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OT51: Alien Vs. Threadator

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

1. Did you perhaps miss Open Thread 50.25, Open Thread 50.5, and Open Thread 50.75? Remember, this blog now has “hidden” open threads every Wednesday and Sunday (except the Sunday of a visible open thread like this one). You can find them by going to the “Open Thread” tab at the top of the page in the blue area.

2. Comments of the week include Trollumination on dualization in labor markets and JDDT on British union-hospital bargaining. I also really liked this long thread about people’s political conversion stories – ie who started off with one political position and switched to a very different one.

3. I may or may not switch to writing fewer but longer posts sometime soon. I feel like I get the most out of really comprehensive review posts, or complicated theory posts like this, and I don’t have the time to write them if I’m writing a couple of posts a week. So don’t be surprised if quantity starts to drop off.

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1,305 Responses to OT51: Alien Vs. Threadator

  1. Ryan Beren says:

    There are a lot of consequentialists among those influenced by SSC. What we ask in that moral theory is how to deliver the goods. Those of us who were also influenced by LW and EY’s fears of Unfriendly AI are hesitant to affirm any specific theory of what precisely the goods are. On the one hand that’s appropriate skepticism. On the other hand it’s not much fun, and it doesn’t advance the discussion much either.

    This is a thread for consequentialists to propose what you think the goods are. It’s OK if it’s a provisional belief, or even if you don’t particularly believe it but merely assign it the plurality of your current credence. It’s also a thread to discuss people’s proposals.

    For organization purposes, I’ll do so also in a comment.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      My best-effort proposal changes often, and here’s my most recent: the moral good that should be maximized is the well-distributed total information of the true pleasurable memories of living agents.

      Here’s what I was trying to pack into that phrase.

      “agents”: Entities with the capacity to act to achieve arbitrary goals. Human adults and children count. Fetuses don’t count. Animals count. Present-day AIs and robots don’t count. Star Trek style aliens would count. A General Artificial Intelligence would count.

      “living”: i.e. Actively living. The dead don’t count. Minds uploaded or copied to computers but then put on pause don’t count. Cryogenically paused people don’t count – so restoring them to vitality would get calculated as a big moral win.

      “memories”: Physical records of the past coupled to a system that can interpret them. Scenes in current working memory count. Recallable memories of scenes count. Unconscious memories such as long-term potentiation in the brain also count. Off-brain storage such as diaries and home videos count. Forgotten events do not count. Memories made inaccessible by disease or damage don’t count. A human mind is more valuable than an animal mind in part because we have more storage capacity for memories. Every death gets calculated as an evil due to the loss of living memory.

      “pleasurable”: In the traditional utilitarian sense, it includes all types of positive affect. Pains, or all types of negative affect, are counted as negative pleasure. More neuroscientifically, it’s positive reinforcement in a recursive neural net.

      “true”: The only memories that count for a given agent are memories about that agent’s own past, caused by that past. Implanted false memories do not count. Memories about the real experience of enjoying fictional works do count.

      “information”: The Kolmogorov complexity of the memories. An exact copy of a mind adds almost nothing to the total. A billion locusts add almost nothing past the first few locusts. A human mind is more valuable than an animal mind in part because we have more capacity for diverse memories.

      “total”: Not average. I bite the bullet on the Repugnant Conclusion, although its repugnance is moderated by the “information” and “well-distributed” criteria. A future superhuman AI might be capable of greater pleasures than all humanity, but loss of humans and their memories would still be calculated as an enormous evil.

      “well-distributed”: I say that some agents are more deserving of their pleasures and some are less deserving. Consider the distribution across living agents of the pleasures they’ve actually received. Now consider the distribution of moral desert across the same agents. Normalize the two distributions and compare. The degree of overlap of these two distributions ranges between 1 (perfect match) and 0 (e.g. all the pleasures going to undeserving people). The well-distributed total is the original total multiplied by that degree of overlap. I define the degree of moral desert, for each agent, as equal to the total moral good they have contributed to the world by their actions so far.

  2. Randall_Good says:

    I have a bit of a problem that requires critical thinking and maybe some specialist knowledge. I couldn’t think of anywhere to ask other than here since this issue touches on a number of concerns and I know the commenters here to be very thoughtful and helpful.

    I have an acquaintance who I believe perhaps suffers from some sort of mental condition. I don’t know much about these things, but I have recently spent far more time than I would like with him and I noticed that his habit of interrupting people to insert unrelated tangents seems like a compulsion. And the desperation with which he will keep talking seems like he’s afraid that if he stops talking the people he’s with will go back to ignoring him. I don’t know what any of that means about his mind, but it doesn’t seem healthy. I don’t want to just list off mental health buzzwords either, but at the very least he has some kind of debilitating attention deficit.

    Here’s the thing. He is very young, about 19 I believe. He was recently disowned by his fuck-off parents for coming out as not straight. He is homeless right now, secretly living in a music room on our college campus.

    The reason why I’m so concerned for this is actually not at all altruistic. In fact, it’s downright ignoble, but whatever. Now that he’s homeless, he spends a lot of time at the same coffee shop where I get most of my work done and he’s also starting coming to and derailing the meetings of a reading group I’m in. When I first found out he was homeless, I considered inviting him to stay with me since we have many mutual friends and I was so upset by his story. But then I had my first ten minute “conversation” with him and realized that I do not possess the fortitude to suffer his presence in my home.

    My question is, what kind of services are available for someone in his position? He’s lost the only support system he had since his parents care more about sexual propriety than their own fucking child’s well-being. How do you get support for someone else? If it helps, we are in Houston, TX.

    • keranih says:

      Is he enrolled on campus? If so, he probably has access to campus health services.

      (Is he employed?)

      I’m of two minds on this – firstly, I spent some time as a young adult desperate for anyone to talk to who seemed like they might be interested in listening to me speak, (and I still occasionally struggle with shutting the hell up and letting others talk) and I never got throw out of my family home. This could be “just” loneliness and a desire to fit in with other people.

      Secondly, there are a lot of co-morbidities with homosexuality (which is what I think you’re hinting at, if I am wrong please correct me) and young men of 19 or so are at a risk period of various mental illnesses. Don’t discount the possibility that it wasn’t just “caring about sexual propriety” which led him to be shut out of his family. As with all stories – there is more than just one side. In any case, it might be that getting him to see a counseler of some sort is key.

      However – as a 19 year old, he’s an adult, can vote and sign contracts. Unless he’s actually a danger to others, he’s allowed to be annoying and difficult. The options for other people to force him to do otherwise are (rightfully) somewhat limited.

      Edit – just re-read the OP and realized homosexuality was expressly described.

      • Randall_Good says:

        He’s no longer enrolled since he can’t afford it anymore, though he also says he wouldn’t want reenroll anyway. So, there’s really no convenient counselling available.

        I was talking it over with some people yesterday, and it seems like the only reasonable option is we’re just going to have to be more direct with him. Like you said, we can’t make him do anything which is a good thing, for sure.

  3. Deiseach says:

    While I’m at the religion thing – want to cook like the Swiss Guard? Now you can! 🙂

    I saw this reviewed elsewhere, decided to have a look, and though I’m still not sure how a planned “let’s do a booklet on the history of the Swiss Guard” turned into “let’s write a cookbook” (okay, so a former chef joined the Swiss Guard – but why?), it looks very nice as a coffee-table book.

    I’ve had a quick look at the Amazon preview and I note the recipes have been translated into American (“arugula” for “rocket”) so that should work all right. I haven’t tried any of the recipes (look, shepherd’s pie is about as adventurous as I get) but if anyone wants to try the ones previewed, let us know how they turn out? Also, if you do try them, let us know if they inspired in you a sudden desire to go to Rome to guard the Pope 🙂

    • keranih says:

      A step sideways from religion – but still cooking.

      Serve it Forth is a recipe/cookbook collection edited by Anne McCaffery back in mumblemumble. The recipes draw from a variety of sources, and are of fair-to-middling appeal – the sort of thing the Ladies’ Guild will do every year or so for the church mortgage fundraiser. Good, solid, feed the family or the writer so others things can get done.

      But as plain-food as they are, the recipes are submitted by SFF writers, many of whom included a bit of story about the how and whyfor that the food came from. There is a poem about watching UFOs while canning tomatoes (a Rsyling winner), another story about a mincemeat pie that went to SEA in the 1970’s, and “The Parable of the Cow and the Sofa”, a re-telling of the Next-To-Last-Supper which is well worth the cover price alone. (And so the circle comes back to religion anyway.)

      (@ Deiseach – I never wanted to be a Swiss Guard, but have never minded looking at them.)

  4. Deiseach says:

    Interesting church and state (or, as the post has it, synagogue and state) story in New York. So – religious accommodations: part of the fabric of society when you have people of all beliefs and none, or theocratic interference in the secular sphere?

    I’m finding it interesting because if you approached it from a feminist angle (at least, the older school of feminism I grew up hearing – I’m not up on Third Wave and later), then having women-only groups were considered important for purposes of solidarity, consciousness-raising and what would nowadays be called ‘safe spaces’ (even though that concept was not named as such back then). I was always struck by the irony of calling for men-only spaces to be opened to women while at the same time being busy creating women-only spaces, but this was a perfectly legitimate (and probably remains perfectly legitimate) secular reason.

    So do you think the New York Times would be fine with the Women*-Identifying-As-Such Empowerment and Liberation Collective hiring swimming pools for women-identifying-as-such only sessions? What about the Goddess Lilith Female Feminine Femme Non-Binary and Gender Queer Circle? Is it okay if it’s for a non-religious reason, or if your reason is “spiritual but not religious we’re so minority it’s basically the sixteen of us in the whole USA” religion?

    My own opinion? If the real problem is “they’re hiring the pool on Sunday afternoons when that’s the prime time most people have free, and this is why that anonymous complaint by a face-ache was made”, then that should be sorted out. Otherwise, I don’t see what the problem is with any group hiring the pool for specific times, and indeed if anyone can do it and it’s legal, what’s the beef? If they are not hiring the pool but the local council running it gave them this time as an accommodation, I don’t see that that is a problem in itself, simply find a better time when they can have it if anonymous sourpusses** are going to complain “I wanna use the pool and that’s the only time I have free, it’s not fair that religious nutcases get special treatment!”

    *Or as it may be Wimmin, Womyn, Wom*n or Womxn, whatever the newest shibboleth is

    **Though the sourpuss may indeed be operating on “I am An Atheist And Proud Of It and I stand up to defy all shackles of priestcraft that would be imposed upon proud free-thinking secular society” principles; it’s just unusual to see them complaining about Jews rather than Christians for once

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t think they are hiring (that’s renting, right?) the pool at all. Or even have an organized group that is asking for use of the pool — like a swim team or a swimming club with a defined membership. Rather they’ve lobbied successfully for open-to-the-female-public hours. Although I don’t have a huge problem with it, it is more government entangled than if they were a closed private group that happened to have reserved time at the pool.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Green anon is right. There’s no hiring-out of the pool. These are “open-to-the-female-public” hours, which are violations of NYC equal rights laws, as well as being highly suspect on Establishment Clause grounds.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ Deiseach
      I was always struck by the irony of calling for men-only spaces to be opened to women while at the same time being busy creating women-only spaces,

      Creating is the point. We met in each others’ storefronts or homes.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Deiseach:
      I think it’s fair to say that you are a cynic. There certainly is a value in the cynical view, so I can’t necessarily fault you for it.

      But when you get in the mode of assuming that essentially no one involved in an issue is acting in good faith, that such a thing is unimaginable, I think you jump the rails. Perhaps in this case you aren’t familiar with government owned pools and what a fixture of the municipal scene they are in the U.S. and that has led you astray. I don’t know.

      In any case, debates about the intersection of individual liberties, civil rights and accommodation of both minority groups and the larger public at municipally owned pools aren’t exactly new, and it’s not surprising that NYC has to do interesting things to “ensure domestic tranquility” when they have so many starkly differentiated cultures living side by side.

  5. Eric says:

    >>3. I may or may not switch to writing fewer but longer posts sometime soon. I feel like I get the most out of really comprehensive review posts, or complicated theory posts like this, and I don’t have the time to write them if I’m writing a couple of posts a week. So don’t be surprised if quantity starts to drop off.<<

    Personally, I get more out of reading the long posts to, so I just wanted to take the time to encourage you to go ahead and do just that.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      Long posts with the OTs between them is very nice. The Links posts don’t need to have so many links, so Scott might save some of his time there.

  6. houseboatonstyxb says:

    Here’s good sense on WSJ on the FBI and the emails:
    https://np.reddit.com/r/PoliticalDiscussion/comments/4ndwpd/fbi_probe_was_centered_on_emails_regarding_drone/

    Reminds me of Salinger’s Buddy Glass. “Where there’s smoke, there’s usually strawberry jello.”

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      PS. There was a saying in the US that the Boomer generation (born 1945+) was ‘the pig that swallowed the python’. IE that at every stage of life, they transformed that stage of the system. Looks like Hillary’s email practice is going to swallow the CIA/State Dept security system, and she wasn’t even trying.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Whatever was there at that reddit post got wiped out.

        • Anonymous says:

          An archive is here. But it wasn’t entirely wiped out – the title was still there, which is enough to find the WSJ.

          • Anonymous says:

            If this is accurate the private server is a red herring. For the purposes of classified information there’s no difference between the state department’s insecure network and a commercial network — either way the bad act was completed the moment top secret material was communicated outside the classified network.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Anonymous June 10, 2016 at 12:26 pm

            Your archive link showed the complete WSJ report as it appeared in my Reddit link. Your WSJ link got to a different WSJ article.

          • Anonymous says:

            No, it’s the same WSJ article.

            (When I posted it, the body of the reddit post was gone, as Edward said (pun not intended), but now it’s back. I guess it was copied into a comment, as well.)

          • John Schilling says:

            If this is accurate the private server is a red herring.

            No, it just wasn’t the focus of the FBI’s attention. It has always been clear that Clinton committed two separate offenses here. Setting up the private server was a regulatory violation per se and a crime if done for the obvious reason, even if no classified information ever touched it. Sending classified information outside the secure networks, likewise a big no-no even if it had been done on a commercial network or State’s own unclassified network.

            This explains why the FBI was focused on the security violation and not the transparency violation. For all the talk of overclassification and harmless violations, people at State were apparently sending messages like “The CIA is going to blow up Terrorist Leader X at his home in Y this afternoon; are we good with that?” over unsecured channels. That’s pretty much the core example of a secret that really legitimately needs to be kept from the Bad Guys for the sake of national security, and that nobody can mistake as anything else.

            And an aside on the lesser-evils front: If anyone ever does have to send true Secrets over an unsecure link to avoid some greater calamity (a mistargeted drone strike might qualify), pick up a phone and make a voice call to whomever you need to talk to. Preferably a landline. That is technically, legally, and practically more secure than email, text, etc, and more deniable if you care, and it gives you direct feedback that the person you critically need to receive this message has actually got it.

            The third time this happens, go set up a more secure network by fair means or foul.

          • Anonymous says:

            The part about IC wanting State to use the top secret network instead of just the secret one even though it didn’t connect to foggy bottom seemed interesting.

            Reminded me a little bit of the story that state people asked the NSA early on how Obama was able to use a blackberry and whether Hillary could do the same, and were basically told to fuck off.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yeah, there was definitely a bit of a turf war going on there, and those can get ugly.

            Since we’re liable to be stuck with a Clinton presidency, I’m hoping she uses at least some of her political capital to insist on the NSA developing a secure smartphone and wireless voice/network for all branches of government to use. The crypto is there; there’s no reason to balk at wireless. It’s just the crappy implementations we’re stuck with because almost nobody in the commercial or open-source world really cares about security.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          The site I posted –https://np.reddit.com/r/PoliticalDiscussion/comments/4ndwpd/fbi_probe_was_centered_on_emails_regarding_drone/
          — came up for me just now, and survived several reloads. Searching for [ Continued: ] Ctl-F found one segment of the WSJ article. Its first paragraph began:
          With the compromise, State Department-CIA tensions began to subside. Only once or twice during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at State did U.S. diplomats object to a planned CIA strike, according to congressional and law-enforcement officials familiar with the emails.

          Apparently this search only works if I open a new CTL-F box from within a comment within the discussion. Using the “search” box that Reddit supplies at the top of the screen goes somewhere else.

          ETA: details

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      The problem with this theory is that if it is true why did they do a mass dump of Clinton’s emails, many of which were embarrassing for her. Alternatively, why, if they were just looking for info in a CIA vs State Department pissing match couldn’t she have given them some kind of agreement were they didn’t have to dump them all.

      It really looks like the FBI wanted to score points against Clinton. Its the difference between an arrest and a perp walk at noon after you tipped off the press.

  7. dndnrsn says:

    Melatonin update: I want to thank Douglas Knight (I think it was) who advised to try a lower dose. I’ve gone from 10mg time-release to 1mg time release with no change to my sleep.

    • Dahlen says:

      FWIW, I was skimming my pharma textbook and found the section on melatonin:

      In doses of 1-2mg, melatonin shortens the sleep onset latency, lengthens the duration of sleep, and improves its quality. Melatonin has no effect upon the length of REM sleep and does not induce dizziness.

      (translated)

      So yeah, a lower dose seems preferable.

  8. SJ says:

    Over the holiday weekend of Memorial Day (née Decoration Day), I was reminded of an earlier post on the civic religion of America.

    https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/08/a-theory-of-religion/

    Alongside Superman, Honest Abe, Luke Skywalker, and George Washington, American culture has holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

    Alongside superhero movies and sci-fi extravaganzas, we have film classics like The Longest Day, modern films likeSaving Private Ryan, comedies like Kelly’s Heroes, films like The Dirty Dozen and Ruthless Basterds, and quasi-historical dramas like The Patriot.

    There is a large level respect in the United States for the military and the culture of the military. Combined with a mythos of the United States Military as protectors of the cause of Freedom.

    Accurate or not, this was part of the civic religion of the United States.

    How many other cultures of the world have a similar attitude towards their nation’s military forces?

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Gwynne Dyer in War wrote that military service started to (paradoxically) get more popular around the Napoleonic wars with the start of conscription and mass levies.

      There is a similar culture in Canada, however it is far less overt in most people. It is only really a thing among people who are connected to the armed forces.

    • keranih says:

      The concept of one nation’s military being protectors of anything for the whole world has shown up in the past, but more in the sense of “we are standing against the barbarians/infidels” rather than “we are protecting freedom” – a distinction that might be lost on some, depending on which side of the free/notfree or civilized/barbarian line they were standing upon.

      Certainly one could have seen elements of this in the Roman legions, the British empire, Russian intervention in the Crimea (no, no, not this last year, the one before that. No, the one before *that*) and even in the Reich itself. Japan certainly was a highly militaristic culture.

      So. Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia. I’m beginning to see a pattern here…

      American military praise by the common masses is…well, at 15 years on, one can’t really call it new, but there was a chunk of time in the 1960’s through the 1980’s where military was not cool. (I think that Top Gun makes a decent line for when it became cool again.)

      I wonder if any people more familiar with the IDF could speak up.

      • John Schilling says:

        The concept of one nation’s military being protectors of anything for the whole world has shown up in the past […] Japan certainly was a highly militaristic culture

        Interestingly, there even now seems to be a substantial fraction of the Japanese population that sees the Japanese military of 1868-1945 as having been the protectors of all East Asia against the Evils of Western Colonialism. With “all East Asia” being mostly a bunch of ungrateful bastards who didn’t know what was good for them and “Western Colonialism” ultimately being too powerful to overcome, but the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who died fighting the good fight being honored heroes all.

        • Civilis says:

          I think there are interesting parallels and differences between the Japanese with regards to World War 2 and Americans ‘of Southern Heritage’ with regards to the American Civil War. Both tend to emphasize the proud military tradition of their ancestors while overlooking the serious ethical issues (to put it mildly) with the causes their ancestors fought for. The biggest difference is the Japanese went, or were forced, into pacifism, while Americans with Confederate family backgrounds seem to have a disproportionate presence in the very army that defeated their ancestors. One classic example is George S. Patton, who had at least one ancestor that died fighting for the Confederacy, and whose family had J.S. Mosby as a friend during Patton’s childhood.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Taking up arms for your tribe in time of war is a bedrock part of civilization, and contains an irreducible nobility even if your tribe is in the wrong. Soldiers can commit crimes that make them reprehensible, but fighting on the wrong side of a war is not in and of itself evil. This principle seems obviously applicable Confederates, Germans, Japanese, Mongols, Persians, whoever.

          • Anonymous says:

            Perhaps in a defensive war, but there’s nothing noble about being part of an army of conquest.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anonymous – There is honor in serving your tribe, whatever the war. Wars of conquest are often grotesque; blame the leaders who convince the tribe to engage in them.

          • brad says:

            I agree with the anonymous. Allowing yourself to be used as a tool means putting your honor in someone else’s hands. If they use you for dishonorable purposes you are dishonored.

            Also, FWIW, the word ‘tribe’ in there sticks in my craw a bit. It seems like an affectation, unless there’s some deeper meaning I’m missing.

          • Civilis says:

            Perhaps in a defensive war, but there’s nothing noble about being part of an army of conquest.

            The problem with that is in the formulation. One could certainly say we conquered Japan and installed a puppet government, or rely on the rather tired description of the American Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”.

            World War 2 gets a pass because the Nazi regime (and to a lesser extent Mussolini and the Japanese Militarists) were so evil that even other odious regimes just as bent on conquest (but conquest on our side), like the Soviet Union, get the hero treatment.

            Also, as society has progressed into a ‘war is evil’ stage, it’s come with a recognition that the guy at the lowest level, the Poor Bloody Infantryman, is likely a conscript and not able to meaningfully object, and therefore almost as noble as the PBI on your own side. Snide sneering SS Officer? Evil. Poor Wehrmacht infantry grunt? Noble, but wrong.

            A far more libertarian, and very definitely of European ethnicity, acquaintance of mine is a historical reenactor. For the Vietnam war, as a VC. There’s no disrespect involved, nor does he see any cognitive dissonance between the political beliefs he has and those of the cause he emulates. (Though part of it is that he’s a fan of the AK-47).

          • brad says:

            The Wehrmacht conscript may well be a tragic figure, but not a noble one. The Wehrmacht volunteer is neither.

          • Nornagest says:

            the Nazi regime (and to a lesser extent Mussolini and the Japanese Militarists) were so evil that even other odious regimes […] like the Soviet Union, get the hero treatment.

            It’s hard to make comparisons here; the situations in all those countries were very different, and institutionalized evil happens at such a scale (and, usually, a remove) that our intuitions can’t deal with it.

            You can certainly say one regime was worse than another by some criteria (body count, culture of war crime, inventing industrialized genocide), but which criterion you pick is more of an aesthetic choice, I think. It’s hopeless trying to get a solid utilitarian analysis out of this.

          • Civilis says:

            The Wehrmacht conscript may well be a tragic figure, but not a noble one. The Wehrmacht volunteer is neither.

            This will always be an area of disagreement. As one generations removed from the battlefield, it’s very hard to understand what the people that were there knew about the big picture or what was going through their minds. Also, keep in mind that given the scale of the war, there was a lot of room for very unusual circumstances.

            which criterion you pick is more of an aesthetic choice, I think.

            As always, the most important criteria seems to be from a rhetorical standpoint, “were they on our side”. Side, in this case, can be political philosophy as well as the actual alliances of the war.

            One of the reasons the Nazis (and the Italian Fascist party) get the ‘irredeemably evil’ treatment is that both the political left and right have reasonable claim to treat them as being politically on the other side. The communists and socialists both have cause to minimize the atrocities of communist regimes, and the anti-communists have cause to minimize the atrocities of anti-communist regimes such as Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, and the Nationalist Chinese. Neither side has cause to minimize Fascist / Nazi atrocities.

          • Matt M says:

            Conscripts may be pitiable but I don’t see how they are particularly “noble.” At best, you can say that they are excused from the dishonor of war due to the fact that they have little say in the matter (although technically speaking they could refuse and accept the penalty of imprisonment or possibly death in the worst case).

            But that just gets you back to morally neutral. There is no moral good being done by the conscript. To me “noble” implies a net positive moral force.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I suppose the question is how you categorize bravery, loyalty, etc. Are they morally positive qualities? Or are they morally neutral capabilities – is someone who is capable of facing dangerous and trying situations with courage, morally, in the same boat as someone who is really strong? Nobody would say “well, he fought for an evil and criminal regime – but we must also take into account his impressive bench press”.

            Is someone who is loyal and brave for a bad cause morally a good person (let’s assume for the sake of argument that they commit no individual crimes personally)? Are their loyalty and courage positive, but in a bad cause, rendering them a tragic figure? Are their loyalty and courage neutral, rendering them at best a morally ambivalent character?

          • Civilis says:

            For me, while evil people can be brave, loyal, and honorable and can sacrifice themselves for a higher cause, those qualities are themselves noble.

            A good example, considering the discussion, is during the last days of Nazi Germany, there was a minor battle over a castle where a lot of high-ranking French prisoners were being kept. The German forces in the area were in disarray. Several of the SS units decided to basically either kill everyone in the castle or use them as hostages. Defending the castle from the SS were the small Wehrmacht garrison, the French prisoners, a small American relief force, and a Waffen SS officer that had determined the war was over and was in the process of heading home when he stumbled on the whole thing. I believe the only defender killed was the SS officer. Here’s a guy that could have headed home, yet decided his duty was with the laws of war; however evil he was, he showed courage, honor, and duty, all noble martial virtues, and died for it.

            Likewise, during the fall of Berlin, elements of the Berlin garrison basically sacrificed themselves to get as many people of possible including a lot of refugees out of the encirclement, not on some quixotic quest to preserve the Reich, but so they could surrender to the Western allies who were a lot less likely to work prisoners to death or rape the women. By that point, the original cause they fought for was completely irrelevant.

            World War 2 is full of hideous moral choices. How do you judge the Finnish? They definitely have a good claim to be in the right when siding against the Soviets, even if it meant teaming with the Germans. How do you judge cases where you get Russian prisoners of the Germans volunteering to fight the Soviets running up against German prisoners of the Soviets volunteering to fight the Nazis? Both sides had good reasons to think of their former colleagues as being the morally bad side.

          • brad says:

            I don’t think the castle defenders are a very good example because at least at that point you can argue they were fighting for some positive end. There’s no real contradiction there, though there might be with their actions earlier in the war.

            What about the courage and bravery of one of the SS soldiers that was attacking the castle? Suppose one of them single-handedly stormed an enemy (defender) position at great personal risk like you read in a MoH citation. Was that guy acting nobly?

          • keranih says:

            Conscripts may be pitiable but I don’t see how they are particularly “noble.”

            Eh. To me, this is a lot like “miners and roughnecks and fishermen and farmers are inherently evil because they rape the earth/contribute to global warming/crash fishstocks/raise sentient animals for slaughter.”

            To me, it is possible to do even a bad job well – and most jobs, including that of conscript soldier are not that bad, in terms of total utility/moral outcome.

            And for the moral person, refusing to have anything to do with morally grey occupations means that only immoral people are going to do it. There is nothing about prisons, for example, which will be made better by having more corrupt and abusive people as the guards.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t even know what it means to do a bad (i.e. net utility destroying) job well. Does it mean efficiently destroying the most utility (e.g. killing the most people) or being inefficient and incompetent and so destroying the least utility?

            (FWIW I think it is terribly unfair to compare farmers to soldiers in armies of conquest.)

          • Matt M says:

            “To me, it is possible to do even a bad job well – and most jobs, including that of conscript soldier are not that bad, in terms of total utility/moral outcome.”

            Not sure I agree with this either. Almost all people will fight, voluntarily, to defend their homeland if it is truly necessary.

            Any war that requires conscription is almost certainly a war that isn’t worth fighting in the first place.

          • keranih says:

            I don’t even know what it means to do a bad (i.e. net utility destroying) job well.

            Okay, lets back this up a hair. Can you imagine a complex task with multiple subtasks which might appear to be in conflict?

            Such as the infamous diggers vs fillers on construction projects, or QC vs programers?

            @ Matt –

            Any war that requires conscription is almost certainly a war that isn’t worth fighting in the first place.

            You know that you’re including most wars of the modern age, right? And esp the American Civil War and WWII?

          • Anonymous says:

            Sure. The programmer / QC works. Not sure I see the connection.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes – I am aware.

            If you can’t get someone to fight for your cause without threatening them with violence, maybe your cause isn’t as just as you think it is.

          • Nornagest says:

            If you can’t get someone to fight for your cause without threatening them with violence, maybe your cause isn’t as just as you think it is.

            In the context of the Allied powers in WWII, the question is more about whether you can get enough people to fight for you without coercion to beat off those other guys, looking across the border with covetous eyes, who already grappled with the question of coercion and decided “yes”.

            And sure, those guys’ cause wasn’t remotely just. But good luck ensuring that you’re always dealing with moral paragons in international politics.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @brad – “I agree with the anonymous. Allowing yourself to be used as a tool means putting your honor in someone else’s hands. If they use you for dishonorable purposes you are dishonored.”

            Do you want soldiers to obey orders, or not? You can’t have it both ways. If you demand they be obedient tools, you cannot turn around and blame them for not rebelling. Note that I am specifically referring to normal military service, not participation in extreme atrocity. There are orders we should expect all humans to refuse, and punish them if they do not. Wearing a uniform, carrying a rifle, marching and fighting are not among them.

            “Also, FWIW, the word ‘tribe’ in there sticks in my craw a bit. It seems like an affectation, unless there’s some deeper meaning I’m missing.”

            Tribe, as in state/nation/ideology/society/ethny/homeland/whatever. The big cooperation circle you’re part of that has decided that it needs some portion of itself to take up arms and fight. Couldn’t think of a better word for it. Good soldiers in time of war are choosing a fairly serious form of cooperation in the Civilization-scale prisoner’s dilemma, and that act deserves a respect and honor that ideological assessments can’t touch.

            “The Wehrmacht conscript may well be a tragic figure, but not a noble one. The Wehrmacht volunteer is neither.”

            I respectfully disagree. People fight for their countries, and on the balance it is probably a good thing they do. The fact that sometimes their countries are wrong and very occasionally incredibly evil doesn’t change this.

            Civilis – “Also, as society has progressed into a ‘war is evil’ stage, it’s come with a recognition that the guy at the lowest level, the Poor Bloody Infantryman, is likely a conscript and not able to meaningfully object, and therefore almost as noble as the PBI on your own side. Snide sneering SS Officer? Evil. Poor Wehrmacht infantry grunt? Noble, but wrong.”

            This.

            @Matt M – “But that just gets you back to morally neutral. There is no moral good being done by the conscript. To me “noble” implies a net positive moral force.”

            Do you think armies should exist? If so, why?

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think standing armies should exist – no.

            I think that in the event of a legitimate threat to one’s homeland (“nation” is probably tricky given how many current “nations” are entirely too large and diverse to inspire people to sacrifice their life for it), it will not be difficult to raise an army to fight in exchange for pay.

          • Brad says:

            @FC
            I hear what you are saying and there is certainly something there. We don’t want every soldier serving under a democratically elected government to submit every order to a full ethical analysis but … that said I still see volunteering as essentially moral gambling. You hope that you are deployed for moral ends, and if you aren’t you good intentions don’t really save you. If you kill innocents you are still damned no matter how pure your desire to do only good.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think that in the event of a legitimate threat to one’s homeland (“nation” is probably tricky given how many current “nations” are entirely too large and diverse to inspire people to sacrifice their life for it), it will not be difficult to raise an army to fight in exchange for pay.

            Look up the fall of the Commonwealth of Both Nations. Randoms called up for war on short notice don’t stand up to professional soldiery. Any state that wishes to preserve itself will have a standing army, because unless everyone else has no standing army, they are going to rather inevitably lose in any war that occurs.

            I will also note that there still are homogenous nations, and that mass education has made them more homogenous than they were before that era – check what languages the French spoke before modern French, for example.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Brad – “that said I still see volunteering as essentially moral gambling.”

            I definately see the moral gambling angle. I guess you feel that the bad cause dishonor outweighs the honor of nobility of service somewhat, and I think the nobility of service outweighs the dishonor of a bad cause somewhat. I think part of what tilts the scales for me is worry about the aftermath of war; I think defaulting to respect for a defeated enemy is a much safer stance than defaulting to scorn for them. I note that it’s much easier to feel sympathy for Confederates, Wermacht or Imperial Japanese than it is for, say, Nigerian Federal forces in the Biafran war, where the “bad guys” came out on top. Thinking about it, I guess I’d say that fighting on the losing side of a war is a hell of a penance. The Japanese in WWII were terrible, and they paid terribly. No one is claiming they were in the right, so what does scorn for their soldiers achieve?

            “If you kill innocents you are still damned no matter how pure your desire to do only good.”

            If you mean judging whether the individual soldier in question committed intentional atrocities, I’d agree, but atrocity and killing innocents are an inevitable part of warfare. To the extent that it creates communal guilt, there are none without sin.

          • brad says:

            I thought about it some more, and I think you’re right about my “still damned” line. It doesn’t really get at what I was trying say.

            I think we probably understand each other, just don’t fully agree, but to restate it one time:
            When you commit an intentional homicide that’s murder unless there’s a valid justification. For example, self defense or duress provides a justification. Legally speaking war also justifies intentional homicide. By when we switch frameworks from law to morality I think it makes sense to switch that from war to just war. The issue isn’t atrocities, normal “regular” war activities are in themselves evil unless justified. And when the enterprise as a whole is unjustified then there is nothing to fall back on. It’s like a guy who dresses up as a policeman and “arrests” people — it doesn’t really matter how well he follows the use of force continuum because he shouldn’t be using force to begin with.

            As for how we treat defeated enemies I think that’s a somewhat separate issue. I don’t think we need to think that the rank and file foot soldiers of the Mongolian Hordes were honorable in order to have a policy where we don’t necessarily spend a lot of time talking about the fact that we think that volunteering for the Imperial Navy was a dishonorable thing to do while those guys are still alive.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Brad – “When you commit an intentional homicide that’s murder unless there’s a valid justification. For example, self defense or duress provides a justification.”

            It’s entirely possible for two people to both mistake the other for an attacker, and get into a lethal fight where both sincerely believe they’re engaging in legitimate self-defense. What would be a rare tragedy at the interpersonal level seems to be the norm at the nation-state level, owing to the several orders of magnitude in additional complexity in their interactions. I think it’s pretty hard to find a war where this is not the case. Whether you’re from Bavaria or Alabama, you probably go to war believing you’re kicking ass to vanquish the villainous and vouchsafe virtue.

            “The issue isn’t atrocities, normal “regular” war activities are in themselves evil unless justified.”

            We agree on this; I guess our disagreement is that I think for the soldiers, “our country decided we should” is sufficient justification for the ordinary evils of their profession. The guy dressing up as a policeman is acting on his own initiative, but soldiers, even and especially volunteer soldiers, are fundamentally acting according to the wishes and ideals of their society. If we assign blame for that evil, it should be to the leadership and the society as a whole, which is one of the reasons I’m less squeamish about, say, the firebombing of axis cities in WWII.

            And again, from a consequentialist angle, scorning those who fight for a cause you think is unjust may well cause people to question the justice of their own causes less, not more. After all, unjust war is something inhuman monsters like the Nazis do, and we’re not inhuman monsters, so our wars must be just, right?

            “As for how we treat defeated enemies I think that’s a somewhat separate issue.”

            For me, part of it comes down to the ongoing debate about war monuments. We have one in a town near me for soldiers of a bad cause, and last time I visited there were a gaggle of protesters out decrying it due to the memorialized people being racists and so on. I find their views revolting; despite their obvious flaws, those soldiers fought and died when their society asked them to, and it is entirely proper to honor them for that. The human right to disagree and to fight for your beliefs and your people is one of the best parts of us, and the urge to deface the monuments of those we defeated is one of the worst.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          “Down with evil Western colonialism! Up with evil Japanese colonialism!”

    • Civilis says:

      Several observations:

      First, even with the movies you listed, there’s a difference between respect for the common soldiers, especially those of the Greatest Generation, and respect for the military and military culture as a whole, and it’s a difference that’s widened over time. The Longest Day was produced with the aid and assistance of a number of high-level American and British veterans of the battle while memories of the war were fresh and before the cynicism brought on by Vietnam kicked in, and so it’s a relatively positive portrayal of the D-Day operations. Saving Private Ryan, covering the same battle at a different level, is deliberately designed to play up the horrors of the battle, although balanced with respect for the troops that actually fought.

      I’m also not sure that most countries, at least those that didn’t lose major wars in the twentieth century, don’t have some national holiday associated with the military. Armistice day, which corresponds to our Veterans Day, is much more of a holiday in Europe, if more somberly celebrated. As an American, it took me a while to figure out why Anzac Day was celebrated. Other countries often celebrate with more of a military focus than in the US. For example, the US doesn’t generally do annual military parades, which are major features of some other countries celebrations, such as Victory Day in Russia and Bastille Day in France.

    • Emile says:

      How many other cultures of the world have a similar attitude towards their nation’s military forces?

      China is probably close enough.

      (France certainly isn’t, and I think the same holds for the rest of the European Union)

      • JayT says:

        I was always under the impression that the UK held its military in fairly high regard. Is that not the case?

        • keranih says:

          Oh its Tommy this an Tommy that, an Chuck ‘im out, the brute! / But its thin red line o heroes when the guns begin to shoot.

        • Peter says:

          Things vary from era to era; these days, there’s very much a “support the troops” ethos which says “think what you like about the politicians and their policies, but don’t take it out on the squaddies” – I don’t often hear bad things about the top brass, either, apart from the occasional complaint about troops not being given enough armour. Lots of people thing the government isn’t doing enough for wounded soldiers. There’s also the perception that the armed forces are decent chaps who are always ready to help out if the fire brigade goes on strike or if there’s flooding or some other emergency that requires a bunch of strong well-disciplined well-organised people in a hurry.

          That said, there’s always a few who do like to take it out on the squaddies and call them babykillers or whatever, and apparently you get the odd well ‘ard person who picks fights with Marines to prove how tough he is, but it’s rare. There were a couple of Muslim youths who murdered a soldier (Lee Rigby), and practically everyone was queueing up to condemn them.

          The SAS are recognised as being completely awesome and the best of the best and there’s a lot of interest in them.

          In general, it’s more of an attitude of quiet respect, much less extroverted than the American reaction.

          There’s a report at: http://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/THE-ARMED-FORCES-SOCIETY.pdf

        • dndnrsn says:

          The understanding that I have is that until the Boer War or the Great War, the navy was traditionally held in higher esteem than the army in Britain. Supposedly, this had to do with the use of the army in doing stuff like suppressing demonstrations.

          • Peter says:

            The Senior Service. Island nation. Britannia rules the waves.

            We used to be a big sea power, we’ve had a standing navy for longer than a standing army, the English channel has long been our main line of defence. Our navy is now in the embarrassing position of having more admirals than warships.

            The Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force all get the be Royal, but the Army is just the British Army. Apparently this may well have something to do with the Civil War.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            From about the time of Charles I until the 19th century there was a tendency to fear that a large standing army could be used as an instrument of tyranny by the government. Since it’s much harder to use a navy in such a way, there was less resistance to the concept of having a large standing navy.

            The same basic attitude went with English colonists to North America too, which is why the Founding Fathers’ ideal was to have a small standing army and rely on militia for most defensive purposes.

        • Emile says:

          I’m not sure, the impression I get is that Americans and Chinese and Russians have more public “Woo soldiers and guns and planes and tanks!” stuff than the UK (who hold it in high esteem but don’t talk about it *that* much). But I could be wrong, I’m not very knowledgeable about current UK culture & media. France and Germany certainly have less “woo our soldiers! Tank magazine!” stuff than China, but in addition I think that (unlike the UK), they don’t even hold the military in high regard.

          Finland is probably another pretty pro-military European country.

    • LWNielsenim says:

      SJ wonders  “How many other cultures of the world have a similar attitude [as the USA] towards their nation’s military forces?”

      This question can be rationally and objectively addressed by examining the attitude of the US Military toward themselves. The USMC Commandant’s Professional Reading List (presently ALMARS:009/16, which search engines find) constitutes an objective survey.

      Historically, economically, and morally, both present and past USMC Reading Lists stand to the “Enlightened Left” of the SSC’s predominantly right-wing/rationalist commentariat. See for example Col. (now Gen.) H. R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam (1997).

      There is a considerable psychological/psychiatric component too; see for example: Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like To Go To War;  Dave Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society;  two books by Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming;  Edward Tick’s War and the Soul

      As background, Grossman is a psychologist, Shay and Tick are practicing psychotherapists, and Marlantes is a Corps legend for his novel Matterhorn — an autobiographical novel so harrowingly realistic and professionally challenging that the USMC Reading List website provides two Discussion Guides that are specially devoted to it.

      Does the USMC Reading List contain contradictions? Absolutely, and perhaps uniquely in all the world US military culture embraces these contradictions. Given that the USMC was founded by a “Fighting Quaker” (Samuel Nicholas), and the US military’s highest-ranking and most-victorious officer won a Nobel Peace Prize (George C. Marshall), the embrace of contradiction is self-evidently a professional requirement. 🙂

      “Each Marine shall read a minimum of three books from the Commandant’s Choice or Grade Level sections each year.”

      In striking constrast, the Internet sustains plenty of insular “bubble communities”, whose members seldom or never read any of the challenging works from the USMC Commandant’s Reading List.

      Does the SSC’s rationalist commentariat constitute one such “bubble community”; a community so culturally insular, and so intolerant of contradiction, as to become (in effect) willfully ignorant?

      The world wonders.

      Are the US military’s “Enlightened Left” worldview becoming more prevalent in the United States, and around the world?

      Arguably “yes” … and does rationalist insularity explain why so many SSC readers remain stubbornly unconscious of this military-led, structurally progressive, internally contradictory, and yet ultimately transformative, societal evolution?

      • Nornagest says:

        The USMC Commandant’s Professional Reading List constitutes an objective survey.

        Not remotely. It’s more a PR move than anything else, and even insofar as it’s representative, it’s representative of the self-image of the officer corps of one branch — and a famously, ah, “motivated” one at that.

        • Matt M says:

          I would bet that the Commandant doesn’t even pick the books – one of his aides is probably assigned this task and then he rubber stamps it, maybe demands one or two be included every once in awhile.

          But even if he did, the notion that the views of the single highest ranking person in the Marine Corps are somehow representative of the Marines as a whole (much less the entire armed forces) is ludicrous.

          It’s like responding to someone saying “The U.S. is slightly right of center” by saying “Actually if you look at Barack Obama’s favorite books the authors tend to lean to the left.”

          • LWNielsenim says:

            The principles of the Reading List are reduced to military practice via the doctrines of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency (2006, available free-as-in-freedom). The bulk of FM 3-24 was written under the direct, close, and personal supervision of Army General David Petraeus and USMC General James Mattis.

            Enlisted Marines of my acquaintance served on Gen. Mattis’ staff during this writing, and subsequently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan where they were personally responsible for implementing its practices; the phrase “direct, close, and personal” is carefully chosen and accurately descriptive.

            Appreciation of this principled integrity is widespread within the Corps, however politically inconvenient and ideologically discomfiting the distilled recommendations of FM 3024 may have subsequently proven to some civilian politicians and some ideological cohorts.

      • Matt M says:

        “Each Marine shall read a minimum of three books from the Commandant’s Choice or Grade Level sections each year.”

        There is absolutely zero chance this is happening. I’d bet anything that less than 5% of Marines do this. I’d bet less than 50% of Marines read three books each year, period (not counting job-related training manuals).

        • LWNielsenim says:

          Matt M, aren’t you concerned that, among folks who are personally well-acquainted with individual Marines, and their service, and the traditions of their Corps, comments like the above will act to sharply reduce the relative respect that reasonably can be accorded to rationalism and libertarianism, as these disciplines are presently practiced?

          Not that USMC humor or the sense of history required to appreciate it are in short supply! 🙂

          • Matt M says:

            I am personally acquainted with individual marines, their service, and the traditions of their corps. That’s why I’m confident my assessment is correct.

            I also think the average marine is secure enough to happily admit the truth in matters like this.

          • LWNielsenim says:

            Thank you for clarifying so distinctly, if not the traditions and practices of the US armed services, at least the opinions of one rationalist/libertarian in regard to those traditions and practices.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        It really is him, isn’t it?

        • Nornagest says:

          The >Username communicates quoting style would have been a giveaway, even if nothing else was.

          • hlynkacg says:

            On it’s own? Meh.

            But when taken in conjunction with the whole “empathy” fixation, the “citations” that aren’t really citations, and generally esoteric reasoning…

            Yah, that’s him all right.

        • Anonymous says:

          Quit teasing us. Who is “him”?

      • Anonymous says:

        SSC’s predominantly right-wing/rationalist commentariat

        Did you mistake parallel universes? Because this sure isn’t the case in this one! Perhaps in the next one over, the Parallel Scott is a Red Triber struggling with the occasional deeply-felt Blue Tribe opinion he holds on grounds of it being true, and his commenters are predominantly cultural conservatives and a small minority of radical anarcho-communists. It isn’t the case here.

        • LWNielsenim says:

          It’s relieving to learn that SSC’s commentariat does not commonly espouse rationalist and/or libertarian principles, on the grounds that recent comments have so weakly defended these principles, that it would be discouraging to conclude that there was not much substance to them.

          • Anonymous says:

            A libertarian is not a conservative. They’re – at best – adjacent.

            A rationalist is not a conservative. They might *also* be a conservative, but one does not imply the other; otherwise you would have the thought leaders of rationalism be largely coterminous with the thought leaders of conservatism, which is not the case. You will find, if you look, that the rationalist leadership is quite non-conservative.

          • LWNielsenim says:

            So what is SSC all about, if it is not the principles — including clinical principles — that the Commandant’s Professional Reading List surveys?

            USMC Gen. Victor Krulak famously distilled these principles as follows (with the rest of the Reading List amounting to “commentary”, as the sages put it):

            [Rationalism and libertariansm] exist today — flourish today — not because of what we know we are, or what we know we can do, but because of what the world believes we are and believes we can do.

            (1)  When trouble comes to the world, there will be [rationalists and libertarians] — somewhere — who through hard work have made themselves ready to do something about it, and do it at once.

            (2)  When [rationalists and libertarians] bend their minds to a task, they invariably turn in a performance that is dramatically and decisively successful — not most of the time, but always.

            (3)  Training in [rationalism and libertariansm] is downright good for young people; an unfailing alchemy that helps convert unoriented youths into proud, self-reliant stable citizens — citizens into whose hands the planet’s affairs may safely be entrusted.

            Therefore, for reasons that completely transcend cold logic, the world wants rationalism and libertariansm.

            If these aren’t reasons for the world to embrace rationalism and/or libertariansm (or any other ethos), then what are reasons? If SSC is unconcerned with these principles, is it about anything of enduring value at all?

          • Anonymous says:

            So what is SSC all about

            It’s about a Jewish-American psychiatrist blogging about stuff he finds interesting. He has acquired a following because he is a talented writer, and also because his ethos is one of truth, which goes against the grain of typical tribal adherence. That he strives to be both truthful and loyal to the tribe grants him a lot of sympathy. This draws people similarly inclined, some of which are right-wing, or libertarian, or rationalist, but mostly they are like him – culturally Blue but without an unbending commitment to Blue dogma.

          • LWNielsenim says:

            Anonymous, that is an outstandingly excellent comment (as it seems to me and no doubt will seem to many).

  9. LWNielsenim says:

    Two world-class mathematicians got radical this week.

    — — — — — —

    Terry Tao’s What’s New weblog is hosting “It ought to be common knowledge that Donald Trump is not fit for the presidency of the United States of America“. Tao’s title is self-explanatory and Tao’s reasoning is characteristically refined, hinging crucially upon the distinction between “common knowledge” and “mutual knowledge”.

    Certainly the mind that rationally laid out the foundational reasoning of “The Blue-Eyed Islanders Puzzle” (of 7 April 2007) deserves to be taken seriously.

    — — — — — —

    Michael Harris’ weblog Mathematics without Apologies is hosting “French expert committee resigns in protest“, which concerns mass resignations by pretty much all the top-level French mathematicians and computer scientists. The resignees object to a changing research culture that “shift[s] priorities from long-term funding of laboratories and research teams to short-term funding of specific projects”, the net result being “”the confiscation of scientific choices by a purely administrative [ie, bureaucracy] management” (and in so evolving, French research culture increasingly resembles the existing US research culture).

    Not for the first time, the French are launching a revolution without much certainty about how it will end up. Is the prevalent US attitude (“passive resignation to a worsening research climate”) any better?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Am I missing sarcasm? The Blue-Eyed Islanders Puzzle, including the inductive solution, is much older than the blog post. Anyway, it’s certainly NOT mutual knowledge that Donald Trump is not qualified to be President, and if it were, it would be common knowledge, seeing as many of those who believe that Trump is not qualified to be President are willing to say so loud and clear.

    • John Schilling says:

      Tao’s reasoning is entirely dependent on the premise that the millions of people who clearly and explicitly disagree with Tao on the matter of Trump’s fitness, all secretly agree with Tao’s position and are lying for political reasons. This is an argument even lower than “the lurkers support me in email”, and the only evidence he offers is statements by high-level GOP insiders that call out Trump on specific errors or weaknesses, somewhere between damning with faint praise and praising with faint damns.

      High-level GOP insiders being Trump’s main foes from day one, this would be like questioning a group of British generals in 1781 and, on account of their pointing out all of George Washington’s defeats on the path to victory, that it is “common knowledge” that Washington is unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.

      I agree with Tao that Trump is almost certainly not fit to serve as commander-in-chief. But I understand that, in spite of my epic smartness, not everybody agrees with me on that. And Tao has no foundation for his subsequent “reasoning”.

      • Aegeus says:

        This claim is too strong across all voters, but I think you can support a weaker claim like “GOP insiders all think Trump shouldn’t be the nominee but they’re uniting behind Trump because everyone else is.”

        There’s a good number of GOP insiders who endorsed Trump at this point, including some who said they’d never support him. The conventional wisdom that I’ve been hearing is that the GOP is unifying for the general, so all aboard the Trump Train whether you like it or not.

        But even that’s hard to support, because in the past few days alone we’ve had prominent Republicans calling him out for his “Mexican judge” remarks. There’s still room for Republicans to oppose him openly instead of secretly.

        Further muddying the waters, even if you’re a NeverTrump Republican and you’re willing to be loud and proud about that fact, what can you actually do by now? You probably don’t like Hillary much better. Even if this was “common knowledge,” how do you act on that knowledge?

        The best you can say is “Don’t vote for Trump, but you should still vote for down-ticket Republicans,” which IIRC some NeverTrumpers have been doing. So I guess I don’t buy the weaker claim either.

        • Matt M says:

          It seems that a lot of the GOP insiders are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

          They endorse Trump on the record, but as quietly as they possibly can and usually “with reservations.”

          Then whenever there’s a Trump-related media scandal, they loudly denounce him and threaten to withdraw their endorsement and so on and so forth.

          They’ve learned nothing from the past six months. They still fail to understand that Trump’s “controversial” statements are taken as a positive to a large segment of the country. They are still playing the game as if the worst thing that can possibly happen to them is for MSNBC to call them a racist. They are going to get crushed in November. I wouldn’t be surprised if a large portion of Trump voters specifically avoid voting for down-ticket Republicans.

          • Anonymous says:

            You are equivocating between “large segment” and “majority of voters in a particular district”.

            I’m sure it is a heady feeling to know that there’s a lot of other crass immoral people out there, but a lot isn’t the same as enough.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anon – “I’m sure it is a heady feeling to know that there’s a lot of other crass immoral people out there, but a lot isn’t the same as enough.”

            Eh, give it awhile. We can wait if we have to.

    • LWNielsenim says:

      In today’s Shtetl Optimized column “Daddy, why didn’t you blog about Trump?”, Scott Aaronson cogently (and wittily) supplies the specificity that John Schilling seeks.

      The Nybbler is not “missing sarcasm” as he fears, but rather is advised to reflect on the crucial logical distinction — which is a crucial socio-empathic distinction too — between “common knowledge” and “mutual knowledge”; this distinction is at the heart of Tao’s analyses of both the Blue-Eyed Islanders Puzzle (2007) and the Puzzle of Trump’s Electoral Support (2016).

      • John Schilling says:

        I see Aaronsen supply great specificity about what he believes makes Trump unsuitable as a president. I must have missed the part where he provides any evidence or “specificity” about Trump’s supporters secretly believing Trump to be unsuitable as president.

        Smart, college-educated upper-middle-class people agreeing that Trump is unfit to be President and writing for one another about why Trump is unfit to be President, yawn, been there, done that. And yes, some of them keep this to themselves and support Trump for tactical reasons. But knowledge that is limited to smart, college-educated upper-middle-class people is in no meaningful sense “common knowledge”. Get back to me when someone has evidence that the other quarter-billion or so Americans all secretly partake of this universal anti-Trumpian consensus.

        • Eggoeggo says:

          ” and writing for one another about why Trump is unfit to be President”

          Don’t forget harping on how stupid all those racist, xenophobic redneck scumbag not-liberal dum-dums are for the billionth time. That’ll convince ’em!

          • Alejandro says:

            Aaronson’s post is exactly the opposite of this.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @Eggo,

            Uncalled for dude.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            @hlynkacg

            Literally a quote, broski.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Not the first part, the second.

          • The second part is pretty close to a straight quote. What Aaronson wrote:

            “my friends and colleagues constantly describe the rise of Trump as “incomprehensible”—or at best, as comprehensible only in terms of the US being full of racist, xenophobic redneck scumbags who were driven to shrieking rage by a black guy being elected president. Which—OK, that’s one aspect of it, …”

            He’s arguing that one has to go deeper, but he is describing that as “one aspect” of the reason for the rise of Trump.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            To be fair, I’d have totally cut him a break for that… except for the following “and hopefully we’ll have gotten rid of enough white people to make Texas blue” part.

            Do these people not get how much condescension and hatred drips from everything they say? Is it just expressed so casually in that society that nobody even notices they’re doing it?

      • The Nybbler says:

        My point is that this analysis is not original to Tao; it’s the standard analysis of that puzzle, which I heard in the 1980s.

        And also that, as John Schilling and I have said, it simply is neither common nor mutual knowledge that Trump is not qualified to be President. Many assert it, loudly. There is no evidence that there are many people out there thinking Trump is unqualified but not realizing that other people think so. The fact that Scott Aaronson didn’t openly assert it until today doesn’t change that. Aaronson even makes this point:

        All the respected people who think Trump is gobsmackingly unqualified (even, or especially, “normally apolitical” people) should come out and say so publicly. My response: absolutely, they should, but I’m unsure if it will help much, given that it hasn’t yet.

        • Matt M says:

          The notion that someone could be following this election cycle and avidly consuming media and coming to the conclusion that the problem here is not enough people are denouncing Trump strikes me as incredible – in the most literal sense of the term (not at all credible)

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            “Damn Donald Trump! Damn everyone who won’t damn Donald Trump!! Damn everyone that won’t put lights in his windows and sit up all night damning Donald Trump!!!”

          • BBA says:

            Drat him. Double drat him. CONFOUND HIM!

        • Deiseach says:

          The problem is, the people saying Trump should not be president are not saying “He would be terrible in the job because he has no experience of government; running a business is not at all the same thing, and he hasn’t held office even on the level of public dogcatcher”, they’re screaming he’s a racist he’s a sexist he’s a fascist HE’S THE NEXT HITLER!!!!

          So most people will tune that out as “yeah, well, you would say that” and ignore it, which means that sensible criticism about “He can’t do the job” gets lumped in with the “If Trump becomes president we’ll all be living in a YA novel come true!” vapourings.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Tao is a mathematician, not a political scientist or historian or anything like that, so I don’t see why his opinion on politics is automatically more valid here than the average Joe’s. Being a scientific supergenius says nothing about whether your policy choices are right or even moral — Stephen Hawking fell for BDS propaganda, after all.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Are the political opinions of historians and political scientists any more valid than anyone else? I don’t see it.

        • Anonymous says:

          No no one’s opinions are any more valid than anyone else’s. A recovering meth head with an IQ of 90 that’s now found Jesus is as fully equipped as anyone else to predict what the consequences of electing Trump president might be. Any other conclusion is rank elitism which is the worst thing ever.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          A historian or a political scientist — at least, the Platonic ideal of one — would be better able to understand how Politician X’s behavior and positions map onto experiences of the past thanks to their years of study. So, yes.

          This doesn’t mean automatic deferment or anything like that, just that their statements deserve a little more consideration than the average mathematician ranting in a bar somewhere.

    • LWNielsenim says:

      ThirteenthLetter asserts (and other SSC commenters agree):

      Tao is a mathematician, not a political scientist or historian or anything like that, so I don’t see why his opinion on politics is automatically more valid here than the average Joe’s.

      Objectively speaking, mathematicians are far more likely than most citizens to be aware of the historical context supplied by works like Sanford L. Segal’s scrupulously documented history Mathematicians Under the ***** (2014).

      A crucial lesson of that history is “Speak up early, speak up plainly, and speak up loudly.” There’s no rational reason to study this history, if we don’t take lessons from it, is there?

      Shall we criticize Tao and Aaronson (and increasingly many of their STEM colleagues), for speaking up earlier and more plainly and more loudly, than the too-shy too-quiet STEM professionals of the 1930s?

      In view of history, Tao’s and Aaronson’s concerns and criticisms are rationally justified, in full-to-overflowing measure, aren’t they?

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        You can say the word Nazi, it’s not on the banlist or anything. Censoring it is kind of a baffling choice actually.

      • The Nybbler says:

        > In view of history, Tao’s and Aaronson’s concerns and criticisms are rationally justified, in full-to-overflowing measure, aren’t they?

        No. Tao’s concern is erroneous. Even if he is right about Trump being unqualified to be President, he is wrong about this being a matter of mutual knowledge which “merely” needs to be made common knowledge. It is required instead that Trump’s opponents actually convince people that Trump is unqualified and (despite Tao’s objections to this) that Hillary is qualified, or at least less unqualified.

        Aaronson’s objections I think are also erroneous, not because they’re not bad things about Trump but because they aren’t bad things that demonstrate he’s unusually unqualified

        1) Libel laws — Trump’s proposals here are far weaker than previous laws, such as the Smith Act and the 1918 Sedition Act

        2) FDR’s court packing scheme.

        3) Trump’s “temporary ban” on Muslims is not so radical as to be disqualifying, nor is it clear that the Constitution forbids discrimination against immigrants based on religion. (note that Trump later qualified his proposed ban as not applying to US citizens)

        4) Killing the families of terrorists is a terrible idea, but again, it doesn’t make Trump particularly “unqualified”.

        5) Not ruling out the use of nukes against ISIS is just good sense. Why rule anything out? Let them wonder.

        6) Another terrible idea, but again, an isolationist foreign policy would disqualify a lot of Presidents.

        7) This is probably the strongest one, actually.

        8) Trump called Kim Jong Un a “maniac” in the same sentence where he was saying “you have to give him credit” for ruthlessly destroying his rivals. Same with Tiananmen square; he said they were horrible while being impressed with their competence in being horrible. Not disqualifying, though it certainly makes one nervous; is he only saying they’re horrible because it’s expected and does he really admire them without qualifications? Or is it just the awe one might have for any competent villain?

        9) I take this one as just running his mouth; it’s the protesters doing most of the roughing-up at his rallies.

        10) I agree with him on global warming, except the Chinese part.

    • hlynkacg says:

      While I sympathize with Aaronson, and admire his candor. I think he’s wrong about Trump’s suitability being common knowledge. I think that he may even be wrong about Trump being less suitable than Clinton. Even if he’s correct, I’m not entirely sure it would matter. Trump’s appeal has little if anything to do with his “suitability”. Trump’s appeal is that he fights.

      Furthermore I would suggest the possibility that Trump may be substantially less dangerous than Clinton because he wears his hostility on his sleeve. We can trust the media and the bureaucracy to be suitably on guard against him or his supporters doing anything truly heinous rather than covering for him.

      • Ptoliporthos says:

        Indeed — there’s a segment of Trump’s support that is banking on his total unsuitability causing the government to collapse. People who just want to burn it all down. I’m not particularly sanguine that whatever gets built out of the rubble will be more to their liking, but on the other hand, they’ve been stockpiling canned food and ammunition for over a decade, so maybe they have an edge there.

      • Winfried says:

        Anyone who calls Trump unqualified and then throws their weight behind Hillary immediately reinforces what support I have for Trump.

        At worst, you have two corrupt politicians; I vastly prefer one that is nationalist instead of globalist.

        • John Schilling says:

          There is a credible argument that Trump is unqualified but honest while Clinton is qualified but corrupt. Trying to collapse everything onto a single axis will I think greatly interfere with your understanding of other peoples’ views, because other people care about different things than you do.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Corrupt is different than unqualified.

          I think Clinton is corrupt, but the country could easily handle 4 years. Lots of our Presidents have probably been corrupt. And the Clintons are often very careful and deliberate bout their corruption. She isn’t going to start nuclear war.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t like Hillary and am really annoyed by her attempt to Goldwater Trump (both because I don’t believe Trump would start a nuclear war and because I will never forgive LBJ for that even though I wasn’t born at the time… the Dems rightly berate the GOP for fearmongering in recent years, but what is bigger fearmongering than saying your opponent will start a nuclear war?)

            That said, generally speaking, I would prefer a corrupt but competent leader to the reverse. Corruption may result in millions of dollars of waste as the corrupt line their own pockets; incompetence can result in billions of dollars of waste, thousands of lost lives, and decades-long ramifications if bad programs are passed.

          • Civilis says:

            The problem with the ‘corrupt but competent’ formulation is that the presidential election isn’t just about the position of president, but also about the relationship between the executive branch (the Executive Office of the President), the federal agencies and the press.

            The problem is that the corruption currently in Washington is tied to the incompetence of the federal agencies. A corrupt but competent president that owes favors to the agencies (or their patrons, like the American Federation of Government Employees) may not be willing to fix the incompetence of the agencies.

            Trump might end up making more competent decisions, not because he would be a more competent president than Hillary, but because he would have no relationship with the patrons of the incompetent agencies, and he would not have a compliant press to shield him from the political fallout generated by that incompetence. The actions of the incompetent VA and TSA should make any president look bad, and even an incompetent one should need no encouragement to fix the issues to make themselves look good.

            Likewise, Bernie Sanders may be the least likely major presidential candidate to start a nuclear war, but what we should be worrying about is the likelihood of a nuclear war started by anyone on the his watch if he were to win. It’s easy to imagine that a weak president might cause a paranoid Iranian or Israeli regime to be much more likely to launch a first strike.

          • John Schilling says:

            Competent corruption means not driving the targets of your extortion scheme or protection racket all the way to bankruptcy or suicide. We’ve survived eight years of Clintonian corruption; we can endure another four. The guy for whom repeatedly declaring bankruptcy and walking away is a “winning” strategy, maybe not.

          • Matt M says:

            At the level of U.S. president, I don’t think “corruption” is really about “lining their pockets” anymore.

            Most of the current HRC scandals (emails, Benghazi, whatever) aren’t about her trying to use the system to get rich, they’re about her using the system to gain more power – for power’s sake. People with the intelligence and abilities of her and Bill could have made a LOT more money in the private sector than they have spending their lives on politics.

            When you look at it this way, I think the difference between “corrupt” and “incompetent” starts to minimize. Hillary’s corruption will be such that she will favor policies that advance her own power, and those of her friends/party/whatever. This would include things like unnecessary wars, lives-lost, decades-long ramifications, etc.

          • Civilis says:

            We’ve survived eight years of Clintonian corruption; we can endure another four.

            It’s just as easy to say “we survived somewhere between seven and fifteen years of incompetent president(s), we can endure another four.” At this point, I seriously doubt either Trump or Clinton, or, for that matter, any of the other presidential candidates this election cycle, is competent enough to fix the massive issues with the federal government. We’ve seen major incompetence from the VA, the IRS, the EPA, the TSA, HUD, the department of Education, the BATFE, HHS, and I’m sure I’m missing a few. The federal government is nowhere near as competent as it was when Bill Clinton was president, and that’s what’s going to determine whether we ‘survive’.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s just as easy to say “we survived somewhere between seven and fifteen years of incompetent president(s), we can endure another four.”

            Very easy to say, but uselessly vague in that it offers no standard for incompetence.

            The United States has never endured more than four years under a President without prior experience at the highest non-presidential levels of government.

            Taylor/Fillmore (1849-1853) saw the destruction of the Whig party, the Compromise of 1850, and the Fugitive Slave Act, leading to

            Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), during whose administration nothing bad happened, followed by

            Garfield/Arthur (1881-1885), whose competence was never put to the test due to their infirmity, and finally

            Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), who showed the world what putting a self-made millionaire in office could do for the economy.

            I suppose one can excuse Lincoln on the grounds that his predecessors had made a civil war in the early 1860s inevitable regardless of the level of executive competence in the White House, but that just doubles down on Taylor/Fillmore. Either way, it’s not looking good for the Republic under an incompetent and inexperienced President. The merely corrupt have historically done far less harm, particularly the ones named “Clinton”.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Some additional thoughts on beating Trump…

      Of the options presented by Arronson I think the Johnson Gambit (Option 4) is the one with the most with the highest likelihood of success. Unfortunatley It’s not really an option because at the end of the day I think that Trump has a lot more in common with Clinton than Johnson does and that as such I suspect that the vast majority of Democratic donors and voters want Trump to be the nominee. Heck, a disasterous Trump presidency might be the best thing to happen to the Democratic party since FDR.

      Realistically I think the opportunity to defeat him, and a what he represents is rapidly diminishing in the rear view mirror. The time to beat him was when he was still one candidate among many. He thrives on the attention and would wither without it. I think other Scott is dreaming if he thinks that testimonials from young urban professionals about how “unsuitable” Trump, are going do anything but make Trump stronger. Elizabeth Warren and the recent violence against Trump supporters are really the best spokesmen he has. He will say that his opponents are either petty thugs, or a bunch of “out of touch elites” and the Democrat’s response will prove him correct.

      At this point, I think that the only way to legitimately stop Trump is for people to start ignoring Trump while giving positive attention to Clinton, or for a Third Party to present themselves.

      • Anonymous says:

        “He can’t lose, everyone I know is voting for him!”

        • HeelBearCub says:

          IIRC, (and I am very fuzzy on who posted it and what the exact words were, so take this with a salt lick) hlynkacg at one point posted that Trump will do very well among Hispanics in the general election because they have a culture that admires strength or machismo.

          Regardless of whether hlynka posted it, I think any general view of Trump as an unstoppable juggernaut is based on assumptions along that vein, in the mode of Scott Adam’s “master manipulator” argument.

          • dndnrsn says:

            This is a good point and generally seems to be true.

            There are a lot of explanations for Trump’s success that basically rely on the idea that what people like about him is his refusal to apologize, his tendency to double down, etc.

            Less mainstream explanations generally link this to Redpill-style thinking (basically positing that Trump is treating the electorate like a PUA treats women, in contrast to the other Republican candidates).

          • hlynkacg says:

            @HeelBearCub
            As I recall it was in the context of someone saying something about how “no Latino will ever vote Trump” and I suggested that they were seriously underestimating the level of friction between legal immigrants and illegals and the appeal of machismo.

            And to be clear. I don’t think that Trump is an unstoppable juggernaut, I actually place his odds at just under 50% atm.

            That said, I think that he has been, and continues to be, seriously underestimated by all involved. And not only that, the Democrats’ response to him has made him stronger. Like I said above…

            Elizabeth Warren’s comments and the recent violence against Trump’s supporters in California are the best advertising he could have possibly gotten. He will say that his opponents are a bunch of petty thugs lead by “out of touch elites” and people will believe him because that’s exactly what they look like.

            @dndnrsn
            I think the two go hand in hand.

          • Matt M says:

            I agree with hlynkacg.

            I’m not predicting that Trump will win a majority of Hispanic votes – but given his machismo appeal to blue-collar values, I have a very hard time believing he won’t do significantly better than Mitt Romney did.

            Hispanics may care more about immigration than whites, but they don’t care more about immigration than they care about “will I still have a job in six months,” which, rightly or wrongly, seems to be an area where Trump is perceived by many to be superior to Hillary.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @hlynkacg:

            They’re definitely related. Are the more far-right interpretations (in which Trump is some kind of Getting Elected Artist) an add-on to the mainstream right interpretation (in which Trump is a backlash to the PC left), or is the mainstream right interpretation a (consciously or unconsciously) watered-down version of the far-right interpretation?

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s hard to say. But I’m leaning towards the PC backlash end of the spectrum if only because that’s what I’m seeing in my own circle.

          • Matt M says:

            Can’t it be both?

            One of the qualities of a “getting elected artist” probably needs to be “ability to identify and exploit a promising niche” – which, in this case, is the anti-PC stuff.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I was more wondering whether the mainstream right wingers are aware the extent to which they are presenting a milder version of what people who are unquestionably part of the far right are saying.

            It is bizarre seeing respectable, suit-and-tie-wearing columnists writing milder, less profane versions of stuff that people with Pepe-as-Pinochet avatars were writing a few months earlier.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @dndnrsn – “I was more wondering whether the mainstream right wingers are aware the extent to which they are presenting a milder version of what people who are unquestionably part of the far right are saying.”

            it seems like the left has largely and increasingly controlled the overton window for quite some time. At this point, it seems obvious that the right either has to fight back to something like parity, or else simply abandon the field. The left is never going to stop calling us nazi racist misogynerd shitlords anyway, so what does it matter?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            It’s seductive to look at the issues that aren’t going the way you want them to and claim the opposition is all powerful. But the Overton window is on a case by case basis, and there really isn’t any sort of meta-narrative that is really coherent around this.

            Some things move right and some move left. The policy window on abortion has moved right, not left, over the past 16 years. Funding for many government functions has been moving right since at least Reagan (per capita, inflation adjusted). Hell, Bill Clinton block granted welfare for cripes sake, and the block has been frozen ever since.

          • Anonymous says:

            Some things move right and some move left. The policy window on abortion has moved right, not left, over the past 16 years. Funding for many government functions has been moving right since at least Reagan (per capita, inflation adjusted). Hell, Bill Clinton block granted welfare for cripes sake, and the block has been frozen ever since.

            Using the “past 16 years” to assense changes in policy and thinkability is like looking at last winter and declaring that global warming ain’t happening. These changes might be significant, but unless you look at a much longer timeframe, they may as well be noise.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “It’s seductive to look at the issues that aren’t going the way you want them to and claim the opposition is all powerful. But the Overton window is on a case by case basis, and there really isn’t any sort of meta-narrative that is really coherent around this.”

            What would you call the one that endlessly maps current culture-war conflicts one-for-one onto a hindsight projection of the 1960s civil rights movement?

            “Some things move right and some move left.”

            I’m not really talking about policy. I’m talking about how we talk to each other. The Sad Puppies were treated as poorly as they were because their opponents didn’t just see them as evil, they saw them as too weak to need to be negotiated with. There’s a part of the human brain that likes crushing things too weak to put up a defense, especially when the things being crushed are evil and totally deserve it. Think MsScribe’s “cockroaches”.

            When your opponents are in that frame of mind, trying to appear reasonable is pointless. Do what you need to do, and to hell with what they say about it. If they’re right and you’re doomed, at least you go down with your head held high. If they’re wrong, maybe you start winning, and they realize that negotiation and mutual respect are a nice idea after all.

            Hence the situation dndnrsn is pointing out; a number of people on the right aren’t interested in “moderate” any more, which means all the stuff pushed to the fringes in an effort to seem reasonable comes flooding back in.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Faceless Craven:
            You referenced the Overton Window, which I understand mostly in terms of politics, which is why I gave a policy example.

            I still think the phenomena you are talking about is mostly a case of a combination of selection and confirmation bias.

            The position of the U.S. on people who happen to be black has moved “left” a “considerate” amount since our founding. I’m thinking that you probably have no issue with 95%-99% of that movement (depending on how you want to measure it). So, if you object to the general “leftward” movement of speech on this issue, it’s only because you a) were primed to see that it was bad, b) selected a period that was entirely bad (in your mind), and c) only remember the bad things that occurred in that period, and not the good ones.

            Sorry, for using race an example, but it’s easy to see the concept there. I think it applies similarly to other areas, like women’s rights.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @FacelessCraven: You said

            Hence the situation dndnrsn is pointing out; a number of people on the right aren’t interested in “moderate” any more, which means all the stuff pushed to the fringes in an effort to seem reasonable comes flooding back in.

            Well, sort of.

            If you’re talking about the new far right we’re seeing, I don’t get the sense they’re moderate right-wingers deciding that being moderate is a losing strategy, and going from there. A lot of them seem to either be people from “culturally left-wing” backgrounds, “liberals” not “leftists”, who have reacted in a big way to what they see as the excesses of those to the left of them or ex-libertarians who came to agree with Thiel regarding freedom vs democracy. They went straight from liberal or libertarian to reactionary without stopping at conservative.

            If, on the other hand, we’re talking about mainstream right-wing pundits who are, knowingly or unknowingly, scrubbing the parentheses and cuckold-related references from stuff the former produce … they probably still think of themselves as moderates.

            And I guess my point is that you could on the one hand see the former as a more extreme, gussied-up version of the latter, or you could see the latter as a watered-down, incomplete version of the former.

            I think you are right that taboos are breaking down, in part because of the “if you outlaw something, only outlaws will have it” situation you are referencing, but also because of a sort of inflation: consider Trump and Sanders. Conventional wisdom was that Trump would crash and burn for saying the stuff he did and proposing what he has – but he didn’t. Conventional wisdom was also that Americans were so allergic to socialism that even a whiff of it would scare everyone away except that one tom-tom player with the white-guy dreads sitting in the quad. Neither piece of conventional wisdom was vindicated. It would probably have been five or ten years ago – but there’s been a boy who cried wolf situation with both.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “So, if you object to the general “leftward” movement of speech on this issue, it’s only because you a) were primed to see that it was bad, b) selected a period that was entirely bad (in your mind), and c) only remember the bad things that occurred in that period, and not the good ones.”

            Race seems like an excellent example. In the 90s, the Overton Window on race I remember was that we should aim to be colorblind, that racism was a serious problem that should be fought through government sanction and social pressure, and that everyone could get along if we abandoned prejudice and pitched in together. I would describe that picture as primarily leftist.

            The problem seems to be that wasn’t a stable position either for the left or the right. Government and social sanction against racism became well-nigh universal, everyone pitched in together… and we still can’t get along. The consensus doesn’t get either side what they want, so it can’t last. A good chunk of the left has concluded that colorblindness is itself racism, that prejudice is necessary rather than being part of the problem, and that government and social sanction need to be redoubled. In response to that, a good chunk of the right has concluded that racism is a distraction from the actual problems or possibly even accurate to a limited degree (HBD, say), that the other side has no intention of abandoning its own prejudices, and that pitching in together is a mug’s game under the current conditions. Paying lip service to the old consensus appears to serve no useful purpose, so people are abandoning it and looking for something new.

            I think a similar pattern holds for feminism, immigration, gun control, and so on. In all of them, I see a left-leaning consensus in the 90s that failed to secure a stable peace in the culture war, and so collapsed. I think Gay Rights still has a shot at a stable position, but is well into the process of being dragged off it by intersectionality. I haven’t really followed abortion closely enough to comment, though the impression I have is less of a broad cultural backswing than slow and limited erosion via cultural insurgency; the broad position seems pretty stable to me. Could be wrong, though.

            @dndnrsn – “I think you are right that taboos are breaking down, in part because of the “if you outlaw something, only outlaws will have it” situation you are referencing, but also because of a sort of inflation: consider Trump and Sanders… ”

            Exactly, and I think this inflation/decay thing applies at all levels of political discourse. Political narratives have to eventually output a stable equilibrium, or they eventually collapse. We can only have the 80s war on drugs or the 90s war on racism so long before the next generation loses patience and decides it’s time to try something else.

            [EDIT] – “They went straight from liberal or libertarian to reactionary without stopping at conservative.”

            Well, in my own case, I started as strongly conservative, drifted to strongly liberal over a decade or so, and have bounced back to reactionary in about a year and a half due to the causes you describe. I think what I see as liberal control of the overton window in the 90s-00s has a lot to do with that. A lot of people either drifted to or grew up as liberal by default. they now see liberalism as having failed them, but have no conservative antibodies for reactionary thought.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @FacelessCraven:
            I think your time line is just too short. The fact that you call it the “90s war on racism” is indicative of this.

            There are plenty of people alive today who were born when Southern governments still took fire hoses to blacks who protested Jim Crow laws. You can’t start your time line in the 90s and have any hope of getting a realistic sense of what is going on.

            Otherwise, you allow people to seamlessly shift from Jim Crow to dog-whistle and when you call them out on it the accuse you of not being “color blind”. Many of the same people who supported Jim Crow will try and game the system when it is color blind in name only.

            At some point we will probably have enough admixture where a plurality of black people are as black as I am Italian, then one might begin to be able to see what it means to be truly color blind. My nominally Irish cousin, who gets her kinky black hair from her Czech grandmother on her half-Italian mother’s side married a black man whose mother is white. Their kids are beautiful and smart and funny and I hope they see themselves mostly as American, but also black and Irish and Czech and Italian. I hope they learn how to make the family red sauce that my great-grandmother made when she came over on the boat. And I hope they never think that is anything but awesome.

            But if you implicitly say my cousins are two SD stupider than I am because they are black, I will kick your fuckin’ ass from here to Sunday. Just the same way that if you presumed that my wife’s father was prone to violence and stupid because he grew up a poor white dirt farmer my wife would kick your ass.

            And I say that in that way because I think you will understand it and not hold it against me. It’s about respect, and too many people, for too long, got none of it because of the color of their skin. It’s not ancient history, it’s right there in the rear view mirror “closer than it appears”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @FacelessCraven:

            You said

            Well, in my own case, I started as strongly conservative, drifted to strongly liberal over a decade or so, and have bounced back to reactionary in about a year and a half due to the causes you describe. I think what I see as liberal control of the overton window in the 90s-00s has a lot to do with that. A lot of people either drifted to or grew up as liberal by default. they now see liberalism as having failed them, but have no conservative antibodies for reactionary thought.

            Regarding terms, I tend to differentiate “liberal” from “leftist” and “conservative” from “reactionary”. I still see “liberal” used to mean “left of mainstream” sometimes – but only really from people on the right; the actual left of mainstream types tend to sneer at those they call liberals in a way that bears more than a passing similarity to the way the new far right sneers at conservatives they liken to cuckolds: naive dupes who don’t realize they’re helping the other team at best, secret members of the other team at worst. I’d call myself a liberal – I’m a left-winger but I reject the means of making moral judgments, the epistemology, the norms of discourse, etc that tend to characterize a lot of people who call themselves “leftists” today. Probably a lot of the commentariat falls into the same boat as me.

            I think your “conservative antibodies” comment is hitting on something. A lot of the new far right – who are certainly reactionaries – seem to view conservatives in the way someone on the left might, but they reach different conclusions. An example would be the essays and such you see promoting religiosity as a means of building communities, creating interpersonal bonds, and having various other positive but mundane effects. They are basically taking a secular view of religion – religion as explained by and of use for entirely secular reasons – which is something associated with the left more than the right. However, someone who actually was brought up in a religious community, who is actually an earnest religious believer, etc is unlikely to say that they go to church every week because it’s necessary for social cohesion and social trust, etc. They actually believe in the religion itself.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I think your time line is just too short. The fact that you call it the “90s war on racism” is indicative of this. There are plenty of people alive today who were born when Southern governments still took fire hoses to blacks who protested Jim Crow laws. You can’t start your time line in the 90s and have any hope of getting a realistic sense of what is going on.”

            This may be a fundamental point of disagreement for us; I do not see social movements as seamless. We recognize that the suffragettes were in many ways different from the later feminists. We recognize that the later feminists can be broken down into a second or third wave of the movement, and that those movements are probably different from feminism as it currently exists. In gay rights, the stonewall riots era was different from the 80s gay rights movement, which was different from the Gay Marriage-focused movement of the 90s-00s. I believe those discontinuities matter deeply.

            For race, I think the civil rights movement won fairly decisively in the 70s and 80s. I was raised in a very conservative family in a very conservative state. I was home-schooled, and listened to the complete Rush Limbaugh program every day, and the liberal 90s consensus described above is what I grew up seeing as the norm. To the extent that the right was simply trying to conceal their racism, they did it successfully enough to fool their own children.

            “Otherwise, you allow people to seamlessly shift from Jim Crow to dog-whistle and when you call them out on it the accuse you of not being “color blind”. Many of the same people who supported Jim Crow will try and game the system when it is color blind in name only.”

            …Or possibly they actually abandon their Jim Crow positions completely, and take up new ones that are considerably to the left of where they started, but not actually far enough to catch up with where leftism is now. Certainly their children did. The society that produced Bull Conner was dead and gone before I was born, but the left has been claiming to be fighting it my entire life. Maybe most opposition to Affirmative Action and anti-discrimination laws started out as a longing for the good old days of open white supremacy, but remain today because Affirmative Action and anti-discrimination laws are legitimately a bad idea for reasons that have nothing to do with racism.

            remember that study from “I can tolerate anything but the outgroup” that found political bigotry significantly stronger than racism?

            “And I say that in that way because I think you will understand it and not hold it against me. It’s about respect, and too many people, for too long, got none of it because of the color of their skin. It’s not ancient history, it’s right there in the rear view mirror “closer than it appears”.”

            I take no offense, but neither do I agree. Racism is not “right there”. America in the last 25 years is the least racist society that I’ve ever heard of, possibly the least racist that has *ever existed in human history*, and it doesn’t seem to have been enough to fix our problems. That shouldn’t be an excuse to dive back into the cesspool, but it does call into question whether the crusade has hit diminishing returns and it’s time to switch tactics. On this point, again, radicals on the left and right both agree; the left argues for doubling down, the right argues for trying something else.

            HBD is a profoundly ugly idea, but punching people isn’t going to make it less or more true. For what it’s worth, I have nothing to brag about in the IQ department and would be very happy to see it proven conclusively false in any case.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            There are plenty of people alive today who were born when Southern governments still took fire hoses to blacks who protested Jim Crow laws. You can’t start your time line in the 90s and have any hope of getting a realistic sense of what is going on.

            The often unacknowledged flip-side is that there are a lot people who weren’t. For anyone under the age of 50 “racism” isn’t about Jim Crow or the summer of 68. It’s about coming up, and staying on top. while screaming, “187” on a motherfuckin’ cop.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, this isn’t the first place I would have expected to find Sublime lyrics.

          • “HBD is a profoundly ugly idea”

            Why?

            Almost everyone recognizes a lot of biological diversity across individuals. Most adult men in my society are substantially taller than I am and substantially worse at learning mathematics. That’s an obvious fact, and I don’t see anything ugly about it. If anything, the fact that humans vary a lot makes for a more interesting and attractive world.

            Does that change when we discover that some of the differences correlate with the environment in which your ancestors grew up, as one would expect on straightforward Darwinian lines? I don’t see why.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Friedman – Because we’ve spent two generations pounding in the idea that it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s who you are on the inside that counts. Your brain is as Inside as it gets, and the idea that brain quality correlates to skin color is a bitter, bitter pill. No amount of equivocation about how IQ isn’t the sole measure of man is going to make that pill sweeter; no one wants to see themselves as congenitally stupider than others, or worse yet other groups.

            [EDIT] – To be clear, IQ *ISN”T* the sole measure of man. The problem is that way too much of society reflexively believes it is, and fixing that is going to be a very painful process.

            @Dndnrsn – “Regarding terms, I tend to differentiate “liberal” from “leftist” and “conservative” from “reactionary”.”

            Good point, and I should probably have used “leftist with liberal leanings” instead. Likewise, I think I grew up conservative, but am now much more of a reactionary. If I shift again (and rather expect I will, as the situation changes), I expect to lean back toward the liberal.

            Thanks to everyone in this thread, by the way. I’ve greatly enjoyed the discussion.

          • Anonymous says:

            @FacelessCraven, You seem to be saying that racism in the form of outright bigotry is a thing of the past. Is this a correct reading? If so, I’ve seen plenty of examples, up close, that show it is still alive and kicking.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            @Faceless

            For race, I think the civil rights movement won fairly decisively in the 70s and 80s. I was raised in a very conservative family in a very conservative state. I was home-schooled, and listened to the complete Rush Limbaugh program every day, and the liberal 90s consensus described above is what I grew up seeing as the norm. To the extent that the right was simply trying to conceal their racism, they did it successfully enough to fool their own children.

            http://www.gallup.com/poll/163697/approve-marriage-blacks-whites.aspx

            Do you approve or disapprove of marriage between colored people/blacks and whites?
            opinion whites (black)
            1969- 17 (56)
            1979- 33 (66)
            1991- 44 (71)
            2003- 60 (78)

            Group opinion isn’t available prior to that, but the 1959 survey had only 4% of people in favor.

            So yeah, Americans were incredibly racist until 1995-97 (approval went up by 16% among whites). Remember, this isn’t asking if you personally want to marry someone of a different race, but if you are okay with the idea in general.

            The sheer volume should make it clear this isn’t conservatives hiding something from their children. A good portion of people who identified as liberal were also pretty racist.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anonymous – “You seem to be saying that racism in the form of outright bigotry is a thing of the past. Is this a correct reading?”

            Within the mainstream culture, yes, and it’s been so for a generation or so. I just got back from discussing this over dinner with a friend, and he mentioned how the first time he saw Blazing Saddles, he was so horrified by the blatant racism that he shut it off halfway through. His upbringing left him with zero context for that sort of humor.

            “If so, I’ve seen plenty of examples, up close, that show it is still alive and kicking.”

            I’m sure you have. I haven’t, as it happens, but I’m aware they exist. Some level of bigotry is pretty clearly intrinsic to human psychology, and there will always be outliers who run with it. We fixed it to the extent that it can be fixes, and that still didn’t solve our race problems. From this, I conclude that fixing those problems is going to require something more than driving racism further underground. Less racism alone doesn’t result in sunshine and rainbows; maybe the lack of sunshine and rainbows is actively creating the racism.

            @Samuel Skinner – “So yeah, Americans were incredibly racist until 1995-97 (approval went up by 16% among whites). ”

            If white Americans are “incredibly racist” for majority disapproval of sharing wedding vows in the 80s, what were they for disapproving of sharing water fountains and bus seats and restaurant tables in the 50s? Were blacks in the 60s “incredibly racist” for having a lower approval of interracial marriage than whites in the mid-90s?

            I don’t see an appreciable contradiction between what I’ve said above and the data you linked. Under the Connor Bull culture, interracial marriage was utterly unthinkable. That culture was destroyed in the 70s, and its lingering effects faded rapidly in the following decades.

            And again, a large chunk of the left and right both agree that it didn’t work, and the 90s “colorblind” ideology is dying or dead on both sides of the political spectrum; possibly even more so on the left than on the right.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            If white Americans are “incredibly racist” for majority disapproval of sharing wedding vows in the 80s, what were they for disapproving of sharing water fountains and bus seats and restaurant tables in the 50s?

            Racism Plus?

            Were blacks in the 60s “incredibly racist” for having a lower approval of interracial marriage than whites in the mid-90s?

            Motivated reasoning alarm sounding. The answer is obviously yes. You shouldn’t have to ask this.

            I don’t see an appreciable contradiction between what I’ve said above and the data you linked. Under the Connor Bull culture, interracial marriage was utterly unthinkable. That culture was destroyed in the 70s, and its lingering effects faded rapidly in the following decades.

            30% of over 65 and 16% 50-64 (born 1952-1966 so grew up in the 60s and 70s) still disapprove of inter-racial marriage. The culture wasn’t destroyed; people just died and were replaced by others who didn’t share their views.

            and the 90s “colorblind” ideology is dying or dead on both sides of the political spectrum;

            Given the majority of whites didn’t approve of interracial marriage until 1996, I’m curious how you are sure today it is a large chunk.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Samuel Skinner – “Racism Plus?”

            Calibrate your scale. I am fine to concede that our society at its best was “incredibly racist”, as long as it’s clear that “incredibly racist” is equivalent to about an 10 out of 100, and that number is unusually, perhaps uniquely low among the societies we can observe. Personally disapproving of interracial marriage (not even claiming it should be illegal!) seems way, way less racist than seeing an interracial bus seat as a justification for violence, which is in turn way less racist than actively exterminating other races.

            Again, some level of racism is probably irreducible given a scarcity society and human nature; my claim is we probably got as close to that level as “fighting racism” could get us, that at some point trying harder appears to increase racism rather than reducing it, and that if we want to reduce it further we are probably going to have to try something else.

            “Motivated reasoning alarm sounding. The answer is obviously yes. You shouldn’t have to ask this.”

            No, I rather think I should. Among other things, this measure would imply that white people in 2013 were less racist than black people in 2003, and that Whites got dramatically LESS racist in the aftermath of 9/11. Those claims seem to be obviously false, and I do not think you would support them in any other context. Combined with the lack of scale calibration, I don’t think the Gallup stats work as a simple proxy for total racism in a society.

            “30% of over 65 and 16% 50-64 (born 1952-1966 so grew up in the 60s and 70s) still disapprove of inter-racial marriage.”

            The culture in question re-elected a man to public office after he facilitated mob violence against racial minorities for sharing bus seats. The fact that two thirds of that culture’s last cohort approve of interracial marriage is strong proof that it WAS destroyed. Calibrate your scale.

            “The culture wasn’t destroyed; people just died and were replaced by others who didn’t share their views.”

            Since the standard narrative is that they simply learned to hide their bigotry better and passed it on to their children more or less intact (dog whistles, southern strategy, etc etc), this alone seems like it would be a significant concession.

            “Given the majority of whites didn’t approve of interracial marriage until 1996, I’m curious how you are sure today it is a large chunk.”

            …I’m not sure I can parse this properly. Restate?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Calibrate your scale. I am fine to concede that our society at its best was “incredibly racist”, as long as it’s clear that “incredibly racist” is equivalent to about an 10 out of 100, and that number is unusually, perhaps uniquely low among the societies we can observe. Personally disapproving of interracial marriage (not even claiming it should be illegal!) seems way, way less racist than seeing an interracial bus seat as a justification for violence, which is in turn way less racist than actively exterminating other races.

            You are comparing racist beliefs to racist actions; they really aren’t on the same scale. For starters Southerners have historically been really racist, but the idea of exterminating black people or not interacting with them (aka nannies) would appear crazy to them. The fact they believed “blacks were inferior” meant “whites should be in control”, not “blacks should be eliminated”.

            I’m also not sure how you can say the US is ‘uniquely low’; while tribalism is certainly rampant throughout the world the American attitude towards interracial marriage makes it pretty clear the US departed from the position of much of the rest of the world. Wiki gives the US, Nazi Germany, South Africa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the British Raj as the only places prohibiting interracial marriage in modern times.

            Again, some level of racism is probably irreducible given a scarcity society and human nature; my claim is we probably got as close to that level as “fighting racism” could get us, that at some point trying harder appears to increase racism rather than reducing it, and that if we want to reduce it further we are probably going to have to try something else.

            Given the 12 point gap between black and white rates the last time the poll was taken, it is pretty clear it can keep dropping.

            Those claims seem to be obviously false, and I do not think you would support them in any other context.

            They don’t seem obviously false to me. The former is supported by the data and the latter is supported by people action (note how the reaction to Syrian refugees is targeted towards religion; the furthest right in America are fine with Christian Arabs).

            Combined with the lack of scale calibration, I don’t think the Gallup stats work as a simple proxy for total racism in a society.

            Of course not. Racism against blacks due to ‘blacks are criminals’ isn’t covered, racism against whites and racism by other ethnic groups isn’t really resolved. However given the centrality of anti-black prejudice by whites in talking about racism, it is fine since it is directly tied to ‘are blacks inferior’.

            The culture in question re-elected a man to public office after he facilitated mob violence against racial minorities for sharing bus seats. The fact that two thirds of that culture’s last cohort approve of interracial marriage is strong proof that it WAS destroyed. Calibrate your scale.

            My scale is calibrated to this
            http://www.adl.org/press-center/press-releases/anti-semitism-usa/adl-poll-anti-semitic-attitudes-america-decline-3-percent.html

            If the prejudice is higher than the prejudice towards Jews, it is high for the country.

            Since the standard narrative is that they simply learned to hide their bigotry better and passed it on to their children more or less intact (dog whistles, southern strategy, etc etc), this alone seems like it would be a significant concession.

            That could be true you know. Until 1996 the trend certainly implied that. It looks like there was a tipping point where what was socially acceptable shifted.

            …I’m not sure I can parse this properly. Restate?

            The proportion of people who reject the colorblind ideology now needs to be greater than the proportion who rejected it during the 1990s. Given less than 50% of whites approved of interracial marriage until 96, I don’t see how that is possible; I’m not aware of any of the people today rejecting the colorblind who also reject interracial marriage. It wasn’t until 1996 that affirmative action (which is pretty blatantly not color blind) got pushed back in Hopwood v. Texas.

          • John Schilling says:

            Calibrate your scale. I am fine to concede that our society at its best was “incredibly racist”, as long as it’s clear that “incredibly racist” is equivalent to about an 10 out of 100, and that number is unusually, perhaps uniquely low among the societies we can observe.

            Turn that around. If the United States is “incredibly racist”, what are the societies that are “credibly racist”, or weakly racist or not at all racist?

            There are certainly societies that don’t have our particular heritage of institutionalized discrimination against black people, but that’s mostly because they don’t have enough black people to be worth more than informally discriminating against – or because they are mostly black people finding someone else to discriminate against, e.g. Zimbabwe.

            But where are the societies that don’t exhibit at least as much animus or discrimination against the locally-disfavored ethnicities as mainstream American society presently does against blacks? Because I haven’t found any.

            If your racism gauge is calibrated so that “incredibly racist” is at the bottom, it’s useless except as a joke.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’ll note that this conversation is now occurring in a context that assumes, at least tacitly, that it is impossible to see “blacks” as no different from “whites” as “Italians” or “the Irish” are.

            So, the idea that you are currently, or were ever, actually color blind is pretty much out the window.

          • Nornagest says:

            a context that assumes, at least tacitly, that it is impossible to see “blacks” as no different from “whites” as “Italians” or “the Irish” are.

            Does it? Go to Japan, you’ll find people being fantastically racist against Koreans (among other groups…). That particular species of racism basically doesn’t exist among white Americans (who may hold prejudices towards Asians in general, but very rarely towards Koreans in particular), but that proves neither that Japanese are unusually racist nor that white Americans are unusually less so; just that the two societies draw their lines differently.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            I’m not sure I’m parsing your comment correctly, but I think you aren’t understanding that I implied “in the U.S.” in that comment.

            In other words, various immigrant waves (the Germans, the Polish, the Irish, the Italians, etc.) were seen at some point as lazy, unintelligent, exotic, etc. They weren’t included in “white.” Eventually they all assimilated.

            This conversation is now tacitly assuming that blacks can’t do this in the U.S. That its simply not possible in the U.S. to view “black” as no different than “Italian”.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            They weren’t included in “white.”

            Bullshit.

          • Nornagest says:

            This conversation is now tacitly assuming that blacks can’t do this in the U.S.

            As far as I can tell, it’s assuming only that “black” currently doesn’t have the status of e.g. Italian or Polish ancestry, which strikes me as pretty reasonable. John Schilling came the closest to saying otherwise, and even he just extended the same argument to the rest of the world.

            If someone here has said or implied that assimilation isn’t on the table, you’ll have to point them out to me.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @HeelBearCub,

            Well the demonyms “black” and “white” should pretty much answer your question. It’s hard to see someone as a coethnic when they’re visibly, obviously different from you.

            Anyway, responding to something you mentioned elsewhere about admixture and racism:

            The most plausible path we’ll tread, in my view, is approaching something close to Latin America or the modern Black American community. Even with the social sanctions against interracial marriage largely dismantled, people mostly keep to their own ethnic groups out of simple familiarity (pun intended). So while the physical distinctions between races will narrow and blur over the generations, I don’t doubt that we’ll see the same sort of vague ‘colorism’ / Casta* remain behind.

            *I’m not familiar with what contemporary Latinos call their intra-group form of racism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            If the United States is “incredibly racist”, what are the societies that are “credibly racist”, or weakly racist or not at all racist?

            18-29 year olds in the US approve inter-racial marriage at 96%. I think that definitely counts as weakly/not at all racist.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @DrDealgood:
            Once you have enough admixture that there is a continuum, and people living side by side, this becomes less of an issue. Jews, Poles, Irish, Italians, etc. were all instantly recognizable at one time. Now, someone who is 100% Italian just blends in, instead of sticking out as Italian.

            But I get that it’s always going to be apparent that, say, Idris Elba doesn’t come from the same parents as Daniel Craig. But when Jessica Beals could be the sister or mother of either one, and it’s not seen as uncommon, then maybe we see “Black” become just like “Italian” and “white” disappear altogether. Or maybe some other nomenclature.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @HeelBearCub,

            Well that was my point about Latin America.

            Even with a continuum you still see people organizing themselves by their dominant ethnicity (mestizo, criollo, indio, etc.) rather than accepting a unitary Hispanic identity. Obviously they have the legacy of the colonial caste system… but then again, we have the legacy of slavery.

            It’s possible things will go the way you predict but I highly doubt it. The physical differences will be striking even after generations of intermarriage, as you can see again in Latin America.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Jews (of various types), Poles, Italians, and Irish are still quite recognizable. It’s just not particularly important, any more, for most things.

          • The claim that someone who disapproves of interracial marriage is a racist strikes me as an example of how the term has been deprived of almost all content. Also reminds me of a true story.

            We have some friends who we will be visiting in a few days. Her ancestry is Chinese, his I think Croatian. Their families knew each other professionally. They jointly (and unsuccessfully) tried to keep the kids apart.

            According to their account, her father didn’t want her to marry an American because he didn’t think American men treated their wives properly. His parents thought the children of a mixed marriage would have problems (does not seem to have happened). So both disapproved of interracial marriage. In neither case for reasons it makes any sense to describe as racist.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I think the intersection of the groupS

        “didn’t believe Mitt Romney when Mitt said Trump was unsuitable”

        and

        “believes Hillary Clinton when Hillary says Trump is unsuitable”

        is zero.

        Pointing out how off-the-kettle Trump was didn’t work when done by the most likely groups leveling that charge. It won’t work. Find something else.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Pointing out how “how off-the-kettle” Trump is doesn’t mean a thing. The same people would be saying the same thing regardless of who the GOP nominated. Democrats calling Republicans stupid/racist/fascist/etc… is like dogs barking at strangers. It’s more notable when it doesn’t happen.

          • Matt M says:

            Notable this time that a large amount of Republicans are agreeing though: No, THIS TIME the guy really IS racist.

            (Whether that actually helps Trump or hurts him depends on the amount of credibility the politically correct Republicans have with the general public.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think PC has anything to do with it in that case; breaking into Latino communities has been a goal of the Republican establishment since at least George W’s first term. And purely in culture terms it’s not a bad fit; your average American Latino is much closer to your average white Red Triber in a lot of ways than to the Democratic core. The big obstacle (outside the Cuban expatriate community, which has been Republican forever) is the GOP’s reputation for nativism, or at least that’s what the GOP thinks is the big obstacle.

            Trump may or may not be racist, but he’s very overtly nativist, and he doesn’t even bother to couch it in dog-whistle terms. GOP leadership sees that as an existential threat in the long run.

          • I’ve been thinking of doing a “the boy who cried wolf” blog post, pointing out that one risk of accusing everyone who disagree with you of being next thing to a Nazi is that if someone shows up who is and you say so, nobody will believe you.

          • anonymous says:

            @David Friedman also applies to misuse of “Godwin’s Law” imo.

  10. mdb says:

    I found the following quote from a Hacker News comment by kragen about tabloid vs. regular journalism interesting. Before we proceed I should say that I do not want to single out this particular comment or its author as good or bad; I am only using the quote to illustrate a general concept. I’ll describe the concept after the quote:

    My very limited experience with regular journalism and tabloid journalism is that tabloid journalists are scrupulously factual and accurate, while regular journalists more or less write whatever they want without much regard to whether it is true or even coherent. This makes a great deal of sense if you think about the environment of legal risk in which the respective categories of journalists exist: regular journalists are essentially engaged in stenography for the powerful, flattery for everyone, and providing readers with the cheap illusion that they understand things they don’t; meanwhile, tabloid journalists are engaged in viciously attacking the famous.

    So, how was that? The concept that I am thinking of is that there is a form to rationalist and affiliated insight that exists separately from its content. The thing about this quote for me is that its truth value is not really obvious but it clearly follows the form. I was alarmed to realize I was almost swayed by the form alone when I first read it.

    Have you experienced something similar yourself?

  11. Dahlen says:

    I have some questions about dopaminergic drugs, more specifically selegiline, and their role in increasing motivation (in the context of motivation to work / to exert effort, to sustain a high level of activity, to try new things and break out of routines, to endure in the face of boredom and other aversive stimuli, and to a lesser extent sexual motivation; I mention all this stuff because most studies I’ve seen have been on rats and, well, as we all know, rats don’t labour in the sense that humans do). We know that dopamine plays a large role in motivation; specifically, the reward system of the brain employs dopaminergic pathways which connect the ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens; the release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens is the neurological manifestation of motivation. (Am I getting this right?)

    I’m asking this because I suspect that something is not functioning as it should in my brain regarding the motivation system, after having tried all the “software” / therapeutic advice for improving motivation. It manifests across the board, the majority of my behaviours wherein motivation plays a large role indicate low motivation (with three exceptions: I’m not impulsive, don’t get addicted easily, and have better than average control over my diet and exercise regime). Most doctors I’ve been to have more or less dismissed my case, saying either that my level of laziness is normal, that it’s pointless to try and get tested and see whether my hypothesis is true because testing is expensive and inconvenient, that I should forget about everything I’ve read so far about it because the internet sucks as a medium of research, that I should try psychological interventions some more (as if I hadn’t already exhausted them), or that maybe it’s not my calling in life to be to be a very productive person. (I’ve also messaged Scott about this, but since then it hasn’t been an option to try to take it, so my interest has just resurfaced.) So, I’d like to try some selegiline and see if it works. It can’t kill me, and at least it’s a start in realising WTF my problem is.

    There are a bunch of non-scientific sources out there that confirm my hypothesis, so I tried to see what Real Science has to say about this.

    I’ve encountered studies that observed the impact of selegiline on improving apathy following traumatic brain injury [1], [2]; these patients showed improvement. I’m more interested in cases showing reduced motivation from genetic or congenital causes, but in any case, those results were encouraging.

    In this study, it seems they also tried injecting (?) deprenyl (selegiline) directly into the nucleus accumbens of rats, after which they showed increased exertion of effort:

    Experiment 6 found that the monoamine-oxidase B inhibitor deprenyl administered via systemic or local administration into the accumbens increased exertion of effort.

    But it also says “systemic administration”, so I’m assuming that works as well?… Sorry, full study unavailable for now.

    This study (or news report thereof) indicated “higher release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in areas of the brain known to play an important role in reward and motivation, the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex” for subjects who were more willing to work hard for rewards, but… surprise, surprise, “slackers” also showed increased dopamine in another brain area, the anterior insula.

    AFAIK, if you take a dopaminergic medication p.o., it goes everywhere in the brain, you don’t get to choose which brain area it affects. (And I’m not sure to which extent a human patient could receive injections into their brain on a regular basis, if at all.) These results are rather contradictory. What if I take some dopaminergic medication and it goes right into the area associated with decreased exertion of effort?

    This study (warning, direct download link) indicates that selegiline improves decreased volition associated with Parkinson’s disease:

    Several reports have described that selegiline, a monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) inhibitor, is effective for the treatment of decreased willingness and depressed mood in PD.

    This is all I could find that didn’t have the relevant content paywalled. I have some very basic notions of pharmacology (and none at all of how to get access to a full scientific article), but could really appreciate someone who knows about this stuff telling me whether this is a promising line of research for patients with apathy/decreased volition.

    • Ptoliporthos says:

      As for getting articles behind paywalls, emailing the first author or the corresponding author for a reprint is almost always successful.

    • Theo Jones says:

      Is there a university library near where you live? Most of them are open to the public and you could get access to the journals there.

      • Dahlen says:

        I am a university student and have an .edu email address, it’s just that most websites which host scientific articles don’t seem affiliated with my uni…

        • Nornagest says:

          When I was in college, I couldn’t get journal access from my dorm but could from library computers. Either they had a per-machine license or they were whitelisting specifically those IP addresses.

          That was several years ago, but it’s still worth a try.

          • LHN says:

            For a student, it’s worth trying to go through your library’s website rather than directly to the hosting site. Subscription databases are often routed through a proxy server– if you go to the library’s site and log in with an active student/faculty/staff account, links from there will be seen as being from on campus.

            So, for example, if I go to JSTOR from home, it’ll tell me I don’t have a subscription. If I go through the link on the university library’s web page, it’ll ask me for a campus login and then give access to anything the university subscribes to.

            University libraries often also have a finding tool that allows for searching journal titles to see if any of the various overlapping services cover the journal you’re looking for in the date range you need.

            If you’re not affiliated with the university, off-campus access is out, but it will often be possible to get access from an on campus computer.

            (Some universities, especially public ones, will allow members of the public to do on-campus online research even if they’re not affiliated. Private institutions tend to be more restrictive. Also some online database licenses require restriction to active students/faculty/staff, and can’t be offered to non-affiliates even on campus.)

        • Theo Jones says:

          There are two ways I handle things like that 1) print journals, I’ve encountered a number of times where my university doesn’t have the online copy of the journal, but does have it in print,2) interlibrary loan, my university has a program with other schools where if they have the journal a librarian can request a scan of it within a few days.

    • Anon. says:

      Just pirate the articles. https://sci-hub.cc

    • Dahlen says:

      More about this:

      This article states the following:

      For example, some people have a severe motivational disturbance that has been labeled as psychomotor retardation, anergia, or apathy, but do not meet the diagnostic criteria for depression (Marin, 1996; Campbell and Duffy, 1997). Effort-related symptoms in these individuals can be attenuated with the DA agonist bromocriptine (Marin, 1996; Campbell and Duffy, 1997).

      It might be that if one dopaminergic ameliorates these symptoms, another can have a similar action?…

      … I don’t know, is anyone else interested in this stuff and/or has the relevant expertise?

  12. Say I know more about technology than the average person. Intuitively it seems like I might be less likely to fall victim to technological unemployment than most, because I am better aware of the technological changes afoot, and know something of the theory underlying those changes.

    But then I look at many non-technical people in a typical workplace and am a little amazed at how little they know about technology, even when it’s a significant input into their productivity. These people sometimes live by on their people skills and “EQ” (…) and so they are currently employed. It suddenly occurred to me the other day that people skills are unlikely to become useless in the near future. On the other hand, even relatively recently acquired tech skills can be out of date very quickly. What’s more, a lot of tech work is constantly (or increasingly?) being centralized or automated – you can do a lot of stuff with google, or some easy web-based tool, and no tech knowledge, that you used to have to get an expert in for. Databases, websites, video production, whatever. There’s an app for that, enough to get something semi-decent together, and the quality (of simple tool+consumer) is increasingly hard for techie individuals or small groups to keep up with.

    Despite their total lack of knowledge of tech, non technical professionals often seem less troubled by automation and similar phenomenon than technical ones. When it comes down to it, they can usual downplay the significance of tech skills, demand others make the tech work for them, or just use charm to get technically orientated people to do what they want. Maybe its because in their ignorance actually they are somewhat immune, sitting on the banks of the river while some of us try to swim against an ever increasing current.

    While there are obvious exceptions, maybe tech people are automating themselves into eventual poverty, and leaving the socialite personalities to rule over society instead. Should tech-minded people be doing more to assist each-other against this problem? Or maybe this is all just a small eddy and the main current is actually still flowing in the opposite direction, with the technophobes ultimately being left behind. Does anyone have any thoughts or interesting reads on this topic?

    • LWNielsenim says:

      What Huckleberry Finn was to the inhumanity of slavery and racism, Annie Proulx’ That Old Ace in the Hole (2002) is to the inhumanity of technocapitalism. Twain’s pilgrim-character Huckleberry Finn supplies some observations regarding John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress that parallel Proulx’ observations regarding her pilgrim-character Bob Dollar. As Huck says of Pilgrim’s Progress:

      “The statements was interesting, but tough.”

      In short, Huckleberry Finn and That Old Ace in the Hole are two fine character studies, that focus upon the tough questions that Citizensearth raised, without however supplying simple answers, to questions that (as far as anyone knows) don’t have simple answers.

    • eh says:

      There’s a third class of job that uses neither people skills nor intellect. The majority of workers hold such jobs, examples being truck drivers and garment makers.

      Knowledge workers had to obtain knowledge in the first place, and can presumably continue to do so, with the added advantage that information-processing skills are transferable. Those with soft skills can continue to do business as usual. However, a man who spent 20 years learning to iron shirts really fast can’t go from one type of skilled manual labour to another, but must start from scratch.

      • Matt M says:

        I think this is basically right.

        If you have a low-tech job that you obtained and succeed in primarily due to your people skills (say, a sales position), you’re probably going to be fine – you’ll always be able to convince someone to pay you for something.

        But if you have a low-tech job that you obtained and succeed in primarily due to being really good at a specific low-tech task, you’re in a lot of trouble. The best darn burger flipper in the universe may be valuable to McDonalds now, but he won’t be for very long…

        • We have an entire class of office workers essentially in this boat. Their jobs are increasingly automated or outsourced (temporarily cheaper than automation).

          Knowledge workers, at least in the accounting/finance field, are expected to have knowledge of the MS Office suite. This might qualify as technically uninclined, but you’d be surprised how many people do not know how to create a simple pivot table.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. I would only clarify that my point is, an office worker with really good people skills is probably not at risk here. Even if the office job goes away due to technical obsolescence, their people skills should enable them to get some other job.

            Basically – if you’re good at making people like you, you’ll always be able to find someone willing to pay to have you around.

          • eh says:

            I recently found this blog by the lead data scientist at MailChimp, and it strikes me that “knows excel” can mean a lot of different things: the linked blog uses it for everything from linear programming to cluster analysis to logistic regressions. Most of Gwern’s magic analyses could be worked in excel instead of R, in the same way that J. K. Rowling could write a novel on paper, in word, or in google docs.

          • Keep in mind that a large number of older workers are not capable of using “Sum” functions correctly. Pivot tables are right out of the question.

            I used to do some regressions in Excel when I was younger, but I am pretty sure my current boss would think I am doing voodoo and fire me.

            I ran a macro today, I think I have run one once in my several years here. My coworker has run one macro once. No one else knows any VBA.

            Corporate America is technologically incompetent but that’s not where our value-add lies.

    • Dahlen says:

      You mean, how people with high “soft skills” fare better even in technical positions than those with technical skills?

      There’s one simple solution: try to do both. Or at least fake those soft skills. There is indeed an upward trend in demand for corporate socialisation bullshit as opposed to technical know-how, and I suspect it’s at least partly a matter of allegiance to your employer and having the sort of personality that is on board with corporate culture (broadly speaking, not a corporate culture of any given individual company), which being first a techie and then a yes-man does not guarantee. That’s the way of the zeitgeist.

      (That’s what I did with my last place of employment, which was a people-oriented position — went carefully through all the standard interview advice, no matter how much I despised that, and tried to play my part well; apparently it worked and I got the job; then it kind of became obvious that my comparative advantage was in the technical department after I learned to use their database about five times more quickly than expected. For some reason, the manager wasn’t pleased.)

      Then there’s the other path of getting really, extraordinarily better at your tech specialisation and preferably several others, to be a step ahead of the current technology that exists to, basically, do the job you used to do. Which obviously not everybody can do. Also, this is about the point where I’m talking out of my ass.

      In any case, you raise a very good question.

      • Regarding the manager being less pleased than expected, I’ve found the same with tech skills in many contexts. At an intellectual level, people sort of get that they’re valuable skills and they should appreciate them, but at a deeper more emotional level they get some kind of resentment that sort of feels like the same kind of attitude you’d get from people who thought you were cheating at cards or something. But when they’re good at something, if you’re not impressed as anything, you’re the bad guy. IDK, it’s not always like that and maybe I have it wrong but I have gotten that impression from people more than once.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        One problem with soft skills is that I need to keep track of a big list of lies.

        People don’t mean what they say. At my current job, I recently found out that there is a thin layer of corporate bullshit on everything, which isn’t unusual or necessarily bad, but I had been led to believe by reasons that it wasn’t there.

      • CatCube says:

        Some (most?) of the “corporate socialization bullshit” is a real problem, but some of it is the discovery that having great technical skills doesn’t make up for having the personality equivalent of a pile of burning cat shit. Somebody can be a great engineer or programmer, but they very rarely develop anything on their own. If nobody else can stand working with them long enough to make use of their input (design or code), the highly-technically competent person can actually have negative value.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sales and marketing is something I am absolutely no use at whatsoever, and those are an example of skills where I think if you have them, tech isn’t going to put you out of a job (yet). Calling people on the phone may become automated and there are a lot of technical and computer packages for the job, but basically you are still trying to persuade someone to hand over money for goods or services, often against their conviction that they don’t need it or can’t afford it.

      They may need to be up on social media since that’s the latest buzz in business (“We have to get our company up on Facebook/Twitter/whatever the next platform is!”) but the skills that they are relying on are, as Citizensearth says, ‘soft’ rather than hard.

      I think where technical people have the advantage is being slightly ahead of the curve, where they have an idea what the “next big thing” is going to be and can provide that for the organisation or business. Being aware that your boss is likely to come back from a seminar or conference or corporate training day with the idea firmly fixed in their head that “We absolutely need BIG FLASHY THING! Why don’t we already have BIG FLASHY THING? All our competitors have BIG FLASHY THING!” If you can show that you know about BIG FLASHY THING, even a little, then you are okay. The trick is not to know too much, because it’s no good telling the boss (especially if this has come down from On High in head office) that the company doesn’t need BIG FLASHY THING as it’s not suited for what you’re doing, or it will conflict with systems already in place, or it’s a heap of crap 🙂

    • Deiseach says:

      Despite their total lack of knowledge of tech, non technical professionals often seem less troubled by automation and similar phenomenon than technical ones.

      Some of that, I think, is down to ignorance. They can imagine a production line being automated, but not their job. “They’ll never replace accountants with a completely automated system!” Oh yes they will, as soon as they get a reliable one. There are already lots of software accounting packages, if in future you get an all-singing all-dancing one that can produce a set of audited accounts, all you really need is someone to do data entry in a reliable fashion (“just enter the invoices and corresponding bank payments and the software will do all the rest”) rather than pay an accountant a couple of grand to produce a signed-off set of accounts for the year’s end.

      Same with a lot of white-collar jobs that right now seem “you can’t replace a human in these”. That day will come sooner rather than later. Ironically, I think it’s the low-level, directly dealing with the public, jobs that will last the longest (until they figure out a system to replace people with the equivalent of those phone menus you get: “For XXXX, press 1, for YYYY press 2” and so on – when was the last time you got through to a Real Human Being on the other end of the line, and if so, didn’t it take you a long time to get one?)

      • You can’t replace accounting people with software because accountants don’t just crunch numbers.

        The majority of my day is spent yelling at insurance companies to pay us or hatching schemes with other departments to force companies to pay us, and then interpret the financial impact of different schemes and settlements.

        The majority of Mother Dearest’s day is spent yelling at production line managers for violating their budgets and figuring out ways to make the production line run more efficiently.

        The idea of accountants as little cubicle dwellers that only crunch numbers all day is a tad behind the times.

        If they could automate this, damn right they would. I am sure they will someday, when the Singularity eats us all.

        Right now they are attempting to train offshore workers to do this. It is going about as well as the Dieppe raid.

        • Deiseach says:

          “Yelling at people over the phone” is people skills 🙂

          That’s the point about switching from pure [technical skills] to [technical skills plus people/soft skills]; I’ve just been landed with the job of matching up an accountancy software package with the paper documents, after the former outside accountant recommended the office switch to this system, then retired half-way through.

          Need I say I have no accountancy skills, no interest in accountancy, am bad at maths, and have no training in this particular package?* And I’ve already been invoking imprecations on the retired person’s head because for some reason the edited version of the final accounts before the year-end was run didn’t get selected, the unedited version did, so now there are imaginary balances carried over to this financial year and I am currently switching between flipping between piles of papers, the software programme, and tearing out my hair trying to make one correlate with the other, plus worrying about “If I delete this incorrect figure which is not the right balance carried forward, will the external auditors that come every year to monitor the spending of public monies think I am trying to cover up fraud and embezzlement?”** 🙂

          *So why me? Because I’m a warm body who was free at the time and my boss doesn’t want to do the job 🙂

          **In case you think I’m joking, I have related this anecdote before, but when I did an evening class in an accountancy software package (not the one I’m currently doing an imitation of Laocoön and His Sons with), the guy teaching the class – who came from private business background – told one of the people in the class not to worry that there was a difference of five grand between her balances, that wasn’t big enough to worry about. And the majority of us in the class who, it turns out, were all in local government/public sector work, all piped up about how the outside auditors who come every year to monitor the spending of public monies will haul you over the coals if you can’t account for the fifty cent difference between the initial quote and the final invoice when purchasing goods and equipment 🙂

      • Garrett says:

        It only needs to be as reliable as the current system, not perfect. Legal discovery is an area that’s largely been automated. It turns out that after a few days of reading boxes full of emails of sales people negotiating the sales terms for the same products with hundreds of different customers, lawyers will start getting bored, going crosseyed and missing things. Computers can do all the processing much more quickly. They suffer from different types of errors, but the overall error rate is lower.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s depressing but true. The “people people” always rule. The best a non-people-person can do is extract as much from them as possible. One can fantasize about the technologists going on strike and leaving the “people people” to sell each other empty promises, but it’ll never happen.

      Tech doesn’t look likely to become so good as to put tech-minded people out of business any time soon; that would take a full self-sustaining technological infrastructure, probably involving true AI. But then what does the AI need the “people people” for? That’s a good reason NOT to build in anti-“kill-all-humans” safeguards into AI.

    • Emile says:

      A couple points of disagreement:

      1) Tech is already heavily engaged in replacing “people skills” – people visit a website or look at reviews instead of talking to a salesperson (which used to be one of the best ways of getting information), devs market their project through Twitter and Kickstarter rather than having a marketing team, etc.

      2) There are plenty of “soft skills” that are very important and don’t fit in this “people skills” vs. “tech skills” dichotomy you’re setting up – for example, being able to explain a complicated concept (it’s both tech and people), or being able to estimate when a project is likely to be delivered/how much time something will take, being able to promise something and deliver it in time, being able to keep focused on the right thing and not be distracted by the shiny, being able to consider uncomfortable ideas (“maybe I fucked up and we’ll never be able to do this”), being able to tell what’s worth doing, being able to think in the long term, etc.

      • I basically agree. Perhaps the dichotomy is still useful to illustrate the point, that tech is putting pressure on technical employment as much as or more than other professional jobs, particularly those where people skills may shield against the demands of being productive.

    • Aegeus says:

      Technical skills become rapidly obsolete, but I think a lot of technical people have some sort of general “Understand the rules of a computer system” skill that stays relevant even when technology changes.

      Hence why so many techies describe the process of tech support as “Look for a button that seems relevant and click it,” or “Google the error message and see what comes up,” but for some reason people still ask us for tech support instead of doing that themselves. It’s not clear what the skill is, but it seems like there is a skill.

      That said, as programs become increasingly user-friendly, this is likely to become less relevant, while people skills will probably never go away.

      • Matt M says:

        I think this is less of a skill and more of an attitude. I came a long way towards helping my elderly father understand tech issues by making it clear to him every time that I didn’t “just know” the answer to his questions – but rather I knew where to look, or I knew how to experiment. Always tried to emphasize to him “You can do this too.”

        It may sound like hokey nonsense, but I’ve always felt like 90% of solving a tech problem is believing that you can solve it. The rest is just research and experimentation.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          …and then your grandfather has executed “format c:”.

          I’m not saying you are wrong, but there is value in the kind of hard won epistemic humility that comes from having lost too many documents when trying to edit, save, copy or move them, etc.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          It’s basically https://xkcd.com/627/

        • The Nybbler says:

          He’s probably a “people person”. You can’t handle people problems that way; if you don’t get it right or at least close the first time, you piss off the people involved and they actively work against you. Possibly you’ve created an enemy for life. This is why people skills can only be learned in a fairly narrow window (during childhood and adolescence) where it’s expected you make mistakes and most of the other people are as inexperienced as you.

        • smocc says:

          I realized recently that part of the reason I know so much about computers is that when I was a kid I had nearly infinite patience for messing with our computer. For example, I know that F11 puts programs in fullscreen mode because it happened to me by accident once and I then spent several minutes pressing every button on the keyboard until I found the one that did it. What sane adult would do that? (I wonder if always-on internet connections will prevent this to some extent. Why spend an hour opening program in the “Accessories” folder when you can just get on the internet?)

          On the flip side, my mother has become much more computer-competent lately. She attributes it to getting a Mac, but really she just figured out that she could Google problems and follow instructions to fix them. It’s actually kind of annoying to me to hear her rave above the Mac, but I don’t want to say anything and ruin the magic.

  13. LWNielsenim says:

    The science-positive website Skeptical Science has an essay this week “Climate Bet for Charity, 2016 Update” (which search engines find).

    The executive summary is simple: prospects for contrarian wagers against continued global warming are looking worse-and-worse, in the face of sustained global heat increases, seen on land, sea, and air.

    From a purely empirical perspective — assigning zero Bayesian weight to thermodynamical laws — the ocean steric-rise data and borehole data are strongest, the land data next-strongest, and the satellite troposphere temperature data relatively the noisiest and most artifact-ridden, and hence the weakest.

    Guess which data the contrarians focus upon, and which they ignore. Is this cherry-picking rational? Wagering against thermodynamics hasn’t worked well in the past, has it?

    Perhaps the moral is, that contrarian wagers against expert consensus make good sense, unless the wager is against thermodynamical laws. Articles like James Hansen’s “Earth’s Energy Imbalance and Implications” summarize the reasons.

    That’s why contrarian climate-change wagers — yes, even Bryan Caplan’s contrarian climate-change wager — are making less-and-less rational sense.

    Fans of STEM history recall, sadly, mathematician Serge Lang’s decades-long hyper-rational rejection of the HIV-AIDS causal relation. Contemporary climate-change contrarians are well-advised to take a lesson from Lang’s tragically contrarian example. Contrarian skepticism can be a Roman virtue, that is, a virtue carried too far.

    • James Picone says:

      I’m getting fairly strong John Sidles vibes here.

      (although yes Caplan will lose that bet).

      That said he does note this:

      So let me state one caveat here and now: I expect to lose this bet. I would not make it at even odds. I am betting because I think climate experts know less than they think, not because I know future climate with any confidence.

      Expressing a 33% belief in the proposition is still ludicrously overconfident, though.

  14. Bryan Hann says:

    Scott, insofar as the commentariot here is great, if you do produce fewer but longer original material then keep sending us your linkables as well. Give us a reason to come back daily if you can, even if somedays just for the aggregation.

  15. James Picone says:

    SMBC shows us the bright side of political tribalism: comic.

  16. Sir Gawain says:

    How exactly did the intersection between alt-right culture and anime culture come about? It seems like 40-70% of the Twitter Nazis have anime avatars.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Both anime and extremist ideology appeal to hopeless young men. Anime Marxist Twitter is a thing too, although in that case you’d want to expand the category to include hopeless young AMAB transfolx.

      • Sir Gawain says:

        Both anime and extremist ideology appeal to hopeless young men.

        Yeah makes sense; maybe there’s some Wilhelm Reich type sexual repression root from which both grow.

        Anime Marxist Twitter is a thing too

        Wow, I was not aware of this. Twitter has gotten really weird recently.

      • anon a gnon says:

        I blame shipgirls and takahiro

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        I blame Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and their attractive robo-nazis

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I blame Legend of the Galactic Heroes, all too many people walk out of it thinking Reinhard was right.

  17. Callum G says:

    I was reading this the article “typical mind and gender identity” and I was wondering if anyone has thoughts about applying the logic of a body map/body disassociation to body dysmorphic disorder? Would those suffering from this illness feel a sense of peace if they actually did have the defects that they’re obsessed with?

    Here’s the article: https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/02/18/typical-mind-and-gender-identity/

  18. Anonymous says:

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/30/the-new-activism-of-liberal-arts-colleges

    What a worthless generation. On one side you get Afro-Latinx girl and other you get edgelord channers reviving white supremacism.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Still better than the generation that had actual literal Stalin on one side and actual literal Hitler on the other.

      • onyomi says:

        The Greatest Generation!

      • Anonymous says:

        I think they are two different generation — missionary and lost, but point taken.

      • Peter says:

        I wonder if there’s something about the economic crisis of 1929 and the crisis of 2008. Except that that doesn’t explain Stalin – Stalin was comfortably in power in 1929 and the Great Depression didn’t really affect the USSR.

        Also it’s not clear how much the whole generations thing applies outside of the USA/Anglosphere/whatever. Also also – is the issue the generation that Hitler was from, or the generation that brought him to power?

        • Nicholas says:

          As I understand it Stalin (Bolshevism in general) can be explained by a similar economic collapse that played out in basically just Russia under the last Czar.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Whereas the great political thinker of the prior generation .. is Moldbug.

      Maybe Global Thermonuclear War and starting over with the cockroaches isn’t such a bad idea after all.

      • hlynkacg says:

        One could do a lot worse than Moldbug as far as “political thinkers” are concerned.

      • onyomi says:

        If Moldbug had published his writing under his real name in dusty old volumes instead of online as a Chinese philosopher insect, he’d probably seem a lot more comparable to political philosophers of the past.

        Also, there’s the issue of “this generation’s greatest x” often being something not determined till 50 years later.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Those gosh darn young people, though. Times were better when the youth decided to set France on fire or keep countries running on coal because nuclear power is evil.

  19. Matt M says:

    Has anyone been following this story about John Oliver purchasing and forgiving “$15 million worth of medical debt”?

    http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-john-oliver-buys-and-forgives-15-million-in-debt-2016-6

    I use the quotes for a very specific reason… This story is getting shared with that particular headline completely uncritically.

    But if you dig into the details, the debt in question was SO distressed and unlikely to be repaid, the actual purchase price was about $60,000 (0.4% of the face value). It seems more than a *tad* dishonest to me for everyone to act as if Oliver made a charitable donation of $15 million here. Media outlets are parroting reports that this is the “biggest charitable giveaway in television history” eclipsing when Oprah gave away $8 million worth of cars…

    The econ geek in me knows that value is subjective, but how on Earth it is reasonable to claim the debt in question is “worth” $15 million when the most recently observed market price for it was $60k?

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Well, given how little scrutiny the IRS pays to people in John Oliver’s social position, he’s probably going to be able to write it off for much more than $60k. So that’s one way of stating the value.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not social position, income bracket. In no small measure because Republicans explicitly cut the budget of the high income audit unit.

        It seems that taxation is theft or something.

        • hlynkacg says:

          No, taxation is a weapon to be used against ones political opponents. /s

          You remember why that funding was cut right?

          • Anonymous says:

            Different set of cuts, but keeping on hoisting that chip.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            “keep on hoisting that chip.”

            Yeah, can you imagine? Holding a grudge just because the IRS was deliberately and explicitly weaponized against people who share your political views, and no one has ever been meaningfully punished for it. Sheesh, some folks need to learn how to let go.

      • Matt M says:

        Well, it’s also not clear to me based on the articles I’ve read whether Oliver personally even paid the $60k or not. Perhaps HBO did as an expense for his show?

        In any case, I don’t care about the taxable value – nor would most people.

    • Aegeus says:

      It’s worth $15 million to the people who are now debt-free. The people who are in debt aren’t able to convince their creditors to accept pennies on the dollar. So in theory, if you went around to all those people one by one and offered to pay off their debts, you’d need $15 million to do it. So in that sense, he bought $15 million worth of impact for $60,000.

      Maybe it’s a little shady, but at the same time, I feel like he’s definitely added value somewhere. If he had simply given the $60,000 away as cash, it wouldn’t have accomplished the same goal.

      • suntzuanime says:

        No, it’s not worth $15 million to the people who are now debt-free, because they weren’t going to pay those debts anyway. That’s what distressed debt is.

      • Matt M says:

        “It’s worth $15 million to the people who are now debt-free.”

        I don’t think that’s true.

        The fact that the debt sells for less than 1% of its face value suggests that they expect less than 1% of it to be recovered. Had John Oliver done nothing and had this debt been purchased by a (real) collection agency, how much of this debt would *actually* have been repaid? Assuming VERY generous amounts of overhead and profit margins for the debt collectors, probably less than 200k.

        I discussed this with a friend who said something like “He probably saved them some annoying phone calls and maybe an additional hit to their credit score.” Which I’ll admit, isn’t nothing, but it’s not the same as donating $15 million to charity.

        • Noah says:

          Is them failing to take a hit to their credit scores even an overall good? This is making credit scores worse at reflecting how likely a person is to pay off a loan, which seems like it’s bad for the economy overall.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Debt bought at 4 mils on the dollar is probably well past the statute of limitations; it’s had all the hit on the credit score it’s going to, unless a debt collector gets lucky and gets the debtor to acknowledge the debt.

      • Callum G says:

        I was wondering this also. Many people have said that it isn’t actually a big deal, but then it seems strange to have an entire charity devoted to helping people with something that apparently isn’t a big deal. The charity certainly thinks that they have a worthy cause: https://www.ripmedicaldebt.org/about-rip/

        I feel like I’m missing something

        • suntzuanime says:

          it seems strange to have an entire charity devoted to helping people with something that apparently isn’t a big deal

          I’m not the biggest fan of the Effective Altruism people, but: lol.

    • Jill says:

      LOL, a Left Wing person did something good. Let’s get to work right away to obliterate that. Let’s see what we can find wrong with what he did– or if not with what he did, with the story. Oh, here it is. The head line may have been accurate but it didn’t tell the whole story and may have been misleading to those who didn’t read the article. Horror of horrors.

      • suntzuanime says:

        he head line may have been accurate but it didn’t tell the whole story and may have been misleading to those who didn’t read the article. Horror of horrors.

        I dunno, running misleading stories to make people ideologically aligned with you look more generous than they are smacks of, what’s the word I’m looking for, propaganda?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Just wait until John Oliver weighs in on an issue you know a lot about, but on the other side from you, and all your friends won’t listen to your arguments because John Oliver.

      • Matt M says:

        Did I say it was the horror of horrors? No, I described it as a tad dishonest. Is there a partisan angle to this? Possibly. Consider the following:

        http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/04/11/donald_trump_gives_free_golf_rounds_not_cash_to_charity.html

        About two months ago, the usual suspects were all up in arms about how Trump was a huge liar because he talked a lot about making “donations” that didn’t actually come from his own personal checkbook. Instead, they came from his foundation, or they were gifts-in-kind (such as free rounds of golf on his courses). This was considered to be an outrage.

        I also thought this story was worth discussing for its larger implications – that a lot of medical debt is SO incredibly distressed. Perhaps this will cause us to think a little differently the next time we read a story about some poor couple stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bills – stories that are typically designed to outrage us at the injustice of our current system. Would we feel as outraged if we were told “There is less than a 1% chance they end up having to pay this balance in full”?

        If we assume that delinquency rates roughly track with wealth/income, that would suggest that we have a system where the very poor end up paying nothing a lot of the time, subsidized by those with more wealth who are paying (presumably inflated) full prices to make up the difference. Does that system sound familiar to anyone? It’s almost like we already have socialized medicine, and we don’t even realize it!

        • Jill says:

          >It’s almost like we already have socialized medicine, and we don’t even realize it!

          So how could you not have socialized medicine, if that’s what it is? Is the only way not to have it, by having debtor’s prison for medical debts?

          Before ObamaCare, and maybe now too, I’m not sure, the most common cause of bankruptcy was medical debts. So a lot of people apparently try to pay these debts and end up bankrupt, with ruined credit ratings, great difficulty being able to get loans or rent an apartment etc.

          I guess with our society’s current political tribalism, if bad rumors come up about a candidate, then if the candidate is from your tribe they are seen as innocent until proven guilty. And if the candidate is from the other tribe, they are seen as guilty until proven innocent.

          • Matt M says:

            Did I say “Trump is innocent and Oliver is guilty?”

            No. You’re projecting that onto me. I merely pointed out two similar stories that were handled completely and totally differently, based (I believe) on the political orientation of the individuals.

            I conceded that Oliver’s donation is, on net, a good thing – and is almost certainly providing some degree of help/relief to the parties effected. But I maintain that his acting as if he personally wrote a check for $15 million is incredibly dishonest. It’s also dishonest if Trump does that (although it would appear that Trump’s gift-in-kind donations actually were valued at the amounts he claimed, unlike Oliver’s debt which was valued at 60k). Can we not agree on this?

          • Jill says:

            >his acting as if he personally wrote a check for $15 million

            I’ll have to go look up news articles and see if he did act that way. One can’t ever accept the word of someone of the opposite political persuasion. Our politics are far too tribal for that.

            I would expect that Oliver probably just said that he paid off $15 million of medical debt, leaving it to others to look and see what that means exactly. But if so, this is correct, and uses the terms that are generally used for such situations, even though it may be misleading e.g. to someone who read a headline but didn’t read the news story under it.

            It does seem like nit picking to me.

            No, you didn’t say “Trump is innocent and Oliver is guilty.” I was just referring to our general political tribalism. Someone posted this comic
            about tribalism further down. I’ll repost it here. This is indeed what our society and our Internet are like 24/7/365.

            http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?id=4133

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, it is somewhat nitpicking. I’ll concede that – but I think it raises some interesting issues that are worthy of discussion.

            I read a few articles about it, and my impression is that Oliver, HBO, and his supporters in the mainstream media have all been VERY careful to avoid saying anything that is technically false, but are making every effort to imply that Oliver has done $15 million worth of good, which is not even close to true.

            If I was Oprah, I’d certainly be demanding my record back for sure. Of course, Oprah probably has better things to worry about…

          • keranih says:

            Before ObamaCare, and maybe now too, I’m not sure, the most common cause of bankruptcy was medical debts.

            No. It. Was. Not.

            We’ve been through this before, Jill. If a person owes a total of $112K to various people and $12K of that is medical bills, they are not in bankruptcy because of medical bills. They are in bankruptcy because they have debts which they can not pay. Elizabeth Warren’s calculations were full of ill chosen metrics at best and are outright fraud at the most likely point.

            The most common cause of bankruptcy is loss of income due to job loss. In good times, this is often related to illness. In bad times, loss of a job could result from any sort of things, including butterflies in Peking and the moon in Mercury. But the ACA was not – in the mind of any sane voter or policy maker – going to keep people from getting ill, and hence losing their jobs.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ keranih
            The most common cause of bankruptcy is loss of income due to job loss.

            Retirees who did not have a job can be pushed into bankruptcy by medical bills. So can people who still have their jobs. Medical bills can be too high for anyone to absorb , even those who were and still are solvent by normal standards.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “Can be” vs. “the most common”. People can be eaten by sharks, it happens.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Before ObamaCare, and maybe now too, I’m not sure, the most common cause of bankruptcy was medical debts.

            This claim is (and was) false. Though you can find claims to similar effect in some terrible studies Elizabeth Warren cooked up when trying to help ObamaCare get passed.

            Medical issues are a factor in bankruptcy, but not the largest. We know this because when you just ask people who went bankrupt (or are about to do so) what the cause is/was, “medical debt” is not what they are most likely to give as the reason. Let’s see if I can find some actual numbers to make this less handwavy…here you go…

            Politifact says:

            The Institute for Financial Literacy […] surveyed credit-counseling clients seeking bankruptcy protection, asking them to identify their “causes of financial distress.” They could choose more than one cause, so the percentages equal more than 100 percent.

            […] in September 2011, “overextended on credit” was the leading cause of financial distress at 70.5 percent, followed “reduction of income” at 64.9 percent, “unexpected expenses” at 56.6 percent, “job loss” at 43.5 percent, “illness/injury” at 30.9 percent and “divorce” at 15.5 percent.

        • Jiro says:

          If we assume that delinquency rates roughly track with wealth/income, that would suggest that we have a system where the very poor end up paying nothing a lot of the time, subsidized by those with more wealth who are paying (presumably inflated) full prices to make up the difference.

          The poor aren’t paying nothing under this system. They’re paying an amount which is much less than the full amount, but which is still large enough to drive them into bankruptcy and have other negative effects on them.

          • Matt M says:

            Well we obviously don’t know the breakdown here. My guess is that some are paying nothing, some are paying ridiculously reduced amounts (such that the reduced amount does NOT destroy their life), some are paying reduced but still life-ruining amounts, and others are paying the full price (or close to it) out of fear. How the equation balances out is hard to say for sure – but let me emphasize – the market price of this debt was 0.4% of its face value. That’s not just “distressed,” that’s like, super-mega-ultra distressed.

    • keranih says:

      Thing is, I’m not sure if this was entirely thought out. Debt forgiveness is counted as income by the IRS, and one generally has to pay taxes on it. Granted, tax on $45k is cheaper than $45k, but between a private company and the IRS, I know who I’d rather have hounding me for money – especially if I was never going to pay it anyway.

      On edit – IANAL nor an accountant. I just listen to Dave Ramsey a lot.

      • Murphy says:

        Oh wow. That’s dark.

        If the IRS actually starts going after people imagine how grim that would be. Exchanging annoying phone calls over unenforceable debt for a big bill from the IRS. ouch.

      • Richard says:

        This is an interesting point, but I guess the taxable income is the actual cost of buying out the debt and not the original debt?

        The reason I’m for doing things like this is that being saddled with debt that you have zero chance of repaying is severely limiting your options and the possibility of going bankrupt and defaulting on debt is rather essential to a functioning economy. From my very limited understanding of the US system, Student loans and medical debt are exempted from personal bankruptcy and therefore represents a problem?

        • keranih says:

          the taxable income is the actual cost of buying out the debt and not the original debt?

          IANAL, but no. You still legally owe that money. You’re judgment proof, because SoL have run out, but you still owe that whole amount unless you get into some agreement with the lender to cancel the debt.

          Oh, I agree, bankruptcy is a good tool for a society to have, but like most tools, misuse of it can do more harm than good. (And not just “if you use a skill saw to cut off your fingers it is a problem” but also “if you use a skill saw to cut a bunch of expensive boards way too short that is also a problem.”)

          Medical debt is dischargeable in Chpt 7 bankruptcy. This is how you get the infamous Elizabeth Warren study that defined a medical bankruptcy as practically any bankruptcy where they listed medical bills of $1,000 or more – never mind that they could have had $200,000 of other debts, that $1k of medical bills – even if they had been paid off made it a “medical bankruptcy.”

          Ahem. Sorry, yes, medical debts are dischargeable.

          Student loans are not. This is the only thing that makes student loans affordable, and available to people regardless of what they want to study. Because they can not be discharged, the bank is pretty sure it will get its money back. Otherwise, the bank would do a lot more digging into your grades and your field of study, and would be very unwilling to loan money if, say, people got into a habit of graduating, not finding a job for three months, and then said, OMG, I can’t pay these bills! I need to file bankruptcy.

          IOW – this is why we can’t have nice things.

          • Matt M says:

            On this note: Even the claim that these people “had their debts paid off” might be somewhat misleading itself.

            I think the average person hearing this would assume it means “the hospital received full payment for services rendered,” but this is clearly not the case. The hospital receives the 60k when it sells the distressed debt, and then gets nothing more as the debt is recovered.

            From the hospital’s perspective, these are certainly not people who “paid their debt in full,” contrary to the illusion that this is what John Oliver has kindly done for them on their behalf.

          • Anonymous says:

            Student loans are not. This is the only thing that makes student loans affordable, and available to people regardless of what they want to study. Because they can not be discharged, the bank is pretty sure it will get its money back. Otherwise, the bank would do a lot more digging into your grades and your field of study, and would be very unwilling to loan money if, say, people got into a habit of graduating, not finding a job for three months, and then said, OMG, I can’t pay these bills! I need to file bankruptcy.

            This is a neat, self consistent story, but isn’t true. The non-dischargability rule was put in place based on a panic about a wave of recent medical school graduates strategically defaulting, but it turns out to have been made up. There was never any epidemic of strategic defaults. And prior to the rule being put in place there were private student loans, they didn’t have outrageously high interest rates, and there was no extensive underwriting as to grades or field of study.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Federally guaranteed student loans were affordable because they were Federally guaranteed. (I believe this category of loans was abolished in favor of direct government loans, but I’m not 100% sure). The nondischargability is simply the government using force to reduce the chances it would lose on the deal, much as the mafia employs legbreakers for the same purpose. The Feds even have programs where you can sell yourself into servitude (couched as “public service loan forgiveness”) in exchange for having your debt paid off, something a private lender would find impractical for political reasons if nothing else.

          • Matt M says:

            You can also do it ahead of time. Give the government four years of military service, leave with a voucher for free college.

          • keranih says:

            @ blue snowflake anon –
            The non-dischargability rule was put in place based on a panic about a wave of recent medical school graduates strategically defaulting, but it turns out to have been made up. There was never any epidemic of strategic defaults.

            Hmmm. This seems to suggest that there continues to be no risk of stragic defaulting, and that there is tons of money on the ground, ready to be picked up from advancing loans to medical students. I shall notify my accountant to take advantage of this.

            And prior to the rule being put in place there were private student loans, they didn’t have outrageously high interest rates, and there was no extensive underwriting as to grades or field of study.

            As I understand this, it was not the student but the parents who took out the loans in the bad old days, and those loans were secured, not on word. Anyone have data to confirm or prove me incorrect?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You cannot get in on the student loan market. It is run by the government who undercuts you.

            Bankruptcy always goes before a judge. If you accumulated a bunch of debt after medical school and wanted to declare bankruptcy at around the time in your life when you would be expected to start your medical career, he would shoot you down.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hmmm. This seems to suggest that there continues to be no risk of stragic defaulting, and that there is tons of money on the ground, ready to be picked up from advancing loans to medical students. I shall notify my accountant to take advantage of this.

            No unsecured loans to medical students is already a competitive market. Also refinancing non-discharable student loans with dischargable loans at lower rates (see e.g. SoFi). Unfortunately people got there before us.

      • Murphy says:

        I am neither a lawyer or accountant so this is from some googling

        Reading up on this a little more you appear correct.

        It could be considered either income from the company or a gift(for the full value of the forgiven debt) but if it’s a gift then it’s likely similar to gifts given out to audience members on TV shows like how oprah audience members given cars get a tax bill.

        If it’s being given out by a company and the company can reasonably expect to be using it as publicity (they are) it can get treated like income for any individual gaining more than $600 from it and they’d owe tax. Things like houses etc are assessed at the market rate but with debts it seems clearly phrased that the full amount of the debt forgiven is counted as income and it has no exception for old unenforceable debts since they still legally exist but just aren’t enforceable.

        If the show had gifted them the title to their own debts then that might have counted as a gift worth only the market value of the debts but since they forgave them as part of a publicity stunt it could very well count as income for the full amount forgiven which the individuals would have to pay.

        I have no idea if you can legally refuse the gift of a forgiven debt but in the shoes of someone being forgiven a large amount I would so be doing so (only after consulting a tax lawyer), it’s not like the show is going to enforce those debts even if the individuals refuse the gift of the debt forgiveness.

        This is a lot more weird than I expected and could make the lives of some of the people much much worse.

        I imagine the people are free to refuse the “gift”. Otherwise it would allow buyers of cheap debt to tax-blackmail people by threatening to forgive their debt in full and report it to the IRS if they don’t pay some non-trivial fraction (but still less than the taxes would be).

        • Matt M says:

          “then it’s likely similar to gifts given out to audience members on TV shows like how oprah audience members given cars get a tax bill.”

          Note: Articles about this regularly describe Oliver having “broken Oprah’s record” for the largest charitable giveaway on television. By this standard, they should, in fact, have to pay the tax on the full value of the debt, just as Oprah’s guests had to pay tax on the full value of the cars.

      • Sivaas says:

        From what I gathered, he handed it off to a charity that specializes in forgiving medical debt, so I’m assuming they’ve found a way to deal with the tax consequences of doing this.

        • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

          Yes, and he also mentioned that there will be no tax disadvantages, so at least they are aware of the issue.

          • keranih says:

            This makes me feel better. I didn’t get the mention of the charity from the linked article.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        EXCEPTIONS to Cancellation of Debt Income:

        Amounts canceled as gifts, bequests, devises, or inheritances

        Refer to Publication 4681 (PDF), Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments (for Individuals)

        • Murphy says:

          if you look up gifts and gifts given out by TV shows of companies for promotional purposes you’ll find they can also count as income so while it may count as a gift in that context the gift may then go back to counting as income when considered as a gift.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Gifts are non-taxable to the receiver; this would likely be one of the unusual cases where a debt was cancelled as a gift. The question, then, is whether it would be taxable to Oliver, and in what amount? If any individual whose debts were cancelled had debt over $14,000 forgiven, and Oliver has reached his gift tax exemption for the year, Oliver may owe the IRS 40% of the amount over $14,000 for each individual. That could be considerably more than he paid for the debt.

        To confuse things further, Oliver set up a corporation to buy the debt and do the giving. Gift tax passes through to the stockholders in the corporation. I don’t know the ownership of “Last Week Tonight”, but divvying up the gift tax could be arbitrarily complicated and they may pay more for the tax accountant than they did the debt.

        • Murphy says:

          When Oprah gave away cars to the audience it was somehow the receivers who had to sort out paying the tax.

          And apparently gifts vs income varies if the company doing it is doing it for promotional purposes which can lead to it being considered simple income.

          definitely one for a good tax accountant to look at as it seems less than as simple as I expected.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      So, a TV comedian and social commentator engages in a comedy bit that intentionally confuses nomative and market value for comedic effect and … I guessed you missed that this part of it was a joke?

      Let’s really dig in and talk about how those cars weren’t worth the sticker price either.

      • Matt M says:

        I absolutely did miss the part where this was a joke. Probably because I’m seeing dozens of purported media outlets report on it as if it was not. (Not to mention that Oliver pretty clearly follows the Jon Stewart example of “If you agree with my political argument, then I’m being serious – if you don’t, it was just a joke and I’m just a comedian and why are you taking me so seriously?”)

        For the record – my gripe is less with John Oliver than it is with media who are uncritically reporting this as news.

        Scott regularly blogs here about how dishonest media scrounge academic studies for clickbait headlines that don’t accurately reflect what the study found. I think a similar thing is happening here.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          For the record – my gripe is less with John Oliver than it is with media who are uncritically reporting this as news.

          I think you are correct. The actual episode was all right. Oliver kept pointing out that debt collection agencies buy debts for “pennies on the dollar” so he created his own debt collection agency to take advantage of that. It was very funny.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Oliver added a little showbiz flair, pressing a big red button to symbolize the debt forgiveness. He described it as eclipsing the $8 million giveaway by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey when she gave a car to each member of her studio audience one day, making it the biggest ever.

          “Are you ready to make television history?” Oliver said. “Let’s do this!”

          What part about that is confusing (assuming you have watched the show before)?

          I think the real issue you have is this:

          “If you agree with my political argument, then I’m being serious – if you don’t, it was just a joke and I’m just a comedian and why are you taking me so seriously?”

          You disagree, generally, with the values and ideology Oliver is espousing, so it predisposes you to see positive coverage of him as “incorrect”.

          The article you linked is entirely concentrated on the ideas of the selling of bad medical debt in general and the forgiveness of said debt through charities. They aren’t praising Oliver as an amazing humanitarian. Mostly they are giving positive press to the idea of medical debt forgiveness charities. They don’t even get into the meat of Oliver’s criticisms of the industry.

          The headline is factually accurate and then described in more detail with even more factually accuracy within the article. It seems to me that you are overreacting.

          • Matt M says:

            I dispute that the headline is necessarily factually accurate.

            He did not buy $15 million “worth” of debt. He bought $60,000 “worth” of debt. Because that’s the price that the debt was actually exchanged for on a well-functioning and presumably efficient market.

            By this same logic, his giveaway does not, in fact, eclipse Oprah’s. The value of what he gave away was $60k, not $15m (regardless of what the IRS has to say about it).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I pretty much guarantee the description of the debt being bought included the number “$14,922,261.76” (with the dollar sign included). So the nomative worth of the debt is about $15M. Assuming that they have not been discharged in bankruptcy, which would make collection illegal and the sale perhaps fraudulent, the owner of the debt is entitled to collect that much money if they are able.

            The fact that the people who owe the debt can’t actually pay it doesn’t make the nomative value of the debt less.

            You are essentially just quibbling over esoterica at this point.

            By this same logic, his giveaway does not, in fact, eclipse Oprah’s. The value of what he gave away was $60k, not $15m (regardless of what the IRS has to say about it).

            He described it as eclipsing the $8 million giveaway by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey”

            The “he described it” with the “show-biz flair” I noted earlier, is the queue to the reader that this is being played for effect. None of this is unclear when reading the article unless you want it to be.

            Again, Oprah’s giveway wasn’t $8M either. Unless you think people pay full sticker on cars.

          • Matt M says:

            The nominative value of distressed debt is almost entirely irrelevant.

            I can write a piece of paper that says “$10 trillion” on it, but if all anyone will pay me for it is two cents, then it’s worth two cents, not $10 trillion. The fact that hypothetically you MIGHT be able to convince someone to pay you $10 trillion for it later is irrelevant.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If I sign a contract to buy something on credit for $500, say a tanning club membership, you are not entitled to collect $2000. Nor am I entitled to say that you are only due $100.

            I have my years worth of tans, and you are owed $500. The fact that I only have 5¢ to my name doesn’t change that.

            I won’t answer on this thread again. You are clearly way too dug in on this.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I actually did watch that Last Week Tonight segment- yesterday!

      (And people claim time is linear)

      John Oliver actually goes into some detail about the debt, how it works, what its impact is otherwise and so forth before he announces that he bought it. There’s no explicit acknowledgement of the fact that he’s not *really* giving away $15M, but the context for it which he provides is absolutely complete. If a viewer watched that segment and came away with the idea that Oliver had donated $15M to charity, I feel comfortable saying that it’s not Oliver’s fault.

      The Oprah stuff is, I think, the kind of ‘hyperbole-in-action-comedy’ he enjoys adding to otherwise-dry segments to spice them up.

      There have been some bad LWT segments, and there are parts of this segment which I’m not entirely comfortable with, but if the debt-forgiveness shtick was taken out of context then I really don’t think John Oliver should be blamed this time.

      • Bone Man with Shiny Hat says:

        Let’s take the sum of the products of each person on this thread’s IQ and the number of minutes they spent thinking* about it (reading, writing, stewing over).

        Is it large enough that Scott should consider banning mention of newsmedians like Oliver and Stewart?

        (* Charity, remember?)

    • Nita says:

      1. During the show, he did say that it cost $60k, and he did not say that he paid for it out of his own pocket.

      2. The whole point was to say, “Hey, did you know that anyone can buy the right to harass someone for [a huge sum of money] for the rest of their life by paying [a small sum of money]?”

      3. As the libertarian-minded commenters here keep reminding us, a voluntary trade transaction is mutually beneficial. Presumably, the debt was worth less than 60k to the hospitals, and more than 60k to any collection agency willing to purchase it — how much more depending on the effectiveness of their collection practices. And the show is certainly trying to get $15m worth of goodwill and publicity out of it, so maybe that will end up being ‘the’ value after all.

      • suntzuanime says:

        There are some pretty strict laws about the extent to which a creditor can harass a debtor about their debt. (Anything that would actually legally constitute harassment is forbidden.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Except if the government does it! 😉

        • Nicholas says:

          As it turns out, the overlap of people who owe debts, and people who are ignorant to creditor law is quite high. Many news stories in the last 10 years have made pearl-clutching hay out of the fact that people will buy Halloween costumes of police officers, knock on debtors’ doors, and tell them if they can’t pay by the 15th they’ll be arrested and held for the next 4 months, then arraigned on a ten year felony fraud charge. Many people do not think that calling the police will make a problem with the police better, and thus never find out they are being defrauded.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. But the fact that this debt sells for 0.4% of the face value suggests that this is only going to work on a VERY small percentage of the people involved.

            Obviously, your local news channel only needs to find one such person to run a sensationalist story about it.

            Getting back to Nita above – yes, it may be relevant that you can, for a small price, purchase the right to hassle someone about their debts. But who would do this, other than an actual debt collection agency? If debt collection is so easy – why isn’t everyone doing it? If you think you could even recover 5% of the $15 million face value of the debt you purchased at $60k, that would represent a return on investment of over 1000%.

            One of my points here is that, in my view, Oliver is accidentally making a point that works against what I assume is his core thesis. My first reaction when seeing this story was “Holy shit – look at how much medical debt ends up not being repaid at all – I guess the current system isn’t nearly as terrible as I have been led to believe.” Obviously I have certain biases and opinions going into this, but still…

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, crime is a real problem. But it’s a different sort of problem than Nita is worried about. You cannot actually buy the right to harass someone; if you want to harass someone illegally, well, you could anyway.

    • Garrett says:

      If the debt was so distressed that it wasn’t going to be paid anyways, did he actually do any good? Were the people who’s debt was forgiven experiencing any stress from the unpaid debt?
      That is, I can see a middle-class family experiencing misfortune getting stressed out about the constant phone calls. But a mentally-ill homeless guy who doesn’t have a phone or mailing address might not even be aware that he has outstanding medical debt.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone here with Asperger’s (or another autism spectrum disorder) had any success with learning social skills? As a child, I never received any social skills training and I only had a handful of friends in school (in general, I tried to keep social interaction to a minimum). Now that I’m in university (age 18), this is coming back to bite me. Could you share any tips or suggestions?

    • Jill says:

      Sometimes community colleges or community centers have social skills types of classes. You would think regular universities would have plenty of them, but they do not seem to. Going to a therapist is another option, and it is sometimes free at a university counseling center. It also would have the advantage of being individualized, so that you could learn those social skills that you personally need to learn, rather than learning some generalized curriculum.

      Another possible option is to join some kind of church or social organization and to get to know people a bit over time, and to seek out a friendly kind mentor for yourself. You would want someone caring, who would be willing to give you information and feedback on how you impact other people, and to make suggestions as to how you might become more skilled.

    • onyomi says:

      Number one tip: everyone likes to talk about themselves.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This is really true. You can get very far by basically cueing other people to talk about themselves/their interests. Bonus points if you have shallow knowledge of enough things to sort of nod along and occasionally mutter “oh I read something about that one time”.

        OP is in university. In undergrad “what are you studying” is a bit of a cliche, less so in grad school where most people are relatively deep into more interesting things. Although if having someone whose mind has been blown by PSY100 talk at you is the cost of a social life, so be it.

        A useful tip, not just for people who have trouble with social skills in general: in university, there’s generally going to be a fair bit of drinking. If you are a drinker, strive to be neither the lightweight who gets wasted off of 4 drinks and does something embarrassing, nor the tank who gets wasted off of 24 drinks and does something embarrassing. It is far better to be the person who has no more than their tolerance would indicate, doesn’t do anything embarrassing, and drinks a couple litres of water before going to bed.

        If in university you are a person who is good at letting others unload their life story/special interests/whatever instead of being the one to do that, and doesn’t make an ass of themselves while drunk, you’re already way ahead of the game.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Go to places where strangers are, and practice.

      Also, medication.

    • Matt M says:

      One simple thing that helped me a bit was simply observing people with “good” social skills. Find a big extrovert that you have a couple minor things in common with and try and befriend them (it won’t be as hard as you think – most extroverts like having more friends and are often very willing to accept you).

      Go to a party with them and watch them work a room. Go to a bar with them and watch them approach and talk to strangers. Look for patterns in their behavior that you can analyze. What do they talk about with strangers? How do they greet acquaintances?

    • Peter says:

      I like to think I’ve got some fairly nifty social skills hidden away somewhere. I grew up thinking I’d been diagnosed as Officially Not Autistic, but kind of similar and had Lots Of Issues To Work On. Much later I got an Asperger’s diagnosis – I was seeing a therapist for an anxiety disorder, we dug up the old notes, and it turns out that the Officially Not Autistic thing was a lot less official than I thought it was, so we thought I should get it checked out.

      I suppose I had something like a mental list of Things I Ought To Be Able To Do Like All Those Other Neurotypicals Can Do, and kept throwing myself at various of those things until my sanity gave out. Going full-on like this is not advised, but I think picking things that are challenging but do-able, do them, review in your mind what went well and what went badly afterwards, keep at it, and have the idea that maybe with some things, it’s not so much about you permanently lacking some abilities as being a late starter or slow learner.

      Back at university I had something called the “1am rule”, which said that if I was at a party but feeling “alone in a crowd” and not getting into any interesting conversations or anything like that, then I should give it until 1am, and then if things hadn’t got good by then, I could write the party off as a loss and go home. Now at the age of 37 I’m slightly alarmed by how much stamina I had back then, but also by how I saw parties almost as a task that I had to get good at.

      So in the end I’ve wound up with a decent selection of friends, a reasonable job (and the social skills to get jobs via contacts), no romantic partner (ever), and a prescription for SSRIs. I’ll leave it up to you to work out whether this counts as a desirable goal or a terrible warning.

      Usual disclaimer: everyone is different, when you’ve met one person with an ASD you’ve met one person with an ASD, things that work for one person may not work for another and may be unnecessary for a third, etc.

      • Anon says:

        “no romantic partner (ever),”

        I have Aspergers and this is making me sad

        • Jill says:

          Everyone is different. For some people, to have no romantic partner is ideal. For others, it’s sad. Everyone has their own desires and goals, including different people with Aspergers.

          Certainly there are a lot of marriages where one or both of the people in them would be better off single. And some single people who are looking for a partner and will be glad when they find a partner.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            And those neurotypical sorts will at least generally have the option to go through with this, find out it’s not for them, and so on. Wanting something and attaining it and even wanting something only to find out it’s not all that great both sound better than wanting something and never being able to get there because autism.

            Note: have asperger’s, am biased.

          • Matt M says:

            Stefan,

            Do you mind if I ask how old you are?

            I was once in the “desperately want but can’t attain” camp. I still haven’t attained, but a lot of introspection and discussion with friends is leading me more and more towards the idea that I never really wanted it that much. I’ve certainly never behaved as if I did.

            I think there is such a societal pressure, on young men especially, that often we feel our worth is judged by the amount of romantic partners we’ve had – and that itself is motivation to find one.

            I know this will sound patronizing (in my 20s, I would have loudly scoffed and rebuffed anyone who told me “maybe you don’t really want it”), but it’s just something to consider.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Oh, no, no. I’m not the desperate sorts we’re talking of; through a one-in-a-million fluke usually reserved for cheesy romance movies and whatnot I did at one point get myself that fabled romantic partner, and it was quite nice. Hardly the greatest thing in the world, mind, but certainly not something I’d tell someone not to give a damn about.

            More to the point, it’s just a really, really bad thing to tell someone. I know much of this is cultural expectations not dealing well with a segment of the population, and I agree not caring so much is the optimal solution to this issue, but telling people things are okay and they should get over themselves is equivalent to telling a man dying of thirst the water you’re drinking tastes kinda bland. I have seen the face of resentment, and its visage is twisted.

            EDIT: my age is also not some big secret, I am twenty-two.

          • Peter says:

            @MattM

            I’m in… not quite the same camp, but things are a lot better than they used to be.

            I think there’s what I call the “primary hurt” and the “secondary hurt”. The primary hurt is from missing out on the thing you’re keen on. The secondary hurt is from a variety of sources. The sense of rejection. The social pressure to pair up. The pressures Matt M mentions. The problem of finding that lots of your friends have less time for you when they start pairing up, moving in together, having families etc. and you get left out. The pressure to prove yourself straight (you can live in one of the most queer-friendly places out there, and still feel the pressure left over from school or media stereotypes or whatever). The pressure to prove that you’re a real person with all the real person skills and aren’t some incomplete half-made thing. These days a fair part of it is not having the primary hurt validated and acknowledged – getting empty platitudes or even being told you’re a bad person for being hurt really doesn’t help.

            It was helpful to talk through this with a couple of therapists, and that helped to take a lot of the edge off the secondary hurt, and looking at it, the secondary hurt seems to be the bulk of it. The primary hurt seems to be harder to shift, but when you’re not adding secondary hurt to it, it’s not too terrible on average. Every now and again, I get an “attack of the singles” and have to resign myself to feeling pretty crappy for an evening or two, and the feeling passes.

            One thing I find useful to remember, is that when I’m feeling sad it’s hard for me to remember what it’s like to be happy, when I’m feeling happy it’s hard for me to remember what it’s like to be sad. So sometimes I find it’s useful to take the outside view, to say to myself, “yeah, you feel pretty down, you’re going to feel down for a little while, but before too long you’ll cheer up again.” … At least that works these days. I suspect that there have been times in my life when I’d been depressed, and that might not have applied so much, but these days a) I’ve sorted my head out quite a bit, and b) I’m on SSRIs for anxiety, so that helps clobber any depression that might be lurking around.

          • Peter says:

            @Stefan

            telling people things are okay and they should get over themselves is equivalent to telling a man dying of thirst the water you’re drinking tastes kinda bland.

            Totally. Having sour grapes on someone else’s behalf really doesn’t help, it does the opposite.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think some of the woe is me, I can’t find a girlfriend people underestimate how much effort at least some “normal” people put into it and the compromises they make.

            One guy I know that’s married and expecting his second kid, for about year in his mid to late 20s treated dating like a second job. He was seriously putting 20+ hours a week in and striking out more often than not. And when he eventually did meet his now wife, she was fairly pretty and well off, but also abrasive and bossy. Not some dream perfect pixie chick.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Of course they underestimate it, just as the reverse case of socially apt people underestimating the effort it’d take for our frustrated people to do the same also happens.

          • Peter says:

            Most recent Anonymous:

            That “at least” is doing a lot of work there. It’s far more common for me to see the pairing-up sort pair up very quickly – to have a very short gap between finishing one relationship and beginning the next. A lot of the time, it sort-of just happens.

            Putting 20+ hours a week into dating… wow, to have the abundance of opportunities to be able to put 20+ hours a week into that.

          • Anonymous says:

            You really have no idea what other people are going through or what difficulties they have. I’m sure getting into relationships is really easy for at least some people out there, but so what? Some people are born rich too.

            As for “abundance of opportunities” they didn’t just fall into his lap. How many hours did you spend on your okcupid, match, and eharmony profiles last week? How much time and money have you put into building your wardrobe? How many minutes a day do you spend on grooming? How many pictures of yourself have you taken or asked others to take in order to find a few that flatter you? How many dealbreakers do you have — Do you have no interest in women that like to watch reality TV? That aren’t into N_R_X/libertarianism/rationalism? That don’t like anime? That are bad at math? That don’t think truth is the most important thing in the universe?

            Revealed preferences are a thing.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Peter,

            It’s kind of the opposite actually. When you have abundant opportunities it actually dulls your drive to head out and meet new girls. One of the reason spinning plates is difficult that they don’t tell you: you actually lose most of your motivation to maintain relationships once you hit your “magic number” IME. Part of why monogamous dating is more stable, it forces you to stay focused on keeping things going with that one girl.

            Humblebragging aside, 20 hours a week isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. It’s like any other skill, you need to spend a lot of time sowing before you can reap.

          • Peter says:

            Red Anonymous (are you the same as the pale Anonymous further up?):

            You really have no idea what other people are going through or what difficulties they have.

            Hahaha hahahahaha. Oh the irony! All those wrong guesses about me.

            I’ve spent my time cranking the big rusty online dating handles. You know those mental health woes I was talking about above, those therapists – a big chunk of that was me cracking under the strain of chasing all that. It’s painful to remember what it was like back then, and I’m not making that effort for the likes of you.

            I’m sure some people have managed to crank the rusty handle lots to success. Doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Doesn’t even mean it will work for most people.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            When I was younger I had a devil of a time finding romantic partners. I put in a lot of work, and never got any results until I was in my late 20s.

            In retrospect, there were things I could have done differently, like noticing the few times a girl was paying attention to me and reacting properly to them. (These were pretty rare, but they did happen.)

            Maintaining a relationship is much less work than starting one.

          • Anonymous says:

            Peter, yes the same person. If you were putting in serious effort, open to broad variety of women, and got nowhere, you have my deepest sympathies.

            What annoys me is when people dismiss others’ successes as luck, when often it is the fruit of really considerable effort.

          • Matt M says:

            Totally agree with anon here. An understanding of revealed preferences combined with asking some of my more successful friends exactly how much effort they were putting into the things he discussed is what led me to believe that maybe I don’t “actually want” a romantic partner at all.

            Everyone who says “I put a lot of time into this,” should seriously consider that we all have different definitions of “a lot.” Unless you are actively comparing yourself to other people on this metric, it’s useless. In my 20s, I thought I was putting in “a lot” of time and effort. Turns out I wasn’t. Not even close.

          • Early 20s were a devil-ish time for me as well. I did not invest as much time and energy as I could have, but that’s not an unintelligent decision: bashing my head against a brick wall is a pointless endeavor.

            Success came in mid and late 20s after having more disposable income and a deeper social network.

            Such is life.

          • John Schilling says:

            I might have been more willing to put in the effort when I was twenty if someone had told me what I was supposed to be doing. Or pointed me towards where that information was hidden, or even just told me that the effort was required and that I’d have to figure it out for myself like everyone else.

            Anything but what actually happened, which is pretty much every aspect of popular culture relentlessly spreading the message that if you just be yourself and have patience “true love” will come and that making a concerted or deliberate effort is only for Lotharios trying to rack up an obscene score of notched bedposts, and pretty much every authority figure at least implicitly going along with that message. Meanwhile, a parallel network made certain that various demographics of which I was not a part, got the proper instructions and a nearly insurmountable head start.

            I feel like I was denied critical, need-to-know information…

          • Nornagest says:

            every aspect of popular culture relentlessly spreading the message that if you just be yourself and have patience “true love” will come

            I feel like this is the Western version of the cultural forces that, in another context, make harem anime protagonists into boring, indecisive schlubs whose only identifiable personality traits are vague kindness and an inhuman ability to put up with abuse.

          • BBA says:

            As someone in the same boat as Peter (and seriously, thanks, I feel like I’m the only person on earth like this sometimes) I figured out a while ago that I wasn’t enjoying myself at parties and bars so why bother subjecting myself to it? I can have a perfectly fine time spending the evening at home, thank you very much. The problem with being 90% asocial and 90% asexual is that those 10%s happen and I’m utterly unprepared and bewildered. I end up going out alone and feeling empty at the end of the evening.

            Most of the time I think I’m not cut out for a relationship, and I can live a perfectly fulfilling life on my own, but sometimes…sometimes…

          • Matt M says:

            John Schilling,

            That’s pretty much my story as well. To this day I hold a massive grudge against anything that even resembles a “be yourself and everything will magically work out” theme. It’s terrible advice that will rob a certain percentage of young men of the most promising years of their youth.

            Having fallen for it and believed in it as a teenager is one of my life’s greatest shames. I’m incredibly embarrassed that I was dumb enough to take it seriously while many others, apparently, realized it was a crock from the beginning.

          • Jaskologist says:

            And that is why men turn towards the manosphere; there simply is no one else who will honestly tell them what they need to know. Scales drop from your eyes, and you’ll never after shake the feeling that everyone was lying to me, what else are they lying about?

            I muddled through in my youth, probably through at least as much luck as savvy. Looking back, I can see a lot of missed opportunities, but perhaps it is just as well that I didn’t know then what I know now; I’m not sure I would have had the wisdom and restraint to handle it.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m surprised so many of you were so naive. I don’t think I was in any favored demographic that was given secret knowledge but I can’t remember a time when I thought romantic success would just fall out of the sky.

          • John Schilling “Meanwhile, a parallel network made certain that various demographics of which I was not a part, got the proper instructions and a nearly insurmountable head start.” what parallel network are you thinking of?

            My feeling is closer to other demographics just doing it unconsciously and winning — those who guessed or just picked up from context that college is meant to be the elite’s dating service, not an education. But maybe I’m missing something.

        • Peter says:

          Things seem to vary from person to person. I know several people with autistic spectrum conditions, some paired up, some not. It seems to be a risk factor for long-term persistent failure to pair up, but not the whole deal. You can sort-of say how “high functioning” someone is, but people often have areas of strength and weakness that don’t fit the pattern.

          I’m told that there are three main routes to getting an autism spectrum diagnosis in adulthood – one is doing therapy for a mental illness (usually anxiety or depression) and ASD coming up as a possible route cause, one is in relationship counselling, one is where a child gets diagnosed with ASD and one (or both) of the parents gets a diagnosis too. So evidently lots of people with ASD do pair up.

          Thing is, you can’t rely on it, and that’s not a great position to be in. I’ll put more in a comment downthread.

        • Anonymous says:

          I probably have Asperger’s and would love to find/date people like the guy up-thread

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            All I am gathering here is that it is now time to turn SSC open threads into a dating site for the unfortunate.

          • Peter says:

            Lots of things (newspapers) have their own personal ads thing. So why shouldn’t we go further and go from newspapers to blogs? SSC Personal Ads! What could possibly go wrong?

          • Nornagest says:

            Sadly or not, the gender balance alone will probably make sure the idea never gets off the ground.

            For straight girls and gay dudes, though, it’d probably be nice while it lasted.

        • Garrett says:

          I have “hmmm … it’s not autism … I don’t know what it is, but labels don’t matter too much anyways”.
          This is mostly my boat as well. Except that I had/have social anxiety so I didn’t pursue dating in college. And I have almost never been able to stay up much past midnight without being stupid, so I would leave early.
          I’ve also never had a romantic partner. At 34 now, this leaves me very sad. The rest of my life is very awesome!

    • onyomi says:

      No. 2 tip: evolution has given many men, myself included, a horrific fear of romantic rejection. My best guess is that either we all grow up sexually stifled nowadays, or else, back in the day, if you hit on the chief’s daughter and it didn’t work out, you might be dead or permanently branded as not romantic material for the other 30 healthy young women in your tribe.

      Thus, it feels subjectively like maybe if you ask a girl out and she says “no,” or you put your arm around her and she awkwardly shifts away, then quite possibly you should put red hot coals in your eyes to avoid ever having to face the eternal shame you will feel upon looking in the mirror.

      But all that really happens is you feel awkward for a bit and move on.

      Knowing that the actual cost of failed attempts at romance is much lower than it feels can somewhat free one up to make more attempts. And like everything, you get better at it, and it gets easier with practice.

      • Matt M says:

        Yep. This is another thing that you find out when you ask very detailed and specific questions of people you know who are “really good at this sort of thing.”

        As was mentioned somewhere above, the guy who you think it “comes easy to” probably got turned down 12 times last week. He just stopped letting it bother him.

      • smocc says:

        One of my proudest accomplishments in my life so far is asking out a girl who I was pretty sure had a boyfriend and getting rejected. I asked, she declined politely on the grounds that she had a boyfriend, there were no hard feelings and everyone moved on. She probably doesn’t remember me at all.

        It may sound strange, but the whole thing was incredibly liberating. I then felt free to ask girls out without obsessing over them from a distance for two months. This lead to a period of fun and varied dating (that ended, in the best way, with me meeting my wife.)

    • Gravitas Shortfall says:

      man, I dunno, I’ve managed to avoid most social skill training since elementary school. Some critical things though: learn how to make eye contact, and say hello to people. This at least makes people think you’re not a complete goober. Also, ask people questions about themselves to demonstrate that you are interested in them (even if you’re not).

  21. Anonymous says:

    A question for average utilitarians:

    One common challenge to average utilitarianism is, “If everyone with below-average utility died, would that be a good thing?”. One common response is, “No, because what counts is average utility per life, not per amount of time. Everyone with below-average utility dying would result in them collecting no more utility in their life but still living the same number of lives (i.e. one), lowering the average per-life utility.

    My question is the following: have you considered the Temporal Repugnant Conclusion? Imagine someone who lives for 100 years, collecting 100 utiles per year. Would it be just as good if they lived 200 years on 50 utiles per year? How about 10,000 years on one utile per year? 1,000,000 years on 0.01 utiles per year? If your reason for preferring average utilitarianism is opposition to the ordinary Repugnant Conclusion (which seems to be the case for many average utilitarians), how do you feel about this alternative – that any world could be made better by the above described average utilitarian standards, if the lives it contains are made simultaneously less enjoyable and longer?

    • Vitor says:

      People make that tradeoff all the time, e.g. excercising.

      Also note that when you compare 100 years * 100 utiles and 1’000’000 years * 0.01 utiles, in the latter case the picture of a long, unexciting life barely above the point of wanting to kill yourself is what comes to mind, and we (or I at least) intuitively feel that this is a horrible fate and a life not worth living. But if utiles are correctly computed in both scenarios, then this existential dread is already factored into the latter number and the utility is still positive overall, so the two cases are per definition equally worth living.

      NB: I’m not a utilitarian.

    • Psycicle says:

      Utilities (in the technical sense of VNM utilities) are a function from world-histories to the real number line. (like, let’s say you love drinking beer after eating fish and chips, and hate the reverse, then your preference ordering can’t be decomposed as a sum of “utility of beer” + “utility of fish and chips”)

      Now, sometimes, ordering and duration and stuff like that doesn’t matter, so you can treat it as adding up utilities over time in those specific cases.

      But in general, utilities are over a whole history of events, so each life-quality of life tradeoff thing would have to be judged individually.

      It’s still possible to salvage your thought-experiment though. Imagine one really fantastic year. And one moderately postive year that you are glad you stuck around for, though it definitely wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is likely that there is some number of moderately good years you would trade a fantastic year for. Now imagine a dial slowly ramping down the quality of the moderately good year while ramping up the number of years. There’s probably some point where you’d go “stop, that’s good enough”, and you would have traded off a short excellent lump of time for a very long, faintly positive lump of time, but it ultimately comes down to your own preferences. If you don’t like where the dial is set, you can always dial it back to wherever you want.

    • Peter says:

      I’m sort-of-vaguely utilitarian leaning, but lean more towards the total side (I tend to think that the two are doing different things, total seems to correspond to something that’s worth paying attention to but I’m not sure what, average seems to be more of an ugly hack that doesn’t quite work.) Also I tend not to be a fan of strange hypotheticals, especially not ones that require people to have intuitive ideas of what various combinations of utils are worth. On the other hand if we’re talking about the Repugnant Conclusion, that’s Derek Parfit’s thought experiment, which reminds me of other Parfitisms.

      His “Reasons and Persons” is a book that looks like it’s going to be about personal identity, but ends up finding lots of things that aren’t personal identity that might matter. One thing is people-at-moments-in-time, which we seem to care about. Certainly people often seem to care about themselves-right-now over and above what might be expected from them caring about their own whole lifetimes. So if you care about that, then the Temporal Repugnant Conclusion does indeed look repugnant.

      Let’s take another way of looking at utilitarianism. Imagine someone (let’s call him Bob) who has a social-temporal discounted utility function – the further away something is, in time and/or social distance, from Bob, the less it matters to Bob. There’s a discount rate, and utilitarianism is sort-of the limiting case where the discount rate goes to zero – where all people and all times matter equally. So, for Bob, some hypothetical grey life stretching far into the future might matter less to him that having a good normal-length life now, or for that matter having good normal-length lives go on around him now. If Bob is a maximally-saintly utilitarian saint, then his discount rates are zero, and he’d prefer the long austere life, which… feels like the sort of thing a saint might do. Those of us who are less than maximally saintly wouldn’t want that for ourselves or anyone we care about.

      The thing about the zero-discount case is if everyone has a zero discount rate, everyone has the same utility function, which simplifies a lot of the game theory, and leaves no room for Moloch to rear his ugly head. In this world where practically everyone is less than maximally saintly (in a utilitarian sense) we need other ways of keeping Moloch at bay, and I think that’s where things with a more deontological character start to come in.

      (I have some thoughts about the oddities of _hyperbolic_ discounting, but that’s going even deeper into speculative theory land, so I’ll save that for another comment if there’s interest.)

  22. Jaskologist says:

    It’s a new Open Thread, and the usual head of the scifi discussion thread is still suspended.

    Ray Bradbury died 4 years ago yesterday. Who wants to discuss The Martian Chronicles?

    • Eggoeggo says:

      I’d like to discuss how much poorer it makes a community to lose interesting people.

      But also wow, I had no idea “There Will Come Soft Rains” was a part of The Martian Chronicles. Will have to read the rest of them now.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Hopefully it’s just a temporary loss, and he returns we’re all the happier. (I like him as a poster, but I wouldn’t want someone to escape justice because they are a special kind of contributor here. I’m not taking a side in how just his punishment was, just that it followed Scott’s rules, which are “Scott makes the rules.”)

    • Deiseach says:

      If anyone wants to talk about “The Martian Chronicles”, I’m up for it.

      Ray Bradbury was such a large part of my SF fandomness (he got me at an early age). Still sad over his passing.

      • keranih says:

        I greatly enjoyed some of the stories in the MC, but I also felt that the whole collection didn’t entirely hang together. Some of the stories (it’s been a while, so I can’t name specific stories) seemed to be juxtiposition to others – not in a way to make a point, but because Bradberry wanted to tell stories where Frodo won and where Gollum won, both at the same time.

        And part of the social (race & gender) commentary seemed to be trying just a hair too hard.

  23. Alemo says:

    What’s everyone’s favorite candy? Don’t dodge this one, Scott.

    I really enjoy the HFCS bolus of Mike and Ike’s (original–the berry blast and “Red” boxes aren’t diverse enough), spice drops (except wintergreen), Swedish Fish (multicolor), and jellybeans, particularly the Starburst variety. Boy, the Starburst jellybeans just have something in them which defy the realities of dental health, stomach capacity, and tastebud saturation. The best way to describe the flavors is “rush of fruitiness.” Skittles and Good and Plenty’s are really great too.

    I have less of an interest in the chocolate (savory?) end, but there’s much to be explored. Goetze’s caramel creams are quite good, as are M&M’s and Junior Mints. Take 5 is a great example of modern American candy done well.

    Things I dislike are Necco wafers, peach rings, and Haribo gummi bears.

    • JayT says:

      My favorites are hard candies and gummies. With hard candies, flavor doesn’t really matter. I’m just as happy with menthol as I am with butterscotch. It’s more about the texture. For gummies cola flavored are my favorite.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I’m a big fan of Heath bars. Used to like jelly beans and gummi candies but after an infected tooth sent me to the hospital I’ve been leery of the negative dental effects of the sticky stuff.

    • Zorgon says:

      Maoam Pinballs.

      I keep stealing my daughter’s supply and given my teeth are decades older than hers this is probably a good idea in the long-term yet still, these cursed moral instincts!

      • Alemo says:

        Are these a US thing? With the advent of Amazon, I could see myself getting into foreign candy. For instance, Turkish Delight was an eye-opener for me. I had never tasted anything like it!

        • Anonymous says:

          No, Maoam is German, I think; a brand Haribo uses for some candies (presumably those which were the most popular products of the Maoam company when Haribo bought them out). You can get pinballs in the UK, but I have yet to find the bags of only cola pinballs here, which frustrates me.

    • Jame Gumb says:

      Some candy is OK (and Mounds bars are better still), but I find it hard to get excited about anything other than SUPER dark chocolate. I’m talking >90%.

      Cacao percentage is kinda like a drug in that you get introduced to it at the low levels (e.g. 55%) thanks to Hersheys basically marketing it to kids, then you experiment with stuff a little higher (70%), then you’re on that 86% stuff from Aldi on a weekly basis, until finally you’re pawning your mom’s appliances so you can afford another hit of that sweet 90% Lindt’s that only goes on sale once in a blue moon.

      The only place you can go from there is the 100% baking cocoa bars. I’m puzzled why nobody makes a 95-99%. I feel like I could probably be pretty happy staying at a 98 or 99% dark chocolate.

      • Chalid says:

        They do exist! I eat Lindt 99% bars regularly.

        • Jame Gumb says:

          NINE BUCKS?!

          I’m pawning my mom’s appliances here, not her priceless diamond-encrusted heirlooms! I have a sense of decency after all! We’re trying to have a CIVILIZATION here, people!

      • Dahlen says:

        Wait, there are people who like 99% cocoa dark chocolate? I tried some of that stuff once and it was bitter as hell, won’t touch again. And I say that even though I prefer the 85% version to sweeter chocolate.

      • Alemo says:

        What’s better? Is it a flavor difference? Or something subtler? It seems like over 90% would be “standard pure bitter cocoa taste”

      • Vitor says:

        I very occasionally buy high quality 100% chocolate (that’s how it’s labeled anyway, it was probably 99.x%), but I have to eat it one tiny little piece at a time, and while the flavor is so intense that it sort of leaves me in an altered state of consciousness, I end up being in the mood for that type of experience only rarely.

        Very dark chocolate is to food as Morton Feldmann is to music.

      • JayT says:

        I do not like 99% cocoa dark chocolate (I actually don’t like most dark chocolate), but I do love whole cocoa beans. I’m not sure how that happened.

      • gbdub says:

        Ugh. I really like dark chocolate, but can’t stand anything over 80%. It’s just a pure bitter blast with zero subtlety, like chewing on coffee grinds.

        Honestly to me it seems like a novelty, like the insanely hot peppers that taste of nothing but pain, or some of the hop monster beers. Or even those who swear off adding any water to their whiskey, or any seasoning to their steak, out of a mistaken insistence on purity.

        There’s such a thing as balance. To me the flavors of good chocolate aren’t fully realized without some (not too much) balancing sweetness. Sure, it’s interesting to sometimes taste the raw unmitigated essence of a thing, but that doesn’t make it its “best” form. Just like some coffee is best with a little milk, some whiskey is best with a bit of water, bread with a bit of butter, etc.

        • Richard says:

          Taste does not contain objective truth for actually edible things.

          I don’t dilute my whisky, enjoy chewing newly roasted coffee beans, love hop-monster beers, 99% chocolate and the rich and complex taste of Dave’s Insanity Sauce. Each to his own 🙂

          • gbdub says:

            I actually do all of those things to, but more as a novelty. I enjoy sampling hop monsters etc. or tasting very hot sauces, but as an isolated entertainment rather than a foodstuff. I guess it’s less taste, and more of a “season for everything”. “I ONLY drink high alcohol Imperial Stouts!” often seems like macho posturing from someone who hasn’t quite learned to appreciate subtlety / balance (there’s a place for a good hot-weather session beer!).

            For me at least it’s part of growing into a taste for something: dislike -> acquire taste -> seek out most extreme version of taste -> recognize why most things aren’t like that and find a happy medium / appreciate the spectrum. Not judging you specifically here, there are certainly those who honestly enjoy the extreme version most of all and that’s obviously fine as long as there’s no looking down on those with different tastes. As you say, no objective truth.

            (side note, unless you exclusively drink actual barrel proof, you drink “diluted” whiskey, and some whiskey is designed to be “diluted” to taste by the end drinker. Most tasters try it neat, with a little water, etc to see how it fares in each.)

          • Jame Gumb says:

            @Richard:

            I’m with you 100% except on Dave’s Insanity Sauce.* It’s not THAT hot to me (uh, piquant, if we’re being real snobs), but I don’t think its flavor is very sophisticated or even very good. There are equally or near-equally hot sauces I’ve had that taste way better. (I haven’t tried any of the other varieties of Dave’s, only the popular one with the mostly black label.)

            *Also, while I enjoy craft beer if it’s around at a party or something**, I tend to like maltier ones (e.g. bourbon-barrel stouts) over hoppier ones (e.g. session IPAs).

            **People think of beer as something you need to acquire a taste for, which is true, but the notion is that you then have to acquire a taste for craft beer in particular. My experience has been one in which, after acquiring the whole taste for craft beer thing, I acquired a taste for big-name domestic Lite beers after that! I’m at a point now where I’d much rather have a Bud Lite than some locally brewed 10.3% porter (with some rare exceptions of course). It’s not that there’s more flavor or subtlety in Bud Lite, but it’s a different experience (maybe a different beverage entirely, really) and that experience is what I’ve actually finally acquired a taste for. I seem to be alone on that one though–craft beer seems to be the end of the line for most people who get there.

          • Richard says:

            @Jame

            The label “Craft beer” contains practically an infinite variety, from fruity things containing the bare minimum of malt to make it not cider (one brewery here makes one out of crab apples) to the dark hop-monsters. This is possibly why it’s the end of the line for most people because just about everybody can find their own favourite.

            Bud lite is essentially a rice beer with a minimum of malted barley to get the enzymes and a minimum of hops. This is excellent for quenching thirst in warm weather, but I’m sure you can find a rice-based craft beer that will fit the bill just as well.

          • gbdub says:

            Variety is the best thing about craft beer! (and hence my frustration when I hear drinkers say “I can’t stand craft beer, it’s too hoppy!” or something similar).

            Nothing wrong with liking American style pale lager. But there’s some variety within that category as well. If you’re curious it might be worth sampling craft beers in similar styles like Pilsner, Helles, and Kolsh, or Blonde or Cream ales (the latter two are very common at American craft breweries and are often recommended to folks used to pale lagers, since they are a very similar style, just with ale yeast instead of lager).

        • dndnrsn says:

          I like plain coffee, but steak without any seasonings? Not even salt? Can’t imagine it.

          • gbdub says:

            To me sugar plays the same role with cacao as salt does with beef – it enhances the flavor, but shouldn’t mask it. Without it though, the base flavor can be flat / one-note.

    • Deiseach says:

      Chocolate. Not fussy about brands, just gimme (though I have to say, since Cadburys was taken over by Mondelez/Krafts, it seems to have changed in taste or quality – they keep introducing new flavours, particularly Oreos, but they are just not as good as the old reliables). Speaking of which, the absolute nethermost abomination from the pit of damnation I’ve ever tasted was Philadelphia cream cheese with Cadburys chocolate – it was disgusting and, thankfully, has been discontinued.

      I used to love toffees, but one too many “argh this is getting stuck in my fillings” means I don’t eat them anymore.

      Things like Skittles and Starbursts tend to be too much pure sugar for me. Licorice allsorts though – oh yeah. Even though I have now learned that licorice drives up your blood pressure so I try to keep that in check (actually, anything licorice/anise/fennel will get my attention because I love those flavours). I used to love things like fruit jellies and wine gums, but again, have to be careful of sugar intake so don’t indulge in these anymore.

      Peanut butter and chocolate – since we got Reese’s peanut butter cups and bars on this side of the Atlantic, even though they are (relatively) expensive (due to import) I love them and have to make a conscious effort not to over-indulge. Turkish delight – either the Cadburys/Fry’s version or the original version (again, too much sugar if it’s the Real Thing so only at Christmas!)

    • caethan says:

      Those little dinner mints. You want the soft ones that are slightly crunchy. By far my favorite now is Scotch tablet, now that I’ve figured out how to make it myself. http://notsohumblepie.blogspot.com/2010/06/scottish-tablet.html

      • Zorgon says:

        Tablet is a terrible thing, second only to Kendal Mint Cake in terms of destroying my self-control. Curse these sugary minxes.

    • Winfried says:

      Payday bars are probably my favorite simply because they hold up well in heat and if I leave one in my bag for months it still tastes good.

    • bluto says:

      Lemon drops are probably my favorite. I like the plain Twix and most plain chocolate, as well.

      I avoid buying peanut butter m&m’s because they’re like crack for me.

    • Anonymous says:

      Snickers bars and Chime’s ginger chews, peanut butter flavor.

      I prefer a combination of fat, protein, and a little sweetness over anything only/very sweet. I also will not eat anything gummy.

    • Civilis says:

      Multicolor Swedish fish are definitely among my top candies, though as far as gummy candies, the Sunkist Fruit Gems are better, if harder to find. I also think the Starburst jelly beans are the best jelly bean assortments on the store shelves. I like some of the individual Jelly Belly flavors better (the buttered popcorn ones, especially), but the store assortments of Jelly Belly jelly beans have too many completely horrible flavors, and it’s frequently impossible to tell the difference between the good ones and the horrible ones until it’s too late.

      As far as chocolate goes, mixing it with peanut butter (any of the Reese’s candies) or pretzels is generally better than just straight chocolate, though my family will brand me as heretics if this is revealed.

    • blacktrance says:

      Candied fruit slices, like these.

    • Anonymous says:

      Anyone here feel pain in their teeth when eating sweet stuff, particularly chocolate? I get it really inconsistently and it’s not really enough to stop me from eating, but I also regularly visit the dentist so I know it’s not related to actual cavities in my case.

      As for the question, I just buy chocolate bars. And snickers.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      If chocolate counts, then chocolate, of various kinds. My favourite one was a lemongrass flavored dark chocolate from an ecuatorian brand. What about ice-cream?

      If it’s just candy, then gummy bears, I usually get sick from eating too many when I’m able to buy them in large amounts.

    • Loquat says:

      Unusual flavors of gummies are my biggest thing right now. Lifesavers has some interesting ones – a berry pack and an ” exotic fruits of the world” pack that can reliably be found in my local stores. There’s also a candy store in Pittsburgh that sells a whole long list of fruit-flavored gummi bears, including black cherry, which I highly recommend.

      They also sell weird things like clove-flavored hard candy, for anyone who’s into that and is near Pittsburgh.

    • Jiro says:

      If you have a Cracker Barrel near you, they have lots of different kinds of local candy from not very local places that you pretty much can’t find anywhere else.

    • My favorites are probably English Toffee (of which Heath Bars are a mass market version) and chocolate and peanut butter candies.

    • keranih says:

      Chocolate covered raisins. It’s fruit, so of course it’s good for you!

      I have on occasion had turkish delight, which is quite nice.

    • James Picone says:

      Tim Tams, and I feel sorry for you unfortunate souls that they only sell them here.

      • gbdub says:

        If “here” is Australia, you’re right about Tim Tams being awesome (although they are properly a cookie not a candy), but wrong about only selling in Australia.

        I can reliably get my fix from Cost Plus World Market in the States, although they aren’t always labeled “Tim Tams” they are the same manufacturer and product.

        A good Tim Tam Slam with Aussie style iced coffee (a vaguely coffee flavored sweet milk product) is a thing of beauty.

        • James Picone says:

          If “here” is Australia, you’re right about Tim Tams being awesome (although they are properly a cookie not a candy), but wrong about only selling in Australia.

          I had no idea. Consider it our gift to the world. 😛

          A good Tim Tam Slam with Aussie style iced coffee (a vaguely coffee flavored sweet milk product) is a thing of beauty.

          Farmer’s Union will probably be the death of me. Not the healthiest of beverages.

          • gbdub says:

            I was in Australia for a few months on a World Solar Challenge team. “Tim Tam Time”, when we’d pass around a couple packages at the end of lunch, was a daily highlight.

            Farmer’s Union was a life-sustaining beverage on the Stuart Highway.

            We were ecstatic when we discovered Tim Tams and Bundaberg ginger beer (but no Bundy rum, sadly) available in the States.

            I will say that the Aussie predilection for (or at least wide availability of) pre-mixed bourbon and cola in cans was a bit odd. Then again maybe it’s weird that those are rare in the US where the bourbon is made in the first place.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Only plain dark chocolate is austere enough for me.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Do chocolate covered things count? Almonds, cherries, whatever. I once had some chocolate-covered blueberries that were really nice.

    • Ptoliporthos says:

      Watermelon flavored Nerds

    • Gravitas Shortfall says:

      Good dark chocolate is so good that I can’t eat anything but the highest quality milk chocolate, because it doesn’t compare. Trader Joe’s dark chocolate in the big several pound packages is amazing. In general Trader Joe’s has an awesome selection of candies.

      I also love Payday bars, Almond Joy, and Raisinettes. and orange slices, and quality black licorice. Otherwise I avoid candy. I had gummi worms today, and they were not just terrible, but left a weird smell on my hands (WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN WITH GUMMIES?).

    • Brad (The Other One) says:

      ATOMIC FIREBALLS

  24. primality says:

    In EA circles, people often talk about how voluntourism is awful, because it is much less effective than doing regular work and giving some of your earned money to good charities. However, I believe that in many cases, if the people weren’t doing voluntourism, they’d just be doing regular tourism instead. So what I’d like to know is, is voluntourism still bad in that case? Is it actually worse than nothing?

    (this question originally asked, with different phrasing, on Thing of Things)

    • Anonymous says:

      The last thing a third world country needs is manual labor from out of shape westerners. The only good you are doing is spending money locally. If you are spending less of it locally because you are paying some western voluntourism company for your trip than you are doing less good than if you had hired a local tour operator for a traditional vacation.

      • Luke the CIA stooge says:

        Realistically if all the church groups that spend money to go down and build schools (which don’t get used) instead went down to hire hooked and drink they’d be doing more for the country and it’s economy.

        This is why I love EA and the rationalist movement!!! all the worst most cynical things I ever said growing up in a small town get proven here

    • Matt M says:

      I’m usually really cynical about the whole “raising awareness” thing – but I actually take a brighter view on this issue. I believe there’s something to be said for the idea that observing poverty first hand motivates you to become more charitable, or at least understanding, of the issues involved.

      Even if the labor they perform on the trip is negligible, I think it’s possible that the experience will motivate them to become more charitable later in life (when they’re earning real money). Even barring that, if the experience moves them to learn more about the country and return and tell their friends about it – that might be a net plus in and of itself.

      Yes these are long-shots with no guarantee – but certainly it’s more of a net positive than if they had just gone to Paris or whatever, right?

      • Tom Womack says:

        I’d agree that I have had personally mildly-life-altering reactions as a consequence of observing poverty first-hand in the third world. I’ve been there on organised trips, so the kind of thing where they won’t drop you in the middle of somewhere dangerous, but not up at the thousand-dollar-a-night level where there are gates and all the locals you see are either serving you directly or standing with a gun at the gate to ensure you never see a local.

        That the level of inequality, down to a bottom which is well below anything you ever see at home, is completely ubiquitous *is* the big observation.

        It’s not clear that voluntourism gets me anything more than tourism does; but I strongly don’t believe in the virtue of labour, so ineptly doing manual labour that I’m not used to isn’t going to uplift me.

        • SJ says:

          I had a similar experience when I was 16 years old. I took a trip with a group of similarly-church-attending teens to an orphanage in Guatemala.

          The group leaders educated us on a few basics–don’t drink the local water, watch out for pickpockets, and always be with another member of the group when traveling in public. They also told us about the orphanage for girls, and how we would have chances to play with the girls, practice Spanish with them, and help them improve the orphanage property.

          About half of the teens on the trip had some experience with construction already.

          The type of work on-site was mindlessly manual (helping dig out the location for some sort of water-tank…or septic-tank) or low-skill and doggedly manual (laying another couple courses of cinder-blocks on a wall).

          A few team members got the chance to help finish the roof work on a building. Even this was barely a medium-skill task.

          We didn’t get a first-hand view of the street people and the local poverty, but we learned a lot about poverty outside the U.S.

          And we got a chance to spend a day in one of the tourist markets, where we were encouraged to haggle…which was also odd.

          It was definitely educational.

          I earned most of the money for my part of the trip myself…which was educational, in a different way. Though there was a large fund-raising push at the involved church.

          Some parents could have paid outright for their teen children to go, but I gather that they didn’t. Those children fund-raised with the rest of us.

          • Tom Womack says:

            Tourist markets, particularly ones where the conceit that you are looking at products lovingly manufactured by locals has worn thin and you can see the ‘made in China’ at the bottom of the printed fabrics, are very peculiar things. I had a surreal afternoon spent showing half a dozen interested storekeepers the pictures of wildlife I’d taken two hundred miles away a few days earlier – more interesting to them than failing to sell wooden trinkets, but rather distressing to realise that I’d seen more of the Okavango Delta in two days than they had in thirty years while living next to it.

  25. The “radar detector detector detector detector” might not exist but the ad blocker blocker blocker does. An ad blocker blocker doesn’t let you view a website unless you have disabled your ad blocker. An ad blocker blocker blocker prevents the ad blocker blocker from realizing that you are blocking the site’s ads. Since this ad blocker blocker blocker doesn’t seem to work anymore I suspect the existence of ad blocker blocker blocker blockers. Expect this recursion to continue!

    • onyomi says:

      Oh yeah, I totally need an adblocker blocker blocker blocker.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Nah, there’s a hard limit where people realize that Forbes was terrible anyway, and give up trying to go there.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I remember Forbes as being relatively good, like a notch above Vox. Not good enough to get me to sell my soul to the demons, though.

    • gbdub says:

      So, vaguely related… I’m coming across more and more sites that, when viewed on an iPhone, auto-load an ad that either bounces you to the App Store, or has one of those irritating unkillable popups that take you to their website even if you hit the “close” button (and if you try to go back to the original website, reloads).

      a) Why do websites put up with these sort of ads? It must kill their traffic, since I make a point of not going to those sites (and basically can’t event if I wanted to – the site is effectively unusable).

      b) Any good way to kill these on iPhone?

      • Nornagest says:

        Why do websites put up with these sort of ads? It must kill their traffic

        Maybe the’re gaining more in bandwidth costs than they’re losing in traffic. Apps are cheaper server-side; you only have to push state data. Or maybe it’s not making them money and they just want an app because apps are cool. Not every corporate decision is a rational one.

        Imgur’s the one that really confuses me; all the gingerbread’s gotta be cached for most users, so most of the bandwidth must be coming from content, and that’d be the same either way.

        It’s probably keying off your browser’s user agent string. It might be possible to change that in some cases; I doubt Safari can do it, though.

        • gbdub says:

          I’m not talking about sites like e.g. Pinterest that try to force you to open their own app. I find that annoying but understandable.

          I’m talking about the pop-up ads for Candy Crush knockoffs or whatever that bounce you to the app store. Like I try to go to .com and end up at the app store page for instead. would seem to be losing in that deal since I can’t view their actual content (or their traditional ads).

          • Nornagest says:

            Ah. Dunno, then, I haven’t had that problem. It’s still very likely keying off the user-agent string, though; that’s the straightforward way to tell what system you’re talking to over HTTP.

            After a little digging, it appears that the major browsers on iOS (Chrome, Safari) don’t allow you to set that string, but it’s possible to obtain third-party browsers that do. Give that a try, see if it works and isn’t too much of a handicap.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            Disable Javascript.

      • Clockwork Arachnid says:

        If your iPhone is the 5S or newer, you could check out content blockers in the App Store. I use 1Blocker, which is free if you only want to block one kind of content (ads or tracking, for example). My brother swears by BlockBear, and there are certainly a number of other possible options out there.

  26. Teal says:

    Reposting since it was too late in the last open thread:

    Here’s a question that pits a average justice metric against an equality metric. Is it it better to have one uniformly terrible (overly harsh, capricious) justice system or one system for most people, that is as terrible as the first option, and a second justice system that is exquisitely fair and humane but only open to a privileged few — mostly the wealthy, but also the famous, members of certain professions, and the odd lucky random cause célèbre defendant?

    • Nornagest says:

      Utility-wise you want the latter for obvious reasons. Incentives-wise you want the former because then people with power are motivated to change it. But my honest first impression is “where are you going with this?” — it looks more like an intuition pump for something than a practical dilemma.

      • zz says:

        I saw an article which described a young woman who was unjustly kicked out of college on account of an overbroad sexual assault policy with too low a standard of evidence, which is usually only used to boot male students. In the simplified version, this is good for equality and bad for utility. IRL, it might be a good thing if, depending on to what degree it catalyzes reforming overbroad policies and due process.

        Near as I can tell, OP was talking about a general case of this. Maybe they saw the same article (Julia Galef posted it on her Facebook, so it’s somewhere vaguely in the rationalsphere) and that’s where they were going with it?

      • Teal says:

        The immediate inspiration was Brock the swimming rapist, but this kind of thing comes up all the time. They’ll be someone rich or famous or a cop that is accused of a crime and they’ll get treated very differently by the justice system from how my clients were when I worked at legal aid. If there’s some outrage over the disparate treatment, other people will appeal to justice norms, e.g.

        “Shouldn’t it be proof beyond a reasonable doubt?”
        “Isn’t the prosecutor supposed to above all seek justice, not convict?”
        “Why do we need these terribly long sentences? A few years in prison isn’t trivial.”

        Those are all good points, but they are bitter pills to swallow when they are only brought out for the privileged few.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think in the swimming rapist’s case, justice was not served by his sentence. Seriously, penetrating an unconscious person with a bottle? Same goes for Officer finger-on-the-trigger Liang in New York, who got justice from a jury, but the judge knocked down his conviction and gave him no jail time because cop.

          I think that if the system gives justice to some (not uncalled-for leniency, but justice) and injustice to most, it’s probably better than giving injustice to all. Just because the incentive argument seems purely theoretical for one thing (even most people able to afford a private lawyer to get some modicum of justice aren’t in a position to do anything about the system as a whole), and smacks of hostage-taking for another.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What amazes me here is that Teal thinks this is an example of an “exquisitely fair and humane [justice system] … only open to a privileged few”.

          • Teal says:

            I think maybe you are reading “fair” differently than I intended. What I meant was looking at a case in complete isolation are the procedures and outcome closer or further away from the Platonic ideal justice system.

            I wouldn’t say that six months, which is actually three months with good behavior, is the platonic ideal sentence for Brock the Rapist’s actions. But I think it is closer than the absurdly long sentences we have authorized in this country after 30 years of tough on crime posturing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Teal:
            I think we must have different takes on the facts in the case.

            The number one fact being that he clearly knew that what he was doing wrong, which dispense with most of the “well they were just both drunk” argumentation.

            Do you disagree with the following summary?

            Students come upon what the believe is a male assaulting an unconscious female behind a dumpster. Students yell, male flees and has to be tackled in order to be stopped.

          • N-o-t-T-e-a-l says:

            I don’t think we have different takes on the facts. I agree it was a rape in the full, undiluted sense of the word.

            Do you think he should have gotten 14 years in priso.n? And if so, what do you think the sentence should be for full, undiluted voluntary manslaughter? Murder?

          • JayT says:

            I’ve been curious about this. What is the most common sentence for this type of crime? Was the rapist let off with a slap on the wrist, or was this a fairly normal outcome for a first-time offender? I haven’t had much luck finding decent stats.

          • Teal says:

            This article https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/06/07/what-sentence-should-the-stanford-swimmer-have-gotten/

            suggests that the federal guidelines in a similar case that took place in a federal jurisdiction would have been 97-121 months. It also links to this article
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/06/what-makes-the-stanford-sex-offenders-six-month-jail-sentence-so-unusual/
            which among other things says that the average person convicted in state court of rape is sentenced to 11 years in prison, and that 84% were sentenced to prison (which implies a sentence of at least a year), 5% were sentenced to jail (< 1 year) and 11% received probation or other.

        • Deiseach says:

          Those are all good points, but they are bitter pills to swallow when they are only brought out for the privileged few.

          Yes, that’s the worst of it: when you get the pleas in court about how A is from a respectable family, is going to college, has his (it generally is “his” for some reason) life all ahead of them, should a temporary moment of madness ruin their future, prison is so harsh, etc.

          When it’s Joe from the inner city, there’s nothing about prison is so harsh or it will ruin his future. The attitude there is that he has no future to ruin and besides, the lower classes are more used to hardship, prison won’t be that big a deal.

          • JayT says:

            What if those privileged were actually less likely to be repeat offenders? Couldn’t there be a case made that it would make more sense to treat them less harshly, if that were the case?

          • (it generally is “his” for some reason)

            I think if you take a look at investigation, prosecution, and conviction rates for violent offenders broken down by sex, you will find your generalization contradicted.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m tempted to say we already have the second version: rich enough or influential enough, it’s very unlikely you’ll do jail time (unless public outrage is such it’s considered a good thing to give the rabble a scapegoat).

      But a two-tier system will eventually cause enough resentment and outrage that the rabble will rise up and drag it all down in fire and revolution.

      Of course, post-revolution it all builds up the same again (“one law for the rich and another for the poor”) but most people would prefer a “harsh and unjust but everyone gets treated the same” to “harsh for you, fair for me” system (unless they can be sure of being one of the small group who gets fair treatment).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The system we have now is biased in favor of those who have resources and against those who do not have resources. Said bias being an “on average” measure and not necessarily dispositive in any particular case. I’m don’t think it makes sense to call the bias in favor of those who have resources as making the system “fair”.

    • Fahundo says:

      Isn’t this perfectly applicable to the Clinton email scandal? Every time it gets brought up you have people saying what she did wasn’t that bad, she doesn’t truly deserve to have her career ruined over it, and people who keep harping on it are being way too harsh. Then you have people saying “well I worked for the DoD and I’ve seen clearances revoked and careers ruined for much less.” These two positions are not entirely contradictory.

      • Matt M says:

        As one of those “I worked for the DoD and…” people, I’d just like to clarify that in this case, my own position is NOT that the system is generally unfair to the common folks. Procedures about handling classified material are made VERY clear. Training (required, not just available) is abundant. And while the “maximum” penalties are quite severe, it has been mentioned that they are very rarely enforced unless it’s obvious that harm was intended. Someone who merely puts secret documents in a briefcase and takes them home to work on them will probably lose their clearance and government employment, but is not likely to spend time in prison. I find this to be a fair punishment – therefore I would find it to be a reasonably fair punishment for Hillary as well (although I also think there is clear intent to evade the law and cover it up on her part, but let’s put that aside for the moment).

  27. arbitrary_greay says:

    Something towards a measure of “actually how well off/badly off are you,” considering recent discussions of how income numbers aren’t useful because of cost-of-living changes across locations, and which “keeping up with the Joneses” behaviors is contributing to well-off people being one paycheck away from broke:

    Housing square footage * percent of income that goes to housing

    Variations might include some form of unavoidable regular costs, as well, such as healthcare?

    Education costs:
    Calculate some form of ground floor income for the area: the minimum housing square footage in the area / maximum acceptable percent of income that goes into housing. Then something something percentage of housing in area at that minimum level, multiply by inverse of percentage of jobs that offer that level of income or greater requiring X level of education, education cost divided by the result?

    And a similar calculation for transportation costs.

    The goal here is to figure out which consumptive patterns are actually survival-based, and which costs aren’t. Someone breaking the bank on housing for more space than they need to isn’t badly off, unless transportation costs for local job minimum income gets prohibitive. Someone with lower income, but gets greater housing space and lower monthly-costs due to location, is well off.

    So the goal is to divide out actual income numbers, and try to parse out quality of life. (Of course, there will be some factors hard to account for, like location quality via quality of restaurants, noise/light pollution levels, availability/quality of the arts, or availability of nature.)

  28. TD says:

    I thought I’d share my opinions on US Presidential hopefuls with you. I have done no research whatsoever and have absorbed the essence of the candidates through osmosis.

    TRUMP

    Pros:

    -Against Iraq war, at first glance seems to vaguely understand that intervention in Libya and Syria helped destabilize the region, leading to the rise of ISIS (support supplied to “moderate” rebels), and the migrant crisis (loss of southern border control in Libya, chaos in Syria, and ISIS rampaging around the rest of the middle east). Seems to not want to start WW3 with Russia.

    -Supports retaining national sovereignty and the ability of nation states to be selective about who they let in and who is allowed to stay. As a non-US citizen, I find the worry over the fairly civilized Mexicans to be a bit overblown (Latinas are sexy), but he’s helping push an Overton Window here that is useful to us Europeans in solving our more severe problems… *shark like grin*

    -Struggles to name a Bible verse, and doesn’t seem to care much about social conservatism (with one notable exception) beyond what is necessary to get elected in the GOP.

    -Will defend the second amendment.

    -At first glance, appears to be the freeze peach anti-PC candidate defending the first.

    -Annoys people I don’t like (the salt from the peanut gallery is delicious).

    -Memes.

    Meh:

    -His healthcare plan. Okay.

    -Lower corporate tax rates. Neat. Whatever.

    -The Wall itself. It makes for great memes, but as a plan, I do wonder if there aren’t more high tech means we could use (to do that bad Hitlery stuff) that would actually cheaper. If we have drones and semi-humane automated active denial systems (heat rays and noise rays), we could probably make do with a very heavy duty fence or wall. Or maybe I’m not thinking YUUUUUUGE enough. Maybe the psychological impact will be worth the price. Eh. Just get a room of smarty pants working on the best way to do it, and then do it.

    Cons:

    -Flip flops constantly, beginning to look like Romney.

    -Seems to oppose the neoconservative line, but then veers straight into it, going on about how we need to stop Iran, and how great torture is. Flip flopped TWICE on Libya, going from being in favour of kicking out Gaddafi, to his more familiar anti-neocon position, and then now finally he’s back to saying he would have had him shot straight away. To think I defended you! Then again, he’s remained positive towards Russia, so Putin might bring him around again on Syria and Iran.

    -Here’s that notable exception… He tells us that women who get abortions have to be punished. This is clearly not something he actually believes because he’s so clumsily misinterpreting the conservative position on abortion that Pat Robertson is wincing, but the fact that he’d suggest such a thing makes him look like a dangerous politically illiterate buffoon.

    -Protectionism and trying to bully other countries into “deals”. Look, I understand why people are considering protectionism, but most of the evidence is in favour of free trade being better (the best exceptions apply to weak third world industry not superpowers). Making foreign goods more expensive just so the unemployed can have the “dignity” of low paid jobs doesn’t impress me, especially since we’re busy finding ways to automate them out of existence anyway. The future for the useless is permanent welfare, and the conservative masses are just going to have to check their pride, keep their chin up, and stop acting like children. As the 21st Century progresses, the IQ floor for employment is going to keep rising and we’re all just going to have to accept that software engineers will be our overlords. But hey, maybe you don’t believe in that science fiction crap? Well, take it all aside and his trade and foreign policies are still awful and will probably result in a trade war. This happened before during the Great Depression with the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, which led to retaliatory tariffs making everyone worse off by lowering global production. Only this time, add WWE style showboating to the proceedings to make antagonizing other countries into shutting down trade even easier.

    -In that vein, getting Mexico to pay for the wall, sorry, The Wall. I’m no engineer (or anything really), but Israel built a pretty damn effective wall relatively recently that drastically cut rates of suicide bombings (or so they say). Compare Israel’s wall length to the American border and you can get a rough first hand of cost, and it honestly doesn’t look that expensive. You wouldn’t need to cut much other stuff to afford it, and yet he wants to bully Mexico into paying for it. What happens when Mexico refuses? What then? War? It’s interesting that getting another country to pay for something you are erecting on your soil was the first place he went to.

    -I seriously think he might be a dumb dumb, which yes, helps yokels like me relate to him, but probably means he shouldn’t be the leader of any country, let alone the most powerful empire in the world. People keep saying he’s a genius and he’s running rings around everybody else, but that doesn’t mean he’s smart. It just means that popularity doesn’t depend on intelligence, but on style. Maybe you can say he’s smart at style, but he can’t keep his policies straight for five minutes, so I can’t believe he knows what he’s doing. On the other hand, maybe he’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t know everything, and will actually just hire rooms full of smarty pants to hash out the details like a real businessman would.

    -Let’s take our second glance at the free speech issue. Trump wants to open up US libel laws to crush the lugenpresse. That makes me sigh a lot. People can say that lies are different than opinions all they want, but I find that way too slippery and abusable which is why I’m a free speech extremist (possibly even a free speech terrorist). We all hate the media (that disagrees with us), but I think that social media trolling is doing a good job of cutting it down to size. We’re all the media now, so strong libel laws would mean pushing the government’s interpretation of the truth onto the populace in general. Or at least, as the distinction between media and the individual breaks down that would be the case. Don’t like it.

    -Annoys people I don’t like (this might actually be a really bad thing, stirring up the hornet’s nest and making SJWs ten times worse).

    -Pleases people I hate. The alt-right, neo-nazis, and other racial nationalist types seem to think Trump’s cultural nationalism is a ruse, and that he’s on their side.

    HILLARY

    Pros:

    -The illusion of stability might meme magic itself into real stability.

    Meh:

    -Benghazi. The non-scandal.

    -The email scandal feels like a non-scandal that partisans are hyping up. That being said, some of the non-classified information revealed in those emails is terrifying.

    -Beige suits.

    Cons:

    -She’s a (dis)honorary neocon, and that worldview has a lot to answer for.

    -At least neocons don’t invite the world after they invade it.

    -One of the released emails from the scandal shows that she wants Bashar Al Assad, an Iranian ally to go so that Israel’s trigger finger will get less itchy, and then Israel and the US can agree on a redline for Iran.

    -Might start WW3 with Russia.

    -“Free trade” deals. Funny this one, considering I complained about Trump’s protectionism. The thing is, these deals might get rid of tariffs and barriers to trade but they also help integrate shitty copyright laws and other regulations globally. So yes, I’m in the crazy old Ron Paul camp on this one.

    -Muh guns (Well, actually not my guns, since I’m interned in Britain, but I admire the yank freedoms from afar, and feel they stand as a symbol for the rest of the world. Almost like some kind of anchor actually, some fixed point to orient yourself around).

    -Freeze peach again. She hasn’t said anything specific, but I know which way the wind is blowing. A recent study that I won’t cite because I’m lazy and stupid reported that 40% of US millennials support cracking down on hate speech. Seriously, it’s not hard to find.

    -Hillary is pretty much a corporate centrist with warmongering tendencies, but she’s also an opportunist and may pander to Black Lives Matter as well as other intersectionalist causes. I seem to remember some evidence that she was behind getting BLM to pester Bernie rallies, but I won’t hold it against her, because I can’t confirm that or anything.

    -Hillary will absolutely shill for feminism, and since feminism is intersectionalism these days, I feel like it comes with the territory. She, of course, interprets the wage gap as being down to misogyny. This may distort her economic policy.

    -I hate her unfairly on a visceral level. At least I had the honour to ignore the conservative conspiracy sites.


    BERNIE (He’s done, but hey!)

    Pros:

    -Best candidate on war and the surveillance state (I think).

    -WEED LMAO

    Meh:

    -Memes. Bernie memes are just cringeworthy.

    Cons:

    -A national minimum wage of $15 would be just about the highest in the world, so no, this isn’t even Euro style. This would certainly be above the median wage in some places, leading to job losses. Maybe it acts as a nice automation accelerator?

    -He wants to reduce Wall St speculation with taxes on high speed trading, and then use the revenue from the taxes to pay for free tuition at Universities, but if the taxes reduce the financial activities in question, then there’ll be no revenue for the free tuition… that can’t be right. I must have not researched this plan enough, because that just sounds silly!

    -Same protectionist crap that Trump wants.

    -Gets pushed around by BLM, making him a [insert alt-right buzzword].

    Agree? Disagree?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Your politics differ from mine, which is fine, so I’m going to limit myself to where we disagree on fact issues.

      * Trump is smart. This isn’t enough to be President, and his ego might overwhelm that. (He definitely flip-flops a lot, depending on whatever is advantageous to him right now. Only Trump knows what Trump’s policies will be, and I’m not even sure of that one.)

      * You don’t have to be partisan right-winger to be annoyed by Hillary’s handling of her server. I voted for Bill twice. Perhaps the most annoying thing has been the deep insistence from Hillary’s camp that I must be a partisan to be take issue with this. (I remember Hillary talking about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” the day before her husband lied to my face about never having sexual relations with Monica. Hey, Clintons, while I like your politics, stop telling me I have no reason to be suspicious.)

      • Nornagest says:

        Trump is (almost certainly) smart, but he’s not very politically sophisticated, which might end up being more important. He does have an enormous ego, but I don’t know if it’s bigger than Hillary’s — they express it differently, though.

      • Anonymous says:

        After having looked into the Benghazi thing pretty extensively, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no there there. It’s literally outrage over nothing, at least when it comes to Hillary Clinton. Anyone that brings up Benghazi loses a ton of credibility in my eyes.

        The email thing is different. At its core is a real thing. Hillary Clinton did something she wasn’t supposed to do. And she either knew or should have known she wasn’t supposed to do it. Just how big a wrong it is, that’s something people can disagree with. My inclination is to think the national security state is full of blowhards that have cried wolf far too many times for me to take anything they say about the importance of things like this seriously. That said, look at where Hillary Clinton is on Edward Snowden. She thinks he belongs in prison. Maybe this is one of those live by the sword, die by the sword things.

        Unfortunately as far as I’m concerned, it is a moot point. I’d vote for Blagojevich over Trump.

        • gbdub says:

          Can you elaborate on the Benghazi thing a bit? Because I take it somewhat seriously, at least in this sense:

          a) Evidence seems pretty strong that the State Department lied about the proximate cause of the attacks (i.e. made it seem like a spontaneous protest about a video when in fact it was a planned and organized assault). This bothers me from the lying perspective and also because I’d prefer American politicians to stand up a bit more strongly in favor of free speech instead of excusing religious violence.

          b) State Department employees, who should not normally get murdered in the course of their duties, got murdered. It looks like the security precautions taken to prevent this were inadequate. Now, hindsight is 20/20, and personally I don’t think Hillary is directly responsible for much or any of this, but she was the head honcho at the State Dept. and in that sense bears some institutional responsibility (like a ship captain might not be directly responsible if a sailor falls overboard, but could still be reprimanded for not overseeing a culture of safety or whatever).

          c) Hillary was apparently strongly in favor of the Libya intervention. The general disarray of the post-Gadhaffi Libyan state, of which Benghazi is just the most prominent example, speaks poorly to Hillary’s skill and judgement in managing foreign policy (honestly that’s my biggest knock against her, SecState was her most important actual job, and in my opinion she did badly).

          So does that bringing up of Benghazi make you take me unseriously, or are you talking about something else?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:

            I don’t think (a) is true. It basically relies on misinterpreting somewhat vague statements made about a situation that was still in “the fog of war”.

            Points (b) and (c) don’t get discussed very much by those who are particularly concerned about Benghazi. The problem with (b) is you need to show that Hillary wasn’t effective as SoS to make that stick. In other words, you need to show a pattern of behavior. If it’s just a one off, well outliers happen.

            Hillary gets criticism from those to her left about (c), but they aren’t particularly concerned about Benghazi. The Republican coalition leading the charge on Benghazi has been more strongly in favor of intervention in general. Trump is obviously an outlier on this, but he wasn’t running all of those hearings on Benghazi.

          • Same Anonymous says:

            C is totally legitimate and something I hold against her as well. I don’t think “Benghazi” is a reasonable shorthand for it.

            B I think is somewhat unreasonable. It seems to hold Clinton to a standard that no other cabinet official is held to. Certainly I’ve never heard Gates and Panetta held personally responsible for every serviceman that died during their tenures.

            A is the least reasonable. It takes a fog of war confusion, short lived mistake and blows it up into some kind of sinister coverup. And in any event most of the misinformation originated with the intellegence community or White House yet somehow Hillary Clinton is painted as the mastermind of the story.

          • gbdub says:

            On a), Clinton flat out stated in an email to Egypt’s prime minister, “we know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack, not a protest” on the evening after the attack. And later Susan Rice, Hillary’s direct subordinate, is flat out calling it a “spontaneous reaction” to the video. And Obama makes a point to criticize those who “denigrate” Islam. The video maker got perp-walked (yes I am aware he violated parole, but the timing is awful convenient…)

            You and I must have differing definitions of “misinterpreting” and “somewhat vague”, or are at least stretching the principle of charity awful far – sure, I’ll allow for some fog of war, but not days after the fact. And it’s not like we heard “this may have been a protest, it may have been a planned assault” – we only got the one narrative.

            The administration keeping the “it was all the video’s fault” line going because an unpredictable protest was easier to swallow than us missing a premeditated attack seems at least as likely. I don’t think Hillary was the “mastermind” of this, but she didn’t do any credit to herself either.

            Anyway in general I do think a) is the weakest critique but still not absurd.

            I feel like, at a minimum, b) gets discussed a lot by the Benghazi hearing people. I mean, the major argument is “people died while those who could help were told to stand down”. Whether that’s true or not, it seems to fit generally into my point b). I don’t think we’re necessarily holding Clinton to an unusually high standard here – Rumsfeld got criticized for body armor issues, why shouldn’t Clinton get criticized for lack of security in her department? One of the key arguments is that the ambassadors requests for additional security were denied. I think that’s a fair decision to critique, and certainly one issue that Clinton could have pushed that may have helped. Sure, hindsight’s 20/20 and that weakens the argument, but again I don’t think that makes the whole line of argument unreasonable.

            As for c), while the GOPers are tending to support intervention, I think they generally believe Obama (and Hillary, who was implementing Obama’s policies) to have badly mismanaged the interventions. It’s certainly possible, and I think reasonably common on the right, to believe that intervention in Libya was on the whole a good idea, but the adminisitration royally screwed the pooch on the follow-through. Certainly they feel that way about Syria.

    • Zorgon says:

      -Here’s that notable exception… He tells us that women who get abortions have to be punished.

      Is there a quote on this? The nearest thing I’m aware of is “If abortions are made illegal, then women who get them should be punished for breaking the law.”

      I mean obviously the usual suspects reacted in the usual way, but I’m not actually aware of him saying he wants abortion to be punishable, only that he’s “pro-The Law”.

      • Deiseach says:

        That question was one of the “gotcha!” questions routinely lobbed at pro-life groups. “Oh yeah, if you think abortion is murder, why don’t you want women to be arrested for murder then? ‘Cos if you don’t, then you don’t really think it’s murder!”

        Personally I think Trump doesn’t care a straw either way, but he was mistakenly trying to signal to the Evangelical vote he was courting*, and so he had the guts to say “Okay, sure, if it’s wrong, then yeah charge them with murder”.

        Cue predictable shrieks of outrage, but to be honest, if he’d said “No they shouldn’t be”, then the shrieking would have been “See? He’s not really pro-life, he’s only trying to appeal to the religious rubes! Hypocrite!”

        You’re a hypocrite who doesn’t really care about the foetus (because you don’t really consider it murder) but only want to punish women for having sex if you say “No, women should not be put in prison for having abortions” and you’re a monster who hates women and wants to punish them for having sex if you say “Yes, they should be imprisoned”.

        *Again, he has a large chunk of support from ‘cultural’ Evangelicals, i.e. the kind of person brought up in that milieu but who doesn’t attend church regularly, but the churches are very much anti-Trump:

        The shrinking “God gap” hinges on the oft-debated definition of evangelical. Polls show that support for Trump is much higher among those who don’t attend church regularly than among those who worship weekly.

        • Liskantope says:

          Personally I think Trump doesn’t care a straw either way

          I’m going to agree with a version of that sentiment which is vastly generalized out of context. I don’t think Trump actually cares a straw about any issue.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Sanders has supported every military action he’s had a chance to, with the sole exception of Iraq. He favored bombing Kosovo in 99, and after Bush left, he favorted Libyan regime change, and bombing the crap out of Syria.

      Unless anti-war means “opposes war 50% of the time if a Republican is president,” he is not anti-war.

      • Nicholas says:

        Either you made a mistake, or I do not know why you potholed the same article three times.

    • Dahlen says:

      Uh, I’m not sure this is the most mature analysis of the candidates I’ve ever seen. (The most obvious example of it is that internet memes somehow factor in for every candidate you mention.) Exactly what is the point of this, and what reaction where you expecting out of your audience?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Maybe it was meant for fun.

      • TD says:

        I say, this is a rationalist space, boy!

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        The most obvious example of it is that internet memes somehow factor in for every candidate you mention.

        It definitely does for us non-americans. If you, like me, believe that a hypothetical Trump presidency wouldn’t have a lot of impact (and a negilgible impact on my country in particular), then memes are definitely a part of the equation, what’s the point of living a joyless life?

        • Dahlen says:

          I definitely do have a horse in this race, I’m afraid. At some point Putin has threatened sending Russian tanks on the streets of my city. (Now, there’s a good chance he was just talking shit and being his usual threatening strongman self, as evidenced by the lack of sightings of Russian tanks around, but still.) My personal well-being depends on the continued US involvement in NATO, which Trump apparently wants to discontinue. (It’s debatable whether he’ll have the power to do so single-handedly, though, but it does increase the chance of it happening.) So yeah, for some people US elections are more than an occasion to fetch your popcorn.

          I don’t care much for Trump in particular and don’t regard him as a fascist as others do, as far as I’m concerned he’s just a clown who got luckier than he should have, but that particular policy is worrisome.

    • Hlynkacg says:

      @TD
      I agree with you on the broad strokes but the Clintons have always been somewhat shady and I am pretty confident that Hillary just plain corrupt as all hell.

      I will concede that I am likely too close to the Bengahzi case render an impartial view. But in regards to the emails I am convinced that the only reason she hasn’t been exiled from public life (a la Patreus) or doing 20 years in Ft Leavenworth (a la Manning) is that she’s cut some sort of deal with the President and/or AG who haven’t exactly been pillars of honesty or transparency themselves.

      • Aegeus says:

        The requirements for criminal charges in this case are either criminal intent (i.e., Clinton was literally handing secrets to Russia) or gross negligence (I’m not a lawyer, but from what I’ve gathered it has to be a lot larger than “told an underling to get email on her phone”). The first one definitely didn’t happen, the second one is almost impossible to prove.

        Now, the State Department has said that the email server violated their policy, but policy isn’t law. It could get her fired, but seeing as she’s already left, that ship has sailed.

        A lot of people think she should be in jail for what she did, but legally, she’s almost certainly in the clear. No secret deals necessary.

        Manning, by contrast, intentionally leaked secrets. And was in the military, which has much tighter rules about that sort of thing. That case was a slam-dunk.

        • gbdub says:

          I thought the “smoking gun” bit was Hillary basically instructing someone to destroy the markings so that a classified document would look unclassified? That’s pretty gross misbehavior. Also at some point the sheer volume has to mean something. Maybe not quite “throw you in jail” level, but at least as bad as what got Petraeus unpersoned.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I thought the “smoking gun” bit was Hillary basically instructing someone to destroy the markings so that a classified document would look unclassified?

            Link? My prior is that there is no evidence of this. (My prior is also that it’s not true, but that would be a stronger claim.)

          • Anonymous says:

            I vaguely recall that this accusation was based on a misunderstanding of some state department jargon (something about a clean copy).

          • Jill says:

            Interesting discussion about the charges against Hillary here. I am for Bernie, not Hillary. But I have observed that Hillary has been bashed constantly for decades now. And many of those bashing her don’t need any evidence. Bashing her seems to be their job, defined as:

            –Hillary did or said something today
            –How was that thing she said today proof of her incompetence/untustworthiness/desire to destroy America?

            The only thing that I see really wrong with Hillary is that she’s bought and paid for by a number of Special Interest Groups. Just like every president we have ever had.

            And I see no reason why she would make a worse president than Trump. According to politifact.com fact checker site, she’s a whole lot more honest, despite Trump calling her Crooked Hillary.

            http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/
            http://www.politifact.com/personalities/hillary-clinton/

          • gbdub says:

            http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2016/01/10/hillary-clinton-says-nonpaper-email-a-nonissue/

            Has a pdf of the email in question attached.

            A charitable and plausible interpretation would be that Clinton wanted Sullivan to remove the classified information from the document and send just that over an unsecure email. But… that’s a weird way to say “Just send me the unclassified portions for now”.

            “w no identifying heading” sounds particularly bad, since on most documents the identifying heading is there to explain what’s in the contents and why it is classified. Also, “turn into nonpaper” is basically saying “make it unattributable as a gov’t document”, which, if it IS an attributable gov’t document, is a bit shady.

            Anyway that plausible part is why I put “smoking gun” in scare quotes. Still, we know there was a high volume of unmarked classified on Hillary’s server, so I think at best we’re arguing over when “negligence” turns into “gross negligence” and then into “deliberate law breaking”. I’m not particularly comfortable with any of those three in my SecState.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          The way I see it there are two possible scenarios that explain the facts currently at hand. Option A) Clinton was selling favors / access through the Clinton Foundation and wanted to keep any evidence of such exchanges on a private server where it would be less vulnerable to FOIA requests and/or congressional scrutiny. Option B) Clinton genuinely believed that the server in her basement was secure (afterall, how are the Chinese/Russians/whomever going to get a Spy into Clinton’s basement), in which case we must assume that neither Clinton nor anyone on her staff have even a 101 level understanding of how the internet works.

          I’m not sure if option B rises to the level of “gross negligence” but it’s got to be getting pretty damn close seeing as how all DoS and DoD personnel are required to take a annual Information Security training, and SOMEONE on her staff ought to have realized that transmitting TSC information “in the clear” over a public ISP represented a serious breach of protocol.

          Likewise, If one of her aides did indeed remove the classification tags from secret documents to avoid having to go through the “official” state department channels (unconfirmed at this point) the only question is whether the Aide did it on their own initiative or because Secretary Clinton asked them to. In either case, someone is guilty of a felony and ought to be doing 10 – 20′ in Ft. Leavenworth.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This was not a server that was designed to handle information that was classified. Even if she used servers at state for these emails, they still would be not have been designed to handle classified info, and it still would not have been policy to send classified info on those servers.

            The secure servers for sending classified info are a separate system.

            Edit:
            And remember, everything that is going through the non-classified system is public record, so saying those systems need to be secure is roughly an oxymoron. Not to mention there is nothing wrong with communicating, using those emails addresses, with people have email addresses anywhere else, which means you will be transmitting in the clear.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            The secure servers for sending classified info are a separate system.

            …And remember, everything that is going through the non-classified system is public record.

            Well yes, that’s the whole point, the classified system is kept separate for a reason and intentionally circumventing that separation is a serious charge, which is what the FBI is investigating. Likewise, we want our official’s communications to be public record for a reason and intentionally subverting those requirements ought to make you suspicious at the very least. See the Post article I linked above.

            The way I see it, the charitable explanation is that Clinton and her staff were all playing fast an loose with the rules, and in doing so displayed a level of negligence and/or incompetence that would have gotten anyone else fired and barred from ever holding a government job again (See Patreus). The less charitable explanation is that Clinton and her staff knew that they were breaking the law and went ahead anyway, in which case someone really ought to be in jail.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlynkcg:
            I think the most charitable interpretation is that Clinton wanted to keep using a mobile communication device, and that State and the NSA weren’t ready to handle that, and that Clinton had no intent to send classified information on that device, which means its all subject to FOIA.

            That’s basically the kick off to the whole thing, State gets told by the NSA to “shut up and color” (i.e. go back to the kiddie room) when asking about a secure Blackberry and what the solution for the POTUS was.

            The idea that mobile communication needs would be in flux around that time is not surprising given how new that tech is, relatively speaking. Blackberries are roughly 2000. The firs iPhone is 2007.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @HBC
            But, that just leads us back to the conclusion that Clinton and her staff are incompetent. Even in the dark ages of 2004 (when I was still handling classified material on a semi-regular basis) arranging to have your unclassified work emails automatically forwarded to a private account was a pretty straight forward procedure. Certainly much easier than setting up your own parallel server.

            If she already had the option to have unclassified material forwarded to her blackberry why did she need to set up a independent server? Especially if she had no intent to send classified information on that device?

            The fact that this server was also conveniently inaccessible to oversight and FOIA requests is just icing on the cake.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            arranging to have your unclassified work emails automatically forwarded to a private account was a pretty straight forward procedure.

            Well, if that’s the case, why are we concerned about the security of the Clinton’s server? You think it’s better to have her stuff forwarded to a Yahoo account? If I can just forward all non-classified stuff by default to some online ESP, security concerns are pretty much out of the window.

            Also, are you sure this was the case at State?

            Look, no SoS before Clinton officially made very much use of email at all. Powell sent some unknown amount of emails from and to his AOL account, including receiving at least some classified material. We don’t know how much because he never turned any of it over and claims it is gone. (Which very well may be true!)

            Rice claims to have never used email at all. (Never? Really?)

            What I see is a turf fight over whether and how people at State use email. I don’t think State was willing to have Clinton’s Blackberry connecting to their servers at all. At least that is the way I read it.

            Less charitably, Clinton started out using a very standard “I don’t have a government email account. All of the emails I send are only personal” tactic. That doesn’t require believing Clinton wanted to hide criminal activities though, merely that she was paranoid about witch-hunts (which she demonstrably is, whether or not she is a witch.)

          • Matt M says:

            A hugely contentious public controversy boils down to a turf war between a liberal state department and conservative members of Congress over acceptable security practices with hints of a possible cover-up?

            I guess there really is nothing new under the sun.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Well, if that’s the case, why are we concerned about the security of the Clinton’s server?

            Because I don’t actually believe that “she had no intent to send classified information on that device”. and what little we have seen seems to indicate that information and security discipline amongst her staff was disturbingly lax.

            You think it’s better to have her stuff forwarded to a Yahoo account?

            Absolutely. Officially forwarded messages leave a paper trail. We, or rather someone from the NSA or Inspector General’s office, would be able to look at what was forwarded and when. Instead we are stuck having to take Clinton at her word that there’s nothing to be seen.

            Also, are you sure this was the case at State?

            I find it hard to believe that the SecState (and her staff) would be denied an option available to overseas military personnel and embassy staff for years.

            What I see is a turf fight over whether and how people at State use email.

            …and I see it as a turf fight over who gets to oversee cabinet members. Congress or the President.

            Edit: @Matt

            I chuckled at that.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s definitely an underlying element of all this that DNI and CIA and the like think they should “own” everything to do with classification even though the legal structure in place has authority flow from the President to the cabinet secretaries.

            It’s not the main issue but it’s there lurking underneath.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Hlynkacg:

            Absolutely. Officially forwarded messages leave a paper trail. We, or rather someone from the NSA or Inspector General’s office, would be able to look at what was forwarded and when.

            That is certainly a fair point, but it has nothing to do with whether Clinton’s email server needed to be secure. Which was the entirety of your second point.

            Whatever email was being sent to Clinton on her private server came off of non-classified servers, wherever they were. Therefore, the issue isn’t that they went to Clinton’s private server. The issue is only whether that material should have been sent from a non-classified server at all.

            Even if she had used only State email servers, any classified material that came or went to those servers would be the same level of bad, from a legal perspective. Concentrating on the private email server is a red-herring. You’ve already said it would have been completely OK for her to have set up an automatic forward from a State server to Yahoo. By implication, that means it was also perfectly fine for her to forward it to any private server. And perfectly fine for anyone to have emailed that server directly. There is nothing special about a third party ESP here. Non Classified serves talk to non government servers all the time.

            You can make an argument that the security violations are bad. But you can’t bring her private server into a security argument. Any violation occurred before then.

          • John Schilling says:

            think the most charitable interpretation is that Clinton wanted to keep using a mobile communication device

            Using a “mobile communication device” doesn’t require a private email server, just a Blackberry and a commercial email account. Not in this century has setting up a private email server been anything but needlessly complicated and expensive if your actual goal is to have a working Blackberry.

            The advantages of a commercial email account are that it is easier, cheaper, and probably more secure. The disadvantage of a commercial email account is that if the FBI subpoenas Yahoo or whatever, they’ll turn over everything without letting you delete the “private” stuff first. And if Hillary somehow didn’t know all of this, and know how sketchy and illicit a private server would be in that context, whoever set up the server for her certainly did.

            Also, so what? The information I work with isn’t nearly as sensitive as what Hillary dealt with on a daily basis, not nearly so damaging to national security if it falls into the wrong hands. But my smartphone spends a good chunk of its time powered down and locked in my desk because it’s not allowed in the SCIF, the ops room, or whatnot. It’s part of the job, so shut up and do the job.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            That doesn’t require believing Clinton wanted to hide criminal activities though, merely that she was paranoid about witch-hunts (which she demonstrably is, whether or not she is a witch.)

            Sure, people are out to get Clinton. Absolutely.

            This really is the simplest explanation. When someone comes around with an FOIA request, she doesn’t want some peon State Department lifer deciding what’s private and what’s not. She wants her own spokesperson. So she can control the message.

            Unfortunately, there is no exception that says “you are exempt from public accountability laws if some of people trying to hold you accountable are dumb poopyheads.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            Her Blackberry didn’t come onto Mahogany row, as near as I can tell, and that isn’t the issue being debated. She wanted some Blackberry there, but someone was rebuffed very early on in a request for a secure device. So she kept her device locked away as well. Are you claiming different?

            The “wants to hide from FOIA” holds far more water than the other accusations. The fact that this is not the main thing people are accusing her of is one of the reasons why it seems like motivated reasoning.

            Do you dispute that her email server being private has no bearing on how bad sending classified info to/through a non-classified server is?

          • Nornagest says:

            The fact that this is not the main thing people are accusing her of is one of the reasons why it seems like motivated reasoning.

            I don’t feel like taking a side here, but: anytime you get into politics, there’s going to be a lot of motivated reasoning floating around. Reliably enough that you can pretty much treat it as a fact of nature.

            But when a process is that reliable, knowing about it doesn’t give you much information on anything else about the issue. Like, for example, the actual substance of the accusations here.

          • John Schilling says:

            So she kept her device locked away as well. Are you claiming different?

            Not at all, and her keeping it locked away strengthens the claim I am making – which is that her desire for or use of a Blackberry is a total red herring when it comes to her private email server. The only connection between the two is that if you happen to have both of those for their own reasons, you’ll probably route the one through the other for convenience.

            Do you dispute that her email server being private has no bearing on how bad sending classified info to/through a non-classified server is?

            I do indeed. The damage to national security is likely the same in either case, but the extra deliberate effort involved in routing everything through a private server shifts the moral culpability from negligence at least as far as recklessness and arguably some way into malice.

            Hillary Clinton probably committed two offenses here. First, maliciously routing her work email through a private email for the purpose of evading FOIA requests and other legal accountability requirements in her job as SecState. Second, in carrying out the former, recklessly passing classified information through an unclassified network. These crimes are not unrelated, insofar as the former was almost certainly the motive for the latter. And either should at minimum disqualify her from government employment, as they have so many others.

            She is properly attacked on both of those grounds. Depending on what sort of defense she offers, or is offered on her behalf, the focus of the attack may be on one or the other, or may shift between the two as different defenses are offered. There is no requirement that anyone limit themselves to pointing out one of her offenses, or even prefer one to the other.

          • Anonymous says:

            How did the classified information end up in Hillary Clinton’s email? Aren’t the classified systems a-irgapped?

            Did she hear / read classified things and then type out emails that referenced them? Did other people send her emails that included classified information they had typed in? Did Hillary or someone that emailed her put a flash drive into a secure network, copy documents, put them on the insecure network and then attach them to emails?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            How did the classified information end up in Hillary Clinton’s email? Aren’t the classified systems air-gapped?

            They’re supposed to be, and how exactly that separation ended up being broken is what the FBI is obstensibly investigating. See my comment and the linked Washington Post article at the top of this thread.

            Edit:
            As for the rest, it seems that John Schilling and I are pretty much of the same mind on this topic.

          • John Schilling says:

            How did the classified information end up in Hillary Clinton’s email? Aren’t the classified systems a-irgapped

            Aide: “…they’ve had issues sending secure fax. They’re working on it”

            Clinton: “If they can’t, turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure”

            That implies classified hardcopy (the secure systems I’ve worked with still aren’t up to soft-faxing), but it isn’t clear whether the hardcopy was emailed as an image, OCRed and emailed, or retyped and emailed. “No identifying heading” implies some degree of editing, so probably more than just emailed as an image.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            Two thoughts –

            1) If there is something prosecutable vis-a-vis FOIA, it should be pretty plain. There isn’t really any disagreement that Clinton set up and used a private server in lieu of using an official State email address. Clinton isn’t denying it. Since I’m not seeing anyone even making this case, Occam says that (legally) there is no “there” there, despite what might look like it on the surface.

            Frankly, I’m not sure exactly sure we want email subject to FOIA, as email is replacing phone conversations that weren’t subject to it. But that is a whole different conversation.

            2) I’m aware of two examples that look like Clinton asking for nomatively classified information on the separate system sent via email. In neither of those case was she sent that classified info via email, correct? In other words, that isn’t a good explanation for the things in her email which are being referred to as classified.

        • Civilis says:

          Living outside Washington, I know a lot of people with security clearances, and just about every one has a second or third hand story of someone hit with felony charges for something a lot less than what’s been proven about Clinton (willingly taking TS level information outside a SCIF). In most cases it’s plea bargained down to ‘suspended punishment + never work for the government again’, true, but there’s always some prosecution. Also, the military rules are the same as the rules for the rest of the government regarding this stuff.

          For me, though, the willful avoidance of federal records retention laws and just plain non-compliance with FOIA laws is worse than the security classification violations. It’s as if a criminal suspect, when presented with a search warrant for cocaine, proceeded to dump a bag of white powder down the toilet right in view of the cop, and then claimed she was just disposing of some expired sugar, and of course there are no drugs in the apartment. Yes, of course we’re having difficulty getting proof, she’s admitted disposing of stuff that rightly belonged to the government, but we’re supposed to just take her word it was all innocent.

          And that’s before you get into the previous cases (yes, multiple) where records of hers that were legally supposed to be kept that would serve as evidence one way or the other regarding criminal allegations against her managed to disappear. This isn’t a one-time occurrence, it’s a consistent pattern.

          • Matt M says:

            9 years Navy enlisted, part of which was spent as a personnel security specialist.

            Can vouch for this. Even the most minor and benign incidents of mishandling classified information was always vigorously prosecuted. Even when there is absolutely no question that no actual harm was done.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Where at? (if you don’t mind my asking) I was Navy for 8 years myself, plus a couple more years as a reservist and doing contract work.

          • Matt M says:

            I was an FTS so I am well familiar with the reserves. Spent a couple years in Dahlgren, VA, a few in Point Mugua, CA, and finished up at a reserve center in Oregon.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            I was enlisted aircrew, spent most of my active duty time rotating between through North Island and various SAR/MEDEVAC detachments in the far east. (Singapore, Bahrain, Aum Qasr, etc…)

        • Ptoliporthos says:

          Now, the State Department has said that the email server violated their policy, but policy isn’t law.

          Except in this case, the policy was designed to ensure compliance with the FOIA law. It’s a difference without a distinction. Not complying with State Department policy means the server runs afoul of the law.

        • Mary says:

          She mishandled classified information.

          Military personnel and former military personnel have told me that people are in jail for less egregious mishandling.

      • Gravitas Shortfall says:

        In my opinion a somewhat corrupt person with a cool temperament is preferable to a somewhat corrupt person with a volatile temperament.

        Though I think Clinton’s corruption has been exaggerated by her political opponents, but there’s no point in arguing about that because it’s an article of faith for too many people.

        • I concluded that the Clintons were corrupt a very long time ago, after reading a detailed analysis of the cattle futures case written by a libertarian speculator who was a Soros protogé. I don’t remember being terribly upset about it. Given all the legal ways of bribing a politician, the fact that they were being bribed in an illegal way was more interesting than disturbing.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      I think Sanders has a few more cons.

      Education:

      His push for free colleges and universities across the country is not possible. The main country I know of that does something similar is Germany…which only does so for say, the top 15% of HS students. And from the reports I hear from some friends there the campuses fund less on-campus activities and goodies like well-stocked gyms and concerts.

      “Reduce the amount of Americans who go to a 4-year by 60% and make college boring to make it affordable!”. Try saying that as a populist.

      And anyways, there already *is* a good cap. No more then 10% of ones total income(regardless of what it is) for at most 20 years. If the nation wants to ability for every citizen to make a name for themselves regardless of High School performance, theres a cost to it.

      His specific rebuttal to No Child Left Behind.

      “By placing so much emphasis on standardized testing”

      There’s no other way not full of bull to measure how much someone learned besides standardized tests. Sure, some of the tests suck, but that dosen’t mean standardizes tests are not very useful when done well.

      Free Trade:

      The best way to start funding some of his proposals is for the nation to benefit from all the economic benefits of what goes along with free trade. I’m a good deal more sympathetic to the green party critiques of some trade deals, where companies mostly go to avoid regulations. But I have not yet found notable quotes where he dosen’t take the fake trade deficit issue seriously. That was debunked over 200 years ago. It also screws over developing nations who really benefit from the wages.

      My major pro for him is basic healthcare. This is something that’s clearly used the totally inelastic demand of not dying of a broken arm or an infection or living in misery to make everyone who works in it filthy rich, with a bunch of bunk being sold by the pharm companies to the desperate(Some pills offered for sleep/depression/PTSD are barely away from placebo, with good evidence its mostly a statistical trick)

      Nuclear Power is another con, from my limited knowledge. NASA seems to be a trustworthy enough source on the dangers of various types of energy, and nuclear is another way for energy independence.

      I suppose another pro is greater income inequality in the age of robotics. Sanders platforms are good prep for when theres no more jobs.

      • Anonymous says:

        And from the reports I hear from some friends there the campuses fund less on-campus activities and goodies like well-stocked gyms and concerts.

        *Gasps* The horror.

        More seriously, though:

        “Reduce the amount of Americans who go to a 4-year by 60% and make college boring to make it affordable!”

        As someone who never used the rock-climbing wall, etc., of my university, I fail to see why this is a bad idea. Presumably, having free tuition but having to pay for extras like gyms and concerts is still much more affordable than what we have now.

        As for reducing the number whose tuition is fully funded at 4-year colleges, there remain other options: two-year colleges (and an end to degree inflation!), trade schools, private colleges that charge full tuition.

        • Nornagest says:

          I would be astonished if climbing walls and concerts were more than a rounding error in your average college’s budget. Extracurriculars generally, not a rounding error, but they’d never get you into affordable territory, and killing college sports will be a very hard sell.

          Ending degree inflation is exactly what we need — if we significantly reduced the demand for four-year degrees, tuition would be almost an afterthought — but you’re not going to do that by making tuition free, unless you do a whole lot of politically difficult other stuff at the same time.

          • onyomi says:

            Climbing walls are not a rounding error if used as a synecdoche for all the myriad ways colleges improve the dorms and facilities largely for the purpose of making the campus look more attractive, comfortable, and impressive to prospective students and donors.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well yes, but the free tuition would make the politically difficult other stuff more likely.

          • Nornagest says:

            @onyomi — When I was in college, the dorm facilities were like what you’d see in a moderately well-appointed apartment complex, except a bit less well-maintained and with four to six times the population per square foot. Given that I was paying three hundred dollars a month more for that than I would a year later for my own room off campus, I have a hard time believing that this has much to do with tuition inflation.

            (I suppose the gym was better, but suburban YMCAs have similar facilities and they manage to stay afloat on thirty bucks a month from their members.)

            @Anon — Show me.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nornagest Show you?
            Honest question: Is the notion that pairing a politically unpopular idea with a popular one makes the former more palatable, really something that warrants a request for supporting evidence?

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, that’s plausible. What I haven’t seen, and what I was asking for, is any indication that Bernie Sanders et al. have a workable plan to implement any of the hard stuff, or even a workable idea of what would be required.

            Could probably have been less vague.

          • onyomi says:

            @Nornagest,

            Don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve been in college, but things have changed a lot pretty rapidly. That said, the nice facilities aren’t the proximal cause of the tuition inflation. The cause of the tuition inflation is subsidized student loans, which act to eliminate ability to pay as a limiting factor. The facilities, along with administrative salaries and sports, are just one area where a lot of the money flows.

            Also, keep in mind that it’s very much analogous to medical care in that you can’t always see or fathom where all the money is going. $300 hammer and all that. I recall, for example, that my school bought $500 computer chairs for all the computers in one of our labs.

          • JayT says:

            I still want to know why people think free college tuition is even something worth doing. State universities are already extremely affordable (the most expensive, Penn State, is ~$16K per year), and I see little reason to think getting the marginal student into college adds anything of value.

          • Anonymous says:

            @JayT, more like $14,000. That’s $56,000 over four years and does not include boarding or meals (which are an additional $12k-$15k). Are you assuming that the students’ family pays the $104,000+ or that the student takes out this amount in loans?

            One of the reasons *I* support free tuition is that it would allow newly-adult students to attend college with or without the blessing/support of their parents.

          • JayT says:

            For starters, you have to pay for food and housing no matter what you are doing, so I don’t see why that should be included. Also, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to earn enough to pay for food and rent with a part time job and full time work in the summer.

            So you are looking at $56K for the most expensive possible college degree from a state university. If the degree isn’t worth that amount plus the interest on the student loan, why exactly are you getting that degree? If it’s purely because it is a subject that interests you, why should that be subsidized?

          • Anonymous says:

            @JayT, You seem to not consider student debt something to be avoided. I do. Your comment has also gone off in a whole other direction.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            This brings me to a good question.

            Is there a well organized online budget of various american universities, vs total tuition?

            I really, really want to see where that money is going.

          • Anonymous says:

            Everything other than salaries is minor. And the fastest growing category of salaries by far are non-faculty professional staff, especially deanlets and deanlings.

          • Teal says:

            It’s a little astonishing to me that anyone thinks it is a good idea for the government to pay four years worth of living expenses of people that will soon be members of at least the middle class. Tuition is one thing, but room and board is crazy.

            Conservatives shouldn’t like it because they don’t like any taxes and liberals shouldn’t like it because it is regressive, at least from a post hoc view rather than the usual pre hoc one.

            The fact that someone is willing to loan you four years worth of living expenses at age 18 is itself astonishing and something you should be grateful for. If you have some sort of phobia about debt, I don’t see how that is or ought to be anyone else’s problem.

          • Jill says:

            The free college tuition thing would not happen, even if Bernie did win the election. Congress would never make that into law. The only effect of Bernie’s winning would be to push the nation very very slightly to the Left, which I think would be good, which is why I am for him. The nation is so Right Wing that such a slight nudge would still not bring it to the Center.

          • Anonymous says:

            Jill, the nation is by definition in the Center. I understand what you mean, but calling yourself the ideal default and observing that the nation is to the right of you and therefore should move towards you does not mean that you actually are “the Center”.

          • Jill says:

            Anonymous, that’s a strange idea to me. Clinton is where Nixon was years ago, on policy. So the Dem nominee is Right Wing.

            The nation is by definition in the Center? Was Nazii Germany by defininition in the Center? What about the former Soviet Union? Policies matter. Where the typical person is in a nation, is not necessarily even close to the Center politically.

          • Anonymous says:

            The Center is what centrist voters prefer, correct? The Soviet Union didn’t have voters, and the government of Nazi Germany couldn’t have been elected democratically by a 1% extremist group, could it? It may have then behaved against the preferences of those centrist voters but those things are very quickly fixed when the next election comes around.

            The Center isn’t some cosmically chosen position of perfect balance that is independent of time or space. What’s in the center is defined by the voters in the specific country and era. Which is why I pointed out that your appeal to the center as something to strive for because it’s the center is wrong; the center doesn’t necessarily contain all the good policies, and we already are there unless all the lefties are forbidden from voting or something.

            You’d be correct to say that Nazi Germany was extreme rightist compared to the center of now, but a nazi scholar writing in 1940 that the centrist view demands universal income or [some other 21st century idea] would be objectively wrong.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This is the standard “the country is so full of extremists of the other party” that we all know and love.

            If you only look at one little issue, you can always tell this story, but each party has consolidated several wins on their win, such that the other party doesn’t even bother trying to fight them.

            You won’t notice this if you read the excitable media trying to get you to panic that is prevalent in your bubble.

          • Richard says:

            @Jill, Anon

            I suspect the two of you are operating on different meanings of the word center.

            From the outside perspective, when most other countries in the OECD think of the Democratic party as being to the right of the Overton window, a change to the left will still not put the nation in the center.

            From the inside perspective, the center is obviously in the center, duh.

          • Anonymous says:

            Right, my objections to Jill are that her definition of Center seems to be chosen as “Jill’s policy preferences define what the Center is”, and that there’s no reason to assume moving toward the center is desirable. If the center is defined by the preferences of the electorate majority then at least we want to be there for the love of democracy, otherwise what do we care about it?

          • Richard says:

            @anon
            One reason to care about it is that the outside view provides a sanity check for your stance:

            If your left wing extremist is to the right of the rest of the world and the rest of the world is doing OK then:
            a) you might actually be nazi Germany and/or
            b) moving slightly to the left may not be an undiluted disaster.

            which is always worth a second or two of thought.

          • Anonymous says:

            Good point.

          • onyomi says:

            Whether we should locate the political “center” according to national or world standards is itself a politically charged question.

            The US is somewhat right-wing by current world standards and somewhat left-wing by US historical standards. You can guess which side prefers to use which standard.

          • Matt M says:

            “The US is somewhat right-wing by current world standards”

            Without pulling the “lol citation needed” card, I’m curious as to your justification for this statement. The more I actually look into various policies that are in place in various countries around the world (including northern europe), the less convinced I am that this is actually true.

            It seems like something we were all told in grade school and just accepted as self-evident. I feel like it’s rarely challenged because both sides like to believe it’s true.

            I’m not challenging you to deliver all of your evidence right now, just curious as to whether you’ve researched it or not. Not trying to be combative or accusatory or single you our or anything like that – just making a general point.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            “It’s a little astonishing to me that anyone thinks it is a good idea for the government to pay four years worth of living expenses of people that will soon be members of at least the middle class.”

            The point is that if you don’t do that, only people who are already middle class will study.

            Re centrism

            If you define the center by long term trends, it is perfectly coherent to say that a given country has gone off centre.

          • Teal says:

            It’s a little astonishing to me that anyone thinks it is a good idea for the government to pay four years worth of living expenses of people that will soon be members of at least the middle class.

            The point is that if you don’t do that, only people who are already middle class will study.

            That’s not true. Many don’t have a phobia about debt.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          Oh I don’t believe its a bad thing at all, and I would very much prefer the atmosphere of european universitites where there are professional and local intramural and regional sports events rather then “Football colleges” too. I can’t believe I read nonsense of colleges paying for the best student athletes like I read in some papers, as if cheap tuition and social status benefits was not enough.

          My *main* point was that no populist politician in America is going to run on the platform “Free College…..for 10 percent of America!” and/Or, “Take away the aspects of college life that greatly differ from europe which has become an american distinction to make it cheaper!”

      • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

        You are not correct on Germany’s education system. It’s actually 49%(as of 2010), the number not being vey high because the German apprenticeship system encompases many professions which other developed countries teach in colleges (like nursing).

        One third of those students (which actually works out to around 15%, so maybe that’s where you got the number from) receive a small stipend from the government based on financial need. I understand that housing is included in American tuition, but obviously still needs to be somehow paid for by the student in Germany, so the usual juxtaposition of costs in Germany vs. the US fails to show that.

        You are right about the goodies provided not matching US level, though. Still, there are enough sports activities (usually offered at a small fee like 10 bucks per semester) to make it slightly less boring than what internet stereotype suggests German life to be.

        Source:https://www.oecd.org/edu/Education-at-a-Glance-2014.pdf (page 332, the chart is not really detailed, it was the best English language source I found.

        • Nornagest says:

          I understand that housing is included in American tuition

          This is a little complicated. Housing is not part of tuition in the States; even if you’re living on campus (common for first- and often second-year students, increasingly uncommon thereafter, though it varies by school), it’s usually accounted as a separate expense. On the other hand, a housing allowance is included in some higher-end scholarships, and it’s often one of the things that student loans are designed to cover.

          Depending on the numbers you’re looking at, it may or may not be rolled into the comparison. Most estimates of the cost of college in the States will include it, because it makes the numbers go up and that’s what sells papers.

    • Dank says:

      TRUMP

      Pros:

      -Against Iraq war

      Trump claims to have been against the Iraq War, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe him.
      http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/04/no-donald-trump-didnt-oppose-iraq-war
      (Absence of evidence is evidence of absence)
      (If you’re reluctant to believe evidence from the hard left partisan site Mother Jones, that’s ok but Kevin Drum is definitely one of the more clear headed mainstream political pundits out there. )

      • suntzuanime says:

        Regardless of the extent to which his opposition was a matter of public record at the time (and let’s remember that businesspeople are a little less likely than politicians to make their political positions a matter of public record, and let’s remember that on the other side presence of evidence is evidence of presence), he took a strong position on it in the Republican primary when the standard Republican position on the war was much more apologist. (e.g. Bush’s “he kept us safe”) Trump deserves credit for being against the Iraq war.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Huh?

          Trump managed to read the tea leaves on the electorate and wasn’t hamstrung about being consistent with prior positions.

          Plus, his whole pitch is that “all these other guys are idiots”. Taking the position that Iraq was a success doesn’t help him there. Whatever his actual position at the time, taking the “Iraq was a fucking disaster” position doesn’t hurt his positioning.

          I mean look at his statements about McCain. “I like heroes who don’t get captured.” You think that was a statement of principle? No, he just aims for whatever feels like a chink in the armor.

          • suntzuanime says:

            All those other guys are idiots. He gets credit for saying so. Yes, you can say that every position a politician takes is actually cynically crafted to earn them the most votes, and so we shouldn’t judge politicians on their positions but rather on their race and/or gender, and that’s not unreasonable. But to the extent that we are going to judge politicians on their positions, taking correct minority positions when the conventional wisdom is wrong has to be worth points if anything is.

  29. onyomi says:

    I’d like to signal-boost this excellent post by TD.

    He (she?) argues that we should classify “right wing” and “left wing” by ideology, not policies, since there are conceivable left-wing and right-wing justifications for the same policy, such as welfare programs.

    This seems important because it makes sense, for me, of the weird way in which Republicans can now “defend” social security and medicare from evil government encroachment. The traditional value “take care of old people” has now been deployed to justify the ostensibly liberal welfare programs (though if we called them “welfare for old people” instead of “getting back what you earned,” one imagines the right would like these programs less).

    This seems both discouraging and encouraging in different ways: discouraging because it seems like even if you have a good ideology, it doesn’t provide a very strong bulwark against bad policies, because ideologies can be flexibly reinterpreted to accommodate bad policies. The plus side is, if you somehow manage to pass good policies, you maybe don’t need to worry that much about the culture accepting them, because the culture will adapt to where they seem totally normal in a few decades.

    • Wrong Species says:

      You can also try to justify your preferred idea by arguing that some terminal value is compatible with a seemingly incompatible belief. See the number of people who go from Christian Creationist to Atheist who believes in evolution through the intermediate stage of theistic evolution.

    • Emile says:

      I find it more useful to think of them not in terms of policies or ideologies, but rather in terms of the “kinds of people” – on the left you find teachers, intellectuals, students, civil servants, artists, and on the right you find parents, business owners, the military, old people.

      At least, that kind of break down looks mostly the same in Europe vs. in the US, whereas if you start looking at policies, the parties in various countries look very different (hence Europeans saying that the US only has “right-wing and far-right”)

      • Peter says:

        The odd thing from my point of view (Britsh, centre-left, card-carrying Lib Dem, I’d have a picture of J S Mill on that card if I had my way) is that the American left/right isn’t just the British left/right shifted along a stop or two – I think partly because of the “kinds of people” thing.

        I mean, from the point of view of a social democrat – caring a fair bit about economic inequality – the Democrats look pretty right wing. From a point of view of social issues – not so much – it’s notable that same-sex marriage went through at about the same time in both places. It’s very easy to call the whole intersectionalism/SJ/whatever thing (that alternately irritates and terrifies a slightly-old-fashioned-centre-left-liberal like myself) an American import – whether this is true or my prejudices showing is another matter, and how typical this is of the average Democrat voter/politician/etc., likewise. Like your stereotypical raving fundie isn’t the whole of the American right. So maybe economic issues are more a matter of national culture or something, and social issues depend more on the “kinds of people” thing.

        That said, on social issues, we don’t have nearly such a problem with the religious right, so that’s something. We do have UKIP and the like which looks a lot like Trumpism, but many’s the time that me or my friends have said something like, “oh gods, the American right, thank the gods we don’t have them over here.”

        • Civilis says:

          While I think there’s something to the differentiation between economic / national culture issues and social / kinds of people issues that you see, I can see at least one obvious counter example: the American gun rights culture. It’s a social issue that is a product of a unique facet of American culture.

          Part of the explanation may be in that some “kinds of people” are more internationally focused in nature. University-affiliated people (including a mix of intellectuals, teachers, and students) and artists tend to be groups on the left with regular exchange of ideas with peers outside their own countries (at least with regard to the US and Western Europe), which may be why their chosen issues tend to be consistent whenever encountered. The only group stereotypically on the right, at least in Emile’s classification, with what I perceive as an international focus is business owners, and that mostly only in matters relating to trade.

          The reason that the intersectionalism / SJ movement has gotten as big as it has is that American and European university activists are effectively working together, while American and European farmers (for example) aren’t and may be actively opposing each other.

          • Peter says:

            Good point, especially about the guns.

            I saw this article on Cambridge (where I am) vs Peterborough (a place I’ve been through, on the train, plenty of times, but never _to_, as such) on the forthcoming EU referendum, which should be of interest to SSC types.

            Cambridge is very much “Remain” and Peterborough is big on “Leave”. Cambridge has a Labour MP, Peterborough has a Conservative. Nationally, Labour voters tend to be less well off than Conservative voters – yet average salaries are much higher in Cambridge than in Peterborough. The article explains that there’s a big difference in education, and Cambridge has the sort of internationalist attitudes that a university-dominated city with a big tech sector could be expected to have.

            Whereas many in Cambridge see incomers as highly educated Germans and Swedes bringing their expertise to research projects, startups and product-development meetings, in Peterborough they are Lithuanian potato-pickers who, if not competing with locals for unskilled work, are at least nipping at their heels.

            Potato-pickers are near-enough farmers for your analysis, aren’t they?

          • Civilis says:

            It doesn’t require any coordination for low-skilled laborers feeling threatened in two different countries to both decide to oppose expanded immigration.

            I think this supports the ‘economic issues are determined by local culture / circumstances’ observation you made. American consumers are fine with genetically modified crops, while European ones generally aren’t, so the farmers are going to not agree over which works best. Likewise, while French vinters may benefit from insisting true champagne has to come from Champagne, this didn’t go over too well with everyone else.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Potato-pickers are near-enough farmers for your analysis, aren’t they?

            Absolutely. I live in a very “Red” area (Imperial Valley) of a very “Blue” state (California). And I see a similar dichotomy going on. The State’s politics are very much dominated by the cities of San Francisco and LA because that’s where the population majority of the population and by extension the most of money and the media lives. There is a definite disconnect between the way the cities view things like water and power, and the way the valley does. Likewise replace “potato pickers” with “fruit packers”, “road crews” or “ditch diggers” and you’d see much the same effect.

          • Peter says:

            Of course, if we’re talking politics at local levels – Cambridgeshire is mostly Conservative, so we have a Conservative County Council, but a Labour/Lib Dem City Council – UK political colours being the other way around, we’re an island of red/orange in a sea of blue. But the County Council gets responsibility for transport policy, and I’m always hearing things from my friends complaining about how the County Council doesn’t understand Cambridge and doesn’t understand cycling. OTOH local government in England doesn’t have a whole lot of power (much less than the States in the USA), so it doesn’t matter so much.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Of course, if we’re talking politics at local levels…

            Agreed, I’m just offering corroboration in that I have observed a similar phenomena.

        • Fahundo says:

          “oh gods, the American right, thank the gods we don’t have them over here.”

          So your friends are pagans who don’t want the religious right to come over and expose their rampant heresy

          • Peter says:

            In general it’s only me: I’m not a pagan, I’m an atheist, but at some point I switched from “oh god” to “oh gods”. Zero takes plural agreement, doesn’t it? Two bananas, one banana, zero bananas? An atheist is a person who doesn’t believe that there are any gods.

            Also, I don’t think the religious right could come over and expose _heresy_, as such. I’m not an heretic, I’m an infidel. There was a time when David Hume was charged with heresy – he (or his friends) refuted the charge by saying he was an atheist.

            (That said quite a few of my friends are Christian (but still can’t stand the American right), and it’s just me who has the whole “gods” thing going on.)

          • Zorgon says:

            Same here, for much the same reason. Also helps when LARPing.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            your friends are pagans who don’t want the religious right to come over and expose their rampant heresy

            I see what you mean, but “thank the god or gods, if any” gets to be a bit of a mouthful 🙂

    • Luke the CIA stooge says:

      The thing with social security and Medicare is they were sold as a kind-of saving account (their actually an insurance scheme) with the amount you get back being related to the amount you put in. The “get your government hands off my medicare!!!” Crowd make perfect sense within this framework and as such the only way to restructure entitlement is to make the promise that everyone will get paid what they’re owed.

      Alternatively you could let what I want happen and just wait for the programs to fail, burning everyone involved, and let it be the consensus from then till the end of time that the welfare state was a failed experiment, FDR was the worst president, and the 1890s had the proper extent of government intervention.

      Actually forget I said anything

      • Civilis says:

        Ideologies, especially the more pure ones that never actually get fully implemented, tend to have a ‘how do we get there from here’ problem. We acknowledge that the current state is bad and there exists an alternate state which is much better, but the necessary steps to change states involve intermediate steps which are much worse than the current state and/or transitions with a high chance of failure.

        Getting rid of Social Security and/or Medicare is one such complex problem, and I don’t blame politicians for not touching it with an 11 foot pole. I think drug legalization and immigration are other issues with the same problem.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I’m not sure that drug legalisation is such a sticky one. You already have in the USA a range of policies for cannabis that range from full commercial legalisation, through more or less restricted medical use, to draconian prohibition for possession for any purpose. After a long enough period of the sky not falling in Colorado and Washington (and particularly California if it votes to legalise come next election) there will be more weight behind reformist efforts in other states, and there will also be more weight behind efforts to cautiously decriminalise* and then legalise other drugs (again, possibly through the half-way stage of having them at least legal for medical use, eg. MDMA and some psychedelics) based on a rational assessment of their risks. Given that there will presumably be a range of degrees of restrictiveness within the legal cannabis states, the idea of calibrating the degree of regulation for other drugs to try to find the least harmful set of policies should start to look more reasonable to more people.

          It may be more likely the Haidtian purity/sanctity response, where for lots of people, ingesting certain chemicals to experience altered states of consciousness is morally wrong regardless of the health risks, that stands in the way of a rational drug policy, rather than any practical barriers against gradually bringing drug users and producers into the legal economy and reversing on changes that measurably increase harms.

          *using the standard jargon whereby ‘decriminalise’ simply means having no penalties for personal use, whereas ‘legalise’ also means having legal production, distribution and sale.

  30. Theodidactus says:

    Hey everyone, Theodidactus here, long time reader first time poster.
    I’m a social sciences librarian in Omaha. In my spare time I write fiction (see site).

    How’s everybody feel about libraries these days?

    • Temporarily Anonymous says:

      I avoid them. I used to run into someone rather frequently in the local library, and everything that happened with/around that person triggers my PTSD.

      Tho’ that’s probably not the response you were looking for.

    • onyomi says:

      I wish all those organizations which publish academic journals online would be nationalized and forced to give away everything for free, thereby freeing up library budgets to buy actual books (only sort of joking–the libertarian way of possibly producing this result is being very anti-intellectual property).

      • Theodidactus says:

        Well, the intellectual property angle is interesting simply because the copyright arrangement between a journal publisher and an author is very different than in other trades. If I ever get any fiction sold, I’ll want strong IP in some fashion to get me money, so I can get food, shelter, nice clothes, etc. X has some relationship to Y

        If I ever get an academic journal article published, I won’t care about about the copyright much, because I don’t get cut Y when they sell X issues. In fact, I may want piracy to occur because it boosts my citation count.

    • John Schilling says:

      I find good libraries very useful and enjoy spending time in them. I would prefer that they focus on their core mission of housing lots of books in well-organized collections. I expect that libraries as an institution will diminish in number, size, and importance over this century as much of their role is taken up by the internet, which is in some senses regrettable – but trying to turn the library into a place for people to access the internet isn’t really playing to its strengths. That’s what coffee shops are for.

      • Amanda says:

        Ditto, especially, “I would prefer that they focus on their core mission of housing lots of books in well-organized collections.”

    • Urstoff says:

      I love them. Reading something you hadn’t planned to is one of the great joys of life, and browsing in a library is crucial for that. Plus the books are free, so there’s that, too. Also, my city has a library system that’s better than you would expect for its size and culture.

      • Urstoff says:

        And as a parent of a young child, I appreciate our libraries for the many programs they hold for children, as well as the spaces they have dedicated for play and reading for children.

        • Theodidactus says:

          While I can use digital readers no problem, I have a really hard time browsing digitally. It’s very odd and I know I’m not alone here.

          Most library catalogs now have a feature like “nearby on shelf” or “ebrowse” or something that presents images of books as they would appear in order on the shelf, but this is not the same. I have had at least a dozen major discoveries from physical browsing.

          I’m currently reading Healy’s “Great Dissent”, an item I found while looking for a completely different book on the same subject.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Love them. I spend a lot of time on public transit, which I use for reading, and the public library is a great money-saver.

    • bean says:

      Love the concept. Have serious problems with the implementation almost everywhere I go, and I have 7 library cards. Some libraries have bad hours. Some put everything interesting on the reference shelf. Some don’t understand how sorting systems are supposed to work. And some decide to charge non-residents, unlike everyone else in the area. (Those are the worst. I left my books on the desk and walked out.)
      There are still things which cannot be found on the internet, and libraries usually are the best alternative. Also, the internet can’t match the pleasure of browsing at a good library (which are unfortunately not that common close to me). In college I went to the library for fun on a regular basis. I don’t now that I’m out, because of transportation and the fact that I have money to buy books.
      But the second-worst is libraries that forget that they are ultimately places that have books, and should focus on that above all.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Libraries’ audiovisual media collections fascinate me.

      In one region, libraries only bought DVDs of really old movies, obscure TV shows.
      At another, they only bought very recent and popular movies and TV shows.
      At another, their focus was on nonfiction.

      Now, for most people, the 2nd model was the desired one. I still take advantage of it myself, to where I’ve been in the movie theaters maybe twice in the last 3 years. On the other hand, it’s harder to find or even discover the older and more obscure stuff, even streaming/bootleg so I also really appreciated libraries that followed models 1 and 3.

      And it’s always amusing to see which libraries have foreign-language collections, for what languages. (Curse you Japan for refusing to license Jdramas! You’re leaving money on the ground here!)
      Ditto for sheet music.

    • JayT says:

      It’s been probably five or ten years since I was in a library, and I haven’t had a library card since I first got the internet. I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I see little value in how many libraries are spread across the country.

    • I have great feelings about libraries but little actual use for them. I wonder how common this is.

    • brad says:

      The traditional community library seems partly obsolete now. The sort of thing where you have a broad collection of non-fiction books averaging 15 years old and aimed at around the high school level of comprehension on a wide range of topics seems to not very valuable in a world with the web.

      The part that isn’t obsolete is as a book lending club mostly for fiction books and movies, heavily weighted towards the new and popular. I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing as such but I’m not sure it needs to be publicly supported. Similarly I don’t see much public value in the trend of turning community libraries into ad hoc community gathering and programming spaces, much less day shelters for homeless.

      Research libraries, generally associated with universities, but also sometimes associated with major cities, seem to still have a reason to exist, at least for now.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I went to get a library card, I had recently moved but not yet updated my drivers’ license, the address I put on the form did not match my ID, the lady at the desk wouldn’t give me a library card. Basically this was my fault, but I have had a grudge against my local library since then.

      My university had a library that was great because nobody went there and you could hide away among the books on your laptop and get some peace and quiet. But then they closed it because nobody went there. Life is sour.

    • Jame Gumb says:

      My wife’s a librarian with an MLIS but she keeps getting hired by vocational schools which seem to be uniformly poorly run and awful to work for. What tips would you give for how can she get a better library job (e.g. law library, 4-year college library, corporate library)?

      PS. I use public libraries all the time. To borrow books. Which I read. And then return on time so I can borrow more books. I also borrow CDs and movies but only occasionally. If paying a $120 yearly membership fee kept the bums and riff raff out of libraries that would be cool. I’d totally pay it.

    • smocc says:

      As a parent of a two-year-old, I love public libraries. Reading four to eight children’s books every day gets old really fast if you can’t cycle them out regularly, and we don’t have that much money to spend on books. Our nearest library does singing / reading time, which is cool as a place to meet the other kids / parents in the neighborhood (though we don’t go because it’s at a bad time for us).

      My wife reads lots of young adult fiction and so she loves the library for being, as someone else put it, “a lending club for fiction books and movies.”

      I don’t read as much fiction, and the non-fiction I want to read tends to be very specialized, e.g. undergraduate level mathematics or 18th century Japanese poetry. Thankfully I still have access to a university library, though I only learned in hindsight that my undergraduate library was in the nationwide top 30, and I still miss it.

      My main usage is to think of some subject I want to learn, look up the best books on Amazon, and then ask my wife to see if she can find a copy at the library when she goes next.

    • JK says:

      I used to hang around in libraries all the time, but now I get just about all the books I want online (often pirated), so I visit a library only a few times a year these days. If so many libraries weren’t public, lots of them would go the way of video rental stores.

      • Matt M says:

        Well said. The last time I went to a public library, it looked more like a homeless shelter than a depository of knowledge and wisdom.

    • keranih says:

      Ah, libraries. In my youth, public libraries were a treasure trove – I checked out Andre Norton paperbacks by the fistful. Read my way through all the dog and horse adventures. And the encyclopedias! With articles on EVERYTHING. And HUGE books about space and stars and engines. Books of maps – lovely lovely maps. Battles and trade routes and ship ports and shifting towns and roads that had never been paved.

      Now there is the internet, and the libraries have chosen to provide internet access to those who can’t get it on their own. Their other offerings have declined, and I now think of the public library as my favorite place to go where I get mumbled at by homeless people and called a white bitch by nine year olds.

      Seriously. I don’t like any other place where that happens near as much as the library.

    • Gravitas Shortfall says:

      Libraries are wonderful, and everyone should support them more.

      I remember this bizarre comic strip, I think it was the zombie strip Hi and Lois, where there’s a panel with the kids in a cute old bookstore enjoying it, then another with a library opening, and then the last panel is the mother and kids walking past the bookstore, now closed. The mother says “Everything has a cost”. This is, and probably will be for long into the future, the most baffling thing I’ve ever seen.

      • Jiro says:

        Why is it baffling? If you give away something, it’s a lot harder for people to make money selling it.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          Still, cute old bookstores survived Andrew Carnagie for quite a few decades, and survived the Internet for a while too. Didn’t the serious damage time with Amazon, and/or Barnes and Noble etc?

          • Nornagest says:

            I wanna say Borders and Barnes and Noble did most of the damage, in the 2000-2006 period. Amazon was a thing at the time, but it wasn’t doing a huge amount of business.

            All but one of the small bookstores in my hometown survived in any case, and the one that didn’t was in a strip mall. But n=1 and all that.

        • arbitrary_greay says:

          @Jiro:

          Diane Duane: Public library sales are traditionally a significant part of any YA writer’s income. Sometimes as much as 10 to 20% of a smallish print run will go to libraries — sometimes more!* — and this can be a significant reason why early print runs of a book “earn out”, thus encouraging your publisher to buy your next book. So libraries, and librarians, are very much our friends. Also: in some markets, like the UK and Ireland, the author earns additional royalties from the book being lent out by libraries.

          • On the other hand, the fact that you can borrow a book from the library makes it less necessary to buy it yourself, and one copy in the library may substitute for multiple copies in private hands. So I don’t think we know whether, if all the libraries vanished, your sales would go down or up.

    • Anonymous says:

      I love my library.

      I’m against public libraries, though, especially large institutional libraries, because they keep rare books out of the hands of people who would actually appreciate them and in climate-controlled cupboards.

  31. Irishdude7 says:

    In light of the recent Swiss vote, I’d like to get thoughts on basic income using a smart contract with voluntary funding. My idea is that a variety of basic income plans would be proposed and people would voluntarily commit to a proposed basic income plan if they found it appealing. Perhaps these plans would in part be implemented using a blockchain that allowed some of the features I’ll discuss. A variety of ideas would be written up and submitted as plans. For example:

    * take 5% of everyone’s pay and equally distribute that amount to everyone in the same basic income plan,or
    * take 5% of income up to $100,000 and 10% above that, and distribute 70% of that total evenly to the bottom income half of income levels and 30% of the total to the top half, or
    * take 30% of income up to $5,000 and 0% of income above that, and distribute evenly to all

    There could be a variety of different trigger mechanisms and combinations of mechanisms, such as:

    *1,000 people join, or
    *total income of $20,000,000 is committed based on prior year’s salary, or
    *Judge Sotomayor or mediator Ken Feinberg gives approval

    Basic income plans might require that everyone stays anonymous, though I think this could be less appealing and harder to enforce than a system that incorporated some form of reputation, such as Uber score, AirBnB rating, MeowMeowBeenz rating, or some new rating agency (of credibility, accountability, moral uprightness, etc.) of the future. If costs are required to maintain the system that would be built-in and specified up front. A system for making changes would be specified. Different exit criteria would also be specified, if people were worried they might become unhappy with the agreement under certain conditions. Overall, there would be experimentation with a range of ideas for tax and dispensation arrangements, trigger mechanisms, and exit criteria to see which package could get the most voluntary buy-in.

    I find this idea morally and economically appealing over a potential involuntary monopoly system imposed at a federal level. I see the blockchain as a technological improvement that should make it easier to implement what I think of as a modern Mutual Aid Society that can allow cooperation and charity at a distance. I’m interested in what other people think about my proposed system.

    • Irishdude7 says:

      An additional thought: Over 100,000 Swiss signed a petition for their basic income proposal that was voted on. Since they all thought their proposed system was a good idea, what if the signers entered into a pact among themselves to implement their basic income vision? I see that as preferable to a system where the unwilling are forced to participate.

    • John Schilling says:

      Commit when, and for how long?

      If you allow people to change plans over the course of their life, they will quite reasonably change at various transition points to the plan that is most favorable to people at their stage in life, whether that means “…and extra subsidies for college education” or “…and extra health care for geezers”, with the result that each plan will at all times be running at a net loss. Good luck designing a meaningfully diverse set plans that don’t at least implicitly favor one demographic, generational or otherwise, over others.

      Make them commit at the age of majority, and they’ll chose the plan that is front-loaded with benefits for the young, on the grounds that if they are free to do what they chose at someone else’s expense in their twenties they will certainly land that law-firm partnership or achieve dot-com success or whatnot by thirty and thus not really need anyone’s help after that. When that doesn’t happen and they are stuck with the minimum allowed level of support as an unemployed forty-something, they are going to whine about it all the way to the voting booth.

      If we are talking about the sort of people who can make sound economic decisions at 18, most of those are going to be able to make a pretty accurate assessment of e.g. whether they are going to be making more or less than $100K for the bulk of their lives. So the plan that counts on the six-figure earners to fund it, isn’t going to have any of the six-figure earners in it. Really, every plan will be preferentially filled with people who will take from it rather than contribute to it.

      And if the plan is for people to commit for their entire (working) lives, who is going to enforce that? People usually live for the better part of a century. Governments usually don’t, and the ones that do usually have major political realignments at no more than half-century intervals.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        The length of commitment would vary by basic income proposal. If shorter periods get more voluntary buy-in then they’d become more popular.

        If you allow people to change plans over the course of their life, they will quite reasonably change at various transition points to the plan that is most favorable to people at their stage in life, whether that means “…and extra subsidies for college education” or “…and extra health care for geezers”, with the result that each plan will at all times be running at a net loss.

        If you’re right that allowing plan changes at various points in your life would lead to net losses (which seems reasonable), then basic income plans might need to add age requirements to their proposals to account for this. I can imagine a proposed plan that allows only 20 somethings to join, for example.

        Really, every plan will be preferentially filled with people who will take from it rather than contribute to it.

        Do basic income supporters have any issue with this? Perhaps some basic income supporters don’t mind this as they see it as a form of charity.

        Also, I pointed out that one requirement to join a proposed basic income plan might be to have a minimum reputation score, which could be a credit score, Uber rating, or some other yet to exist rating that measures the likeliness of contributing versus taking.

        And if the plan is for people to commit for their entire (working) lives, who is going to enforce that?

        If lifelong enforcement is an insurmountable problem, then lifelong basic income plans won’t exist. Enforcement mechanisms and costs would need to be accounted for in the proposed basic income plan.

        Note that Mutual Aid Societies did in fact exist, so there exists some combination of factors that allows voluntary organization to exist as some form of an income support program. Charity does exist today as well, so many people have a propensity to be willing to commit income without expected monetary returns.

        Perhaps no basic income plans would get voluntary buy-in or be sustainable. It’d be good to know that, and perhaps other types of smart contract voluntary orgs would be more prevalent, like say a group that commits to unemployment benefits, or life insurance, or health insurance, or disability insurance. I’m interested in what the marketplace of ideas can produce.

        • Psmith says:

          there exists some combination of factors that allows voluntary organization to exist as some form of an income support program.

          Ethnic and religious homogeneity, just the right amount of clannishness, and a high-trust society.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            If those factors are the only way people would voluntarily agree to a basic income plan, then the only basic income plans that would exist under my proposal would have ethnicity, religion, and degree of clannishness requirements. No other basic income plans would get voluntary buy-in. That’d be a good hypothesis to test.

            Edit: Do you think the 100,000+ Swiss basic income petitioners would agree to form their own basic income program amongst themselves?

          • Psmith says:

            Do you think the 100,000+ Swiss basic income petitioners would agree to form their own basic income program amongst themselves?

            Probably not. Talk is cheap. I’m told that the Mormons have de facto basic income, so there’s an upper bound for the minimal level of cohesion and buy-in you need.

          • Vitor says:

            Do you think the 100,000+ Swiss basic income petitioners would agree to form their own basic income program amongst themselves?

            No because UBI is worthless if unenforceable. Incomes are hidden. People can move out of the country even if they signed a contract forbidding them to. The idea is kind of similar to voluntary slavery, which is forbidden for good reasons.

            (Also, being one of the 100’000 petitioners is not a large hurdle to pass. It means that some person on the street stopped you and asked you to put your name on a piece of paper. I sign every sensible initiative I stumble across out of principle, even when I disagree with it)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I sign every sensible initiative I stumble across out of principle, even when I disagree with it

            Be careful, some people who get mad when legislation passes find those people and dox them.

          • JayT says:

            There’s also the issue that I would guess that the people that are most likely to support a UBI are also the people that would have the greatest need for it, so there is probably little chance that those 100,000 people could actually do anything of the sort if they pooled their money.

          • Vitor says:

            Be careful, some people who get mad when legislation passes find those people and dox them.

            I’ll take my chances, thanks.

    • Aegeus says:

      The trouble is, a smart contract can’t work out what someone’s “income” is, all it can do is see how much money you put into an account that you give it access to. That makes it easy to work “under the table” – keep my own income somewhere else, while raking in the income from honest contributors. Or worse, you could create an extra account or fifty and collect extra income for all of them. Welfare fraud becomes a lot easier when everything is digital and anonymous.

      You’d probably need some sort of reputation or web-of-trust thing to make it work, but I don’t know how you’d implement it, and half the point of basic income programs is to get rid of complicated means-testing requirements in the first place.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        The trouble is, a smart contract can’t work out what someone’s “income” is, all it can do is see how much money you put into an account that you give it access to.

        Perhaps a requirement would be to post a picture of your W-2 each year, with some % of people getting audited to measure compliance.

        Welfare fraud becomes a lot easier when everything is digital and anonymous.

        Right, and as I said above:
        “Basic income plans might require that everyone stays anonymous, though I think this could be less appealing and harder to enforce than a system that incorporated some form of reputation, such as Uber score, AirBnB rating, MeowMeowBeenz rating, or some new rating agency (of credibility, accountability, moral uprightness, etc.) of the future.”

        • Mary says:

          I knew of a woman who got into subsidized housing by showing her W2 and carefully neglecting to mention that it was not her only job.

    • Presumably people would only go into plans with people from roughly the same economic situations as themselves, as not doing so would amount to voluntary wealth redistribution, and people generally only support wealth redistribution if it doesn’t require them to make unusual sacrifices themselves while others do nothing. If UBI is a solution to technological unemployment, would this run into a problem when people from similar backgrounds, all clustered together in the same plan, all become unemployed at roughly the same time and the plan fails even though no-one defected?

  32. Stefan Drinic says:

    The thread about people’s conversion stories vaguely amused me. It feels as if 70% of it goes along the lines of this:

    ‘My parents were X, so I grew up to be X as well. Then I became older and found out some people LIED to me, so I did everything I could to not be X as much as possible. Then some people I thought to be on my side were mean to me, so I became Y.’

    Politics-as-tribes, indeed.

    • thisguy says:

      This is my story but then I returned to X after I noticed *all* of my friends were Y because I am a huge contrarian.

    • Deiseach says:

      It sounds a bit like religious conversion (or deconversion) stories as well when it’s put that way: “Up until age nine I was vaguely Church of England as were my parents and everyone else, then at school they taught us about Jonah and the Whale and, thanks to my interest in science, I knew whales were mammals not fish. So I realised they were LYING about religion and that’s why I am now a famous snail geneticist” 🙂

      • Jeremy says:

        “Up until age eight I was taught vaguely mainstream public education just like my parents and everyone else, then one day at school they taught us about the tree of life but they put whales under mammals, and thanks to my recent trip to SeaWorld I knew whales swim so they are fish. So I realized they were LYING about science and that’s why I’m now a minister.”

        • Fahundo says:

          I went to Seaworld once and they tell you that whales are mammals there.

          • Richard says:

            But you can see that they are obviously fish. Don’t believe everything the shills tell you.

          • “But you can see that they are obviously fish.”

            Not true. I remember watching a small whale in Seaworld or something similar–a glass sided tank. I was struck by the degree to which it seemed to move like a person in a fish suit rather than a fish.

      • Julie K says:

        The funny thing is that the original text doesn’t even mention whales.

    • Jame Gumb says:

      My (political) conversion story is different:

      My mom was X and my dad was Y. My parents divorced when I was very young, and then my mom was too busy to worry about raising me in X. The culture around me was sorta in between X and Y, though more like Y, but I was inclined towards contrarianism anyway. So when I was a teenager I made a close and lasting friendship with someone who was Z, which of course I liked. Though dismissive at first, I gradually became more and more Z until I was in my mid-20s, by which time I was as hardcore Z as you can get. By then my friend had become totally hardcore X. Always intellectually curious, I asked him to recommend some good arguments against Z because all I’d heard were the retarded ones from X and Y. Gradually, I realized that the arguments from hardcore X against Z were mostly valid, and I started becoming hardcore X too. I sometimes got into (good-natured) debates with my mom and now she’s more hardcore X than she ever was when I was little.

      My twin brother, on the other hand, was Y most of his life, and only after a lot of (good-natured) debates with me has tempered his Y-ness with the slightest tad of X, though he’s still averse to it and is basically solidly Y.

      (I’m now what a journalist would probably call “alternative X” for her schlocky thinkpiece in the NYT, but I recognize it as just “normal”, having rejected most of the Y that’s floating around and in the drinking water. I don’t actively try and be more X than that. Sometimes I feel the tribal kinship with other Xs bubbling up but I tend to just let it pass, like when you pull your butt cheeks apart to silence a fart.)

  33. Emile says:

    Anybody around learning Japanese? It seems fairly common in geek circles …

    Anyway, as an evening/weekend project, I’ve been working on automatically building Japanese review sheets for anime, so that you have a list of recommended words to learn. An example for Naruto can be tested here. Feedback most welcome!

  34. J Quenff says:

    Can the sidebar be updated to have clearer descriptions of what the different blog groupings are?

    • Peter says:

      I think that working it out is left as an exercise to the reader – and would be a bit like explaining the joke. Some are based on puns on the name, some appear to be partly based on puns on the name, some are based on content… The catergories are mostly cribbed from the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge which pokes fun at the idea of classification systems in general. (Well, supposedly it’s taken from an ancient Chinese encyclopedia but this seems highly doubtful).

      • Jame Gumb says:

        Maybe there should be a link to the explanation right above or below the categories. People keep asking.

        • multiheaded says:

          It’s a way for us to feel superior to the illiterate masses, yo.

          • Jame Gumb says:

            You like that sort of thing?

          • Frog Do says:

            Nah, multi prefers to post comments here to her tumblr to ridicule them and rile up her Holodomor-denialist friends.

          • Anonymous says:

            Does Multiheaded Multiheadedself deny the Holodomor? Or is it just Multiheaded’s friends?

          • Frog Do says:

            Well, let me channel multiheaded to see if I get this right…

            “You’re a fascist I and want you to die. Why did SSC commenters get so libertarian-Nazi-racist, when I’m constantly shrieking death threats at them and trying to start internet lynch mobs! And no, a sincere appreciation for Stalin and all his policies plus the desire that a wave of purifying violence with refresh the Volkish spirit bring justice to the deserving proletariat doesn’t necessarily mean I support the Holodomor, just that I politically affiliate with those people!”

    • Dan Peverley says:

      Opacity has value in establishing community boundaries, I like the inside joke nature of the whole thing.

      • Jame Gumb says:

        I agree in principle, but in this case why is the explanation given to people who ask? It’s not like those people are then branded as outsiders just for asking.

        • Peter says:

          Possibly it’s a “soft boundary” sort of thing. A sort of “here’s this thing you’re not a part of yet but can totally get initiated into if you’re willing to make a tiny effort and not run off at the first sign of something unusual”.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            ^ What he said

          • Jame Gumb says:

            OK, so in that case see my earlier comment about just providing an explanation in a link permanently located above or below the categories. Still takes a small amount of effort to discover, etc. but cuts down on (probably some of) the continuous “What’s up with those category names?” threads.

  35. HH says:

    Donald Trump is low-level example of Roko’s Basilisk, right?

    • MugaSofer says:

      If you’re not on board with fascists before they come to power, they may purge you when they win, you mean?

      Some Jews voted for the Nazi party based on this logic.

      I don’t think anyone knows Donald Trump well enough to guess at his intentions with enough accuracy to be sure he won’t turn on them, given his obsessive lying. Why shouldn’t he purge “his own” supporters if they become inconvenient?

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Why are we assuming he’s going to “purge” anyone?

        The whole ‘Trump is Literally Hitler’ thing is so hysterical and absurd, it’s actually making me more favorably disposed to him every time I hear it.

        • Zorgon says:

          There’s a solid argument that this is in fact the main source of his popularity.

          • JayT says:

            Which has nothing to do with Dr. Dealgood’s comment. I’m no Trump fan, but all the hysterics over a guy who would most likely end up being a pretty Democratic-leaning president is just amazing to me.

        • Gravitas Shortfall says:

          It’s kinda frustrating to hear Godwin’s law evoked so aggressively by liberals after years of them complaining (with good reason) about conservatives invoking it on Obama. People just can’t get enough of those goddamn Hitler/Nazi comparisons.

          Trump should be compared to George Wallace, or the leaders of the Know Nothing party of the 19th century, not any historical dictator.

          • Berlusconi. As I suggested elsewhere.

          • It’s kinda frustrating to hear Godwin’s law evoked so aggressively by liberals after years of them complaining (with good reason) about conservatives invoking it on Obama. People just can’t get enough of those goddamn Hitler/Nazi comparisons.

            I completely agree, but your phrasing troubles me a little.

            As I understand it, to “invoke Godwin’s Law” would be to say, “Aha, you brought up Hitler or Nazis irrelevantly, therefore, I have won the argument!”

            What you are saying instead is that comparing a politician to Hitler “evokes” or “invokes” Godwin’s Law. Referring back to Mike Godwin’s original conception, perhaps one might say that it demonstrates Godwin’s Law.

    • Aegeus says:

      What? No. Just… I don’t even see the connection between the two.

      Donald Trump does not become more dangerous because you know about him. Donald Trump does not make acausal bargains. Donald Trump is not a superintelligence. Donald Trump is not capable of making simulations of his electorate. Donald Trump has not threatened retaliation against people who failed to get him elected.

      • HH says:

        Probably disagree with your last point. I was thinking more along the lines of “once I’m in power I will punish all of those who didn’t work hard to put me into power.” He hasn’t threatened it explicitly, but does he really need to? He’s obviously thin-skinned and vindictive, just the sort of person to get back at you for not backing him when you could have been useful.

        • Aegeus says:

          He’s thin-skinned and vindictive, but not in the way that the Basilisk is vindictive. I wouldn’t expect him to seek retribution against everyone who failed to support him – that’s 50% of the country! And if he did try, he’d find that the Constitution has some very strong words about using state power to suppress your political opponents.

          (Yes, the US has done it to Communists before, but if Communists were 50% of the country I imagine that McCarthy’s job would have been a little harder.)

          I can imagine he’d seek retribution against a few prominent opponents (I’d certainly be pissed off at the NeverTrump Republicans if I was him), but at that point it starts becoming hard to distinguish from “normal human politics.” I don’t think it’s really helpful to use “Basilisk” as a synonym for “Spiteful politician.”

          • HH says:

            I wouldn’t, but I do think he’s orders of magnitude different. There’s a certain sense of “no one wants this but we have to help him because otherwise he’ll turn on us” with Trump that I just don’t get with other folks.

          • John Schilling says:

            Really? I get that impression from Hillary Clinton even more strongly than I do Trump. Trump is fickle; Clinton knows how to carry a grudge.

            In her case, I’d expect that anyone outside the higher echelons of the Democratic Party would be safe, but then I don’t envision Trump going out of his way to target average members of the electorate either.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            You think Clinton is sending pictures of her hands to (essentially) random reporters years after they said something symbolic and crude about her?

            I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty sure Clinton can carry a grudge. I just think she saves them for things which are more consequential.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Maybe not, but then HH was worrying about Trump punishing people who didn’t help him to power. If that punishment consists of getting a photo of his hands every so often, I don’t think there’s any need to worry.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            Trump has already threatened to do things like pulling CNNs FCC license or investigating Amazon because Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post and Trump doesn’t like their coverage.

            I not sure he’d actually be really capable of making that happen, bureaucracies do have survival instincts and defense mechanisms, but it does speak to what he might intend. And certainly speaks to the things he is willing to threaten.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            If we’re going to be stuck with a vindictive President, which it looks like we are, it might be better to have one who goes after imaginary targets such as CNN’s “FCC license”.