OT50: Opentecost

This is the bi-weekly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Thanks to Douglas Knight, who proposed a new system of open threads I think I’ll be using from now on. There is an Open Thread tag above. When you click it, you will be taken to the newest Open Thread. Once every second Sunday, the Open Thread will be posted publicly on the main blog like this one. On Wednesdays and the other Sunday, it will be posted quietly and appear only if you’re looking for it in the Open Thread section. So you can find a new Open Thread there starting this Wednesday the 25th.

2. I don’t plan to introduce Reddit-style voting on comments here because most people have said they don’t want it. If you do want it, there is a Greasemonkey script available that will let you have it, without affecting the comments viewed by everyone else.

3. I finally gave in and banned anon@gmail.com; abuses were just getting too annoying. Sorry.

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899 Responses to OT50: Opentecost

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was playing with calibration. As result I have quite big log of predictions with description, my predicted success chance, outcome, category of prediction.

    So I made a little tool that ingests csv and outputs graphs like “how my calibration on given category changed over time”.

    Is there somebody here that would consider such tool useful? Or is somebody aware about similar, already existing tools?

    Also – is somebody from potentially interested who would be confused by instructions including “run ruby script”?

  2. Dr Dealgood says:

    So does anyone know how psychologists design mazes to test executive functioning?

    I’m looking at Porteus mazes and other similar tests, purely out of curiosity, and it’s very unclear to me how the mazes were made in the first place and how they were assigned difficulties afterwards. The boring answer is that he just drew them freehand and decided which ones were more or less difficult by common sense, but that seems kind of slapdash and arbitrary. I was hoping that there is some sort of principle for measuring how hard a maze is to complete.

    • Randy M says:

      Executive functioning is determined by mazes? No wonder their compensation is so out of whack.

      • Deiseach says:

        This does explain the popularity of management books with titles like “Who Moved My Cheese?”, though.

  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160512085113.htm#

    Botox causes people to be worse at perceiving other people’s emotions.

    The original article is behind a paywall– if someone can get the link, it will be possible to see whether the study was reasonably well done.

  4. benwave says:

    I came across this article and I was a little baffled. In my head, I imagine working class people to support Trump quite a lot. Am I wrong? link

    • Peter says:

      Several things:

      1) Compared with other Republican candidates Trump gets a lot of working class support.
      2) I think that Trump’s working class support is more-or-less limited to the white working class – Bernie and Clinton have a more diverse pool of working class support to draw on.
      3) People make much of red states being poorer than blue states, but when you look at individual voters, you find that rich people tend to vote Republican and less rich people tend to vote Democrat (and poor people tend not to vote). Notice I say “tend to”; this is a simplification, and if I omitted the “tend to” it would be an oversimplification.
      4) This is hardly surprising to a Brit like me; the stereotype of rich Tory voters and working-class Labour voters is well known and if you include the magic “tends to” then it’s even true. There are of course complications, especially in these days of UKIP (which seems to be our own version of the Trump phenomenon).
      5) The point in 3) has to be tempered somewhat, there’s the counter-stereotype of pickup-driving rednecks vs coastal college professors and things like this (if we tune down the stereotypeiness a bit) are an important nuance… in particular, one that explains a lot of the shading on the red-state-blue-state map. But they’re not the whole thing and not even the main thing – see point 3 again. Really I don’t think there’s a simple single story of Republican and Democrat voters – from over here they seem to be loose coalitions that have agglomerated together partly by historical accident, there are privileged elites and downtrodden very-much-non-elites in both coalitions, and it’s easy for people at the bottom of one stack to resent the people at the top of the other.
      6) Working class Trump voters are mediagenic, also they’re hardly the first noisy minority that has claimed to be a silent majority.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t think the “rich”/”poor” divide does nearly as much of the work as you are imagining. Poor or “lower middle class”, rural and white is a very good indicator of a Republican voter, or at least supporter. The fact that poor or “lower middle class”, rural and black makes on average less income doesn’t mean that you can say this really a story about who makes more money.

        Compared with other Republican candidates Trump gets a lot of working class support.

        But it is a mistake to think of those “working class” people as being, on average, in poor economic circumstances compared to the country on average. On average, Trump supporters are above average in income for the country as a whole, and even above average for non-Hispanic white Americans.

        • Peter says:

          How much work do you think I’m imagining it’s doing? After all, I made a big deal out of saying “tends to” and that I needed it to avoid being an oversimplification. All the work it needs to do is to say that there are more examples of the trend than counterexamples; one of the counterexamples may be concentrated among Trump supporters, but still. You shouldn’t be surprised to find that a set of Republicans are on average quite rich, and you shouldn’t be too surprised to see that a subset of Republicans is similar to the average.

          I’m now even more confused about what “working class” means in this context; I’m aware that the American class vocabulary is even more hopelessly confused that the British one[1], but I thought that quite a lot of it would have to do with money, directly or indirectly. It seems from wikipedia that college education (or the lack thereof) is a big thing, so maybe an article titled “The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support” shouldn’t focus so much on money, there’s a paragraph on education:

          Likewise, although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls — lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters — that’s still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

          What’s frustrating is that it doesn’t give the stats for Hillary or Sanders voters.

          [1] There was a particularly egregious example of this in one article I’d read where it talked about whether or not the working class was in the middle class, and I was thinking, “no, by definition they’re separate”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The author of the 538 article is making an exclusively economic argument, pointing out that if you posit that Trump’s support is mainly driven by those in below average, lower quartile or even lower third, economic circumstances, then that supposition appears to be wrong.

            So, if your definition of “class” in America is proposed in exclusively economic terms, it doesn’t make sense. You have to add some other items to the mix.

            Now, I fully admit that “class” as used to application to Americans is a pretty muddled and confused term. I think some recent comment threads have expounded on this to great length.

            If I make a well above average salary in the US, but do so as a mechanic or a truck driver or union employed manufacturing employee, it’s tempting to say I am not “working class”, except that they are all traditional working class jobs.

            And then no one really agrees on definitions.

            no, by definition they’re separate”.

            That’s either false or “not even wrong”. And here is where I think you are getting hung up.

            Middle class and working class don’t really work on the same axis.

            Working class/blue collar vs. management/white collar is an axis.

            Underclass, poor, etc. vs. middle class vs. rich is a different axis. And then because the two ends of that axis are way out on the tails you tend to see a lot of splitting of the middle class into lower-middle, middle and upper-middle.

            But because those axes aren’t completely non-correlated, you tend to see a lot of conflating of them.

          • Peter says:

            I said: I was thinking, “no, by definition they’re separate”.

            You said: That’s either false or “not even wrong”.

            OK, I suppose what I take away from this is “working class” in British English means something different from “working class” in American English, similar to the way “pants” has separate meanings in the two languages. As far as I can tell, any Brit would look at questions about whether the working class is in the middle class as being as strange as asking how many short people were tall.

            (Except that it looks like 538ese is more similar to Peterese than it is to HeelBearCubese in regards to what “working class” refers to, so maybe the Atlantic isn’t the barrier I’m looking for.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The thing is, as I understand it, you guys actually had a real functioning class system that still has modern ramifications.

            Whereas America pretty much never had this. Not since 1776 for sure, and I really don’t think very much before. So any talking about “classes” in America is a little like talking about “kinds of sandwiches”, and then you start having conversations about whether hamburgers and hot dogs are both kinds of sandwiches and whether a hot dog is even a sandwich, and what about sausage sandwiches.

            Classes in America are just nomenclature we throw in the vague direction of a set of characteristics that seem to be be somewhat robustly correlated.

            So, if someone here says “working” class, you can’t really, really know what they mean until they get in more detail. They might be talking about the kind of work they do, how much money they make, whether they are solidly employed or have to hustle to put enough work together, etc.

            Is a 35 year old, married, father of two, coal miner who makes 35K per year “working class”. Yes, absolutely.

            Is a single, male, 30 year old adjunct professor of history who teaches at a fairly well regarded private college but only makes 25K per year with no benefits “working class”? You got me.

          • John Schilling says:

            Whereas America pretty much never had this. Not since 1776 for sure, and I really don’t think very much before.

            I disagree. I think we’ve had a very functional class system, from 1776 to present, and I think that e.g. Michael Church did a pretty good job of describing how it works.

            What we also have, is a 200+ year history of denying that we have a class system, and part of the way we do that is to modify the language so as to erase the real, functional distinction between “working class” and “middle class”. To the point where anyone who wants to describe how class actually works in America has to come up with ridiculous-sounding neologisms, often cribbed from someone else’s class system.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think there’s some truth to what you say, but the US class system does and always has had important differences from the UK system.

            In particularly, the US system is far more about separate and deliberately ordered status ladder than the classic British system. Over there new money always wanted to buy themselves a title. Here that sometimes happened, but over here sometimes new money said screw those guys I’ve got my own ladder and my own people and we are just better than them in every way.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            Are you saying that actual real titles in the UK didn’t have any meaning back in the day? My sense was that these titles functioned in much the same way as regulatory capture. In addition, they, you know, actually did have the titles, and those titles did give you, for instance, a guaranteed position in things like The House of Lords.

            Whereas in the US, any labels applied are ad-hoc and after the fact, therefore there isn’t any consistency to the definition. There U.S. didn’t have a de jure class system even if there has always been a de facto one. And even then, Carnegie can rise from dirt poor and untitled to something like “lord and master” without ever being anything other than “business owner”.

            In particularly, the US system is far more about separate and deliberately ordered status ladder

            I don’t think there is anything very deliberate about it at all, and the “order” is highly situationally dependent. How do mean this?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t recall saying anything about the British class system except that it existed. Within that system, actual titles of nobility had meaning, yes, but were only a small part of the class system. The vast majority of the population had no title, but were nonetheless very clearly divided into several distinct classes – with terms like “working class” and “gentry” as labels. And if “working class” had no statutory definition or status, you could still be punished for stepping out of its socially-defined bounds.

            In the United States, we have a small collection of very rich people that we’d entitle if we were into that thing, and a vast majority that are divided into several distinct classes, just like in Britain. Except that where Britain used to and sort of still does try to define those classes, we try to pretend that everyone who isn’t rich is or ought to be “Middle Class”.

            You’re paying too much attention to the tiny de jure class system that Britain has at the top and the US doesn’t. The important bit is the huge de facto class system that, in addition to putting the 0.1% in a class by themselves, divides the 99.9% in fundamental ways – in both countries, with real impact despite its lack of legal status in either country.

          • Anonymous says:

            HBC, I think I must have left out a word and ended up with a confusing sentence. My intention was the claim that the US has these separate status ladders that don’t have a clear and unambiguous ordering.

            @John Schilling
            If you go far enough back England did have more formally defined classes than just the nobility and everyone else. The emerging middle class (shopkeepers, artisans) got special privileges from either the king, in a few major cities, or their local lord.

            That was largely gone by the Victorian era though.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:

            Except that where Britain used to and sort of still does try to define those classes, we try to pretend that everyone who isn’t rich is or ought to be “Middle Class”.

            Well, that largely my point in response to @Peter, so perhaps we are in vehement agreement.

            If, as a Brit, you look at the terms people here are using about class and assume that those terms are well defined with an agreed upon meaning, you will be wrong. The terms we use are very muddy, and can refer to different things at different times.

  5. 30 minute interview about a documentary about Competitive Endurance Tickling— not brain safe, marginally not work safe, not actually a sport, and the movie with the whole story won’t be out till Sundance.

    In other words, this is so awful I felt I had to share it. Rationally speaking, the only reason to watch it is to find out a little more about the range of human weirdness.

    • Nita says:

      Sounds like a very shady porn business focused on a non-sexual kink.

      The most remarkable thing is probably that they seem to be able to trick guys into doing it because most people believe that porn necessarily involves genitals or nudity.

      Edit: This sample video (maybe NSFW?) even starts with a fascinating 15-minute ‘interview’ which shows exactly what buttons they’re trying to push.

  6. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/3288/do-cigarette-filters-do-anything

    The answer is no. There was no known way to make a filter which does what people want a cigarette filter to do, so manufacturers make filters which appear to work. This apparently has changed the sort of lung cancer smokers get.

    I’m not sure whether this should be filed under manufacturers are wicked, people are inconvenient if you want to improve their lives, and/or Robin Hansen is right.

    I never suspected that cigarette filters might be useless.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Plus, they’re a huge source of litter, whereas the butts of unfiltered cigarettes just come apart.

  7. merzbot says:

    Object-level politics time!

    Say there’s a third-party candidate you really like. You see the two mainstream candidates as one lesser evil and one greater evil. You live in a solidly red or solidly blue state where your vote for president is highly unlikely to change the actual outcome of the election. The obvious choice is to vote for the third-party candidate (who has no chance of actually winning) because a decent show of support for them would signal to the mainstream candidates, “hey, maybe you should adopt this dude’s ideas and get his voters!” Agree or disagree?

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’m inclined to agree.

      In fact, that’s pretty much the exazct situation I find myself in.

    • James Picone says:

      I would continue living in a country with a sensible voting system

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I really don’t understand why America won’t adopt something similar… other than it being in the interests of no one currently in power to do so. But it’s also not even an issue I hear anyone agitating for. We are too busy worried about bathroom rules.

        • Peter says:

          What you need is a two-and-a-bit party system where there’s a third party that gets some seats in Congress but never gets the presidency and just about occasionally gets into a short-lived coalition. Arrange things so the third party fills itself with a disproportionate number of eggheads, wonks, and so forth. They’ll start to dream of AV. Then arrange for an election to put them in a coalition, and they’ll ask for a referendum as part of a coalition deal – a referendum that will go down in history as a humiliating defeat – and one that the supporters had to pay a heavy price for.

          And that’s as far as things can get in the UK. For America… no chance, at least you won’t have the humiliation of the referendum going spectacularly the wrong way.

        • James Picone says:

          FairVote is a thing.

          Don’t think many countries have preferential. Some of the European minors, I think?

          In Australia it was brought in by the Liberal Party because they were much worse than the Labor Party at not having multiple people running in the same district and it was splitting their vote (party split then: Labor were communist workers and Catholics, Liberals were city-slicker businessmen. Party split now: Labor is centre-left, receiving significant preference flows from the environmentalist-and-left Greens (~7% of their total vote is preference flows from Greens IIRC), Liberals are centre-right, but in a coalition with the agrarian Nationals party that quite likes protectionism and subsidies). Maybe what you guys need is a strong third party splitting the vote? If only Trump ran as an independent…

          Of course England had that and then they managed to vote down fixing their voting system when they had a referendum on it.

          EDIT: This is the last two-and-a-half Australian elections in a nutshell, really.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think strong third party can work in a first-past-the-post system with direct election of the chief executive (i.e. a presidential system). There is too much incentive to build coalitions before the election.

            Add in direct, first-past-the-post elections for EVERY SINGLE OFFICE in the US, from dog-catcher to president, and you have something like no shot, especially in an age where essentially all media is universally available, making regional differences in voting coalitions harder and harder to pull off.

    • Peter says:

      Sounds good to me.

      I mean, either you’re going to be an idealist or a pragmatist. If you’re going to be an idealist, then you don’t vote tactically, which means not giving your vote to a Big Two candidate. If you’re going to be a pragmatist, then a “tactical” Big Two vote isn’t very tactical, it’s as much a “wasted vote” as a third-party vote, even more because you don’t get to budge the percentages.

      That said, I can see why it might seem odd. I mean, there’s a pragmatic norm that says you may as well vote for a Big Two candidate because doing otherwise is almost always a waste, and an idealistic norm that you get out and vote and don’t pay too much attention to the local conditions[1] are like, and I can see why both norms are out there and stable.

      [1] Note – this doesn’t apply in situations where there are viable third parties, like in the UK where the Lib Dems often pick up tactical votes in some constituencies, despite not being in the UK’s Big Two. There, you’ll often get a mailshot from the Lib Dems with a dodgy bar chart showing what the local race is like to help inform your tactical voting decision.

    • brad says:

      The only argument I’ve seen against voting for a third party candidate in that circumstance is an argument from an unsophisticated audience. The idea is that some group of relevant observers will note the margin of victory between the mainstream candidates but not factor in the third party votes. So, for example, if Hillary Clinton were to beat Donald Trump by 10% points in the popular vote she’d have more a mandate for pushing a liberal agenda though Congress than if she beat him by 5% and Jill Stein got 5%. I’m not persuaded.

  8. Phillip says:

    I once read a hilarious blogpost lampooning priming with puns like “prime mover” and “prime time.” Forgot to bookmark it. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

  9. BBA says:

    This morning I read an article in which Gawker CEO Nick Denton was speculating that a tech billionaire with a vendetta was funding the Hulk Hogan lawsuit and a number of other lawsuits against Gawker, since the plaintiffs were all “coincidentally” being represented by the same law firm. Gawker’s tech blog Valleywag – once home to the execrable Sam Biddle – was significantly nastier and more personal than the typical tech news source, Denton reasoned, while media figures in New York and Hollywood were more used to Gawker’s brand of tabloid journalism.

    This evening the billionaire was revealed to be Peter Thiel of PayPal and Palantir.

    I find it funny to get a rumor confirmed so quickly. As for the lawsuits, I’m rooting for injuries.

    • Anonymous says:

      So… this is all a vendetta against Sam Biddle? Sam “Bring Back Bullying” Biddle? Sam “I ruined a woman’s life over a joke” Biddle? Sam “My Father Won a Pulitzer Reprinting Government Lies” Biddle? Say it ain’t so Mr. Thiel! It brings tears to my colon.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Yeah, if the lawsuits were meritless I’d be a lot more sympathetic, but Gawker Media properties really do behave in an outrageous manner.

  10. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/nation-world/national/article79423117.html

    Myhrvold takes a look at the statistics about dangerous asteroids. It’s possible that things haven’t been thought through carefully enough.

  11. anonanonanon says:

    anon@anon.com is better.

    You get cool glasses.

  12. Ruprect says:

    I feel like the map-territory sequence is a bit metaphysically… shit?
    It seems to me to be saying “just because you believe something doesn’t make it true” – which is not, in my opinion, a valuable insight.
    The real metaphysical question is how far our sensory apparatus, and minds, determine the experience that we might have.
    Answer: entirely.
    You can then say that this experience must correspond to “reality” because of evolution… but… to make that argument you already have to assume the ‘reality’ of our perceptions.
    In practical terms you’ll get no argument from me if all map-territory is saying is: “certain experiences are imposed upon you, whatever you conscious mind might desire”, but does that really need to be said, and is it a sufficient explanation of the relationship between mind and reality?

    • LPSP says:

      If I remember the gist of map-territory, which is “the symbols and language we used to convey and describe is inevitably a simplification of the reality, and as we can’t reconstruct reality perfectly ever we must accept compromises and not lose sight of any one metaphor’s limits”, then I think the overall piece is fine. However, I may misremember; furthermore, several lesswrong sequences ARE poorly written regardless of the validity of their conclusion.

      I certainly know I cbf to check, so I’ll take your word for it.

  13. Glen Raphael says:

    Did the site rules for rejecting comments just change?

    I’m encountering an odd behavior. My standard modus operandi is to post a long comment, read it, and immediately edit to remove any typos I notice on rereading. The behavior I’m seeing now is that if I post my long comment it appears to show up correctly…but if I then make a small change during the edit window, the edit doesn’t take effect and on reloading the page the comment entirely disappears.

    Is there something new about a minimum time between edits? Or minimum edit size? Or maybe editing a comment with lots of italics or links to certain sites is bad, even if posting the comment itself is not?

    • Anonymous says:

      My understanding is that an edit applies all the same filters as posting to begin with, including the automated spam filter. It’s that one that has the least predictable behavior.

      • Chalid says:

        Tested and confirmed – an edit adding a banned word makes the comment vanish.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          Yeah, but that is NOT the problem here, in that if I copy the whole edited comment and submit the edit, the comment vanishes…but I can post what I’ve just copied and it sticks…as long as I don’t edit it again.

          The filter on edits is currently being STRICTER for me than the filter on posting to begin with.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          Seems like that poptech link (this one) is the problem. I can post it, but if I then edit the post it vanishes. Weird.

          • James Picone says:

            Guess: The spam filter is very vigilant about thinks with links in it, because basically all spam has to link somewhere. The spam filter for editing is more trigger-happy than the spam filter for posting, for some reason, or maybe editing a post that then ends up with a link is a marker for spammy-ness according to the spam filter (maybe it’s a common tactic to post a comment and then edit it?)

            Except that this comment system is bespoke, isn’t it? Dunno then.

          • Bakkot says:

            James, no, it’s the bog-standard wordpress commenting system with some exceedingly simple off-the-shelf plugins for editing and spam filtering and so on, with some client-side JavaScript for tracking new comments and etc.

  14. Question says:

    Are there fast food outlets that change prices in real time, depending on demand?

    During some hours, the queueues are much longer than during others. The customers pay for this in the form of time and discomfort. If there was a way to raise prices proportionately to demand in real-time, perhaps hourly or half-hourly and display them to the people who think about joining the queueue, the business could make more money and people would have to wait less.

    • Salem says:

      One of the things that chain restaurants are selling is certainty, of both quality and price. This is particularly the case with fast food restaurants, which have nationally or even globally set menus, prices, etc, and minimal discretion to the franchisees. If you’re in a town or country you don’t know, the local restaurant could sell you food of unknown quality and then try and screw you on the bill, but you know exactly what you are getting with (say) McDonalds.

      Your scheme would undermine one of their major selling points.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      What Salem said, but with a further caveat that the demand for food is probably less elastic than you are imagining. (Edit: elastic might not be the right word here, as the fast food restaurants definitely are competing on price). Most workers don’t have enough control over their schedule to decide when they go to lunch, so you won’t shift demand to off-peak hours, you will just lower overall demand.

      And for the dinner time rush, when demand is more elastic, you do tend to see things like happy hours and early bird specials.

    • brad says:

      There’s a fancy restaurant in Chicago that sells non refundable tickets to a prix fixe meal that vary based on demand. I forgot the name of it though.

      • LHN says:

        Next was the first, though owner Grant Achatz expanded the ticketing system to the preexisting Alinea and now has packaged the idea as “Tock”, which appears to have several dozen restaurants worldwide. https://www.tocktix.com/

        Achatz pushes it as a much better alternative to reservations, which it is– for the restaurant. In addition to price discrimination (potentially a net win for both sides in some cases, but probably a bigger one for the restaurant), it basically pushes the risk of altered plans, traditionally borne by the restaurant (to the owners’ great frustration) to the customer’s side.

        Because of that, I suspect that Achatz overestimates its potential. It’s clearly pure win for restaurants like his that are always sold out months in advance. But given the choice between buying a ticket to a more standard restaurant and making a reservation at its competitor, I think it’s a safe bet that most customers would choose the latter.

        It may be that the industry will iterate to nonrefundable tickets the way e.g., airlines did (pay list price for a flexible reservation, or get a discount to what most people consider the expected price with a prepaid ticket). But I’d guess that’s a harder sell in a market with so many more competitors– someone across the street can always offer the same discount without the lock-in.

  15. http://priceonomics.com/how-an-ad-campaign-made-lesbians-fall-in-love-with/

    The url is a bit misleading– lesbians already liked Subarus, and the company had the wit to capitalize on this.

    • The Nybbler says:

      That’s weird. I’ve owned 2 Subarus and never really associated them with lesbians (the Volkswagen Cabriolet is the car I’d most associated with lesbians, but that was a few model years before this started). Unfortunately the article doesn’t really go into why lesbians like Subarus in particular; I guess Subaru didn’t really care.

      I did notice a few of the double-entendres in the ad campaigns, but I figured it was just part of “corporate America’s embrace of the LGBT community as commodification”.

      • It’s only weird in the sense that it can be surprising that the world has more in it that you think.

        There were a number of other sorts of people who liked Subarus, and lesbians preferred to not be conspicuous, so unless you were hooked into a lesbian subculture (and possibly not all lesbian sub-cultures), how would you know?

      • brad says:

        I’m sure someone could come up with some plausible sounding ‘whys’ but the most likely explanation is just the random winds of fashion.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        While I do associate Subaru with lesbians, this association is entirely anime based.

  16. TheAncientGeek says:

    I now have a theory about what ‘TD’ stands fr.

    • DrBeat says:

      It stands for “Ten Desires”.

      Which was a disappointment, lacking the atmosphere and cast of Subterranean Animism, overall joy of Undefined Fantastic Object, or quirkiness of Double Dealing Character, but I guess some people just like their Taoists.

  17. Anon. says:

    Scott on Trump:

    I will lose a lot of money if Trump wins – not just because the economy will crash

    If Trump would have a significant negative effect on the economy, this would be priced into the stock market. The probability of Trump becoming president has increased massively over the last few months, and the stock market has been doing just fine. Your worries about economic catastrophe are inflated.

  18. TD says:

    What do you think about the stereotype of the weedy leftist?

    I posted about this paper: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1798773 a while back, and how the media reported it as “science says right wing men are stronger”, but what it actually shows is not that men who are against welfare (the definition of “right wing” used here) are more muscular, but that men who are more willing to assert self-interest with regards the issue are more muscular. This would mean that rich strong men are against welfare more often, but that poor strong men favor it more, and their weak counterparts are less willing to argue for their own class. Since there are more poor people than rich people, can we make the opposite conclusion: that left wingers are stronger (they comprise a coalition of weak rich men and strong poor men, as compared to the right’s strong rich men and weak poor men)?

    Any thoughts on this? The methodology seems to be using bicep size as a proxy for strength, and a social status survey as a proxy for wealth (why?). I also wonder why self-assertion doesn’t apply for group interests like nationalism? Going from this theory, strong men would be more third position/”far right” than leftist. Or maybe it breaks down because Marx was right and internationalism is in the self-interest of the proletariat. I think this might be a load of horseshit, but something interesting is being found here. The idea that politics could be regulated by ancestral factories like who you could take in a fight may have something to it, even if this study is poor.

    There’s another study I think is relevant (can’t find the actual study): http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/the-gop-has-a-feminine-face-finds-238867
    They found that the GOP is more feminine in face than the democrats. They focus on women, but note that GOP men are more feminine in face than democratic men. However, it says this:

    “In a finding that the researchers do not view as a particularly revealing, the faces of male Republicans, on average, scored as less masculine than the faces of their Democratic counterparts.

    “It may be unnecessary for Republican men to exhibit masculinity through their appearance,” Carpinella said. “Their policy advocacy and leadership roles may already confer these characteristics on them.””

    Is that because they found a low correlation for men only? Or it could be they are biased towards the stereotype of right wingers being more masculine, coming up with a work around when their data contradicts that conclusion (just like the media with the other study), so they think the male correlation is less significant.

    Is this all a load of dookie?

    • Agronomous says:

      Is this all a load of dookie?

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading SSC and its comment section, it’s that every minute of my life that I’ve spent even thinking about social science research has made me dumber.

      I’ve been thinking of adopting the motto “N > 1000 or fuck off.”

  19. onyomi says:

    Not too long ago someone whom I know to be smart (you guessed it, academic) commented on Facebook re. recent Chinese economic history: “they’ve forgotten what made them great (i. e.) Communism.” This is unfathomable to me, but since this person isn’t stupid, and because I think it relates to a much more commonly held view in other areas, I’m interested in steelmanning and/or poking holes in possible steelmans of this view.

    My steelman:

    Governments aren’t good at allocating resources in ways that satisfy consumer preferences, but they are good at making massive infrastructure projects and mobilization of resources to such ends as “we need to fight WWII” or “Pharoah Kefre needs a giant eternal resting place,” or “we must industrialize in five years to catch up to the West.” Though the tanks and pyramids and five year plans don’t satisfy consumer needs, they lay the framework for later prosperity by e. g. giving you the roads, the factories, etc. What’s more, by organizing people to work cooperatively on a very big project, certain structures and habits of organization get built up which may lead to later prosperity.

    My personal response to this would be Henry Ford had factories before WWII and the fact that car factories could be turned into tank and fighter jet factories was because they were already car factories. But interested to hear what others would say.

    • satanistgoblin says:

      Maybe some ideas shouldn’t be steelmanned, that one seems exactly backwards to me.

    • keranih says:

      A possible steelman:

      Greatness in a people is typified not by transitory things like military might or intellectual contritributions, but by their ability to construct lasting physical items. This holds both for what others think of those people and what they see in themselves. Actual large things like forts and interstates/autobahns and dams and Great Walls and pyramids *last*.

      Construction of large things requires both great expense and great outlays of manpower, which also serves to highlight the greatness of a people who can produce those things.

      In the case of China, I would argue that they would have had more people and money if they hadn’t had the bad luck to fall into communism, but that’s not provable in this universe.

      • William Newman says:

        “In the case of China, I would argue that they would have had more people and money if they hadn’t had the bad luck to fall into communism, but that’s not provable in this universe.”

        Not provable, but one might take a hint from having Taiwan nearby, and having the gradients across the border curiously reminiscent of gradients across German and Korean Communist/nonCommunist borders.

        • LHN says:

          Plus Hong Kong, Singapore, the general Chinese diaspora, and the results of the PRC’s own economic liberalization all pointing to the idea that Communism was a serious brake on an energetically productive underlying culture.

        • BBA says:

          Note that Taiwan and Singapore were authoritarian one-party states during their periods of rapid industrialization and growth, as was South Korea. From what I’ve seen, all involved state intervention in the economy to an extent most Americans would find horrifying. Of course modern China is closer to that model than the traditional liberal-democratic/laissez-faire we’re all used to, or to Maoism.

          The apparent lesson is that it’s important to have a competent dictator in charge.

    • alaska3636 says:

      Recent China or ancient China?

      Recently, China has benefited from an influx of foreign (capitalist) capital. They built factories, cut deals and plutocrats staffed them with cheap Chinese labor, they have a supply glut and the Great Leap Forward probably pushed a lot of people into the cities for survival.

      Communism really came into play just before WW2 and I can’t imagine that tumultuous time was a very pleasant place to be around.

      Ancient China benefited from the industrious and semi-libertarian principles of Confucianism, which may be considered an early application of those same principles that later made Christians so dang productive and peaceable.

      Communism=more successful is really an issue of economic and statistic illiteracy. Correlation with a stated government ideology and the the non-stated mix-governance policies that allowed foreign capital to finally settle in China is just a confused mess of Orientalism – i.e. those enviable Chinese just know how to make Communism really work.

    • SUT says:

      I think he means Collectivism, which is basically being anti-Millenial* in your relations to society as a laborer. And being anti-tribal, anti-nepotistic in your administration of state power (the anti-Saudi).

      *As in lazy hipster why don’t you shave that beard and get a real job Millenial.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      His point seems too under specified to steelman.

      • onyomi says:

        I tend to agree. I did not ask him to elaborate because I didn’t want to get into it on Facebook.

        Though to some extent I’m kind of just asking “how could an intelligent person possibly have this (from my perspective) obviously wrong and horrible opinion?” Wild speculation as to what he could mean encouraged.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Wild speculation?

          He thinks that top-down, one-party rule communism can harness the power of “unicorn farts and rainbows” …

          OK, that’s no good. Let’s start over.

          He thinks that China really was moving forward (basically) all together, and that the remarkable progress China has made over the 30 or 40 years would not have been possible without a nationally unified spirit of comradery. As more and more market reforms have been enacted, this spirit is being lost and they are left with “sops for the masses” rather than projects that actually lift all the boats of the nation.

    • cassander says:

      >but they are good at making massive infrastructure projects and mobilization of resources to such ends as “we need to fight WWII” or “Pharoah Kefre needs a giant eternal resting place,” or “we must industrialize in five years to catch up to the West.”

      They aren’t good at those things either, they’re just the only entities capable of commanding enough resources to pay for those things.

      >What’s more, by organizing people to work cooperatively on a very big project, certain structures and habits of organization get built up which may lead to later prosperity.

      why couldn’t you build the same culture with smaller, but still large organizations, like Ford?

  20. onyomi says:

    Question to the progressives:

    What do you say to this kind of story?

    Do you deny that this sort of thing happens, or is it simply worth it in order to have mandated paid family leave? At a time when unemployment and underemployment is high, does such a tradeoff seem advisable?

    • suntzuanime says:

      I think at a time when unemployment and underemployment is high, you want things like family leave to shift the employment to people who have nothing better to do with their lives. A shorter work week would also be nice.

      • The Nybbler says:

        For that to work for employers, you need to make it no more expensive to hire two people to do a job than to have one person work twice as long. Current regulations do just the opposite (and there’s a natural tendency that way also). You also need unpaid family leave, not paid.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It will “work” for employers if we tell it to work for them, that’s the whole point of the coercive power of the state. Where do you think our current work week’s length comes from?

          I do agree that we want the state to subsidize the paid family leave, though.

          • The Nybbler says:

            As long as the employers have the option to exit to somewhere else with policies more to their liking, the coercive power of the state has its limits.

            Even without that, it has its limits; if you make employing people too expensive, the businesses can simply shut down, and now your auto parts are made in China like everything else — or not made at all.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Well, yes, there’s a race to the bottom. Moloch is invincible and will devour everything you’ve ever cared about. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            Perhaps the correct response to a time when unemployment and underemployment is high is to seal the border and adopt a policy of radical juche self-reliance.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Moloch’s a pretty tough cookie, all right. But not really necessary to invoke him.

            Simply: For every benefit you provide, there’s a cost to someone to provide it. If hiring 2 people to do a job costs 1.5X as much as hiring 1, that extra value has to come from somewhere.

    • Teal says:

      I don’t know what progressive is supposed to mean. I’m going to vote for Clinton, is that sufficient?

      Are unemployment and underemployment high? U6 is around 10%. That’s not the lowest it’s ever been, but it’s down from a recent peak of around 17% six or seven years ago.

      That said, I’m not a big fan of these employer mandates. But you can’t do family leave directly because taxation and entitlement are dirty words. And the $15 minimum wage is a lot more popular than a negative income tax because along with an unhealthy obsession with real property the Republican and Democratic masses share a pernicious belief in the dignity of work.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The chief complaints/points there seem to be standard market forces at play: property values -> property taxes, and wages relative to cost of living. They seem to be somehow blaming the state for this.

      They are complaining about various other issues that are definitely the provenance of the governmeant, but it’s hard to know how seriously to take them. For the one thing, the very fact that their property values are so high is essentially proof that their argument does not hold any water.

      Finally, the following statement really stuck out:
      “Perhaps the final straw for us was our mind-boggling treatment by the Labor Department, which actually awarded unemployment compensation to an employee who was fired for threatening a supervisor with physical harm.”

      Now, I understand that this is their side of the story, but it appears they didn’t actually document said threat, because then it would firing for cause. If no documentation of cause is required, then layoffs will always be “for cause”. Put another way, unemployment insurance is a benefit in actuality being paid for out of the employees pocket, just as the employers side of social security is, so it’s the employees right to collect it if the employer can’t show cause.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      I agree with the people asking you to define progressives; it is too often abused a label to be worth very much. Aside from that, I’m also going to ask whatever worth it even means. If the country I live in develops a libertarian streak, cuts out all maternity funding, and a bunch of young women subsequently move to Belgium, is that worth it? One person moving away if policy X is enacted seems inconsequential, ten million doing so is very high, so my answer would partly depend on the amount of people following through with such plans.

      • onyomi says:

        Re. defining “progressive,” let’s make it simple: “usually votes for the Democrats,” which is the party more likely, when dominant in a state, to enact the sort of policy described in the link. (I’m not claiming everyone who votes for Democrats should self-define as “progressive,” just clarifying what I mean).

    • James Picone says:

      I think it’s worth it. It’s neither possible nor desirable to try and compete with the lowest-cost-of-doing-business, least-regulated jurisdiction most companies can move to, because in practice it’s a sweatshop in Southeast Asia.

      I think the alternative to these kinds of requirements or regulations isn’t a libertarian paradise where we get pretty much the same sort of benefits because wealth production etc. etc., I think it’s a cyberpunk dystopia.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        “I think the alternative to these kinds of requirements or regulations isn’t a libertarian paradise where we get pretty much the same sort of benefits because wealth production etc. etc., I think it’s a cyberpunk dystopia.”

        South Carolina is not a cyberpunk dystopia.

  21. alaska3636 says:

    Does anyone here think that their lives would change appreciably if tomorrow it was revealed that the US government had engaged in the false flags that precipitated their entrance into WW2, Vietnam and Iraq; that they concealed information regarding the effects of GMOs; that there was a plan all along to systematically reduce the world’s population and move towards one government; that there was no moon landing and they killed JFK?

    I get the feeling that nothing would change.

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t think much would change tomorrow, but I think it would have a big effect long term. Specifically, it would corrode faith in the narrative about their own government most Americans are taught and continue, to one degree or other, to believe.

      So people don’t trust politicians? Big deal, right? To some extent, yes. But I think most Americans have a feeling roughly like this: the system and the country are fundamentally sound and have done much more good than harm; the problem is just this crop of bums who won’t get along and get things done.

      I think it would be harder to tell that story.

      • alaska3636 says:

        Cultures seem to carry so much momentum in the narrative that it takes an enormous amount of friction to stop or derail. If information that the government was entirely in the interests of a few super-wealthy people, I still doubt that there would be rioting in the streets until the power was shut off.

        Just curious what people here think of disintegrating trust in society and what the possible turning points might be.

        • onyomi says:

          Conclusive evidence (i. e. evidence a majority of Americans would accept) of all those things would be a pretty big deal/apply a great deal of friction to the narrative’s momentum, I think.

    • Says says:

      “that there was a plan all along to systematically reduce the world’s population and move towards one government”

      Yeah, what are we gonna do if we don’t start making more babies? We could run out of humans any day now.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think the allusion is towards starting wars so people can die in them. He opens with wars and GMO, then what follows is “it was all for population control”.

        • Says says:

          Then the One Government has failed doubly: the population is increasing AND there is less war!

          • alaska3636 says:

            One government institutions continue to prosper in the guise of the UN, World Bank and IMF. These unelected institutions drive global policies, although their influence is still the greatest in less developed countries. As for there being fewer wars, I understand that Steve Pinker is convinced in a decline in violence, but tell that to the people involved in the number of on-going conflagrations in the undeveloped world carried out by a professional class of warriors and funded by tax-payers thousands of miles away.

            There also was no allusion. I was just curious if all the popular conspiracies were revealed as fact in one swoop, would that provide enough cultural momentum to foment real difference-making change.

          • Says says:

            Less war ≠ no war.

            Anyway, a complicating factor with your hypothetical is the part about things being revealed as fact. Facts can be argued about and interpreted.

            Also, who’s doing the revealing? What belief systems does the revealing threaten or contradict? What does one’s agreement with the revelation signal about one’s group identity?

            Can you name one thing that’s actually been “revealed as fact”? Even the “fact” that we’re all really here isn’t agreed upon.

            But I’m being pedantic; taking your hypothetical at face value and maximum abstraction (I haven’t heard of most of the conspiracies you mention), it actually is pretty interesting. Here’s how I’d rephrase it:

            What would happen if MOST people in the world had their beliefs disproven in such a way they could not deny?

            Of course their lives would change. They might not move or change careers, but they’d have new attitudes toward things, there’d be at least some small changes in their behavior, and there’d be a huge cumulative effect, especially over time.

            Movies like “Children of Men” attempt to capture the end result of this kind of phenomenon, I think.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Well, I’d probably start eating organic.

    • Aegeus says:

      I think the main thing is it would cause me to majorly recalibrate my opinion of the US government’s capabilities. Especially the moon landing one – you can make a good argument that it would be harder to fake the moon landings than to actually land on the moon, because video-editing technology was very primitive at the time, and making things behave like they’re in low gravity is really tricky to do.

      Likewise, if the US government was able to false-flag a six-carrier Japanese strike group at Pearl Harbor, the Navy is much, much bigger than I thought it was. And not only that, but they’re so good at secrecy that they can launch fleet-sized operations without anyone else in the military finding out.

      So I think I’d be very afraid. Impressed, but afraid.

      I’d also wonder why the President never used that awesome false-flag attack power to do something more useful. Like, if they had six carriers lying around for the attack on Pearl Harbor, how come those six carriers never joined in at, say, Midway? If our government routinely assassinates major politicians who are getting too close to the truth, why haven’t they sent the assassins after Assad?

      • John Schilling says:

        Like, if they had six carriers lying around for the attack on Pearl Harbor, how come those six carriers never joined in at, say, Midway?

        What six aircraft carriers? 183 planes based on a secret airstrip on Niihau. Obviously the Robinsons were in on it. And Howard Hughes provided the aircraft; what, you weren’t the least bit suspicious that America’s premier aircraft designer of the era never delivered a single aircraft to the acknowledged US war effort? Never trust reclusive billionaires when there’s a conspiracy afoot.

        And the whole thing almost leaked out when one of the Japanese pilots they hired went rogue and tried to blow the whistle, but he didn’t speak any English and government agents were able to dispose of him with a suitable cover story.

        So I think I’d be very afraid. Impressed, but afraid.

        Yeah. In particular, if they could fool me about the lunar landings, that would be life-alteringly terrifying. But, since they can’t, it’s nice fun to imagine the conspiracy theories anyway.

        • bean says:

          Well done, sir, particularly tying in the Niihau incident. That’s more plausible than most of the stuff the conspiracy loons come up with. I think the Vals and Kates were modified T-6s.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Is that a reference to Tora Tora Tora?

          • bean says:

            Yep. Although (and I really should have remembered this, because I saw one fly at Chino a couple weeks ago) the Vals would have actually been BT-13s, not T-6s.

      • That seems to actually be the underlying theme of many conspiracies theories: make the american government appear much more competent than they actually are; “911 was an inside job” paints the picture of a much more effective government than “911 was a bunch of Arabs with modelling knives that no one saw coming.”

        It’s been argued that unconsciously, these conspiracies are still motivated by deeply nationalistic feelings in spite of being superficiously hostile in outlook to US intitutions, since they’re always about making the US more in power and in control of the situation, and denying the achievements of its enemies.

        • John Schilling says:

          There was an amusing South Park episode with the premise that 9/11 conspiracy theories were themselves a government conspiracy, with the government wanting to be seen as more competent than it actually was and so paying “truther” agents-provocateur, deliberately fumbling its attempts to suppress them, etc.

  22. Odoacer says:

    Does anyone else dislike modern memoirs as a category? I know I’m being unfair, but I just can’t seem to get into a lot of them. For example, I started to read Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang, but I couldn’t finish it. There were some interesting bits about cultural differences, but it focused too much on his childhood and finding his identity. Ultimately I realized that I don’t care about most people’s lives; maybe it’s the misanthrope in me.

    Does anyone have any memoirs they can recommend?

    • Acedia says:

      I think it’s the tendency for modern memoirs to focus on the author’s inner struggle for self-actualization over chronicling actual events. Unless someone has a very interesting and unusual mind, a journal of their day to day thoughts and feelings is extremely dull.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        I would say the opposite, a book that laid out the thought processes of a famous person would be incredible, the problem is that most memoirists have a very strong incentive to file down the views that make them unique or interesting in the hopes of being palatable, the result being we get a 250 page college application essay.

        There are occasions where celebrities let their true selves leak out- but I suspect that a lot of those cases end up with them getting Scott Aaronsoned.

    • keranih says:

      The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa, by Josh Swiller. Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. Evocative of a place and an interesting perspective on personal challenges (also suspenseful!)

      My Friend the Mercenary by James Brabazon. About loyalty, and an interesting background and settings.

      My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner. Just stunning writing.

      A Streetcat Named Bob by James Bowen (okay, this was rec’ed by a friend, and I thought it was a bit twee, but Bob is cool even if the narrator is a bit of a knucklehead)

      What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami – beautiful writing, interesting novelist.

      Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood and its sequels by Alexandra Fuller. Stunning writing about difficult things. I really didn’t expect to…(wow, I’m short on words here, I absolutely do not love this book but it hit me hard.)

      (I didn’t think I’d read these many memoirs. I’m sure there are others I have forgotten.)

      • Troy says:

        If you enjoyed Fuller and Swiller, you would probably also enjoy Peter Godwin’s Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa.

  23. gwern says:

    I’ve written https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome-wide_complex_trait_analysis People here might be interested in the traits section.

  24. test says:

    this is a test

  25. Glen Raphael says:

    Megan McArdle today links to SSC in a post about Trump.

    • Mariani says:

      McArdle is great. Easily the best person on Bloomberg View

      • brad says:

        I can’t agree. Matt Levine is a national treasure. There’s no one else that can cut to the heart of a seemingly complicated financial story nearly as well.

        He isn’t really in the same business as McArdle, but they are both on Bloomberg View.

        • Chalid says:

          Completely agreed. Anyone with even a little interest in high finance should read Matt Levine every day.

        • BBA says:

          Levine is often insightful, sometimes infuriating, always worth reading.

          “Infuriating” to me maybe just because I work for a company that Levine has criticized often. I read him anyway – he’s that good.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Matt Levine is easily the best. Someone in r/slatestarcodex once complained about an article of his being linked, but when asked about it they didn’t mention why, so I was left guessing what issues they could have with his writing.

      • keranih says:

        Nitpick: I am a long time McArdle fan and think she writes well and clearly. She also shows the excellent taste associated with agreeing with me on many things. However, I know very little about her as a person, and even less about other columnists on BV. She could be a horrible person – or a decent one among stellar angels on BV’s roster – and I would not know any different.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think we can charitably interpret “best person” as “best person [writing]” which we can take to mean “best columnist”. In other words, I think it’s very easy to see we aren’t talking about McArdle’s personal morality, but rather the quality rating Mariani ascribes to McArdle’s writing.

          I personally think she is like nails on a chalkboard, but that’s just me. In this article, she builds her case off a straw/weak man and then goes on from there.

          Also, popular writers linking to SSC? There goes the neighborhood.

          • keranih says:

            …people have been linking to SSC from McMegan’s comments for years.

            In this article, she builds her case off a straw/weak man and then goes on from there.

            Hmmm. What’s the strawman that you see in her article, and how would you steelman it? (I’m assuming this would be a preferred tactic.)

          • HeelBearCub says:


            …people have been linking to SSC from McMegan’s comments for years.

            My first thought was that this was a knock-down argument for the idea that McArdle linking directly won’t have an issue, on the theory that people likely to comment here would be likely to comment there.

            But on second thought, I think that: reader of articles >> clicker of direct links >> reader of comments >> clicker of links in comments >> commenters on link they have clicked.

            “Drive-by” commenters are likely to be motivated by the proverbial “wild hair up there butt”, and so anything that drives more or less “random” traffic to the blog is likely to be bad for the comments section.

            I’m not actually all that married to this argument, but it seems like a reasonable model.

            What’s the strawman that you see in her article

            They seem to posit a Republican electorate that is, on the one hand, so malleable that the GOP leadership could create the emotional conditions for a Trump candidacy

            I have actually seen “anyone” on the left make this argument. (I’m putting anyone in quotes because, if I have seen it, it hasn’t left an impression on me, but I’m sure it’s quite possible that I have seen the argument.)

            The strong form of the argument (or perhaps it’s merely the common one, as I’m not sure it’s actually the strongest that could be made), is that, from Nixon’s Southern Strategy forward, the Republican Party has been courting a certain segment of the voting populace by identifying what they already fear, hate or are angry about and validating it. They aren’t creating these things from whole cloth, they are using them.

            “What do you do when the mob turns on you” is a pretty old trope, so it’s “surprising” that McArdle doesn’t identify this argument correctly.

          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –

            Maybe she’s extensively edited her column, but I found mention of “the Southern Strategy” in nearly the same words as yours right there in the article. She mentions several other issues as well, so maybe I’m completely misunderstanding your point.

            @ Mariani

            I think she has the best writing there

            Then be a dear, and say “she’s the best writer.” Not person.

            We have a (imo regrettable) tendency to equate competence & intelligence with human worth, esp ’round these parts with so many smart people leaking out of the woodwork. I think people should be more careful to separate out the person from the things they do.

            In this case, for instance, you can think me a boring scribbler who can’t make a succinct point to save her life, without commenting on my basic human value. And I can say that my sister is honest and hard working without putting any emphasis on the quality of her singing voice. (Which is crap, btw.)

            I do agree that McArdle writes very well, and is among the best of the lot at BV. I wish Stephen Carter got more readers.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Quote me something from either articles that is at odds with my “strongman” and comports with McArdle’s “weakman”? I’m not seeing it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            As I said she starts from a strawman, which I quoted.

            Note that she then strawmans the Southern Strategy argument as well! Here is the tell:
            I have a somewhat more nuanced view of the Southern strategy.
            and here is the strawman:
            but the idea that Republicans somehow invented this to cover up their attempt to reinvent the KKK as a major political party

            That isn’t a strongman description of representations of the Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy recognizes that the former party of the KKK was clearly no longer hospitable to the KKK, and therefore many former members of the Democratic coalition (not anywhere close to all of them former KKK members) were now disinclined to vote Democratic outside of their home state. Those voters found a home in the national Republican coalition.

            She then follows that up with either another weakman or something like an outright falsehood, depending on your perspective:
            some of it was simply because with … welfare benefits unequally racially distributed

            The bulk of welfare benefits have always gone to whites, because there are more poor whites than poor blacks. Blacks are poor at a greater rate, so they collect welfare at a greater rates. (Much of the same argument applies to crime rates, and add in selective prosecution to boot.)

            Now, I’m not saying that the average voter targeted in 1968 didn’t believe what McArdle says they believed. In fact it’s precisely because they believed it and were angered by it that people like Reagan made a point of referencing welfare queens and young bucks, anecdotal stories that may have been true but weren’t representative. But that is an argument about those voters, and not Democratic statements about what voters Trump is winning and why.

            And of course the strongman version of the argument isn’t talking only about Southern strategy voters, but rather that this is of a piece with other tactics and strategies used by Republicans in assembling their current coalition.

          • keranih says:

            Having said all that – if I had my choice, she wouldn’t have linked to SSC from a Trump post. Those posts seem to get a higher than usual number of cross talking people who are shouting at everyone.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I’m not actually all that married to this argument, but it seems like a reasonable model.

            For whatever it’s worth, this is not the first time McArdle herself has linked to a SSC post in a column.

          • cassander says:

            >The Southern Strategy recognizes that the former party of the KKK was clearly no longer hospitable to the KKK, and therefore many former members of the Democratic coalition (not anywhere close to all of them former KKK members) were now disinclined to vote Democratic outside of their home state. Those voters found a home in the national Republican coalition.

            The southern strategy you describe simply does not exist, and never existed. Those clansmen you talk of kept voting democratic until they died. the south remained solidly democratic until the mid 90s. for presidential elections, it went red, but that’s because the entire country went red, republicans winning an average of more than 40 states per election between 1968 and 1992. And during that time, they under performed in the south relative to the rest of the country.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It didn’t exist? OK, I rarely do this but, lol.

            Go tell Goldwater and Nixon’s ghosts.

            Seriously, you could try to say it wasn’t effective, which is also an extremely dubious proposition, but at least you could try and prove your point.

            But trying to claim that top Republicans did not attempt a Southern strategy is simply ignoring their own words.

            Kevin Phillips, Republican strategist in the New York Times in 1970:
            From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.

            Now, as to your point about southern state legislatures remaining Democratic, that is true. But the same voters who elected those Democratic legislatures were voting Republican for President, and for segregationist US Senators like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms who switched parties to the Republicans. Yes, there was also conservative and moderate Democratic Senators who were elected, but that is not a refutation of the general trend.

            There is a reason most of the Southern states haven’t voted D for president since 1964.

        • Mariani says:

          Yeah dude, like HeelBearCub said, I think she has the best writing there. I am not sure that she’s the saintliest person on that website.

  26. Mariani says:

    Thank god that reddit voting is not being added. That system engenders such a shitty commenting culture

  27. Edward Scizorhands says:

    A small bug with the “last posts read tracker” that was introduced with the “don’t lose your place when you make a comment”

    If you read all the ⁓new⁓ posts, commenting as you go, and then reload, you will miss the posts that appeared above your current reading place while you were commenting. Because when you reload at the end, you are reading posts since the last comment, not since the last flagpost you set down when you did the normal reload.

    I’m not sure the best solution to this. If you update “last read” only on a normal reload, and not when making a comment, you will end up double-reading some comments: those that appear below your current reading place when you made your comment. (A solution would be to highlight posts *between* time X and time Y, so you could preserve the flow until your reload, but this feels overly complicated for this edge case. Maybe it’s the right solution, though.)

    • This isn’t impeccably efficient, but go to the end of the new comments list. Back up until you’ve found the last thing you read with ~new. Everything below that is something you haven’t read. Unless you’re like me– I keep re-seeing things because I read a comment or two below the one that’s in my reading sequence.

      • Bakkot says:

        This is what I do, except that if I remember I note the last thing in the list before I start commenting, or at least the number of comments.

        (“The list” being the dropdown in the upper-right.)

        I do not have a better solution in mind. Highlighting ranges strikes me as introducing too much complexity.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I’m not following this supposed problem?

      When you comment, all of the comments that have been made since the last load are displayed, and you get in the sidebar list on the right all of the comments that have occurred since your last load in addition to the list that was their before. The new “mark” is therefore your last comment.

      If you read to the end of the new list, which will end with your last comment, and then reload, the new list will now consist of everything since your last comment. What’s wrong with that?

      • Anon says:

        The problem is that comments made in the time between you loading the page and beginning to read and the time you comment may appear above your location in the page, and therefore not be noticed as you continue to scroll down.

        If you read comments in chronological order, this is not a problem, but it is if you read them in page order, either by scrolling or C-f’ing `~ new ~`.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Ah, if that is the issue, then I understand.

          But then, I don’t think the problem was introduced with the changes, it just wasn’t ameliorated by it. I think the only real way to “solve” that would be with “has been read” flags, which would require some sort of database of posts and user registration. I guess one could do it client side, but that wouldn’t work across devices.

          This seems like it really is a logical problem, in that “above” and “below” aren’t unchanging points over time (the way “posted since time” is).

  28. Leo says:

    I’ve been thinking about the Archipelago idea a bit lately, and I think that while in the initial stages it may the conflict free utopia Scott imagines, it could go downhill fast. Because the world changes, the ideological groups that colonise each island are bound to schism sooner or later.
    The colony where monogamy and sexual purity are founding principles. What happens when scientists develop comprehensive cures (or better yet, vaccines) for HIV, syphilis, HPV etc and suddenly a sizable chunk of the population of Purity Island don’t see the point in monogamy anymore?
    Or think of the colony founded on religious scripture, where people live according to strict moral principles because they want to look good for the messiah who is supposed to be coming at some point. What happens when the messiah actually does come but only half of the colonists think he’s the real deal? What then?
    Some people are going to suggest that this is easily solved, that the colony divides in two and one group moves to a new island. But I don’t think it would be that simple. People who’ve been living on Prophesised Saviour Island for a few decades, or a few generations, have laid down roots. They have made economic investments that are tied to the place they live in. They are emotionally invested in the place. They’re not going to leave without a fight.

    An archipelago society may have been more worked in the past, when history was more slow moving, but the pace of technological change and consequent social change in the modern world would seem to guarantee regular schisming of Archipelago’s various groups.

    • Nita says:

      Since the whole thing runs on magic (are the islands even actual islands?), presumably splitting an island in two could be no more difficult than forking a free software project.

    • Deiseach says:

      What happens when scientists develop comprehensive cures (or better yet, vaccines) for HIV, syphilis, HPV etc and suddenly a sizable chunk of the population of Purity Island don’t see the point in monogamy anymore?

      I think the point is that with the guaranteed freedom of exit, if you are fed-up of living on Purity Island, you can leave and go to Wild’n’Crazy Swingers Island any time you want.

      Given that a magic fairy godmother god-like AI is running the entire show, there probably are already cures for HIV etc. Now, if you’re arguing that Purity Island deliberately eschews these in order to enforce monogamy (screw around and you’ll get a bunch of STIs), then that’s one thing – but again, nobody is stopping you (by the rules of the Archipelago, nobody can stop you) from leaving to go to one of the islands where everyone gets the STI vaccines at age three with the rest of their scheduled inoculations and you can bonk who and as you like to your little heart’s content.

      Also, if you want “I really like the community values of Purity Island but I wish we could fuck like Fuck Like Weasels Island”, you can gather a like-minded group and set up your Community Of Friendly Fuckers Island and nobody can try and prevent you and you’ll be helped to do so.

      I think if your values are so dissonant with those of Purity Island, you’ll probably be sufficiently unhappy that you will want to leave anyway, the way people in our own time and countries want to get out of suffocating small town/rural areas and hit the bright lights of the Big City for the art/LGBT/science/make millions in financial services not be stuck on the pig farm scenes.

      I understand the point about “What happens when it’s not two or three or fifty or even a thousand people deciding to leave Purity Island each year for Sodom and Gomorrahland, but suddenly a third or even half the population want to relax the monogamy rules and half don’t? Who gets to decide who stays or who leaves or do the founding principles get changed?”

      I think in that scenario, since it is so easy to set up new colonies and communities in the Archipelago, the rule would be that the original values group get to stay and the new values group get helped to set up their new desired colony. Forcing the original values group out seems unfair, letting things degenerate into civil war is bad (and I think the AI steps in to prevent these kinds of conflict), and letting the new values crowd vote in changes, once their share of the vote hits 51%, that get stuffed down the throats of the (now) substantial minority original values people is equally unfair.

      • Immortal Lurker says:

        I propose that magic fairy godmother replace references to strong AI, Omega, and Fnargl in thought experiments whenever possible.

        First, to comply with the community norms. Specifically, the norm that says if you don’t understand something, you should name it something which makes it clear that you don’t understand said thing.

        Second, it helpfully signals that the internal mechanics don’t matter. We don’t care how the magic fairy godmother enforces Archipelago, or how she enforces her absolute sovereignty over the world. We only care that she does.

        Third, it would be pretty funny to start humming bipity bopity boo while reading otherwise serious thought experiments. I might write something to do that for me, and then re-read parts of the sequences…

        • Leo says:

          I may have underestimated the role of AI/fairy godmothers in the workings of Archipelago. Though really, if you’ve got a superintelligence to cure all diseases, solve all crimes etc, who needs to move to a utopia?

    • Dahlen says:

      The colony where monogamy and sexual purity are founding principles. What happens when scientists develop comprehensive cures (or better yet, vaccines) for HIV, syphilis, HPV etc and suddenly a sizable chunk of the population of Purity Island don’t see the point in monogamy anymore?

      … I presume many naturally monogamous people owe that preference 0% to fear of STIs and 100% to a tendency to develop this weird monomaniacal obsession with one particular person with whom nobody can ever possibly compare in their totally subjective opinion. It’s just not the same kind of calculus involved as in the case of poly / potentially poly people. It would be good to keep that in mind.

      In any case, Scott’s Archipelago idea is not among the best construed of utopias for reasons that pop up before you even get to the consideration of progress.

      • Nornagest says:

        It’s just not the same kind of calculus involved as in the case of poly / potentially poly people.

        I always got the impression that what poly people call “new relationship energy” is pretty much identical to regular old infatuation.

      • Deiseach says:

        Dahlen, you don’t call monogamous people “weird monomaniacs” and I won’t call polygamous people “sex maniacs”, okay?

        I don’t care much either way how people structure their love lives as I am totally uninterested in any kind of a relationship, but I’m beginning to see a thread of smug self-congratulation creeping into poly people talking about how they’re ever so superior to the old style of relationships, what with having completely solved the problem of jealousy (to the point of stating “Jealousy? That’s so weird, I can’t understand it, why would anyone be jealous?”) and compersion and all the rest of it. You really are proposing that poly people have objective reasons for sexual/romantic attraction unlike the “totally subjective opinion” of monogamous people?

        Poly people just have that subjective opinion obsession about more people at one time, rather than serially.

        • Nornagest says:

          Every time I’ve seen the jealousy thing, I’ve interpreted it less as “my culture has solved the problem of jealousy” and more as “I, personally, do not feel jealousy strongly”. Poly culture definitely hasn’t solved jealousy (throw a rock in a poly forum and there’s a good chance you’ll hit a thread about it), but people’s propensity for that particular emotion does seem to vary quite a bit.

          I’ll give you smugness, but good luck finding a subculture that isn’t smug, one way or another. (“Fans are slans” comes to mind.)

        • Nita says:

          I think Dahlen was just emphatically pointing out that mono people do, in fact, exist, and they aren’t just poly people who happen to be very serious about avoiding STDs.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          From the author notes of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:

          Before anyone asks, yes, we’re polyamorous – I am in long-term relationships with three women, all of whom are involved with more than one guy. Apologies in advance to any 19th-century old fogies who are offended by our more advanced culture.

          • Nita says:

            But Eliezer is like that about literally everything. Cryonics, AI, interpretations of quantum physics…

          • Nornagest says:

            At this point, I usually assume that Eliezer’s opinion on anything is an outlier adn should not be counted.

          • Deiseach says:

            The “19th century vs advanced culture bit” is rather precious, given that there are wide varieties of polygamous* cultures all over the world and throughout history.

            So it’s not like this is the first time ever a bold, forward-thinking few breached sexual boundaries. Nothing new under the sun, and all that. As an 18th century fogey, call me when you’ve invented a new sin and then I’ll get offended. Though I suppose it is rather touching that some people do still think “Oooh, Great-Aunt Mabel would be so shocked!” Sweetie-pie, you have no idea what Great-Aunt Mabel may have gotten up to in her time; the idea that each new generation has that it was the first one to discover sex and other pleasant vices is a perennial feature of humanity.

            Oh man, I was going to link to an image of The Awakening Conscience to fit the level of 19th century offendedness Eliezer deems appropriate reaction on the part of we fuddy-duddies, and this line from the 1854 Athanaeum review of the picture sounds perfect as a comment on that excerpt from the author’s notes:

            The sentiment is of the Ernest Maltravers School: to those who have an affinity for it, painful; to those who have not, repulsive.

            And what may be the Ernest Maltravers School? Seemingly, it is a novel (or a novel and its sequel) by Edward Bulmer-Lytton, about a “a young man of wealth and education” who “loves many women: Valerie; Madame de Ventadour, whom he meets in Italy; Lady Florence Lascelles, to whom he becomes engaged, and from whom he is separated by the machinations of an enemy: and lastly, Evelyn Cameron, a beautiful English girl” until finally he ends up with the girl whose first lover in the sexual sense he was (the preface rather glosses over that, but I think we are meant to read between the lines: “He yields at last to his passion, and Alice’s first knowledge of love comes to her as a revelation of the meaning of honor and purity.”)

            From now on, I will think of Eliezer Yudkowsky-style polyamory boosting as “The Ernest Maltravers School” 🙂

            *Most polygynous, a few polyandrous. And a lot where nobody particularly thought they needed a special term for “I’m shagging a bird who’s shagging a bloke who’s shagging another bird”.

        • Dahlen says:

          What? I am strongly monogamous, and don’t feel very approving of this whole polygamy idea. You may call them however you may like 🙂

          I was talking about myself as well, you know, trying to put into words how I feel about the matter. I guess next time I’ll make it very obviously self-flattering and positive so that people don’t get ideas that I’m describing my outgroup.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      I thought it was built into the idea of Archipelago that you could join another one at 18 it whatever.

    • LPSP says:

      The solution is simple. We make archipelagi that can divided, merge and so one in a comparatively swift timeframe. Install mechanisms that mean pranksters and moments of madness can’t schism an island, and tada.

      I mean, DUH! It’s so simple! ;P

  29. Deiseach says:

    Seeing as Pentecost Sunday was 15th May, is this intentional or simply a happy accident? 🙂

    • Frog Do says:

      I think you mean 19 June, you Protestant you.

      • Deiseach says:

        No, Sunday week last!

        19th June is St Romuald – unless you mean the Orthodox who are celebrating later because you lot are still stuck on the Julian Calendar, you schismatics 🙂

        • Frog Do says:

          I was joking, and to continue on the same theme: “The Protestant Reformation, which occurred in 1054 when the Pope of Rome declared he had discovered new dogma outside the ecumenical councils…” and so on, and so forth.

          (I would apologize, but making fun of Catholics is in my blood, even if I have to use Orthodox calendars to do it!)

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, it’s 1054 all over again, is it? So how’s Caesaropapism working out for you again, then? Vladimir Putin as the only supreme head on Earth of the Church of Russia looking good?

            (I shouldn’t joke; the situation in Turkey isn’t at all funny and I am not at all happy about Hagia Sofia).

          • Frog Do says:

            The classic response is that Anglicans are just out-Roman-ing the Romans, what with the Investiture Controversy being y’all’s fault.

            But yeah, the Orthodox have outlasted Islam and Communism at their past heights, so I don’t think the gates of hell are going to prevail this time either.

          • Deiseach says:

            The Orthodox are the other lung of the Church, so they have valid sacraments and apostolic succession. The Anglicans are just taking the piss (yeah, Henry, tell me again how you’re entitled to a divorce/annulment because you’re an Emperor because England was an empire because – uh, reasons – back in the day and Emperors get to set the rules for their local churches, see what the Orthodox do with the Emperor calling Ecumenical Councils?)


    • Anonymous says:

      I recently saw on google calendar that Pentecost is the English translation of Sukkot. Sukkot is the Jewish harvest festival. I have no idea how a branch of Christianity (Pentecostalism) can be named after Sukkot, which as holidays go is a rather shallow one. I kind-of don’t want to look it up because I have to imagine it is going to be a disappointing explanation.

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, first I think Google Calendar is incorrect as the Feast of the Transfiguration is associated with Tabernacles/Booths – that is why Peter says “And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” – and looking it up, Wikipedia says the first Pentecost happened on the Feast of Shavuot (Weeks):

        The Christian Pentecost is based on the New Testament, where it refers to the occasion of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1–31. According to Luke 22:12–13, the Descent of the Holy Spirit took place while the Apostles were celebrating the Jewish day of Shavuot (Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. “Weeks”), the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai. Subsequently, the term Pentecost may refer to the Pentecost of the New Testament and Shavuot of the Old Testament. The Shavuot of the Old Testament is a significant event shared by Jewish and Christian traditions but is not commonly celebrated as a separate holiday by Christians.

        This makes more sense to me as the death of Christ is held to have occurred before Passover, so counting from Passover to the next major feast at the time would have linked up nicely. In fact, this was a matter of controversy in the early centuries of Christianity when it came to the vexed question of when to celebrate Easter: some churches celebrated it strictly according to the lunar calendar so it coincided with Passover while other places celebrated it a week after to make the distinction from the Jewish feast very clear, then throw in the different calendars and you had Easter being celebrated at different times all over the place (this was one of the things the 7th century Synod of Whitby had to decide, and the calendar problem is still with us in Western Catholic and Protestant vs Eastern Orthodox Christianity).

        That’s why the miracle of tongues was so striking – there were Jews from all over the civilised world of the time gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot:

        5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

        My favourite bit is the reaction of the crowd to the Apostles speaking in tongues: “But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine”, thus establishing the link between Christianity and alcoholism from the very start 🙂 Also Peter’s defence, which boils down to “We can’t be drunk, it’s only 9 in the morning ” – dear St Peter, just wait till the Irish get converted:

        For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day

        This is why I was so snarky about “original Jesus – pagan god?” It’s not the pagans we’re ripping off, it’s the Jews! Get it right!

        Secondly, the confusion may come from some American Protestant denominations doing a half-assed* job of adopting Jewish festivals to ‘get back to Biblical roots’. Because having ditched Romish superstition and practices for the pure plain Gospel, what else would you do to get your fix of ritual? said the sarcastic Catholic.

        Thirdly, Pentecostalism gets its name from the idea that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still alive and active in the present day church, including things like glossolalia as at the first day of Pentecost.

        *I use the term in a loving spirit of ecumenism and brotherhood, naturally.

        • Deiseach says:

          If anyone had ever said to me I’d be doing exegesis on a majority rationalist/atheist site, I’d have said “Even I don’t have that hard a neck” 😀

        • Anonymous says:

          Thanks for the detailed explanation but I unintentionally confused Sukkot for Shavuot in my original post. That’s the one Google Calendar translates as Pentecost.

          Shavuot would be the fiftith day of the omer if the omer lasted fifty days, and I guess that’s where the pente in Pentecost comes from. It’s a bit of a poetic translation but it’s not far off:

          (Hebrew: שבועות‎) … Shavuot, the plural of a word meaning “week” or “seven”, alludes to the fact that this festival happens exactly seven weeks (i.e. “a week of weeks”) after Passover.


          Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή [ἡμέρα], Pentēkostē [hēmera], “the fiftieth [day]”)

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, Pentecost is calculated as fifty days after Easter Sunday, counting inclusively, or seven weeks after Easter, just like Shavuot after Pesach.

            See, we steal all the good stuff! 🙂

        • Frog Do says:

          Further confusion occurs for the Orthodox if you stick with the old calendar (Julian) or the new calendar (Revised Julian) or the new new calendar (Gregorian) for your calculations. And I’m pretty sure individual parishes don’t have to follow the calendar of the primate.

          • Deiseach says:

            Liturgical counting – you have to love it.

            Same way Quadragesima Sunday was so-called because there are forty days from it until Good Friday. And then the preceding Sundays got called Quinquagesima, Sexagesima and Septuagesima (50, 60 and 70) even though we didn’t get decimal weeks until the French revolution 🙂

        • Julie K says:

          This is why I was so snarky about “original Jesus – pagan god?”

          My own peeve is when people say Jesus was a rabbi. That’s like saying Scott is a rabbi. “Rabbi” doesn’t just mean any Jewish man who teaches interesting philosophical ideas.

          It’s not the pagans we’re ripping off, it’s the Jews! Get it right!

          Oh no, cultural appropriation! Where do I lodge a complaint?

          • Anonymous says:

            My own peeve is when people say Jesus was a rabbi.

            But don’t the Apostles actually call him rabbi in the gospels? My recollection is that they do, and that they mean it in the older sense of “teacher”, rabbinical Judaism not having been properly invented yet (they’re still the Pharisees at that point, as I understand it).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It’s not a coincidence, nor is it a coincidence that “Pentecost” means “fiftieth day” and this is the fiftieth open thread.

      …see, this is what happens when I work on Unsong and SSC at the same time.

      • Deiseach says:

        So definitely O/T 50 and not 49.9999999? We are truly blessed!

        • Randy M says:

          Shhh! Don’t point out that while this is Open Thread 50, it is not the fiftieth open thread.

          • Aegeus says:

            If I’m going to forgive the authors of Kingdom Hearts for making Kingdom Hearts 3 the 10th game in the series (14th if you count the rereleases and compilations), I can forgive Scott for only being off by two in his numbering.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          OT49.999… = OT50

  30. “Christopher Henry Allen. Quit dawdling and get up here for your diploma!”, Tom challenged.

  31. SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

    It seems the consensus here is that a lot of research in the humanities, especially done from a post-modern perspective, is more or less worthless. While I agree, I suspect that there is a field which produces even more useless findings: mathematics.

    To be clear: I am not saying that past mathematical findings were useless. Neither am I saying that studying math in undergrad or grad school is not valuable training for the mind. However, I fear that the incredible intellectual power required to conduct math at a professional level might be better spent elsewhere.

    Take for example, the 4 color theorem or Fermat’s Last Theorem. Geniuses spent years of their life trying to find a rigourous proof for ideas that everybody already knew were correct. I sincerely wonder whether a proof probvides a lot of benetif to humanity.

    Whenever this topic is brought up, people defend mathematics by alluding to encryption and argue that you can never know whether some finding might be useful in the future. However, the effort:benefit ratio, at least from an outside perspective, seems very small.

    I basically contend that (1)contemporary mathmaticians are chasing “high-hanging fruit” in fringe areas, which makes useful findings even less likely, (2) if a particular bit of knowledge is indeed useful, quickly running a million example computations should be enough.

    Since I only took a few undergrad courses in math, I may be missing something very obvious. I understand there are a few mathematicians on SSC, and would love to hear other opinions.

    • Nita says:

      Geniuses spent years of their life trying to find a rigourous proof for ideas that everybody already knew were correct.

      Contradiction detected.

    • Anon. says:

      Even if it’s completely useless, at least the math stuff has the virtue of being true. That’s gotta count for something.

      • Anonymous says:

        Mathematical theorems are true in the sense that the results flow from their arbitrary premises. Don’t see any reason the same can’t be said for post-modern literary analysis.

        • zz says:

          Mathematical theorems are true in the sense that the results flow from their arbitrary premises.

          Not arbitrary. Thinking back to Apostol, there’s somewhat less than 50 premises (axiomatize area, axiomatize the real numbers, define the integral, etc), each of which was meticulously formulated to create calculus as efficiently as possible. This isn’t to say that it’s impossible to make axioms completely unrelated to something IRL, but, to my knowledge, this doesn’t happen. A cursory inspection of my Alma Mater’s math professors’ fields of interest confirms.

          • Anonymous says:

            to create calculus as efficiently as possible


          • zz says:


            Of course not. In related news, Bach wrote the Brandenburg Concertos to sound as good as possible, but they weren’t provably the best pieces of music.

            “Efficient” is a fuzzy word. I can think of a bunch of various ways to operationalize it—perhaps make a list of key results that comprise “calculus” and then try to get to them in as few axioms/theorems or words as possible—but Apostol was trying to do quite a few other things. Maybe adding a lemma makes things clearer, even though that means more theorems. Maybe he uses more words to give multiple ways of thinking about something or point out a common misconception. Maybe we define “efficient” to “insight per time studying” or “insight per unit mental work”, which just shifts the fuzziness to “insight”, “mental work”, and how much study it takes to put insight in your head.

            Perhaps “efficient” was a bad choice of words. “Best, according to Apostol’s judgement of what makes a description of calculus good” is closer to what I meant. In the end, the point is that Apostol (and, really, a bunch of mathematicians before him) spent a bunch of time creating axioms/definitions that describe intuitive objects rigorously and compactly (eg what it means for a function to be continuous, axiomatization of R). The premises that appear in Apostol’s book (and every other book of mathematics with which I am familiar) are incredibly nonarbitrary in the sense that they’re the product of extensive planning, each chosen for a particular reason.

          • Anonymous says:

            So if JRR Tolkien spent a great deal of time working on the consistency of the Quenya language, would you regard a statement about the grammar of that language to be true in the same sense that a mathematical theorem is true?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            “This isn’t to say that it’s impossible to make axioms completely unrelated to something IRL, but, to my knowledge, this doesn’t happen”

            Are you sure? Arguably, mathematicians spent centuries on axioms that don’t apply to RL, such as Euclidean geometry.

            It can also be argued that if all maths models reality, there s no need for physics as a separate discipline

            “intuitive objects ”

            So…is maths about Real Life, which I would take to be physical reality,or is it about Intuitive Objects….those claims look very different to me,

    • Frog Do says:

      I do math (both applied and pure), here’s a response.

      First, the humanities (and postmodernism) are not useless. The reasons they are perceived as useless also generally apply to any academic subject. Are you still confident in your answer?

      Second, treating brainpower like it’s a resource you can spend is not an accurate model of how that works. You have an implied psychological/mathematical model that isn’t justified.

      Third, even if brainpower was a resource you could spend, central planning is really hard.

      • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

        Regarding the second point: I did not mean to say that the brain power is exhausted, I was rather talking about the opportunity cost.

        But after reading all the responses I am pretty confident that I was wrong.

        • Frog Do says:

          Yes exactly, opportunity cost implies there is some sort of exchange you can make for “brainpower for math” to “brainpower for other things”, which I’m not convinced is true.

          Edit: Unless we’re talking education generally, and not research, which completely changes things.

          • smocc says:

            I think there are plenty of good examples of genius mathematicians who seemed to be constitutionally incapable of working on anything but math. Ramanujan springs to mind. These are outliers of course, but it lends credence to the notion that genius* isn’t transferable in general.

            * And that “genius” as a noun may be separate from “intelligence”.

    • Murphy says:

      In programming and algorithms weird graph theory math can suddenly turn out to be remarkably useful for networking.

      Ditto signal processing. Theorems about packing items in 3D space can suddenly turn out to be useful for packing data more densely down a data line.

      Boolean algebra is a nice old example, for about a century it was just mathematical musing with little practical use and then it turned out to be really useful for computing.

      A lot of stuff from information theory turned out to be very useful for handling DNA alignments and spotting important sequences linked to diseases. I find this one funny because when I got chatting to someone about it he assumed I was from a radio background because the same math got heavily used there.

      It’s like asking what use prospecting is. Geologists can spend years finding nothing of note that’s economic to extract…. and then someone finds a hundred billion dollars worth of minerals and suddenly the money invested in his salary and the salaries of 99 of his fellows is also covered.

      What do you mean by “(2) if a particular bit of knowledge is indeed useful, quickly running a million example computations should be enough.”?

      If you’re saying what you think you’re saying then I’m reminded of when one of my lecturers in a class on computational complexity mentioned the RSA Factoring Challenges.

      One of my classmates suggested “just setting a computer checking possibilities” and got what might have been the most sarcastic raised eyebrows I’ve ever seen from a lecturer.

      A lot of problems are computationally hard. Really really hard.

      A different professor I know from a biology background found working with CS professors utterly puzzling because they were so delighted when they proved that the problem they were collaborating on with him to tackle was NP-Hard.

      Of course the CS Prof knew that this meant avoiding massive amounts of wasted effort searching for a perfect solution that they weren’t going to find.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      You’re missing something very obvious. Contemporary mathematicians chase “high-hanging fruit” precisely because solving those problems requires development of new technology. There’s an entire book about the applications of modular curves (the new piece of technology that eventually settled Fermat’s Last Theorem) in cryptography. A less direct discovery stemming from the same research area is Elliptic Curve Cryptography. which is the main technology for digital signature generation and key exchange these days.

      A technique for proving the Riemann Hypothesis would lead to a breakthrough in the theory of zeta functions, which has direct applications to physics, and in general to chaotic systems – including e.g. migration dynamics.

      Graph algorithms (which are widely used in e.g. epidemiology) have benefited from research into the four-color theorem and related theorems. For example, a notion of tree decomposition invented for the Robertson–Seymour theorem led to an efficient algorithm for solving a large scale animal vaccination problem in the UK. The “particular bits of knowledge that are useful” is technology – and technology makes us able to quickly run a million example computations, not the other way around.

      • satanistgoblin says:

        We invent X to do Y and sometimes X does Z too, so doing Y is great.
        OK, why can’t we just invent X to do Z, which actually needs doing?

        • Publius Varinius says:

          Why was memory foam invented for airplanes when pressure sores and gangrene were long-standing issues in medicine?

          How come x-rays were discovered while testing Crookes tubes (which had no practical applications at that time) when finding bullets stuck inside the human body has been a medical problem since the invention of firearms?

          Most discoveries are best made in context. There is no easy way to realize that there is a kind of radiation that can pass through human flesh but not through metal, without building a cathode ray tube first.

          • satanistgoblin says:

            Well, that a priori is an argument for research in general. For example, aircrafts are directly useful.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @satanistgoblin: Ok. Do you see why investing in understanding the anomalous behavior of cathode ray tubes was wiser than investing the same amount of money in bullet-finding tools research in the 1850s; even though cathode ray tubes were little more than less luminous versions of gas discharge lamps and even though the medical applicatons themselves could not be predicted?

        • Frog Do says:

          This article is probably relevant:


      • Anonymous says:

        This argument reminds me of those that like to point to Tang and space blankets to justify significant percentages of GDP spent on manned space travel. Sure there were benefits, but at what opportunity cost?

        • Publius Varinius says:

          Well, that’s a bad example. Pure mathematics research requires very little funding. One can imagine fields where space race money could have been used for significantly more potential benefit. One simply cannot do that for pure mathematics.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Tang and Space Blankets?

          I think you mean microprocessors, digital communications, and light weight composites.

        • Anonymous says:

          As far as I’ve always heard, every dollar invested in the space race made $3-4 back for the US government in the form of patents and so on — this not considering the various second- and third-order improvements to the economy from those inventions existing. In pure cash terms, early NASA was one of the best investments the US ever made.

          • Anonymous says:

            You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.

          • Anonymous says:


            (Yes, that’s reasonable.)

          • hlynkacg says:

            How often do you GPS in your day to day life?

            At the very least, what do you estimate that microprocessors and digital communications were worth to the modern economy?

          • bean says:

            As far as I’ve always heard, every dollar invested in the space race made $3-4 back for the US government in the form of patents and so on
            That’s not something I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been paying fairly close attention. NASA didn’t and doesn’t do all that much R&D in-house. At the moment, NASA makes something like $1 billion and spends around 20 billion. Yes, Apollo-era patents have expired, but even then, most of the technology used was invented elsewhere, and stitched together by NASA.
            For instance, integrated circuits were invented by other people, and NASA was just the first really big customer for them. At one point, I think something like 2/3rds of the world’s ICs were in the Apollo guidance computer prototypes. Their role shouldn’t be minimized, but they didn’t invent the things.
            Likewise, GPS was developed for the military, not NASA, and is still operated by the Air Force.
            The best example of things developed specifically for the space program that have found their way into everyday life are various medical instruments. Although I’d guess that contractors did the development, and I have no clue who ended up with the patents.

          • John Schilling says:

            I heard it fairly frequently 20-30 years ago, doubted it but usually didn’t pay it much attention. When I did pay attention, it didn’t hold up to close examination and the smart commentators, pro- and anti-NASA, all said so. But for a while the pro-space commentators were saying it quietly and letting it go unchallenged as a propaganda meme aimed at the general public.

            If it has fizzled and died in more recent years, all the better.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I think that your first paragraph is very important, although it is not at all obvious. But I don’t think that anything has ever come out of the attempt to prove FLT. Elliptic curves were invented c1800 in to study elliptic integrals. Everything else was introduced to study elliptic curves.

        What is this book on modular curves and cryptography? Typing those terms into amazon and google books doesn’t turn it up.

        Information theory came directly out of war applications: cryptography and firing control systems.

        • Publius Varinius says:

          The general proof of the modularity theorem came straight from Wiles’ partial result which settled Fermat’s Last Theorem. Galois Cohomology and the modularity theorem both feature in pairing-based methods.

          Embarrassingly, I can’t actually find a book that matches my description, although I definitely remember seeing one. Serves me right, recommending books I haven’t actually read, now I look like an idiot. Anyway, for papers see e.g. this and this too (from the same Frey that first noticed the relation between elliptic curves and Fermat’s last theorem)

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s worth nothing for those that are unaware, while pairing based schemes have some very interesting properties they aren’t widely used currently (used at all?).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Thanks! I’ve seen a lot of false claims about the use fancy math in crypto and those are much better examples.

      • ulucs says:

        I 100% support what you’re saying. Mathematics is a field numerous named lemmas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lemmas). All of those lemmas were just simple stepping stones while trying to prove a theorem; but they have also been found to have applications in many different ways.

        In mathematics, anything may pop up anytime in the most unexpected places. You may be trying to prove something regarding the Stability of Differential Equations; but sometimes it turns out that knowing some Algebraic Topology paves a much better way to do it. In a field full of surprises, I don’t think anything can be correctly labeled as “useless”.

    • Aegeus says:

      One major application of math where you need exotic high-hanging fruit, and running through a few million examples isn’t good enough: Cryptography.

      Encryption relies on very complicated mathematics, and if you just run a few million examples and say “eh, good enough,” you’ll get into trouble when the NSA runs a few billion examples and finds something you didn’t.

      • zz says:


        Now, this proposition was conjectured to be true by Euler in 1769. (Euler’s a big honcho in math. You know, we still talk about him a lot, even though he’s been dead for centuries.)

        It was unsolved for over two centuries. Mathematicians worked on it. It was finally disproved by a very clever fellow named Noam Elkies 218 years later, after it was conjectured. (He works at that other school down the street.)

        And he came up with this: a = 95,800; b = 217,519; c = 414,560—you don’t have to remember those numbers, we’re not going to quiz you—d = 422,481.

        Let me give you another one. 313(x^3 + y^3) = z^3 has no positive integer solutions. This turns out to be false, but the shortest, smallest counterexample has over a thousand digits.

        Now, of course, some of you are probably thinking, “Why on earth would I care if 313(x^3 + y^3) = z^3 has a solution?” Now, that probably won’t be the last time that thought occurs to you during the term. And why on earth would anyone even try to find a solution to that? You know, mathematicians are sort of a rare breed.

        Now, actually, in this case, that’s really important in practice, okay? This equation is an example of what you call an elliptic curve and you study these, if you’re really a specialist, in mathematics in graduate school—or if you work for certain three-letter agencies—because it’s central to the understanding of how to factor large integers… factoring is how to break cryptosystems like RSA.

    • eh says:

      The 4-colour problem is reducible to SAT, and seems easier for normal non-savant human beings to intuitively reason about than many other NP-complete problems, which makes a proof of the 4-colour theorem at least a little bit useful.

      RE cost/benefit, the “harder” a field is, the more timeless it seems to be. Lots of sociology goes away when a society changes, chunks of biology become useless as species go extinct or alleles disappear, parts of chemistry become less relevant as we move to newer techniques, and so on. Maybe effort in maths for a small but permanent gain in human knowledge is better than effort in biology that turns out to be wasted after the Cavendish banana finally goes extinct.

    • Virbie says:

      > (2) if a particular bit of knowledge is indeed useful, quickly running a million example computations should be enough.

      We’re talking about something pretty broad here, but I’ll give you a narrow example that may perhaps be illustrative of why things are a lot harder computationally than you seem to be assuming. In cryptography and computer security in general, usually even “almost-there” solutions can be dangerous, since small correlations/leakages of information can be expanded by an adversary with enough know-how into much more significant findings. During my cryptography classes, I remember on multiple occasions the professor explaining away such holes with things like “The probability of this happening is provably less than 1/[number of atoms in the universe]”. That is to say, the kind of bounds we were using for “pretty much airtight” weren’t of the sort that get trivialized by computers that run twice or 10x or 100x as fast. The kind of problems being worked on simply aren’t amenable in general to brute-force, or they wouldn’t be worked on.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Von Neumann agreed with you.

      The 4 color theorem is a bad example because that is part of graph theory, which has lots of applications. Many people simply classify it as applied math.

      One of the standard examples of the application of pure math to graph theory and thence to applications is Margulis’s use of Kazhdan’s Property ((T)) to create explicit expander graphs. But this application occurred because the Soviet Union refused to let its best mathematicians be professors and sent them to applied think tanks.

    • EyeballFrog says:

      “It seems the consensus here is that a lot of research in the humanities, especially done from a post-modern perspective, is more or less worthless. While I agree, I suspect that there is a field which produces even more useless findings: mathematics.”

      There’s a difference here between worthless and useless. The humanities research that is dismissed as worthless is done so because it does not create knowledge. That is, the research is flawed, biased, or even just invented whole cloth. Mathematics being dismissed as useless is done so because it does not have a practical application. It *does* increase our knowledge, but does not increase our capability. This is very different from creating no knowledge at all.

      In practice, it has been shown time and again that the ability to make use of knowledge is not always synchronized with its creation. Thus, we formulate the knowledge now so that when an application does come along, the foundation is already laid.

    • Tibor says:

      I’ll try to answer:

      1. There are fields such as the set theory or very general things in algebra which really do not have a direct application and probably never will. They do have applications within mathematics, however. And then you can use that mathematics to show things which are actually quite useful.

      2. The problem with sampling something one million times is that sometimes you cannot sample. Some things in maths are quite abstract and cannot be done this way. Even when you can sample, analytical results are often better because they tell you things right away. Instead of sampling whatever you are interested in 1 million or so times each time to see how it behaves, if you can tell something about your model analytically, you can just check that the conditions of your theorem hold for what you are interested in. Also, with some things 1 million might be too little and with some things 1 million might take ages even with modern supercomputers.

      3. This is probably the most important point – the vast majority of actual mathematicians are not working on famous stuff like the Riemann’s hypothesis. For example, I (although I am just a lowly PhD student) am working on stuff which, although it strictly mathematical, has relatively obvious motivations and possible applications in genetics or population biology. Most mathematicians also do not chase high-hanging fruit, at least not right away, the normal modus operandi is always to start with something simple and then to expand. Again, part of our work started as a particular model with a simple biological interpretation and is now expanding to much more abstract questions about a more general class of similar models. Some people do try to tackle the really hard problems which nobody has managed to solve for decades, but again, they usually do not go about that directly and even if they do not succeed, they end up coming up with a lot of theory which is useful elsewhere.

      4. The previous point also addresses your concern with people proving things “everyone knows to be true”. It might be true that some things can be for all practical purposes assumed true even though they have not yet been proved rigorously. So what is the point of proving it? One weaker argument is that you can be sure it indeed holds (and when, so that you do not miss any necessary conditions) and so you can make further results which stand and fall on that theorem of yours. Another, much stronger, argument is that a good proof tells you not just that something is true but also gives you an insight into why it is true. Therefore, you generally prefer constructive proofs to existential proofs and both are generally better than proofs by contradiction (which usually give the least insight into why things are the way they are, although they still do give you some). That knowledge can be more useful than the theorem itself. Also, it is not uncommon to develop methods while proving something which can be very useful for proving other things as well. Usually good proof methods work for more than just one particular problem and again can be worth a lot more than the theorem itself.

      Nevertheless, of course, there will probably be some maths which won’t ever be used for something practical, even indirectly. The more abstract you go, the likelier it is (but a lot of that abstract stuff does find its applications in the less abstract stuff and further down the foodchain towards a “practical” application…and at this level of abstraction it is often hard to tell what will eventually find its use). But since most maths is built in the way I described above (motivated by something more applied and starting from a simple model – and also creating useful proof methods as a byproduct), there won’t be as much of such useless maths as you might think.

    • Agronomous says:

      Mathematicians are always trying to prove something amazing, beautiful, and useless. They frequently succeed at the first two; sometimes it can seem like they’ve succeeded at the third.

      Then some bastard physicist or engineer comes along years or even decades later and finds a use for the amazing, beautiful theorem. The example that springs to my mind is Quadratic Reciprocity (eventually used in acoustics, I think), but that might just be because I have a t-shirt with a proof of QR on it.

      With regard to your first paragraph: humanities departments are the only way yet discovered to take a certain class of smart people who might otherwise be dangerous and keep them safely away from society at large. In contrast to most other such institutions, people are expending enormous amounts of time and energy trying to get into them—to the point where the cloud of wanna-be adjuncts surrounding the main institution serves as a kind of short-term holding cell.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I’m trying to form a more informed opinion on climate change and encountering some problems. My biggest issue is that both sides of the debate look shady as fuck.

    Climate deniers are clearly funded by corporations with vested interests and should obviously not be trusted. On the other hand Mann and his cohorts hide data they deem “confusing” (not my ideal way of making science) and publish questionable articles such as [0] (we conclude that the current temperature is unprecedented by excluding data that contradicts our conclusion because if it contradicts our conclusions its probably wrong).

    Let’s take for example the proxy divergence problem. Climate change deniers say that almost all proxies are diverging and that proves climate change is a sham.

    Climate scientists have two main retorts two this: (1) it’s not all of them it’s just tree-rings and not even all tree ring proxies (2) it’s because the current rise in temperatures is unprecedented causing proxies to fail.

    (2) is plausible but also tragically circular, so it’s not very interesting. Regarding (1), in principle it should be easy to prove or disprove this assertion but in practice I’m finding it very difficult. Other proxies seem to show signs of divergence however it’s hard to tell since I’m reduced to eyeballing graphs in scanned pdf articles that don’t have great image resolution to begin with and are often spaghetti graphs where lines overlap and it’s hard to tell if two lines are overlapping or one of the lines just ended.

    What I’m wondering is: is there a dataset of proxy data, in numerical form, that I can use to definitively prove or disprove the existence of proxy divergence?

    [0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11583829

    • Anonymous says:

      both sides

      I would suggest distancing yourself from this dichotomy. There are more ways to look at the issue without falling into one of the highly politicized camps. (I happen to think that both mainstream are wrong.) The politicization of the whole issue is essentially where the problem is – people having vested interests in proposing their version of the story, and damn any evidence otherwise.

    • James Picone says:

      Find a trained scientist or scientists you trust in a relevant field and ask them?

      I assume you’ve already poked around this, but on first blush it looks like what you’re looking for re: proxy data.

      I’m not sure there’s really a shortcut other than 1) determining who you’re willing to outsource trust to and 2) developing some understanding of the relevant science and doing a lot of work to find useful datasets. Everything else is just adjusting the balance between the two. 1 has the risk of outsourcing trust to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing (and how do you determine who’s trustworthy if you don’t have some understanding yourself?). 2 has the risk of Dunning-Kruger.

    • Urstoff says:

      I tend to just accept the consensus but lower my confidence in it simply because I don’t trust complicated models to be very accurate at capturing complex causal systems (ditto for macroeconomics).

      What I tend to find more disappointing is policy discussions where the consensus is assumed. It seems like scientists throw their brains right out of the window as soon as politics becomes involved (well, everyone does that; but being a scientist gives one a pseudo-authority).

    • Not that I can speak much to the science part, but I find it helpful to remember that there are only two sides in mainstream opinion. In actuality there are many sides of totally honest people that vary on axes of “environmental damage predicted”, “amount caused by humans vs. other factors”, “amount preventable vs. cost”, and “private vs. governmental solution viability”.

      Paging David Friedman?

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I think you might have to be more specific: Which proxies do you care about? Also, where are you getting your information about what “Climate change deniers say”?

      There are lots of terrible proxies which are terrible in different ways…yet the fact that they’re terrible might mean less than you think it does.

      One reason you’re unlikely to find what you say you’re looking for is selective publishing. When you see people analyze a spaghetti graph by zooming in on a picture and reverse-engineering the pixels, that usually happens because the source data has never been published. Proxy data collected by researchers sometimes doesn’t get published until the researcher is on their deathbed. Or until so much time has passed that the debate has “moved on”.

      One typical explanation offered is that controlling this data is valuable to the researchers. Lonnie Thompson doesn’t want to archive those ice cores (nor Gordon Jacoby that tree ring data and so on) so long as there are still publishable papers to be written based on this stuff. So until journals mandate data archiving as a condition of publication and those requirements have teeth, the problem will continue that for most current papers that reason based on proxy data you kind of have to take their word for it that the data is what they say it is.

      The most nefarious explanation offered is that people don’t archive because their data or how they process it is semi-fraudulent. For instance, if you are a True Believer in global warming and you go core some trees, you might be more likely to archive the resulting data and write papers based on it if your preliminary results suggest global warming is worse than we thought and more likely to leave that data sitting in a drawer unused if they suggest global warming is not that bad.

      A third explanation is that proper archiving is hard to do well and some researchers just don’t want to be bothered doing it. There’s a huge possible downside and no particular upside.

      With regard to the divergence problem in particular, I don’t believe it’s contentious that there is divergence in (most of) the tree ring records. What debate remains is over what the fact of that divergence means, not so much whether it exists at all.

    • anon says:

      While it’s kind of pessimistic, I think the real answer when it comes to paleoclimatology is “the data do not suffice to draw any strong conclusions”. Reading this special issue of the Annals of Applied Statistics is probably a good place to start to get an understanding of just how crappy the data is. The supplementary material — in a nice contrast to much of the CAGW literature in climate science journals — contains full code and data, so it will also help you with your project of studying proxy divergence for yourself.

      ETA: Of course “deniers” don’t necessarily conclude from proxy divergence that climate change is a sham — simply that it is not demonstrated convincingly by the proxy record.

  33. Forlorn Hopes says:

    So there’s been a lot of Hugo / puppy discussion recently. But as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been any discussion of whether the puppies were right to say that the Hugos or Worldcon had a left wing bias that was politicizing the Hugo awards.

    What does everyone think?

    As a complete outside to Worldcon that just likes to read sci-fi / fantasy books there’s two things that make me think the Sad Puppies have a point. The first is the popularity of Requires Hate and the second is the enormous overreaction to the Hugo nominations in 2015.

    • Richard says:

      This says pretty much everything about the puppies that I wish I had said and puts it better than I could have.

      • Forlorn Hopes says:

        You know, I never thought of that before but it’s right.

        With blind first past the post voting for possible candidates it would inevitably end up with either a political party dominating the vote or something like Doctor Who getting multiple nominations every year.

        Thanks for the link.

        • Nornagest says:

          I haven’t been following the Puppy fight, but it seems obvious even on casual inspection that the voting process has big problems around the edges. Girl Genius for example has three Hugos in the comic category, and would have more if the Foglios hadn’t voluntarily dropped out, which I always thought was kind of a joke. It’s a decent series but it’s not that good.

          • LHN says:

            I’d say that independent of politics, the non-written categories have never really jelled all that well. Film, TV, and comics are less central to the electorate, and more prone to domination by enthusiastic fannish communities even prior to the late unpleasantness. Short Dramatic Work was threatening to become “best Doctor Who episode” for several years. (Maybe two or three of the five best SF TV shows every year for half a decade really were Doctor Who episodes, but there must be something there I just don’t see.)

            But by the same token, those media have never really taken the Hugo all that seriously. The only time I recall a movie caring it won a Hugo Award was when the “Galaxy Quest” writers were clearly thrilled back in 2000. Other than that, they generally don’t even bother to send a representative.

    • For what it’s worth, Requires Hate didn’t seem exactly popular, even among SJWs– she got more respect than I think she deserved, but it was “some good ideas (usually not specified) but too nasty”. RH was never central the way Vox Day was (is?) among the puppies.

      My current take is that the puppies had a point, but less of one than they think– that is, I’m willing to believe that they weren’t seeing the kind of fiction they want represented in the Hugos. I’m much less certain that what they like is of very high quality.

      Or it’s possible that the field has moved on and my taste isn’t well represented. I was just at a book discussion group about Have Spacesuit, Will Travel— there were people of various ages, but I was the only one who really liked the book.

      • Forlorn Hopes says:

        I think bringing up Vox Day in response to Requires Hate is a “two wrongs don’t make a right” situation.

        I can certainly grant that Vox is more central to the Rabid (but not the Sads) but that doesn’t help answer the question of whether worldcon tribe had a left-wing bias; since Vox clearly isn’t in worldcon tribe.

        I’m willing to believe that they weren’t seeing the kind of fiction they want represented in the Hugos. I’m much less certain that what they like is of very high quality.

        One question: Is the stuff that actually won the Hugo’s for preceding pre-puppy years any better?

        Jim Butcher seems to come up a lot as the example of what Puppies like to see, he’s on both sad and rabid slates and I’d agree that he’s not especially great. I grew board of the Dresden Files a few years back.

        But the Rivers of London series hit similar notes to Dresden Files, while being, IMO, all round better written. Have you read them? Broken Homes came out in the same year as Redshirts and I can’t see how Redshirts deserves to beat it.

        • My point was that Requires Hate was only moderately popular, but perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned Vox Day.

          Have puppies mentioned when they thought the Hugos started going downhill?

          I’ve read the first four Aaronovitch books, and I like them. I’m not sure whether puppies would count them as too SJW.

          I took a look at the novels from 2000 till now, and I’ve seen a good bit that I liked and it doesn’t look like an SJW grip to me. On the other hand, the novels have the widest readership.

          • Richard says:

            1994 holds some of my all time favourites

            1995 was the last year I actively went out and bought all the works

            2000 was the year I started deliberately avoiding buying nominees

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            My point was that Requires Hate was only moderately popular

            Sure. But given that this is RH, even moderately popular is very damning.

            I’ve read the first four Aaronovitch books, and I like them. I’m not sure whether puppies would count them as too SJW.

            The fifth one wasn’t as good IMO, still good, but not as good. I’m excited for #6 though. It’s provisionally titled The Hanging Tree and I’m a big Lady Ty fan.

            I wouldn’t count Rivers of London as SJW. It’s hard to say what an SJW book would be, because to me SJW is about tactics/attitude more than anything else. A book by an SJW author is probably the definition I would use.

            By this standard Redshirts is SJW, even though it’s not particularly political. (SJWs not practicing what they preach is practically a cliché now)

            Meanwhile an overtly political book wouldn’t qualify if the author was charitable to the outgroup and willing to debate beyond echochambers.

            I think when puppies say SJW in the context of the Hugos; we’re thinking more “RH was moderately popular” or “Sclazi is a SJW and he seems pretty central” than anything about the contents of the book.

            At least as a vaguely sad-puppy supporter that’s my view.

          • Richard, what did you see about the Hugos in 2000? I’m seeing a pretty distinguished set of nominees, and not especially left wing.

            I’m inclined to agree with you about RH as a negative reflection on SJW– I see her as a logical extrapolation of SJW, which I consider to be an elaborate self-sealing system of emotional abuse which nonetheless points out some real problems. Last I read, Laura Mixon, the SJW who took RH down, considers RH to be a betrayer of SJW ideals.

            In any case, I don’t think RH was a major player about the Hugos (except for being the subject of Mixon’s award winning essay), but I could have missed something.

            Forlorn Hopes, you’re making it all sound pretty tribal, but then I suppose it is. Judging SJWness by the author rather than the specific work might be missing the point of voting for specific works.

            As for my alliances, I find more people and fiction to like on the SJW side, even though I’m horrified by a good bit of the ideology. Puppy material tends to bore me, and I find that the ideology doesn’t work. It’s all very well to say that fiction should be entertaining, but I tend to not be entertained by puppy fiction.

            I will also note that Ken Burnside (double puppy nominee) has done the most I’ve seen to try to mend fences between puppies and anti-puppies, and the Sad Puppies did recommendations rather than a slate. Neither has gotten much praise for their efforts from the anti-puppy side, though Abi Sutherland (a moderator at Making Light) had good things to say about the improvements from the Sads.

            I’m standing with Treebeard– “I am on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side.”

          • Richard says:

            @ Nancy

            First, I am not really very caught up in the whole puppy debacle. I am pretty much the quintessential representative of the link I posted above, but I’m not fussed about awards or slates or whatnot; since Amazon came along, I’m not depending on what the bookstores will stock and I can get my fix in regardless of awards 🙂

            2000 was the first year I steared clear. I should possibly have stated that as: “1999 was the year that turned me off” as that was a truly horrendous year, especially for novels. On the other hand, the only novel I can get behind from 2000 is Greg Bear – Darwin’s Radio. (And of course I bought Rowling, but that was to read to the kids – 8 and 4 at the time….)

            Stephenson makes me really struggle to keep suspension of disbelief going.

            Then again, my favourites are the mars trilogy from Kim Stanley Robinson and things from Niven and Pournelle, i.e: emphasis on the sci bit of sci-fi. I find most modern Hugo material to be drama thinly wrapped in pseudoscience.

            In fact, lately I’ve found more enjoyment on the fantasy side with Sanderson and Canavan keeping consistent enough world mechanics that I don’t give up in frustration.

            And, yes, Correias venture into high fantasy is a bit of a hoot.

            I believe this is independent of my politics as I think I’m pretty far to the left by US standards. The reason I don’t self-identify as e.g a feminist is that I live in a relatively sane and civilised country where things like gender neutral, no-fault divorce and equal inheritance has been the law of the land since 1275 and where from this POV, any country without legally codified paid maternity leave seems so archaic as to be practically indistinguishable from Saudi Arabia….

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            Last I read, Laura Mixon, the SJW who took RH down, considers RH to be a betrayer of SJW ideals.

            IMO, that’s a tautology. But we’re clearly using different definitions for “SJW”.

            I define a SJW as either

            1) Someone who uses the appearance of Social Justice in order to get status or the endorphin rush of crushing their enemies; but has no actual interest in supporting the actually good principals of social justice.

            2) Someone who genuinely believes in social justice, but has been misled by people of type #1 into behaving in fairly similar ways.

            RH would be a #1. I think “Andrew Cord” from In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization is an example of #2

            And I define “SJW tribe” as a collection of social norms / memes that allows type #1s to easily rise in status and power; and thus lead the well meaning but young/vulnerable people who look up to them into becoming #2.

            In any case, I don’t think RH was a major player about the Hugos

            Indeed she was not. But unless I am mistaken RH had a measure of respect within the Worldcon community – which can be used as evidence when asking questions about the charachter of the worldcon community.

            Forlorn Hopes, you’re making it all sound pretty tribal,

            Well yes.

            I think the puppy / anti-puppy thing was basically a question of whether one tribe had taken over the Hugos, which used to be a multi-tribal shared space.

            I started this thread to ask if people agreed; and possibly to discuss it with them if they did not.

            In retrospect, I probably should have said “blue tribe bias” rather than “left bias”. Ah well, hindsight is 20/20.

            Judging SJWness by the author rather than the specific work might be missing the point of voting for specific works.

            Could you expand upon this point?

          • Forlorn Hopes, you said:

            It’s hard to say what an SJW book would be, because to me SJW is about tactics/attitude more than anything else. A book by an SJW author is probably the definition I would use.

            By this standard Redshirts is SJW, even though it’s not particularly political. (SJWs not practicing what they preach is practically a cliché now)

            Meanwhile an overtly political book wouldn’t qualify if the author was charitable to the outgroup and willing to debate beyond echochambers.

            I think when puppies say SJW in the context of the Hugos; we’re thinking more “RH was moderately popular” or “Sclazi is a SJW and he seems pretty central” than anything about the contents of the book.

            I’ve heard a lot of demands (mostly from the puppy side, I think) that people should only vote for the specific work, rather than being influenced by knowledge about the author or how the work got on the ballot.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            I said “this is how I’d define SJW book”. I never said don’t vote for SJW books.

          • Forlorn Hopes, fair enough.

          • Nornagest says:

            Just from eyeballing the list of Best Novel nominees, I’m not seeing much SJ influence until at least 2002, and that’s kinda borderline — Perdido Street Station is undoubtedly political but it’s also a hugely imaginative book. It doesn’t look strong until a couple years ago.

      • DrBeat says:

        Also, “the puppies” are not a single thing. Vox Day made the Rabid Puppies specifically because he wanted to do damage the Sad Puppies were not willing to do, explicitly for the sake of causing damage. The Sad Puppies do not like Vox Day and do not support him and did not want to do the things he did and it’s pretty ridiculous to hold them responsible for the actions of a person who they explicitly opposed.

    • An analysis I like.

      More generally, the Hugo used to be an award that sf fans could agree was really an honor. I’m not sure there’s enough consensus for that to be possible any more.

      I don’t know that it was an overreaction in 2015– the awards were swept by a lot of sf which wasn’t very good. If the puppies had had stronger works to lead with, it might have gone differently.

      Also, it’s not as though the puppies made the Hugos *less* politicized.

      The most important thing I’ve learned from this mess is that people wildly underestimate how much their own insults affect people.

      • Forlorn Hopes says:

        I’m not sure about that analysis. Voting Boaty mcBoatface was free. Hugo’s cost a lot of money. People have to care enough about either scifi/fantasy or culture wars to pay up.

        I think the Sad Puppies are genuinely dissatisfied fans. I can’t call the Rabid Puppies for sure.

        I’m not sure there’s enough consensus for that to be possible any more.

        Yeah, I agree with this. Fandom has grown and diversified (good), but the award process hasn’t caught up with that.

        I’m not sure if it’s possible to do so. Though maybe splintering of into a verity of different awards; with a final meta award whereby only works that already received a respected award may be nominated for could do it.

        Perhaps each award also nominates a juror, who cannot vote for their own awards work.

        Also, it’s not as though the puppies made the Hugos *less* politicized.


        I think it’s moved from a state where one political bloc was stomping other groups under their boot to one where multiple political blocs are each giving as good as they get.

        I think that would be an improvement, except for the fact Vox Day is winning. Equally powerful sides incisivenesses people to look for a peace treaty IMO.

        The most important thing I’ve learned from this mess is that people wildly underestimate how much their own insults affect people.

        It’s always great to see someone from SJW tribe learning that very important lesson.

        Could you use your in-tribe status to tell people to lay of the BernieBros nonsense. Ok, that was a joke, but I’m genuinely worried that’s going to drive away potential voters just when they’re needed to prevent one of the worst potential candidates in recent USA history.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Nancy Lebovitz
        I don’t know that it was an overreaction in 2015– the awards were swept by a lot of sf which wasn’t very good.

        Against a lot of PC stuff that wasn’t SF.

        • “Against a lot of PC stuff that wasn’t SF.”

          How much?

          There are only two classic puppy examples of that.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nancy

            Okay, my “a lot of stuff that wasn’t SF” was me making a parallel sentence and perhaps not accurate by the numbers, dunno. What I was calling [completely] “not SF” were the dinosaur story and the rain falling from the ceiling story.

            Still, it’s possible that if we stripped all the PC/message/model-pronoun/”Oooh, a Chinese author” sort of stuff from the one side, and all the military/political/philosophic message stuff (if any) from the Sad’s side. the actual SF left on both sides might not appear so different in quality or quantity.

          • keranih says:

            If I had my druthers we’d all come to disgruntled bitchy accord over what we mutually liked and as one we would pester the authors who weren’t writing enough of it until they disowned the lot of us as entitled self-adsorbed brats who had no appreciation for Hard Work And Art.

            (Go on, tell me that standing hand in hand at WorldCon singing I’d like to give the world a coke is more likely.)

          • LHN says:

            I’d be inclined to add Ken Liu’s 2012 short story winner “The Paper Menagerie”, which struck me as a pure literary exploration of an immigrant experience with a tacked on (if lyrically described) sfnal element that made much of the story rather less plausible. A friend of an Americanized child of immigrants bored by and casually destructive of regular origami (or some other stuffy Old Country craft) as compared with cool action figures? Sure. Reacting with the same dismissal to magically animated paper animals? Pull the other one, it has bells on.

            Between that and Liu’s 2012 novella finalist “The Man Who Ended History” (which attracts arguably needed attention to an inadequately known WWII atrocity by way of a thin and implausible SF overlay), I was at the point of seriously wondering if Liu really wanted to write SF or if he had somehow found himself tied to it by market pressures despite wanting to write in some other field.

            Then his 2013 short story winner “Mono No Aware” at least was intentional SF (and I thought pretty decent), even if that year was kind of depressing overall. (Only three short stories managed to make it over the nomination threshold at all that year, reflecting the longstanding low interest in, and consequent low nomination numbers for, short fiction in general.) Likewise, the work he put in translating The Three-Body Problem points to a genuine interest in SF.

            But the earlier works on the Hugo ballot were on the edge of being Bat Durston stories. (Stories from other genres retrofitted into “SF” by changing the cowboy’s six-shooter to a ray gun or the detective’s car into a spaceship.) Their being nominated for the Hugo didn’t strike me as a great sign for the field at the time. (Even if I haven’t been overwhelmed by the alternatives presented more recently.)

          • Vorkon says:

            I always assumed that Ken Liu and Cixin Liu were related somehow. If so, that would mean that his work translating The Three Body Problem doesn’t necessarily show a particular interest in SF/F, so much as an interest in helping out his family. That would also give him a reason to be tied to the genre, despite possibly not caring too much about it, as you describe.

            It never occurred to me, until I read your post, that I had no actual evidence they were related, other than the name, which I believe is a fairly common one. Wikipedia doesn’t mention anything about it, and I’m too lazy to dig through the various other links Google gives me. Does anyone know off the top of their heads?

          • LHN says:

            @Vorkon They’re not related.

            (I think it’s mentioned in the forematter to the book, but the easiest cite I could google is http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/08/25/cixin-liu-becomes-first-asian-to-win-hugo-award-for-science-fiction/ : “the deft English translation of Mr. Liu’s works by American author and translator Ken Liu (no relation to Cixin Liu)”)

          • Vorkon says:

            Ah, thanks! I feel a little silly about that now, and am feeling a bit more charitable toward Ken’s other work.

            I only listened to the audio version of Three Body, and if it mentioned it there, I didn’t notice it.

          • Fair point about “The Paper Menagerie” not especially being sf.

    • Is there really an award show that isn’t biased? It seems hard to imagine how an award will not somehow reflect a bias favorable to the tastes/political affiliation of the majority of its organizers, jurors or public.

      Maybe it’s different in America, but in France it’s widely akwowledged that literary award shows are just that: shows, where the major publishers essentially pat each other on the back for how awesome their authors are.

      Really, it seems the only way to make a completely unbiased award show it to just give the prize to the best-seller in each category — but then that makes the whole charade redundant and puts the organizers out of job, so of course no one wants that and everyone is trying really hard to prove that the award show is prestigious and reflect a higher artistic judgement (and not just a combination of positive emotional answer to a given work + political bias).

      • Anon says:

        Not being able to make something perfect is not an excuse to refuse improving it. Yes having absolutely zero bias is likely impossible, but that doesn’t mean reducing current bias is also impossible. An award can be useful as a metric for certain marks of quality and signalling political/business/whatever affiliation should not be one of those marks of quality the award is chosen for.

    • keranih says:

      But as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been any discussion of whether the puppies were right to say that the Hugos or Worldcon had a left wing bias that was politicizing the Hugo awards.

      Yeah, there’s not a lot of discussion because there’s not a lot of disagreement that this was happening.

      The most charitable way to say it was not that the Hugos were being politicized but that left-leaning/progressive authors and editors were gaining prominence and promoting books that were the sort of thing that they liked. This is pretty much widely agreed on by everyone – you can look through the last few years of discussion and commentary on the field and see regular comments on the emphasis of women’s voices, anti-colonialism, and promoting non-standard sexualities in both characters and authors.

      The discord in the field, I think, comes from disagreements over 1) how much emphasis should be given to promoting progressive values in story and authorship, and 2) whether progressive (and/or anti-conservative) values are all that awesome to begin with. More people have issues with the first than with the second, imo.

      The first is the popularity of Requires Hate and the second is the enormous overreaction to the Hugo nominations in 2015.

      Don’t read too much into RH/WF/whatever they’re calling themselves now. (Or into VD, for that matter.) IMO, it’s more significant what the average writer/SFWA member/editor was doing, rather than what outliers were doing.

    • Peter says:

      I ought to say: I’m not getting involved this year (especially on SSC where the commentariat seems to have a pro-Puppy slant and Scott himself is very wisely Not Getting Involved). However, my levels of self-control aren’t as good as they could be.

      I’ve never been to Worldcon, I’ve never voted on Hugos, I have friends who do, I’ve been to various other conventions so I sort-of have a feel for that side of fandom, not least some friends who went to WorldCon in 2014 and got excited at the Hugo process and then got seriously annoyed when 2015 happened. Overall I consider myself anti-Puppy, but the whole thing is complicated; on a bad day, “too many houses, not enough plague…”

      My somewhat heretical take is that the Sads had something of a point, although not as much as they thought they had, and not enough point to justify the actions of 2015 (2013 and 2014… meh, whatever, it wasn’t too much of a problem, they didn’t sweep entire categories in the nominations); also they got overshadowed by the Rabids (who seem to be entirely lacking in point and overflowing with anti-point), at least in terms of practical impact on the nomination list. The Sads have caught an amount of flak for this, IMO some of it deservedly.

      RH was a problem; not so much RH herself as the fact that she was able to recruit lots of people to join in with her crusades, and have a variety of … not exactly defenders as such but people finding reasons to complain about anyone attempting to deal with the RH problem.

      AFAICT there are definite problems with some SF communities on the internet; how much this reflects the goings-on offline, or the mindset of the average Hugo voter is unclear to me.

      The key difference between RH and VD in this context is that I haven’t heard of RH trying to interfere with the Hugos.

      • keranih says:

        on a bad day, “too many houses, not enough plague…”

        Totally stealing that.

        At the risk of straining your good tolerance, could you expand on this:

        the Sads had something of a point, although not as much as they thought they had, and not enough point to justify the actions of 2015

        What were the “actions of 2015”, if I could ask?

        not so much RH herself as the fact that she was able to recruit lots of people to join in with her crusades, and have a variety of … not exactly defenders as such but people finding reasons to complain about anyone attempting to deal with the RH problem.

        Yeah. I mean, any barrel’s gonna have a few assholes in it. But that there were so many people who were okay enough with RH’s supposed goals that they excused/ignored/accepted her really horrific methods was deeply disturbing.

        (I completely get why people don’t like VD. But it’s hard for me to equate “getting a bunch of people to vote for works one doesn’t like, plus being an annoying internet troll” with the documented actions of RH. *shrugs*)

        I myself also hold that the same issue (over emphasis on progressive themes) with the Hugos also extends to other awards such as the Nebula, but that given the closed nature of the Nebula voting pool, meh. I’m crankier about the Hugos.

        • Peter says:

          Stealing that: Hey, I stole it first!

          Actions of 2015: Mainly arranging the slates so as to get a lock on certain categories, shutting out non-Puppy nominations. You say “getting a bunch of people to vote for works one doesn’t like”, I say “gaming the nominations” and “getting a lock” (also, you say “annoying internet troll”, I say “white supremacist”[1]. This sort of thing is why I told myself not to get involved this year and why I may yet decide to stop being involved…). Hence 2014 being much less of an issue. In 2016 the Sads (but not the Rabids) have restructured their thing to avoid lockouts, they’ve responded to criticisms, so the issue was a 2015-specific thing for the Sads.

          RH: piecing it all together is difficult, it’s hard to tell how many people were in RH’s inner circle vs how many people were supporters because they didn’t know all of what was going on[2]. Still, it was a sign that something was wrong in the community, and something was wrong with the ideology (or the way it was used – is there a difference?) that RH was able to hide behind. Again, I repeat my point that RH was not directly relevant to the Hugos in the way that VD was.

          [1] One huge problem with certain parts of the social justice/anti-racist movement is that they’ve diluted “white supremacist” (and “supremacy” etc.) so much that when the genuine article comes along you have to check twice to see if strange definitions are in play.
          [2] This is a mitigating factor, but not a complete excuse. In law there’s “negiligence” and “recklessness” to do with failing to take reasonable precautions to avoid causing certain sorts of harm, and I think the same applies to common everyday morality/ethics, and that one of those precautions is being suspicious of ideologies (e.g. “listen and believe”) that tell you not to take those precautions.

          • keranih says:

            @ Peter –

            Well, then, I’m stealing it back! No takebacks!

            Mainly arranging the slates so as to get a lock on certain categories, shutting out non-Puppy nominations. You say “getting a bunch of people to vote for works one doesn’t like”, I say “gaming the nominations” and “getting a lock”

            …tomatoes, let’s call the whole thing off.

            I think we’re seriously not going to agree at all on what happened then. You say “fixed” and “shutting out”, and I am just not seeing that, and feel there is a serious assumption of bad faith in those accusations. *waves hand* Old news. Under the bridge, so to speak. And we’re otherwise doing well so far.

            RE:VD – eh. I actually had a couple paragraphs typed out regarding defining VD as a white supremacist, but then decided against. The best defense against the influence of VD is, I think, to resist the temptation to make anything about him. VD likes something, and I am well. VD dislikes something, yet again I am well. His promotion of a work can not be of note unless the work is good, in which case his promotion is still of no note, because the work stands for itself. Which brings me to:

            Again, I repeat my point that RH was not directly relevant to the Hugos in the way that VD was.

            RH was directly relevant to the toxic SJW culture that came close to dominating SFF. It was this culture’s overreach that laid the foundation for the Sad Puppies. To me, while I agree that RH was not involved in the Hugos, the events of the last two years(*) are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a multitude of threads in this…movement? situation? whatever the hell this non-revolution kerfuffle is. [snips out rehash of various threads]

            Anyway. I do agree on the whole taking precautions, and making up ones own mind, and I do agree, sometimes there just isn’t enough pestilence in the day.

            (*) Which is part of the reason I am so frustrated by the “but you stacked the vote and locked out everyone else” meme. [snips yet another rehash] It wasn’t like people were cool with the SPs when they only got 1 or 2 works on the final slate – they hated the SP back then, too.

          • Peter says:

            Two things:

            1) I don’t think I ever said “fixed”. It’s not clear to me what the SPs intentions were in 2015, I think there were one or two categories where there were four nominations, I think I saw some signs that the SPs were surprised by the combined effects of the Puppy slates. Mainly I was talking about RPs though (in response to your comments about VD) and I’m quite happy assuming bad faith on the part of VD and the RPs; as I say, in terms of the final results, the RPs had the much larger effect.

            2) 2014 vs 2015 – there are two bits of evidence, one public. The private thing is the way my friends talked about puppy-nominated works online in the two years. Generally they seemed unimpressed in 2014 but nevertheless they were willing to properly consider them and decide whether they were Hugo-worthy, and some of them were – people who were willing to occasionally use No Award were nevertheless ranking some puppy picks above it. In 2015 there was much more anger directed at the whole thing. I think it shows up in the voting records for 2014 vs 2015; in 2014 most of the Puppy nominations did at least finish above No Award, with the exception of one of VD’s works, in 2015 things were quite different.

      • John Schilling says:

        The key difference between RH and VD in this context is that I haven’t heard of RH trying to interfere with the Hugos.

        Why would she want to, when the books and stories she likes are already the ones that are nominated and win?

        How that happened, and what role RH played, are interesting questions – but this is an example of asymmetric conflict, so expecting the same strategy from both sides is unrealistic.

    • Urstoff says:

      Given the left-wing boilerplate invective that came in response from several prominent sci-fi editors, I would say that the sad puppies were at least partially correct.

      However, I think it’s really only an issue for the Hugo’s, and not sci-fi writ large. Plenty of publishers, even Tor, publish books that right-wingers could enjoy (and, of course, Baen still exists and continues to exist). Even the top magazines don’t seem particularly political to me; Asimov’s and Analog both publish lots of different kind of stories, not just tedious exercises in gender studies (those are actually pretty rare in the print magazines; I think they tend to show up more in the online-only spaces).

      So yes, the Hugo’s have become a bit dominated by cultural studies via warmed over MFA sci-fi, but I don’t see much of a reason for a reader to care about the Hugo’s at all.

      • John Schilling says:

        but I don’t see much of a reason for a reader to care about the Hugo’s at all

        The informed reader, if reading is all they want to do, probably doesn’t care.

        If they want to be a member of a community, they might care if that community’s cultural institutions are captured by, at best a subset of the community and at worst outright entryists. If they want their community to thrive and to even in part represent their interests, they have reason to care that the community not be falsely represented to potential new members. And pretty much by definition, anyone who is even a supporting member of a Worldcon is a member of the fannish community, not just a “reader”.

        If the Hugos claimed to be anything less than the highest honor of worldwide science fiction fandom generally, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. There are dedicated awards and conventions for SJ-friendly science fiction and fantasy, as well as for the Puppy-friendly sort. None of which are terribly controversial. If Worldcon and the Hugos can’t be neutral territory, they should be done away with.

        • Urstoff says:

          You’re probably right about the community part (although there seems to be a distinction between the Worldcon community, which most SPs/RPs were never a part of, and the sci-fi fandom community), but I find pretty much any fandom community to be completely terrible.

          • John Schilling says:

            The idea that there is or ought to be a distinction between the “Worldcon community” and SF fandom in general, is I think part of the dispute. I believe that, traditionally, Worldcon fandom was intended to be a representative subset of fandom generally. That e.g. the forced migration of Worldcon and the big off-year regional conventions, were intended to force Worldcon to average over and recruit from the various local fandoms. And that the Puppies saw themselves as part of that tradition.

            To the extent that Worldcon has become dominated by a literal jet-setting elite that descends on and perhaps overpowers a different local fandom each year, this is I think a recent and dubious development. And a key part of the dispute.

        • Anonymous says:

          Claiming that there are entryists out there is a bit like claiming CIA agents are following you. It is literally possible, but in the overwhelming number of cases it says something about you rather than the CIA.

          There’s no secret cabal of people that don’t actually like SFF but who joined worldcom pre-2010 as a tactic in the greater global culture war. The only group that’s used a tactic like that are the rabid puppies and they’ve done so openly.

          No one has the coordination ability to pull of even a tiny fraction of the nefarious plots the paranoid alt right attributes to so-called SJWs.

          • John Schilling says:

            If someone had claimed there was a secret cabal, you might have had a point. As is, you don’t.

          • Anonymous says:

            If it wasn’t secret than where is the documentation showing that “an organisation or state encourage[d] its members or supporters to join another, usually larger, organisation in an attempt to expand influence and expand their ideas and program.”?

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            There’s no secret cabal of people that don’t actually like SFF

            No one says they don’t like SFF.

            Reread I can electorate anything but the outgroup. Puppies and anti-puppies are each others outgroup. That means they have a lot in common, including liking SSF.

            No one has the coordination ability to pull of even a tiny fraction of the nefarious plots the paranoid alt right attributes to so-called SJWs.

            The coordination ability needed to take over the Hugos is so minimal that Vox Day could do it.

            Someone who doesn’t have the disadvantages of holding Vox Day’s political views could probably do it in secret. Actually, Vox Day could probably do it in secret if he really tried.

          • Anonymous says:

            If the people in question all like SFF, then how does this sentence, specifically the last four words, make any sense?

            If they want to be a member of a community, they might care if that community’s cultural institutions are captured by, at best a subset of the community and at worst outright entryists.

            As for someone like VD but without his political views, someone without VD’s political views also would be less likely to attract a fanatical group of loyal followers. Convincing people to pay $50 to influence the awards of a genre they don’t like is a big ask.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            The bit you quoted: “They are a subset or entryists.”

            If they like SSF they are a subset.

            So the bit you quoted is a true statement.

          • Jiro says:

            There’s no secret cabal of people that don’t actually like SFF but who joined worldcom pre-2010 as a tactic in the greater global culture war.

            “Entryist” doesn’t necessarily mean “person who doesn’t like SF but has joined to set an agenda”. It often means “person who doesn’t like one class of SF and has joined to set an agenda to promote a different class of SF”. Someone who only likes leftist SF can “like SF” and be an entryist at the same time.

          • Anonymous says:

            “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

          • Jiro says:

            That does not apply when the word is used by large numbers of other people, with whom you are trying to communicate. You can use words any way you want, but you cant use them any way you want and still communicate.

          • Anonymous says:

            Indeed. Which is why your attempted redefinition of ‘entryist’ was inappropriate.

          • Jiro says:

            An entryist is someone who joins a group that is not about X as part of a movement to overwhelm the group with members that will make it X. It is certainly possible for X to be “left-wing SF” and the group to just be about SF.

        • Wrong Species says:

          The Academy Awards claim to be the highest honor in film and they constantly choose mediocre movies but no one cares that much.

      • Richard says:

        but I don’t see much of a reason for a reader to care about the Hugo’s at all.

        Admittedly, now that you can get everything on Amazon, I agree, but some of us remember the dark ages when your local bookshop would only carry the nominees due to small sci-fi market…..

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t see much of a reason for a reader to care about the Hugo’s at all

        Unhappily, I think that is so. There was a time when “Hugo Nominee/Award Winner!” splashed on the front cover meant something I would probably be interested in reading and wouldn’t generally find awful.

        That day has passed.

        I’d be broadly sympathetic to the Sad Puppies, but since a fraction of one side seems to think such an admission means I only want to read about the Military Conquests of White Cis Het Christian Americans In Space, I want to beat them about the head with a copy of Samuel Delany’s Driftglass (a collection that blew me away when I was fifteen and found it in my local library) but to hell with them, why should I have to prove not alone my fannish credentials but that I am the Right Kind of Fan?

    • Anonymous says:

      The Puppies have lots of complaints, so probably some of them are more true than others. And, conditional on truth, people would probably not rank them all as equal concerns.

      One class of complaint was that the voters have bad taste. There are two versions of this: voters like fancy writing over action and voters like left-wing politics.

      The second class of complaints is that people were voting on aspects other than the contents of the book. There are many versions of this complaint. I believe that the spark of the first Puppy campaign was a couple of claims of whispering campaigns: don’t vote for this particular nominee (Correia and Hoyt?) because he or she is a conservative, even though you didn’t notice in the book. In the opposite direction, there is the claim that people vote for Scalzi because of his politics outside of his books. And then there is the complaint of of Cliques choosing books to promote.

      I think that the complaints of the first class are probably true, but I think that they have the simple solution of adding more voters. The second class of complaints contains many variants and I think some of them are more true and/or more serious than the others. I think it’s pretty hard to distinguish the above Scalzi hypothesis from the hypothesis that people read his blog for his politics and he reminds them to vote at all. And it may be that the existence of popular blogs warps the voting even if the bloggers don’t realize that they are running a Party. At the very least, it is pretty hard to avoid the strategic voting of only nominating works that look like they have a chance, which is highly influenced by their mention on popular blogs.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Much like the case with the ants, this seems to me like one of those things where someone makes an accusation based on faulty or incorrect evidence, that ends up being proven sort of right by something completely different.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Except that all the initial accusations of http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a were 100% accurate? It was afterwards that they started spinning out of control and accusing people of bias for donating to kickstarters or giving good games bad reviews.

        The initial accusation of http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a was “there is a conspiracy among games journalists to cover up http://pastebin.com/HYRAeVMC abuse” based on the speed and consistency with which every outlet banned discussion of it from their comments/forums, followed by the apparently-coordinated wave of articles appearing on a wide range of gaming sites on the theme of “Gamers are gross, eww, gamers”. Yes, they ended up being proven right by the discovery of the GameJournoPros mailing list on which the journalists were conspiring, but that doesn’t make the initial evidence faulty or incorrect, it just means that they were good at inference even without conclusive proof. Which we should all aspire to be.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Are you sure about the timeline? The Eron stuff and the TFYC stuff is kind of simultaneous, but I’d say that the “slept with reviewers to further their game” angle was the first big point of contention. It was really only with the “Gamers are Dead” party line that the ethics issue gained solid ground, finally being confirmed by the list.

          The abuse angle was kind of parallel to all of this, and it predates it by far if you consider the Wizardchan thing.

          Still, I admit my recollection of the events is fuzzy at best, and my attempts to find a timeline lead me to less than objective results.

          • suntzuanime says:

            My recollection is that TFYC came later, because the whole deal was that they were persecuted for being not unfriendly to http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a , which doesn’t seem possible unless http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a was already a thing. You’re right that the “slept with reviewers to further their game” thing was an important aspect of the initial accusations that I should have mentioned. My bad, I’d forgotten about it.

            And yeah, that particular accusation was never conclusively proven; although she was sleeping with reviewers, and her game was furthered, causation has not been definitively proven. I do think it’s where the smart money is, but “100% accurate” was not supportable by conclusive evidence and I apologize.

          • Anonymous says:

            The initial complaint was that ng had written positive coverage of zq’s game after sleeping with her without disclosing the relationship. Kotaku’s official stance on this is that their relationship only started the day after he wrote about her, I don’t think I have to point out how flimsy of an excuse this is.

            As time passed “positive coverage” was distorted into “positive review” which isn’t true as there wasn’t any positive review but you can probably find TB’s tweetlonger that made the whole thing mainstream and you’ll find that it doesn’t mention any review.

            PS. the TFYC thing happened before tzp, the reason they were attacked was either (a) because they required transwomen to have identified as women for a while to participate and (I don’t remember the exact wording), or (b) because the indiedev clique was protecting their turf from outsiders.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I kinda want to believe that excuse, actually, because implicit corruption is my favorite sort of corruption. Like how government regulators get cushy sinecures in the industries they regulated only after leaving public service.

            I could very easily be wrong about the timeline of the TFYC stuff. I guess what must have happened is that http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a latched onto TFYC due to their pre-existing feud with the corrupt bay area clique in order to demonstrate that they didn’t have a problem with women in gaming, only the clique. And then that provided the clique with another angle of attack, because everybody knows http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a are some lady-haters, which only proves that TFYC isn’t really helping women. And I only saw the last part and so I thought that was how the controversy started.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            To clarify the timeline. TFYC were persecuted by the bay area clique before http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a happened; but they were only noticed by http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a after everything had kicked off.

            But not long after. The Zoe Post was 16th August. Total Biscuit’s twitlonger was 19th. I can find evidence of 4chan donating to TFYC on the 21st – so it might be even earlier.

          • Anonymous says:

            What happened is that Matt from TFYC, when tzp appeared commented on reddit “I’m not surprised about this, she ddosed my website and got my project blacklisted everywhere”. TFYC involvement happened after tzp, after TB’s twitlonger but I think before the day gamers died.

            BTW nobody actually suggested that the coverage happened as counterpart to sex, except facetiously, the idea was always that it was accidental corruption.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I would be wary of saying “no-one claimed X seriously” when it comes to a grassroots movement borne out of 4chan and Reddit.

            I’d agree that taking that claim as a central position of said movement is the weakest of mannings (Peyton, btw).

          • Anonymous says:

            The only place I ever saw that claim made was in the intro of internet aristocrat’s videos which was a parodying Jesse Ventura.

        • Forlorn Hopes says:

          Donating to kickstarters of people you’re covering is a violation of journalistic ethics.

          I saw a youtube interview with a professor of journalism being passed around late 2014 by supporters of http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a – sadly I can’t find it again.

          Also. The actual rule in the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code is to “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived“. Obviously that’s going to vary by audience, but once the game-journalism industry has been caught red handed in a conspiracy – it’s only natural that the requirements to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest will go up.

          Once they have shown the lengths they’re willing to go to to defend a member of the in-group, any information that suggests someone is their in-group, such as Patron donations, becomes a perception of a conflict of interest; and justifiably so.

          The accusations of bias for a low score (you’re referring to IGN’s Stellaris review?). Given the level of tribalism displayed by game journalists, is it hard to imagine that links to the other side will cause bias? I don’t think he dropped it from a 9 to a 6 out of spite. In fact I think the opposite, I think a lot of reviewers (and gamers) are giving it a free pass because it’s a Paradox grand strategy game – which means it will be awesome after a few expansions come out.

          But dropping it from a justifiable 7 to an undeserved 6 because of unconscious bias – I could see that.

          And even if he didn’t, saying stuff like

          When I was at ParadoxCon this his his name was said as someone who can sell games with mentions. I instantly felt worse about being there.

          is still extremely unprofessional and creates the perception of bias even if not actual bias. It was improper behavior for a journalist.

          (Context for that quote: https://i.sli.mg/m3N9qa.png)

          • suntzuanime says:

            When they say “real or perceived” they mean “perceived by a reasonable person” not “hallucinated by a lunatic”. When I give you money, that does not create a sense of obligation from me to you that could color my coverage. The obligation goes the other way! If game devs are donating to journalist Patreons, yes, absolutely, that should be disclosed.

            I was not referring to the Stellaris review; I wasn’t aware there was http://pastebin.com/ZKpWAN9a involvement in that controversy. But they’ve raised a stink over that sort of thing many times in the past, and it’s a real bad look.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            When they say “real or perceived” they mean “perceived by a reasonable person” not “hallucinated by a lunatic”.

            And when the industry is caught red handed in a corruption scandal, a reasonable person will adjust their priors for conflicts of interests to suggest it’s far more likely.

            When I give you money, that does not create a sense of obligation from me to you that could color my coverage

            I found the interview. A professor who researches journalism ethics explicitly saying that giving money to fund the creative projects of someone you write about is a clear violation of journalistic ethics: https://youtu.be/4-7RLxrsJ04?t=4m5s

    • Furslid says:

      Think about the academy award for best picture. Everyone knows that the academy award for best picture isn’t really for best picture, and a film can be insulted by calling it Oscar-bait. The nominees for best picture are likely to be serious dramas. They are by established players who have payed their dues in the industry. They are left wing, either in politics or worldview.

      Everyone knows what the best picture Oscar means. No one even tries to nominate any movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for best picture, even though the MCU contains profitable, well reviewed, popular, entertaining, well made movies. No one condemns movies in the MCU for not being considered for Oscars.

      The Sad Puppies crowd said the equivalent of, “What do you mean the MCU has had no nominations for best picture? None of those films even deserved consideration?” The response they often got was “That just proves your taste in cinema sucks. Learn to like better movies.”

      I have no idea of how to make the Hugos become more diverse. The Sad Puppies plan seems not to be working very well. It’s like demanding that this years Oscar be a superhero movie. Not that it be a good movie, just a superhero movie.

      • As far as my understanding of it goes, happening to follow a few blogs of people on either side of the puppy conflagration, is that both sides claimed that the Hugo awards are a fan* award. The Oscar equivalent in SF would be the Nebula award.

        *Some factions on both the puppy and anti-puppy and neutral sides would disagree, offering some reservations or caveats.

      • John Schilling says:

        @Furslid: Except that, as noted, the SF equivalent of the Oscars are the Nebulas, not the Hugos. And we all wrote off the Nebulas as hopelessly politicized years ago (except for those of us who embraced them as politicized, I suppose). The Hugos are a closer match for the People’s Choice Awards. Not a perfect fit there, either. But if the People’s Choice Awards all started to go to serious “Oscar bait” drama, you wouldn’t wonder if something funny might be going on?

        And in fact, Sad Puppies started out as an attempt to inject a calibrated signal into the nominations process to see if “something funny” might include actually tampering with the vote count. Which turned out not to be the case, but the echo chamber theory still looks pretty solid.

        [Ed: Ninja’d by Dice]

        • From what I’ve seen, the only claims of cabal come from 2014(2015?) when it seemed like a lot of people not nominated all knew about the puppies sweeping the nominations before the nominations were officially released. It doesn’t mean much in itself because what kind of secret cabal can’t even stop its supposed enemies from winning, but it would be evidence in favor of insiders who all know each other while being at the very least in sync if not working together. Having that sort of unannounced bias in the leadership or volunteers of worldcon was part of what the puppies stated goals were (unless that was a goalpost moved shorter to claim victory, IDK).

    • Walter says:

      My read on the matter is this:

      “You can mostly only vote if you pay to attend this literary convention” is what skews results. Folks who voluntarily attend Worldcon are progressives. If you said that in order to vote on these awards you have to attend Wrestlemania you’d see the opposite bias.

      The puppies are right that there is a bias, wrong that it is the result of anything more than the crtieria to vote.

      • John Schilling says:

        Agreed except that calling the Worldcon a “literary convention” might carry the wrong connotation. In some contexts, “literary” and “genre” are polar opposites, and SF has traditionally been solidly on the “genre” side. A genre which has flirted with the progressive from day one, but there isn’t an intrinsic expectation of progressiveness any more than there would be at a Louis L’Amour or Jane Austen appreciation society meeting.

        Also, I totally want those last two to be scheduled in the same hotel on the same weekend.

        • keranih says:

          The best part about the joint L’Amour/Austen cons would be that I could cosplay both with the same bonnet.

        • Protagoras says:

          Worldcon is a literary con, in the sense of literary as opposed to media (it does not completely ignore film, TV, etc., but big cons are never purely one thing; it is a very typical literary con except for being so big). That’s standard terminology for describing cons, even if it has some slight potential for producing confusion with the alternate sense of literary as opposed to genre.

    • Faradn says:

      Requires Hate has been defunct for a couple years now. The final post was the author apologizing for being mean to basically everyone.

  34. Bovinas says:

    What exactly does this cuddling thing that supposedly happens at lw meetups include? Is it sexual?

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      I haven’t been, but as someone who cuddles often with friends, I expect it’s not. We’re primates. It just feels nice to have another warm body touching yours sometimes.

      • Deiseach says:

        As a resolute non-toucher, the idea of people feeling free to put arms or hands on/around me is giving me goosebumps.

        • Bassicallyboss says:

          In my experience, it usually happens only with already-close friends, and only after asking permission. So at least in my circles, no one “feels free” to cuddle/embrace anyone; it only happens when mutually desired. I can’t speak for meetups, though.

    • Murphy says:

      There was none at a London meetup I attended. I think that’s a cultural thing with some of the bay area RationalSphere.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Alpha Male (Yudkowski) has sex with all the females in the cohort then asserts his dominance by writing a post explaining the other males how polyamory is the only rational approach to human relationships.

  35. Don't want to say just now says:

    It seems like a university close by is looking into psychedelic therapy studies right now (from the sound of it its Ketamin and Psylocybin). What are the general thoughts on participating in those types of studies (I have a lot of experience with THC, some limited experience with DXM – which I do not like at all – but none with full-blown psychedelics so far)?

    Edit: Mid 30s male on the far right of the bell curve with history of depression (these days more dysthimia) and social anxiety.

    • Matthias says:

      Are they trying to figure out whether these things help with depression?

      • Don't want to say just now says:

        That’s what the press says, yes (I have not yet actually found the supposed study online).

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Every antidepressant that really works well becomes illegal, like MDMA.

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t really see how MDMA could be a good option for someone to handle a longstanding problem with depression. There’s no way you could take it every day without becoming completely burned out and even more depressed in short order. It might possibly be an emergency intervention for someone with severe, suicidal depression, but even then it would be quite risky, considering the comedown effects.

        • Nornagest says:

          Can’t speak for MDMA specifically, but recreational doses for most, ah, dual-use substances are usually a lot higher than therapeutic doses. That might take care of some of the tolerance issues.

        • Psycicle says:

          Yeah, even r/drugs of all places very strongly advises a 4x/year limit on MDMA.

          I think the hope with MDMA is that, like psychedelics, it is powerful enough to produce permanent personality changes. We already know it is capable of this with regards to PTSD, but I’m unsure of how it would do with depression. I do expect that it would be very helpful with strong social anxiety/hikikomori type stuff.

          • onyomi says:

            I have taken it a few times and would agree it would be much better for hikikomori social anxiety than depression.

            From what I’ve heard, SSRIs increase serotonergic activity long term, so if you take Zoloft for a year you are theoretically less prone to depression even after you stop taking Zoloft. I’m pretty sure MDMA has been proven to basically kill your serotonergic neurons or receptors or what have you, so I doubt it would have any positive long term effect of that sort. Probably the reverse.

            But with social anxiety I think there’s a strong element of exposure needed: every time you get up the nerve to ask a girl out it gets easier. So even if you have to be on low-dose MDMA the first time you attend a crowded party, it might make it easier for you to attend a crowded party sans-MDMA in the future.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            SSRI’s also eventually have the same tolerance issues. Thus sending the patients back to square one and worse.

            Why are SSRI’s even prescribed? In general, it dosen’t outperform active placebos, let alone clearly. Eventually, tolerance happens to that drug too, sending the patient back to square one and worse…and then, the possible withdrawal hell happens…what a mess.

  36. Matthias says:

    Please poke holes in this business model for setting up a Georgist colony on private land:

    – Form a corporation, let it buy some land and divvy the land up into parcels
    – sell long term (transferable) leases to the highest bidders

    A lease comes with the following restriction:

    (1) the lessee has to publicly state the value he would sell the lease for
    (2) each year the lessee pays a fee of x% of that price to the corporation to keep the lease. (This encourages posting a low price in step (1)).
    (3) If someone comes and offers the posted price, the lessee has to sell. (This encourages posting a high enough price in step (1)).

    Add some clever shenanigans to only tax the value of the land, but not the improvements in this way. Eg any building put onto the land increases the value to be paid to hand over the lease but that extra value will be exempt from the fee. (Deprecate the value of the building by standard accounting procedures over the next ten years.)

    Now here’s the real kicker:

    – When paying the fee allow not only payments in cash, but also recognize (at fixed proportional discount perhaps) divers taxes paid to the government for economic activity on any of the corporation’s land. Said `tax coupons’ can be freely traded.

    (In the beginning, you will want to be cautious about which taxes to include to avoid making the system gameable in the wrong direction. The most clear cut case is the income tax of someone who lives and works on the corporation’s land. Or the value added tax for shops there.)

    This system is meant to emulate the effects of only taxing land rental values, and untaxing labour and capital.

    We can not reduce the overall tax burden without changing the government, but this scheme should lower the effective marginal rate (since every dollar paid in taxes and gone from your wallet, will still contribute to your land rent). (I propose taking coupons-for-taxes-paid at a discount in the bidding, mostly to give people an incentive to still hire an accountant and not bleed too much money.)

    In the steady state and with homogenous lessees, this scheme will not make any extra money: there’s no free lunch after all. My hope is that this arrangement would artificially induce gentrification:

    – lessees would initially come for cheap rent, later for the booming local economy
    – the corporation by taking a smaller piece out of a bigger pie, will see its holdings increase in value.

    (And if this all goes well, you could lobby various governments to follow Georgism directly.)

    • Wency says:

      1. The biggest problem I see would be in attracting people to join in. They would have to be both ideologically committed and be prepared to develop their own parcel without making any money from their development efforts, while having no idea if their project might be bought from under them at any time.

      2. I’d at least suggest a threshold between stated value and the price at which the parcel could be bought. E.g., to actually buy a parcel, you have to pay x% more than stated value. Also, I suggest the buyer be required to pay all legal and other costs to effect the transaction, for both parties. You need to balance the inefficiency of people understating their sell price with the inefficiency of value potentially being destroyed because someone with an aggressive estimate of value is willing to overpay and the lessees become reluctant to make investments in the land.

      3. Depreciating a building often doesn’t make sense as a way to find its value. Instead, look at replacement cost, which tends to increase rather than decrease because construction costs usually increase much faster than well-maintained long-lived assets actually depreciate. If you don’t adjust for this, it will almost always make sense to buy someone else’s (well-maintained) building out from under them after a few years rather than build your own. Which I suppose creates an incentive to simply not maintain your building.

      • Matthias says:

        Thanks. As a model, don’t think parcels in the middle of nowhere, think buying a few cheap blocks or so in Detroit. Initially, people can be attracted by cheap rent (after all, with an auction the price will be set to have supply meet demand), and this whole scheme is a way to hyper-gentrify quickly.

        > 1. The biggest problem I see would be in attracting people to join in. They would have to be both ideologically committed and be prepared to develop their own parcel without making any money from their development efforts, while having no idea if their project might be bought from under them at any time.

        If that’s the case, that’s a bug. The whole thing is meant to make sense for people to join without considerations of ideology. (Even though, people who dig the ideology are more than welcome.)

        Ideally, any improvement they make should be theirs.

        Things could only be taken from you if someone pays you enough money to hand it over—and the tenant can set that value yourself.

        > E.g., to actually buy a parcel, you have to pay x% more than stated value.

        Sorry, how does that differ from just quoting an x% higher value in the first place?

        > Also, I suggest the buyer be required to pay all legal and other costs to effect the transaction, for both parties.

        I hadn’t thought of those costs. Thanks. I think, in the end it doesn’t matter who’s to pay, if the fees are reasonably easy to forecast for two reasons: first over the lifetime of a lease, every person is seller as often as they are buyer. Second, any additional cost or subsidy will be reflected in the price one way or another.

        (I see that, since it doesn’t matter from an economical point of view, this is an easy knob to tweak for its PR value.)

        Any costs imposed by the government for the transaction, like stamp duty, could be honoured with a `rental coupon’ like for other taxes. (The corporation looks very favourable upon transactions—to increase the economic efficiency of the allocation of the land.)

        > You need to balance the inefficiency of people understating their sell price with the inefficiency of value potentially being destroyed because someone with an aggressive estimate of value is willing to overpay and the lessees become reluctant to make investments in the land.

        I am not concerned about people with aggressive estimations getting proven wrong by the market. It’s their money. I am concerned about people unwilling to invest. That harks back to the first one: ideally all improvements to the land should be excluded from the base of `taxation’ by the corporation.

        Perhaps my idea of having people state the value of their land was too cute, and we need to rely on more traditional assessors. (Though even with assessors, the self-statement could still be useful in the common case, and the assessors are just there to audit claims.)

        > 3. Depreciating a building often doesn’t make sense as a way to find its value. Instead, look at replacement cost, which tends to increase rather than decrease because construction costs usually increase much faster than well-maintained long-lived assets actually depreciate. If you don’t adjust for this, it will almost always make sense to buy someone else’s (well-maintained) building out from under them after a few years rather than build your own. Which I suppose creates an incentive to simply not maintain your building.

        You are right that a well-maintained building keeps its value. The deprecation idea was too simple. So, assessors again, it is.

    • Murphy says:

      >(3) If someone comes and offers the posted price, the lessee has to sell. (This encourages posting a high enough price in step (1)).

      You might need some/vast quantities of fine print about people not creating systems to destroy land value…. somehow.

      For example I want to post a low land value but I also don’t want it bought out from under me.
      I have a chunk of good farmland which I keep in good condition but I publicly let it be known that part of the structures I have built on the land includes something that will destroy the land value during hasty teardown if I had to move.

      Effectively I pre-commit to salting the earth somehow while leaving if you come in and try to buy it out from under me for a low price. Of course I’d be much more careful if I had lots of time to plan my move after a consensual sale.

      • Matthias says:

        Thanks for the thought experiment. I see two avenues:

        – Make sure people on the whole land benefit from higher general valuations—eg distribute some of the rent the cooperation gets amongst all tenants. This is to encourage a social climate that cares about keeping land values up in general. (People don’t like being shunned.)

        – Use the courts. Ie use some fine print, but also use the notion that judges are not computers but humans with common sense.

    • Salem says:

      Why do you expect this to cause the economy around your land to boom?

      1. The presence of some businesses will only attract more to the extent that they are creating positive local externalities. However, you are not rewarding the creation of positive externalities, but merely paying taxes; these aren’t even remotely the same thing. A good anchor tenant is something like John Lewis – a shop that will attract people from miles around, and so other shops will pay a premium for the passing trade. The tenant you most attract is the registered office of a shell company, with a huge tax liability but minimal demand for space. You’ll end up paying them to locate their office there, but why is it particularly attractive for anyone else to want to locate my business next door to them?

      2. Developers are well aware that if they can kick-start a booming local economy, their rents will be higher in the long term – you are in a competitive market here. And they are already going much further than you – anchor tenants (i.e. lessees considered likely to create lots of positive externalities) are given huge incentives to go to new developments, sometimes not being charged rent at all, or even paid to go there. What makes your scheme more attractive?

      3. Lessees want security. Not being able to have more than a one-year lease is a cost to me, and it makes it harder for me to invest. I know you claim that I’ll get back investments in the land, but what about related investments? I’d like to run an advertising campaign telling local consumers that Salem’s Slippery Salamander Sales is now at Acacia Mall, but I’ll lose the value if I lose my lease, and yet that informational value isn’t going to be discounted.

      4. “Improvements,” like all capital, are specific, not some generic Cambridge K. My investments may have cost me a great deal, and enhance my use of the land, but do nothing to enhance your alternative use of the land, or even impede it. As such, my investments will often fail to raise the assessed value of the land, and so I will not make them unless I have sufficient security of tenure as to be able to enjoy their use.

      • Matthias says:

        > Why do you expect this to cause the economy around your land to boom?

        The crux of the matter. First, if a government would untax labour and capital and put the whole tax burden directly on land, I expect the economy to boom for the standard reasons. (I can elaborate, if you don’t agree here. The rest assumes you agree.)

        In our case, we are trying to emulate a single tax.

        My first idea was: the corporation takes rent by highest bidder (in cash), and out of that income refunds people’s taxes for economic activity on that land.

        Since that’s an awesome deal, I expect people to bid up the corporation’s land until the average person pays enough in rent to cover the taxes and then some. (Otherwise, there would always be a marginal person willing to move in at current prices from `normal’ land.)

        Note how the total amount of taxes paid is not reduced, but for any extra dollar a tenant earns, their tax gets refunded. (But for any extra dollar all the other tenants earn, they will bid up the rent a bit. A `tragedy of the commons’ in exactly the direction we want: everyone incentivised to produce more income.)

        Then I thought some more. Directly refunding the money for taxes paid, might count as income and might be taxed again. Thus, we instead net the refund out with the rent.

        This way it’s also harder to game the system in a bad way, since at most you pay zero rent. (But I want `tax coupons’ to be fully tradeable, so that people can pay their landlord at least partially in `tax coupons’, and the landlord just passes that part on.)

        My hope is that the construct of letting people bid for use of the land with cash and taxes paid will effectively reduce the marginal tax rate to zero.

        > 1. The presence of some businesses will only attract more to the extent that they are creating positive local externalities. However, you are not rewarding the creation of positive externalities, but merely paying taxes; these aren’t even remotely the same thing. A good anchor tenant is something like John Lewis – a shop that will attract people from miles around, and so other shops will pay a premium for the passing trade. The tenant you most attract is the registered office of a shell company, with a huge tax liability but minimal demand for space. You’ll end up paying them to locate their office there, but why is it particularly attractive for anyone else to want to locate my business next door to them?

        Yes, that’s a concern, and that’s why you need to be careful to only refund / count taxes paid on economic activity on the land itself. (The system doesn’t have to be perfect—we can err on the side of caution. Paying back less taxes will just reduce nominal property values a bit, and leave some economic deadweight loss from the taxes.)

        > 2. Developers are well aware that if they can kick-start a booming local economy, their rents will be higher in the long term – you are in a competitive market here. And they are already going much further than you – anchor tenants (i.e. lessees considered likely to create lots of positive externalities) are given huge incentives to go to new developments, sometimes not being charged rent at all, or even paid to go there. What makes your scheme more attractive?

        Good point. My scheme works automatically for all tenants, and not only for the people who have good lawyers to negotiate with the developer.

        Basically, participating in the scheme is useful for any new tenants who pays more taxes than the average old tenant. (Thus attracting people with more income over time.)

        > (3) related investments

        That’s a good argument for longer term contracts, indeed. (Alternatively, make people post higher valuations temporarily, to recoup their investment in the ad campaign from a potential buyer, while the benefits of the ad campaign last. Not sure whether that would work out.)

        I should look up how Georgists in general propose to solve this problem. It’s not specific to my private-sector emulation.

        > (4) improvements

        Good point. Same as for (3): I need to look up how Georgists who thought about this for longer propose to solve this.

        • Salem says:

          0. Economic boom

          You’re right that some kind of Georgist tax would likely be more efficient than our current system, and so would encourage economic growth over the long term (although boom is too strong). But if you levy a tax on land that is equal to 20% of the value added by businesses using the land, that’s a VAT, and the fact that you’re calling it a “land tax” doesn’t make any difference to its economic effects.

          Suppose the market rent of my land is $1m per year on normal terms. Suppose that there are a bunch of businesses with tax burdens somewhere around $500k per year interested in renting the land. So you’re thinking that on your scheme (assuming you solve all the flaws) a business bids $1.5m to rent it, as that will be the equilibrium price, but then expands sales such that its tax burden is $600k, because they’re facing a lower marginal cost, as the tax burden lowers their rent. But if the businesses know they can do that, they will bid the rent up higher in the first place, so the same tax system is still in place. You can’t dodge the tax system like that, it will all net out the same.

          In particular, the marginal incentives are unchanged in equilibrium. All that changes is the timing of the payment.

          1. You seem to take it for granted that lots of economic activity on your land is a good thing, from the point of view of a landlord. Interrogate that assumption. Is being a residential landlord (frequently, no economic activity allowed!) unprofitable? In fact, economic activity, by itself, is neutral from the landlord’s point of view. What matters to the landlord is any use of the land, whether economic or not, that improves its value to other (prospective) tenants. What I want is tenants who use the land in such a way that it draws in other tenants. For the same rent, I would prefer to lease my land to a church than a tannery. Businesses on your land may raise the value if they’re (say) all going to have lunch nearby, but the degree of their profitability is of no particular concern. Suppose I rent an office to an accountant. Provided he pays the rent and doesn’t go under, what do I care how profitable he is? I can’t charge the profitable ones more than the middling ones.

          2. Your system is wayyyyyy more legally intensive than negotiating a 20-year rent-free period. Think about the accounting and legal burden of what taxation could be fairly assessed to this physical location.

          • Matthias says:

            > (assuming you solve all the flaws)

            I think it’s an excellent idea to have two discussion tracks like you do here:

            – one steelmanning the idea to see whether we can shoot it down

            – one nitpicking as much as possible to see whether it’s feasible

            > 0. Economic boom

            I completely agree with your analysis if we had perfect uniformity: all businesses are identical and don’t change over time. I am still looking for an escape hatch from your argument.

            The first, more general principle is: each tenant tenant only pays enough to win the auction. Ie the public value of the land is what the second-best tenant could do with the land.

            Thus I imagine something like following scenario to play out:

            – assume a steady state equilibrium: all land values are bid up so that the net rent paid in cash after the tax rebate is equal to the rent across town under a conventional scheme.

            – a random unexpected opportunity comes along to make an extra buck. (Expected opportunities are already priced in—assume some form of efficient market hypothesis here.)

            The tenant has all incentive to exploit that unexpected opportunity. Each tenant knows perfectly well that the total stream of unexpected opportunities for all tenants taken together will eventually lead to total rent increase; yet it is still better for each tenant themselves to take any opportunity they can get.

            Since a tenant pays the opportunity cost—ie what’s needed to keep the second highest bidder out, not taking an opportunity (or being hit with a misfortune) doesn’t lower your rent, and taking an opportunity doesn’t increase it.

            > 1 “increased economic activity is good”

            `Economic activity’ is perhaps the wrong term. It’s a shorthand for `lots of income’. The landlord wants lots of rich people interested in his abodes. As you say, it’s not the well-off accountant that’s already renting with you that sets it’s the rent: it’s n+1-th accountant that doesn’t fit anymore that sets the rent. (Ie landlord can raise rent until all but n people are priced out of the market.)

            Getting a tenant / land use that directly increases the value of the surroundings to other tenants is a second order effect.

            > “I can’t charge the profitable ones more than the middling ones.”

            I think you summarized my reply to your objection in (0) here?

            > 2 “legal stuff”

            Yes, at least for a single tenant. I hope that if you work out the legalese once, you can re-use it. (The scheme does have the advantage that you only need the legalese, which is somewhat like software. Deciding on who’s an anchor tenant to get special treatment seems like a harder to automate business decision.)

          • Salem says:

            0. But remember that we expect some unexpected opportunities to come along (we just don’t know what they are). As such, the average number of unexpected opportunities are priced in. All the business is doing is buying variance. Businesses normally prefer to sell variance (i.e. buy insurance). As such, this will depress your rental income.


            The landlord wants lots of rich people interested in his abodes.

            Only to the extent that they’re able to charge a higher mark-up to them.

            The reason residential landlords want to rent to richer people is that richer people make better neighbours (positive externality). It’s not simply that richer people have more money and so can pay more rent – they demand nicer residences, which cost the landlord more, in exchange for their higher rent, so there’s no free lunch there. Indeed, there aren’t vast numbers of rich people, but there are economies of scale, so maybe you should aim the other way.

            But more profitable businesses don’t make better neighbours. Would you rather locate your business next to HSBC or Barclays? Would you rather rent to HSBC or Barclays? About the same, probably. They’ll pay you the same rent, they’ll be equally good neighbours. If I tell you that HSBC made about double the profits of Barclays last year, does that change your mind? Probably not…

            Let’s take a concrete example. Suppose there are a multiplicity of identical rental sites all renting to accountants, each charging rent of $1m per year. You’re using your scheme, everyone else is doing standard leases. The average accountant pays tax of $500k per year. The slightly more prosperous accountant rents from you because of his slightly higher taxes; his rent is $1.5m per year, which he pays as $950k cash and $550k tax rebate.

            So, you’re taking a loss of $50k per year to rent to this accountant. What do you get out of it? You can’t jack up his rent to $1.6m the next year and reclaim your money, because he’ll just leave and go to one of your competitors. Are other businesses particularly keen to locate themselves next to the slightly more prosperous accountant? No, they don’t care.

            So what exactly are you getting out of this?

            2. The point is that tax treatment is an incredibly complicated area, and the tenant now has to work out with you what amount of the tax is fairly attributable to that location. This will be a yearly process with huge amount of back-and-forth as to what fairly counts. That’s pure deadweight loss.

          • Matthias says:

            Thanks! I’ll chew on this.

            > 2. The point is that tax treatment is an incredibly complicated area, and the tenant now has to work out with you what amount of the tax is fairly attributable to that location. This will be a yearly process with huge amount of back-and-forth as to what fairly counts. That’s pure deadweight loss.

            The attribution doesn’t have to be perfect (simplicity is the virtue to aim for), and doesn’t have to attribute to the specific parcel rented—rather giving a tax credit for anything done inside the Georgist colony is enough. (The market will do the rest, if tax credits are tradable.)

            Your remarks about variance are interesting. I’ll have to think about them.

            I think, just talking about random opportunities would not save my argument, as you point out. I was lazy there. A good argument would have to talk about the cost of taking said opportunities.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      The most obvious objection that comes to mind is that the corporation appears to be operating at a loss. The amount it has to pay for the land originally equals the NPV of all the services the land will provide in the future, but the corporation is recovering only x% of the value of those services, further reduced by the discount for taxes paid to the government.

      • Matthias says:

        Thanks for the thought. I think I can handle these two specific objections:

        > The amount it has to pay for the land originally equals the NPV of all the services the land will provide in the future,


        > but the corporation is recovering only x% of the value of those services,

        The x% is the amount of (capitalized) land value `taxed’ each year. Not the amount of land rent.

        Of course, we expect the auctions to set the land value at a price to make x% of the land value to have some relation to the land rent per year.

        http://www.masongaffney.org/publications/G2009-Hidden_Taxable_Capacity_of_Land_2009.pdf has a formula that relates interest rates, land value tax rate and captured land rent.

        He starts at:

        V = (a – tV) / i

        Where V is the value of the land, a is the annual rend, t is the proportion of land value taxes paid every year (our x%), and i is the interest rate. Solving for V gives:

        V = a / (t + i)

        tax per year = t*V = t / (i+t) * a

        Thus the effective tax rate is on annual rent is t / (i+t), an increasing function of t approaching 100% asymptotically.

        This formula says that even with thousand percent tax rate on land value each year, we will never recover 100% of the land rent.

        Hence my suggestion to allot the initial leases by auction to the highest bidder. The auction should recover the remaining NPV of the uncaptured rent. (Of course, in the model I described we do that specific auction only once; so we don’t capture any increase in that residue—the owners of the lease get it all.)

        > further reduced by the discount for taxes paid to the government.

        In the steady state in aggregate, these discounts just inflate the (deemed) value of the land. They don’t reduce the cash take.

        Ie people bid up housing (and thus land) to what they can afford. If you allow part of the bid to be made with funny money, they’ll just hand in a higher bid: all their funny money plus whatever cash they can spare. (Because if they didn’t somebody else would beat them to the punch.) The amount of cash they can spare is independent of how much funny money there is to go around.

        The funny money (ie discount for taxes paid) only has an influence on the margin on individuals. And that’s great: because any extra dollar earned, is ca 50 cent extra in real money and 50 cent extra in funny money (exact proportions depending on your tax rate), and an individual can use both interchangeably to pay rent. (And everyone would use all their funny money to pay rent first, because that’s the only use for funny money. If they still have any left over after paying rent, they’d trade it. But this should only happen for a few people.)

        Of course this sucks a bit, if you are behind the curve in terms of increasing income—in this case the other people will relentlessly bid up your rent. But that’s exactly what this system is supposed to be doing. (The intended reaction is to get people to use less land in this case, by eg moving into a high rise apartment complex.) A negligible marginal tax rate cuts both way: every dollar you earn less gross, is also a net dollar less.

    • John Schilling says:

      – Form a corporation, let it buy some land and divvy the land up into parcels
      – sell long term (transferable) leases to the highest bidders

      A lease comes with the following restrictions…

      …So how does the top-level corporation make a profit, or even avoid bankruptcy?

      The commercial real estate market is AFIK in rough equilibrium such that buying land and leasing it out, with only the usual restrictions, is marginally profitable. You propose to add restrictions. Restrictions in general reduce the market value of land; your proposed restrictions seem calculated to add extreme risk to anyone planning to do business on this parcel of land – no matter what, your lease can be bought out from under you at any time. So, to anyone who isn’t an ideologically committed Georgist, a lease on this land is worth less than a lease on an equivalent plot of non-Georgist land and they will only sign the lease if the rent+fees are below market rates. But the market isn’t going to sell you the land at a discount because you’ve got an ideology. So haven’t you just pushed the holding company from marginally profitable to unprofitable?

      I also caught this bit,

      When paying the fee allow not only payments in cash, but also recognize … taxes paid to the government,

      and I’m pretty sure the bank that loaned your holding company the money to buy the land in the first place, wants to be paid back in actual cash, not warm fuzzies from the land’s holders having paid taxes on their good use of the land.

      You mention attracting lessees with cheap rent, and sure, if you drive the rents low enough you’ll get takers and maybe even build a thriving local economy. But their prosperity doesn’t save you from bankruptcy.

      • Matthias says:

        Your first point is a very good one: how do we make sure our returns are at the least what other competitors in the market bring?

        My answer is to rely on the small effective marginal tax rate of tenants to stimulate economic activity. If that works, we can achieve better than average returns on developing the property. If it doesn’t, this private sector emulation of a Georgist colony is useless.

        About your second point: I don’t think that’s a problem. Just imagine people could pay their rent partially in M&Ms. In practice: people on average just bid all their funny money, plus all the extra cash they can afford for rent anyway. (Anything less is not an equilibrium.)

        Thus the `tax discounts’ are free to the corporation on average. They just redistribute effective marginal tax rates.

    • grort says:

      It sounds like the problem you’re trying to solve is that it’s hard to directly estimate land rental values. So instead of saying “we have an assessor whose job it is to figure out what your land rental value should be, based on demand for the property”, you’re saying “you tell us what your land rental value should be, and here are some incentives for you not to lie”.

      The problem is that, a few paragraphs later, you say: “any building put onto the land increases the value to be paid to hand over the lease but that extra value will be exempt from the fee”. How much does it increase the value by? Who decides that number? It sounds like you’re going to have to hire an assessor to figure out what the building value should be. If you’re going to hire an assessor anyway, you might as well have the assessor tell you the rental value of the property directly.

      I think supply-and-demand is good enough to compute property rental values in most cases. Divide a chunk of land into N lots of roughly equal value, then set the rental value low enough that nearly all of them are occupied. If all the lots are occupied and you start getting people saying “put me on a waitlist for if one of those lots opens up”, it’s time to raise the rent. If the lots start going vacant because people think the rent is too high, it’s time to lower the rent.

      If you do things this way, it’s also harder to game your system. I agree with Murphy, above, that there are too many ways for a property owner to mess with their land value — by building an expensive thing that only they can use, or by damaging the property in a way that won’t hurt their specific business. If you apply a flat average rent value, those incentives go away.

      • Matthias says:

        Thanks. Yes, assuming an assessor for land vs improvement values would solve some problems. (I think I am trying to hard to come up with a simple elegant system here.)

        See my reply to Murphy for the rest.

    • Alex says:

      Others have argued that this is to risky for the lessee or that it is impossible to valuate the improvements. I think the (only) solution is that the lessees post prices at which they are willing to loose land plus improvements, i. e. I think that incentive (3) will take precedence over incentive (2) every time.

      So lets do the math. The potential lessee will have to compare something like

      area * local lease per area unit


      (area * value per area unit + value of improvements) * percentage - tax load

      rearrange the second

      (area * value per area unit * percentage) + (value of improvements * percentage - tax load)

      maybe you will want to design percentage so that approx.

      value per area unit * percentage = local lease per area unit

      i. e. the top level unit breaks even on unimproved land. This also simplifies things.

      You will attract (only) leesees for which

      value of improvements * percentage < tax load

      Maybe its time to think what kind of businesses these are and if your model will work with them.

      • Matthias says:

        > I think the (only) solution is that the lessees post prices at which they are willing to lose land plus improvements, […]

        Yes, something like this was my idea. But then only `tax’ people on the value of the land. (See eg this real world example.)

        Taxing the improvements as well is exactly the opposite of the Georgist setup I am trying to emulate privately here.

        See eg Wikipedia for why we care.

        • Alex says:

          OK, let me rephrase that:

          How do you think it is possible to evaluate land and improvement seperately, however hard your ideology wishes that it would be possible?

          • I ain’t no georgist, but people do this all the time, right now. They can figure out the land cost as a portion of house purchases, commercial building purchases, and plenty of other situations. It might not be as objective as a Georgian theorist would want, but it is certainly possible.

            Seems to me that a better critique is how those land values will be figure out in ways that limit how game-able they are, but I am not the person to make that critique.

          • Alex says:

            I ain’t no georgist, but people do this all the time, right now. They can figure out the land cost as a portion of house purchases, commercial building purchases, and plenty of other situations. It might not be as objective as a Georgian theorist would want, but it is certainly possible.

            Hmm. I Imagine the measures to be terribly crude, but my knowledge of real estate trading is very limited.

          • Mine too, but in the limited house hunting I’ve done and talking with building owners as part of designing buildings, there are at least measures to do this. I can’t vouch for how accurate they are, which is what I mean by that being a better line of attack. Otherwise, have at it with those filthy Georgists. =D

          • Chalid says:

            My impression from doing a little househunting is that *everything* about the real estate market is terribly crude.

          • John Schilling says:

            As others have noted, this is done all the time. As for how:

            When e.g. a house burns down, the owner almost certainly isn’t going to live in a hotel waiting for it to be rebuilt. So, after a bit of bulldozing, a plot of land is going to be sold on the open market with all the externalities associated with being in that neighborhood but with essentially no improvement. Six moths later, the same plot of land will sell with a nice new house on it. In the meantime, someone down the street will sell an older and slightly run-down house.

            Three empirical measurements of the value of identical plots of land in the same market but with different levels of improvement including “none at all”. Do the math, then average over all similar sales in similar markets.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            You don’t even have to go that far.

            In hot housing markets where a neighborhood is undergoing a large shift in housing stock, it’s not uncommon to see “knock downs” wherein a house is purchased for the sole intention of knocking it down to build a better/bigger/more expensive house on the property. Pretty easy to see the direct land value there, less the cost of the tear down.

    • grort says:

      I agree with you that taxing community resources such as land makes a lot more sense than our current scheme. If we had a good way to find a fair (ie, market-clearing) tax rate for each parcel of land, we could solve a lot of problems. In particular, places like the Bay Area have a housing crisis right now because homeowners want to prevent new homes from being built (in order to make the value of their own homes go up); this would solve that problem. I also agree that removing taxes on economic activity would improve the economy.

      I think it’s weird that you’re proposing to implement this using a corporation.

      If you use a corporation to generate a few blocks of Georgist-taxed land in the middle of a wide area of non-Georgist-taxed land, you’re going to get selection effects. The people who move onto your land are going to be the people who would pay much less tax under the Georgist regime than the existing one. You can increase the tax rate until you’re still making money, but it won’t be a realistic experiment because all the low-income homeowners will opt out of it.

      Also, corporations have to deal with a lot of additional headaches that governments don’t. You have to come up with a huge amount of starting capital; you have to buy a bunch of land and then entice people to move onto it. You have to make people buy the land from you, in order to recoup your cost from buying the land in the first place. This generates friction, because people have to figure out how to value this new land. Lots of people will accidentally value the land too high or too low, and they’ll lose a lot of money; this is what commenters are talking about when they say there’s “too much risk” in this system.

      If you’re a publicly traded corporation, you have a board of directors that will demand you make more and more profit every year.

      If I wanted to convert a region to Georgist taxes, I would find a friendly government (probably a city government) and start a lobbying campaign to convince them to add a Georgist tax. They could start small, like 10% of all tax revenue is Georgist, and increase slowly to make sure nothing bad happened.

      • Matthias says:

        Yes, the standard model for introducing Georgism is to lobby a friendly government. Alas, despite some filtration, it hasn’t worked all that well over the last >100 years.

        Hence my thought experiment about whether a private emulation is possible.

        > If you use a corporation to generate a few blocks of Georgist-taxed land in the middle of a wide area of non-Georgist-taxed land, you’re going to get selection effects. The people who move onto your land are going to be the people who would pay much less tax under the Georgist regime than the existing one. You can increase the tax rate until you’re still making money, but it won’t be a realistic experiment because all the low-income homeowners will opt out of it.

        More nuanced: people whose ratio of land demanded / taxes paid is higher than average will opt out. Ie a poor person who’s happy to live in a shoebox (or more realistically, a small apartment in a high rise) will still benefit.

        We don’t need to do anything to increase the taxes: the rich people will bid up the land values that we can tax at a fixed proportional rate.

        To the heart of your argument: these selection effects are exactly what we are aiming for in the private emulation. That gentrification of attracting richer and richer people (ie people who pay lots of income tax) is exactly how this scheme is supposed to make money.

        And that’s my answer for how to placate the investors. (The corporation already tries to capture 100% of the rental value of the land. There’s nothing more to take, even for the greediest investor. The `tax rebate’ doesn’t lower the net cash take.)

  37. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #17
    This week we are discussing “Seventy-Two Letters” by Ted Chiang.
    Next time we will discuss “A Martian Odyssey” by Stanley G. Weinbaum.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I hate going first.

      Someone else go first.

      Uh…I thought the DNA at the end was neat.

      If the main character had been more genre-savvy he could have realized that the kabbalist held the secret to his success days or weeks earlier and saved everyone a whole lot of trouble.

    • Fj says:

      This story exemplifies the unique brand of Ted Chiang’s craziness that I love so much about his fiction.

      There’s a common Sci-Fi trope where you have some pseudo-fantasy elements that turn out (immediately or eventually) to have scientific explanations, the proverbial sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic. Vampires are a different Homo subspecies, the Long Sun is long because the story happens on a seed spaceship, gods are ancient AIs, spells work because they are commands to nanobots (something I was totally sure Ted Chiang was going for in this story), and so on.

      And then you have stuff that is fundamentally incompatible with how our own world works. I was convinced until the very end that the whole weird preformationism thing was a red herring, a gag even. Nope, it’s Ted Chiang, instead of asking “what if nuclear fission was discovered by Romans” he explores how a world running on different metaphysics could look like.

      I like what it does to my mind, the feeling it creates as it breaks the pattern. Does anybody else know other authors who do similar stuff?

      • Richard Garfinkle, Celestial Matters— what if the four elements were how the universe actually works? Book includes an expedition to the sun to get some elemental fire.

    • Deiseach says:

      I really disliked Robert when he was introduced, so that cast a jaundiced light over the whole story for me. I’m sorry, Ted Chiang, but every story of yours that I read (that has to do with religion, which seem to be the ones I see recommended) I intensely dislike, and this was no exception.

      I think it was the general air of cleverality, of trying too hard. What were Robert and his associates trying to achieve, in the end? Never mind what they said they wanted to do, what did they do? It was mostly “we’re doing this because we can do it”. Robert has no more mind of what the future humans will be like than he did about his clay dolls at the start: all he was (and is) interested in is taking them apart, seeing what makes them tick, and putting them back in a way he has redesigned.

      • Nita says:

        As I understand it, the magic only works on living matter if you use the ~true name~ of the species, so the future humans should be exactly like the past humans. What do you think they should have done?

      • Aegeus says:

        What did they do? They made it possible for humans to continue having children, beyond the 5-generation limit they discovered. And he wasn’t mindless about it, he took steps to ensure that this wouldn’t let the government start sterilizing the poor or other shady stuff like that. A pretty good result, on the whole.

        We see the same thought process when he’s working on golems at the start – the reason he built a sculptor automaton with the dexterous names was that he didn’t merely want to put another occupation out of work, he wanted to make it so that everyone could have access to cheap automata. Robert is a guy who thinks big.

        It does feel kind of emotionally flat, but I don’t think it’s because of Robert’s character. I think it’s because five generations is too far away to have any direct impact on the story. There’s all sorts of strange and curious ideas on the horizon of the story – self-replicating machines, humans with their True Name written on them, custom-built organisms… but all of it is 100 years away. No character is trying to have children, engineered or no. No character is getting put out of work by automata. No character is starting a robot revolution. It’s all tell and no show.

      • Poxie says:

        I think it was the general air of cleverality, of trying too hard. What were Robert and his associates trying to achieve, in the end? Never mind what they said they wanted to do, what did they do? It was mostly “we’re doing this because we can do it”. Robert has no more mind of what the future humans will be like than he did about his clay dolls at the start: all he was (and is) interested in is taking them apart, seeing what makes them tick, and putting them back in a way he has redesigned.

        Strongly disagree, and very confused by your reading. I’m not sure how you get that out of this story.

        Also, I’m sorry, but your offhand dismissal of cleverarity seems pretty cleveraritous to me. Looking for a coherent reason for your negative reaction, in other words.

    • keranih says:

      I liked that this wasn’t excessively crazy, the way some of Ted Chiang’s work is. The rules of the universe were fairly well laid out and not frustratingly counter to each other. I really appreciated the untangling of the knowledge of names/DNA/taxonomy.

      About partway through, I realized this was one of those stories where there werent likely to be any named (or speaking) women characters at all, and was expecting some part of the finale to upset that part of the world’s social order. In contrast to this, the hero did come down on “the right side of history” re: population control of lower classes. I’m not sure what I think about how that was handled.

      Did I miss something in the number of letters? Was 72 representing something specific?

    • John Schilling says:

      Am I the only one who wondered whether the proposed solution was going to wind up replacing humanity with P-zombies in five generations? Obviously not where Chiang was going, but when you have a universe where vitalism works, and where there is a separate mojo for producing mindless inorganic automatons, dualism is a pretty appealing hypothesis and I’d be concerned that applying the mindless-inorganic-automaton mojo to an unfertilized egg might wind up missing something kind of critical.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I think worldbuilding is Ted Chiang’s greatest strength, and “Seventy-Two Letters” is a good example of why; the setting is lovely, and its details are coherently extrapolated to instigate the conflicts which drive the story.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Since Scott is posting decimal Open Threads so often, I am adopting a new norm of posting discussions only on whole number Open Threads. Hopefully that will give people time to read the next selection in line.

  38. Richard says:

    On a discussion forum, I came across this tidbit on obesity:

    I’ve wondered about the human biome since the term was first coined, and with all the new stuff about nutrition (fat isn’t as bad for you as they said, for example), and the impact of gut bacteria on weight, I’m wondering if the obesity epidemic isn’t caused in part due to the destruction of the biome by over-use/misuse/incomplete use of antibiotics. If one overlays the timelines, from thin to fat with antibiotic use, they tend to match up.

    This seems to track extremely well with nations if you eyeball some wikipedia data: Less antibiotic use -> fewer obese people.

    On the other hand, it tracks badly on an individual level where many of the obese people I encounter (and they are many enough to count as data even if not formally counted) have never ever taken antibiotics.

    So for this to be a causal connection, prevalence of antibiotics needs to have a way of influencing the gut biome on a population level, not just on an individual level.

    I can’t find any research after 2 minutes of googling. Anyone here know of such?

    • Matthias says:

      There’s also often antibiotics in your meat..

    • Glen Raphael says:

      One popular hypothesis is that antibiotics in animal feed (which reliably makes animals fatter) somehow affects the people who later eat those animals. Or there’s some other sort of cross-contamination mechanism, like the artificially-fat animals serve as incubators for fat-friendly viruses? Or antibiotics used during childbirth or in response to early childhood diseases has a delayed effect in some people but not all people?

      Anyway, it’s an idea floating out there in the ether. Several papers have tried to test hypotheses along those lines though I don’t think any have panned out yet. Try these articles as a starting point:


      • Richard says:


        This tracks extremely well on my sample of fat people too. I live where antibiotics in farming is very tightly regulated and “regular” meat is largely antibiotics-free. All the obese people have been big fans of imported meats. This is interesting.

      • Nornagest says:

        Have vegetarians been getting fatter? I bet you the answer is “yes”.

        • Virbie says:


          Antibiotics don’t remain completely and totally locked up in the flesh of the animal that ingests them. Leaving aside the fact that only 0.5% of American vegetarians are vegans, and thus most probably eat dairy:

          Antibiotics in manure that seep into soil have been detected in carrots, lettuce, and green onions. Some antibiotics remain active for months after passing through the animal and are detectable in rivers miles from their use; a study of a river in Colorado found several antibiotics everywhere except for “a pristine site in the mountains before the river had encountered urban or agricultural landscapes.”

          from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/12/obesity-antibiotics-microbiome/421344/

          It doesn’t seem beyond the bounds of possibility of vegetarian exposure to antibiotics has increased as well.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Detectable” is a very low bar. If there’s an open flask of bleach on my desk, my nose will sense detectable levels of sodium hypochlorite in the air, and maybe some other stuff. Doesn’t mean it’s going to have effects on the same spectrum as chugging it.

            Dairy’s a decent point, though. I don’t know how much animal antibiotics make it into milk or eggs relative to meat, but the levels could plausibly be similar.

          • Virbie says:

            I didn’t mean to suggest that this means that vegetarians are definitely being dosed in ways that act the same way, just that it opens a window of plausibility for your objection. Particularly because the theory is also consistent with the fact that vegetarians have gotten less obese than meat-eaters (and vegans even less so).

        • Anon says:

          Hard to study well, since a majority people who claim to be vegetarian also report having having eaten meat in the last 24 hours.

          Anecdotally, I know zero overweight vegetarians (n > 10). But there are many, many confounds – if nothing else, merely paying any attention to your diet at all puts you at reduced risk of being overweight.

    • keranih says:

      Eh. I’d not reach for “antibiotics for animals are the orange soda” just yet.

      Yes, in conventional agriculture, antibiotics are administered in feed in order to promote better health and hence better weight gain. But it’s not fat, it’s muscle. Medications as growth promotants are specifically aimed at shifting metabolism to increase muscle growth over fat deposition. The modern consumer wants meat, and lean meat at that, and feed that is deposited as fat is pretty much wasted money. Outside of a certain thickness, it’s just cut off the carcass and discarded.

      (The hog industry took a major hit in the 1970’s because they were trying to stay with a traditional lard hog when the US consumer switched to vegetable oils and lean meat – it took quite a while for the industry to get over itself and retool to meet consumer demand. Meanwhile, the poultry industry was quite happy to provide all the turkey breast and skinless chicken (in standard sized portions, no less) that the consumer wanted.)

      On top of this, the majority of medications given to livestock that are listed as “antibiotics” are, well, not really antibiotics, but coccidiostats – specifically monensin, which are given to ruminants for the impact on the microbes & protozoa in their rumen vat – the largest stomach chamber. Which humans have not got, and don’t make use of the same biopathways. Pigs don’t have them either, and react the same way to monensin as humans, which is why monensin isn’t used as a growth promoter in swine.

      Additionally – medications given to animals are adsorbed and metabolized by the animal, and the metabolites excreted. Withhold periods of time are set between when medications are given and the animal can be sent to slaughter. (See: FARAD.) There are set allowable residues for any medication given to food animals, and while the limits are set on what would have an impact on the humans (ie, penicillin has to be at a level that it won’t cause a reaction in a person allergic to penicillin) the allowable amounts are really, really small. Compared to all the other things in our environment, the medications in animal meat are really not that great.

      A cavaet to this is that we know a lot about how to have young growing animals put on a lot of muscle weight – through genetics, husbandry, and feeding. We have a lot of experimentation on this. We have less recent data on trying to make older, mature animals muscular, because feeding older animals for slaughter is generally a salvage process rather than to maximize profit. And we really have next to no actual data on how to feed and keep humans to keep them at a good weight for the modern environment.

      It might turn out to be something we feed a section of livestock. But as different medications are given to different animals, and as swine, cattle and poultry all have different metabolisms, I’m really not thinking that universal fat gain in humans is strongly linked to medications for livestock.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        On top of this, the majority of medications given to livestock that are listed as “antibiotics” are, well, not really antibiotics, but coccidiostats – specifically monensin, which are given to ruminants for the impact on the microbes & protozoa in their rumen vat – the largest stomach chamber. Which humans have not got, and don’t make use of the same biopathways. Pigs don’t have them either, and react the same way to monensin as humans, which is why monensin isn’t used as a growth promoter in swine.

        But other antibiotics, even penicillin, are used to promote growth of swine

    • Jacob says:

      I’d be willing to bet this is a red herring. Antibiotic use and obesity both correlate with time, and development of a nation in general.

      Let me counterpropose a radical theory: Increasing obesity is caused by an increase amount of cheap food, which has been engineered to make people eat as much as possible. I wrote a series of posts about this awhile ago.

      • Julie K says:

        I think our increasingly sedentary lifestyles play a major role. On the other hand, I’ve heard even the Amish are getting fatter, and they presumably aren’t couch potatoes.

    • onyomi says:

      I think a possibly worse problem antibiotics may be more responsible for (at least, to a greater/more direct degree) is the big uptick in autoimmune problems. I don’t think we really have to look to meat, either. Just look to the fact that almost everyone in e. g. the US now goes through at least several courses of a variety of antibiotics during childhood and adolescence. There’s no way that doesn’t leave an imprint on the microbiome and your body’s reaction to it. May increase likelihood of aberrant immune reaction.

    • LPSP says:

      Not directly relevant to this post, but relevant to some of the talk in the thread – I’ve mentioned before, and I don’t want to go on about it, but I lost two and a half stone in maybe as many months just by starting a one day a week fast and no longer eating breakfast.

      ALL nutrition is highly personal, and what works for one is not guaranteed to work for another. But the results of just not eating anything for a day every week have been so staggering (I lost one stone in the first month, you should’ve seen my jaw drop) that I can’t not advertise it. From my (very personal) perspective, eating too much is the culprit.

  39. Symantec’s malware-control systems turned out to be vulnerable to a buffer-overflow bug. They apparently hired Uriel.

  40. Pku says:

    Assuming I want to give money to support green goals (sustainability/global warming/pollution/etc), does anyone know of a good analysis of how to do it effectively (something along the lines of givewell)?

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I’m not sure if there is one. Most environmental goals require improved technology; I guess you could throw money at research. Putting money into political advocacy is pretty much a money pit though.

      Could you be more specific? Because if your green goals include things like “record species before they are extinct”, there are programs that deal directly with that; biologists won’t turn away more funding.

    • Richard says:

      I would vote for reforestation programs as having a rather high positive impact, but there are lots of reforestation programs and most of them are probably run rather badly. I have no sane way of picking a good one.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        What’s more certain, is buying a few acres of forest land that is already in good, bio-diverse condition and protecting it.

    • keranih says:

      Others may know more, but to my understanding, various green goals conflict with each other (ie, more “sustainable”/lower tech branches of industry are less efficient and so pollute more per unit produced, reducing greenhouse gas emissions via nuclear energy vs trash combustion vs capturing methane from green fields; etc) and there is not yet an established common metric for exchanging trade offs, such as the dollar or the DALY. Carbon emissions regulation is apparently still fraught with issues due to lack of understanding functional equivalents and fraud.

      If I was wanting to put money into a specific goal, I would work on establishing/discovering/defining that common metric.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      They haven’t done what you’re looking for yet, but openphilanthropy.org is probably the organization most likely to do so in the future. They’re Givewell affiliated but with a generally broader scope.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I have no expertise on the subject, but global warming seems like the biggest threat to the planet right now. So if your main concern is just making sure the planet will stay habitable as long as possible, donating money toward technologies that reduce carbon emissions or replace the things that cause global warming seems like a good bet.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        I think you are overestimating the level of risk. Global warming looks to melt the ice caps within 2200-3000 AD, raising sea levels, some climatic shifts and possibly make the temperature go above safe levels in some areas near the equator. This is bad, but it isn’t end of the world bad; I’d personally consider the ozone hole much worse.

        • dinofs says:

          That’s assuming that “some climactic shifts” don’t set off unstoppable negative feedback loops or damage things in ways we haven’t predicted, that the oceans will be able to survive increased acidification, and that flooding and unsafe temperatures won’t make big enough swathes of the planet unlivable as to set off something an order of magnitude worse than the current refugee crisis. None of those things are likely to mean extinction, but i’d give them decent odds to at least blow up global capitalism and the modern geopolitical order, which would be bad enough in my book to make global warming a top concern.

          • James Picone says:

            Runaway global warming (‘unstoppable feedback loops’, where the oceans boil off) doesn’t happen until ~30c about preindustrial on Earth, and there’s genuine scientific disagreement about whether it’s even possible here.

            Probably the scariest plausible outcomes are ‘Hansen is right; ice sheets can disintegrate very very fast’ and we get tens of metres of sea level rise in a century; and “acidification + warming oceans + clathrates leads to very large anoxic events and mass extinctions in the oceans, with flow-on effects to pretty much all of the biosphere”.

            (note: I do not think either of those things are very likely at all; maybe 1%, and only that high because unknown unknowns something something.)

            Whether or not you consider it worth funding against depends on a lot of things; I’m not claiming this makes global warming the best thing to fund if you’re trying to do environmental effective altruism, I really don’t know.

  41. zensunni couch-potato says:

    GoT/ASOIAF spoilers:

    Gur bevtva bs gur Juvgr Jnyxref cerfragrq va gur fubj va f6r5 pna or frra nf n cnenoyr nobhg NV fnsrgl.

    [EDITED BY SCOTT: Please put spoilers in rot13!]

    • Anonymous says:

      Please use rot13 or similar when posting spoilers.

    • thisguy says:

      I find it interesting that the white walkers jrer perngrq sebz n pncgherq uhzna. I wonder if that is supposed to be some sort of theme, the desperation that was required to do so.

    • Sivaas says:

      Forget that, we have gvzr geniry!

      Rira vs vg erdhverf Abivxbi frys-pbafvfgrapl, vg fubhyq or geviny gb rkcybvg gur obbgfgenc cnenqbk gung jr xabj vf cbffvoyr sebz Ubqbe gb ghea Jrfgrebf vagb n uvtu-grpu hgbcvn.

  42. Outis says:

    Apparently, the word “love” is supposed to have universally positive associations. But it doesn’t work that way with me. “Made with love in San Francisco” causes me to feel immediate aversion. “Hosted with ♥️ by GitHub” makes me want to vomit. Does anybody else experience this?

    • Nornagest says:

      A perhaps less subjective counterexample: “love bombing”, a well-known cult recruitment tactic.

      It’s just a word. You’re probably reacting to the twee tone.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      I hadn’t seen those particular phrases before you wrote them, but they’re creating exactly the same reaction here. Perhaps it’s because of negative associations with “San Francisco” and “GitHub” that I assume you have?

      • Outis says:

        Could be, but I think I get the same reaction in the rare instances where it’s “Made with love in Cleveland”.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Hrm. By contrast, I find the phrase “Made with love in Cleveland” to be rather endearing.

          Maybe it’s that San Francisco and GitHub are, to me, places/organizations that are inherently smug and manipulative towards negative ends. So when they start pretending to be nice I want to check that I still have my wallet and my right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: “Made with love in Cleveland”

            My unconscious reaction would probably to think it was crappy in some way. Sorry, Cleveland, but you are always going to be the Mistake on the Lake to me.

          • The Nybbler says:

            “Made with love in Cleveland” has a dissonant tang that cuts through the treacle.

            “Produced indifferently in Guangzhou” doesn’t sound so great, but I’ll bet if you put it in Chinese characters you could sell T-shirts and maybe get someone to get a tattoo.

          • onyomi says:

            I would totally buy something labelled “produced with indifferent efficiency in Guangzhou.”

          • Anonymous says:

            My first reaction to “Made with love in Cleveland” is a vague sense of dread that those smug, manipulative Bay Area types have escaped containment and set up a colony node in a third-tier American city (My town could be next!). “Love” in marketing seems to carry a very specific type of cultural significance.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      You might ask Deiseach.

    • BBA says:

      Love means nothing. Any tennis fan will tell you that.

    • Pku says:

      I mentally read ♥️ as heart, which makes it a lot less sticky. “Hosted with heart by github” isn’t so bad/

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think for me that’s more a reaction to fakeness. Nobody really makes a mass market product with love. It’s obvious they’re trying to manipulate you, so you feel annoyed.

    • Virbie says:

      I had exactly the same thought as Scott. Are all the examples you can think of marketing copy? Because if so, then drawing the conclusion that you have a problem with the world “love” itself is kind of odd.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Welcome to Costco, I love you”

      • Subbak says:

        Now I’m imagining this as an ad that might run in Nightvale, in Cecil’s deep voice.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Love” is a very over-used word. I can’t say it makes me want to throw up, but I would certainly snort with disdain at anything claiming to be “made with love in [anywhere]”.

      And companies trying to make you think they care about you as a person (instead of extracting the most cash out of you as a resource) with cutesy symbols and logos and catchphrases annoy the ever-living hell out of me.

      So you’re not alone – it’s not “love” the concept that has been made repugnant to you, it’s “love” the word that has been bastardised as a marketing tool.

      • HircumSaeculorum says:

        Do you, like me, get really annoyed when inanimate objects say “hello” or “welcome” to you? Or, god forbid, use your name (as in, “Welcome, *name*” when you start Windows)?

    • Anonymous says:

      Nothing, but nothing, has universally positive associations.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, there’s a reason Eliezer loves murdering babies..

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        Nothing has universally positive associations, but there are some words that broadly tend to evoke good feelings or bad. I’d say the vast majority of people have a positive association with love (because love itself is usually an enjoyable feeling), and so the word tends to be used in manipulative ways by people wanting to promote something. If you want to sell an idea or a cause, you just have to convince people that your side is about “love” and the other side is about something usually seen as negative–hate, fear, etc.

        As others have pointed out, I think people developing an aversion to the word love is usually a reaction against a perceived manipulation (or treacly cuteness). Though I’m sure there are people who just have negative feelings associated with “love” due to personal experience.

    • LPSP says:

      Not directly, but I’m sure I’ve experienced the same from similar things. I know of many other cases like it. Chalk it down to cultural factors and frame of mind. Language and symbolism to that effect is a direct appeal to tribalism – “we’re all good [X]ers, right guys? Haha, let’s crack a cool one and get cozy <3". Some people are always looking for that, and will jump at a cue for it. Others are the opposite, and are immediately suspect when something they expect to provide a formal and systematic service suddenly starts flirting with them.

      "I'm not your friend, phone-company, and I'm not a fucking hippy either. I'm going to another provider now, don't call me again." – the resulting train of thought. Of course, companies rely on this reaction in a sense. It gets rid of the "bad fits", leaving only customers and consumers who attend out of *loyalty*, maybe even *love*, rather than anything so mercenary as a contract.

      Was it Scott or Eliezer who wrote on how every organisation dreams of being a cult? Perhaps not all, but it's certainly a powerhouse for a business to no longer have to remain competetive or produce quality products, on account of customers "just feeling good" to be a "part of it". So many just give it a shot.

      • Randy M says:

        Reminds me of how Facebook will pop up old posts with the message “We care about you and your memories, and thought you’d like to see this old post of you.”

        • Nornagest says:

          God, I hate that shit. Especially since eight times out of ten it’s something embarrassing or trivial.

  43. GioD says:

    I know there are quite a few people here who use modafinil and other -afinils. I’m looking for something stronger than adrafinil but won’t be able to get my hands on modafinil or armodafinil for awhile because of where I’m staying. Does anybody have any experience with Flmodafinil/CRL-40,940 or hydrafinil? How do they compare to adrafinil? Has anybody experienced any negative side effects with them that they haven’t with adra-, moda-, or armodafinil?

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      I tried two of the “finils” before.

      Just get some adderall, or some yohimbe + caffiene.

      • Winfried says:

        The biggest benefit to drugs like modafinil or Nuvigil is the lack of a crash. You will still be tired and unable to focus when it wears off but not any worse than you would be at that point anyway.

        If you use Adderall, when it wears off you are worse off than you would be at that point in time if you hadn’t taken it.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          I have taken adderall and modafinil.

          I don’t notice much of a crash. I don’t notice one with caffiene either. I *did* notice the adderall much much more than the modafinil.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          Not saying modafinil dosen’t work though. I didn’t notice too much, but it seems to be a well vetted drug.

  44. merzbot says:

    Math people: I found this album cover that has a bunch of math notation on it in a weird flowchart-ish diagram. It’s also in Spanish. Is this gibberish or real math?

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      For reference:

      Dado = given
      si = if
      sea(n) = being (plural)
      curva de Jordan = Jordan’s curve
      consta de un único punto límite = has a single limit
      separa = separates
      estric. creciente = strictly increasing
      tal que = such that
      conexos disjuntos = connected disjointed
      y (symbol) es la frontera de uno de ellos = And (symbol) is the boundary of one of them
      sobre = divided by

      That’s most of them.

      • matemático anónimo says:

        A few corrections, from a speaker of both math and Spanish:

        sea(n) = being (plural)

        Rather, “let”. As in Sea S un conjunto, “Let S be a set”; Sean S, S’ dos conjuntos, “Let S, S’ be two sets”.

        curva de Jordan = Jordan’s curve

        Jordan curve (no “‘s”). (“…es curva de Jordan” should be translated “…is a Jordan curve”)

        consta de un único punto límite = has a single limit

        consists of a single limit (point)

        conexos disjuntos = connected disjointed

        disjoint connected

        sobre = divided by

        Literally “over”, which like in English is used for “divided by”, but also for the other mathematical uses of “over” (e.g. “a module over a ring”, etc.).

    • Chiffewar says:

      My Spanish is mediocre and I am still in the process of passing linear algebra. But, if I were a betting woman, I would put money on ‘real math’. It’s definitely not pure gibberish. It might be wrong, but it’s not gibberish.

    • Pku says:

      Mathematician here. Definitely real math, but I’m not sure what it’s about (looks like something geometric). The issue isn’t so much the spanish as the lack of context – contrary to stereotype, most of us are really bad at reading large sequences of symbols without more words explaining it.

      • EyeballFrog says:

        The only think I recognize is the statement of the Jordan curve theorem. I can’t figure out what it’s trying to prove, though.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      At the bottom it says “extension of differential equations.” Much of the diagram seems to about long term existence of solutions to a differential equation, specifically a flow along a vector field.

  45. i need a nap says:

    Since becoming a father, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep my son from running into the same problems I did growing up. From reading this blog and others, I’ve become convinced that my influence on my child’s success and happiness in life isn’t quite as powerful as a parent would wish.

    One of the issues I’ve dealt with in my life and which I fear my son will deal with is that of a sort of prolonged adolescence. My siblings seem to have had the same problem, though my female siblings have been more successful academically than my one male sibling and I.

    To make a long story short, I feel like I was excluded from a lot of opportunities in life because I simply took so much longer to mature. College is the biggest example I can think of – had primary school extended for another 7 years or so, I’m pretty certain that, in relation to my peers, I would have attended a much more competitive/prestigious university than I did. I simply wasn’t ready for college when I turned 18. This has affected my life a great deal since.

    Has anyone else dealt with this? Does anyone have any ideas for how to help a child deal with the same problem? I have a few ideas, but I’m not sure how helpful they would be, particularly because I now believe my influence is so limited.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      That might apply to me as well. All I can think of is a small piece of advice I wish I had been given at the start of college.

      You know how college’s a research institutions? They tend to take that seriously- professors generally have weekly meetings discussing the newest research (often professors presenting their own stuff). You want to attend those. It is extremely useful in answering the question “will I find this field of study interesting in the future”.

    • Cheese says:

      Unless you’re one of those rare people who seems to have a particular career path in mind from day dot, I tend to think, based on my own personal experience and opinions, is that ‘gap years’ and associated solo travel is the fastest way to ‘mature’ as an adolescent male. And not just going for a jaunt overseas for a couple of months. Most western countries have visa exchange programs which allow people under 30 to take out 1 to 2 year working visas very easily. With a bit of a savings buffer, you can quite easily spend a few years backpacking and working your way though places like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, the US, the UK and western Europe. You can also scoot off to places like Central America, SE Asia, Eastern Europe in between.

      I did Canada as an Australian (it’s almost a cultural expecation that you either spend a year in Canada or the UK as a young aussie) and went through the US and Europe after that. It gives you a kick up the arse with respect to managing your life independently and dealing with all different kinds of people.

      As for determining what career path you want to try to pursue academically, I have no idea how to speed that process up. But I think some of that can come from general maturity. I think you may be under-rating what influence you can have on your son’s life. Yes, with regards to measures like IQ, you may have limited (but not insignificant) influence on eventual outcome. However what you may be able to offer in terms of financial support and a framework in which your son can learn stuff that comes under the general heading of ‘how to adult’ is pretty significant in my opinion.

      • i need a nap says:

        A gap year and solo travel were actually exactly what I had in mind. If I could convince him to take the time off, I think it would be very beneficial. That’s a big If, though.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      You can tell your kids how you wish you had matured earlier and took life more seriously so you could attend a better college. Or you could just go dig a hole in the garden and fill it back up. Both will have the same results.

      Kids will make their own decisions. You want them to do well and do good and be happy, but you have limited control over that. Learn to let them be.

      • i need a nap says:

        I don’t really disagree, but as has been suggested, I think I have a chance to do something like encourage a gap year and time away from the traditional path (which for my family, peers, etc. is college immediately after high school graduation).

        I guess part of my concern is what in the hell DO parents have influence over besides passing on genes? I know my kid is likely to be a lot like me simply because he’ll get my genetics. But Scott’s recent post about education was pretty convincing to me that teachers do have a powerful influence over their students, though not in the way we would expect. How in the world can a teacher have more influence over my son’s future than my wife and I can? I’m skeptical that they do, but I’m honestly not sure.

        • Svejk says:

          Given your relatedness, you have a reasonably good model to predict the effect of your interventions. Would you have taken similar heartfelt advice from a concerned parent a your son’s age? If so, there’s a chance that your son will as well. If not, try to offer the most congenial environment and additional resources to support him that you can.

        • chaosmage says:

          I have an untested theory there, with only anecdotes to back it up.

          Children, particularly boys, have a tendency to fixate on something and find it intensely rewarding to learn more about that thing and acquire a skillset fast. And I don’t think those fixations really go away.

          See also: https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/06/30/the-lottery-of-fascinations/

          My hunch is that special large gifts, and a lot of time/attention explaining the gift’s awesomeness, at age 10 or earlier, have an outsize impact. Want your kid to get into programming? That’ll be a domain for the kid’s own perusal, an own web server somewhere in the cloud, and an entire weekend of one-on-one JavaScript tutoring to code some funny shit your kid can show to friends and brag about. Want your kid to love to read? Work your ass off to find exactly the kind of books that your kid loves, read them too, and discuss them. And so on.

          I also find that in the stories of how people got into their professions, there’s often a moment where they’ll travel somewhere new, meet a highly respected member of that profession, talk to that person, and receive some respectful recognition. Not sure how much of a difference these moments make, but they’re certainly flashbulb memories – and they can be arranged.

          I also find that kids will usually pay more attention to things that their siblings get excluded from, i.e. things that are just for them.

    • onyomi says:

      My experience may have been somewhat similar.

      Home school? Maybe encourage them to take a gap year or two if they don’t seem ready yet for college?

      Unfortunately college has become so ingrained as the thing 18 year olds do in our culture that you are probably actually penalized for waiting until ready to take it more seriously than most 18 year olds.

    • If slow maturation is a physiological thing, then I don’t see how advice is going to help.

      There might be some way of lowering the cost of maturing more slowly than average.

    • Alex says:

      You are working on the assumption that other people had their act together in their mid-20s and you didn’t. I think that is the wrong assumption. If you look closer, almost nobody really has their act together. It’s all outward appearance.

      In other words: don’t worry.

      • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

        Sorry for being snarky, but the poster specifically said that he lagged behind many of his peers. If you are right, that’s akin to saying: “Don’t worry that you never achieved your potential. You just never had much potential in the first place”.

        • Alex says:

          Sorry for being snarky, but the poster specifically said that he lagged behind many of his peers. If you are right, that’s akin to saying: “Don’t worry that you never achieved your potential. You just never had much potential in the first place”.

          He self-reportedly lagged with respect to “maturity”, which is a fuzzy metric at best, and gathered data on his peers, I presume from an outsider’s observation. What I’m saying is that this is a very weak basis to jump to conclusions. The OP made a statement about his maturing time relative to his peers and my comment is that he most likely misjudges peer maturity and probably should not worry.

          I’m not interested in discussing the OP’s potential. To me, what could have been is a moot point.

          • i need a nap says:

            My initial post was indeed unclear about what I meant by prolonged adolescence/maturity. What I meant is that I’ve observed myself mature more slowly not just in fuzzy areas such as emotional development or long-term planning (which I do believe was part of the case for me) but physically and cognitively.

            The prolonged adolescence from a physical maturity standpoint is pretty easy to see and I don’t think it would be difficult to argue that some people just mature more slowly physically than others. I didn’t reach my current height until later in my 20s. I didn’t start to put on very much muscle mass until about the same time, even though I’ve had an interest in personal fitness since I was an early teen. Other physical attributes were also late to arrive, such as facial hair.

            In other measurable things, like cognitive development, I also am pretty certain I was slow to reach my peak. I actually have hard numbers for tests (SAT, ASVAB, GRE) which, if they are indeed good proxies for IQ tests, show an increase in IQ over a 10+ year period, starting with the SATs at 16. Correct me if I’m wrong (which I may be), but doesn’t IQ usually at least stay flat after peaking in the teens? And more commonly decline, if only slightly?

            Maybe my interpretation of my own development is wrong. But it’s obvious that people mature (physically, cognitively) at different rates. I highly doubt those rates just kind of adjust so that everyone reaches their maximum at, say, 18 years of age. Which makes me believe that some people are slower to develop than others.

            Slow maturity in all areas discussed above seems to be something I’ve inherited, since I’ve observed similar patterns in my siblings and family members on my father’s side. Even if they don’t, I still think the question of what can be done for someone that is slow to mature is interesting.

            Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify myself.

          • Alex says:

            Correct me if I’m wrong (which I may be), but doesn’t IQ usually at least stay flat after peaking in the teens? And more commonly decline, if only slightly?

            IQ is calculated relative to the age cohort. Statstically speaking, you will loose “raw intellectual power” over the years, but not you advantage in relation to your age cohort. Individually if rise and decline of your “raw powers” really lagged behind “the norm” you would score higher in IQ points than someone who reached peak intelligence at a younger age. How likely it is, that this actually happens I do not know.

            But it’s obvious that people mature (physically, cognitively) at different rates. I highly doubt those rates just kind of adjust so that everyone reaches their maximum at, say, 18 years of age. Which makes me believe that some people are slower to develop than others.

            How accurate is this model really? Raw physical and cognitive ability peak at around 20, the rest is statistics. However, something else, lets call it “experience seeking”, does not peak, and so the youth of every generation spends their “best years” drinking and screwing around. [One could argue that drinking and screwing around without completely loosing it is only possible with the excess physical and mental capacity]. Ideally some time later the youth settles down and gets their act together.

            Conclusion: (a) peaking after being done with drinking might actually be a plus (b) the solution to most maturity related problems is waiting them out.

            I still think the question of what can be done for someone that is slow to mature is interesting.

            Along the line of the above model:

            Pro-College [although “The College Experience” seems to vary internationally and I can’t say anything about the US]:
            – Student’s brain is fed some thoughts while (statistically) at peak capacity.
            – Student can wait for maturity with very little risk to break something in the real world.

            Pro Travel-and-Work [as suggested by others]:
            – Student’s “experience seeking” is satisfied in ways other than booze and sex.

          • i need a nap says:

            Not familiar with this reply process, so I intend this to be a response to Alex’s reply that begins with “IQ is calculated relative to the age cohort…” Please correct me if there is a better way to address this issue.

            Raw physical and cognitive ability peak at around 20, the rest is statistics.

            From what I know, raw physical ability doesn’t peak at 20. I actually don’t have any articles to cite off the top of my head, but I think the age of Olympic gold medalists at time of medaling will support my assertion or at least cast substantial doubt upon the claim that peak physical ability is reached at 20. I’m certain my raw strength and speed-strength/power didn’t peak until my late 20s – maybe I didn’t train enough while younger, but I’m skeptical.

            Anyway, that’s not exactly the point. The point is, no one reaches their maximum potential at the same time. Obviously, some people will be on the tail end of the curve (in either direction). I feel myself and many other blood relatives were in the tail that is the opposite of precious. Is it not obvious that some people are slower to peak in physical/cognitive ability? Maybe I don’t fall into this category, maybe I only think I do, but I would be astounded to find that there isn’t a fraction of people that simply reach full maturation at a later chronological year than most of their peers.

          • Alex says:

            Not familiar with this reply process, so I intend this to be a response to Alex’s reply that begins with “IQ is calculated relative to the age cohort…” Please correct me if there is a better way to address this issue.

            There are only so many levels of nesting comments. The innermost level is linear.

            From what I know, raw physical ability doesn’t peak at 20. [etc]

            My mistake. But it is true for cognition, I think.

            Anyway, that’s not exactly the point. The point is, no one reaches their maximum potential at the same time. Obviously, some people will be on the tail end of the curve (in either direction). I feel myself and many other blood relatives were in the tail that is the opposite of precious. Is it not obvious that some people are slower to peak in physical/cognitive ability? Maybe I don’t fall into this category, maybe I only think I do, but I would be astounded to find that there isn’t a fraction of people that simply reach full maturation at a later chronological year than most of their peers.

            I share the feeling that we subtly miss each others point. So back to the beginning. My first comment was “don’t worry” and I still stand by that advice.

            Maybe this is a cultural gap or something but I think it doesn’t really matter at what age you hit arbitrary development milestones. Enter university later and graduate later (or enter the same and stay longer if you can afford it), who cares? Unless you are trying to optimize for life income, Robert style (elsewhere in this thread). But I still think his path is not for everyone.

            Also, I did not want to question your assessment of your own development. That would be madness. But with respect to your perception of your peer’s development, it is my experience that the few in the right tail of the distribution create visibility. They offer themselves as a point of comparison when you actually shoud compare with the largely invisible average. Maybe you already did that. I’m just offering the thought. At and below the average, in my experience everyone struggles, but most somehow manage. I admit that this could be taken as a cause for both, worries and equanimity. I suggest to go for the latter.

      • *raises hand*

        I did an effort / value calculation for school and career in high school, chose to apply to an in-state public university with a strong IT department, went from college to an IT job, and immediately began putting 15% of my salary into my 401(k) and another 15% into a down payment for a mortgage. So, I think I had my act together in my mid-twenties.

        On one hand, my friends and family have said “Robert turned 40 at 15.”, so I do accept that I am a giant outlier. On the other hand, I also do think that maturity and time-discounting is variable among people, and that it’s entirely plausible that someone could be aware of the fact that they turned 25 at 30 or whatnot.

        • Alex says:

          As for maturity, I’m unsure whether you named good proxies for it. But like I said Re: SolipsisticUtilitarian, it is a fuzzy concept anyway.

          As for having your act together, I somewhat congratulate you. But, if it’s not to personal, how old are you now?

          • 32 now.

            And there are offsets to the super-responsible life. It’s easy to get complacent; when you structure your life such that you don’t need to achieve great things to live comfortably, it’s hard to push yourself, and the vast majority of the people in my peer group have achieved better outcomes from small, short-term disruptions which I have carefully insulated myself against.

            On the other hand, some people haven’t, and while I do wonder at night about the degree to which I’ve settled in my job and career choices…I also know enough people who have bad jobs and unstable situations that I can’t not advocate doing the safe, boring, responsible thing.

            Drama should be reserved for games and stories. The portion of life referred to as ‘adulting’ should be predictable and automated as possible.

          • Alex says:

            Robert, I generally agree. Some additions:

            And there are offsets to the super-responsible life. It’s easy to get complacent; when you structure your life such that you don’t need to achieve great things to live comfortably, it’s hard to push yourself,

            I assumed as much. To be clear, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all.

            and the vast majority of the people in my peer group have achieved better outcomes from small, short-term disruptions which I have carefully insulated myself against.

            The lesson here, I think, is that great outcomes are not the result of having one’s act together. As in, if you happen to have your act together in your mid-20s, you can live a life in relative comfort but expecting more would overestimate the value of maturity.

            I also know enough people who have bad jobs and unstable situations that I can’t not advocate doing the safe, boring, responsible thing.

            Drama should be reserved for games and stories. The portion of life referred to as ‘adulting’ should be predictable and automated as possible.

            Some people thrive on drama like others thrive on boredom. I don’t think there is one solution for everyone. If anything, the OP should help his childeren realize which path is theirs.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m somewhat of the belief that humans tend to adjust to match the demands made of them.

      It’s part of why things like solo travel on gap years tends to be good: you have to start thinking like an adult and taking care of yourself because there’s nobody else who’s going to do that. On the other hand living at home during university/college tends to be bad because while it’s more economically efficient you’re still ultimately living with mom and dad.

      Even minor things like occasional weekends away hiking/camping without Mom and Dad in your early and mid teens can be good gentle practice for maturing.

      • Alex says:

        I’d go so far to say that only barely meeting demands is the normal mode of operation for most people ™. With respect to the risk of overinvesting this might be called efficient. Maybe I should have said “most people only barely have their act together” rather than “nobody has their act together”.

        Anyways. There will always be a few rockstars that meet demands seemingly without effort and there will always be a few lucky ones that managed their way into situation with low demands on them. I think comparing to either of those is probably a mistake.

        • One other topic which came up in a previous discussion is that different people have really different preferences for what qualifies as effort.

          For me, even 15-year-old me, sitting down with a spreadsheet and predicting the expected cost/return of a college degree was fun. Optimizing my finances and spending is still something I enjoy. My main hobbies are books and tabletop gaming, neither of which are money sinks, I dislike travel, and I don’t know (or care) enough about cars to even want a fancy new one, so a lot of the normal money-sinks for a person my age I resist without any effort whatsoever.

          Just like there are some people for whom sweets and fried food are icky, and running two miles a day every morning is easy, and for whom staying in great physical shape is easy, I found it easy to get and stay in good financial shape.

          I also wonder about the anthropic bias of assuming people can get it together if pressed. What if we just think this because the people in our lives who can’t get it together when required, we lose touch with as their lives slowly disintegrate?

          • Alex says:

            You are a wise man, Robert.

          • eh says:

            What if we just think this because the people in our lives who can’t get it together when required, we lose touch with as their lives slowly disintegrate?

            Could also be the friendship paradox.

            If success in life is positively correlated with how many friends you have, then for any given person, their friends will on average be more successful than them.

          • I am the same way, but basically at the start of that age. I actively enjoy creating and maintaining my monthly budget spreadsheets, planning D&D campaigns as DM, and don’t have the usual money sinks of my friends (don’t care about cars, concerts, or travel).

            I also second the year abroad people talk about, as I spent my senior year of high school at a Japanese high school. Really helped broaden my culinary tastes, my willingness to get in shape, and jump-started me on managing my finances to make my meager stipend go as far as possible. Learning how to deal with different types of people and learning a new culture/language were nothing to scoff at either.

          • Subbak says:


            If success in life is positively correlated with how many friends you have, then for any given person, their friends will on average be more successful than them.

            That is not true in the general case, in particular if you assume friends cause success and not the other way round. For example imagine a tightly knit community in which almost everyone is friends with almost everyone, but some pairs don’t get on together. Everyone who is not among those will have more friends than their friends (who include those unfriendly pairs) do on average.

            If success causes friendship, you would have to define how exactly attachment works in your random graph (and wether there is a feedback loop with more friends meaning more success which means more friends), so I think your claim might end up true or untrue depending on specifics.

            But anyway the fact is, since most people want to appear more successful than they are, most people are under the impression that they are less successful than the average of their friends.

    • keranih says:

      Neither a young male nor someone who has raised a young male, so take the following with a grain of salt, but…

      Consider finding a responsible (adult male) relative/friend to whom you can apprentice your son to for one to two summers. A low paying job as a plumber’s assistant, or helping with a surveyer’s crew (it worked for George Washington!) or some such. Farm manager. Anything where the young man is 1) working physically 2) around adult men who are working and 3) not with parents. The idea is to put him in a position where he is being held accountable for his actions and is able to key off adults, not peers. This provides a niche to allow maturity to develop.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ keranih
        Consider finding a responsible (adult male) relative/friend to whom you can apprentice your son to for one to two summers.

        I agree*. Kind of fills the same half-way-house space as college back in the Good Old Days.

        * If expanded to all genders that match zis own.

        • My sister had an experience like that. She was studying an artsy subject in university and working as a restaurant hostess on the side. When she realized that the kitchen staff and waiters all had artsy degrees like the one she was working on, she promptly switched into a computer science program.

          Our education system segments age cohorts far too much. People can live to be twenty-two without ever having a friend who is more than a year older or younger than they are. Just meeting people who were five years older than her made my sister rethink her degree. As a PhD student, I find that the junior faculty—who are only about five years older than me—have some of the best advice and guidance I’ve ever received.

          The point I’m trying to make is that we can learn how to be adults and how to make adult choices by observing the successes and failures of the people who have recently made the same choices. By creating a radically age-segmented society we’ve taken away people’s opportunities to learn that way.

    • Fj says:

      I want to point out that the message that this blog really delivers is that statistically parenting doesn’t matter much. One should be really careful in applying this lesson to their particular circumstances. I mean, consider for example music: the decision to pay for the child’s music lessons is approximately 100% parents’, and if the parents don’t do that then their child has approximately 0% chances of becoming a professional musician, regardless of genetic determinism of talent. So it’s kinda weird to discard that choice as inconsequential (and not bother with it), especially if that’d make you join the approximately 100% of parents who in fact don’t bother and whose children the lifetime outcomes statistics talk about.

      • Murphy says:

        Since it only looks at averages that’s not strictly true.

        If you look at 100 children who’s parents provide with lessons and one of them becomes a successful musician yet on average there’s no benefit it can also mean that a reasonable portion of the other 99 suffered some loss, perhaps they were made to practice music they didn’t want to learn in the time that their peers used to learn how to code or to do magic tricks or dance and ended up doing slightly worse years later.

        • Fj says:

          Since it only looks at averages that’s not strictly true.

          My point was that it’s strictly unfounded, since it only says things about average parents who are kinda shitty on average.

          If we had a research that among parents who do get music lessons and programming lessons and judo lessons and whatnot for their kids, those still have the same chance to grow up amounting to nothing more than a burger flipper as the kids whose parents don’t do any of those things, then I’d have to reconsider my assumptions.

          As it is, all research looks at all parents, with the parents who actually do that stuff amounting to a minuscule part of the sample, so even the correlation between being rich and getting your kid into all those programs vs being poor and unable to afford it is totally swamped by average parents who just don’t do it, regardless.

          So you can’t use the statistics that say that if you’re an average parent who doesn’t give a fuck then your kid’s success in life would be determined mostly by their genetics, to justify not joining the minuscule number of parents who actively give a fuck.

          And I’d be really, REALLY surprised if such research existed, because it would have to somehow negate the fact that you can’t become a professional violinist unless your parents paid for violin lessons when you were like 5-7yo (if anything then just because most violin teachers wouldn’t take you, source: my professional cellist sister), and how is that even possible?

    • Pal says:

      My parents forced me to do athletics as a child against my will since they thought being on a team would be good developmentally for me. In high school, I went straight to the varsity baseball team and made lifelong friends; the experience changed my life and basically taught me how to succeed socially. Without it, I’m certain my teenage and young adult life would’ve been fairly isolated socially, and my entire life arc would’ve been different. No Jordan K., pitcher, to get me into the jazz records his older brother had left behind when moving out to serve in Afghanistan. No well-tuned social skills to integrate me into a close-knit group of friends my first week of college, which means an entirely different career from the one I have now and love. Finding a niche of people on that baseball team at 15, growing close to them like brothers, asking out my first girlfriend because I’d lost a bet with one, those were the experiences that ended the bitter, angsty misandry I was rapidly developing.

      From Jordan K.’s record collection, it was jazz piano lessons, with an unbelievable man who taught English at the local university and gave me a copy of the Iliad – the reason I’m a literature major today. I still think of my father when modeling the kind of person I want to be, the kind of work ethic. His healthy relationship to my mother is part of the reason I was never tempted by RedPill ideology and pickup artist shit, or else into becoming jaded, borderline misogynistic, or embittered towards romantic heterosexual relationships in the way so many of my male friends were at some point in their early adult lives: whenever I read or heard their propaganda about male female relationships or the female brain, the first thing that came to mind as rebuttal was my parents’ marriage and my mother.

      Statistically, I don’t doubt any of the research. I’m sure parenting is a mess. Plenty of parents don’t care or are selfish. Oftentimes, even well-intentioned parents fail, or drive their kids to opposite outcomes via rebellion. If my brain wasn’t disposed to jazz piano, or if I didn’t have the shoulders and hand-eye coordination which helped me excel at sports, it’s totally possible these efforts would’ve backfired. But they also never would’ve happened if not for my parents: I had no interest in sports until it would’ve been too late to start (and excel with my peers). I had patches of standard teenage depression and angst where I was ready to quit playing jazz and would have in a heartbeat if given the option if not for their pushing me to keep with it. Thank God. I can’t even imagine the reduction in quality of life if I didn’t have that around. They had the foresight I did not, and my daily existence is significantly, measurably happier and more wholesome because of it.

      We live our lives through the models we’re surrounded by; so much of what we’re exposed to comes from others exposing it to (or pushing it on) us for the better. People influence other people, and you have an incredible opportunity to influence a person (your son) for eighteen years of almost daily contact. Don’t give in to parental nihilism just because many people are apathetic, misguided, or ineffective parents – or because of a few recent, trendy studies leaning one way or another on the incredibly complicated question of nature vs nurture.

      • Psmith says:

        By way of a counterpoint, my parents also put me in team sports. I mostly spent games and practices standing around with my thumb up my ass–not that this was some kind of principled opposition, understand, I just didn’t much care one way or another–until the matter was quietly dropped around 7th grade or so and I was more or less left to my own devices, eventually taking up cross-country, wrestling, and cycling on my own initiative. It wasn’t torture or anything, but it cost a fair amount of money and it turned out to be pretty pointless. (Pretty similar story with music, now I think about it, although I took it semi-seriously for a few years before quitting.). You can lead a horse to water….

        • smocc says:

          Looking back on my childhood/adolescence I only now realize that my parents spent a lot of effort leading me to various watering holes to see if I would drink.

          I only drank the water at once or twice, but those times made all the difference, I think. I think in the end they weren’t wasting their time, it just took that many tries to find what would stick, and now I appreciate their persistence.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      Find a way to reliably make your child work on important, unpleasant things immediately, even when you aren’t physically present. The ability to get unpleasant paperwork done promptly is worth a lot of money and can seriously affect career prospects in some fields. Personally, I suggest Skype calls, occasionally saying something while they work and monitoring their focus; it puts System 1 into work mode.

      If the child is young enough, build the habit of working on unpleasant tasks promptly. This is the thing that has most held me back in life. You need to make doing nasty jobs reliably and quickly so ingrained that it happens automatically, even when the normal constraints disappear. (Test this. Going on holiday for a week and seeing whether the child kept to a good schedule while you were away should work.)

  46. Dualization: While I am not an economist, I think that the cause of dualization in a labor market seems to be a demand shock. 9/11 did it to airline pilots, the “Great Undoubling” to life science researchers, and so on. Econ 101 says that if the demand for employees drops, wages will adjust downwards.

    But this never actually happens. The ‘insiders’ will band together to prevent competing for their jobs with the hordes of outsiders who would gladly do them for less, maybe lots less. They come up with rationalizations why people who appear qualified, aren’t, not even to start in entry-level positions like they once did. Often some routine on-the-job training that used to be part of said entry-level position ends up cut, despite being apparently vital to the job duties. So the ‘outsiders’ end up temping for peanuts on a separate track. This work ends up performing vital functions for the insiders, so they can quite stably keep them there, perhaps waving the occasional Golden Child upwards.

    This seems to be distinct from the supply shock of ‘outsourcing’.

    • Brian Slesinsky says:

      A search for “Great Undoubling” doesn’t find much. What’s that about?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Isn’t dualization more of a distinction between jobs than within? Secondary market jobs tend to be described as low skill, which implies they are describing different jobs. Although it’s also true that temp jobs may do the same work and be less remunerative.

      I don’t think you have to posit much more than wage “stickiness”, and that’s not anything uniquely on the labor side of the equation. I think we know that wages are sticky, but don’t really know why. Although the fact the loss aversion is universal, and everyone knows it would suggest an answer. No one wants to work with someone whose wages they have cut.

      Although, you are suggesting that wage stickiness in general may lead to an increase in the secondary labor market over time as a general rule, and that is an interesting idea. I have to imagine there an economic papers on it, but I don’t know.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        As an economist, I can confirm that insider-outsider dynamics are a big thing in labour economics. The ratchet effect is definitely a thing and probably empirically significant. Unfortunately, labour economics isn’t my field, so I don’t know much more than that. It’s usually expressed in terms of unions (and similar bodies, e.g. the organisations that award professional services credentials) restricting access to the market, but that might be a historical artefact; I don’t know anything much about tacit restrictions like the ones Trollumination describes.

  47. sabril says:

    I think it’s worth talking about what went wrong with Metamed. I’m tempted to say that it was a lousy idea because it’s so difficult to charge people lots of money for advice unless you have a really good reputation.

    On the other hand, I believe it is Paul Graham who has pointed out that it’s common for great ideas to seem lousy. Besides, it’s plausible to think that there are nuggets of very useful information lurking in the oceans of medical research which have been going on for some time now.

    • Grort says:

      My thought was: “that sounds like a good idea, if I ever get a mysterious apparently-incurable disease I’ll be sure to look them up.”

      Then I remained healthy and they went under for lack of customers.

      Causation? Probably not. But it’s a data point.

    • MugaSofer says:

      I think it was a lack of Generic Business People skilled at penetrating the bureaucracy. Most businesses have too many of them after a while, but you need them for things.

      They were pretty good at researching medical problems, and pretty bad at being a business and making money. It happens to tech startups too.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Not to disagree with anything else you said, but …

        penetrating the bureaucracy

        They didn’t deal with a bureaucracy. Perhaps you meant “perpetrating”? But that doesn’t sound right, either.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      Yeah, basically very high price + lack of reputation that would justify such a price.

      • I recommended releasing their research for free relatively soon after it was given to the person who paid for it (six months?) as a way of building reputation, but they weren’t willing to do that.

        I can see them wanting to resell the same research to later people who asked the same question, but I suspect that was penny wise and pound foolish.

  48. Is anything known about how irritability works? There’s got to be a causal path from being overheated/hungry/PMSed/tired/etc. to finding the world to be infuriating.

    • Nornagest says:

      The obvious common factor there is just stress. Maybe this is one of those thrive/survive things.

      • Being cold doesn’t make people as irritable as being hot does.

        • The Saddest Marmot says:

          Does being cold really stress you out, though?

          As an anecdote the coldest I’ve ever been I just got progressively more and more tired, to the point where I quit moving and took a nap. I did eventually get up when I heard my brother get home and unlocked the house, but I think hypothermia is a relatively peaceful way to die.

          I think rather than stress, it might be repetition of a distracting stimulus? When it’s too hot you can feel the heat and sweat, when you’re tired you have reduced focus, etc

          • John Schilling says:

            I have done hypothermia to the point of unconsciousness, and what little I remember of the process was quite peaceful.

            But for less than hypothermic levels of cold, it’s kind of mixed. Feeling cold, yes, makes you want to cozy up to the fire, under a blanket, and/or in the embrace of another warm body, in any event doing nothing and thinking about nothing. But being vigorously active, makes you feel less cold in the first place. Which of these effects dominate is highly context-dependent.

            Also, if you cozy up under the blanket before you’ve finished taking adequate safeguards against hypothermia, you’re done for.

    • onyomi says:

      I’ve recently started thinking about psychosomatic health in what I find to be a more helpful and largely accurate way: all unpleasant sensations, mental or physical, are your body trying to bring you back to a state of health. At the most basic level, if you stab yourself with a fork, the pain is telling you to stop doing that.

      But in terms of the far more common case of dealing with pains, negative emotions, etc. which aren’t being caused at that moment by a bear or fork in the face, the feeling bad is actually the healing taking place (consider how people don’t usually feel a lot of pain when on an adrenaline high: that’s because they’re still in “don’t die” mode, rather than “heal” mode).

      People who suffer insomnia (myself included, sometimes) often find themselves flooded with worries and anxieties and other negative emotions seemingly as soon as they hit the pillow. This seems singularly inconvenient, given that they didn’t seem to be so worried during the day. Actually, it’s because it’s the first time all day you’ve stopped throwing new stimuli at yourself and therefore allowed some of the old to process.

      In other words, you may need more rest, but not in the sense of watching netflix and eating ice cream. Eating nothing and lying in a dark, quiet room is far better (fasting is especially helpful on this score, I’ve found).

      • Matthias says:

        That theory might try to explain too much.

        Eg the scatterbrain one has on ADHD is surely unpleasant, but you will be hard pressed to explain it as your body trying to bring you back to a state of health. (Especially since stimulants are a common and effective treatment.)

        • onyomi says:

          It is, of course, just a heuristic, and I don’t claim that the body’s attempts to restore homeostasis are always useful in every given circumstance; still, I find it both more accurate and helpful than thinking of e. g. worry as just something stupid that happens for no reason. Actually it is the brain trying (and sometimes failing) to get a grip on things, as, for example, bad dreams can actually be a way of helping you mentally prepare for something you’re worried may happen in real life.

          Less controversial example: everyone knows that all the symptoms of a cold or flu are actually the body’s attempt to get rid of the virus. You’d be in more actual danger if viruses were reproducing in your body uncontrolled and you felt great. I’m saying that thinking of a wider range of negative feelings beyond just runny nose as being, in fact, analogous to runny nose is helpful.

          • Matthias says:

            Sure. Though your body mainly cares about survival of the genes.

            Ie you could just promise “Ok, I have a cold, I’ll rest until I’m better.”, but the body insists on making you weak, and tired and unwilling to move. (Fever does help some directly, but the pain and tiredness is just to force you to abide the bed rest.)

            Mental health problems are complicated.

          • onyomi says:

            To whom would you make this promise? The body is basically a machine. You can’t make deals with it. And if it were possible to do so, do you think, knowing human nature, people would keep their promise? Of course, not. Everyone would say “I can’t just lay here today! I’m busy!” Far better for your genes to make you want to lie there.

          • jimmy says:

            Onyomi, how hard have you tried?

            I’ve actually had success with that kind of thing – but only since I’ve started taking the pain signals seriously enough to not *want* to renege on my “promises” to my body.

          • Matthias says:

            > To whom would you make this promise?

            Yes, that was exactly my point. You can’t make this promise—your body doesn’t let you.

          • Julian R. says:

            About the promises…
            On a number of occasions I have made myself not-be-sick to attend an important event (after feeling sick) and then been sick afterwards.
            The disadvantage is that you end up sicker than otherwise, naturally.

      • anon says:

        I have often noticed that beneficial self-healing processes are painful, and the question is, why would they be? Why are we hardwired to feel pain as we heal?

        • Nita says:

          It makes us slink away to some quiet corner where we can heal in peace.

          • onyomi says:

            Yep. Water-only fasting is a very interesting experience. Old injuries start to hurt again, but not because fasting is making them worse; rather, the body is taking the opportunity of not needing to digest/not wanting you to expend a bunch of energy running around with no new nutrition coming in to work on old problems and break down useless, old stuff for energy.

            If it makes you feel weak and crappy in the process, it’s not actually a symptom of malnutrition, but rather the body’s way of trying to make you hold still and not waste energy while it works on its old projects/waits for food to become available again.

            Of course, there is such a thing as “body needs nutrition or will starve,” but most people in the developed world never experience it. What we instead experience as hunger is “not eating on a regular schedule is a. causing unused stomach acid and a lack of usual endorphin stimulation and b. causing body to go into rest and deal with old crap mode, which makes me feel like crap.”

          • Psmith says:

            Old injuries start to hurt again, but not because fasting is making them worse; rather, the body is taking the opportunity of not needing to digest/not wanting you to expend a bunch of energy running around with no new nutrition coming in to work on old problems and break down useless, old stuff for energy.

            If it makes you feel weak and crappy in the process, it’s not actually a symptom of malnutrition, but rather the body’s way of trying to make you hold still and not waste energy while it works on its old projects/waits for food to become available again.


          • Anonymous says:

            Thank you PSmith. You are lending weight to the HBC side of the argument here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/05/19/teachers-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know/#comment-361486

          • @Anonymous
            How do you follow links to specific comments? When I click them it sends me to the post in question, sometimes showing the linked comment for a hot second, then jumping to the top or bottom of the page.

            EDIT: Thanks Anonymous, waiting for the page to load and then recentering it worked.

          • Anonymous says:

            After the page completely finishes loading, go into the address bar and press enter. It’ll recenter on the linked comment.

          • Psmith says:

            That’s something, anyway. But I’m not sure what connection this would have to pain or feeling like crap. If declining rates of autophagy are substantially involved in the aging process, and if high rates of autophagy make injuries hurt more, we’d expect to be in more pain from a given injury and feel worse overall when we’re younger.

            Meanwhile, it appears to be pretty well settled that injury increases energy expenditure roughly proportional to the size of the injury and the rate of healing.
            Of course, these are about various kinds of acute injury, not chronic.

          • onyomi says:

            If injury increase the rate of energy expenditure then it makes all the more sense one would feel low energy when recovering from injury. Consider the body’s most drastic move to slow down/recover from catastrophic injury–the coma. (Which is not to say the body could, in every case, avoid falling into coma, or that all comas are restorative, but in case of e. g. a severe car accident, a coma may be the safest, most restorative state to be in, given the circumstances).

            So, yes, it stands to reason that injury would increase the rate of energy usage and lack of food intake would decrease it. But that doesn’t mean lack of food intake would decrease energy expended on injury recovery. Rather, it could be that times of low demand on the digestion, prompting low subjective energy, like sleep, are precisely the best time to carry out injury repair:


          • Jaskologist says:


            How long does the fast need to be to get this effect?

          • onyomi says:

            I think a fast of any length probably improves recovery. There is a weird powerlifter out there who claims to only eat during 1 hour out of the day. That is, even eating dinner early and/or breakfast late (with nothing between) will help.

            Longer fasts have different, more profound effects, most of which set in around day 3, in my experience, though they start to come on a bit faster the more often you do it. Your blood pressure gets low so you have to get up slowly. You start to have the aforementioned pangs in old injuries.

            One of the best effects for me personally, and one which I find interesting from a mental health perspective, is that it can fix insomnia, at least for a while. I think I am probably mildly bipolar, and I get into states sometimes where I can’t sleep till 4 am for a week or more (basically overly alert, active states, but it’s annoying, not pleasant).

            Fasting knocks this right back down, especially if carried on for over three days. Your body basically won’t waste the energy on being manic and kind of downshifts a bit. This could conceivably be bad, I guess, if one were of the “stay in bed sleeping all day” sort of depressive, but I am the nervous, can’t sleep type, so it’s very helpful to me. Related, though this tends to take a bit longer, the body starts releasing unnecessary tension held in muscles (like trigger points, etc.), a cause of a lot of chronic pain.

            This was not an effect I’d have expected prior to experience with longerish fasts (since normally I think “hungry=can’t sleep well”), but it’s true. I don’t sleep particularly soundly during a fast, usually, but a 3-5 day fast on only water is usually good for keeping me sleeping well for 3 or 4 months at least.

    • eh says:

      The best way to get experts to comment is for a layman to be wrong, so here are some totally uneducated guesses as to pathways by which things could stop your brain from getting as much energy:

      Hungry -> hypoglycemia
      Hyperthermia -> decreased cerebral blood flow
      PMS -> crazy space magic -> no idea -> hypoglycemia
      Tiredness -> lower oxygenation in blood

    • Lycotic says:

      I’d hazard a guess that it has to do with people being bad at understanding why they’re feeling anything, and so just misdirecting the bad feelings. I can see it in my kid all the time.

      I’m unhappy, so it must be *your* fault. See, you can’t deny you just slighted me [in this tiny way].

      I know a few smart but terribly unintrospective people who are really clever at blaming their hunger on the faults of others.

    • LPSP says:

      I’d hazard it has something to do with tolerance and satisfaction, combined with active versus passive states of mind.

      – When we are lacking something we need or feel we need (regardless of whether we recognise it or not), it becomes difficult to simply relax. It’s actually more calming to be engaged and occupied.
      – Activities that we percieve as productive and moving us nearer to accomplishment become soothing. Conversely, any percieved disruption or delay has a shattering effect, leaving us quick to jump and deal with it.
      – In social terms this leads to berating people and acting like there’s something wrong with their heads for not operating with this in mind.

      In this model, a breakdown is simply the end stage of enough disruptions and delays, the brain gives up on being satisfied and starts going through wild and desperate motions.

  49. The History of China Podcast had an interesting episode on an economic debate that occurred in the court of the Tang Dynasty in 734. They faced an ongoing currency crisis wherein the official mints couldn’t produce enough coinage to “meet the demands of trade.” This led to rampant counterfeiting.

    This account of the crisis seemed a little odd to me. Shouldn’t any amount of money be sufficient to meet the needs of trade at the right price level? This crisis had been ongoing for decades, so prices should have adjusted to the amount of currency available.

    Reading the source material, I think I’ve figured out what the problem was. The Tang enforced a series of official price controls, and it seems plausible that they could have habitually set agricultural prices too high. None of the primary sources seem to have reached this conclusion, but economics was poorly understood at the time.

    The crisis sparked a very interesting debate between a laissez-faire Confucian named Chang Chiu-lin—who wanted to legalize private minting—and many Legalist officials in the Tang court. There were interesting points made on both sides, some of which are surprisingly modern.

    For instance, a Legalist named Liu Chih believed that legal private minting would increase inequality, and that increased inequality would destabilize the nation:

    Now when people have riches in plenty, they cannot be exhorted by promises of rewards and when they are poor and hungry, they cannot be controlled by intimidation. Therefore if the law is not enforced and the people are not well governed, it is all because of the uneven distribution of wealth. If you allow the private casting of coin, the poor will certainly not be able to carry it out. I am afraid that the poor will become even poorer and will submit to service in rich houses, while the rich houses will take advantage of the situation to become even more presumptuous. (quoted in Herbert, 1976, p. 281-2)

    This argument could easily have come from Thomas Piketty or Joseph Stiglitz in 2016, and yet Liu Chih was making it in 734!

    I encourage anyone interested Chinese history or economics to read my whole write-up of the debate. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    • Mary says:

      No, there can be insufficient coinage just as there can be insufficent of anything to faciliate trade. Gold rushes have often been followed by economic booms because of the increased money in circulation.

      And there was a Roman emperor who decided to brag by having small coins minted with a boastful slogan. Economic boom because it made it so much easier to make change.

      • So that wouldn’t be a shortage of coinage in general but a shortage of particular denominations. This seems about right.

        This could easily be exacerbated by the official price controls, especially in a system that used both silver and copper coins. There are records of people hoarding and melting down the official copper coins, indicating that Gresham’s law was at work and that the official copper coins were overvalued. Counterfeiters generally made coins with lower copper content than the official coins, and people accepted them eagerly.

        • Mary says:

          Can be a shortage of coinage in general. After all, it was invented to facilitate trade. That some merchants have coins does you no good if you’re one of the merchants or his customers who don’t.

      • onyomi says:

        Isn’t a post-gold rush economic boom just a result of inflation, as opposed to trade being easier to carry out?

        • Civilis says:

          Gold has value both as a currency and as a resource. Yes, there’s inflation after a gold rush, but I’d think that’s because of the increase in wealth, not the increase in currency to facilitate trade.

          My problem in trying to wrap my head around the complexity of this is at one point currency had both value as means to facilitate trade and as a material. A shortage of coins means a shortage of gold and silver. I want something that used to cost a fixed amount of silver, say a quantity of salt or other tradeable good. There’s a currency shortage, so because currency is rare, I’m likely to get more salt for my quantity of silver. Is this because of the demand for silver in it’s function as currency, or the demand for silver as a trade good itself? The test is going to be: are people melting down non-currency uses of precious metals, such as their jewelry and silverware, to convert to currency usage?

          The closest I can think of in the present day to look for examples of currency shortages are either bitcoins or currencies in a regulated MMO economy. It would be interesting also to look at cases where there is a surplus of currency, like the stereotypical hyperinflation Weimar Germany wheelbarrow-full-of-bills. After all, paper has intrinsic value, even if that’s normally much lower than the value as currency. At what point in Venezuela’s economic collapse does it become logical to use the currency as toilet paper in place of currency to buy toilet paper?

          • onyomi says:

            In theory any quantity of money should be sufficient for all transactions because even if the world money supply of dollars is say, 4, I can still, theoretically buy a sandwich for .00000000004 dollars or whatever.

            Practically speaking, in a cash economy, if the cost of a sandwich is .00000000004 dollars and the smallest denomination available is .0001 dollars, you’ve got a problem. To some extent I think gold and silver probably suffered from this to some extent, historically, because even a very small amount of silver, to say nothing of gold, was probably a lot of money to a medieval farmer, meaning one had to shave and clip and weigh very carefully, I’d guess.

            With most money now existing as numbers in a computer, I’d say this practical aspect of the problem is mostly obviated.

            What continues to surprise me is how successful governments seem to be, historically, at shutting people down attempting to use alternate means of exchange besides the crown-issued currency. Certainly it’s happened many times, but in, e. g. Weimar Germany, why on earth did people carry around wheelbarrows of money and not just say, “uh boss, can you please pay me in silver or sacks of flour or something else??”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Strictly speaking, it’s not lack of currency that is the problem, it is deflation. In deflation, the trend is to stop buying things, as your money will by more things tomorrow. It’s the change in value of money, the money increasing in value over time, that is perilous to an economy. A typical case of deflation might occur with a fixed monetary supply and rising productivity per person,perhaps exacerbated by rising population.

            It sounds like in the case mentioned by OP, there were deflationary pressures that were being distorted by government requirements to keep prices fixed. That seems like it is going to lead to some weird outcomes like trying increase the supply of the money via other means (like counterfeiting).

          • onyomi says:

            “It’s the change in value of money, the money increasing in value over time, that is perilous to an economy.”

            Not always. Value of dollar went up big between Civil War and WWI and that was one of the best periods for the US economy.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            What continues to surprise me is how successful governments seem to be, historically, at shutting people down attempting to use alternate means of exchange besides the crown-issued currency. Certainly it’s happened many times, but in, e. g. Weimar Germany, why on earth did people carry around wheelbarrows of money and not just say, “uh boss, can you please pay me in silver or sacks of flour or something else??”

            Why on earth do you believe this didn’t actually happen? Sacks of flour are bulky and unwieldy, but tobacco-as-currency in Weimar Germany was a very well-known phenomenon. As another example, many divisions of the SA were paid in sausage and beer, because countries just love their own stereotypes.

            I also don’t think blaming governments is very accurate a thing to do; certainly there were no policemen and soldiers threatening to shoot everyone who was going to stop paying people in Mark and deciding to pay by other means. Germany had (and has) a very strong tradition of citizenry and faith in the state, and for people to continue believing in that even when times are bad is their fault more than anyone else’s.

            Hell, I can’t even really think of many ways where attempts to shut down the use of currency other than the official ones were very much made, let alone succesful. Prior to the modern age, most states did not have the means, ability or even the will to attempt to do such things.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The Civil War caused a massive spike in inflation. Some chunk of the deflation just offsetting that seems like a reasonable hypothesis.

            And William Jennings Bryan delivers his famous “cross of gold” speech in 1896, which I believe is largely understood to be about the “crucifying” by deflation brought a bought by the gold standard. So, I don’t think your time line holds quite true.

            Deflation favors those who have money they can hold over those who need to buy goods. It’s not that there are only losers in periods of deflation.

          • onyomi says:

            Inflation favors those who get the new money first, i. e. the politically connected. No wonder politicians always favor it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Can’t tell if that is cynical or sarcasm.

            Assuming it’s cynical, inflation favors putting your money “to work” rather than stuffing it in a mattress, which is why the consensus economists’ view is that (a small amount of) inflation is good, and preferable to deflation.

            Frankly, I’ve never really understood why various libertarians think deflation is good. I understand why you might favor “gold as money”, but then you don’t come clean and say, “deflation is bad, but we will take it if we can get rid of currency controlled by the government.”

            I mean, I still think that argument is wrong, but it seems more honest to me. But the fallacy of the form “X is good, therefore everything about X is good” seems to be operating here, to my mind.

      • Julie K says:

        In 17th-century England, many tradesmen issued their own tokens due to a shortage of small coins.

        • LHN says:

          In the 30s, various US states, municipalities, and private organizations issued sales tax tokens to solve the problem of fractional cent taxes on goods when pennies (worth the equivalent of 15-20 cents now) were the smallest circulating denomination.


          I’m not seeing any sign that they were accepted as money proper (i.e., not as payment of sales tax). But I’d be kind of surprised if it didn’t happen on occasion.

    • MugaSofer says:

      >Now when people have riches in plenty, they cannot be exhorted by promises of rewards and when they are poor and hungry, they cannot be controlled by intimidation.

      This sounds like less an issue of inequality, but more an issue of wealth (in the libertarian sense of “wealth production”) – if this is true, even a very equal nation that lived in post-scarcity luxury would be impossible to motivate, and so would a starving post-apocalypse population.

      … except that you can offer rewards to the poor people and threats to the rich, so, y’know, whatever.

      • HircumSaeculorum says:

        The central idea of legalism is that people have things they love and things they hate, and that, therefore, they can be governed. I’m fairly certain that you’re right in your assessment of Liu Chih’s argument as one geared towards making the state governable and not toward creating prosperity or happiness.

    • Matthias says:

      In modern times we have the concept of `sticky prices’ especially for wages. We see unemployment rather than a big drop in wages in recessions.

      A modern solution to this problem could be nominal GDP level targeting. (See eg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominal_income_target)

      Piketty, alas, has mingled labour and land. See eg https://www.prosper.org.au/2014/12/19/stiglitz-to-piketty-its-the-land/ (and http://www.henrygeorge.org/rem42.htm)

    • Bland says:

      Interesting write-up. Thanks.

      However, I do think the legalist Ts’ui Mien has at least the gist of a correct argument. I think you can cast his argument in modern terms as: Allowing private minting would cause labor and capital to move from other industries to the coin minting industry. Certainly this is true. You don’t seem to see this as a negative development, however, I agree with Ts’ui Mien that it is.

      Compare coin minting and agriculture as an example. Minting and agriculture are not equivalent industries. Agriculture produces food; the more people and capital that are employed in agriculture, the more food there is for people to eat. Coin minting is helpful to facilitate market exchanges, but increasing the size of the mint industry doesn’t provide anything that is inherently valuable, since the value of the coin was fixed by the price controls.

      So everyone is better off with a more-rice economy than a more-coin economy. I think the correct solution to the problem (assuming we can’t just remove the price controls) is to institute a system of government-backed promissory notes that are exchangeable for copper or copper coins at some future date.

      • Civilis says:

        My problem with this is understanding what private minting is supposed to do for the currency supply. Because the precious metals used have to come from somewhere, I can only come up with two ways private minting increases the currency supply:

        1. Decrease the precious metal content of the coins by making new coins from old coins, either smaller coins or coins with less pure metal content. This increases the number of coins, but not the amount of precious metal (value) in the system, unless the people trading for the coins are unaware that there’s less metal involved (in which case there’s a perceived increase in the amount of metal in the system). If the people trading for the coins are aware of the lower precious metal content, then all you’re doing is working around price inefficiencies caused by the larger coins for smaller purchases, I think. If I believe that my bail of rice is worth 10 100% silver 1-weight coins, I can accept either 20 50% silver 1-weight coins or 20 100% silver 1/2 weight coins. However, if I believe that fish you have is worth one half of a 1-weight silver coin (and that’s the smallest unit of currency), it would benefit me to have a 1/2 weight 100% silver coin to buy the fish with.

        2. Take precious metals not currently in the currency supply and convert them to coins, which increases both the number of coins and the amount of precious metal (value). It’s a lot easier to trade using constant weight coins than, say, your silverware set. This is important for two reasons: one, it’s an incentive for people to go out and find more precious metals. While a more-rice economy is likely better than a more-minting economy, a more-gold-and-silver-mining economy is likely better than a more-rice economy (you can buy food from somewhere else). Second, it eliminates most of the loss from people converting non-currency precious metals into currency. If the government makes the coins, you have to sell your silver-bearing rock you mined or your silverware to the government in exchange for silver coins, and you’re going to end up with less silver than you started with.

  50. gbear605 says:

    Do new “silent” open threads appear on the RSS feed?

    • Douglas Knight says:


      The Hidden Test Post appears on neither the front page nor the RSS feed, but does appear in the “recent posts” sideboard on the page of a post, though not in the sideboard on the front page. This is because it is marked “hidden.” There may be other ways of hiding with other behaviors. Some people like it being hidden from the RSS feed.

  51. suntzuanime says:

    Is there any chance you could make the open thread link link to the most recent open thread instead of a list of open threads? That extra click is a heavy burden to bear. Thank you for your consideration.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Scott could do it manually, but that’s a bad idea because of the catastrophic failure mode. Automatic is what he said he wants, but it looks like it requires code. Not too bad, though.

      • Bakkot says:

        With very little effort indeed I could arrange that some link, say https://slatestarcodex.com/tag/open/?latest, would automatically redirect you to the latest post on load. It would be two page loads instead of one, though.

        Someone with some PHP + wordpress background, or I with several more hours than I really want to spend, could make it actually link to the latest post, but I’m not sure it’s that much gain over automatically redirecting after load. Maybe?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I think that option has the cleanest code.
          Presumably your redirect will be relative. Scott should make his link relative.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Sure, do that and I’ll change the link.

          • Bakkot says:

            https://slatestarcodex.com/tag/open/?latest now redirects to the first post on that page, after a half-second or so. (This change to the site may not propagate to your browser instantly.)

            In the interests of elegance, this works for any tag: e.g.

            Leave off the ‘?latest’ to get the list unmodified. Which you might want to link to somewhere, so people can find old threads they were reading or participating in – maybe in the open threads themselves?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The tag archive is already linked in the fine print: “tagged open.” Most people probably won’t figure it out, but the complete archive link at the very top is pretty discoverable and serves most of the purpose.

  52. Jill says:

    Great colorful photo of Pentacost, Scott. Thanks. May we fill each other’s spirits with insights and inspirations.

    • Julie K says:

      Nice play on words (Pentecost = 50). And if you retain this title for the bonus open threads, you can use a picture relating to the Jewish Pentecost.

  53. Chiffewar says:

    Hi! I’m currently working on a research paper –– the kind that gets graded and probably not published, unfortunately –– on Jewish atheism. It’s tentatively titled “Repurposing Ritual: On Sincerity, Complex Motivations, and the Ethics of Jewish Atheism.” If you identify as a Jewish atheist or an atheist of Jewish background, and you want to help me out, answer the following:
    1) How would you describe yourself? Jewish atheist / atheist of Jewish background / other. Feel free to elaborate –– why Jewish? why atheist? If one of those identities is more important than the other, which and why?
    2) Which Jewish holidays / rituals do you observe, if any? Why? In what other ways do you interact with Judaism?
    3) There are some apparent contradictions in the term “Jewish atheist”. How do you resolve these?
    4) How do you view the ethics of Jewish atheism? Can you be an atheist and still lay claim to Judaism? Is it intellectually honest? Is it culturally appropriative? (If that phrase gives you hives, skip it.)
    5) Is there anything else you’d like to add, about either your experience as a Jewish atheist or your thoughts on Jewish atheism in the abstract? I would love to read anything you’ve got.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Does it count if I don’t identify as Jewish but have the minimum one grandparent for the Law of Return / Nuremberg Laws? There’s a fair number of us Mischlinge here I think, a lot of whom are atheists.

      • Chiffewar says:

        I’m most interested in atheists who still keep some Jewish observances, but if you have strong opinions on any of this, absolutely I want to hear them.

    • wintercaerig says:

      I’m a rabbi, and most of my close friends/family are also rabbis (LW MO, RW “halakhic egalitarian,” ex-hareidi, a mixture, except I should say that liberal Judaism in its classical form is underrepresented). I have not heard the attitude that Jewish atheism is in any way appropriative.

      I know many rabbis who are uninterested in the concept of God, although they would not deny that God exists — but neither would they be likely to bring the idea up, because the richness of religious discussion for them lies elsewhere (ie rabbinic literature and Jewish law). I think there is a traditional and honourable place in Judaism for the declining-to-speak-or-think-about-God person which seems to me perhaps oddly cognate to that slot in secular/Western culture called “atheist.” Perhaps there has been little pressure in many Jewish communities in history to explicitly deny God since belief in God has never really been used in and of itself as a marker of Jewish religious identity, and since Jewish law prefers a practicing atheist Jew to a God-believing non-practicing Jew.

      In one of my rabbinic exams, my teacher asked me what the reason was for a particular religious law. I said, “I guess the reason for it is that God said so.” This answer almost caused me to fail the exam because it was considered such a useless rationalization. The exam was in the context of Orthodoxy, although of course note that in very many subgroups of Orthodoxy, “God said so” is considered a perfectly valid explanation.

      • Chiffewar says:

        This is super interesting! You’re actually the second person who’s said that to me this week –– that “Jewish law prefers a practicing atheist Jew to a God-believing non-practicing Jew.” On one level I find that reassuring –– that Judaism demands actions but never prefers or flirts with preferring doublethink to honest mental dissent. But on another level I find it horrifying: how can someone decide not to care whether God exists? It’s the ‘encouraging others not to care whether God exists (and sweetening that deal with the promise of continued community membership)’ part that strikes me as most ominous. I don’t know. I’m reading Brothers K for an unrelated class; it’s all kind of blending together in my head, and my tired-brain is definitely grouping that idea with Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor. Which is not exactly an argument against it, but it doesn’t do much for the ominousness either.

        • suntzuanime says:

          “The great thing about religion is it works whether or not you believe in it”.

        • Shieldfoss says:

          how can someone decide not to care whether God exists

          I realize this is going to be the standard pithy atheists answer, but: For the same reason I don’t care whether Smurresaglkjadsrfgfdgs exists.

          • Chiffewar says:

            Well. Okay. “How can someone decide not to care if God exists, proceed to carry on with a bunch of really time-intensive ritual stuff that was originally predicated on God existing, and then decide not to think about that?”

        • Frog Do says:

          It is weird how deeply sola fide has become accepted as dogma when thinking about religion.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I think it’s because of how heavily dominated our culture is by Christianity – people assume that all religions are vaguely like Christianity, with notions of sin and salvation and orthodoxy (which of course means ‘correct teaching’). Just look at fantasy religions – the Faith of the Seven and the worship of R’Hlorr (no way I spelled that one right), to use a popularly known example, are both very Christian-looking religions.

            However, in actual human history and culture, the majority of places and times haven’t given a damn what you believed. Say that there is no god but Baal, fine, but just make this sacrifice to Caesar and we’ll be good. Hinduism today, for example, only exists because it doesn’t emphasize belief – if Hindus had to believe the same things as other people labelled “Hindus” they’d never consent to all being lumped together like that!

          • Nornagest says:

            Just look at fantasy religions – the Faith of the Seven and the worship of R’Hlorr (no way I spelled that one right), to use a popularly known example, are both very Christian-looking religions.

            This is actually a more modern trend. For decades, and still quite often, the norm was to use a pop-Roman flavored polytheism, with or without an implied monotheistic God that no one actually worships in the background; Tolkien, the prototype for this approach, had one but not all his imitators did. Sometimes that got replaced by a vague light/dark deal that looked kinda like Unitarian Universalism might if it had evolved out of Manicheanism instead of Protestant Christianity. Occasionally the two even coexist, as in Eddings.

            I’m actually a big fan of constructed theologies based either on Dharmic-flavored weirdness or on Abrahamic heresies, though; the old style tends to be very shallow. Even when the gods are characters (and they often are), they rarely show the breadth or the philosophical complexity of real-world pantheons.

          • Ruprect says:

            Peter Hitchens has written that A Song of Ice and Fire is a depiction of medieval Europe without the moderating influence of Christianity.

            I’m sympathetic to the theory, but I can’t say I’m entirely convinced – seems to me that the events in the story are fairly consistent with life in actual Medieval history.

          • LHN says:

            In Tolkien’s case it was deliberate, since Illuvatar was the Abrahamic (and specifically the Catholic) God, but Tolkien was writing about a period of prehistory prior to revelation. And while he was allergic to allegory, he was also unwilling to include anything theologically false by his lights.

            So good people couldn’t properly worship Eru (since they hadn’t yet been told to), but shouldn’t worship anything else. (Resulting in the fairly nonspecific respectful observances we see with e.g., Faramir.) The Valar are archangels, who are obviously supposed to be the original basis for pantheons like the Olympians and the Aesir, but they don’t seek worship. (Though the Elves invoke them the way Catholics do saints, as intermediaries to the divine with specific areas of responsibility.) The rest of the way to imputed divinity is mortals’ muddled misunderstanding.

            Everything else in mortal religious practice prior to Abraham is indicated to be a combination of that dim half-memory of the Valar with outright Satanic insipration (e.g., the late Numenoreans practicing human sacrifice and Morgoth-worship).

          • Frog Do says:

            My point was more a specific Protestant dogmas has been stealth-universalized.

        • wintercaerig says:

          “a bunch of really time-intensive ritual stuff that was originally predicated on God existing”

          Aha, so a question is to what extent Jewish law IS contingent on seeking to do the will of God. Do you know the famous story in the Talmud of the Oven of Akhnai?

          God’s will is not considered a good basis for making Jewish law, whereas changes in nature, very serious changes in a social reality, or in our understanding of either of these generally are considered good bases for change; for example, discovering that spontaneous generation is not actually possible made a big difference in some areas of Jewish law, yet as we can see if God were to somehow be revealed and say “Change the way you treat those insects,” we would simply answer, like R. Yehoshua, “We pay no attention to a divine voice.”

          I’m not exactly a scholar of Christianity but it seems to me that it is pretty strange that the same word is used to describe both of these systems.

          • Harkonnendog says:

            if God were to somehow be revealed and say “Change the way you treat those insects,” we would simply answer, like R. Yehoshua, “We pay no attention to a divine voice.”

            This is shocking to me. (And maybe it shouldn’t be that shocking after reading about Jonah.) You’ve given me a gift, a new way of thinking while reading the Bible. Thank you!

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            I am extremely interested to hear why God’s will is not considered a good basis for making Jewish law.

            Could you expand further upon that?

          • Julie K says:

            @Forlorn Hopes:
            A basic principle of Judaism is that the Torah will never be changed.
            i.e., it is impossible that a prophet would tell us, “Okay, from now on Jews are allowed to eat pork.”
            A new revelation of divine will could not supersede the original Revelation.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            But why does that principal exist?

            And why is the authority vested in the origonal Revelation considered to come from something (what?) other than the fact it’s from god?

          • brad says:

            Click the Oven of Akhnai link in the parent post. There’s an exegesis here which gives more context: http://thisisjudaism.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/The-Oven-of-Akhnai.pdf

            Finally note that R. Jeremiah lies by omission in his quote of the Torah!

            — Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline.

            but the context was

            Thou shalt not utter a false report; put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou bear witness in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice;

            He omits the critical not.

            My take is that this is one of those stories in the Talmud that you aren’t supposed to take literally. The basic lesson is that the age of miracles is over and so don’t think you can claim to be a prophet and take over the Jewish community. When it is stated as “God’s will is not considered a good basis for making Jewish law” it is really saying “God’s will as evidenced by anything other than the Torah and Oral Law is not …”.

          • Julie K says:

            No, here is the complete verse:
            “לֹא-תִהְיֶה אַחֲרֵי-רַבִּים לְרָעֹת וְלֹא-תַעֲנֶה עַל-רִב לִנְטֹת אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְהַטֹּת”

            The section you bolded is the first 5 words, whereas Rabbi Jeremiah is quoting the last three words.

            Here’s a discussion of the verse (in Hebrew): http://www.yeshiva.org.il/wiki/index.php?title=%D7%90%D7%97%D7%A8%D7%99_%D7%A8%D7%91%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%9C%D7%94%D7%98%D7%95%D7%AA

          • brad says:

            Sorry, I see I bolded the wrong part. But nonetheless isn’t R. Jeremiah cutting off the quote in a very deceptive place?

            Looking a bunch of English translations (I don’t read Hebrew) it appears that the sense of the verse is “don’t bear false witness to go along with what the majority wants” yet it is being deployed to offer support for the idea that R. Eliezer should bend to the will of the majority.

          • wintercaerig says:

            I wouldn’t say R. Yehoshua is lying. The way the Oral Torah uses the Written Torah is generally different from what people expect. This is in part because the Written and Oral Torahs are considered co-dominant authorities. It seems weirdest when you expect the Oral Torah to be a mere commentary on the Written.

            Authority is invested in Torah scholarship because it is good. When the community perceives it is not good, change occurs. One example of this is Prozbul: a law that was meant to aid the poor was discovered to in practice literally do nothing other than injure poor people, and required a very radical and committed rabbinic work-around. This process of change comes from traditional machinery itself and is, I think, too complex and culturally specific to get into here. Classical rabbinic thought is too different to impart an intuitive-feeling sense in a blog comment.

            Ramba”m, in his letter to Yemen, explains that the reward for behaving according to Jewish law is a community which behaves according to Jewish law. He compares the way it works to a body. The outward appearance of the body is compared to Jewish law, the inner workings of the body are human nature and necessity. The law is thus intended both an expression of reality and a beautiful way of holding it together. He contrasts this unfavourably with the “pretty statues” of Christianity and Islam, which in his opinion imitated the legal style of Judaism (commandments, etc) without the messy guts behind it.

            You are obviously getting the opinion of someone very invested in the rabbinic system but I hope this helps explain the perspective from which things make sense.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Wow, for some reason it’s really strange to think a rabbi reads my blog. I’m honored.

        But I have a question about your statement that “Jewish law prefers a practicing atheist Jew to a God-believing non-practicing Jew”. I heard the Mishnah says that all Jews have a part in the world to come except heretics, people who don’t believe the Torah was divinely revealed, and people who don’t believe in resurrection. Doesn’t that suggest a preference for believing-but-not-practicing over practicing-but-not-believing?

        (I hate to bother you about this, but I’m neither believing nor especially practicing, and it makes me sad that if Judaism is true I won’t have a place in the world to come, and if that’s actually not the right interpretation then I want to know about it)

        • Outis says:

          I mean, it could have been worse. You could have been born a goy.

          • Julie K says:

            Why would that be worse? Judaism doesn’t say that no non-Jews have a place in the world to come.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s a couple too many negations there. I spent a minute on your sentence and still can’t tell what it means.

          • Julie K says:

            Anonymous: Sorry, let me rephrase. “Judaism maintains that the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come.” (I was interested to see how readily Google auto-completed that sentence.)

        • Frog Do says:

          Out of curiosity, why are you honored if you neither believe nor practice? The honor would imply some level of either.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Really? I’d be honored if the Pope read my blog, but that doesn’t mean I’m Catholic.

          • Frog Do says:

            A priest would be a better comparison, or a pastor. But priest and pastor and rabbi have different perceptions, and one of the things I’m interested in is relative perceptions of status of religious leaders from the seculars.

            Anyways, I find it interesting is all. Thanks for the response.

          • wintercaerig says:

            My read was not that he meant that a rabbi is an impressive figure and therefore a prize blog reader (ha) but rather that a rabbi does not seem to be a natural part of the rationalist community, and so it is a happy thought that his blog has a wider reach than his own “choir.”

          • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

            As a jewish atheist, I would feel honored as well. All of the handful of rabbis I have interacted with have been educated in a wide variety of topics and just wicked smart. As far as I can tell, this is not just my personal experience, which is why rabbis are extremely respected in the jewish community. Of course, I do not speak for Scott.

        • Forlorn Hopes says:

          Reading that link led to to the Seven Laws of Noah.

          Do not deny God.
          Do not blaspheme God.
          Do not murder.
          Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
          Do not steal.
          Do not eat of a live animal.
          Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.

          Is it just me or is the seventh one so jarringly out of place that you have to laugh and laugh and laugh.

          • Frog Do says:

            What is out of place about it?

          • Fj says:

            If that is The Law then it makes sense to also demand the establishment of the enforcement of The Law.

            Like, just in case people are damn stupid and would be, like, OK, let’s have these Laws and then go back to the business as usual, lol.


            Reminds me of that part in the New Testament, where Jesus was like, you guys, give all you have to the poor, seriously. Because that’s how you know that you really believe that the God would take care of you, like he does of the birds and shit. So come on, give all your stuff away.

            And then, oh you think that you can be righteous without giving all your stuff up? Nope, like the weeds in your garden your material belongings would distract you from righteousness. And really, if you guys had enough faith for a mustard seed you could do awesome shit, but you don’t obviously, so give all your stuff to the poor already.

            And then, but really, I came to separate the man from his father and sisters and mother and wife, stop having families, give all your shit to the poor and go praise God with Me, because your family is your worst enemy as far as achieving enlightenment goes, if you care about your family you don’t care about loving God enough. Obviously.

            And then, ffs, I tell you now, you guys who think you’re following my commandments while still being entangled with this material world, when the time of judgment comes I will tell you: I don’t know you, go away.


            I mean, it seems that the ancients were pretty good at figuring out the fault modes of a Commandment, namely that people would just reinterpret it in a way that allows them to keep doing whatever they were doing. That New Testament thing had like three levels of protection against that (and still failed of course, seeing all those American Protestants who believe that being rich means that you’re blessed, L-O-L).

            So, what I’m saying is, seeing the seventh commandment to be “and you’d better follow the first six ones or else” makes total sense. Real people need that kind of a stick to make them follow the rules.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            What is out of place about it?

            The others are all really simple, “follow this one rule”. The last one is a one meta level above them.

        • wintercaerig says:

          There’s a lot to say about that mishnah; but we can start by noticing that belief in God is not among those three things. In fact belief is not the subject of the mishnah at all, but speech: “One who SAYS there is no resurrection of the dead, one who says the Torah is not from heaven, and the apikorus” (heretic).

          But isn’t the heretic the atheist? We don’t have to guess because the sages clarify later in the chapter (Sanhedrin 99b) that the term was used to mean either one who disrespects a sage, or who disrespects their peer in front of sage. There is a sensibility here of divinity but that divinity belongs to a text and its students rather than a figure of God.

          It’s also worth noting that the one they were imagining as denying resurrection of the dead was not a skeptic but a Sadducee. Denying resurrection of the dead was for some reason one of their most prominent beliefs and a big wedge issue between them and the Pharisees/rabbis. So although denying the resurrection of the dead might also be something that you do, I hope you will feel less sad knowing that the mishnah is not talking about you. Just as if there was a wanted notice and you too happened to be a white male of height X, it would not mean that the police were looking for you.

          Finally, saying that someone has no portion in the world to come sounds harsh, but this is not the language rabbinic literature to express something very serious. For that they would specify an actual penalty (take away their ability to be honored, shun them, fine them, beat them, withhold community assistance/support, psychologically punish them by saying that if we were able we would subject them to the death penalty [throw them off a cliff, pour lava down their throat, etc]). Actual penalties are used with regards to the things that rabbinic Judaism cares about more, like Shabbat violation, criminal activity, etc. Here we see that the mishnah has no recommendations about how the community should respond, and since it is very free with those recommendations in other circumstances, this means it thinks no response is necessary.

      • Julie K says:

        Don’t all the Orthodox subgroups agree that there are different categories of mitzvot, and that “because God said so” is the correct reason for chukim, but not for the other categories?

      • Deiseach says:

        I said, “I guess the reason for it is that God said so.” This answer almost caused me to fail the exam because it was considered such a useless rationalization.

        Reminds me of the attitude of William of Conches:

        [They say] “We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.” You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.

    • brad says:

      1) I generally say I’m was Jewish but non-observant. Sometimes I’ll say agnostic or atheist instead. I consider the primary difference between the three to be social rather than epistemological.

      I strongly identify with the Jewish culture and history. I don’t identify with any organized group of non-believers or have a strong emotional attachment to non-belief.

      I went to a conservative day school and attended synagogue regularly into my early 20s (I’m in my mid 30s).

      2) I go to weddings, funerals, brises and bar/bat mitzvahes at synagogues and don’t otherwise go much. Rarely (a couple of times a year) I’m visiting my parents and they drag me along. My parents have two seders every year and do a lunch for rosh hashana, I attend all three. Sometimes I hum prayer melodies.

      3) I see Jewish as an overloaded term. I meet a lot of the definitions, including the internal one. I don’t meet the definition that some American Christians want to impose but don’t even rigorously apply to other Americans that identify as Christians. Fuck ’em. Also some atheists hate anyone claiming to be Jewish because they think it blurs their message. Fuck them too.

      4) I have no qualms in this area. See #3.

      5) I have a fair bit of contempt towards haradi. It is especially embarrassing / annoying when I observe or read about them cheating the government or business counterparties. I’m neutral to positive on MO. I have mostly positive feelings about the conservative movement. I don’t like reform services — they seem fake and hokey — but I have nothing intellectually against reform and reconstructionist.

      • Chiffewar says:

        Completely with you on the prayer-melody humming. Jewish music — prayer or otherwise — is catchy AF. My essay-writing playlist currently consists of camp Hava Nagila on repeat. (Possible content warning for anti-semitism. My Russian is too shitty and I’m too tired to piece together all the dialogue. But whatever else it is, it is gloriously camp.)

      • Pku says:

        “Mathematicians call it abuse of notation; we in CS call it overloading” – Dan Spielman.

    • zensunni couch-potato says:

      1) I’m a Jew who doesn’t believe in G-d. I’ll elaborate in #3.

      2) Growing up, my family observed Shabbat (though without the restrictions on electricity, etc), went to synagogue on “major” holidays, said the correct prayers before meals, and kept a kind of pseudo-kosher (seperate dishes for meat and dairy, no pork).

      When I was 13, the Conservative congregation where I went to Hebrew School informed my parents that since they hadn’t paid dues (separate from Hebrew School tuition) in two years, I couldn’t have my Bar Mitzvah there. My Hebrew teacher found a local Chabad House that was willing to host, which exposed me to the very charismatic Chabad rabbi’s influence, which led to a 2-3 year phase in which I prayed three times a day and generally tried to my best to observe all the parts of halacha that my family never did.

      By the time I was 16, a combination of new teenage priorities in life (like girls and fitting in, however unsuccessful I was at both enterprises) and greater exposure to science and humanities had led me to abandon my aspirations of orthodoxy, though I remained involved in a (largely secular) Jewish youth group.

      Today, I have a mezuzah on each of the doors of my apartment, but otherwise only attend to religion for family functions. The one exception being that after my each of parents died, I would occasionally attend services to say the mourners’ kaddish during the prescribed mourning period.

      Although I still (not unlike our host, I think) find myself fascinated by subjects related to Jewish theology, esp. the finer points of Jewish law and deeper mysteries .

      3) To me, Judaism is only one part of being Jewish. I have a strong sense of being part of an ethnic group that has beat thousands of years of adversity. I don’t believe the ethical, cosmological, or historical claims of Judaism, but so what? Any objective scholar will tell you that all that stuff, even the monotheism, has changed over time. I find my heritage fascinating, and I think it’s worth at least some effort to preserve that.

      4) a. I don’t think that “Jewish atheism” is an organized enough body of thought to have its own ethical system. A lot individual secular Jews have had enormous influence on ethical philosophy, but their views are as different from each other as it’s possible to be.
      b. Yes, for the reasons I gave in #3.
      c. I think it’s perfectly honest to identify with a culture without accepting all the claims made by the intellectual authorities of that culture throughout a very long and varied history.
      d. Even granting the assumptions of the worldview that says cultural appropriation is a thing, I think I’m entitled to treat my cultural identity however I want.

      Edit: 5) Apart from my personal interest as a Jew, I think there’s something oddly fascinating about the Jews and their outsized influence on the world. I find Cochrane, Hardy and Harpending’s explanation the most compelling, and possibly extremely important to mankind if we ever want the ability to improve the human condition through genetics.

      p.s: If you’re confused why someone with “zen” and “sunni” in their handle is talking about being Jewish, it’s an obscure Dune reference I’ve been using for years, nothing to do with my identity or beliefs.

    • Pku says:

      1) I generally say I’m Jewish but not religious. “Not being religious” isn’t really an identity, in the same way that not being french isn’t really part of my identity. Being Jewish is an identity in the way described in “the ideology is not the movement”.

      2) I observe some holidays (mainly Hannukah, Passover, and Sukkot) when I’m home with my family (which hasn’t happened in a couple of years). I also usually fast on Yom Kippur – partly as a way to connect with my cultural background, and partly because a 25-hour fast is long enough to be an interesting experience (without being particularly painful). I also sometimes get invited to sabbath dinners and such with more religious friends. I go along with it because, while I’m not religious, it’s a way to connect with people. (tribalism!)

      3) Again, “the ideology is not the movement.”

      4) I think so. I do actually feel a bit bad about cultural appropriation sometimes, but my more religious friends always stress that everyone (well, who’s jewish by blood) is welcome (often to an uncomfortable degree). And parts of my family are religious and do love me, so having parts of my clear ingroup who are also clearly religious gets me over it.

      5) There’s an interesting difference between american jewish and israeli jewish culture, to the point that jewish american culture is probably further from israeli jewish culture as the average american culture. But when I came here american jewish culture was super welcoming and nice to me, which was a bit strange (I don’t think they quite realize how different we are), but very nice of them.

      • brad says:

        FWIW, I’m quite aware of the alienness of Israeli culture. But to be fair to those that aren’t, the birthright program is pretty much deliberately designed to foster the deception of closeness.

        The part that I find most annoying is the implicit claim that it is the one true authentic Jewish culture, when actually Ashkenazi Jewish culture is better preserved in NYC than anywhere in Israel. In fact it looks to me like there’s been a conscious effort to erase that culture in Israel. It’s all humus and falafal as far as the eye can see. Nary a deli or appetizing store in sight.

        • Y. Ilan says:

          Why should Israel conserve Ashkenazi exile culture? Speaking as a completely Ashkenazi Israeli, I see nothing wrong with the organic fusion of Jewish cultures and traditions that has happened here throughout the years and continues to happen. It is for the best long-term that Israeli Jews are basically becoming one more-or-less united ethnic group. We’re not there yet, but ultimately I think that this kind of unity is important for our survival.

          • Deli seems like a loss. I’m not saying there’s a need to replicate the whole culture.

            Or is it that deli only makes sense in colder climates?

          • brad says:

            There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but the result is Israeli culture, which is a Jewish culture but not Jewish culture simpliciter. Many Israelis, in my experience, seem to either explicitly or implicitly deny this.

            Similarly, Israeli Prime Ministers don’t speak for the Jewish people. Never have and never will.

          • Y. Ilan says:

            There’re some nice deli places in Tel Aviv; there’s one specific place near Florentine I’m thinking about. Of course it’s not as common as falafel or shwarma, I think because those latter two (especially falafel) are just cheaper, but climate may be part of it.

            I guess Israelis do tend to consider their own culture as the “official” Jewish culture. There is some inherent antagonism when it comes to diaspora Jewish culture, which is one explanation for why a lot of us think that way instinctively. Anyways, the truth is that Jewish Israelis are a rapidly growing population while diaspora Jews are not really procreating, and especially in North America assimilating quite rapidly. At this point Israeli leadership does not represent all Jews; in the not too far-off future, for all intents and purposes, it will.

          • brad says:

            Time will tell. Perhaps never will was a bit much; certainly Bibi never will.

            In the meanwhile circumstances as they are now are what is relevant, not what may or may not happen a century or two from now.

        • Yehoshua K says:

          I’m fairly sure that there were no delis in the shtetls. That’s an invention of New York Jewry, not a preservation of “authentic ashkenazi culture.” Also, most Israeli Jews are not ashkenazim, but sephardim.

          • brad says:

            Most as in a plurality or most as in a majority? How do you count mixed ancestry sabras and Russian not-really-Jews?

          • Yehoshua K says:

            Most as in most. To the best of my knowledge, upwards of 50% of Israeli Jews are of Sephardic ancestry.

            Russian not-Jews are not Jews; Jews of mixed ancestry (say, blended Ashkenazi and Sephardi, or Sephardi and Temani) are still a fairly small percentage, though I expect that will change over the coming generations.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      1. Jewish atheist or atheist of Jewish background, either or. Atheist is probably more important since I feel bad about claiming the Jewish identity.

      2. I was Bar Mitzvahed, I used to go to synagogue for high holy days, now I have a mezuzah and sometimes pray informally and sometimes light shabbat candles but that’s it. I’ve been studying Judaism a lot for Unsong and I guess that’s where most of my interaction comes from these days.

      3. By saying “an atheist of Jewish descent who is interested in Judaism”

      4. I don’t think it’s culturally appropriative because all Jews and rabbis and authorities I know say it isn’t and that they want Jews to do that. I used to know a Chabad rabbi who was very insistent that even if you are only 0.00001% of the way to being any kind of an observant Jew, God and Judaism still prefer that you identify as such.

      • yaacov says:

        Why do you feel bad about claiming the Jewish identity?

      • Yehoshua K says:

        Personally, I don’t buy the whole idea that it’s somehow wrong to learn from or borrow from other cultures. In any event, certainly we (Orthodox Jews) prefer that secular Jews identify as Jews rather than not.

    • yaacov says:

      1) I’m a Jewish atheist. Jewish because my parents were Jewish, and their parents were Jewish, and so on… It’s a ethnic/cultural/national thing.
      2) I live in a co-op full of other Jews, most of whom are to some degree religious. So I do the stuff that other people in my community do. I go to my parent’s house for holidays (they’re Orthodox) to celebrate with them. The rituals I do keep are more-or-less Orthodox, because that’s what the people around me are doing.
      3) I don’t see ‘Jewish’ as primarily a religious descriptor, so I don’t see the term as contradictory. Orthodox Jews would call a Jewish atheist a Jew if his or her mother was Jewish. Being ‘Jewish’ has nothing to do with your personal beliefs, it’s just about whether or not you meet the tribal membership conditions (Jewish mother or conversion).
      4) I enjoy thinking about the Jewish religion. I talk about Hasidism or get into arguments about Halacha on a semi-regular basis. I don’t think the Jewish religion particularly influences my ethics though.

    • I think the reason belief in G-d is so unimportant in Judaism has to do with the idea that Jews had direct interactions with the deity, and that story/information was passed down through generations. In other words, G-d’s existence is taken for granted, as a matter of solid fact, not a test of belief.

      At some level, atheism (among practicing Jews) is like disbelieving in the existence of your landlord, someone perhaps you have never met in person. As long as you send in the rent checks on time, it doesn’t matter to your neighbors or the landlord what you think about him.

      • zensunni couch potato says:

        That’s a great metaphor

      • Yehoshua K says:

        I don’t think that belief in God is unimportant in Judaism. See, for example, the beginning of Mishneh Torah (Foundations of Torah 1:6), where Maimonides states “The foundation of foundations and pillar of wisdoms is to know that there exist a primordial Being; that He grants existence to everything that exists; and that everything that exists, whether in heaven, on earth, or between the two, exists only because of the truth of His existence. 2. In the event that He should not exist, nothing else would be able to exist. 3. But if nothing else were to exist, He would nevertheless exist. He would not be nullified by their nullification, because all creatures depend upon Him, but He, may He be blessed, does not depend on them, or on any of them. Therefore, His truth is unlike their truth…6. Knowledge of this matter is a positive commandment, as it says “I am Hashem your God.” Whomever thinks that some god exists aside from this One violates the prohibition of “You shall have no other gods before Me.” He denies the main point, for this is the main point upon which everything depends.”

        See also the first gloss of Rabbi Moshe Isserles (better know by his Hebrew acronym, the Rema) on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:1, where he states “‘I have placed Hashem before me always’ is a major principle of Torah and a major aspect of the good traits of the righteous who walk before God. For a man conducts himself differently when he is by himself in his house than when he is in the presence of a great king; neither is his speech when he is surrounded by his own family similar to his speech when in the royal palace. How much more so (will his conduct be refined) when he takes to heart that the Great King, the Holy One Blessed be He, whose glory fills the world, stands over him and sees his deeds, as it says ‘If a man hides himself in secret places, shall I not see him, says Hashem.’ Immediately he shall be seized by fear and submission before Hashem, the Blessed One, and shall be humbled before Him. (Source: Guide to the Perplexed, section 3 chapter 52).”

        See also the Mishna Brurah there, Biur Halacha that starts with the words “Is a major principle,” who explains that every Jewish man and woman is constantly obliged in six particular commandments; namely, belief in God, not to believe in other gods, belief in God’s unity, love of God, fear of God, and not to get involved in physical passions or heretical ideas. (The last should perhaps be divided into two separate commandments, making seven constant commandments in all.) He explains that in contrast to other commandments, which apply to some people but not all, or at some times but not all, or under certain circumstances but not all, these commandments apply to every Jew, man or woman, at every moment and under all circumstances.

        • Perhaps “unimportant” should have been modified by “comparatively”. Belief is so central to Christianity that, lacking very specific beliefs, one ceases to be considered a Christian. Almost every denomination of Christianity is defined by what its adherents believe. Yet a Jew continues to be a Jew, regardless of beliefs.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            From a religious perspective, what does it mean to say that a Jew who ceases to believe in Judaism remains a Jew? Simply that he remains obligated to obey the Torah in every detail, and will be called to account for his failure to do so, down to the smallest points. Obviously he’s not a member of the faith community of Israel, and this has practical ramifications in Jewish law.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      1) I am indifferent between “Jewish atheist” and “atheist of Jewish background”: the first is shorter, but possibly more confusing. The second is slightly more accurate.

      “Atheist” because I think it more accurately describes my beliefs, and is a better predictor of my values and opinions than “Jewish”. “Jewish” because, despite my younger self’s worries that it was somehow dishonest to identify with a religion/culture/identity whose important tenets I didn’t hold to, it seems impossible to deny that someone who was raised in a Jewish household, went to Jewish schools until I was college-age, celebrated and still celebrates many of the holidays, etc., etc. is in some sense “Jewish”.

      As to which one is more important–they’re important in different ways. Atheism is an identity I had to choose; I had to wrestle with myself for a while before I could accept that I was an atheist too. I probably have more in common intellectually and temperamentally with another de-convert than I do with most people of Jewish background.
      Judaism, on the other hand, is strongly associated with my family, and my family are quite close. Also, my childhood exposure to Judaism has probably strongly shaped me in ways that make my Jewish background an important part of who I am.

      2) I observe Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur and Pesach, and depending on my proximity to family I will also do things for Channukah. My family celebrates Shabbat every week, so when I’m nearby I will attend that too.

      I fast for Yom Kippur and will sometimes make an effort to avoid obvious bread products during Pesach, but otherwise I don’t really observe any rituals.

      Most of my interactions with Judaism happen during holidays, or through family, mostly at Shabbat dinners. I also maintain an interest in Jewish history, mythology, etc. I also suppose that I pay more attention to political and cultural issues involving Judaism in some way.

      3) As I mentioned above, a decade or so ago I really struggled with whether I ought to be considered “Jewish” in any meaningful way. I think the way I reconciled myself to the idea that I was Jewish despite being an atheist was to think of “Jewish” as referring to my cultural inheritance and upbringing: I was Jewish insofar as my family celebrated Pesach and not Christmas, for example, and was otherwise raised in a Jewish milieu. To me, the “Jewish” in “Jewish atheist” doesn’t refer to Jewish beliefs, it refers to Jewish cultural practices. This is why I will use “atheist of Jewish background”–I think it makes this point a little clearer.

      4) I don’t see why being an atheist would preclude me from laying some claim to Judaism, especially if my claim is a claim of cultural inheritance. I was unambiguously raised Jewish, my schooling was Jewish from ages 6-18, I attended shul regularly until my early 20s–I think my claim to Jewish culture is as strong or stronger than many people I know who are more religious than I am, and who identify more strongly with Judaism. It can feel a little appropriative to have opinions on religious issues (e.g., the recent decision by Conservative Judaism to allow eating kitniyot on Pesach) when I ultimately have no skin in the game, but it’s pretty mild.

      5) Nothing I can think of now, but I might add more later.

    • Anatoly says:

      1. I’m an atheist and I’m Jewish. They’re important in different ways and do not really conflict.
      2. “Observe” is vague. I observe most of them in the sense of being aware of them, having a holiday-appropriate table set up for my family, lighting candles on Hanukkah, and I go as far as read some portions of Haggadah on Passover. I observe none of them in the sense of going to the synagogue, actually intoning all the right prayers at the table etc. Why? – logistically it’s easy and expected because I live in Israel, culturally it’s fun especially for the kids now that I have some.
      3. You should be aware that the American way of treating “Jewish” as mostly/wholly a religious notion is not universal. Elsewhere in the world “Jewish” is often treated as an ethnicity not a religion, so “Jewish atheist” is exactly like “Irish atheist”. There’s no contradiction.
      4. “Can you be an atheist and still lay claim to Judaism?” “Lay claim” is vague. I see Jewish traditions, including explicitly religious ones, as a part of my cultural heritage I’m inclined to respect in a vague-half-empty way, but will choose to honor or ignore based on my ideals and beliefs.

    • Anthony says:

      1) Secular Jew. I call myself a Jew because I identify strongly with Jewish history, and especially with the lineage of Polish/German Jews that runs through my dad’s side of the family. I’ll elaborate on contradictions in 4. I call myself secular to distinguish myself from religious Jews. I don’t call myself a Jewish atheist because atheism has nothing to do with my identity, (though I am an atheist).

      2) None, basically. Passover, occasionally, if I’m at my parents, but even that is so half-assed it barely counts. How else do I interact with Judaism? I tell Jewish jokes, I have lots of Jewish friends, I read too much Philip Roth, and I use my prehensile beak to deliver earth-shattering clitoral stimulation (on shiksas only — I’ve never been with a Jewish woman comfortable with the act).

      3) I do not see the terms as remotely contradictory. “Jewish” can be a reference to religious belief or ethnicity. I apply the term to myself solely in the latter sense.

      4) First, I don’t think it’s intellectually honest to claim that there’s an “ethics” of Judaism, atheistic or not. Jews have been socialists, merchants, tax-collectors, slave-owners, abolitionists, conservatives, peasants, city-folk, and so on down the line till the end of time. I don’t think it’s intellectually honest, for that matter, to claim any ethnic tradition as one’s own. I don’t own my dad, or his dad or mom, and their experience is remarkably remote to me. If you were an alien coming down to earth, you’d view me (I think) as a human, an American, upper-middle class, and a lot of other classifications before you came to “Jew.”

      I identify as Jewish nonetheless. It’s pragmatic and emotional. Pragmatic because it gives me a legacy to live up to — I can choose to replace “Judaism” with “secular humanistic Judaism” and then behave in such a way that “Jews” (those among them that I care about) would be proud of my behavior. Emotional because… what’s the use of giving reasons for emotion?


    • Julie K says:

      Jewish theist here, so this isn’t so helpful for your paper, but there doesn’t seem to be much concern in general about cultural appropriation of Judaism, maybe because we’ve had a couple centuries to get used to the idea of Jews who pick and choose what they observe, and repurpose and re-form Jewish rituals, maybe just because the charge of cultural appropriation is usually invoked when the person doesn’t have any ancestral link to the culture in question.
      That reminds me of an article I read about 15 or 20 years ago about some women who were created feminist pagan rituals based on the Jewish Rosh Chodesh observances. The article noted that this had the advantage, versus using Native American observances, that they wouldn’t be accused of cultural appropriation. (Possibly not using that exact phrase.) I remember thinking that it would be more accurate to say that no one whose opinion they respect would be offended.
      It would be amusing to tell someone who’s having a social justice Passover Seder that what they’re doing is cultural appropriation…
      By the way, speaking of atheism and Judaism, I was pleasantly surprised that the bits of the LW-o-sphere that I’ve seen don’t have the level of animus for right-wing Israelis and ultra-orthodox Jews that is typical among commenters at a site like the New York Times or the Washington Post.

      • Chiffewar says:

        ‘Social justice Passover Seder’ actually prompted a huge argument at the seder I went to this year –– people were very annoyed about the (apparently apocryphal?) orange thing.

        • Anonymous says:

          I wonder how many of those people complained about what my siblings and I used to call the cold war haggadah we used for a few years or the Hatikvah that seems to be springing up in every haggadah these days.

    • Forlorn Hopes says:

      1) Probably mixed Ashkenazi/Sephadi atheist. But I’m not particularly fussed about the exact words.
      2) Any that give me an excuse to see family I haven’t seen in a while. Not the same every year.
      3) I see no contradiction. The word “Jewish” is commonly understood to mean more than a religion. If you use it to mean an ethnicity or a culture, and that accurately describes you, then there’s no contradiction in Jewish atheism.
      4) It’s perfectly honest. If you don’t deceive people into thinking your religious or demand special dispensation on religious grounds despite not practicing there’s no ethical quandary. E.G. Don’t demand to go home on work early on Fridays if you’re going to use that time playing computer games rather than upholding the Sabbath.

    • Y. Ilan says:

      1) I’m a Jew who doesn’t believe in any sort of divinity. An agnostic more than an atheist – I don’t think that categorizing myself as a “non-believer” is useful for anything. I merely don’t consider the existence or inexistence of God to be something that I should concern myself with. My Jewish identity is paramount. I was born in Israel, lived in Canada for several years, and have been back in Israel for several more; I feel much better living amongst other Jews here in Israel, because of a shared culture, behavior and life experience. I am thus Jewish ethnically and culturally, which to me seems like enough of a strong identity without having to involve religion into it.

      2) Like most Israelis, I celebrate most of the major religious holidays with my family, although not all of them every year. I would say that Passover is the most significant, and sometimes we get to read all of the haggadah (which I actually tend to enjoy). I don’t fast on yom kippur nor do I rest on the shabbat; maybe once I have my own family I’d start including more of these rituals into my life, but who knows. To me taking part in Jewish religious practice is about tradition and family more than anything else, a way of keeping people together.

      3) I don’t see anything contradictory about the term “Jewish atheist.” Jews are an ethno-religious group, and thus being a Jew is firstly about ancestry (and the culture that comes with it) and only secondly about religious practice. The Druze, for example, are another such group; most Druze barely know anything about their religion (as it is somewhat secret), yet they still consider themselves Druze.

      4) Since I don’t believe there is any contradiction in the term, there’s nothing inherently unethical about being a Jewish atheist. At least as long as said atheist is not actively working against other, more religious Jews merely because of their religiosity. For example, I’ve met strident Jewish atheists here in Israel who are very malicious in their view of the more religious; they tend to hold a kind of patronizing outlook and reject all Jewish tradition and practice as primitive. If atheist identity involves this kind of conflict-mongering, only then does it become immoral.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      1) Jewish Atheist. I’m culturally and (partly) genetically jewish, but I just don’t believe in G-d. (I usually don’t censor that, but for some reason I feel like I should in this context.)
      2) I observe the high holidays, passover, and hannukah, plus others whenever I’m with my more religious extended family or decide to, on a whim. This makes me more observant than most American Christians.
      3) Judaism is 3 simultaneous identities; Culture, religion, and ethnicity. People who have all three, or none, have no conflict. Those of us who do must struggle with it, and I tend to try and not resolve the question, but instead dissolve it into three questions which can be easily answered.
      4) I haven’t thought about this in the past, so I don’t really have a response besides, “hmm, interesting.”

  54. HircumSaeculorum says:

    A while ago, you wrote a post that was, in part, about the lack of good poetry about hospitals. Have you read The Building, by Philip Larkin?

    • Deiseach says:

      There was the late Dannie Abse, doctor and poet, of Welsh-Jewish background:

      Pathology of Colours

      I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,
      but not when it ripens in a tumour;
      and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,
      in limbs that fester are not springlike.

      I have seen red-blue tinged with hirsute mauve
      in the plum-skin face of a suicide.
      I have seen white, china white almost, stare
      from behind the smashed windscreen of a car.

      And the criminal, multi-coloured flash
      of an H-bomb is no more beautiful
      than an autopsy when the belly’s opened –
      to show cathedral windows never opened.

      So in the simple blessing of a rainbow,
      in the bevelled edge of a sunlit mirror,
      I have seen, visible, Death’s artifact
      like a soldier’s ribbon on a tunic tacked.

  55. falennas108 says:

    I spent a decent period of time around someone with the flu the past few days, and above on not catching it myself other than lots of water and sleep?

    • Earthly Knight says:

      –Wash your hands incessantly.
      –Avoid touching your face-holes after contact with infected individual.
      –Get a vaccination six months ago.
      –If you’re an infant, elderly, or immunocompromised, get a prescription for oseltamivir (Tamiflu) in consultation with your doctor the second you start experiencing any symptoms.
      –Unless your friend/lover/child/workplace proximity associate has been diagnosed with the flu by a medical professional, there’s a very high chance that s/he does not actually have influenza. The flu season has run long (in America) this year, but it’s May, and the flu is rarer than other infections even in deepest winter. If the symptoms are predominantly respiratory, a cold is the most likely culprit; if they’re gastro-intestinal, it’s almost certainly food poisoning.
      –Scoff at anyone who isn’t a medical doctor and instructs you to ingest any substance for flu prevention. There is only rest and fluids.

      Note: I am in no way qualified to dispense medical advice.

      • Dahlen says:

        If you’re an infant, elderly, or immunocompromised, get a prescription for oseltamivir (Tamiflu) in consultation with your doctor the second you start experiencing any symptoms.

        ^This. Life-saver. If you got a bad case of the flu, it’s better to start taking it early rather than late, but better late than never. Note: you may not be either of the three and still be in need of oseltamivir. I found out about it after doing a Cursory Google Search while fighting asphyxiation and learning that trying to address the root cause of a flu with antibiotics and not antivirals is bunk. IIRC, Relenza is another such medication.

        (Also, presumably falennas108 is not an infant)

        • Deiseach says:

          If you got a bad case of the flu, it’s better to start taking it early rather than late, but better late than never.

          Interesting. About five years ago, we were in the middle of one of the “get inoculated against this year’s flu” campaigns and I decided to go get vaccinated on time for once but before I managed to get to the doctor, I got a dose of what was going round.

          So instead I asked my doctor for the Tamiflu prescription and his attitude was “Well, it’s no good giving it to you now , you’ve already got the thing”. But for once in my life I stuck to my guns, nagged him into giving me a prescription (I can feel Scott wincing from here) and it did cut the misery short remarkably.

          So is this just the remnants of an attitude in Ireland that you should suffer through things, or was the doctor wrong that it would do me no good? I certainly felt it did me good, but his attitude was clearly “it’s not going to stop you getting the flu now you’ve got it” (which is not what I thought it would do, to be clear).

          • Dahlen says:

            Tamiflu is at its most effective within the first 48 hours of contacting flu/experiencing the first symptoms. Your doctor seemed to have extended that into thinking it does nothing for you afterwards; as we both know now, it does.

            I’ve had a doctor try to talk me out of thinking about taking it (during a casual phone call, not a medical visit) based on the fact that she evaluated my discernment as trusting everything Dr. Google says, but fortunately the one that did evaluate me had the good sense to prescribe it. There just seems to be a general reluctance towards prescribing antivirals for flu. Dunno why that is. It certainly didn’t have any sort of horrible side effects… but I wonder whether the medical establishment worries about the situation with antibiotics repeating for antivirals (wherein people fail to take the medication for the prescribed period of time, after they stop having symptoms, which eventually leads to the natural selection of the most resistant strains and the creation of super-bugs).

            Edit: Oh, and it was also surprisingly unavailable in drugstores. Very limited supply. We tried 3 drugstores before finding one that had it.

          • Deiseach says:

            The push definitely seems to be towards getting people vaccinated rather than prescribing them antivirals, and maybe it’s for the reasons you say: worried about the same situation arising as with antibiotics.

            I normally would never have bothered with Tamiflu (my attitude, ironically, had been much the same as the doctor: “Well, if you’re already getting it, just tough it out with rest and fluids”) but since I had been knocked off my feet by the swine flu the year that was going round and it really drained all my energy and left me sicker than I’d ever been before, the next year I decided to get the inoculation and when I started getting fluey symptoms I went “To hell with this, I’m not risking it, I want the Tamiflu”.

          • keranih says:

            Public health officials are absolutely worried about resistance to antivirals. The CDC (and WHO) are already tracking