conspicuously misidentifies the relevant imperfections. Then it offers a plan to correct them that’s nothing but pie in the sky — a weirdly totalitarian pie, premised on holding voters “accountable”. Exactly who is going to hold us accountable, and by what means, goes unsaid. I’m reminded of the grim Soviet-era joke that the government has lost faith in the people and may decide to dissolve them.

  34. MondSemmel says:

    “Also: island exploration computer game The Witness (by the author of Braid) is donating 10% of sales to Against Malaria Foundation.”

    To clarify, 10% of sales on the Humble Store goes to the AMF. (The majority of sales will be on Steam.) It’s still a great gesture, and I was happy to see John Blow reposting that Givewell info graphic about malaria on the Witness blog, but it’s not a donation of 10% of all revenue.

    That said, if you want to buy the game now at full price (rather than waiting for a sale), *then* definitely buy it on Humble Store.

    • Linch says:

      10% of *revenue* wouldn’t generally go to the AMF, but Jonathan Blow is a Giving What We Can member so presumably he will be donating 10% of his profits somewhere, even if you buy it on Steam.

  35. Adam Casey says:

    “The Empirics Of Free Speech (warning: long).”

    Christ! When Scott says your blog post is long … you need to go home and rethink your life.

  36. Jiro says:

    And a new study does show pay for performance has improved DC’s public schools.

    I’m skeptical of pay for performance because there’s no way to measure performance beyond the very crude. If you measure performance by improvement, teachers who are given good students end up with low pay (students can’t improve by a measurable amount if they’re too good) as well as teachers who are given unteachable students. And I hope you can see what is wrong with measuring performance by how well the students do on an absolute scale. It also makes it easier to destroy the career of a teacher by deliberately giving the teacher students who will cause the performance measure to be low, unless you can find a measure that can’t be gamed this way.

    And making teaching into a profession whose members can’t be sure of their next paycheck is going to do a lot of damage to teacher quality in the long run, once the teacher supply adjusts to the pay conditions. But it will take a while, so it won’t be captured in short term measures of improvement.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, regression to the mean is a thing. If you’re given last year’s top students, it’s an accomplishment if they stay the top students, and the scoring algorithm should take that into account. Breaks down if they’re bright enough to max out the scale even on their bad days, but there are not, in your average public school, going to be enough students like that in a single grade to fill a class with. At the lower end of the scale there are different but symmetrical considerations.

      I agree that it’s hard to come up with a metric that’s robust against malice, but it seems to me that if you’re designing your school system around defanging intra-faculty drama you’ve probably lost your way somewhere.

      • Jiro says:

        If you’re given last year’s top students, it’s an accomplishment if they stay the top students, and the scoring algorithm should take that into account

        Yeah, all you need is a scientific scoring algorithm, put into place by people who understand statistical concepts like regression to the mean. Or you could get a pony.

        No scoring algorithm is going to be like that in practice.

    • Anthony says:

      Even if you could design a good, ungameable metric for measuring teacher quality that actually depended on student learning (rather than solely teacher inputs), it would still suck, because samples sizes of 25 to 35 are too small for that shit.

    • “I’m skeptical of pay for performance because there’s no way to measure performance beyond the very crude.”

      Of course, firms in competitive industries have an objective and indisputable measure of performance: profit. When you take that away, I agree, it can only be replaced by crude measures of performance.

      • Anthony says:

        Measuring profit, or even value-added, is hard in some tasks, easier in others, and that dimension is orthogonal to “paid for by taxes”. How much value does a receptionist add at a law firm? At a construction company? At a tech firm? At a school? At City Hall?

        However, there’s a difference in that very few private firms are permitted to be monopsonistic employers, and therefore, if you get fired as a receptionist because some weird formula (gut feeling) for how much value you add shows that you’re not actually adding value, it’s ok, because there are lots of other places to work as a receptionist. In tax-paid jobs, we generally prefer that bosses don’t get to act very arbitrarily in employment decisions. And using a system which really is a random-number generator at the level of individual employment decisions seems to be too arbitrary for government work.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      A performance measure would have to be crude indeed to be cruder than “they’re as good as their seniority”.

  37. Hal Johnson says:

    Is “Siamese” a fossil word (existing only in twins and cats)?

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I think he knows the origin of the word but that since there is no country called Siam anymore, and thus no siamese people or culture, the word has been completely replaced by Thai outside of those expressions and ‘The King and I’.

    • Nornagest says:

      Siam is the old English word for the country we now call Thailand; it’s comparable to “Persia” for Iran. It now appears mostly in older or poetic allusions to the nation.

      Siamese twins are called that because a particularly famous pair, back in the late 1800s when mass media was just getting started, were Thai. I don’t know exactly what links the cats to the country.

      • keranih says:

        Pointed-colored cats with relatively lean features were originally imported from the Brit embassies in Bangkok, back in 18-mumble-mumble, to England/the UK.

        The cats weren’t as slender/pointy as they are now, but they did look quite a bit different from “normal” Brit landrace shorthairs.

        While the story went that Siamese cats were kept by the Thai royalty, it appears that this was just one of the local landraces kept/tolerated by all levels of society.

  38. Joyously says:

    The colander-on-head protests seem misquided to me. The protestors are making *themselves* look foolish. Why should anyone else care? (They shouldn’t, anymore than they should care about someone else wearing a headscarf in their driver’s photo.)

    • Murphy says:

      To an extent they’re carving out room for more religious freedom. If a real religion which people actually cares about comes along which requires people to wear something silly then it’s much simplified when they can point to some tiny little group who already won the right to wear something silly.

      To a lesser extent it simply points out the vague absurdity of all religion and exceptions that are made in law for religions.

      • Anthony says:

        To an extent they’re carving out room for more religious freedom. If a real religion which people actually cares about comes along which requires people to wear something silly then it’s much simplified when they can point to some tiny little group who already won the right to wear something silly.

        To a lesser extent it simply points out the vague absurdity of all religion and exceptions that are made in law for religions.

        You’ve got this exactly backwards. FSM/pastafarianism is primarily an uninformed, historically unaware, blue-tribe parody of religion, that exploits existing religious accommodation to attack them.

        The Russian who decided that the guy *must* wear his colander while driving understands this, and has a better sense of humor than the pastafarians.

      • Joyously says:

        Yes. Maybe they will further cement the precedent, which I think is a good thing.

        It should be noted that the entire point of rules forbidding you to wear things on your head in driver’s license photos is that it should look like you normally look. (Or so I’ve always assumed). That way an official can easily determine that you’re the person in the photo. A woman who always wears a headscarf in public *should* wear a headscarf in her license photo so she’s easily recognizable. An exception would be veils that cover the face.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Such protests make sense if they use an analogy to gain some advantage. The implicit claim is that religious groups are being favoured, that they are cheating. If so then the FSM guys should be able to gain some advantage from their religious status.

  39. Clueful Anon says:

    Drama Llama: OMG why are people still talking about my ex? Isn’t ME dumping him proof enough that he sucks?
    New Boyfriend: LOL, your ex is an idiot and total dbag. He totally suxors.
    Ex Boyfriend: Why are you such an asshole? Fuck off.
    Clueless Anon: Pardon me sir. Have you considered the possibility that you are misreading New Boyfriend? Quit being so uncharitable.

    Related: https://xkcd.com/592/

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t understand the context of this comment.

      • Adam Casey says:

        That’s probably for the best. Spreading drama seems like a bad thing for all concerned.

      • Vaniver says:

        I suspect it is the recent unpleasantness on Tumblr involving Ozy (character 1), Hallquist (character 2), and our host (character 3).

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          If this is some personal thing between people, even though it might’ve been in a “public” medium, it might not be polite to bring it up nonchalantly.

          That being said, now that it’s out, don’t just leave us hanging like that, elaborate!

          • Vaniver says:

            That being said, now that it’s out, don’t just leave us hanging like that, elaborate!

            If you want to waste your own time, you have been given the tools to find it, but I have little interest in summarizing it.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Oh God. Why did I look that up?

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            I couldn’t help but look it up . Meh. I didn’t find the disagreement all that interesting. Though upon having visiting Scott’s tumblr, I am disappointed that I nearly missed THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER 2.

            I am now tempted to sign up for tumblr. Is it worth?

          • Nornagest says:

            I am now tempted to sign up for tumblr. Is it worth?

            Not really.

        • Urstoff says:

          Tumblr: not even once

          • Emile says:

            Well at least it’s not getstungbymillionsofwasps.com.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            What’s the deal with getstungbymillionsofwasps.com? I don’t understand the reference.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s a joke that Scott made a while back. See here, among other places.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Haha. Cute. Thanks for the update.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ah, in defence of Tumblr, it depends what you’re signing up for and what Tumblrs you then follow.

            I originally joined because my nephew had a Tumblr and I wanted to see what this was all about. I stuck with it because of a lot of fandom things and it’s mindboggling to me – but in a good way, being of a certain age – to see all the little baby fans going into raptures about a series I was going into raptures over as a little baby fan back in the late 60s/mid 70s, which they got into because they saw the latest movie re-imagining of, loved it, and went back to see the original show.

            Also a lot of “misery loves company” with fellow Liverpool followers, tinged now with incredulity over Kloppo and the fragile shoots of daring to dream again 🙂

            I also get into a lot of reasonable amount of fights on there when the SJWishness/unthinking and unquestioning lockstep progressiveness leads someone to post or reblog something that pushes me beyond my (limited) tolerance (put up one more goddamn quote post of Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson, I fecking dare you), but I generally get into fights on the Internet with strangers wherever I go, so Tumblr can’t be blamed for that.

            I mean, if you like – say – knitting and baking and follow those Tumblrs about knitting and baking, you probably won’t run into anything too offensive (unless there is some huge schism verging on civil war in baking circles about using butter versus other forms of shortening or something).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Deiseach
            a lot of fandom things (and it’s mindboggling to me – but in a good, being of a certain age – to see all the little baby fans going into raptures about a series I was going into raptures over as a little baby fan back in the late 60s/mid 70s, which they got into because they saw the latest movie re-imagining of, loved it, and went back to see the original show.

            Examples? What do they say when they encounter OST?

          • keranih says:

            Yeah, Fandom on Tumblr is not any more self-aware than Fandom anywhere else, and far less likely to be charitable towards their progenitors. “No one did fandom right before us and the past is full of nothing but sexism and racism and homophobia” is thicker there than any other place I’ve seen.

            Also it’s a great place to have a good shout but a lousy place for a convo.

          • Deiseach says:

            If we’re talking about OST being Original Star Trek, the reaction is generally positive, particularly in comparison with the Abrams reboot.

            Oh, the happy times putting the boot into Abrams’ reboot! 🙂

            I mean, the flaws of the original are recognised and that you can’t write it all off as “Well that’s just how it was back then”, but really when you compare the two: the reboot reduced Named Women Characters from three to one (Chapel, Rand, Uhura to just Uhura) and mainly she’s there as The Love Interest. Part of that is the problem with giving an ensemble cast enough to do in a movie, unlike a TV series where you can centre an episode around them, and we see that in the reboot where even by the second movie they were struggling to find room for Scotty, Chekov and Sulu, and McCoy has been displaced by Uhura in the triumvirate, so you could understand the decision not to have extra female characters. On the other hand, nothing compelled them to turn Christine Chapel’s character into nothing but the punchline to a shitty joke, either.

            But part of that – and there’s been comparison between what he did with Trek and what he’s now done with Star Wars – is that Abrams and/or his team latched onto the pop culture notion of “Kirk the Womaniser” and simply used that as an excuse to show “women in their underwear” (presumably for the legendary teen to young twenties male demographic).

            For example, we’ve done long (I mean long) posts on, for example, rank badges on uniforms or other methods of distinguishing rank, and how the female uniforms (most egregiously Uhura’s one) don’t seem to have those. Male uniforms: you can tell a cadet from a lieutenant. Female uniform: no idea what her rank is, so how do you know she has the authority to tell you “Shift your arse, mister”?

            (The show I was referencing in the original comment was “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” which, as I said, boggles my mind to have kids not born when it was first run squeeing over Illya Kuryakin the same way I did when I was eight).

        • Deiseach says:

          If that (Tumblr disquisition on taking “Mediations on Moloch” seriously) is what it is about, then the comment is very much mistaken as none of the parties are expressing themselves in such terms.

          The worst I can say is that on one side it is yet another example of ultra-rationalists having not the foggiest notion of what to do with/make of poetry and insisting on treating it as an equation where every step has to mean something and you must show your work, and we need it to work so we can calibrate the rate of inflow for the mixing chamber so it has to be taken literally.

    • Echo says:

      It’s delightful to watch in some ways, isn’t it? Especially knowing that it will leave everyone involved wiser and more conservative.
      Except maybe New Boyfriend, who seems to have learning issues.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Now that someone has explained the context of this to me, banned for two weeks for your comment being neither kind nor necessary.

    • Pku says:

      Drama Llama sounds like what the guy who named walkie talkies calls his ex.

  40. jseliger says:

    the government grant process is a terrible confusopoly, which is mostly bad but can be good if you learn to navigate terrible confusopolies and don’t want too many competitors

    I’m a grant writing consultant, so I have unusual expertise in this are. My best guess is that the grant system has evolved in the way it has because of signaling issues. I also don’t think that the system has evolved primarily in response to the needs of organizations that get funded; I think it has evolved according to the needs of funders.

    If you’re curious about what the system is like from the perspective of someone who works it every day, email me.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      I also don’t think that the system has evolved primarily in response to the needs of organizations that get funded; I think it has evolved according to the needs of funders.

      As did Freecycle. 😉

  41. Elissa says:

    Re: paywalled NBER paper, check email.

  42. Deiseach says:

    An easy way to fund some kind of important or charitable project you have going on: get a government grant. Related: the government grant process is a terrible confusopoly, which is mostly bad but can be good if you learn to navigate terrible confusopolies and don’t want too many competitors.

    As a minor minion on the periphery of dealing with grant applications for various things (we being the awarding body doling out the government dosh), hell yes on the “confusopoly” 🙂

  43. Jaskologist says:

    Fascinating rant by Glenn Lowry on Bloggingheads about Black Lives Matter (Glenn is black):

    They’re willing to allow an engagement with the substantive group of black lives to go unspoken while they genuflect at totems which are people with megaphones at street corners yelling about incidents that are 1 in a million. The everyday grinding deprivation of black lives has no register, is nowhere articulated in the rhetoric of this movement.

    The Baltimores and the Fergusons of the world, and the Detroits, and the St Louises, and the Oaklands, and South Central LA’s, and the Houstons, and the Chicagos of this world, and the Milwaukees, and the East St Louses, and the Camdems, etc, they’ve been governed by Democrats and subject to Great Society initiatives for half a century. The first black elected officials emerge as the municipal executives of these jurisdictions. They have been the site of one after another after another after another multibillion dollar initiative to try to foster this or that or the other. If you were serious about black lives mattering here in the 20th century, over a half-century on from the Civil Rights movement, and you looked around and you saw failing schools, you saw jails that were overflowing with people (who actually broke the law! It’s not as if they’re sending the vans up and down the street and just rounding up people at random!), courts that are overflowing, public hospital waiting rooms that are jammed to the max, family disorganization, social worker’s cases that would make your hair stand on end, thousands upon tens of thousands of them; if you really thought that black lives mattered, you would have to engage in a reflective and critical examination of the very foundation of social policy in this country over the last half-century, as it has born on the lives of black and poor people. That would be to the discredit of the Democratic party in a profound way. They haven’t even begun to recognize the problem, let alone promote any kind of critical intellectual resource to deal with it. This is why I say at the end of the day they show how cheap black lives actually are.

    Let me give you an analogy: Hispanic lives matter more than black lives to the Democrats. They’re prepared to reshape the United States of America on behalf of Hispanic constituents. They are throwing the black people bones when they genuflect to a bunch of 22 year old people with a social media account and a hashtag, and they let that drive the politics of race when the Democratic party’s politics of race ought to be about “How come our cities look like they are after 50 years of what we’ve been trying to do for them?” That’s the devaluation of black lives: the absence of a critical political reflection by the people who are responsible for the basket cases that we’ve got in our cities.

    But don’t worry, he’s still planning to vote for Hillary, though if you listen to the rest, he seems to find Trump rather tempting.

    • onyomi says:

      And this (to contrast with my post above about solitary confinement) is why I can’t vote for Democrats… and am baffled by people who can simultaneously express the above and still vote for Democrats.

      Related, has Scott explained anywhere why he intends to vote for Hillary? I’m sure he’s aware of all this stuff, but maybe he views GOP war-mongering as even worse?

      Also, though it says nothing about the commentariat, I think it is a data point in the ongoing “is SSC becoming too conservative/libertarian?” debate that the host is still 90% sure he’s going to vote for Hillary.

      • Seth says:

        Well, “too conservative/libertarian” needs to consider the relative versus absolute position. Is Hillary Clinton too conservative/libertarian? That is, from the point of view of some absolute sense, she’s a rather conservative “neoliberal” (pro-War, pro-corporate, etc). Of course, in a relative sense, she’s much much more liberal than the Republican field. There’s an interesting debate going on right now with liberals around the conflicts between identity politics (potential First Woman President) versus that fact that she’s an establishment politico running against a primary rival who is an explicit democratic socialist (i.e. has much more leftist policies).

        I agree with you that it’s an interesting datapoint. But I’d urge some caution in the interpretation.

        • onyomi says:

          https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/01/25/predictions-for-2016/#comment-312672

          Based on the above, Scott isn’t supporting Sanders because he doesn’t think he has a chance of winning. He doesn’t indicate whether he would support Sanders if he thought he had a chance of winning, but he does seem to imply that he is supporting Hillary basically by default. In other words, if he could have a more left wing person than Hillary with a good chance of winning, it sounds like he might vote for him/her.

          So, of the people with a reasonable chance of being the next president (Clinton, Trump, and Rubio, in that order, according to prediction markets), he’s supporting the most left wing of the three. This doesn’t prove he’s really, really left wing, but it certainly seems to indicate he’s not right wing.

          • Seth says:

            I don’t see that comment as not supporting Sanders because he can’t win. It reads to me instead as simple analysis of who could reasonably win overall. The comment to which he’s replying is asking about his reasoning regarding predictions. I don’t see that he’d necessarily support someone more left-wing (he might, I just don’t know, and don’t see it in that comment).

            Again, it’s important to keep in mind the relative standard and what is meant by “not right wing”. In general, what many people mean by that “not socially conservative religious theocrat, and not nasty about being strongly capitalist”. This is still rather rightish by the standards of socialism, or even European social democrat. To oversimply a little, if you have a range of [neoliberal, reactionary, fascist], it is true that neoliberal is the “most left” of the group, in that it’s neither reactionary nor fascist. But that’s not a recommendation for it in an absolute sense.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      Bloggingheads conversations between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter* (the former an economist, the latter a linguist; both are black) are an excellent tonic after a long day of social-media-driven professional activists.

      * McWhorter’s lectures on language from Great Courses are quite interesting from a layman’s perspective. Unrelated: my ex insisted on referring to him as “Dr. McSexyVoice”; YMMV.

    • Sastan says:

      The answer is as simple as it is intractable. Tribal loyalties have been activated. Democrats are ingroup to the black community. And, obviously, blacks are ingroup to blacks, even though no one is more dangerous to them. White cops (even when they are only honorarily white, by virtue of being cops) are outgroup.

      The tragedy is that there was a moment just before the Ferguson riots where the libertarianish wing of the Republicans was ready to do a deal with the Democrats on criminal justice reform curtailing militarized policing and a great many other liberal wishlist items. Race riots ended that quickly. There is space to compromise here, but the left will not do any deal unless race is the reason. They are incapable of any other thought process. Overcriminalization and militarized policing threatens us all, as Scott and many others have shown, it just isn’t a black thing. But the black community will not join a coalition to end the practices. It has to be about them.

      • As noted about Loury and McWorter, not all blacks are in line with BlackLivesMatter, and I believe a good many of the enforcers for BlackLivesMatter (rather than AllLivesMatter or PoliceBrutalityMatters) are white.

        Part of the problem is that libertarians are just not very good at convincing people to take action.

        • BeatCop says:

          I work as a police officer in a very much predominantly black neighborhood, and I can vouch for the above statement. I remember one time when a guy was screaming “Michael Brown! Ferguson!” because he wouldn’t leave his girlfriend’s house at 2 in the morning and I told him he had to. Several people came outside and started yelling at him to knock it off, and after I finally convinced him that he did not have a constitutional right to stand on his girlfriend’s lawn, several came up to me and told me they appreciated the job I do.

          Even in the highest crime rate parts of the city, I still get people thanking me, though frequently they do so only when they’re out of sight of other people (it can be dangerous to be seen as too friendly to law enforcement in those neighborhoods).

          I do want to throw out there that while over-criminalization is definitely a major problem, I am unconvinced about “militarized policing”. Basically, the arguments seem to be “that equipment looks scary!” Like calling armored vehicles “tanks”- often, the same criteria could be used to classify Brinks trucks as “tanks” (Stop the militarization of armored car drivers!) The only specific argument I find reasonable is overuse of SWAT teams- many departments do seem to use them way, way too much. We get “SWATting” attempts sometimes at my department, and they pretty much never work because we use, you know, reasonable prudence and preliminary investigation before we call out the dog-and-pony show. And our SWAT team is very, very good and puts a lot of effort into resolving issues peacefully, which is actually pretty standard for many, probably most departments.

          • Echo says:

            Do you think that small town “part-time” or “second hat” SWAT teams are more likely to act… over-zealously?

          • Sastan says:

            The armored vehicle thing I think is a waste of taxpayer money, and it is “militarization”, but isn’t a real rights problem the way overuse of SWAT is. A lot of cops have a pretty severe hardon for the military, and they like their toys. Works out well for me, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to keep communities safe.

            The problem with toys is that there is a natural urge to want to find situations in which to use them. Be that a SWAT team or an armored vehicle. I haven’t seen much armored vehicle abuse, but I have seen my local bill for it. In a broke city, our police department, which cut seven officers, and is chronically overworked, spent several million dollars on a mine-resistant armored vehicle and its upkeep. Number of mines that have detonated in my town, ever? 0. When we got an emergency manager, he couldn’t sell it, so he gave it away. It was costing the city so much to maintain it was worth it.

          • keranih says:

            I think that the call for more professional police (such as the big cities do) and doing away with part time SWAT teams is in direct contrast to calls for community level involvement, doing away with draconian sentencing laws, and opposing Big Corporation in all its forms.

          • J says:

            (Referenced your comment in the open thread)

    • Poxie says:

      Glenn Lowry – I’ve listened to his Bloggingheads rants for years, and even remember some of his 1980s stuff written for TNR and Commentary – is a contrarian by nature.

      Also a very smart man, and he has reason to be resentful of the Powers That Be. Like all smart people :). And his criticisms of BLM, or the neoconservative circles he ran with back in the day, or academia generally, probably have plenty of justification.

      But I wouldn’t take Lowry, A Black Man, criticizing BLM as evidence of a broader trend. The dude is congenitally dissatisfied. A curmudgeon of the highest order.

      (I think he’s a fascinating figure, by the way. Worth looking at his career as a whole. It’s got a lot of twists and turns, both ideological and of the, er, life-choices kind.)

  44. onyomi says:

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2016/01/20/the-awful-chinese-writing-system/

    I am linking this article just so I can tell everyone that it is really stupid and half my Sinologist friends initially thought it was an Onion article or something. Chinese characters take longer to learn but are easier to scan, are well-suited to Chinese languages because of the importance of the single syllable and the large number of homonyms (though probably not as well-suited to others), fit more info in a smaller space, instantly communicate etymology and bridge gaps between mutually unintelligible East Asian languages and dialects, etc. etc.

    Also, there is an unspoken assumption here which is that writing systems are nothing more than ways of encoding spoken language. If that were true then we should all just adopt the IPA and be done with it. The fact is that literary Chinese is, in some sense, a language all its own, and is still a big part of everyday Chinese writing and even speech. It conveys a ton of info in a small space and, again, is intelligible across dialects, to say nothing of the connection to 3000 years of history, literature, philosophy, idioms, etc.

    • Anatoly says:

      Pullum isn’t saying anything new here. There’s a tradition of linguists trying to look past the way the writing system anchors strongly to culture in people’s minds. With Chinese, John Defrancis wrote “Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy”, which supplies examples, facts and nuances missing from Pullum’s short article. Your Sinologist friends should be familiar with it. Almost all the claims about the unique advantages of Chinese characters in your post are directly discussed by Defrancis in great detail.

      “Also, there is an unspoken assumption here which is that writing systems are nothing more than ways of encoding spoken language.”

      Writing systems are more than that, but the importance of particular systems/norms is often strongly exaggerated. If we wonder how a particular culture will deal with changes in the writing system, we have many examples to learn from. The Turks, the Vietnamese, Slavic languages split between the Latin and the Cyrillic etc. Usually what we see is strong protests and predictions of cultural doom before the reform, and 10-20 years after it nobody understands what they were so frantic about. The new system/variant feels just as natural/ingrained/indispensable as the old one. In my own native language, Russian, this played out on a smaller scale with a post-1917 spelling reform. The amount of ink spilled and nonsense written over that one had been prodigious.

      • onyomi says:

        DeFrancis is hardly cutting edge, and pretty much everything he says in that book is just basic common knowledge for any Sinologist. Yet Pullum’s article still looks like an ignorant joke from our perspective. He does not even seem to speak or read any East Asian languages yet he wants to tell those billions of speakers and readers that their system sucks?

        Some Vietnamese claim that they struggle with ambiguity of homophones when reading their own language. And, of course, none of them now have the advantage of also being able to read Chinese and easily notice cognates which they used to have.

        Comparing Japanese and Korean, I find the former much easier to scan because they retained a lot more of the Chinese characters. Most Korean now uses only the syllable-based Hangul which, while an incredibly logical and elegant phonetic system in its own right, still requires that you sound everything out to figure out the meaning and still obscures etymology and distinctions among homophones.

        Yeah, people can and will adjust to writing system changes, but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a change which is a mistake. I think the change to simplified characters on the mainland is also a mistake, tbh. They’re not actually much easier to learn and in some cases are more ambiguous. They’re harder to scan quickly and you end up just having to learn two versions of many characters if you ever want to go to Taiwan or Hong Kong or read a book published before the 1950s.

        And don’t forget the political and linguistic ramifications of adopting pinyin wholesale: There are at least 10 different major Chinese language groups none of which are mutually intelligible, but all of which use the same characters! It’s one thing to demand that everyone learn Mandarin pronunciations in school, another to eliminate the writing system which could even suggest any other pronunciations. The result could go one of two ways: either it pushes a bunch of Chinese provinces to literally secede sooner than see their linguistic heritage further wiped out, or, more likely, given the strength of the Chinese centralized state, it just hastens the wiping out of Chinese linguistic diversity. Neither end result is desirable from the perspective of most Chinese (though I, personally, would think it rather cool if the Wu-speaking part of China seceded, for example).

        • Anatoly says:

          I’m out of my depth here; I know no Chinese and very little Japanese. Defrancis’ book is available at gen.lib.rus.ec; if you’re interested in a strongly argued critique of your views here, I urge you to give it a try. As with your previous comment, it contradicts much of your argument in this one: e.g. Defrancis would say that it’s wishful thinking to pretend that Vietnamese prior to the reform were able to “read Chinese” without learning the language; and that modern standard written Chinese is heavily based on Mandarin, meaning that speakers of the 9 other language groups do not merely need to learn “Mandarin pronunciations” of characters, but also much of Mandarin grammar and syntax that differ from e.g. Cantonese (word order, pronouns, what have you), which again amounts to learning a different language.

          Yes, surely there can be a change that is a mistake, and perhaps switching from Chinese characters to pinyin (which is politically and culturally impossible in the foreseeable future anyway) *would* be a mistake, I don’t know; my point is that there’s a strong bias in favor of the existing system with which I’m well-familiar from other languages I do know, and I think historical examples demonstrate convincingly that it is indeed a bias, and much of our thinking about the familiar and appreciated writing systems does amount to cultural mythology.

          In the case of Japanese, many of these issues are explored in a brilliant book “Nihongo: In Defence of Japanese” by Roy Andrew Miller.

        • youzicha says:

          Isn’t the “easy of scanning” rather confounded because (if I understand correctly) you already knew Chinene and Japanese to a near-native level when you started learning Korean? I would expect the amount of hours you have spent reading a language to be the most important factor in how easily you can scan it.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, it’s true I haven’t spent nearly as much time reading Korean as I have reading Chinese and Japanese, but I notice what seems to me a qualitative difference. The experience of reading Korean reminds me very much of reading Japanese without any Kanji, which, in some sense, is basically what it is. Reading Japanese without Kanji, while it seems easier to beginning students, is actually a nuisance, and noticeably slower in my experience.

            If Japan were to pass an “abolish Kanji” law tomorrow and systematically start replacing all Kanji in printed materials and signs with nothing but hiragana and katakana, I don’t think the Japanese language would cease to function as a medium of communication. I just think it would be really annoying and pointless and, at the end of the day, once everyone had adjusted, result in a system which, while superficially easier to learn, would nonetheless be clumsier and less efficient and disconnected from history in a lot of ways. It’s not a change that couldn’t be adjusted to, but it would, on net, be a bad thing, imo. And I feel the same about changing Chinese to pinyin only, though the adjustment and the problematic political and cultural ramifications would be greater.

          • Emile says:

            Japanese friends told me it scans very well because of the very different looks of kanjis vs. hiragana vs. katakana – a bit as if nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. each had their own distinct font.

            I feel that it does scan more easily, but my Japanese isn’t good enough to really tell.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      On a tangent to your link, how would you advise an amateur with limited time and financial resources go about acquainting himself with reading Chinese? So far I’ve been tackling it with brute memorization, intending to add Chinese to my other languages, but if there’s a better or an easier way, I’d like to know it.

      • Emile says:

        How about:

        * Putting your smartphone and computer in Chinese
        * Buying comic strips / manga you enjoy in Chinese (preferably easy ones, i.e. I have Dragon Ball in Chinese.)

        I also used brute memorization tho, also living in China helped.

      • onyomi says:

        My general rule for learning languages (and to some extent, anything) is to try to get into the “fun” stuff as soon as possible. That is, if you want to learn Japanese in order to read manga, don’t wait to try to read manga until you’ve mastered Japanese grammar and the 1500 or so kanji you’re likely to encounter there. Instead, just start reading manga and looking up words as necessary to aid understanding.

        I really like Lingq for this purpose and have it been using it pretty effectively to learn Korean lately. It allows you to click on unfamiliar words for quick lookup and to download relevant audio for listening practice.

        In order to have good handwriting and be able to write, in addition to recognize Chinese characters, there may really be no way around spending a certain amount of time just writing characters. That said, there can be a “smart” way to go about it. First of all there’s concentrating on reading comprehension as described above. The number of characters you can recognize will always be greater than the number you can write and it doesn’t strike me as much of a problem if, at first, this discrepancy is quite large, especially if you don’t have any particular need to hand write Chinese. You can always go back and learn the characters you keep encountering in whatever you’re reading, and they’ll “stick” much more easily if you are seeing them a lot.

        Related, when you do finally decide, “okay, I’ve seen this character enough now that I really should know how to write it properly,” then think about why the character is the way it is: the most obvious are the minority of characters which look like things, but the great majority, as you probably know, are combinations of sound and sense, like the character for “mom” combining “woman” and “horse” (has to do with women, sounds like “horse”). Realizing why the characters are as they are makes them much easier to remember than if you are thinking of them as just arbitrary. Related, check this out, which someone else posted here a while back, if you haven’t already seen it. It’s very clever: http://zompist.com/yingzi/yingzi.htm

        • Tibor says:

          Do you think you can learn Japanese without bothering with Kanji at all? Katakana and Hiragana seem quite easy, it is not that many more characters than the Latin alphabet and the language itself seems incredibly phonetic to me (I’ve learned a few expressions just by watching Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo and then when I typer what I heard to google it was always exactly matching the romanji transcription) and sounds much easier than any other east asian language (it is also not tonal, which helps a lot I would guess), so it could be fun to learn.

          The two reasons I do not learn it is that I am currently trying to get my Spanish at least to the level of my German and my German to the level of my English and since I probably don’t have a good enough reason to learn it whereas I use both German and Spanish every day (well, Spanish almost every day).

          But since Spanish is an incredibly easy language (on par with, or maybe easier than English) and I should not have that much trouble with Italian (which I don’t have a good reason to learn either but which I find to be the most beautiful language I’ve ever heard) once I can speak Spanish relatively fluently, I might as well learn something more exotic at least a little bit and I like what Japanese sounds like. I’ve also always felt like it would be really cool to learn classical Latin, but seems like an incredibly hard language and there is practically nobody to talk to, no TV shows in Latin and no modern books written in it.

          • Emile says:

            The phonetics and writing are indeed pretty simple (except the Kanji), but the grammar is pretty tough, I’m struggling with it nowadays. Kanjis don’t bother me by comparison. There are just too many verb forms and special verb endings with special meanings, and also fine nuances and unsaid context …

            By comparison, Chinese grammar is so straightforwards it almost seems like baby-talk. You could translate “me tomorrow eat chicken meat” word-by-word and it would be grammatically correct.

          • Tibor says:

            Emile: I dunno, Czech has 7 grammatical cases which a lot of native speakers of languages without cases find difficult (I guess they’ve never heard of Finnish or Hungarian which do not even have prepositions and use cases for everything so that there are something in the ballpark of 20 cases in each language). Generally I usually don’t find grammar to be difficult, it tends to be logical once you get a feeling for it…then again, I’ve only ever been learning English, German and Spanish so far (and a year of French at school but I don’t remember anything) which are all Indo-European languages so maybe Japanese is just so different that the grammar becomes a much bigger challenge.

          • Emile says:

            Tibor: yeah, the grammar is pretty different – i.e. French, German and Spanish will have verb conjugation according to the subject, whereas in Japanese the verb doesn’t change with the subject but does change depending on if it’s an invitation, an order, a passive form, etc. with plenty of weird forms, like “I became not wanting to eat” is a conjugation of “to eat”. And all of these take different forms at different levels of politeness. So it’s as if there are as many rules as in German or French, but they apply to completely different things.

            On the other hand the conjugations themselves are very regular, unlike in French. It’s just that there are a lot of forms. I don’t know which of French or Japanese has the most difficult grammar, they’re probably about equal if you only know languages unrelated to both.

          • onyomi says:

            “Do you think you can learn Japanese without bothering with Kanji at all?”

            You could learn to speak and understand colloquial Japanese while avoiding the kanji (or even the kana, for that matter–see the popular textbook “Japanese the Spoken Language” by Jordan), but you can’t avoid them entirely if you want to be able to read a novel, newspaper, etc. Many manga have “furigana” (little kana written above/next to the kanji), so you might be able to get away with not knowing them for that purpose as well.

            That said, knowing them is ultimately an aid not only to reading and writing, but, imo, to remembering the words of Chinese origin. The word “refrigerator” is easier to remember, for example, when you know it’s made up of the words “cold storage box.”

      • Emily H. says:

        My method is to do a lot of very easy reading, supplemented with things like podcasts intended for second-language learners (listening while reading to the transcript), TV dramas, and flash cards in Anki — for vocabulary only, not for individual hanzi. (That is — if a particular hanzi is used by itself, like 走, I make a card for that; but if I encounter a compound, like 主意, I make a card for the compound, not for the hanzi within it). This is supplemented with word frequency lists; I make vocabulary lists from things I’m reading, but don’t learn words that aren’t in the top 10,000 or 12,000 (now that I’m at an intermediate-ish level.)

        I don’t necessarily agree with Pullum but I find that concentrating on Chinese as a spoken language is actually really helpful in learning reading.

        One last word about very easy reading: not children’s books, until you’re at an intermediate-ish level. (Children’s novels and adult novels aren’t that far apart, in terms of difficulty). Some manga are okay. Books written for second-language learners are best, though there aren’t enough good ones; the Mandarin Companion series is really good. Chinese Breeze is OK. Some people are much more motivated by reading authentic material even if it means you have to look up every single word, so if that’s you, fine… I find that it’s almost impossible to consolidate what I’m learning unless I can read at a sort of reasonable speed.

    • Emile says:

      Well I agree on at least one thing – because of it’s complexity, Mandarin will not be adapted as a world language the way English or Spanish might.

      Other than that, yeah, I agree it’s kinda silly, notably using the biang character is a bit like illustrating the complexity of swedish with Spårvagnsaktiebolagsskensmutsskjutarefackföreningspersonalbeklädnadsmagasinsförrådsförvaltarens.

      • onyomi says:

        “the way English or Spanish might.”

        How do you imagine that happening?

        • Tibor says:

          Huh? Has that not been happening with English for the last few decades or so? Spanish might be a serious competitor in the future, depending on how fast the Hispanic America develops economically. In any case, it is all about the New World 🙂

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You want to complain about Chinese characters, complain that they’re still being used in Japan. I used to teach Japanese elementary school, and even 4th and 5th graders couldn’t really read their own language because there were 3000 different characters to memorize.

      This being despite the fact that the Japanese have two other syllabic character sets, understand the Latin alphabet just fine, have a language which is very easily written in the Latin alphabet without loss of information, and which is totally unsuited to Chinese characters such that each character has to have multiple different sounds and everything has to be supplemented with other character sets to write out the parts that Chinese characters can’t encode.

      If somebody said “Let’s switch everything to hiragana” they could do it tomorrow with little confusion, but for some reason they still haven’t dropped the Chinese yet. Shows how little hope there is for China doing the same.

      • Echo says:

        They did study it. Turns out reading an entire block of hiragana is really awful, partly because of homophones.

        • Tibor says:

          Maybe, but they could still switch to the Latin alphabet (or Greek or Russian, whatever, anything that works well in large blocks of text and does not contain more than 50 characters)…I guess that there are reasons why they might not to which have a lot to do with culture and nationalism. Then again Atatürk also managed to make the country switch from something which resembled Arabic letters to Latin. Then again, Atatürk was not exactly a democratically elected head of the state.

          Ipso facto, Japan needs to reinstitute the shogunate (with a pro-western Shogun), invade China (finally successfully) and enforce Latin alphabet on all of the shogunate’s subjects (although you need some accents for Mandarin and especially Cantonese to denote tones).

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I have to say, I really don’t think Chinese is suited to Latin letters at all. Prior to studying the language, I thought much the same – why can’t these barbarians drag themselves out of the past and embrace proper Western systems of writing?

            However, even with pinyin, that’s a tall order, for several reasons.

            First, there’s the problem that China is a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic empire, and the writing system provides one of the main sources of unity. A man from Guangzhou and a man from Beijing may not be able to speak a word to each other, but can happily share a newspaper (to borrow the old anecdote).

            Second, there’s the fact that (at least in Mandarin) Chinese is chock-full of homophones or words with very slight differences of pronunciation. The characters can capture these differences very clearly, while Latin systems based around pronunciation cannot. The classic example here I believe is the story of Shi eating the lions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion-Eating_Poet_in_the_Stone_Den

            Totally baffling in pinyin, perfectly clear in classical Chinese.

            Finally, the written characters have a rich history stretching back basically forever – Shang-era oracle bones have primitive but recognizable characters on them, and as far as I know all Chinese literature is embedded in this tradition.

            Basically, abandoning the characters no longer seems like such a slam dunk to me.

          • Mary says:

            “The characters can capture these differences very clearly, while Latin systems based around pronunciation cannot. ”

            Except that is a verbal problem too. Verbally, it’s solved — IIRC — by using two words or such gimmicks, which could be replicated in writing.

            (Personally, I suspect it’s as doomed as hieroglyphics, for the same reason. Let us hope that the secret is not utterly lost so that future generations need a new Rosetta Stone.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The thing is, Chinese is already going through many changes to make it more dialectical anyway.

            As Chevalier Mal Fret notes, Classical Chinese was an exclusively written language where almost every word consisted of one syllable. In writing, this could be done simply by using an enormous number of characters to differentiate an enormous number of homophones. And as a result, you could have a whole, meaningful poem consisting only of characters pronounced “shi”.

            But in speech, this was never the case. You have to expand words and make them more than one syllable in order to be understood.

            And modern written Chinese has been changed to reflect the spoken language more closely, and consequently the most natural way to write something in the Beijing dialect is not the same as how they write it in Taipei.

            The result is that everyone either has to learn Mandarin in addition to his own dialect, or else the language just splits. And when spelling starts to conform to pronunciation and peculiarities of local dialects, the case for retaining the system of non-alphabetical characters becomes weaker.

            The situation with Classical Chinese is exactly analogous to how Latin used to be the sole written language but gradually people started writing in the “vernacular” languages which they actually spoke.

        • Jiro says:

          If it’s so awful, how can they understand spoken Japanese?

          (If your answer is that there are pauses between words, there’s no reason why the hiragana can’t have spaces between words.)

          • youzicha says:

            Though I think written Japanese tends to use kanji-heavy words which would be harder to understand if you just heard them spoken. E.g TV-news tend to subtitle the key phrases as they are being read, which I have to think is related to this.

          • onyomi says:

            Part of it is about written style being different from colloquial speech, and part of it is that speech communicates a lot that writing can’t in terms of intonation, etc. Imagine the difference between watching an interview and reading a transcript of it. And also consider the difference, even in modern English, wherein the written and spoken languages aren’t too far removed, between reading an essay written to be read and reading a transcript of an interview. I personally find reading transcripts of live conversations to often be slow-going and slightly frustrating because only when you sit down and read it do you realize all the filler that goes into making spoken language easily intelligible but which isn’t necessary in written language.

            And, as I say above, Japanese is still intelligible if written all in kana, it’s just annoying and slow-going. It’s harder to read.

            Behind most of these criticisms I feel are lurking two usually unstated assumptions:

            1. Writing systems should be easy to learn even if making them easier to learn for children and non-native speakers means making them harder to use for native speaker adults. This seems dubious.

            2. Writing is always and forever the servant of speech–that is, writing is just a way of visually representing speech and nothing more. By this logic, every language should just use the IPA–we would lose a lot of history and knowledge of etymology and so on, but it would be by far the most efficient if the goal were just to accurately record the sounds of speech as they exist today.

            But this is not the only function of writing, though I am all in favor of more extensive use of IPA for anything where pronunciation is important (language textbooks, etc.). Writing, especially in the case of literary Chinese, which has even been described as a kind of “language” in its own right, is a way of encoding speech, but it is more than that. Not only do older spellings and the like encode the speech of older times, but writing takes on a life of its own, making possible a different type of expression and, especially, concision, than is possible or even desirable with colloquial speech.

          • IPA isn’t a good general-purpose writing system because people’s pronunciation varies quite a bit.

            You’d lose the advantages of people being able to recognize words by shape.

          • onyomi says:

            What do you mean by “by shape”? You mean, by how words appear on the page due to years of having seen them that way? And while pronunciation of IPA will vary, if people are learning it properly, it should not vary nearly as much as the pronunciation of, for example, the Latin alphabet in all the languages that use it.

          • Anatoly says:

            The IPA is a poor writing system because phonemes are more important than sounds.

          • onyomi says:

            “The IPA is a poor writing system because phonemes are more important than sounds.”

            Isn’t that exactly why IPA is good? It represents phonemes.

          • xerxes says:

            IPA commonly marks phones, and not phonemes, although it can be used both ways. For example, the IPA of “top” is tʰɒp, while the IP of stop is stɑp. For most people in America, tʰ is the same as t, but in IPA they are spelled differently because they are different sounds.

          • Shape is why lower case English is easier to read than all capital letters. That’s a matter of lower case having ascenders and descenders, but standardized spelling helps, too.

            I don’t know IPA, but I’ve been told by someone who does that there isn’t even agreement on how many characters there are.

            I don’t think we’re going to get the experiment of a nation switching to IPA, but I think you’re underestimating the variations among dialects and problems of mutual intelligibility even among native English speakers in the US. I have a Delaware/Philadelphia accent. I used to know someone from upstate New York, who, if asked a yes or no question, would make an unspellable sound that I couldn’t decode.

            One of my friends has a lowland/middle Appalachian/mainstream accent. He (and five friends) had a very hard time understanding people on the Alabama/Missisippi border, with the challenging word being oatmeal.

            People from eastern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, and to a lesser extent from Maine can have trouble understanding him.

            Perhaps it would be useful to think of formal written English as a dialect. The bad thing is that it can cause dialects which are different from it to be less respectable. The good thing is that it’s just one dialect, which I guess makes it like a milder version of written Chinese.

          • onyomi says:

            I should note that I am not actually in favor of making English speakers switch to IPA either; I’m just saying if we truly want to privilege fidelity of standard pronunciation in choosing a writing system, IPA is the best option we have.

            The idea that using IPA would be annoying and difficult to people who already speak English (though it might make it easier for non-native speakers to learn good pronunciation, by, for example, clearly distinguishing the “t” in “the” and the “t” in “top”) is directly related to one of the major problems with replacing Chinese characters with a phonetic system: it’s not just about the inconvenience of getting used to a new system, it’s that the current system is easier for native speakers, who intuitively know when to use t and when to say tʰ, or who, in some cases, pronounce the same word differently.

            And it also doesn’t attempt to overdetermine dialect differences. Some people read “pen” and “pin” the same and others different, but there is no “right” answer to the question of whether they should be pronounced the same. If using IPA one would have to make a definitive decision as to whether these words are, in fact, pronounced the same.

            Also, from my (admittedly idiosyncratic) perspective, weird spelling’s encoding of older pronunciations is an advantage: I like that the spelling of “knight” tells me the guy in shining armor used to be pronounced differently from “night.”

            My point is precisely that privileging accuracy of pronunciation and ease of learning over the convenience of native speakers does not make sense to me; therefore, IPA is good for language textbooks and studies of phonology, but I wouldn’t suggest adopting it as some kind of universal standard.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I suspect that Anatoly meant that, eg, the plural morpheme -s is a phoneme, sometimes pronounced [s] and sometimes [z]. I think that most linguists would claim that it is two phonemes. I say that linguists use a too fine-grained definition of phoneme as a result of behaviorism.

            Xerxes, IPA can be used for phones in brackets [] or phonemes in slants //, but it is much more common to use it for phonemes than for phones.

          • Anatoly says:

            Douglas, sometimes the word “morphophoneme” is used.

            I meant morphemic things like the final plural -s, but also phonemic transformations/differences within and between dialects of English. Thus the phoneme /t/ between two vowels becomes an alveolar tap [ɾ] in most American dialects, [ʔ] in Estuary English, but remains mutually intelligible. It’d be counterproductive to spell the word “better” differently in American and British speech, and even within a single American dialect, it would be counterproductive to spell the words “write” and “ride” with different final consonants [t] [d], but “writing” and “riding” with the same one [ɾ], different from either.

            I think the invocation of the IPA in this thread is a massive strawman. No one argues for moving away from character-based writing systems *for the purpose of accurately capturing the pronunciation*. Alphabet-based and syllabary-based writing systems generally do *not* accurately capture any particular pronunciation, and that’s a feature, not a bug. They’re strictly better than using the IPA would have been.

          • onyomi says:

            My bringing up the IPA would be a strawman if I were stating or implying that anyone was advocating universal adoption of IPA. I was not. Rather, my bringing up the IPA was a reductio ad absurdum: if the goal of writing is to maximize fidelity to a standardized spoken language then all languages might as well adopt the IPA. But I don’t think that is the (only) goal of writing.

            In fact, native speaker convenience (and that convenience includes the convenience of being able to read old books, among other things) is the primary standard against which I think we should judge the success or failure of a writing system.

            Most of the criticisms I’ve seen here and in the Chronicle article are from the perspective of people who don’t know Chinese characters but who (not incorrectly) imagine they’d be a great trouble to learn. If I were seeing criticisms from people who already speak and read Chinese and who nevertheless find Chinese characters troublesome to use in daily life, then I would be more inclined to consider those as valid reasons for considering changing to some other system. But I rarely, if ever hear such complaints. Certainly no more than English speakers complain about spelling–and I have trouble remembering how to draw a Chinese character, I’d say, at a roughly similar frequency as I have trouble remembering how to spell and English word–and I’m not even a native speaker!

            Of course, there is probably an element of cultural pride that might make Chinese people reluctant to complain about their own writing system, especially to foreigners like myself (but I read many blog posts and the like in which Chinese are basically talking to other Chinese and I read no such complaints in such places either). But, if one writing system in which people feel cultural pride and which connects them to thousands of years of literature and history is roughly equal or even somewhat inferior in functionality as compared to a theoretical new system which would, necessarily, require a great deal of adjustment, then it seems to me not unreasonable to take that pride factor into account.

            In other words, non-Chinese speakers saying “look how troublesome it is to learn the Chinese writing system” is not a very convincing argument for abolishing it. If an alternative system could be proposed which the Chinese themselves found much more functional, then that would probably be worth considering. But no such system has thus far been proposed. Pinyin certainly isn’t it.

            Now, Pullum starts out by talking about how Chinese is not suitable as a “universal language.” Now, I’m not sure any language is suitable–certainly not ideal–as a universal language for a whole variety of reasons, but that isn’t what he goes on to argue. Instead, he argues the Chinese need to abolish their own writing system for their own language and replace it with a system which would be more convenient for non-Chinese people. Much less convincing.

          • Anatoly says:

            >Rather, my bringing up the IPA was a reductio ad absurdum: if the goal of writing is to maximize fidelity to a standardized spoken language

            That’s the strawman. No one is saying that.

            >In fact, native speaker convenience… is the primary standard…

            Sure, though the huge amount of time it takes the natives to learn the writing system has to count here too.

            >Most of the criticisms I’ve seen here and in the Chronicle article are from the perspective of people who don’t know Chinese characters but who (not incorrectly) imagine they’d be a great trouble to learn.

            Pullum’s article is all about the troubles the Chinese themselves have with the writing system. He does start with the claim that the system all but guarantees Chinese won’t become a global language, but after that initial sentence goes on the criticize the system from the internal point of view. He never returns to the question about foreigners’ difficulties and never says anything detailed on that subject.

            >If I were seeing criticisms from people who already speak and read Chinese and who nevertheless find Chinese characters troublesome to use in daily life

            See Pullum’s links on character amnesia.

            >In other words, non-Chinese speakers saying “look how troublesome it is to learn the Chinese writing system” is not a very convincing argument for abolishing it.

            If the claim is made in terms of how troublesome it is *for the Chinese*, which it usually is in serious discussions of this issue, then it certainly counts as a serious argument. You seem to be imagining various people going around and saying “we foreigners can’t bother to learn characters, so you Chinese need to get rid of them”, and I’ve never seen anyone stake any serious claim of that sort. Certainly not Pullum, nor Victor Mair whom he references, or John Defrancis, etc.

            >Instead, he argues the Chinese need to abolish their own writing system for their own language and replace it with a system which would be more convenient for non-Chinese people.

            Right, this is the sort of thing I’m talking about. Not in the article.

      • onyomi says:

        See https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/01/27/links-116-shaolink/#comment-314688 and
        https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/01/27/links-116-shaolink/#comment-314768

        Dropping kanji, while possible, would not be without drawbacks.

        While I admit it would be easier on learners, it would make reading slower for people who can already read. Given the relative time native speakers spend learning to read (even Japanese) as compared to just reading their languages over the course of a lifetime, this seems an okay tradeoff to me.

        And, of course, then only specialists can read anything printed before the great kanji purge.

        • Anatoly says:

          What’s your evidence for saying it would make reading slower? Today a Japanese speaker reads a kanji-kana text faster than a hiragana text, but that certainly reflects the fact that they have no practice in daily reading of large consecutive amounts of hiragana texts. In a hiragana-only culture, their reading speed would be very different.

          Reading speed in English and Chinese is about the same, so using characters probably doesn’t give any inherent boost.

          There have been periods in the Japanese cultural history when kana-only texts coexisted peacefully with kanji-kana texts. Apparently Genji Monogatari was written in hiragana. Somehow writing and reading in hiragana didn’t create any huge problems for anybody.

          • onyomi says:

            The language of Genji Monogatari is very different from modern Japanese. Specifically, it uses mostly words of native Japanese origin. Not Chinese loan words. In that era there was a much bigger bifurcation between Chinese for official purposes and Japanese for private, unofficial purposes and fiction. Modern Japanese is a mixture of the two.

  45. onyomi says:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/barack-obama-why-we-must-rethink-solitary-confinement/2016/01/25/29a361f2-c384-11e5-8965-0607e0e265ce_story.html

    Two points on this article by Barack Obama advocating reduction in use of solitary confinement (I think it should just be abolished):

    1. I feel like, as a society, the US (and probably other places I don’t know as well) has started to recognize that psychological damage can be just as, if not more, well, damaging, than physical punishments. I mean, I would much rather be subjected to regular beatings than be put in solitary confinement, or to suffer 20 strokes of a cane in lieu of a 3-year prison sentence. One might say, “why be nice to criminals,” but if we assume criminals usually have some form of mental problem, punishing them in ways which are bound to exacerbate those problems before releasing them on society seems not a good idea (of course, hanging out with other prisoners creates a whole other set of problems…).

    But my point is I think this recognition doesn’t go nearly far enough. There is some recognition recently that bullying without actual punching and kicking can be just as bad, if not worse, but beyond that it moves into the realm of “oh, kids nowadays are so spoiled and entitled and overly sensitive.” I can sympathize with that latter sentiment too, because I do think it’s ridiculous for people to claim to suffer mental distress as a result of inviting a speaker to campus whom they disagree with, but I also think there’s probably a ways to go in other respects. And maybe in some cases that actually means being a little more okay with mild physical violence, bad as that may sound? Get rid of solitary confinement and bring back caning? Start hitting the bullies with rulers again? I just feel like we’ve moved into this bloodless space where even the slightest physical violence is disallowed, but the cruelest psychological warfare still moves under the radar.

    2. This is the kind of thing which occasionally makes me rethink my general policy of not voting for Democrats and/or always hoping they’ll fail. I mean, as much as I am anti-government, pro-capitalism, pro-gun, anti-welfare, etc. etc., I just feel like a Republican president would never, ever write this article. That is, to add power to a stereotype which exists about the red tribe (of which I am sort of a member), Republicans politicians tend to be, for lack of a better word, mean. Their commitment to law and order and traditional values, all of which I can kind of get on board with, also means that they are just not going to pursue any issue which might be perceived as being “nice” to criminals. It’s not that they all necessarily favor solitary confinement, it’s just that this isn’t the sort of issue they’d ever bring up (unless they were Rand Paul, maybe, but he’s really more grey tribe and is, far and away, my top choice for next president, though that looks like it probably won’t be an option).

    I feel like the GOP needs to follow Rand’s (and Obama’s) lead in this and stop being… well, hardasses. They have that latter reputation among the younger generation and not without good reason. I understand it’s hard to seem all nice and touchy feely and empathetic when you’re advocating cuts to welfare programs, but I think it’s possible. And I think the key may be to start in unambiguous places like this, or torture (sadly some GOP primary voters will probably even punish you for coming out against torture, though… maybe we have to wait till they die).

    • Something I see in American culture (not all Americans, but enough to make a difference) is an absolute terror of being too nice to (the wrong?) people– it’s not just there in conservatives, it’s also a driving force in the toxic part of SJW. And it’s a self-amplifying problem.

    • onyomi says:

      One other point in favor of caning over short prison sentences for more minor offences: criminals are notoriously high time preference. Though to most of us non-criminals a 3-year prison sentence seems like a bigger deterrent to stealing than 20 strokes of the cane, to the criminally-inclined, the immediacy of the physical pain might be a better disincentive, to say nothing of the money saved relative to feeding and housing the person for 3 years…

      • John Schilling says:

        I’d like to see some evidence that the “criminally inclined” actually do fear twenty strokes with a cane more than they do three years in prison. The unsupported claim seems to be infantilizing the criminal class, or worse dehumanizing them. “They” are cowardly and stupid, incapable of thinking of the future and cowering in fear from a strong hand with a whip, really little better than animals, etc.

        • keranih says:

          The HOPE project in Hawaii has demonstrated that they fear a two hour stint in jail (applied immediately and consistently) than four years in prison (applied inconsistently and at some point in the possible future.)

          At least, they react more strongly to the first than the second. I think it has far less to do with the actual severity of the punishment than the recognition that it WILL be applied – or that it won’t be.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, certainty and immediacy of punishment are critical and need to be controlled for in any comparison. But unless we’re selectively suspending due process of law, the caning won’t be certain or immediate at the time the criminal is deciding to hold up a liquor store or whatever.

        • onyomi says:

          I would also like to see such evidence. I’m not claiming that it would provide a better deterrent; just suggesting it might be worth looking into or considering.

          As for infantilizing or dehumanizing them: I’m okay with stereotyping the sort of person who would rob someone at gun point for a few dollars out of a cash register as probably not having the best long-term planning skills.

          Also, I’m not necessarily saying it should only apply to this kind of “low class” thug. Enron-type criminals might also fear the cane more than their cushy white-collar prisons, and I certainly would be okay with caning them if it proves a better deterrent, though I think, on average, such people might have slightly lower time preference than the person who holds up the liquor store, albeit maybe still higher than average.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m okay with stereotyping the sort of person who would rob someone at gun point for a few dollars out of a cash register as probably not having the best long-term planning skills.

            Are you OK with being wrong on the facts? Because your plan not only fails but is worse than useless if it turns out that ordinary common criminals are men of physical courage living in a culture where they get a status boost from taking a caning and being seen on the streets walking tall and proud the next day.

            Generally speaking, stereotypes which reduce to “my enemies are stupid cowards”, should be presumed false until proven otherwise. And if you are entering into physical combat, a grand strategy based on “our enemies are stupid cowards” should be seen as an indication that you need to dodge the draft, defect, desert, whatever it takes to find a nice neutral country to sit out the war in.

          • onyomi says:

            “Are you OK with being wrong on the facts?”

            I feel like you are being almost willfully uncharitable. I clearly said I would be interested in data on the subject and am not suggesting that we should just change the laws based on my hunches. It was just a suggestion about something that might be more effective in some cases. Singapore seems like a pretty nice place to live, for example.

            Also, it’s worth noting that if caning is merely equally effective (or, arguably, even slightly less effective) as a deterrent, it is still a superior option because it’s cheaper and may be less unpleasant and/or psychologically damaging for the criminal him/herself.

            If, for example, 3 years in prison and 30 lashes is equally scary to a would-be criminal, then the 30 lashes may still be preferable because it’s cheaper and doesn’t make the criminal spend the next 3 years hanging out with other criminals. Of course, this neglects the “keeping them off the streets” element, which is something else to take into consideration, of course.

            “stereotypes which reduce to ‘my enemies are stupid cowards’…”

            Is this addressed to me? I didn’t say anything even close to that.

          • John Schilling says:

            OK, perhaps that was a little strong and I apologize. Explicitly wanting the facts is a rare and positive thing, and should be encouraged.

            But, “I am OK with stereotyping…”, when you don’t yet have the facts to justify the stereotype, is a dangerous path to tread.

            And as for “my enemies are stupid cowards”, you were fairly explicit in suggesting that criminals are not capable of long-term planning and would be dissuaded from what would otherwise be a major part of their identity by the threat of transient pain. The former, I think, can be reasonably simplified to “stupid” and the latter to “cowardly”.

          • onyomi says:

            “would be dissuaded from what would otherwise be a major part of their identity”

            Well, I feel like once “being a criminal” is a major part of your identity, then society pretty much has to either keep you behind bars indefinitely or else put you through some kind of extensive therapy and rehabilitation program (which I guess would be ideal, but probably very difficult and expensive to implement in practice, and with doubtful results).

            But if, when you’re young and stupid, you get caned a few times rather than sent to a place full of older, more hardened criminals, the probability of you being “scared straight” rather than going on to think of criminality as part of your identity seems greater.

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Schilling

            That criminals are, as a class, stupid and impulsive is fairly well established. A minute’s googling brought me to the wikipedia page on correlations of criminality. Stereotypes don’t generally arise for no reason.

            Whether they’re cowardly, I don’t know. I would intuit that they’re braver than the general population in physical confrontations.

          • Mary says:

            “I would intuit that they’re braver than the general population in physical confrontations.”

            There’s good reason why there’s a stereotype that stupid people are stupidly fearless. 0:)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            Are you OK with being wrong on the facts? Because your plan not only fails but is worse than useless if it turns out that ordinary common criminals are men of physical courage living in a culture where they get a status boost from taking a caning and being seen on the streets walking tall and proud the next day.

            Yes, and they continue to live and seek status in that culture in no small part because they are irrational and bad at long-term planning.

            One has to distinguish between courage and foolhardiness here. It takes a lot of something to try to run away from the police while they’ve already handcuffed you. And that something is an excessive willingness to fight, even when fighting is useless or not the wise and appropriate course of action.

            Sorry, but I just don’t believe that criminals are rational actors. For one, if they were acting rationally, this would mean that the Marxist-type arguments that the “system” is hopelessly rigged against them are correct, and therefore it would be totally inappropriate to condemn them for committing crimes, since they would simply be surviving by the best means available to them.

            A rational criminal is someone like Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. And in that context, we say there is something wrong with the law or at least with the social system in which it operates, and Valjean is not morally obliged to follow the law. It would be totally inappropriate to respond to rational criminals like Valjean by increasing the punishments in order to deter them. The appropriate response would be to change the social system so that crime is no longer in anyone’s interest. (Of course, there are ideologies which posit ineradicable conflicts of interest among groups, such that history is inevitably a struggle for one to get in charge and oppress the others.)

            On the other hand, someone who is willing to go out and mug you for $20 is behaving irrationally. Even if there were no punishments at all, it would still be a poor choice of “career” with extreme risks and little prospects for the future. And he’s not exactly building the kind of virtues necessary for a happy and successful life. So the point of the law can’t be to make it in his rational interest not to mug you: it already isn’t!

            Now, it’s true that additional punishments can and do make it more against his interest to mug you. Irrationality is a matter of degree: no one maximizes his interest all the time, and someone who never took account of his interest would be dead. Even someone who’s relatively more irrational may be dissuaded by the prospect of certain and severe punishment.

            But then the question becomes: what is the purpose of punishment? Is it to deter crime as much as possible, or to exact retribution on criminals? Actual practice suggests that deterrence as such plays very little role in the level of punishment that people deem appropriate. Of course, I don’t take that as somehow solving the issue: the position people hold still has to be argued for. Maybe they’re wrong. I, however, am sympathetic to the “just deserts” rationale.

          • John Schilling says:

            Sorry, but I just don’t believe that criminals are rational actors. For one, if they were acting rationally, this would mean that the Marxist-type arguments that the “system” is hopelessly rigged against them are correct,

            “If they won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous. … That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, “It cannot be right that these actions should go any further.”
            – Lord Denning w/re the Birmingham Six (who were innocent, and framed by guilty policemen)

            Disbelieving a thing because it would mean admitting the political opposition is right about something, is not wisdom.

            And, as always, before dismissing someone else as “not a rational actor”, consider what goals they might be rationally pursuing even if you do not share them. Mugging is almost never rational from a dollar-maximization standpoint, true, but assuming that people are or ought to be rational dollar-maximizers is a classic Econ 101 fallacy.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            Disbelieving a thing because it would mean admitting the political opposition is right about something, is not wisdom.

            Indeed, we shouldn’t have too much reflexive trust that the current system is working right in all respects. But I think, for independent reasons, that the system is not in fact completely rigged against the kind of people who become criminals, and that they have other viable options they could take.

            If I didn’t think that, I would be a communist and would support the abolishing of property rights, not tougher enforcement of laws against mugging. I pointed this out because you (as far as I can tell) seem to be some kind of conservative, which would seem to imply that you don’t think our system is so radically broken that large numbers of people have no better option than to turn to crime.

            Now, the case of the Birmingham Six is mostly irrelevant here because these were not criminals acting rationally. These were innocent people who didn’t do anything wrong. But I agree insofar as it shows quite correctly that we can’t blithely assume the status quo is justified.

            And, as always, before dismissing someone else as “not a rational actor”, consider what goals they might be rationally pursuing even if you do not share them. Mugging is almost never rational from a dollar-maximization standpoint, true, but assuming that people are or ought to be rational dollar-maximizers is a classic Econ 101 fallacy.

            Yes, if you break down criminals’ goals into small enough sub-goals, you can analyze them as rational actors. But why did they choose those goals? Not every goal someone has is a terminal value.

            So sure, maybe they aren’t mugging people in order to make money. (Is that true? I don’t know. David Friedman has a favorite anecdote which he likes to give against it.) Maybe they do it to earn “street cred”, or just out of some kind of “thrill of the hunt”. But why do they pursue those things? Are those the best things they could pursue, given their ultimate goals in life? Do they even have a clear idea of what their ultimate goals in life are? (I doubt it.)

            Or maybe they in fact are perfectly rational but have ultimate values which are fundamentally opposed to civilized life. In that case, the situation is just the same as if they had civilization-compatible goals but were irrational. They don’t simply need to be given more incentives; instead of needing to be made more rational, in this case they would need to have their values changed so as to be compatible with civilization and respect for rights.

            In any case, the major reason I don’t believe that criminals are perfectly rational is inference from my own case. I know that I am certainly not perfectly rational, and that every time I’ve done something immoral it’s because I wasn’t being rational enough. And it’s really difficult to be perfectly rational because you have to identify your goals (which is very hard to do with complete specificity) and evaluate your means against them in every action you take.

            Moreover, it seems to me highly unlikely that criminals want to be miserable and poor. Yet they largely are. And this is hardly limited to dollar maximization, which I don’t think anyone actually engages in: even when criminals happen to get rich, it’s most often temporary and not very enjoyable. Again, extending things from my own case and that of people I know, to assume that criminals want to be happy and successful, they must be acting irrationally. Or, again, the system is in fact so rigged against them that this is the best they can do.

          • Mary says:

            “A rational criminal is someone like Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. And in that context, we say there is something wrong with the law or at least with the social system in which it operates, and Valjean is not morally obliged to follow the law.”

            I must observe that to this day, an armed man who breaks into a residence when the family is home, doing substantial property damage in the process, is probably going to do some hard time.

          • “and that they have other viable options they could take.

            If I didn’t think that, I would be a communist and would support the abolishing of property rights, not tougher enforcement of laws against mugging.”

            I’m not sure I follow that. Is your point that mugging is such a bad job that, if there are people for whom it’s the best option, the system must be broken? How do you figure out what sort of options an unbroken system ought to produce?

            I have no problem with believing both that, for some people, some sorts of crimes are the most attractive option, and that committing those crimes is wicked. One obvious way of making it not the most attractive option is to punish it.

            If your point is that if crime is rational then it isn’t immoral, would that apply equally to someone who could make $100,000/year in legal activities but chooses instead to make $200,000/year in illegal activities that are unlikely to lead to punishment?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I’m not sure I follow that. Is your point that mugging is such a bad job that, if there are people for whom it’s the best option, the system must be broken? How do you figure out what sort of options an unbroken system ought to produce?

            Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

            What ought an unbroken system to produce? Happiness? Material prosperity? Security in one’s person and possessions?

            I think these are things that even criminals want. But given that a society where everyone’s getting mugged is not going to be very secure or prosperous (or very happy, especially for the victims), there’s got to be something wrong. Either the muggers are being irrational, the system is “broken” in that it makes mugging their best option despite its negative effects, or there are simply ineradicable conflicts of interest among people which can only be resolved by one group getting into power and enforcing its own will at the expense of the oppressed classes. In the last case, there is of course no universally “unbroken” system.

            I have no problem with believing both that, for some people, some sorts of crimes are the most attractive option, and that committing those crimes is wicked. One obvious way of making it not the most attractive option is to punish it.

            By what standard do you call it “wicked”, independently of its being punished by law?

            Maybe you can say that mugging would be rational for some sorts of people if there were no laws. But there are laws, and they do it anyway. I don’t think it’s rational for them to do so. You on the other hand, apparently think that mugging is still the rationally most attractive option for them, and that increasing the punishment will stop them.

            I do not totally disagree with that. I don’t think muggers are completely irrational, and additional punishments likely will discourage them more. But the current amount (or a far lesser amount) should also be enough to discourage them. It isn’t: because they are irrational.

            If your point is that if crime is rational then it isn’t immoral, would that apply equally to someone who could make $100,000/year in legal activities but chooses instead to make $200,000/year in illegal activities that are unlikely to lead to punishment?

            If it’s merely unlikely to lead to legal punishment, then I would say the illegal activities are wrong because they will lead to non-legal personal consequences of a negative type. If there are no negative personal consequences of the action at all, then it is simply not immoral.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            On that last point, I can’t resist giving one of my favorite quotes from Fitzjames Stephen:

            A man who, upon the whole and having taken into account every relevant consideration, thinks it for his interest to do an act highly injurious to the world at large, no doubt would do it. But let us consider what would be the state of mind implied by the fact that he did take this view of his interest. A man who calmly and deliberately thinks that it is upon the whole his interest to commit an assassination which can never be discovered in order that he may inherit a fortune, shows, in the first place, that he has utterly rejected every form of the religious sanction; next, that he has no conscience and no self-respect; next, that he has no benevolence. His conduct affords no evidence as to his fear of legal punishment or popular indignation, inasmuch as by the supposition he is not exposed to them. He has thus no motive for abstaining from a crime which he has a motive for committing; but motive is only another name, a neutral instead of a eulogistic name, for obligation or tie. It would, therefore, be strictly accurate to say of such a man that he—from his point of view and upon his principles—ought, or is under an obligation, or is bound by the only tie which attaches to him, to commit murder. But it is this very fact which explains the hatred and blame which the act would excite in the minds of utilitarians in general, and which justifies them in saying on all common occasions that men ought not to do wrong for their own advantage, because on all common occasions the word ‘ought’ refers not to the rules of conduct which abnormal individuals may recognize, but to those which are generally recognized by mankind. ‘You ought not to assassinate,’ means if you do assassinate God will damn you, man will hang you if he can catch you, and hate you if he cannot, and you yourself will hate yourself, and be pursued by remorse and self-contempt all the days of your life. If a man is under none of these obligations, if his state of mind is such that no one of these considerations forms a tie upon him, all that can be said is that it is exceedingly natural that the rest of the world should regard him as a public enemy to be knocked on the head like a mad dog if an opportunity offers, and that for the very reason that he is under no obligations, that he is bound by none of the ties which connect men with each other, that he ought to lie, and steal, and murder whenever his immediate interests prompt him to do so.

            He adds:

            To regard such a conclusion as immoral is to say that to analyse morality is to destroy it; that to enumerate its sanctions specifically is to take them away; that to say that a weight is upheld by four different ropes, and to own that if each of them were cut the weight would fall, is equivalent to cutting the ropes. No doubt, if all religion, all law, all benevolence, all conscience, all regard for popular opinion were taken away, there would be no assignable reason why men should do right rather than wrong; but the possibility which is implied in these ‘ifs’ is too remote to require practical attention.

            Now, I disagree with him on religion, but on the facts, not the evaluation. That is, I agree that if it is true that you will be sent to hell for mugging people, you have a much greater reason to refrain from it.

            But as another Victorian author said, if we could convince everyone that anyone who committed a crime would suffer a massive toothache, this would probably decrease crime more than any other factor if only they believed it. The problem is that it’s not true, people will quickly discover that it’s not true, and if you’ve told people not to commit crimes because of the toothache, you’ve now cast doubt on the rest of the reasons as well.

            There’s also the problem that Christianity isn’t a religion very suited to discouraging crime, seeing as for all intents and purposes it treats all sins as equal. If you’re going to hell for “adultery of the heart”, you might as well go to hell for rape. Fitzjames Stephen himself was more of a religious freethinker and believed in a much more direct and proportionate correspondence of sins to divine punishments. As Posner put it, his God was an arm of the police.

        • Echo says:

          The worst part is making no effort to understand how they’d react other than as a passive test subject.
          There’s already a culture of “doing your time like a man”. How obvious is it that “taking your strokes” would become a status symbol?

          • Maware says:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dueling_scar

            Not even the upper classes are immune.

          • onyomi says:

            “How obvious is it that “taking your strokes” would become a status symbol?”

            I think it’s probably harder to turn what amounts to getting spanked by a policemen into a badge of honor. I’m not proposing giving the people sexy scars on their cheeks and biceps. I’m talking about hitting their butts with a stick. And if that doesn’t work we can give them My Little Pony tattoos or something.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            “I’m talking about hitting their butts with a stick”

            [Uuuuummnnnffff]

            And if that doesn’t work we can give them My Little Pony tattoos or something.

            [Uuuuuuuummmmnnnnnnffffffff]

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            My Little Pony tattoos

            I actually kind of love this idea despite how absurd it sounds. Hello Kitty patches apparently worked for disciplining members of the Thai police, so giving crooks Cutie Marks sort of has precedent.

            That said, in all seriousness, as good as it would be to replace prison the proposed alternatives fail to fulfill the main function of modern prisons. Prison today does what hanging or transportation used to do in England by weeding criminals out of the general population and keeping them off the streets. Rehabilitation would be awesome but there needs to be some provision made for getting rid of hardcore criminals.

          • JBeshir says:

            We can make exceptions for keeping the hardcore criminals and people like @God Damn John Jay off the streets, while looking at alternatives to custodial sentences for most cases.

            (Joking on the second one, there’s nothing wrong with being into that at all. XD)

            I’m not sure what’d stop recidivism.

            I’m a little curious about really strict monitoring and observation while in the community, for an extended period of time. Curfews, relocation, programmes to get off drugs, training programmes, anger management lessons, whatever. I think if instead of using “we’re prepared to control this person’s life for six months” to make them suffer in a box, we focused on monitoring and basically lab ratted interventions for a while, we’d eventually get at some ideas that worked somewhat.

            Of course, we struggle to provide therapy for free to people who *ask* for it, so, you know. There might be places where people could be made better more easily there.

      • Sastan says:

        From what I’ve seen of the criminology literature, the most prevalent deterrent isn’t the type of punishment at all, but rather the likelihood of detection and prosecution.

        I happen to think that a system of fines and corporal punishment for minor crimes is probably the most humane and cost-effective method of dealing with issues, but I don’t think there’s much evidence that it would increase deterrence. Maybe if the punishment were held in public……

        But yeah, if you want to deter crime, sink your resources into solving every single one you can, and don’t worry so much about what teh punishment is.

      • JBeshir says:

        There’s also the point that isolating someone from all social connections for a few years, surrounding them exclusively with other prisoners, then dumping them onto the street with nothing, is probably not the *best* thing for recidivism.

        It actually seems like an improvement to the point that I’m wondering why things shifted to imprisonment-only in the first place, suspicious that I might be missing something, or my intuitions are wrong (maybe if you don’t lock them up and disrupt their social circle a bit, often also-criminal friends will pull them straight back into offending or something?)

    • Psmith says:

      I think this depends on historical context. Hardassery sounded great to the American public after the crime wave of the seventies. It may be a winning strategy again, depending on, e.g., how seriously you take Peter Turchin’s results and the increase in murder rates in BLM cities.

      (I have several gun zines [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zine] from the early nineties, and it’s interesting to note that the people whose current counterparts are largely but not unanimously anti-cop and anti-drug-war were, at the time, howling for the blood of street criminals and lambasting their political opponents as soft on crime.).

      • Echo says:

        I think you’re in a pretty libertarian/anarchist subset of gun owners. Most of us like cops just fine, and howl for the blood of street criminals pretty regularly.

        • Psmith says:

          Yeah, I think that’s the specific subset who were writing and reading those zines (as opposed to, say, Shotgun News or Guns and Ammo) in the nineties and who are now on /k/ wishing that Rand Paul was a viable candidate.

          ETA: and the thing that first made me think there was a discrepancy here was the editor’s vigorous opposition to CA’s three strikes law on the basis that it wasn’t nearly harsh enough, which I think is a pretty unusual position in any circles today.

          • Echo says:

            Wait, wasn’t most of /k/ in diapers in the 90s? Or is my mental model of a 4chan user way off?

            Well, support for harsh judicial penalties seems to be lower, true. Now you’ve got me wondering what they were saying about the war on drugs back then.
            Have you noticed a change in “a bullet saves the cost of trial” sentiments? Have no idea if that’s more common now than then.

          • Psmith says:

            /k/ is one of the older boards, but yeah, I really should have said “the present-day counterparts of the zine guys”. Younger, poorer, nerdier, and more single than the industry publication crowd, with more edgelords and weirdos. (NTTAWWT.).

            And yes, I see a good deal of support for proactive vigilantism in the mags (Gun Fag Manifesto, now available in an omnibus volume on Amazon, if you’re curious.). Semi-serious/trolling, but even so, you don’t see people trolling in that direction nowadays. But that sort of thing was also a good deal more prevalent in American public life generally back then, I think. Look at how the public reacted to Bernhard Goetz, the Death Wish and Dirty Harry franchises, etc.

    • Jiro says:

      Some people enjoy inflicting physical pain on the helpless, creating a conflict of interest in deciding how much to give out. People don’t enjoy inflicting abstract punishments such as solitary confinement to the same extent. Also, since physical punishment is cheap to inflict and can be inflicted a nearly unlimited number of times (assuming you allow some time to heal), it’s possible for such punishments to grow without bound in a way which is much harder for solitary confinement, or any form of prison.

      And by the same reasoning, we could just rape prisoners. Yes, the average person jokes about and/or doesn’t care about prison rape now, but I’m talking about directly writing a sentence “prisoner X is sentenced to ____ incidents of forcible rape”. If the prisoner is attractive, we could sell the right to rape the prisoner; if unattractive, I’m sure we could find someone willing to do it, and if not, we could provide hardship pay for guards whose job it is to rape unattractive prisoners.

      That being said, sure, non-physical punishment is really damaging and makes it harder for a released prisoner to earn a living or rejoin society. But that also applies to regular prison.as well. To some extent, it applies to any nontrivial punishment. Who’s going to hire you with jail on your resume?

      • onyomi says:

        “People don’t enjoy inflicting abstract punishments such as solitary confinement to the same extent.”

        I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Some people enjoy inflicting physical pain on the helpless, creating a conflict of interest in deciding how much to give out.

        I think that could quite easily be dealt with by making sure that the person in charge of passing sentence and the person in charge of administering the punishment are different.

        And by the same reasoning, we could just rape prisoners.

        Erm… what?

        • Jiro says:

          Erm… what?

          The reasoning used for caning would also apply to rape inflicted as a punishment. I’m sure plenty of rationalists would say that they would prefer it to solitary confinement. And the argument that we should be okay with “mild physical violence”, where the standards for “mild” include caning, is flexible enough to include rape as well. The time preference argument would also apply to raping prisoners; if criminals have a low time preference and are more deterred by caning than solitary because the pain is more immediate, that would be true of raping them as well as caning them.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Rape isn’t just physical, though, it also has serious psychological effects. (And, yes, repeated beatings can have serious physical effects too, but (a) the threshold for this is quite a bit higher, and (b) I don’t think Onyomi was proposing that we beat people to this threshold.) If the only harmful effects of rape were the physical discomfort suffered during the act, your comparison might be valid, but since they aren’t, it isn’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            Dissuading a person from pursuing their chosen career, when they are physically unimpeded from doing so, isn’t a “serious psychological affect”?

            Pretty much anything that accomplishes the goal, “prevent X from deciding to hold up a liquor store three years from now, without incarcerating him for three years”, is by definition going to have a significant psychological effect. And insofar as it will constrain a person’s autonomy in thought and/or action, it will be the kind of psychological effect that we normally consider to be harmful.

            So I think that standard needs to be clarified or abandoned.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Serious psychological effects” as in PTSD-level trauma. Obviously any punishment is going to have to be unpleasant in some way if it’s going to have any deterrent effect, but there’s clearly a difference between raping someone and caning them or locking them in prison, deliberate obtuseness notwithstanding.

          • John Schilling says:

            “[X] happened to me over an hour or so, three years ago, and it might happen to me over the course of an hour a few weeks from now. It caused me no measurable harm or inconvenience other than the lost hour and the transient discomfort. On that basis, I will forgo the opportunity to make a few thousand dollars for an afternoon’s work and look really cool to all my friends, and instead go look for a job mopping up vomit at the local truck stop”

            I am not at all confident that there is any real [X] that meets these requirements without being truly PTSD-level awful and traumatic. The faith that violent criminals will be dissuaded by a glorified spanking seems to me somewhere between naïve and insane. And I believe that anyone who succeeds in implementing rapid corporal punishment for common-law felony crimes will most likely have to either escalate the punishment to literal, PTSD-inducing, rape-equivalent torture to make it even appear to work, or admit they were wrong.

            There are people here whom I would expect to admit they were wrong. The politicians whose support would be needed to implement such a change, will not.

          • JDG1980 says:

            A society benefits from having an absolute taboo on rape. Allowing it as a criminal punishment would weaken that taboo (in fact, I’d argue that the tacit toleration of sexual assault in U.S. prisons already does so, and has hard-to-measure but real negative impacts on the rest of American culture).

            The same is not true of other forms of physical violence. No society can eschew the use of physical force altogether if it wishes to survive. Allowing whipping or caning as a formal criminal punishment might or might not be a good idea, but it doesn’t cross a red line and break boundaries in the same way as allowing sexual assault under the same circumstances would.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The faith that violent criminals will be dissuaded by a glorified spanking seems to me somewhere between naïve and insane.

            The OP was talking about caning as a punishment for minor crimes, not hardened violent criminals.

          • John Schilling says:

            The OP was talking about caning as a punishment for minor crimes, not hardened violent criminals.

            The OP said nothing about the severity of the crimes he was talking about, but explicitly and repeatedly suggested twenty strokes with a cane as a substitution for three years in prison. Three years in prison is not something we generally do for minor crimes unless they are e.g. parole violations by hardened violent criminals.

            Caning as a punishment for minor crimes is a different and much more reasonable proposition, but I think you are the first person to have raised it here.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “One other point in favor of caning over short prison sentences for more minor offences…”

            “But if, when you’re young and stupid, you get caned a few times rather than sent to a place full of older, more hardened criminals, the probability of you being “scared straight” rather than going on to think of criminality as part of your identity seems greater.”

            Now, maybe Onyomi’s overestimating how long minor offenders get sent to prison for, but notwithstanding this it’s pretty clear that he was envisaging caning as a punishment for petty criminals, not violent repeat offenders. Also as a replacement for solitary confinement, but in this case the main punishment would be the prison sentence, not the caning.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you start with the premise that newbie petty criminals generally get sentenced to three years in prison, you are trying to solve a problem that basically doesn’t exist, and the appropriate course of action for the rest of us is to figure out what your ill-informed proposals will do in the real world.

            If your specific, stated goal is to avoid the (real and substantial) problems associated with prison sentences, then your proposed corporal punishments will in fact be applied mostly to the dangerous recidivists who get those sentences, and it is appropriate to note that the proposed new punishments will likely be ineffective and that what they will inevitably be escalated to on “trust us, we weren’t wrong, this will work if we try harder” grounds will be cruel and unusual and quite harmful to the criminals and to society.

            If your actual goal is to use canings to dissuade newbie petty criminals, then you need to argue that they are superior in that context to probation, community service, minimal jail time, and the other diversion programs we generally use in such cases. That might be a case you can make – there’s certainly room for improvement over the status quo – but I haven’t seen anyone even try to support that argument here.

            And if you explicitly say “20 strokes instead of three years in prison”. we aren’t going to read between the lines and decide you really meant “20 strokes instead of 200 hours of community service”; that’s too big a discrepancy to be charitably handwaved away.

          • Echo says:

            An acquaintance of a colleague just started a 3 year sentence for… pizza-topping-related crimes, with no previous criminal history whatsoever.
            The judge game him the absolute minimum sentence in light of the host of mitigating circumstances, and even the initial accuser regretted the situation. All parties involved would have jumped at a hundred lashes.

            Obviously a better solution would be to eliminate some of the ridiculous crimes we have on the books, but perhaps CP instead of prison is a good first step. It certainly lets people move on faster.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Echo:

            What are “pizza-topping-related crimes”?

            Is this the “cheese pizza” = “CP” = “child pornography” thing?

          • Urstoff says:

            SSC needs a glossary for taboo’d words and their metaphors

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Urstoff:

            If I did correctly guess what Echo was talking about, that one’s from 4chan.

          • Echo says:

            I reckon most memes of that vintage are board-inspired, but it’s everywhere these days. And I was already using “CP” to mean “corporal punishment”.
            It’s not tabooed or anything, Urstoff, just a polite euphemism to avoid emotional reactions. Although fearing an official “taboo list” of uncertain length does make a difference, doesn’t it?

            But yes, I just wanted to introduce an anecdote that some first offenders are given 3 year sentences for incredibly minor crimes that judges would rather not punish with a career-crippling prison sentence.

          • John Schilling says:

            “pizza-topping-related crimes”, while an intriguing turn of phrase, is not terribly informative.

            If you mean to suggest that e.g. mandatory sentencing laws sometimes result in excessive sentences for minor first-time offenders, I doubt you’ll get anyone here to disagree with you. But that’s orthogonal to corporal punishment vs. prison – the society that decided your acquaintance of a colleague needed three years of prison to dissuade him or others like him from doing whatever it was he did, isn’t going to do an about-face and say, “Oh, well now that we’re dealing with corporal punishment, we realize that this was really not that big a deal, so twenty strokes and off you go”.

            It is going to implement whatever degree of corporal punishment is appropriate for the sort of person, usually a felony recidivist, who would otherwise get three years in prison, and it is going to weigh heavily in that decision all of the highly visible failures of such punishments. Which, historically speaking, means your friend of a friend is likely to be maimed.

            Or maybe, this being a more civilized age, we’ll come up with something that doesn’t leave unsightly mangled bodies for civil libertarians to complain about. Waterboarding, maybe, or something with electrodes.

            If you want to address the problem of oversentencing for minor crimes, I’m afraid you’re going to have to do it head-on.

    • Lambert says:

      >being a little more okay with mild physical violence, bad as that may sound?

      If you give people the option of 100 lashes vs. 18 months in prison or something, then the mild physical violence is always kinda-sorta-discretionary-ish.

    • Nita says:

      Back when corporal punishment was common, non-physical bullying and other emotional abuse didn’t even register on the mainstream cruelty-o-meter (e.g., “boys will be boys”, “it builds character”, “sticks and stones can break my bones”). It seems that we can now recognize the impact of emotional trauma at least in part because physical violence no longer permeates everyday life. So, I’m afraid reintroducing beatings would make things worse, not better.

      Also, as far as I know, the kind of caning still used on adult prison inmates is not really “mild” — and presumably, there’s some reason behind that (sadists in the system? lighter beatings didn’t have the desired effect?), which might apply to your plan as well.

      But yeah, “psychological warfare” is still an unsolved problem. Perhaps part of the solution is the development of effective social strategies of response, and another part is individuals growing up with a healthier attitude.

      • Anonymous says:

        Back when corporal punishment was common, non-physical bullying and other emotional abuse didn’t even register on the mainstream cruelty-o-meter (e.g., “boys will be boys”, “it builds character”, “sticks and stones can break my bones”). It seems that we can now recognize the impact of emotional trauma at least in part because physical violence no longer permeates everyday life. So, I’m afraid reintroducing beatings would make things worse, not better.

        An alternative interpretation is that nowadays society is pussified due to absence of physical threats, and that reintroducing them would help stop the whining about feelings getting hurt.

    • BeatCop says:

      I think the prison system needs staggering amounts of reform, but I’m unsure abolishing solitary confinement entirely is doable. I’ve done field training for a fair number of former prison guards, and it seems like solitary is generally as much a desperation move to separate out the really dangerous inmates as a punishment. I’m not saying it’s not used as a punishment, but if you have an inmate that beats/rapes/murders other inmates, you do have a legal and moral obligation to protect those other inmates.

      I am a bit skeptical- though remaining open-minded- regarding lowering prison sentences to reduce recidivism. As one commenter suggested, long sentences do logically lead to recidivism. However, I’ve noted in my years as a police officer that many criminals tend to hang out with, well, other criminals, whether in prison or not. Reducing sentences may have a minor effect, or no effect at all regarding recidivism, while resulting in increased crime rates due to a) lack of deterrence and b) career criminals being on the streets more.

      A very interesting discussion, by the way.

      • I’ve wondered whether solitary would be less damaging if prisoners had a phone/itext system, even if was limited to other prisoners in the same prison.

      • I haven’t been following all of this thread, but I think it’s worth mentioning that these are not new issues. The main lower level punishments in Imperial China for many centuries were beatings. In 18th century England, being whipped through town at the cart’s tail was one of the standard punishments for non-capital offenses, and the pillory was another.

        The whole argument of deterrence vs rehabilitation is mirrored in late 18th c. early 19th c. sources. The view on probability vs severity in the 18th c. was the opposite of the usual modern view–hang an offender often enough so people remember it and the fact that a majority of people convicted of capital offenses don’t get executed isn’t a problem. In the early 19th century the pendulum of opinion was swinging the other way.

        For a first hand picture of the arguments, on that and much else, I recommend the report of an 1816 parliamentary inquiry:

        http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t8nc5vr6p

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I don’t know, I’m pretty against this whole idea of eliminating solitary confinement. But not because I just want to be “tougher on crime”.

      Really, I think all prisoners should be in solitary confinement. It’s just insane to me that we lock criminals up in places that are basically “colleges for crime” and encourage them to socialize with other criminals. And it’s much more horrible how people locked up for minor crimes (or even things that shouldn’t be crimes) end up subject to abuse and violence at the hands of violent criminals.

      I think solitary confinement shouldn’t be an additional punishment; it ought to be the standard course of action. But when they are so confined, they shouldn’t simply be left alone in a little room with nothing to do, so that they can get bored out of their minds. They ought to be given books—and in the modern age, even access to computers and (perhaps a censored version of) the internet—so that they can educate and entertain themselves in a non-violent way that doesn’t involve interacting with other criminals.

      It doesn’t have to be strictly solitary, either. Just solitary in regard to isolation from other inmates. They can see visitors and people offering various forms of educational and work training—so long as they never see another inmate of the prison the whole time they’re there. And even visitors probably ought to be restricted when they are part of a gang or criminal culture.

      And the best part is, if the prisoners refuse to take advantage of the opportunities for learning and self-advancement, it acts as its own punishment. They don’t get to join some prison gang and while away their time with hardened criminals. They just don’t get to do anything, and they can be allowed to get as bored as they like before they give in and read a book (or learn how to read, if they don’t know).

      As for the lack of “socialization”, sure, that might be a problem. But I’d rather they have no socialization than negative socialization. And for less severe criminals, work-release is an option.

      There might be concerns in the nature of “what about the cost?” But how much can it really cost to give each prisoner a totally spartan, concrete cell and access to a library? Prisons already have libraries, and they already have the cells—though admittedly, overcrowding is a big problem in some places. And maybe something like computer access can be reserved as a luxury for good behavior.

      In short, I think all prisoners ought to be put in “solitary confinement”—but in a manner very different from its current form.

      Think of The Count of Monte Cristo, where Dantes survives six years of solitary confinement of the “conventional” sort. But then he tunnels accidentally into the cell of Faria, where he receives eight years of extensive education on all manner of topics. Though in the story it’s obviously contrary to the wishes of the French officials, the punishment ends up becoming an opportunity for self-improvement. This is obviously a fictional example, and I hardly expect prisoners in real life to be like Edmond Dantes. Nevertheless, I think at best this would offer real means for improvement, and at worst it wouldn’t be any worse than the current system.

      Also, none of this is in any way contradictory to or meant to oppose the possible use of corporal punishment, either as a substitute for imprisonment (in the case of minor crimes), or as a supplement. They serve different purposes. Corporal punishment, to harm criminals and punish them; imprisonment, to restrain them from committing crimes. Ideally, we could give all criminals only corporal punishment—it would be a lot cheaper. But some people have to be locked up to protect society. But when they’re locked up, it shouldn’t be in a manner that reinforces criminality.

      • John Schilling says:

        I am sympathetic to this view, but then I am an introvert who would very definitely rather spend my time reading a book in isolation than socializing with convicted criminals. And, obviously, would prefer virtual social interaction with decent people than face-to-face with convicted criminals.

        Convincing me that this will work for extroverts would take some doing, and the consequences of releasing a cadre of badly broken extroverts upon the world are not something I would look on with favor. The history of punitive solitary confinement in the real world has given us rather little in the way of Edmond Dantes, and the failure modes of “OK, so you’re in prison – here, occupy yourself with books” can be catastrophic.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Beware typical mind fallacy and smaller briar patches; but Birmingham Jail has something to answer for also.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          You use Mein Kampf as a negative example, but if a significant number of prisoners became intellectual enough to write long books expounding their political worldviews, I would consider that a fantastic success.

          I guess this is because I don’t assign a particularly high probability to one of these political tracts sending the country into dictatorship. 🙂

      • Your position is roughly the orthodoxy of English commenters c. 1800. They didn’t have the option of the internet, but they argued for solitary confinement combined with religious education and possibly training in a trade, in order to avoid corruption by other prisoners and reform the prisoner into a useful member of society. A penitentiary was supposed to be a place where people learned to repent.

        As best I can tell, it didn’t work very well–certainly not as well as its advocates expected.

        Incidentally, I don’t know if you realize that the prison part of The Count of Monte Cristo is a heavily modified version of the real experiences of Casanova, imprisoned under the Leads in Venice. I don’t think, however, that he got any education from the imprisoned monk in the adjacent cell with whom he eventually escaped.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Your position is roughly the orthodoxy of English commenters c. 1800. They didn’t have the option of the internet, but they argued for solitary confinement combined with religious education and possibly training in a trade, in order to avoid corruption by other prisoners and reform the prisoner into a useful member of society. A penitentiary was supposed to be a place where people learned to repent.

          As best I can tell, it didn’t work very well–certainly not as well as its advocates expected.

          I was aware of this (quite possibly via yourself), but admittedly I have little direct knowledge of it. I know, for instance, that Alexis de Tocqueville originally came to America to study the innovative new prison system which was impressing people in Europe, which may have been based on these ideas.

          I agree that it would be very important to investigate to what extent it was actually carried out and whether it worked. If it did work, why did they stop? If it didn’t work, what were the reasons?

          I did not know that the prison sequence in the book was based on the experiences of Casanova.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            Looks like a somewhat similar approach may be working out pretty well in Norway. The photos and the bulk of this article focus on one or two high end prisons, but here is its summary of nationwide results.

            http://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-so-successful-2014-12
            In Norway, fewer than 4,000 of the country’s 5 million people were behind bars as of August 2014.

            That makes Norway’s incarceration rate just 75 per 100,000 people, compared to 707 people for every 100,000 people in the US.

            On top of that, when criminals in Norway leave prison, they stay out. It has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20%. The US has one of the highest: 76.6% of prisoners are re-arrested within five years.

            Norway also has a relatively low level of crime compared to the US, according to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The majority of crimes reported to police there are theft-related incidents, and violent crime is mostly confined to areas with drug trafficking and gang problems.

          • Anthony says:

            Didn’t Scott post something about high recidivism rates being a measurement artifact? It turns out that a small proportion of offenders keep re-offending, and getting sent back to jail, while most get out, and stay far away from the criminal justice system once they get out. Turns out that it’s a population issue – if you look at who is in prison this year, it’s dominated by the repeat-offender people. If you look at everyone who spent any time in prison over a long timescale (I think it was 15 years), the population is dominated by short-timers who don’t go back to prison. But there’s a lot of churn in the short-timer population, and at any one time, it’s not a majority of the prison population. Or something like that – I don’t remember the details.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ houseboatsonstyx:

            I have to admit, there are some things that make me uncomfortable about the Norwegian system.

            First of all, I have to admit that my initial reaction to hearing about these things (and that article is not the first time) was “what is this soft on crime bullshit?!” And indeed, it doesn’t seem right to me to provide prisoners with unnecessarily luxurious accommodations at taxpayer expense. (I really don’t think you could scale this up to meet America’s needs, as well.)

            On the other hand, I am very skeptical of incarceration as a means of punishment. It’s really hard to think of something less suited to that purpose. Incarceration is really good at keeping people from committing more crimes (against the general public, anyway), and possibly it’s good at rehabilitation. But if you just want to make people “pay for what they’ve done”, there are a lot easier ways.

            Second, I am very nervous about too much of a state emphasis on “rehabilitation”. Sure, rehabilitation is desirable, and I would prefer an environment where prisoners are able to rehabilitate themselves to one where they get anti-habilitated. But the things that concern me are:

            a) The “medicalization” of crime, where it is treated as springing inexorably from circumstances, and the belief that it can necessarily be cured if you just impose the right intervention. In essence, treating prisons as if they were insane asylums, where people are not treated as free agents.

            b) Very relatedly, the phenomenon of the indefinite sentence. This is the logical consequence of an approach based on rehabilitation, for exactly the reasons that confinement to an asylum is indefinite: they let you out when you’re cured, and not before. And this system is practiced in Norway: the maximum sentence is 21 years, but after that it’s renewed on a discretionary basis. That seems like a dangerous power for prison officials to have, and moreover there’s no particular reason why it ought to be limited to crimes carrying a sentence of over 21 years.

            c) The whole mentality it implies, of lack of respect for prisoners’ autonomy. “Respect for autonomy” doesn’t mean letting them get away with whatever they want; it means treating them as responsible for what they choose to do. But the idea of “we let you out when you’re cured” basically reduces the process to brainwashing. I suppose my objection is basically the whole theme of A Clockwork Orange: there’s something fishy about having the government force people to “reform”. Reform ought to come from the person himself, not the government deciding how people ought to live and making them do it. This is unavoidable to some extent, of course, with any prison system—but it’s still very suspicious.

            Nevertheless, I think they have some good ideas. Despite what I said about solitary confinement, I think with lower-risk prisoners the situation is very different. Breaking them up into small, managed “communities” where a “criminal culture” is not allowed to flourish seems like a perfectly fine idea. With the higher-risk criminals, they can be kept in isolation (at least from one another). And that is the case with e.g. Breivik, who is held in a maximum security prison where as I understand he is kept in solitary confinement. (Though he complained, among other things, that his cell only had a Playstation 2, while he desired a Playstation 3.)

            And teaching people work skills seems like a good idea, of course.

            But if these prisoners are so low-risk that they can be held in little “resort communities” and given such extensive freedoms, why are they in prison at all? Why can’t they be given probation, or held subject to house arrest?

            I don’t think imprisonment per se should be used as a punishment. The reason to imprison people is that they are too dangerous to be let out. If the goal is to punish them (and, again, I think that is a perfectly legitimate goal), they can be subject to something like caning, or something more severe, maybe even including things like maiming.

            But giving them a really unpleasant environment to live in for years seems downright counter-productive. As the Norwegians say, you’re going to have to let these people out again (unless you execute them or keep them for life), and treating them terribly is not a good way to make them better citizens. The psychologist Nathaniel Branden said (in a very different context):

            Even if what people are doing is wrong, even if errors of morality are involved, even if what people are doing is irrational, you do not lead people to virtue by contempt. You do not make people better by telling them they are despicable. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when religion tries it and it doesn’t work when Objectivism tries it.

            If someone has done something so horrendous that you want to tell him or her that the action is despicable, go ahead. If you want to tell someone he is a rotten son-of-a-bitch, go ahead. If you want to call someone a scoundrel, go ahead. I don’t deny that there are times when that is a thoroughly appropriate response. What I do deny is that it is an effective strategy for inspiring moral change or improvement.

            Now, he was talking about what you can do as a private citizen, just with words. But it seems to me to go double for actual physical punishments.

            Not to mention the thing I find most despicable about the prison system (and all fantasies about sending prisoners to some island where they can just fight it out in the “state of nature”) is the fact that, quite often, the ones who do best under that system are the most evil, most callous, and most antisocial people. They manage to “take over” the prison culture and subjugate the other prisoners, infamously including by subjecting them to sexual servitude and rape.

            If someone actually thinks that forcible rape is the appropriate punishment for child rapists or whatever, then let him have the courage to come out and advocate it as an official punishment. We can take a page from South American dictatorships and have prison guards (or officially hired inmates) sodomize them with Coca-Cola bottles, in the exact amount one deems necessary. But if you don’t think this is an appropriate punishment to be handed out by the state, I hardly think it’s appropriate to be handed out arbitrarily by the strong criminals against the weak.

            ***

            And on the topic of whether imprisonment is necessary, take Breivik, for example. If he is monitored by the police and kept in house arrest, what’s he going to do? I can especially see no reason why he needs to be kept in a maximum security prison. I doubt he’s any more dangerous to other inmates than your average member of some gang.

            If the idea is to punish him, then sure, I won’t deny that he deserves it. But then just execute him—no reason to keep him in prison for life, if you’re never going to let him out. Or if death is (as some people argue, in contradiction to those who say that the death penalty is “cruel and unusual”) “too good for him,” then have him tortured to death. Have him drawn and quartered, if you think that’s appropriate. You can make it arbitrarily horrible, as horrible as you like.

            I think the use of incarceration as a punishment is purely based on a foolish desire to look “civilized” rather than to be “civilized”. It’s not bloody, and you don’t have to watch people get their arms chopped off in Times Square. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually less cruel or destructive.

          • Tibor says:

            @houseboatonstyx: I think that an important difference between the US system and the Norwegian system is that Norway has an extremely extensive welfare state. If you remodeled the US prisons in a Norwegian fashion but kept the current level of social welfare in the US, you would have people committing crimes exactly to get to prison. This actually sometimes happens in the Czech republic with homeless people. They commit a minor crime to be able to spend the winter in prison (Czech prisons are much nicer places than US prisons seem to be but not as nice as Norwegian prisons seem to be). There are various homeless centres but they have to obey a lot of rules to be allowed there and I am not sure how long they can stay at a time. To a lot of those people, the freedom to go wherever they want usually does not mean much, they would not be going anywhere anyway. And there is probably a more abundant welfare state in the Czech republic than in the US. In fact, I think that virtually no homeless people are homeless because they would not be able to afford living at least in a dormitory, they do get some minimal welfare, it is called “existential minimum”, something anybody who is unemployed is guaranteed to get at least as long as they collect it …the problem is that they often don’t even do that or they spend it on beer and tobacco within the few days after getting it.

            In any case, the nicer you make your prisons, the more attractive they become for people who have nothing else to do anyway and they will actually commit (usually minor) crimes in order to get there.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ tibor
            “This actually sometimes happens in the Czech republic with homeless people. They commit a minor crime to be able to spend the winter in prison ”

            http://www.isd518.net/Websites/isd518/files/Content/3803780/Cop_and_the_Anthem_Text.pdf

            My first couple of searches for [ o henry jail ] said that O Henry wrote some of his early stories while in jail.

            Tying a couple of sub-threads together before Friedman does…

          • Tibor says:

            @houseboatonstyx: I don’t get your last comment at all. What is the point? I have not read the 13 page document (I will read it if there is anything you want to say by it but now I am not sure whether that is the case).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            Prison isn’t something I think much about, but for the US, my approach as usual would be for cheaper and simpler and gentler methods; apply those, then see how much of the problem remains.

            Cheaper to keep as many convicts as possible off the streets by electronic house arrest. Punishment level being in the details; how wide the range is, etc. (Rather safer than waterboarding and electrodes, particularly if the latter two were to be applied simultaneously.) Also an easy way to spy on other potential criminals this convict might be hanging out with.

          • John Schilling says:

            To what extent does Norway have any large criminal or crime-tolerant subcultures to complicate rehabilitation? They obviously don’t have the black or southern cultures that Scott found to be major contributers to American criminal violence a few posts back, and a quick google suggests nothing but some transplanted outlaw motorcycle gangs from the US, about which WTF?

            But it seems to me that rehabilitation becomes a much more complicated and difficult thing if the ex-convict is going to be released into a culture where successful criminals have great status and even an unsuccessful-but-loyal criminal can expect modest status from e.g. serving their time without going soft or ratting out their colleagues, where a few years in prison is considered part of a normal life.

            If, on the other hand, the community can be expected to support post-release rehabilitation, the prison’s job becomes much easier.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Tibor

            Never mind. The document is a dull classic US short story about a homeless man trying to get put in prison for the winter c. 1900 in New York City; dunno how those prison conditions compare with Czech’s now. The author, O Henry, wrote and published stories while himself in jail in Texas (for embezzlement, receiving very friendly treatment); this groups O Henry with Hitler and Martin Luther King as writing from jail in another sub-thread.

          • “And there is probably a more abundant welfare state in the Czech republic than in the US. In fact, I think that virtually no homeless people are homeless because they would not be able to afford living at least in a dormitory”

            Part of the difference may be that rental accommodations in the form of a dormitory—multiple occupants per room—would be illegal in much of the U.S.

      • Psmith says:

        Some additional deterrent value might be squeezed out of existing capacity by making confinement more aversive to those confined. That might well be consistent with making it less horrible, threatening, and destructive of the inmate’s future well-being and social and employment prospects, and thus more rehabilitative as well as more deterrent. An orderly, quiet prison where inmates spent much of their time working or studying alone might be less congenial to many offenders than the current combination of noise, violence, idleness, and sociability, which has a strong resemblance to many inmates’ pre-incarceration social settings. It is important to reflect that offenders may not have the same tastes as policy-makers, or as the author and readers of the present volume, perhaps especially as to noise and interpersonal conflict: a prison that resembled a Benedictine monastery rather than an urban street corner might seem more unpleasant to most actual inmates, even if in prospect it seems far less horrible to you or me. It may be possible to design prison stays that will be shorter and less damaging to offenders’ well-being and future prospects, but which will also be recalled by them, and communicated by them to others, as more unpleasant and therefore more to be avoided. Especially for a juvenile, a forty-hour sentence served in solitary with no radio or television might be highly unpleasant without being at all damaging to the juvenile’s future, and at the same time so undramatic as to deprive him of bragging rights.

        From Mark Kleiman.

  46. Deiseach says:

    Re: the Financial Post article, the kind of people who are very much likely to be the professional agitators the article is worried about are, based on my limited experience, inclined to go into student politics with an eye on national politics and so are unlikely to be going for the office jobs mentioned. My go-to example in an Irish context for this would be Ivana Bacik who, after public notoriety doing the student agitation gig, went on to national politics, a law degree, a career in academia, and the kind of dependably right-on “if you want to sue for progressive rights, here’s my number” career that I imagine would best be represented by the ACLU for American comparison purposes. She did not apply for a job in the accountancy department of Biggs Sprockets plc after university, and her modern-day counterparts are more likely to follow her career trajectory.

    The ordinary graduates who are going to apply to work for the Filthy Banks And/Or Multinationals will have done a bit of student protesting in their time (because marching downtown to protest outside government offices meant they could skip that day’s lectures and also slope off early to the pub) and will have shed any radicalism that interferes with getting a decent-paying job to start them off on the career ladder.

    I’m also surprised, to be honest, about the recommendations in the article because I would have thought most companies already had something like that in place, e.g. probationary periods – the jobs I’ve got that have been Real Respectable Proper Jobs always started with something like a three-month temporary contract so they could assess if you were likely or not to screw up really badly, and if you hadn’t burned the place down by the end of that period, you were then permanent. Codes of conduct, escalating verbal then written warnings, etc. are also par for the course.

    Then again, I’m not a university graduate and wouldn’t have been slotting into Big Job After Degree that seems to be the kind envisioned in the piece. Or is Europe (or at least Ireland and the UK) that different from America?

    • Patrick says:

      Lawyers like to self promote. One really common way they do is by writing articles like these. The articles follow a common style.

      1. Mention an issue of present day social interest among your target audience.

      2 Connect it to your field of expertise and suggest that it shows the importance of being on top of the legal issues you work with.

      3. Give generic advice that’s generally applicable to all situations.

      4. Reference your CV.

      That’s all that’s going on here. The author knows that his target audience is likely conservative and probably doesn’t like student protesters. He knows they’ll be likely to click this article. The advice inside is generic and everyone already knows it. But it gets his name out there.

      • Deiseach says:

        Sounds like a great way to churn out articles 🙂

        “The increasing prevalence of articles in popular science supplements shows the worrying increase in cephalopod-related incidents in zoos, research laboratories, and supervillain underwater volcano lairs.

        This trend will only increase as the current generation of cephalopods mature and escape from their holding tanks, and the question too few companies and businesses ask themselves today is this: is our HR department geared up to deal with a highly-intelligent creature with exquisite manual dexterity and a proven track record in escapology when it applies for work under the new diversity regulations?

        A worthwhile exercise is to construct a simple checklist of the most vital features in dealing with possibly-alien marine creatures educated by observation of their scientific captors to at least PhD levels and see if your organisation is compliant with them. You may be surprised and even shocked by what you find!

        Rupert Trouserpress is a senior partner at Messrs. Sue, Grabbit & Runne, a long-established firm of solicitors with extensive experience in employment law.”

    • Tibor says:

      I see this as a big problem with politicians in general. It seems to me that the vast majority of the people willing to go to politics are exactly this sort of people (not necessarily always having SJWish values, but they do tend to see the world very differently from other people). I’ve always looked suspicious on anyone involved in things like the “student senate” and whatnot, to me it just does not seem natural to be interested in such things 🙂 They also tend to be “students” who spend 7 years before they get their Ms. degree (which is usually what everyone gets, few people stop at Bc. at least in continental Europe) and they seem to care more about the politicking than about their actual studies.

      I like the Swiss system where the MPs are not paid and therefore have to also have a regular job (they do not meet that often, which I also think is a good thing, so it is feasible for them). Then you have politicians that stay in the reality which tends to not be the case in most other countries where the usual pattern the one you describe – study (usually law), while studying join a local party organization -> get a job working for your party -> eventually rise up in the party hierarchy and a get a good position on the candidate list -> get elected to a local government and eventually the country parliament (or something equivalent). All that without any interaction with the “real world” out there.

  47. Arceris says:

    Regarding the Vietnam argument… many people seem to be latching onto PTSD. However I think there could be another potential cause. Agent Orange was a herbacide used extensively in the Vietnam war. The AO used was contaminated with Dioxin (TCDD – 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin). Dioxin is extremely toxic, even in small amounts, is teratogenic, and can cause heritable (germline) genetic damage.

    Essentially, it slips between the genetic bases on DNA strands (intercalation). Since it’s hydrophobic, but has a polar core, it REALLY likes being in DNA. Exposure to AO in Vietnam would almost guarantee a touch of dioxin. Even if the dioxin dose was under that necessary to cause acute (or even chronic) problems in an adult, it could cause genetic damage that the adult passes along to children.

    Also, the usual thing that saves males from passing along genetic damage (the fact that sperm are disposed of on a routine basis), wouldn’t necessarily operate here. The Dioxin could just as easily damage the progenitor cells.

    I’m not saying that it’s not PTSD, but given how powerful dioxin is, I don’t think it can be ruled out.

  48. Deiseach says:

    In more “SCIENCE! reverses the past ten years’ worth of nutritional advice”, along with your glass of red wine and half a bar of dark chocolate, now add a plate of chips to your dinner time meal plan 🙂

    Throw away your George Foreman Grill, forget about chomping them raw – deep-frying or sautéeing your vegetables is the way to go! At least, if you’ve deep-fried the veggies in extra virgin olive oil, that is.

    • Randy M says:

      I thought Olive Oil was extra bad to fry in, because it decomposes at lower temperatures, making carcinogens or something?

      • Deiseach says:

        That was probably last week’s SCIENCE!

        We’ve moved on to this week’s SCIENCE! now.

        Next week we’ll learn that we should be dumping the vegetables in the bin and drinking the hot oil directly because SCIENCE!

        🙂

  49. Helldalgo says:

    I will happily work on the propranolol thing next time I get a refill! I have a few phobias (walking outside at night, spiders) that I’ve been hoping to condition myself to anyways, and they’re low-risk enough that I’d feel okay with exposure therapy.

    Propranolol has generally been a life-saver. I have a prescription for anxiety attacks.

  50. Dan T. says:

    I think you mean an infinite number of monkeys, not moneys, though with it immediately following an item regarding a Bitcoin fork, who knows?

  51. Samedi says:

    In the UK deportation topic, Scott mentions “upper-middle-class people”. I think he is using the term “class” to indicate a person’s income level. It is unfortunate that class is now commonly used to indicate income rather than social status. Social class is a strong indicator in many statistics, probably stronger than race or region. I think we are missing a key factor in social statistics by ignoring it. For example, in Scott’s otherwise excellent post “Guns And States”, I would like to have seen the correlation between gun violence and social class. If you controlled for social class would the rates between blacks and whites actually differ, and would they still differ by region?

    I wonder why social class isn’t commonly part of these kinds of statistics. Is there a taboo in the US about mentioning class? Or perhaps it’s too difficult to measure?

    • John Schilling says:

      Is there a taboo in the US about mentioning class?

      Kind of, though I’d call it a bias rather than a taboo. The United States really likes to believe that “class” is a thing we left behind with those stuffy Europeans when we all got on the boat. When that’s obviously not possible, when we are forced to look at the real differences between the truly rich, the truly poor, and everyone else, this bias leads us to assume that this is purely an economic matter.

      Further confounding this is the bit where the unique economic circumstances of post-WWII America allowed us to sort of (i.e. in economic terms only, and barely) merge the non-professional wage-earning “working class” into the traditionally much smaller “middle class”, and pretending that the latter did or ought to encompass anyone who wasn’t truly rich or truly poor. That fiction, or maybe forced and subsidized reality, is breaking down in a sometimes ugly way. But from a US-centric terminological standpoint, “upper middle class” means what “middle class” meant a hundred years ago, “lower middle class” means what “working class” meant a hundred years ago, and “middle class” means we are closing our eyes, covering our ears, and humming real loud trying to pretend the distinction doesn’t exist.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      There are a few obstacles that make it difficult to talk about.

      Obviously there’s the fact that a lot of people don’t acknowledge class as existing in America, since it gestures against the American Dream either way you slice it: if elites have their positions mainly through natural ability then hard work is less important, doubly so if their positions are mainly due to nepotism. Nobody wants to think that they’re shut out of advancement or that they didn’t earn their positions.

      More importantly in my mind though is that we have a number of regional and ethnic cultures with their own class structures. A Southern Gentleman, a Boston Brahmin and a Jewish Princess aren’t all in the same social class by any stretch. So talking about class on a national level doesn’t make much sense without bringing in those other issues anyway.

    • Brad says:

      It’s a part of the national ethos that we don’t have social classes in the U.S. It isn’t true, but it still makes it difficult to talk about. On top of that, the markers of social class vary strongly by region. A Bostonian might be able to make a good class judgment just by listening to another Bostonian, but put him in Charleston and he’ll have very little clue.

      The closest thing to controlling for class on studies I’ve seen is a factor for whether or not the subject’s parents went to college.

    • Murphy says:

      How do you measure class if not by income?

      I mean practically speaking since many communities have their own classes. Is an Indian untouchable with 10 million bucks in the bank lower class in America?

      How about if he’s living in a predominantly Indian area?

      Is someone who’s technically a european Earl but lives on food stamps in new york upper or lower class?

      • Vaniver says:

        How do you measure class if not by income?

        Other people’s opinions? Invites to parties? Coalition politics is more than vote-counting!

        • Murphy says:

          I meant practically for any kind of useful analysis.

          pointing back to the untouchable with 10 million bucks in the bank. is it his immediate social circle who’s opinion counts? The average of people living within 1 mile of him? 100 miles?

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        As Vaniver suggested, “how you’re treated by other people” works. From Siderea’s recent post:

        It is a common confusion – or intellectual dodge – to conflate social class with economic class. But what what differentiates, say, the middle class from the working class is not mere wealth or earning power; as we all know, a plumber (presumed working class) may make much more money than a professor (presumed professional).

        To use myself as an illustration: I make very little money, so I am heir to the misfortunes that disproportionately impact the impecunious – the almost-certain forthcoming hike in T fares looms large in my anxieties right now – but I am a professional with an advanced degree and possession of the shibboleths of the professional class. I didn’t stop being in the social class I had been in when I dropped to a much lower economic class. The privileges I lost were only those attendant to economic might; I retained the privileges of social position.

        So, for instance, if I don’t like the medical care I get from the doctors my state-subsidized health plan (thanks, Mitt!) gives me access to, I can’t just whip out my checkbook and buy myself care from a better reputed specialist. Being poor might yet shorten my lifespan, as it curtails my access to care. But on the other hand, if I present with a serious booboo to just about any doctor, I will have narcotic pain relief offered me with no questions asked, because someone of my social class is not suspected of being one of those naughty “med-seeking” addicts. The decision of whether or not to trust me with a prescription for percoset is not made on the basis of the MassHealth card in my pocket marking me one of the precariat, but my hair style, my sense of fashion, my (lack of) make-up, my accent, my vocabulary, my body language, my (apparent) girth, my profession (which, note, doctors often ask as part of intake), and all the other things which locate me in a social class to observers that know the code. Contrariwise, a patient of mine – who is a white woman of almost my age – who is covered with tattoos, speaks with an Eastie accent, is over 200lbs, and wears spandex and bling and heavy make-up, gets screamed at by an ER nurse for med-seeking when she hadn’t asked for medication at all, and just wanted an x-ray for an old bone-break she was frighted she had reinjured in a fall.

      • keranih says:

        How do you measure class if not by income?

        By what – and how many – words are used to answer the question, “Would you like some ice cream?”

        This question – what is social rank if not income – is a part of why “American” class is different than class in Europe and elsewhere. Income is malleable to a degree that social standing is not, and due to the long standing concept that “anyone” can improve their financial situation (+/- the remains of Calvinism) plus the acknowledged difficulty in making others change their social opinion, many people in the US have disregarded the social metric in favor of the financial one.

        Why stick to the rules where you always fail if you can switch to rules where you have the chance to win?

        And of course, people being who they are, we can’t get rid of the social metric, not completely – because it’s hardwired in.

        But America has put a lot of effort into pretending that where you came from and who your family was does not matter, and to a certain degree it is true.

        • Soumynona says:

          How do you measure class if not by income?

          By what – and how many – words are used to answer the question, “Would you like some ice cream?”

          Could you give example answers to the question with explanations what class they would indicate?

          • keranih says:

            It’s killing me now that I’m not finding the ref on line – I suspect it was from the late 1990’s.

            Anyway, an example, from poor white trash to upper crust.

            “Yeah!”
            “Yes!”
            “Yes, please.”
            “Oh, thank you, yes, I would like some, please.”
            “Oh, how thoughtful of you! But, no, thank you.”

            IIRC, it was part of some job interview hints.

          • DavidS says:

            This might be a result of the fact that I’m from the more clearly class-infested UK, but your ‘white trash to upper crust’ reads wrongly to me because it’s one-way, getting more formal/polite.

            The UK tradition (with some truth to it I think) would probably see that sort of “Oh, how thoughtful of you! But, no, thank you.” as very much a middle class thing. Actually upper class people are rather less polite.

          • keranih says:

            @ DavidS –

            That’s interesting, and actually maps to other class markers (lower-income to middle class use more bling/material identifiers of excess money, while the most wealthy eschew such vulgar displays.)

            (Because no one who counts in their social group is going to confuse them with a truely poor person, but they might get confused with a middle class person.)

            I wonder if the ice cream scale is artificially truncated by the ‘job interview’ setting. Also – in the American South, politeness is over emphasized compared to other areas.

          • Anonymaus says:

            What DavidS describes is also here:

            the different vocabularies often can appear quite counter-intuitive: the middle classes prefer “fancy” or fashionable words, even neologisms and often euphemisms, in attempts to make themselves sound more refined (“posher than posh”), while the upper classes in many cases stick to the same plain and traditional words that the working classes also use, as, conscious of their status, they have no need to make themselves sound more refined.

            (Wikipedia: U and non-U English)

          • Creutzer says:

            For what it’s worth, my non-UK European class intuitions go the same way, by the way: At the upper end, things decline in formality and use of politeness strategies again.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            That seems kind of silly, if the person is offering you ice cream, presumably they are going to have some themselves so they are going to be eating their ice cream while you sit there like some kind of an asshole.

          • @ God Damn John Jay
            I can’t eat icecream, but people keep offering it to me anyway.

          • alexp says:

            I’m pretty sure most of the financiers and management consultants I know would answer either “sure, thanks” or “I’m good, but thanks” to that question. I know that’s not the absolute upper crust, but it’s pretty high up there.

            Maybe it’s just a millenial thing?

          • Derelict says:

            I tried the ice cream thing with myself, and got, for “yes” and “no” respectively:

            “Yeah, sure, why not.”
            “No, I’m good, thanks.”

            I guess I’m smack dab in the middle of the class ladder in that regard.

        • Murphy says:

          Again, you’re pointing vaguely at a rotating 10 dimensional space and screaming “don’t you get it, you just go UP! IT’S SIMPLE! YOU JUST GO UP! DON’T YOU GET WHAT UP IS?”

          “high class” in one state is low class in another, high class on one road is low class on another, high class in one house can be low class next door.

          In my old job speaking fast and confidently was high class. A mile away in my new job speaking slowly without making absolute assertions is high class.

          How do you measure social class in a manner that 1: is meaningful across a wide area and across a large number of groups and 2: is actually usable in any kind of analysis.

          • keranih says:

            Emmm. You’re asking two different things, I think.

            Yes, I agree, “class” is a difficult thing to quantify from the outside, and probably includes things that aren’t visible to the people on the inside, because water, man.

            However, *that it is not easily quantified* doesn’t mean that it’s *not there* nor that it has no effect.

            Income =/= wealth, and neither = social standing. If you’re looking for a simple, reproducible way to measure this, I just gave you one. If you want a way to measure this without individual one-on-one interviews, sorry, don’t have that.

            If you find one, do let us know.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Resource networks.

        • Murphy says:

          Right, how do you measure those in a meaningful way keeping in mind that they likely have little to do with facebook friend list size?

          Is a rich-kid who’s been “cut off” my his parents lower class? How about someone with a wide extended family nearby where they’re all fairly poor but their total resources far outstrip the parents of the “rich kid” above?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >Right, how do you measure those in a meaningful way keeping in mind that they likely have little to do with facebook friend list size?

            Hell if I know, I’m not the one trying to make a Grand Unifying Theory of American Class Divisions.

            >Is a rich-kid who’s been “cut off” by his parents lower class?

            Probably? I mean, if he still has friends and extended family.

            >How about someone with a wide extended family nearby where they’re all fairly poor but their total resources far outstrip the parents of the “rich kid” above

            Unless you’re talking strictly about money, or find a way to voltron resources, there’s qualitative differences between many of them. If all of your network is “lower class”, even if it’s big, it’s really unlikely they’ll, for example, “know a guy” in X or Y place that can provide you with X or Y service/benefit/assistance.

          • Samedi says:

            Guessing far outside my expertise, how about textual analysis of speech patterns and word choice? Something like a more complicated version of the ice cream question mentioned above.

            Income is not a factor, though is probably a correlate. “rich kid” is not a social class designator. If a child was raised in an old patrician family (presumably upper class and wealthy) and then found herself impoverished, would she cease being upper class? No. The converse also being true.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Siderea had a recent essay (which also linked to three-ladder social class essay, which is how I assume it’s started popping up in these circles now) that claimed that social class is very much taboo in the US. (I’m not American, so I wouldn’t really know.)

      It has long been commented (e.g. Fussell, Class) that discussing class is basically taboo in American culture: but, specifically, the class which it is taboo to discuss is social class. This presents a problem for Americans because social class is a real phenomenon, an important phenomenon around which huge amounts of American policy, politics, and culture organizes. It’s the elephant in the American living room.

      Social class is taboo to discuss, but economic class is not, and that presents an obvious “solution”: Americans conflate social and economic class so they can talk about social class under the guise of talking about economic class. […]

      To say these things is at once to point out the obvious and stray into dangerous territory. To say “social classes are cultures” is nicely abstract and bloodless, but concrete beating visceral implications are just under the skin of it.

      In the US, we have a rule: to describe a person as “lower class” is an insult; less obviously, to describe them as “upper class” is as well. To describe something as “lower class” or “upper class” is to denigrate it, and to attribute a “lower class” or “upper class” thing to some one is to denigrate them. It is the designation “middle class”, alone, which is virtuous – a fact which explains in a nutshell why, famously, all Americans arrogate the term to themselves. There is no neutral language for discussing social classes in the US, save our economic euphemisms. All the explicit terms we might use for them are electric with valence; all words are compliments or insults (or both).

      There are people who have offered specific observations about these classes as cultures before, and they are mostly humorists – e.g. Fussell’s Class, Foxworthy’s “Redneck” shtick – trading on the Fool’s privilege to speak the unforgivable with impunity in the face of the King.

      For me to ascribe a custom or moral value to a class – for me to even describe class in terms of having customs or moral values, in the abstract – is dangerously close to – or, depending on whom you ask, entirely over the line of – disparaging people for not having the right culture. We are not even permitted to acknowledge these cultural differences exist.

      • Emile says:

        One aspect that I feel is missing there is race – I feel Americans talk & feel about race the way Europeans (maybe just Brits?) talk & feel about class…

        This whole identify thing of class and ethnicity and religion and culture and profession and income is a huge mess…

        Siderea had a recent essay (which also linked to three-ladder social class essay, which is how I assume it’s started popping up in these circles now)

        I got the link from ialdabaoth on Facebook … but he may have got it from there.

        • brad says:

          I recently binged watched a British TV series, Black Mirror, and I had the distinct feeling several times that I was missing some context. That I was supposed to be inferring something about a particular character because of their name, or how they dressed, spoke, ect. and I just wasn’t getting it.

        • Tibor says:

          I am Czech and I feel that what is described as an “American” view of class is quite typical to Czechs as well…or at least part of the society. There is this former minister and a presidential candidate Schwarzenberg who managed to charm some people (among other things) with coming from a noble family and theoretically having the Fürst title (theoretically since no noble titles have officially been recognized in the country since the beginning of Czechoslovakia in 1918…but of course one can still call himself that). But most people are actually pretty egalitarian in terms of the social class and insofar as the term class is used, it always means income only. It is also not too strange to see a plumber be a friend with an academic for example. Maybe this is a legacy of communism which was theoretically classless (well, it was not very classy, badadum-tssh!) but in fact consisted of the privileged communist ruling class and the rest – so on one hand people stopped thinking in the class distinctions or only in terms of “us” the people and “them” the ruling class. I know from the old prewar films that this was definitely not the case in pre-war Czechoslovakia where the class distinctions were pretty apparent (maybe like in the UK today, or maybe like in the UK in the 30s). Also the graves from that period. When I go to the graveyard I always notice that the older (prewar or even imperial, but those are quite rare) gravestones mention the occupation of the deceased. So you read that this guy was a locomotive engineer and that guy was an accountant and this woman was a wife of a gymnasium (grammar school) professor.

          Partially, it might still be present though – like my neighbour (in my hometown) who has “Bc. so and so” on his doorbell, which I find kind of stupid. There have also been scandals with politicians having false doctorates in both Czech republic and Germany in the past 10 years (although I would say that the class distinction in Germany also is bigger than in the Czech republic and there are also still noble families who legally hold their titles in Germany), which I guess has never happened in the US.

      • Maware says:

        Fussell’s Class is a devastating book, even though it’s dated to the 80’s. it’s not humor at all, but is one of the best explanations of the US class system I’ve ever seen.

        • Desertopa says:

          In some of the particulars, I think it’s become rather dated (and it acknowledges itself that many of the markers it describes would have been quite different thirty years before it was published.) One of the things that particularly sticks out in my memory is the discussion of programmers, who were members of an existing profession in the 80’s, but one which carried very different class markers thirty years ago compared to today.

  52. Orphan Wilde says:

    Other topic: For those who use e-cigs and are interested in the MAOI found in traditional tobacco, “WTA” e-juice (sold by a couple of vendors) may or may not be what you’re looking for. I just ordered some, and will report on my findings.

    • Blake Riley says:

      It is. I’m guessing you accessed that through a university or government IP.

      • E. Harding says:

        Possibly foreign IP. NBER allows unlimited access in most countries.

        • Urstoff says:

          NBER has always been gated, even to those in the US.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >NBER has always been gated, even to those in the US.

            I assume they mean, most countries other than the US. For whatever it’s worth, I’m not in the US and I can see it.

          • Urstoff says:

            Oh, I see now. Reading comprehension++

            Kind of a strange policy to only gate the US, but I assume NBER has thought about revenue maximizing strategies (if that’s their goal) more than me.

            Edit: guess they gate first-world countries, but not developing or “transitioning” countries.

  53. OldCrow says:

    I’m sorry, it’s ‘really weird’ that kids whose fathers went to Vietnam were affected?

    Look, this is anecdotal and the people I tend to be close to are definitely at the extreme end of the spectrum for abusive childhoods but – of all the people I know whose fathers beat the shit out of them or otherwise abused them, only one didn’t have PTSD as a result of combat. The only exception is a psychopathic child rapist.

    It’s necessary to confirm theories like this with an objective methodology, yes. But if you think it’s really weird then you need to reevaluate how much exposure to child abuse you’ve managed to avoid.

    • Helldalgo says:

      I have also known many, many children at the extreme end of abuse (directly working with ~fifty over the course of seven years, personally interacting with many, many more). When I knew the details of their case, it was rare for the parent to NOT have PTSD.

      Now, there might be genetic/environmental impacts beyond that. In other words, parents with PTSD might have PTSD because of their own abuse, and the tendency towards abuse was somehow genetic or exacerbated by the PTSD and environment.

      I have also known many people with PTSD who were not abusive, so this is not an excuse to stigmatize the condition.

      • OldCrow says:

        Absolutely, and I’m glad to hear this confirmed by someone whose experience has been broader than mine. My mother has PTSD (the psychopathic child rapist being my grandfather), and while objectively her parenting was less than stellar I would be furious if anyone called her abusive. But it’s very obvious to me how PTSD can turn parents to violence.

        I realize that I should be glad that most people I know don’t find that obvious, but it still gets on my nerves. I certainly don’t think Scott had any ill intent. But it is important to be aware of this stuff, and it’s especially important for a mental health professional.

  54. Urstoff says:

    I’ve read a few articles this past week on market socialism, and the details are still hazy. First, I assume that private property and money as a medium of exchange are parts of market socialism (how can you have well-functioning markets without either?). So it’s more about who owns(?) the “means of production”. The complaint and motivation behind market socialism is that under capitalism, you have the owners of capital and you have the employees, and rarely are the two the same. I’m not quite sure what’s really wrong with that (after all, most of the owners of capital these days are normal individuals via their 401k’s and whatever investments they tend to have through those), but let’s put that aside. So all (most?) businesses under market socialism are “employee owned” or “employee cooperatives”. This is where it gets hazy. Does a company have shares that it gives to every new employee? Thus hiring an employee means fewer shares (or a smaller percentage of ownership) for all the other employees? Are compensation structures set “democratically”? Does each company have it’s own constitution whereby certain decisions (e.g., the decision to restructure compensation) require more votes than other decisions? Do compensations differ across jobs? Surely they must, as there would naturally be competition for employees. Is all of this mandated by law? That is, it wouldn’t be legal for me to hire someone without giving them shares and democratic power within the company even if both of us wanted to?

    If any of this is remotely accurate, it just sounds like there will be an enormous underground economy where people are paid for services and labor without being granted ownership in a company, and that companies will be extremely skittish of hiring people that they think would be bad at voting within the company. Plus, getting capital to start a company would be very difficult, as you couldn’t have IPO’s or venture capitalists or institutional investors.

    Can anyone clarify what market socialism would look like in practice? Am I way off here?

    • Also, cooperatives exist, but they’re pretty rare. It seems to me as though coops would have the advantage of preventing extreme stupidity at the top, but there must be some disadvantages to make coops so rare.

      is it coordination problems among the workers? People who are so used to being employees that they’d rather not do executive work? Difficulty with raising capital because banks don’t like coops? Something I haven’t thought of?

  55. Having previously reading Mike Hearn’s Bitcoin article, I was curious to Bram Cohen’s response. I was rather disappointed. If you want to claim that the other side is just a bunch of popular rhetoric that doesn’t stand scrutiny to the detailed technical arguments, you should really have more detailed technical arguments and less rhetoric. All Cohen has are two nitpicks which barely have any effect on the argument Hearn was actually making. And frankly, it would take some amazing technical argument to justify censoring a competing platform. (There do exist arguments to defend against such an accusion, for instance, “We didn’t do that at all! The other side is just making things up.” or “We don’t want discussion on this because it goes against our very reasonable forum policy, which as you can see was consistently applied in all of these other analogous cases.”. However, both of these are essentially political arguments, not technical arguments.)

    • Samedi says:

      It looks to me like there is a Bitcoin civil war in progress over various issues like control of the source code and block size. Even if you are not especially interested in Bitcoin this civil war is interesting from a governance standpoint. Can something as important as money (a lot of money) be managed without a single governing body? There appear to be many, conflicting interests in the Bitcoin ecosystem and I am curious to see how it all works out.

      • I see political issues in Bitcoin as interesting because Bitcoin is a novel kind of technological/political construct. Typically the decision-making in an institution is lead by a person or a small group of people. There is a problem with this, that these people might not be trustworthy, which leads to the usual sorts of politics. One solution, instead of being lead by a human being, is having a pre-determined algorithm which makes all the decisions. Democracy can be thought to be an example of this, where the algorithm is counting votes. While the purpose of voting is to aggregate the opinions of many people to make decisions, the idea with cryptocurrencies is that the fundamental principles behind money are so simple that there are no complicated decisions that need to be made.

        The next issue is how to enforce that the rules of this algorithm are being followed, and that’s where the real complexity of Bitcoin lies. The solution here is to come up with a complicated algorithm which attempts to guarantee that when you follow this algorithm, everyone you interact will be following the same algorithm. This only works if the algorithm only makes reference to things internal to itself, so the next problem is how to ensure the algorithm has external validity. Bitcoin has two solutions to this: proof-of-work and the hope that over time the algorithm will become socially recognized and so bitcoins will have value. The second is particularly important since that’s what’s distinguishing Bitcoin from every other possible algorithm.

        The problem is that although Bitcoin is gradually getting socially accepted, what’s being accepted is not Bitcoin-the-algorithm, but Bitcoin-the-brand. Bitcoin-the-algorithm is constantly changing from changes by Core developers and still getting recognized as Bitcoin-the-brand. So we are back to institutions run by people with the politicking that entails. The recent controversy is making it clear that this is a problem.

        The natural ultimate solution is to create a finalized Bitcoin algorithm which will never change, and have social recognition that’s truely based on an algorithm. But then the algorithm must be completely future-proof, which Bitcoin is definitely not right now, and I don’t think any altcoins are either.

  56. Orphan Wilde says:

    Re: Protests –

    There appears to be some conflation between political opinions, and the willingness to join protests. One of these groups holds an opinion which may or may not agree with your own – and the other has shown a propensity to upset the status quo and failed the basic test that universities used to provide (whether or not somebody was willing to sit down, shut up, and put up with nonsense for a few years to achieve their personal goals) for businesses.

    Moreover, free speech is not, and should not, be speech free of consequences, and the conflation between the absence of responsibility and liberty is a constant issue for those who claim to espouse liberty, but wish to remove all gravity and meaning from choices (and thus, eliminate choice and thus freedom in any meaningful sense). Freedom is only meaningful or tenable when coupled with responsibility.

    As for deaths clustering on New Years – I’d hazard a guess that a significant part of that is people who struggled to stay alive for one more Christmas with their families ceasing to put forward the effort of fighting for every day once they made it.

  57. Anon. says:

    >We’ve known for nearly a century that body weight is under primary biological control over the long-term.

    If this were true then we would expect obesity rates to be fairly stable across time and geography, no? What am I missing?

  58. wysinwyg says:

    Why are cigarettes such an important confounder? Do they cause cognitive issues?

    Smoking is like having a microdose of aderall in your system all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives a boost of ~5 IQ points on average.

    I just quit a few weeks ago. When I was smoking I could usually do a pretty good job of guessing how long it had been since I’d looked at a clock, or how long I’d been performing a particular task. Now I have no idea. I have trouble remembering small things like closing windows before I go to bed even if someone reminds me. I have tons more trouble concentrating on pretty much anything.

    Interestingly, I don’t seem to procrastinate quite as badly.

    • OldCrow says:

      You don’t procrastinate as much? Damn, time to reevaluate quitting.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      When you quit smoking and saw these effects, did you quit nicotine, or quit smoking? That is, did you get rid of nicotine altogether, or did you replace your nicotine delivery system (transition to dip/vape/gum)?

      I have, umm, a friend who would really like to know.

      • anodognosic says:

        Not sure if relevant, but I’ve never been a smoker (although secondhand in recent years) and I use nicotine gum as a nootropic/stimulant on occasion. It works great for energy and concentration, and for me has fewer side effects than caffeine.

  59. Matt says:

    I’ve hear the term “liquid democracy” years ago. It’s not Google coming up with it just now.

  60. Max Harms says:

    Crystal Society is also available for free on the web at http://crystal.raelifin.com
    (I’m the author.)

  61. Matt says:

    “Related: straight men do better than gay men (and gay women better than straight women) on rotation tasks. Was Turing just a gigantic outlier, or what?”
    This sentence makes me sad. First, its articulation with the previous paragraph propagates two myths: that homosexuality is linked to a lack of testosterone, and more generally that gay men are closer to women than straight men.
    Finally, suppose that people are gay when they have bad mental rotation OR when have blond hair. You’ll find the result found in this study. But a talented mathematician who happens to be gay would not be a giant outlier.

  62. Murphy says:

    I have access to the paper and I took a look, my notes bellow:

    At first I thought it was trialing an intervention but no, what they did was look at numbers after the fact where some schools have changed things around without any controls, without randomization etc.

    Outcome measures were not prespecified.

    So right off the bat our certainty in the results drops massively.

    “We rely on a “fuzzy” regression discontinuity design based on the fact that several schools assigned students with eighth-grade
    GPAs below a threshold to take the course in ninth grade. Our results indicate that assignment to this
    course increased ninth-grade student attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points,
    and credits earned by 23.”

    “Specifically, we use a regression discontinuity (RD) design, which
    can provide causal inferences that are “as good as random assignment””

    First, it was not a randomized controlled trial.

    Participation was based on volunteering or being enrolled if your grades were too low. Students could opt in our out at will. So big self-selection bias.

    They used some other bizarre method which they only describle with a vomit of unexplained symbols which they claim is as good but is apparently too complex to explain properly.

    Very very loosely, they show that in a set of schools where teachers have all just had a big meeting about the problem of minority students performing poorly, where the administration has created a committee (the Ethnic Studies Curriculum Collective) to deal with it and made it clear to teachers that minority students grades must improve….. then there’s a small bump in the grades of under-performing minority students.

    You may guess that I’m far from convinced that the intervention they’re attributing it to actually caused the change in grades.

    They’ve got a bunch of bizarre graphs which don’t make much sense(and I’m normally quite comfortable reading these kinds of papers) but appear to be designed/chosen to make the effect look larger.

    As for their method of analysis….
    In programming people sometimes say that there’s 2 ways to write code, make it so complex that there’s no obvious flaws or make it so simple that there’s obviously no flaws.
    Most really good research papers are based on simple methods, for this paper, all I can say is that I can’t see many obvious flaws, but not in a good way.

    Though apparently their method relies on students not systematically doing anything to self selectively push themselves over a GPA of 2 if they’re slightly bellow 2.

    They also “validate” their method by comparing to schools that haven’t just had a big meeting about the problem of minority students performing poorly and haven’t just made it clear to teachers that minority students grades must improve and conclude that since those schools didn’t have the same little jump in the results of borderline minority students then their method must be good.

    There was a grand total of 4 teachers involved in teaching all these students this course. Make of that what you will.

    They excluded students with a close to perfect GPA, ie the students who could only go down and reported no data on their demographics.

    They excluded 27 “students with extremely low eighth grade GPAs” with no real explanation as to why or reports of what it would have looked like had they been included.

    Now this is where it gets weird, they then called the remainder a final “intent-to-treat” (ITT) sample.

    THIS IS NOT WHAT INTENT-TO-TREAT MEANS, THESE GUYS ARE NOT USING THIS PROPERLY AND MY CONFIDENCE IN THEM KNOWING THEIR ARSE FROM THEIR ELBOW JUST WENT OUT THE WINDOW

    anyway, rant over, 60% of the remainder were actually Asian, 23% Hispanic and 6% Black.
    They didn’t get improvement in the Asian group, only in the small hispanic and black catagories.
    They’re using white students as their “baseline” so everyone is being compared to the 11% of white students in the program.

    I’m getting an eye twitch because they keep using “intent to treat” in their text, it’s like cargo-cult-science, repeat the words and hope that people believe that you’re using them correctly.

    Finally their results tables and graphs are almost un-readable and I honestly can’t see what’s supposed to be the columns for non-intervention. They just seem to have a lot of random numbers floating around with asterix’s to say they’re significant.

    • Blake Riley says:

      Sure, it’s not an RCT, but regression-discontinuity is an established method for estimating causal effects using observational data. Their “vomit of unexplained symbols which they claim is as good but is apparently too complex to explain properly” is left unexplained because this is standard for anyone familiar with empirical economics.

      The authors address self-selection effects. If we thought the good students were taking the course (because they’re smarter or just more conforming), then restricting the sample to people who didn’t take the course, we should see worse results below the 2.0 threshold. In fact, when they look at this, the reverse is true. Those below the threshold that opted out actually did relatively better.

      From my vantage point, the level of complexity isn’t obfuscatory. It’s fairly simple for an audience of economists. Without fisking the paper, the methodology seems mostly solid. The one point that’s fishy is scaling up the average effect size. They find attendance “jumped by 5.6 percentage points for students at the 2.0 threshold, GPA increased by 0.39 points, and credits earned increased by 6.3 credits” on average whether or not students took the course. Since they later note the students that didn’t take the course look better, the higher average could be driven by worse-conditional-on-gpa students getting pulled up rather the effect size being massive.

      • Murphy says:

        yes… actually coming back to that, normally if the people who don’t receive your intervention actually improve more than the people who did receive it… well if it had been an RCT that would be pretty devastating but since this isn’t they simply conclude that the people who opted out are have unobserved traits that cause the better outcomes.

        They addressed self-selection? They talked about it for a few sentences, sure, but they in no way shape or form made it stop being a massive problem.

        They also kept talking about how they’d done things like compare teachers performance in other classes and I don’t know if that low a standard is the norm in economics but when you see anything like that in a clinical paper you know the author couldn’t think of a way to get rid of the problem or only realized when it was too late and so offered up a little non-answer to it in the hope that people would think it meant they’d “addressed” the problem.

        it’s like when researchers have 2 groups and show that for one a change from baseline is significant (p=0.04) but for the control it isn’t (p=0.06) and thus conclude that the intervention had a significant effect. It sets off all kinds of warning signals.

        http://www.badscience.net/2011/10/what-if-academics-were-as-dumb-as-quacks-with-statistics/

        • Blake Riley says:

          They address self-selection in the section called “Treatment Heterogeneity” on pages 21-23. To clarify, it’s not that the non-treatment group did better than the treatment group (though they might have). It’s that the positive result probably isn’t due to self-selection because the non-treatment group just below the 2.0 threshold did better than the non-treatment group just above the threshold. That suggests people that were enrolled and opted out are better students on average than those that were enrolled and stayed in.

          They also find that the treatment group just below the 2.0 threshold did better than the treatment group just above the threshold. That suggests taking the class because you were auto-enrolled has better effects than if you’d take the class regardless.

          The comparison with other schools isn’t fishing or playing funny tricks with a p-value threshold for significance, it’s a robustness check. The result is based only on schools with ethnic studies classes and depends on it being essentially random that a student is just above or just under a 2.0 gpa. The comparison with other schools is a test of that assumption, not the result itself. It’s like doing an fMRI study with live people and then doing the same study with a corpse. You better hope you don’t get significant results from a corpse (unlike that salmon in a fMRI study a while back).

  63. jon-nyc says:

    Re the sons of draft lottery ‘winners’. Could it be that the the father ended up more fatalistic or pessimistic after seeing his number called (even if he didn’t ultimately go), which affected the way his kids related to the world around them? That could help explain a larger effect on first born sons. And seems consistent with a small overall effect (that is, small if attributed to the whole group, not just those who went to Viet Nam)

  64. Oliver Cromwell says:

    “While civilized countries debate how many new immigrants to let in, Britain is planning to deport all legal residents who have lived in the UK for more than five years unless they can meet an income threshold which is actually significantly higher than the average UK income. Is there anyone who thinks deporting upper-middle-class people who have been in Britain for decades and have houses and families there is vitally important important to national security? Especially bad because it’s a new law, so these people planned their lives in Britain around people not doing this.”

    Yes. Although I would have set the minimum threshold a bit lower, this is the real world and you can’t have everything. It’s far preferable to the virtue signaling competition being undertaken by currently-civilised countries like Sweden, Germany, and to some extent even the US to set the lowest *maximum* threshold for immigrant quality.

    Ultimately the world is big enough and contains enough poor people that the UK can quite easily say “upper middle class only” and still meet any reasonable quota of immigrants it might possibly want. The UK could certainly do even better by making it easier for those people to come, but keeping out the dross, and even the mediocre, is just good policy.

  65. Anon. says:

    On Capitalism vs Markets: the most important market of all, by far, is the market _for capital_. Yes the price mechanism is an incredible information aggregation and transmission mechanism and so on and so forth, but without free markets for capital it’s not that useful. Price signals are only useful if you can allocate capital in response to them. Crony capitalism has an inefficient/corrupt market for capital, “market socialism” does away with it completely.

    • Not only those two, feudalism and other fixed allocations had no market for capital as it was fixed, and actually in IMHO most poor countries outside the first world there is so little trust that you can get a loan only against collateral, like a house, so no investment market exists in the VC sense. It would be interesting to find out what are the richest countries of this type, i.e. no venture capital, because it would give some hint of an actual data about how much difference capital markets make in e.g. per capita GDP.

  66. LW_Reader says:

    Eliezer and Brienne are married?! Wow, I must have been living under a rock somewhere on Mars. Whatever happened to Erin?

    • philh says:

      I don’t know about Erin. But (I might have some details wrong) Eliezer and Brienne got secretly married some years ago for tax reasons, but didn’t think they were emotionally ready to be publicly married. Then more recently (I’d guess in the past year), Eliezer asked on facebook, “what is your probability estimate that Brienne and I are currently married?” They let people debate the question for a while, and then Brienne changed her facebook name to Brienne Yudkowsky, and that was how they announced it.

  67. Salem says:

    Is there anyone who thinks deporting upper-middle-class people who have been in Britain for decades and have houses and families there is vitally important important to national security?

    Firstly, people who have been in Britain for decades aren’t affected by this. They have Indefinite Leave To Remain (or citizenship). This is about who gets to stay in the UK for decades. And now the government has said that if you want to stay here on a semi-permanent basis, you need to prove that you’re earning £35k.

    Secondly, the justification isn’t national security, it’s making sure that only people who are making a net contribution to our society should get to stay here (hence why workers in areas where there are deemed to be “shortages” are exempt from the income threshold). As such, setting the threshold significantly above the average seems entirely appropriate, both because of the way the tax structure works, and because of life-cycle effects (i.e. migrants are coming here in their peak earning years, but the average income includes pensioners etc).

    Finally, maybe this is one of those “divided-by-a-common-language” things, but people earning under £35k a year are definitely not upper-middle-class, at least as far as the term is used in the UK. No-one is saying we should be deporting doctors or financiers (both areas where immigrants and second-generation immigrants are massively overrepresented). Speaking as a second-generation immigrant myself, I think this is an excellent measure, that will help get us the beneficial effects of immigration without the negative ones.

    • So the point is – they arrived to the UK fully knowing that it is a temporary permit now and their eligibility will be re-evaluated after 5 years, by criteria that may perhaps change. I think that is fair enough.

      >Secondly, the justification isn’t national security, it’s making sure that only people who are making a net contribution to our society should get to stay here

      That is unfortunately not true and quite frankly this not being true is the current biggest problem of the UK and Europe. This is only true for people who were admitted specifically because their work was wanted. However, there are millions and millions on an asylum-seeking or family-reunification basis over here, quite often fraudulent, and quite often not making a net contribution. And I don’t have any stats but this class of immigrants seems far bigger than the class who was filtered and admitted for productivity. I mean, when I look at the really brutal parts of London, Paris or Sweden, I really really cannot believe these people were are filtered for productivity and being able to do a seeked-after job. I think it is those other stuff mostly.

      And that is bad. Very bad. A purely working-based immigration policy, like that of Singapore, would be okay. It could even on the whole improve the culture, work ethics or genetic IQ, I don’t know, I think whites have better averages but browns larger numbers so one could probably find a million 110+ IQ Indians willing to immigrate. So that could work. But the “bleeding heart”, altruistic asylum-fraud-industry and marry-your-daughter-to-a-second-cousin-so-that-he-can-come-over industry selects millions of immigrants primarily for their ability and willingness to game the system and this is terrible, this is going to break the UK and Europe.

      We need a Singapore logic immigration policy: no compassion whatsoever, only people who are truly needed, useful.

      • multiheaded says:

        I have an alternative suggestion for you, but voicing it would get me (not unreasonably) permabanned.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Surely, a similar, non-banworthy result could be achieved by using vague words, generalizations and metaphors.

          Come on, multi, apply yourself.

          • multiheaded says:

            Not feeling on top of my game, but oh well…

            Dear @TheDividualist, please take all necessary steps so as to shortly arrive at an intense and prolonged state of vicarously physically enjoying your own company.

            There, how does that sound?

          • Oliver Cromwell says:

            Can also just say nothing. “I’d insult you REAL HARD if teacher wasn’t looking!” isn’t worth the bandwidth.

          • Not sure if intended, but while insults in themselves don’t bother me, the unsatisfied curiosity to find out exactly what aspect of my comment pissed you of does hurt a bit. So in a way, you managed to punish me, by tickling and not satisfying my curiosity.

            I shouldn’t be disclosing this because it incentivizes doing it more, but I just find the the whole situation oddly comical.

            And now going to get a drink, thanks for the suggestion.

          • Patrick Spens says:

            @TheDividualist

            gonna guess it’s the bit where your proposed policy leads to them being trapped somewhere which a high probability of being beaten to death in a gutter.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think he’s overstating the risk of that. Anyone have actual stats on the queer homicide rate in Russia?

        • Anonymous says:

          Then why even mention it?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Smile, Dividualist; you’re on Tumblr.

      • Simon says:

        What “brutal parts of London”? I do not recognize this as a meaningful description of any of my city.

    • JBeshir says:

      A bit of information to consider for any discussions of this:

      At present, you need to be making at least £18,600 a year (more if you have children) to be able to give a married partner a right to remain, for applications made after 2012, justified on the basis of needing to demonstrate that you have sufficient income to support them and not be a burden on the state. They must also be able to speak English to a minimal standard. There’s some other routes, if you can prove that you’re unable to go to where they are and stay with them there instead. This is, admittedly, a recent rule, but people should update on it.

      Immigration already involves a lot more rules for filtering than the typical debate gives it credit for in many places.

      Edit: The origin of the new £35k rule probably has to do with the Conservative government pledge to reduce immigration to below 100,000, and them having failed to do anything even close to that for a long time and feeling under pressure.

      Such a pledge would require really big compromises to actually meet- it’d probably mean leaving the EU, and then also doing some of sharply limiting skilled immigration, sharply limiting spousal visas (which is a good way to get skilled people to *emigrate*), maybe refusing asylum to all but the most clear-cut and proven and sending a lot of people back to pretty crappy times. The immigration debate doesn’t really talk about any of these tradeoffs.

      The Conservatives don’t want to deal with the economic or electoral (less cynically, moral) consequences of these things and so have so far simply not tried very hard. This is probably an attempt to show they’re still ‘serious’ about immigration. At the cost of deporting perfectly skilled people who are making £25,000/yr and hanging threat of deportation over a lot of people.

      • Oliver Cromwell says:

        Bear in mind however that that rule was also imposed by the present government. It is a reaction to what was and to some extent still is a real problem; that problem was not invented by immigration opponents in ignorance of this rule.

        I am not sure that that is what you were saying, but just to be clear.

        edit: This post was made before your edit.

        edit2: [wrong]You’ve misinterpreted the rule. You have to prove you have 18.6k GBP, not that you earn that much each year.[/wrong]

        This is also rather looser than you have stated:

        “18 or over and you’ve spent less than 20 years in the UK, but you’d find it hard to live in another country, eg because you have no friends or relationships there”

        I am not sure how the Home Office could prove you have friends in a different country. In any case a bit different from an exemption in case you are “unable” to live there; lots of people move to countries where they don’t know anyone for work. This of course is law originated by the Strasbourg Court, not Parliament.

        • JBeshir says:

          Yeah, you have a good point; I realised that I’d not mentioned that and edited it in to be clearer.

          Edit: I think you’re mistaken about the income vs savings bit; it is £18.6k gross income per year, plus £3,800 for first child and £2,4000 for each additional child according to the financial requirements PDF it links for additional detail.

          Section 7 does say that you can count some of savings towards it if you have savings over £16,000 though; it specifies the formula as ([savings] – £16,000) / 2.5, purportedly on the basis that apparently £16k in savings makes you non-eligible for benefits and 2.5 years is the time before some further application has to be made. It has a little table which says that £62,500 in savings is enough to need no income.

          Edit 2: That looser bit isn’t for applying as a partner, it’s for applying as someone who has had a “private life in the UK”, potentially unlawfully, for a sufficiently long time. It does sound fairly loose, especially compared to the other ways of qualifying under that section, like having lived in the UK for more than half your life or over 20 years.

          I’m trying to find full details for it. I’d note that they don’t have to prove anything- you have to prove yourself to them, to their satisfaction.

          • Oliver Cromwell says:

            You’re correct about the income/savings part; I had heard about the savings route but not the income route, and didn’t know they could be traded against one another. Thanks for pointing that out.

            edit: Well, how do you prove you don’t have friends? It’s possible they take this very literally and basically reject everyone who applies on these grounds, but I suspect not, as that would open the way for more lawsuits. Not totally sure though.

          • JBeshir says:

            Okay, looks like section 8.2.3 and 8.2.3.4 of this document provides expanded versions of the criteria for the 10-year private life route.

            It’s fuzzy enough it would very much depend on the immigration officials involved, but if they actually follow it in a commonsensical manner, the things they look at are whether you’ve spent any significant time in the original country, whether you’ve mostly lived in a diaspora community, whether there’s any family there, and whether you speak or could learn (?) any language there, and combine it cumulatively.

            Probably the *best* way to know how loose it is would be to look for statistics on how often it’s used; it’s written like it’s a hard-to-qualify-for exceptional circumstances thing where you have to argue for the exceptional circumstances against a strong (and repeated, in the criteria) assumption of lack of them, but it’s fuzzy enough that plausibly immigration officials who wanted to could fail to adhere to the spirit of it and enforce it very loosely if they wanted.

      • Anonymous says:

        Then there’s the issue of corruption in the immigration-permit-granting authorities. In the Scandinavian countries, for example, much of the staff of these institutions is first-generation immigrants themselves (I suppose it makes some some sense – they can mediate between natives and applicants, themselves having gone through the process). Understandably, they might have a conflict of interest. Is it that way in the UK too?

        • JBeshir says:

          I don’t know. We’ve been under a Conservative government for over five years at this point and I think they’d certainly have *liked* to reduce immigration by rejecting marginal applicants and tightening enforcement if slack, but maybe they couldn’t?

          Immigration people are thought of as quite mean, but they probably would be anyway.

          • Salem says:

            But we haven’t been under a Conservative government for over five years. Until last May we had a coalition with the Lib Dems, who are see-no-evil on immigration. That changes things.

      • Anonymous says:

        The Conservatives don’t want to deal with the economic or electoral (less cynically, moral) consequences of these things and so have so far simply not tried very hard.

        On similar lines, I noticed that their new enormous minimum wage applies only to people over the age of 25 – i.e. it bypasses the majority of those it would have a negative impact on. Presumably the Conservatives want the left-wing credibility that comes with the concept of Raising The Minimum Wage, but without having to suffer the negative consequences of actually implementing it.

    • Nick says:

      I have a general question on the policy. People’s incomes change over the years. As an Accountant, searching for UK Accountant salaries online, it appears that many Accountant jobs pay both above & below £35k. If I were to move to the UK (from the USA), I may have a period where I am making >£35k, but then may have a stretch where I am not. Do I then get deported if 5 years after arrival occurs during a stretch where my income is <£35k annualized?

      • Salem says:

        If you want to know detailed questions like that, I suggest you ask in a specialized forum.

        But if you’re a half-way decent accountant, and you’ve been working here for 5 years, you should be making comfortably over 35k. Besides which, if you don’t think you’ll be making £35k after five years experience, I don’t think it’s in your interests to stay. Sadly, this is an expensive place to live. £35k ~= $50k, and you will live far worse in England on £35k a year than in non-coastal America on $50k a year (which I assume is very doable for an accountant in the US, given that the median US income is $52k).

    • sweeneyrod says:

      You wouldn’t call those earning £35k upper-middle-class? What would you call them?

      • Salem says:

        In normal British usage, upper-middle-class refers to successful professionals – both halves being important. So a lawyer for one of the Magic Circle firms is upper-middle-class, whereas someone struggling on Legal Aid work is not – but nor is a plumber, no matter how much he makes. We’re talking about doctors, lawyers, management consultants, finance professionals, etc.

        £35k is a graduate starting salary at the good firms in those fields. Unless you are just starting out (at which point your social class is mostly inherited), then if you are making £35k a year, you are not upper-middle-class – you aren’t even close. What kind of house in London can you afford on £35k a year? How can you even think about sending your kids to independent schools? You aren’t even in the higher rate tax band, which is the traditional mark of doing all right for yourself. People earning that sort of money in their good earning years are either in the lower rungs of the middle class, or somewhere in the working class, depending on the nature of their occupation. Upper middle class probably starts somewhere around £100k a year.

        • Brad says:

          Things aren’t so cut and dry in the U.S. Everyone wants to be middle class so the definition tends to vary a lot based on who’s talking.

          For those that primarily have an income based definition, if it is necessary to stretch the definition to include oneself you’ll hear all kinds of caveats or justifications, Viz. but I live in Manhattan, I have six kids, or a lot of med school debt (different ones for those trying to squeeze in a low number).

          It also has a political dimension because politicians like to promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. In that context, Hillary Clinton set the upper limit at $250k/year for a family.

          On the other hand, there’s a school of thought that likes to keep things simple, the fourth quintile is the UMC by definition, the second LMC, 2-4 the whole middle class.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Yes, I’d agree that £35k certainly isn’t upper-middle-class in London. The thresholds vary a lot depending on what location you’re talking about. I was basing my definition on where I live up North, where house prices are less than half of what they are in London. The most sensible way to look at is probably with percentiles, but equally distanced quantiles won’t work, because the upper class is so small (for instance, if you have 5 quintiles of working class, lower-middle, middle-middle, upper-middle, and upper, you end up saying that a post-tax income of £31k makes you upper class (which it obviously doesn’t)).

          • John Schilling says:

            Part of what “upper middle class” means is that you don’t have to live in some provincial locale but can hang out with the other UMC types in the cool, cosmopolitan cities – and if you do choose to live in the boonies, it is because you get to be a very big fish in that small pond, which I suspect £35k doesn’t buy in your Northern location.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @John Schilling My Northern location is still the third biggest city in the UK, so not a particularly small pond in UK terms. £35k would certainly be on the lower end of upper-middle-class, but I would place it either there or on the upper end of middle-middle-class. Someone earning £35k certainly isn’t a typical member of the lower-middle-class or working class.

            Going by house prices, my hypothetical £35k income is worth about £70k in London, which is certainly enough to be classed as upper-middle-class.

      • John Schilling says:

        In the United States, “upper middle class” typically means $100,000+ per year, though it varies a bit with location and circumstance. I’ve seen values as low as $75K for a single adult, but even that comes to £50K in British terms.

        £35K, to the extent that money alone defines class, would be just plain “middle class” in the United States. Would it truly be regarded as “upper middle class” in the UK?

        • JBeshir says:

          I think there’s a distinct trend in which more or less everyone considers themselves middle class, so upper middle class is what they think of themselves if they get a lot more money than they started with, and lower middle class if they get a lot less, modified a bit by how it compares to their friends.

          I think anywhere between your figures and Salem’s sounds plausible (less outside of London, more in London, London is very expensive), but I wouldn’t be surprised by anyone who had had their income go up describing their new income as “upper middle class” unless they were starting really low.

        • Vaniver says:

          I believe £35K is very similar to Scott’s current salary.

  68. Chalid Astrakein says:

    On the study about height differences between gay and straight men:

    I can’t access the full paper, but the abstract seems to contradict itself. It says:

    “Studies that have used mostly self-reported height have found that gynephilic men and androphilic women are shorter than androphilic men and gynephilic women”, e.g. gay men are TALLER than straight men.

    But then they find:

    “Androphilic men were shorter, on average, than gynephilic men. “, e.g. the reverse.

    And conclude:

    “[…] the findings suggest that previous studies using self-reported height found part of a true objective height difference between androphilic and gynephilic men.”

    I am not convinced. But from personal experience I would be leaning towards ‘Gays are shorter’, if any. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

    Anyone can access the paper or clarify?

    • I suspect the Abstract contains a typo. The text of the Introduction states:
      “Sexual orientation is correlated with height across several
      studies. Specifically, it has been found that androphilic men
      and androphilic women are shorter, on average, than gynephilic
      men and gynephilic women, respectively”

      They go on to note that most of these studies have used self-reported height, and that the aim of their study was to compare both self-reported and objective height. In their results they found objective height differences among men (specifically gay men were shorter than straight men, but bisexuals did not significantly differ from either of the other two groups) but not among women.

      • Deiseach says:

        androphilic men and androphilic women are shorter, on average, than gynephilic men and gynephilic women, respectively

        But do the taller women who like women like tall women or short women?

  69. Martin says:

    > Swedish TV accidentally puts subtitles from Kids Channel on a political debate

    Not true, unfortunately. Some viewer just turned on a kids’ channel teletext subtitle during the debate, which is apparently a thing you can do (I don’t have a TV myself, and I don’t know exactly how this works, but lots of reliable sources say that these were not subtitles that were broadcast to everybody).

    • youzicha says:

      There is a newspaper article here which gives the background. Apparently, they guy who originally posted the screenshot to twitter was not claiming that the TV-broadcast was incorrect. Rather, he had a problem where his TV-set was malfunctioning and showing the wrong teletext subtitles, and was asking his twitter followers if they knew how to fix it.

  70. Oliver Cromwell says:

    “Not as related as it sounds: doubling teacher salary had no effect on any educational parameter in Indonesia. But they just kept all the same teachers and paid them more for no reason, so this doesn’t prove that increasing teacher salaries in the way people usually mean (ie in order to attract better teachers) wouldn’t be a good idea.”

    To be fair the populations who want to double teacher pay and would be OK with firing a lot of teachers probably have near-zero overlap.

  71. JBeshir says:

    I had been thinking of picking up The Witness; it’s pretty awesome that they’re donating revenue to the AMF. I jsut picked it up now; this is a direct link to the store page (since there isn’t one in the linked blog post) for anyone else looking for it.

    There’s also an individual setting for a charity to donate to at purchase time; I’m not sure what the effect of this is, so to be safe I made sure to set that to the AMF as well.

    • fireant says:

      You can also buy straight from their homepage via a widget from the humble store. I should note, that 10% of all games on the Humble store go to charity, so I am not sure who makes the deficit (compared to Steam and Playstation, where it costs the same) – Humble or the developer’s company, but I would guess it is shared…? On the other hand, I have read that Blow donated a significant amount of Braid’s revenue to charity, so it seems imaginable that that will also happen with some more of his income from The Witness.

      Independently of this, I have been playing the game for the last two days and find it very impressive. It heavily rewards curiosity and paying attention to things, and is packed very densely with meaning and just delighting little things. Also, it is really easy to spoil, sometimes with a single picture or a short sentence, so be careful.

  72. Capitalism and markets:

    >The conflation of capitalism with markets irritates me because I suspect it is a means whereby the right smuggles in support for inequality.

    As for me, I would not smuggle it but say it outright: private property and inequal private property is OK, because it creates stability, structure, cohesion, hierarchy, clear chains of command, decision-making my the intelligent, warfare capability, and is the most enduring, most functional, simplest, anti-fragile systems, far older than capitalism, see e.g. feudalism. It can survive a full civ collapse like the Roman one. It’s a perfect survivor. And I mean, this is how every sensible leader would organize things, by private property, suppose you are Aegon Targaryen conquering the Seven Kingdoms, how to make it something stable? Give baronies and suchlike, property to those loyal to you and an intelligent enough to run it right, how else? If you set up some complicated elected councils running a communist commonwealth, can you be sure of their stability, loyalty, and even cooperation with each other? So I support private property fully.

    I mean, the great insight of the right is that property is the antidote for the bad thing which is called politics. I.e. squabbling and coalitions and partisanship and manouvering and empty promises and smug signals and back-stabbing and the whole disgusting playing the game of thrones thing.

    On other other hand, I am not so sure about unrestricted economic choice on the markets. That originates in Whiggery, and if I oppose political Whiggery, like democracy, should I always support economic Whiggery? I understand the kind of tactical libertarianism that even unrestricted choice is better than choices restricted by righteousness-signalling Progs, but in general, unrestricted choice sounds like something idealistic about everybody always making the best choices both for themselves and for their nation. I think restriction is necessary, just the trick is who restricts whom and how and how much and by what means and and and…

    • Murphy says:

      I’m not sure you’re fully correct re:history.

      Many societies didn’t have much in the way of private ownership of land, some had communities which would shuffle management of land around to different farmers, feudalism in particular was big on private *control* of land but not on private ownership, often everything belonged to the king, even the humans and the king maintained the right to grant it to new people when it was politically viable or advantageous.

      A barony isn’t so different to some forms of communism, you grand control of an area to a Baron or to a Representative Of The Party, they then parcel it out to smaller versions of themselves who split it again and again until you have estates where the peasants are forced to work at sword/gun point.

      If they’re nice people they don’t abuse their positions and don’t massively enrich themselves at the cost of those under them, if they’re horrible people they leech as much as they can out of the area they control.

      The idea of every individual peasant having actual ownership of the land he lives on and works is a fairly recent, bizarre aberration.

      • Anthony says:

        the king maintained the right to grant it to new people when it was politically viable or advantageous.

        This is not historically correct. The medieval European king had very limited power to grant control of land to new people, except as the spoils of war. (Typically after suppressing a revolt by the old land-holder.) In the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan *did* have the right to grant fiefs to new people, and exercised it frequently – quite often a fief was only life tenure and your heirs could be certain they would not inherit. This gives the beys and pashas the incentive to be “horrible people [who] leech as much as they can out of the area they control.”

    • Psmith says:

      This isn’t remotely related to your post, but if you haven’t read G. Gordon Liddy’s “Will”, I think you’d get a huge kick out of it.

    • JuanPeron says:

      I think you’re making a fundamentally different and more honest argument than the people being criticized in that quote. “Inequality is a good way to create aspirations and keep society running” is a credible opinion with discussing, but it’s not what a lot of conservatives are saying when they appeal to the power of the market.

      The “smuggling inequality” behavior seems to me to be a motte and bailey pattern. The motte is something like “markets coordinate much better than other known mechanisms, especially central planners”. The bailey is “therefore 300x pay disparities between CEOs and their employees are the will of the market and shouldn’t be modified in any way”.

      Basically, markets are an excellent system for coordinating incentives and desires within some framework. Late-stage capitalism is one system of incentives, which need not be optimal or even sensible. Using market coordination to defend a system shot through with regulatory capture and ugly externalities isn’t a particularly honest argument: we could have market coordination within wildly different incentive structures.

      • Patrick says:

        The really obnoxious thing is that “markets only work right under the right conditions” is something we’ve known since Adam Smith. And it’s taught in business school.

        Google porter forces, or commodity hell.

        A significant amount of time and energy in the business world is dedicated to trying to make sure you don’t end up in a situation where markets actually work like conservatives advertise.

  73. Emile says:

    I recently ran into yet Another Explanation Of The US Class System: https://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/the-3-ladder-system-of-social-class-in-the-u-s/ … and found it pretty interesting, better than moldbug’s five classes… that guy looks like he has interesting stuff to say.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, I’m working on a post on this. The most interesting difference from Moldbug (and my own intuitive system) is that Moldbug places the Brahmins on top, whereas in Church’s system that corresponds to gentry and gentry are well below the elite. I’m not sure what to make of this because the elite are pretty well-hidden compared to everyone else and I don’t know that much about them. I think Church would argue that the Moldbug system is what the elite want us to think, and I’m sure not enough of a scholar of class to have any hope of getting past even marginally good propaganda.

      Also, his E1 is pretty scary and it’s hard to tell whether he totally lost objectivity or whether that class really does exist and is just very good at hiding.

      • Emile says:

        Wouldn’t the Elites be pretty much Moldbug’s Optimates? Moldbug seems to say (I’m going off memory here), that the Optimates used to be the ruling class but got pushed into irrelevance, and Michael O. Church is saying that they’re still here, they just have a superficial Brahmin disguise, but have very different values and behaviors.

        My experience from the corporate world and from my (somewhat elite) university seems to fit Michael’s model better than Moldbug’s (i.e. testosterone-driven “old money” still throw their weight around quite a bit).

        Dunno about E1 tho, it also struck me as a bit machavelian, but it’s hard to tell from my lowly place in life.

        • chaosmage says:

          His Elite should include military and intelligence people. He completely fails to mention them, but I don’t see why.

          • John Schilling says:

            I assume he would include military enlisted on the “Labor” ladder and military officers as “Gentry”, and it’s not a bad fit, but yes, not spelling it out is a major oversight.

          • keranih says:

            I disagree about where he’d put military officers. They better fit as the upper levels of Labor, with some side steps into Gentry at the highest levels and with those of specialized degrees (engineers, doctors, etc.) The key is that the military doesn’t traffic in ideas or education nearly so much as it does in leadership and management of labor class people.

          • John Schilling says:

            True, but I think this is overshadowed by the fact that military officers almost all have four-year college degrees, if they didn’t come from career military families are likely to have what Church calls a “gentry” background, and when they leave the military will likely wind up in “gentry” jobs. When I see military and civilians socializing together, it is usually officer/gentry, and I am guessing that enlisted/labor is fairly common as well. Is there a significant officer/labor social overlap that I am missing?

          • keranih says:

            I hope some of the military members of the commentariat will jump in here, but my experience has been that 1) there is HUGE social and legal pressure within the military to maintain a degree of separation in socialization between officers and enlisted, for their mutual mental welfare, and 2) that while military officers most typically have 4 year degrees (or better) they typically come from a Labor-type background, and their attitudes towards the job matches that of the E4s, in that they are living/breathing this career.

            Again, my largest reasoning rests on the trades vs ideas divide, plus the idea that the Gentry want to control the broader culture.

            Another quibble with the classification scheme – the rural/urban split, or that I have a hard time mapping his scheme onto the non-urban populations I know. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way.

          • brad says:

            I think his E ladder is kind of screwy, but working with it, I can see at least some flag officers as E4s trying for an E3 post-military career. On the other hand at least some officers in direct command, especially at lower levels, fit the L1 narrative of really successful leaders of Ls even if they aren’t allowed to fraternize. In between and to the sides G3 fits, with some G2 for prestigious/cutting edge/intellectual areas of responsibility.

            As for rural areas, I don’t see the problem. At least for underclass through G3 (i.e. underclass, L4-L1, G4-3) I can easily think of people in rural areas that would fit the different slots. Maybe not too many G1s, but there aren’t that many to begin with and given the cultural influencer nature of the beast, clustering in cities shouldn’t be too surprising. On the flip side nothing immediately comes to mind that wouldn’t fit at all. Maybe a very successful “medium” business owner? But that’s not an especially rural problem.

            All in all it’s a pretty good rubric other than the E ladder, and keeping in mind that it may not fully map to some subcultures, even very large ones.

          • Nero tol Scaeva says:

            Military officers might be Gentry, but the highest ranking officers (O-7 and above) are basically Elites.

            A 3 or 4 star general is treated like the CEO of a company: Private limos, lower level officers (LtCols or even colonels!) as secretaries who get their morning coffee… pretty much all of the perks you would imagine the POTUS getting from his staff are what O-7s and above get from their lower-ranking officers.

            This pecking order is even worse in places that have concentrations of generals like the Pentagon (where you would see a colonel being a morning coffee type).

      • hlynkacg says:

        I share your skepticism about his E1, but If even half the allegations against Jeffery Epstein turn out to be true I might have to revise that.

        • Echo says:

          >”This is a disbarrable offense, and they will be disbarred,” Dershowitz said. “They will rue the day they ever made this false charge against me.”

          Massive points for style, wow.

      • Oliver Cromwell says:

        I think Moldbug is closer to the truth than this classification; this classification focusses overly on wealth. When I read, “People complain about “the 1 percent”, but the reality is that most of that top 1.0% are nowhere near controlling positions within society.”, my thought was, “Ah, he’s going to say that the multimillionaire owner of a paperclip company has much less real influence than an NYT staff reporter whose cost of living-adjusted income is barely middle class.”. But actually it’s just boring Marxism: elites means investment banking analysts etc. etc.

        Moldbug’s argument was that society is controlled by military force, not money (ownership of money is dependent on amenable military force, not vice-versa), and that as the US military does not have agency control of military force is possessed by the permanent bureaucracy, which outsources its thinking largely to the universities. The power elite, therefore, is civil servants, professors, authors, journalists. This is a major advance in understanding that fits much more closely with the facts (Goldman Sachs analysts pay taxes to support universities, not vice-versa), over the old Marxist ideas.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I don’t see much incompatibility between Moldbug and Church. They are interested in different topics, particularly short-term vs long-term influence.

      • Vaniver says:

        Also, his E1 is pretty scary and it’s hard to tell whether he totally lost objectivity or whether that class really does exist and is just very good at hiding.

        Obviously he lost objectivity. If he had been willing to call George Soros an E1, then it would have been uncertain, but anyone who thinks that the Kochs are obviously evil and Soros is obviously not (and evilness determines social strata) has lost objectivity.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          I agree that his failure to name some E1 Americans, to name some policies caused by E1 action and to explain how they caused those policies is a major blow to his credibility.

          However, your argument that he fails to call Soros evil, and does call the Kochs evil, does not prove that his argument about social strata is false. It is not evident that Soros displays the traits that he characterises E1 with, nor that either of us would be able to tell if Soros were a member of certain ultra-elite circles or were excluded.

          I note that he did not say that Soros is obviously not evil and that he stressed that being very rich and evil is not enough to grant E1 membership.

          However, I think that his claims about E1 can probably be dismissed, given his failures noted above; the general tendency to see evil conspiracies where complex amoral processes should be blamed; the lack of any evidence; and his lack of any obvious way of acquiring such evidence, even if he were right about E1.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Vaniver – “Obviously he lost objectivity. If he had been willing to call George Soros an E1, then it would have been uncertain, but anyone who thinks that the Kochs are obviously evil and Soros is obviously not (and evilness determines social strata) has lost objectivity.”

          …Did he actually mention the Kochs or Soros? If so, I must have missed it. He specifically mentions that E1 isn’t about a specific level of wealth, so just being a billionaire doesn’t put you there. He also specifically mentions that his idea of E1s aren’t about nationality or politics in an idealist sense, but rather about raw control. While he might actually be biased enough to claim the Kochs fit that pattern, I don’t think they or Soros actually do.

          I’d say there’s about as much evidence for his taxonomy as Moldbug’s, and it leads to diametrically-opposed conclusions. I’d rate that as highly interesting.

        • John Schilling says:

          Koch and Soros are brought up in the comments, with the former specifically an Evil E1 per Church, and the latter as a not-evil E3.

          I think the taxonomy is useful and interesting, but warped by an insistence that the highest class must be Pure Evil and anyone not Pure Evil must be assigned whatever lower class is the least-obviously-wrong fit. Any taxonomy where it is possible for the most powerful man in the world to be two levels below the top and/or in a specifically not-“Elite” hierarchy, has a problem. When the 16th-richest person in the United States, who spends his life doing stereotypically rich-guy upper-class stuff, is defined as an “Elite Servant”, who are we supposed to believe he is serving?

          Also, yes, George Soros is exactly as evil (or not) as the Koch brothers. For exactly the same reason, unless we’re using some silly object-level “Blue/Green Tribes Good, Red/Grey Tribes Evil” thing as the basis for class distinctions.

          • Moebius Street says:

            I think that we can conclude that Soros is more evil, without resorting to any comparison between tribes. His manipulation of the market in GBP currency strikes me as rather evil, and I’m not aware of the Kochs doing anything other than advocacy (and of course managing their business).

      • JuanPeron says:

        This seems like a good place for a general observation: Michael Church is one of the least objective writers I’ve ever seen.

        He’s a genuinely smart guy with a lot of interesting observations. He’s also an aggressively motivated reasoner with a lot of axes to grind, and seems to alternate between “posts about the world” and “posts about his greatness and vague conspiracies”. Whether that’s dark mutterings about Google, rants about how he’s a programmer good enough to reshape the world, or conspiracy theorizing about E1, I’m really hesitant when he starts to discuss things no one else can find evidence for.

        None of this means his E1 doesn’t exist – Sheldon Adelson and his ilk definitely appear to be E1 players. It just means that Church’s opinion on the matter doesn’t really change my expectations about it.

        • Emile says:

          He’s a genuinely smart guy with a lot of interesting observations. He’s also an aggressively motivated reasoner with a lot of axes to grind, and seems to alternate between “posts about the world” and “posts about his greatness and vague conspiracies”. Whether that’s dark mutterings about Google, rants about how he’s a programmer good enough to reshape the world, or conspiracy theorizing about E1, I’m really hesitant when he starts to discuss things no one else can find evidence for.

          Sounds like a pretty accurate description of Moldbug!

        • FJ says:

          Isn’t one of the defining characteristics of E1 that it “doesn’t give a shit about any particular country. They’re fully multinational and view all the world’s political nations as entities to be exploited (like everything else)”? That seems like a hard fit with Adelson, who isn’t exactly indifferent regarding a particular Eastern Mediterranean nation. The Kochs, Soros, and Adelson may be evil, but they are also very interested in policies that have no influence on their own lives or empires. If Church really means E1 to include these folks, then his understanding of that class is fatally flawed.

      • Jason K. says:

        (apparently tabs and multiple consecutive spaces are not allowed)

        In defense of the E1 designation: The personality he describes is exactly what I would expect from people in that position. It is the perfect storm of extreme power without accountability. I am unable to speak with certainty as to whether or not this class even exists. However, a quick application of the 80/20 rule spits out this:

        World Population & class (Using 7 billion starting estimate)

        5600000000______World Poor & Underclass
        1120000000______L4
        224000000_______L3
        44800000________L2 & G4
        8960000_________L1 & G3
        1792000_________G2 & E4
        358400__________G1 & E3
        71680___________E2
        14336___________E1
        3584____________E1+

        The E1 & E1+ combined is in the general ballpark of his estimate. Keep in mind his underclass estimate was just for the U.S., not the whole world.

        Applying the 80/20 then to wealth/power gives this:

        ____________________% of Power________% of Pop
        World Poor & Underclass 0.000041%________80.0000%
        1st world L4__________0.000205%________16.0000%
        L3__________________0.001025%________3.2000%
        L2 & G4______________0.005125%________0.6400%
        L1 & G3______________0.025625%________0.1280%
        G2 & E4______________0.128125%________0.0256%
        G1 & E3______________0.640625%________0.0051%
        E2__________________3.203125%________0.0010%
        E1__________________16.01562%________0.0002%
        E1+_________________80.07812%________0.0001%

        So while his claim is shy on evidence, it fits the general heuristics on behavior and distribution. Part of the problem of the E1 is that it is inherently difficult to prove as part of being E1 is that you generally not the public face of anything. It would require a lot of digging to prove the existence of E1 as a coherent class, and not just a random selection of individuals that happen to be at the top end of the power/wealth hierarchy.

        • Nornagest says:

          The personality he describes is exactly what I would expect from people in that position.

          That’s exactly what concerns me about the designation. It’s too good a fit to preconceptions — not everybody’s preconceptions, but at least one set of them.

  74. Sniffnoy says:

    Part 1 of the Empirics of Free Speech is worth reading too. Note also that there’s a part 3 still coming.

  75. Benito says:

    Ten mins on the McCullough was nice. I’ll reply when it stops. I did it on Thursday 28th Jan, 10 past 9.

  76. Glimmervoid says:

    “All-cause mortality over the course of a year rises with proximity to New Years’ Day, which is the deadliest day of the year”

    I think the answer is clear. There is an ancient order of old school druids who preform blood scarifies (made to look like accidents) to bring the spring.

    If my theory holds true, we should see the reverse trend in the southern hemisphere. Anyone have any all-cause mortality numbers for Australia or New Zeeland? I had a look but couldn’t find any.

  77. chaosmage says:

    Effektive Altruists are Smartie Hearties.

  78. Nita says:

    Related: straight men do better than gay men (and gay women better than straight women) on rotation tasks. Was Turing just a gigantic outlier, or what?

    Wow. Now I have to wonder how your mental model of probability distributions works.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It works just fine, and I’ll thank you not to be so snide.

      Remember that on a trait with a mean and standard deviation, tiny differences in means result in giant differences in the tails. This is one theory for why Jews have a 10 IQ point difference, are only 2% of the population, but make up as much as 50% of various lists of top scientists. The small difference around the means means they’ll be very overrepresented several standard deviations away from the norm.

      Likewise, if there’s an advantage for men over women in some ability linked to mathematics – then we would expect not too much difference in numbers of moderately good women vs. moderately good men, but immense differences around the tails. When you crunch the numbers, it does an okay job predicting the actual results of 50 male Fields Medalists vs. 1 female.

      If the paper’s right that gay men are skewed in the direction of female brains and lesbian women are skewed in the direction of male brains, we would expect gays to have closer to the same distribution of extreme math talent as women. But gays are also only about 2% of the population. Consider that there’s probably no female mathematician of the last century at Turing’s level , yet a gay person got to Turing’s level even though there are only 2% as many gays as there are women. This is surprising enough that probably either the finding about gay brains is wrong, or modeling this as mean vs. standard deviation is wrong, or gay people are a heterogenous category some of whom have this effect and others of whom don’t, or the general practice of using gender differences in mental rotation to predict differences in mathematical ability is wrong. Or Turing was just a mind-bogglingly huge coincidence.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Consider that there’s probably no female mathematician of the last century at Turing’s level

        You don’t think Noether is (at least) on a level with Turing?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I probably am not a good person to have an opinion on that. But I doubt there are enough that having one gay mathematician of Turing’s level isn’t surprising under the assumptions.

        • Tibor says:

          Yeah, I was going to mention her. I think this might be Einstein vs. Riemann. I don’t think that Einstein was more brilliant than Riemann (after all, a good deal of his theory is based on Riemann’s work and would not be possible without it which is why I chose those two names), but the chances are that a random person knows Einstein but never heard of Riemann. Turing is not as well known as Einstein but way way more than Noether or even Riemann for that matter. The reasons for that seem to be that while “ordinary people” can at least picture something when told about Turing’s or Einstein’s discoveries, the abstract algebraic theorems of Noether or the Riemannian geometry require a certain knowledge of the topic just to even picture what that might be about at all, even at a level of a gross oversimplification.

          Other than that bit, Scott’s reasoning is good. Even if gay men and women (both straight and gay) have the same distribution then you still have something like 12.5 times more women than gay men and maybe the same number of mathematical geniuses.

          I am actually pretty skeptical about mental turning being a good proxy for intelligence. There is more to intelligence than space orientation (at which men really do seem to be better). I bet that it is correlated with other intellectual skills, but not enough to be a good estimate of overall intelligence or mathematical ability. A good deal of maths does not require such a great space imagination (depends on the field, this is definitely of a greater importance in differential geometry and similar fields) while it does require understanding on a more abstract level (which are typically things that you cannot picture at all or which you can kind of approximate with a 2d drawing for which you do not need a great deal of spatial skills).

          That said, I have not read much about it so maybe it works better than I think.

          • Too Late says:

            @Tibor

            I usually agree with you, but I think you are flat wrong about Einstein. First, Einstein’s theories are not based on Riemann’s work. Einstein didn’t mention Riemannian Geometry in either of the 1905 papers on Special Relativity. And General Relativity relies essentially on tensor calculus, not Riemannian Geometry.

            But more importantly, Einstein is the best physicist who’s walked this earth since Newton. The problem is that Einstein is essentially known for Special Relativity and E=mc^2, which seems really easy to most people learning physics. So the first impression physics students get of Einstein is that his fame is disproportionate relative to his contribution.

            But Einstein didn’t stop at SR. He also contributed mightily to Statistical Physics (e.g. Bose-Einstein Condensates), explained the photo-electric effect (for which he got the Nobel Prize), and pretty much single-handedly constructed General Relativity. That last one alone puts him in a category above Noether.

            Less known or accepted, Einstein is one of the founding fathers of Quantum Mechanics. Indeed he is the first one after Plank (who thought it was merely a mathematical artifice) to consider that energy would come in quanta (photons in this case) proportional to frequency and thus explained the photo-electric effect.

            And then in 1907, he again used the same hypothesis to construct the Einstein Model of a solid in order to explain observations about heat capacity. The model was updated later by Debye and is still very relevant today. When Niels Bohr came up with his model of the hydrogen atom in 1913, he was merely adapting that hypothesis to angular momentum.

            Even when Einstein was wrong, it was in a seminal and ultimately enormously productive way. The paper he published in 1935 with Podolsky and Rosen was the starting point for Bell’s inequalities, and as such it identified the most remarkable aspect of QM and the most talked about today.

            But his magum opus is General Relativity. All of physics today can be, directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, in practice or in theory, reduced to exactly two theories: Quantum Field Theory, and General Relativity. And if Special Relativity can seem pretty easy math-wise, I can’t imagine anyone claiming the same of General Relativity.

            That is all.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, that’s not all. You forgot Brownian Motion. Arguably the last great discovery in classical mechanics. For two thousand years people talked about atoms the way we talk about strings – great theory, but no possible instrument could ever see or measure one. For five hundred years, we had the tools to measure atoms, and nobody put it together. It took Einstein to figure out that, by basically just staring at a cup of coffee and applying Newton with the right math, you could measure the size of atoms(*)

            It helps that he worked in an age when there were a lot of simple, elegant bits of physics waiting to be understood by the right mind, but for one mind to pick up so many, in such a short time, in so many different areas of physics, is I think unprecedented.

            * Technically small molecules, but chemists had already figured out the equivalence there.

          • Too Late says:

            @John Schilling

            Yes, Brownian Motion, that’s a famous contribution. I didn’t really forget though: I had mentioned Statistical Physics and considered Brownian Motion to be part of it. Einstein made some major contributions to that field.

            Although I also agree with you that “he worked in an age when there were a lot of simple, elegant bits of physics waiting to be understood by the right mind”, I really wanted to emphasize that not all of Einstein’s contributions were simple. The impression of simplicity is what one gets when studying Special Relativity, but General Relativity (for example) is something else entirely.

      • chaosmage says:

        Woohoo. Tons of free trouble for anyone who studies the sexuality of top mathematicians!

        Maybe balance it out with Chess super-grandmasters. They possess an extreme of a very different facet of “intelligence”, are stereotypically neat confirmed bachelors, and if I may betray my prejudices, a great number of them (though not Carlsen, who is professionally styled and has modeling experience) simply look strikingly gay.

        • I don’t have any data on whether chess super-grandmasters in general tend to be confirmed bachelors or not, but I did a quick check on Wikpedia of the biographies of World Chess Champions since Wilhelm Steinitz, and nearly all of them were married. Just my personal opinion, but none of them looked particularly gay to me. Whether any of them were known for being particularly neat I cannot say.

      • Slow Learner says:

        Mental rotation is trainable.
        As part of a chemistry degree course in the UK, some people I know had their mental rotation abilities tested in their first and fourth year.
        Small sample of ~200, but all improved, and there was no significant sex-based difference in the fourth year test despite men outperforming women in the first-year test. (Sample ~50:50 men:women, too).

        What is training men to be better at mental rotation on average? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

        • JuanPeron says:

          Two caveats/hesitations on that:

          First, “can be trained away” isn’t necessarily the same as “is exclusively nurture”. There may still be a male edge that can be eroded away with training. In particular, the people you cite were all trained with the same courses – it’s a well-established pattern that if you train people from varying starting points on the same content, you’ll diminish variance across the group. The people performing well at the beginning simply have less to gain from the content.

          That said, we could definitely be seeing some bizarre mediated effect. Young male monkeys like ‘masculine’ toys more than female monkeys do; perhaps childhood play choices train spatial reasoning from a young age?

          Second, I’m curious whether this advantage is at all transferable. I worry that like pretty much all other “brain training”, you can get better at a task but not develop the innate ability that set your initial score. As an example, you can get better at Raven’s matrices, but you haven’t changed your mental skill at pattern recognition – you’ve just invalidated Raven’s Matrices as a test of that skill.

          • Will says:

            Between-gender mental rotation ability disparity also shows up in early childhood (by 7 at least; perhaps earlier, but 7 is the lowest age I’ve seen studied — it’s about as soon as the ability itself really shows up), so if this is the result of some kind of socialization providing training for males, it’s done most of its work awful early. I believe there’s some evidence it’s related to testosterone exposure in the womb, but don’t quote me on that.

        • namae nanka says:

          “The
          mean weighted effect sizes for improvement for males were very similar to that of females, with
          a difference of only 0.01. Thus males and females improved about the same amount with
          training. Our findings concur with those of Baenninger and Newcombe (1989) and suggest that
          while males tend to have an advantage in spatial ability, both genders improve equally well with
          training.”

      • nope says:

        It’s probably the mental rotation assumption that’s wrong. Jews have very bad spacial rotation relative to other groups, which hasn’t held back the many of them that were and are ridiculously good at math. As with many fields with a male/female difference in achievement, the math one is probably a result of of either a) male “things” preference on the “things/people” interest spectrum, b) stronger and more persistent male “leveling up” impulses that give them an advantage in fields that have more cumulative gains (math builds on itself in a way many fields like literature do not), or c) a smaller female standard deviation wrt IQ, leaving fewer at the top for *anything*. My personal biases push me toward a and b, but I wouldn’t be surprised at c either.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If mental rotation is relevant to high level mathematics, then surely it is relevant to geometry. But women and gays are overrepresented in geometry. I’m not sure about Jews, but it should be easy to find out.

      • DavidS says:

        My grasp of probability is… sketchy, but wouldn’t this depend on something like a normal distribution?

        On the surface at least, it seems possible to me that there might be a sub-group of gay men whose sexuality is somehow linked at the causal level with having ‘more female’ brains (crudely speaking), and would perhaps have a distribution of abilities on rotational tasks similar to women, whereas another group simply don’t have that ‘more female’ tendency at all. So the average difference conceals two separate populations.

        Alternatively, is it possible that the rotational skills are developed through certain interests, and the difference is because a smaller proportion of women and gay men are likely to have those interests, but that this is essentially a binary question and where someone does have that interest they will do on average as well?

        • Will says:

          It’s probably not interests: the disparity is there by early childhood (~7), as I mention above. I read one study suggesting some mysterious testosterone-mediated effect, but they weren’t very sure.

      • Would you expect mental rotation to have any link to the sort of things that mathmaticians do? Using visualizations can be good for practical problem solving but it seems like most of the stuff Turing was good at are all about symbolic manipulation except for that thing with resonating chemical reactions which IIRC was all two dimensional and didn’t involve any rotation.

        And in any event I’d expect that there’s usually more than one way to approach a problem and I would be very careful to generalize from this one mental module to professional success in pretty much any field.

      • JuanPeron says:

        > Gay people are a heterogenous category, some of whom have this effect and others of whom don’t

        This seems like an interesting and plausible suggestion. Homosexuality certainly seems to be multi-cause, and not all of those causes would need to be associated with the masculinity/femininity of the mind. I note that Turing has one older brother, and number of older male siblings is perhaps the strongest predictor for being gay that anyone has found.

        If hormone levels in the womb are one of, but not the only, major influences on homosexuality, we might have a strong start for this theory. Say, a genetic component that doesn’t influence mind-genderedness and an epigenetic component that does.

      • Nita says:

        It’s true that I’m often (too often) snide, but that particular comment was 100% sincere.

        I mean, what do you expect to observe in the tails of a realized normal distribution, if not occasional data points gradually getting sparser? That’s what randomness is all about: even if P(X) is small, X can still happen.

        Let’s say the expected number of gay men at least as good as Turing at maths is T=P(at least as good as Turing at maths|gay man)*P(gay|male)*N. It seems that N is a pretty big number (~ all Western men who have lived to adulthood in the 20th century?). So, given that P(gay|male) is 2%, how small does P(at least as good as Turing at maths|gay) have to be to merit rounding T to 0?

      • Anthony says:

        There are two kinds of math – algebra and geometry. Algebra is “v-loaded” – it uses generally the same neural circuitry as verbal skills and logic. Geometry uses the neural circuitry measured by rotation tasks.

        As I understand it, Turing’s work was primarily algebraic – extending the limits of algebra – which would mean that even if gay men were more like women in the distribution of mathematical ability, he’s not quite such an outlier as would be a female Coxeter or Reimann.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          But women and gays are overrepresented in geometry.

          • Anthony says:

            That’s interesting. I wonder if there’s some greater need for creativity to do well in geometric fields of math?

        • Pku says:

          But that does give us Emmy Noether as a giant algebraic outlier. Though there are a lot more women than gay men, so I guess it’s not that crazy.

      • namae nanka says:

        Within men, the spatial rotation ability seems to have a U shaped curve where the deficient perform poorly compared to the normal and then higher testosterone levels are inversely correlated with spatial rotation performance. So gays might have a more ‘womanly brain’ yet do better and it’s no great mystery why a Turing came to be.

        Besides, maths is a skill to itself like verbal and spatial ability is another. This is an easier distinction than the verbal, perceptual and image rotation which is apparently a better model,

        “Interestingly, though the correlations between the verbal and perceptual and perceptual and image rotation factors were high (0.80 and 0.85), the correlation between the verbal and image rotation factors was much lower, 0.41.”

        There are some interesting results from SMPY regarding spatial ability and its concordance with verbal and maths. Spatial ability in this context probably spans more than image rotation(which is the biggest difference between sexes).

        “There is a growing consensus among leading psy-
        chometricians (Ackerman, 1989; Carroll, 1989;
        Humphreys, 1979; Snow & Lohman, 1989) that intellectual
        abilities are organized around three (not two) primary con-
        tent domains whose communality defines the construct of
        general intelligence: verbal-linguistic, mathematical-
        numerical, and spatial-mechanical. Spatial abilities are es-
        pecially critical for educational-vocational paths such as
        engineering, the physical sciences, architecture, and many
        of the creative arts (Humphreys et al., 1993). Thus, the
        inclusion of spatial-mechanical reasoning abilities is likely
        to cast further light on the precise prevalence of multipo-
        tentiality (as it has been defined in the literature on coun-
        seling gifted individuals)”

        and,

        “For example, in
        Project TALENT, over half of participants in the top 1% on the
        Spatial Composite were below the top 3% cut on both the Math-
        ematical and Verbal Composites, and, thus, they would not be
        invited to participate in modern talent searches. Moreover, there is
        reason to believe that the educational needs of spatially talented
        youths are more unmet than those of mathematically or verbally
        talented youths, because the typical middle and high school cur-riculum has many more opportunities for developing mathematical
        and verbal ability than spatial ability (Colangelo et al., 2004;
        Lohman, 2005)”

      • anon says:

        Some say John Nash was gay.

  79. God Damn John Jay says:

    This is an odd medical request, but does anyone here (Scott Alexander?) know about thirst and urinary retention as a result of anxiety?

    I have had bloodwork and a tube with a camera up my urethera and nothing was found wrong, plus I am young and my prostate is fine. I have tried benzos and muscle relaxants to little effect.

  80. Olivia says:

    I have propanalol and a moderate spider phobia. Where might I get temporary access to spiders near Berkeley? I could also try it with something more mundane and closer to an ugh-field, like phones or job applications or something.

    • Seth says:

      Could you use fake plastic spiders like the kind sold for Halloween decorations? Maybe mechanical toy spiders? If you need to deal with real live spiders, maybe a local zoo will have an exhibit of tarantulas or similar. In the age of the Internet, you can probably order spiders online, but I assume that’s not a good idea.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Spiders are everywhere; you just have to look.

    • Emile says:

      how ’bout full-screen youtube videos of hairy creepy spiders, seen close-up?

      • Murphy says:

        I’m not sure that would work. I have quite a visceral reaction to live wasps close to me, particularly on me but find nature documentaries about their hives fascinating. A screen filled with crawling wasps produces no uncomfortable feeling.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          if you’ve seen the recent peter jackson remake of King Kong, did any of the giant bug scenes affect you?

          (Content warning: horrifying bugs and vermin and death)
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rxW6jCbhmA
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTWYQhTT388

          …For me, both clips are just about unendurable. When I saw the first one originally, I was physically unable to remain in my chair.

          [EDIT] – “Huh, come to think of it, the reaction I remember does seem unreasonably strong. I mean, I like worms and bugs and creepy crawly things and horror in most contexts, was it really all that baJESUS FUCKING CHRIST NO NO NO NO GET IT AWAY FUCK WHY DID I START WATCHING THAT AGAIN!!!”

          • Murphy says:

            Not really.
            From a very young age I always adored the kind of videos with cameras in nests.

            I guess I’m just too used to the screen being ephemeral.

          • Leit says:

            “How bad could it be?”
            *clicks second video*
            LIEWE HEMEL SUSSIE KRY DIE HAELGEWEER UIT

    • Tibor says:

      What about the Zoo in Oakland?

    • Nornagest says:

      Try the East Bay Vivarium, near 4th Street. They’re mainly about reptiles, but they have plenty of spiders and other assorted arthropods and they’d probably be willing to help you out if you explained what you were doing.

  81. Douglas Knight says:

    Everyone should look at the graph of death rates, peaked at New Years. Especially people who talk about it.

    • The main thing going on in that graph is that cold kills more people than heat–death rates higher in winter than in summer. But there is something else special about New Years. Could some of it be auto accidents from drunk drivers?

      • Tibor says:

        I don’t think that auto accidents are classified as “natural causes”. People also eat a lot during the Christmas time and they eat less healthy. This could increase the number of heart attacks or similar diseases, but I am not sure by how much.

        Also, I don’t know about the US, but in Central Europe the coldest weather actually comes only after the New Year’s Eve and stays till the beginning of March or so (well, now, it is something like 10 degrees Celsius here in the part of Germany I’m in, but that is pretty uncommon and it was minus 10 last week). If the same pattern holds in America as well, one would except the peak to be at the end of January at least if the main driver of deaths were cold. The weather mechanics in Europe is probably very different though, because it is kept warm mostly by the Gulf stream (otherwise it would be way colder than the US, if you look at the map you see that the northern US border is about on the level of Central Europe even though the weather there is more like in Scandinavia).

        • Nornagest says:

          The coldest weather in the inland US — speaking broadly, it’s a big place — is in January through early February. By late February it’s usually slightly warmer, but winter storms aren’t uncommon until mid-March. I’ve seen a blizzard in April but that’s rare.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, but April through November is the bulk of the period in which a persons’ health or circumstances may deteriorate to the point where they can no longer tolerate cold weather. Then it is likely to be the first cold snap, rather than the worst, that puts them in the hospital or the grave. I think; not sure about this.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          That pattern holds in most of the populous parts of the US as well.

        • Tracy W says:

          “When the days begin to lengthen the cold begins to strengthen.”

        • Mary says:

          “Also, I don’t know about the US, but in Central Europe the coldest weather actually comes only after the New Year’s Eve and stays till the beginning of March or so ”

          It’s the same. The driving factor is that while the air is losing less heat and gaining more from the sun every day, it’s still losing more than it’s gaining — bound to go down, and not regionally.

          Absent other factors, of course, so that’s on average.

      • ryan says:

        Hypothesis:

        People who are dying try to hold on and make it through Christmas for the sake of the family.

      • Rachael says:

        They said the effect was stronger in the warm southern states, so it’s probably not the cold. And they said they ruled out accidents (and murder and suicide).

    • Matt C. Wilson says:

      Some random thoughts about the graph:

      I suppose the graph data was produced by eliding the year from each date of death, bucketing all deaths over the 25 year period by month/day alone, and then dividing the total deaths in each bucket by 25? Based on the second graph, the first can’t be graphing total by day over the 25 year period.

      “Averaging” in this way could also explain the absence of an outlier spike on Feb 29, which one would expect to register 1/4 as tall on a totals graph, presuming they divided the Feb 29 total by 7 and not 25.

      Two hypotheses that occurred to me but that seem ruled out are:

      1) If the death certificate is entered with only a year and no month or day, SQL databases may implicitly treat that datum as 1/1/[year] due to the way data cast operations work.

      2) A single massively deadly winter somewhere in the 25 years would inflate the averages over those days for the entire period. Since graph 2 is obviously cyclical though, I’m guessing that didn’t happen or isn’t a sole/major factor.

      Would be nice to get the actual data, with real dates (not months) of death. I couldn’t find it in the referenced CDC WONDER database. (Click “I agree”, under Section 1 choose the Grouping option of “Months”, click “Send” in that section). I was able to produce this month-resolution graph, which is much less compelling. (copied here): imgur copy

      In fact, that graph seems to refute the 2nd graph from the article. There are as many Marches that are as deadly (99, 02, 06, 07, 10, 12) [if not more (05, 08)] as most-lethal-Januaries (00, 01, 03, 04, 09, 11, 13, 14)

      • Matt C. Wilson says:

        Looking at state level data for a couple warmer climate states shows some still present, but reduced, cyclicality.

        Arizona

        Florida

        Hawaii

        Hawaii shows the weakest cyclicality, but it’s also the smallest population wise. Florida shows less than Arizona, but it’s still there, with a few most-lethal-March data points outside the January tendency.

        Based on these, I think I differ on the cold weather hypothesis. Unless it’s less “cold” and more “colder relative to the rest of the year.” I’m more inclined to think the prevalence of colds/flu during winter is a significant contributing factor.

        • Yrro says:

          Cold weather plus increased sociality around the holidays? I know my family spent pretty much the whole of Dember with some bug or another.

        • Anthony says:

          Arizonans (and Floridians) may be less cold-adapted because of the generally high temperatures throughout much of the year. When you’re used to months of 104+ (40C) temperatures, 50 degrees (10C) may be system-shockingly cold.

          (I saw the opposite effect in the late 1980s – a heat wave in which temperatures in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset rose to 86 degrees (30C) for a couple of days, and *several* people died of the heat.

  82. Douglas Knight says:

    There are a number of sources of counts of people killed by police. The largest number is here a list 1200 news stories of people killed by police in 2015. But it doesn’t cover earlier years. This is a noticeable fraction of all homicides. This suggests that the other sources are terrible undercounts. But if they are systematically biased downward, might their bias change from year to year? I am suspicious of trying to extract trends.

    The best known measure are the BJS reports. It shows a 30% increase over 6 years 2003-2009, but warns that the numbers are not comparable, because different police departments submit numbers in different years.

    The source you link is based on the CDC database of all death certificates. Why is a coroner going to bother to code it as legal intervention, rather than a shooting? Will such a bias change over time? Maybe it increases with familiarity with the current ICD system.

  83. TrivialGravitas says:

    Thinking about the lesbian resume study, this could be because the LGBT organization is seen as more of a social club than an activist club. I’m inclined to think probably discrimination, but not satisfied. A repeat with a third no leadership position control should be done, if there’s no discrimination the LGBT leadership role should still do at a bare minimum just as well as the no-leadership control.

  84. ediguls says:

    I have access to that paywalled paper. Is anyone interested in knowing what it says?

  85. Cookie Dog says:

    I tried the McCullough Effect, and once I was seeing those colours in the stripes I immediately wondered what zebras would look like. I began a trek into Google Images, in search of a zebra that would trigger the illusion. My initial findings were disappointing, and so I began scrutinising the evenness, white:black ratio, and spacing of countless zebra stripes, growing increasingly uncomfortable with how much I felt like a zebra during mating season.

    Just as I was about to give up, having questioned the life decisions that had thus far led me to this point, I found her- Zebra McCullough, and her amazing technicullough hide. Behold:

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Zebra_stripes_%285018224290%29.jpg/1024px-Zebra_stripes_%285018224290%29.jpg

    • anon says:

      I was very excited, but Zebra McCullough didn’t do the trick for me. (Admittedly, a few hours had passed since I did the initial training — double checking the original link, I do still see an effect but it’s much fainter than immediately after I trained.)

      • Cookie Dog says:

        It’s very faint. I took a look at the picture again and I had to briefly retrain to see the colours clearly. She’s got horizontal and vertical stripes, though, so you’re able to see both colours.

  86. drethelin says:

    the study you link about “lesbians” getting worse resume responses actually seems like it’s tied into your other links to do with activists being disfavored, since the signifier of being a lesbian used in the resume was a leadership role in an LGBT activist organisation.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, but their control group was another progressive organization. I agree it’s not perfect, but I think their explanation is pretty plausible.

      • Alex Welk says:

        I’d be curious to see this effect drawn out, say with identical resumes with other student organizations say a communist student group, a feminist student group, etc all with varying degrees of progressivism and activism to really tease out the effect. When I read their synopsis it immediately threw up a red flag that student involvement was how they declared a resume as queer or not, when LGBT organizations are often filled with allies who may or may not take up leadership roles.

        Also, I might have missed it, but they chose ‘secretary’ as the role in the other student org but didn’t list what leadership position was taken in the LGBT org, or was it also ‘secretary’? As far as student orgs go, secretaries and other leadership positions vary wildly on how much they actually matter or do, so it may not be a fair comparison to have to orgs that on the surface appear vaguely politically alike and are student orgs. It seemed like the specific colleges the resumes were tailored for could have LGBT student orgs that are known for not doing much, so the secretary position their would mean less on a resume? How would one even begin to quantify that?

      • paper machine says:

        Yeah, but “lesbian LGBT activist” has stereotype connotations that other progressive activists may not.

        I suppose “radical animal rights activist” is almost as bad but who puts that on their resume?

        • JBeshir says:

          This kinda surprises me. I’d have expected it to be a lot milder than other activism; if you’re LGBT there’s surely a decent chance you’ll join up with an LGBT group mostly to find friends who have some common points of reference, whereas the other kinds you only join up for if you’re committed to the politics.

        • keranih says:

          “radical animal rights activist”

          You would be surprised – it also depends on how you tweek it. “Volunteer at local animal shelter to clean kennels” is one thing, “community outreach coordinator for Mercy for Animals” another.

          • Anonymous says:

            Never heard of MfA. I’d say a better example would be PETA, perhaps, because they’re better known and have a certain bad rep.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Think like an employer: what risks am I taking on by hiring this person? Most importantly, can I get rid of them if they suck?

          If you fire the LGBT activist, what do you expect the odds are that you will get slapped with a discrimination suit? They don’t even have to be high for it to be a risk not worth taking.

          Compare and contrast with, say, somebody who was involved in their local College Democrats group. I know which I would consider the safer bet, and IANAD.

          Also keep in mind that if you’re a small business, a single discrimination suit may be enough to sink you, even if you’re found not guilty.

          (Even the PETA guy sounds mostly harmless, although I’d feel differently if I were in an industry that involved animals in some way.)

          • onyomi says:

            This is a good point: even if you are sympathetic to the social justice activist’s cause, social justice activists seem more likely than average to bring some kind of discrimination suit against you if they get fired.

            And this is the flip side of this sort of law in general: though big companies can’t get away with hiring only white men, there is still a subtle incentive for them, and especially smaller companies where no one will notice, to not hire members of “aggrieved” groups, especially if they themselves show signs of being activists in such causes: because if you fire a white guy he can’t bring a suit against you for discrimination.

            Higher risk of being sued increases the cost of employing someone, meaning that to hire an equally qualified black female activist is more expensive, at the margins, than to hire a white guy of uninteresting personal life.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hmm. What kind of activism would actually be a benefit from the viewpoint of an employer? Hardline libertarianism? I imagine the kind of stuff that would make the ex-employee a hypocrite to objecting to being fired, but I have a hard time thinking of examples.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            If you don’t limit employers to businesses, then something with a strong ideological alignment with the organization’s goal.

            Being super cynical, a person involved in activism may be easier to get to “buy into” the “corporate vision” or whatever it’s caled these days.

          • Andrew says:

            Perhaps Calvinists? They can’t change their station anyway.

  87. multiheaded says:

    on the one hand I believe in freedom of association and if somebody is clearly going to be trouble you shouldn’t force people to throw out that information and place themselves in a position to depend on that person anyway

    Okay, so where should the line be drawn, in your opinion? What should be normalized when investigating new hires? All social media stuff ever? Mental health info? School grades? Your ex’s testimony?

    This is absurd. I don’t believe in proceeding from any notion of fairness to employers, because being “fair” to them like this is unsustainable for the working class.

    • drethelin says:

      read literally the next sentence after the one you quote, starting with “on the other hand”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Companies already investigate social media – I might approve of banning them from doing that, I’m not sure. But given that they investigate social media, what sort of things that they find there should they use as a reason not to employ somebody? I would say criminality and antisocial behavior are good things to be concerned about, political opinions less so.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        I would argue that its impossible to prevent them from discriminating on things they find that they are actively disallowed from discriminating on the basis of. they might for example find out somebody had a leadership position in a LGBT organization and suddenly be 30% less likely to hire them.

        • Dain says:

          “had a leadership position in a LGBT organization…”

          Where I work at Yahoo, you not only wouldn’t lose points for that, you’d gain them.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            See the other link about lesbians getting fewer callbacks, the LGBT leadership position is how they tested for that.

          • “Where I work at Yahoo, you not only wouldn’t lose points for that, you’d gain them.”

            From the standpoint of those arguing against employers using information from social media to help them decide who to hire, is that equally objectionable? It’s hard to see any difference in kind between saying “if I find the candidate holds position X, I will be less likely to hire him” and saying “If I find the candidate doesn’t hold position Y I will be less likely to hire him.”

          • JBeshir says:

            I don’t have a strong intuition on the matter- I think there might be differences in degree between favouring an uncommon thing and disfavouring an uncommon thing, and I think I wouldn’t react the same way to a strongly Christian-run organisation favouring people who have shown leadership in faith bodies, as I would to that organisation disfavouring someone who had shown leadership in LGBT bodies.

            I don’t have much of a model of why this intuition is the case, though. I can certainly construct scenarios where this does become pretty bad (consider being, e.g. heavily incentivised to have shown support for the party in Nazi Germany). I would be okay with a consensus that we should view it favourably to look only at the “had a leadership position” bit alone and behave viewpoint neutrally.

      • Viliam says:

        I would say criminality and antisocial behavior are good things to be concerned about, political opinions less so.

        Unfortunately, this creates an incentive to frame our political opponents as criminal and antisocial.

        • voidfraction says:

          “Toxic harasser” appears to be the most common way of doing so, especially when asking why you’re being referred to as a harasser is considered harassment.

      • Because does such a ban sound something even remotely enforcable? Try proving that a HR guy looked you up, not even from the office just from his personal phone, and anyway if you’d try that, I don’t know much about US constitutional law but sounds like something that could be challenged.

        Why do even Rationalists tend to base legislative ideas on “what would be good” instead of “of the kinds of laws that proven to be enforceable and effective, the most useful would be this” ?

        You see, when we talk about “Brahmin Idealism”, this is actually one of the most obvious, demonstrable and perhaps even empirically well researchable cases: an approach to legislation that entirely ignores enforcability and considers it a totally secondary, technical detail, to be worked out by some experts in the police dept, but basically having this optimism that anything is enforcable if you wish it hard enough. That technical questions are secondary to desirables. While a non-idealist will based his desirables on technical possibility and cost. Well, maybe I am exaggerating, it is not such a belief, just a tendency to of enforceability to slip out of the mind, to forget about it, to not always consider it important.

        And if you look at this tendency, this is one interesting “hole” in the Matrix where quasi-religiousness shines through. Obviously, a pragmatic, ideology-free government technician would always think like this: laws of the kind that were proven effective and enforcable on the cheap are my toolbox, let’s find the best tool for the job. While a priest type will always try to ban eating meat on friday (figuratively speaking) because it is not the enforcement but the message, the idea that matters – one does not simply _compromise_ with something sacred, right? My point is, that this desirable laws over pragmatic laws is clearly the legacy of the shining city on the hill type of thinking.

        • Thanks– I’ve been thinking about people assuming that their preferred laws will be costless and have only the desired effects, and you’ve brought it into sharper focus. I see a lot of this from people who want gun control– I’ve asked a few, and the idea that there would be a price for gun control had not occurred to them. However, I see the same problems with immigration control.

          • Anthony says:

            However, I see the same problems with immigration control.

            This is why anti-immigration policy wonks want much stricter employer enforcement. It’s much easier to require that employers collect a little bit of data to prove their employees are legal, and actually audit the damn data, than it is to patrol a couple of thousand km of scrubland.

            Certainly, even with vigorous employer enforcement, there would still be a market for illegal labor – I’ve hired guys at Home Depot I’m pretty certain weren’t legal, and my mother considered hiring someone as a home-care aide for my father, and wouldn’t be worried about his immigration status. But there aren’t nearly as many of those jobs as there are illegal aliens in the U.S., so stricter enforcement on employers would significantly reduce illegal immigration.

            However, only policy wonks talk about that, because Republican politicians don’t like increased regulation on their donors, and the masses don’t want to talk about “half-measures” which won’t fix the problem – they want a wall, and they want it last year. Or the year before they lost their high-paying blue-collar job.

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          Perfectly enforceable no, but there’s a world of difference between some HR people doing it from their phone and it being company policy to always do it.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is absurd. I don’t believe in proceeding from any notion of fairness to employers, because being “fair” to them like this is unsustainable for the working class.

      So what do you propose? Lining them up against the wall and having them all shot for being impediments to Communism? Instituting kapos instead? Immediate wealth confiscation upon becoming an employer?

      • multiheaded says:

        That has not proven very practical in all cases; the combination of known possible pitfalls with active backlash can do big harm… so, as attractive as all of that might sound, not yet. Not yet. (I know people who would reasonably disagree.)

        There are more sophisticated and attractive economic regimes to explore, but as for the boring social-democratic option… treat employers “unfairly” along the lines of what’s tried and true, by backing industry unions and individual workers’ rights against them.

        And pressure countries that would not, to some extent, comply with such a regime. (basically a system of trade and cooperation treaties, but about employees and not about employers)

        • Anonymous says:

          Have you considered the possibility that the counter-productive effects of trying to implement this goal are because the goal is flawed, rather than the means?

          • multiheaded says:

            “Goal” can refer to things from different categories here. Like, a ~goal~ of “make most people’s lives better” is entirely unobjectionable, a ~goal~ of “do things the way people who had red flags historically did things, because that’s a cool color for a flag” is rather pointless/crazy on its own.

        • Mary says:

          “by backing industry unions and individual workers’ rights against them.”

          That is too vague to be enforceable.

    • JBeshir says:

      Thinking about it, I guess if I were to construct a fairness based argument for employer or organisation freedom of association, it’d be something about how people with multiple choices of employer, or in a work environment where their boss takes their feedback closely, can indirectly exercise their individual freedom of association through their boss.

      I’m not entirely sold and it does seem to me to be a lot weaker than the individual case, and in general coordinated disassociation pretty quickly runs into “can’t be fair to everyone at once in all ways” problems, and so sensible to limit in exchange for better fairness to individuals who might be the target of disassociation when needed.

  88. Wrong Species says:

    The most annoying thing about anarchists is the word games they play. They are by far the most frustrating people to have a debate with because they use their own definitions and pretend that only those definitions are right. It’s too bad, because some of their ideas are worth considering but I’m not going to keep discussing issues with people who insist on going on long digressions on why the Soviet Union was actually capitalist and why capitalism is evil but markets are ok. There is no clear difference between markets and capitalism. They just don’t want to admit that capitalism is not this evil, terrifying monolith but something that can actually do good.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      It doesn’t sound like its the anarchists that are making up definitions (though after a century of counter communist propaganda that’s not your fault really). Capitalism is a word created for the purpose of describing systems where the people with money (capitalists) have an unfair advantage in determining their share of the productivity generated with that money. Calling the soviet union capitalist is a hell of a stretch, but as an obvious example on a non capitalist market system you could simply pass (and somehow enforce) a law dictating that nobody in a company can make more than 10x what the lowest paid employee makes (hourly). The market isn’t being abolished if you do it that way.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        @ TrivialGravitas
        To be frank, saying that Capitalism is a “system where the people with money (capitalists) have an unfair advantage in determining their share of the productivity” sounds an awful lot like a made-up definition to me. Sort of an economic mirror of the old “racism is prejudice + power” form of equivocation.

        The commonly understood definition of Capitalism, the one that appears in most English-language dictionaries is; “an economic system where allocation of resources is determined by individual private actors (capitalists) independently of the state or labor.” Fairness, or lack there-of, doesn’t even enter into the equation.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          >To be frank, saying that Capitalism is a “system where the people with money (capitalists) have an unfair advantage in determining their share of the productivity” sounds an awful lot like a made-up definition to me. Sort of an economic mirror of the old “racism is prejudice + power” form of equivocation.

          That’s because Capitalism is a term invented by socialists. It’s pretty much working as intended, I’d think.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Granted, but it fails to account for the issue of common usage that I mentioned.

            They also tend to be inconstant about applying those definitions to their own policies. IE If the defining trait of “capitalism” is it’s lack of fairness I think it’s fair to argue that a truly Marxist economy would be far more “Capitalist” than the one we have now. 😉

            It’s a Motte & Bailey gambit where the uncharitable definitions are used to describing the opposition’s policies and the charitable ones are used to describe their own.

          • TrivialGravitas says: