OT52: Once Open A Time

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. There are hidden threads every few days here. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Many comments worthy of highlighting this week. First this thread on why banning encryption won’t prevent terrorism, since sufficiently smart terrorists could use steganography – especially Izaak’s demonstration of such. Second, baconbacon discusses different ways people he knows do or don’t save money, but see also Jeysiec notes that all of this discussion savings can be moot when poor people don’t get significant amounts of money in the first place. Finally, Patjab gives more details on the background of Ken Livingstone and British anti-Semitism, and Dan Simon has an unusual theory of scandal.

2. There is a new ad on the sidebar this week: apply to work for Qualia. Or maybe you already work for Qualia and don’t know it yet. Maybe you have no private knowledge about whether you work for Qualia or not. Maybe you think that all of your friends work for Qualia, but they don’t work for Qualia at all and only say that they do. Maybe there is no difference even in principle between working for Qualia and not working for Qualia. Maybe working for Qualia is just a complicated way of describing the fact that you work for certain mechanical and biology companies – or was that information processing companies? I don’t know. Perhaps checking out their jobs page will shed light on some of these mysteries.

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1,080 Responses to OT52: Once Open A Time

  1. AlexanderRM says:

    Something I’ve been wanting for awhile and this seems like a good place to ask: Are there any sites/organizations that counter the “a million deaths is a tragedy” effect by publishing information on individual, for example, Malaria victims, as if they’d died of some rare and interesting cause of death? Or anything along those lines? This has obvious uses in trying to raise concern for things like that.

    A more spiteful and negative reason I want it is to get people to stop freaking out over tiny numbers of deaths by certain causes- replying “this isn’t that significant” often gets people angry, so instead I’d like to totally acknowledge that’s important and send them articles on Malaria deaths every single day until they admit other causes are pretty important.

  2. Lysenko says:

    EDIT: Moved to the newest open Thread.

  3. After it occurred to me that maybe people were arguing (and arguing and arguing) about the second amendement because it’s actually ambiguous rather than it having a clear meaning, I heard that it was the result of an political compromise and not intended to be clear. Was I on to something?

    • Lysenko says:

      Not really. I am aware of people arguing whether or not the Congress was a danger to disarming the state militias and the people. I am not aware of ANY founders arguing that there was no individual right to keep and bear arms or that disarmament of the populace except when in government service was desirable. That position was so far outside their Overton Window as to be pretty much incomprehensible.

      The earliest language proposed to the convention (by the VA ratifying convention I believe) was:

      That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

      You’ll note that it’s not that different, aside from clause order. For reference, “Well-regulated” does not mean ‘controlled by regulations passed by a government’, state or federal. The idiom was in rather common colloquial use at the time and for decades after to mean ‘functioning properly’. A healthy, happy person was a ‘well-regulated man’, a clock that kept proper time was a ‘well-regulated clock’, an educated and intelligent gentleman was praised for having a ‘well-regulated mind’, and so on. A ‘well-regulated militia’ was a militia that functioned properly: with appointed officers serious about training, that formed and drilled regularly, that maintained their equipment in a proper state of readiness, and men who were willing to take their officers’ discipline and stand and fight.

      Individual Self-defense and Hunting, while certainly considered valid and valuable uses of personal firearms, paled beside the idea that when deemed necessary the general armed segment of the populace (the phrase “all freemen/yeomen/gentlemen between the ages of 16 and 60” crops up a lot) could SELF-organize into a militia, appoint their own officers out of the most suitable community leaders, and stand ready to oppose abuses of the government or an invading foreign army with equal ease.

      I suspect that to many founding fathers, the primacy we give now to individual self-defense would be as odd as framing the 1st Amendment entirely in terms of the ability to freely publish scholarly research. I mean, sure, it’s a good thing, but second or third order. And if there’s an overarching problem, THAT would be it. Don B. Kates covers it rather well in his work on the 2nd Amendment, especially here.

      While I would disagree with someone arguing that because we have abandoned the founding fathers’ vision of an America with little to no standing army, it follows that we should therefore abandon their conception of an individual right to keep and bear arms, I am forced to admit that the context of the debate has changed dramatically, and that may have been what someone was getting at up-thread.

      • Doctor Mist says:


        Can you correct your link? It seems to be a mishmash of SSC and the true link, leading nowhere, but when I snip off the SSC part it leads to an article by David Yassky, which I doubt is what you meant.


  4. onyomi says:

    With apologies to LHN, I think I’ll repost as a comment in the link thread.

    • LHN says:

      Thus I view direct election of senators, for example, to have been a bad thing–if you’re going to have rulers you want them to be smart rulers who think long-term rather than bowing to every crazy idea “the people” can be manipulated to vote for.

      Election by the state legislatures did/would produce different Senators, and there’s an argument for a house that specifically represents the state governments in a federal system. But I’m not sure what would cause the process to produce smarter Senators, or Senators who think in a longer term.

      • AlexanderRM says:

        Besides making low intelligence a disqualifier*, as far as I can think the only way to choose intelligent officials is for the people selecting them to deliberately try to choose intelligent officials, and there’s no particular reason to think a state legislature elected by the people would care more about that than the people voting directly.
        I suppose one possibility is if the people were able to vote for somewhat smarter-than-average legislators, who could then select further-more-intelligent senators- so ironically enough maybe my disagreement is founded on my having less confidence in the popular choice. I suppose it’d be surprising if state legislators were no more intelligent on average, but politicization might drown that effect out.

        *which would politicize whatever metric was used, but I think a government of for example fairly smart Democrats and fairly smart Republicans would already produce a good improvement even if the standard was low enough to be nowhere near tilting the balance.

        • Creutzer says:

          One would suspect that French politicians are pre-selected for reasonably high intelligence since the way into French politics and public service seems to be through a number of very elitist schools. But intelligence is not too closely connected to rationality, and most importantly, there are incentives to consider.

  5. So I’ve realized that there’s a lot of things I don’t understand about food spoilage. To help fix this problem I’m going to ask a bunch of dumb questions.

    I think the main model I had in my head of food going bad was the obvious one: spoilage is caused by bacteria/mold actually eating the food, and the grossness/smelliness of spoiled food is caused by the bacteria/mold itself (or their byproducts) being smelly rather than any change that’s occurred in the food.

    But then I realized that I also had another competing model in my head that’s quite different: I’ve vaguely remember hearing that the “rotting” smell associated with food that’s gone bad was due to denatured(?) proteins that have had certain bonds broken (or something like that). This seems plausible, but it’s not at all like the bacteria model: the spoilage has a very different cause (presumably more physical in origin than biological), and the smelliness is due to the food itself rather than an external source.

    So which of these models is correct? Or is it both? (Or neither?) If it’s both, which of the two is the more important process for common foods? And if the denaturation thing is true, what are the most important causes of denaturation?

    And then I have other questions. Like, when we store things in refrigerators, we usually seal them in containers or plastic bags or something. Is that to prevent bacteria from getting to the food, or to prevent it from drying out? I think I always assumed it was the former, but maybe that’s not right.

    Or: the shelf life of things stored in cans is much longer than other foods. But it’s not infinite. What causes the eventual spoilage of canned foods? I guess I was assuming that sealing the food in a can prevented bacteria from getting in, but maybe the purpose is more to prevent denaturation?

    Or: same question for freezers. Frozen food lasts a lot longer than non-frozen food, but not forever. What keeps it from lasting forever? Is it as simple as: bacteria-caused spoilage doesn’t happen in freezers but denaturation-caused spoilage does? Or am I way off base here?

    (On a semi-related note, I just now realized that I don’t even know what percentage of food we eat is in cellular form. Like, when we eat meat and vegetables we’re presumably eating actual animal and plant cells. But I would assume that when flour is ground out of wheat, for example, the cells themselves are destroyed and you’re just left with “loose” molecules like carbohydrates, etc? I’m not really going anywhere with this, I just find it interesting that the distinction had never occurred to me before)

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s mostly bacteria and other microorganism. There is some spoilage (e.g. fat rancidity) due simply to exposure to air and time, but note irradiated food (which is also sealed off from air) lasts a good long time.

      Frozen food dehydrates while in the freezer; changes in temperature cause ice crystals to grow and shrink resulting in more damage.

      As for cells, I believe grains are very large single cells, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

    • Loquat says:

      Reasons I put my refrigerated food in containers / bags:

      1. Protecting the food from other food. Uncovered garlic and blue cheese next to uncovered vanilla pudding is likely to introduce undesired flavors to the pudding, for example. Bacteria can factor into this – you wouldn’t want your fresh fruit to come into contact with raw chicken juice – but I generally only consider bacteria when dealing with raw meat.

      2. Ease of use + mess avoidance. Any food that’s wet or liquid to any appreciable degree will be much more likely to make a mess if not contained. And a tupperware or baggie full of, say, carrot sticks is easier to handle than a pile of carrot sticks sitting loose on the shelf.

      3. Drying out, as you mention, is often a bad thing. More for texture than anything else, IMO.

    • onyomi says:

      Properly canned food has a virtually infinite shelf life. Though I guess the bonds might denature over tens and hundreds of years, I’m pretty sure that almost all food spoilage we worry about for most foods relates to bacteria and mold.

      Most traditional food preservation and storage techniques work by manipulating temperature, pH, water activity, and oxygen. Drying food out, or adding salt and/or sugar reduces water available to bacteria for growth (apparently edible honey has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs). Acidity also slows bacterial growth, as does low temperature. Lack of oxygen prevents mold and some bacteria, but an anaerobic environment also creates potential for botulism growth–the worst form of food poisoning–which is why canned foods have to be pressure-heated to above boiling to destroy botulinum spores. (The majority of cases in the US occur in Alaska, where people try to mix native preservation methods of things like fish with new equipment like sealable plastic bags; the rest come from improper home-canning).

      So if you want something to last longer, keep it dry, add sugar, salt, or lemon juice (though high acidity CAN actually denature protein and is a form of heatless cooking–e. g. ceviche), get rid of the air, and/or keep it cold.

      One other form of non-bacterial “spoilage” is wilting, which really just means food drying out when you don’t want it to dry out. This may be a problem with say, fresh herbs. For this reason some refrigerators have humidity settings for particular drawers. Things which rot (get eaten by mold and bacteria) before they dry out should go in low-humidity. Things which tend to dry out before they rot should go in high-humidity.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      The bacteria/mold theory is correct. However, tinned food does undergo some changes and certainly does not have a “virtually infinite” shelf life. Here’s a video of a gentleman opening a 45 year old tin can of chocolate and crackers.

      • Okay, so if that’s the case, what causes those changes?

        • Publius Varinius says:

          The changes that cause food to spoil are related to bacteria/mold.. Some creatures do survive the manufacturing process and there’s no point in improving efficiency since nobody buys cans for 20+ years. It’s not hard to find old fruit tin bloated by internal growth.

          Tinned food also undergoes physical changes that you can never observe in your fridge: phase separation due to external changes in temperature, unstable emulsions separating progressively, chemical reactions due to acids (especially in tinned fruit) and hygroscopy effects (over the long-term, some parts of the food will dry out and other parts will get wet). These do not make the food inedible, except maybe in freak cases.

  6. Sweeneyrod says:

    Final thoughts on the EU referendum? Final polls suggest it will be very close.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      I don’t think that the status quo effect is very strong, but I think

      1. that UK polls have become unreliable recently, as the last election and the Scottish referendum shows. Bookies and markets fared much better, and the market has spoken

      2. tragedies have the most significant effect on public opinion (based on my previous experience living in Yugoslavia and in Hungary), and the Jo Cox murder changed everything

      • Sweeneyrod says:

        I don’t think PredictIt is liquid enough to make it super accurate. The actual market seems to agree to an extent though, as the pound is rising. There are no official exit polls, but financial companies are conducting their own, so the markets should indicate what’s happened once voting finishes (but before the official result).

        • Publius Varinius says:

          > I don’t think PredictIt is liquid enough to make it super accurate.

          I agree. However, I still expect it to be more accurate than the polls.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            And in the best traditions, I update.Both markets were useless for prediction, and I underestimated the probability of a leave vote.

  7. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    Barry Latzer on Why Crime Rises and Falls.

    Latzer claims that “the great crime reduction since the early 1990s is not a permanent transition, but just a temporary trough in a recurring cycle of crime spikes and crime drop-offs”

    • Wrong Species says:

      Interesting article. I’m surprised something so frank about differences among group violence was so causally talked about.

  8. Two McMillion says:

    In Excluding the Supernatural, Eliezer asked,

    I mean, what would the universe look like if reductionism were false? … What experimental observations would you expect to make, if you found yourself in such a universe?

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and the best I’ve been able to come up with is: if reductionism is true, then all mind states are in fact brain states. It seems reasonable to suspect that since, under the reductionist hypothesis, the brain is just another engine, that similar mind states ought to arise from similar brain states. Under the reductionist hypothesis, we should be surprised if we discover a case of wildly divergent mind states linked to very similar brain states, or similar mind states that come from highly similar brain states. And since the human brain follows the same basic plan in all people, we should expect this to hold true between two different people. Thus, we should not expect two people with similar brain states to have very different mind states, or two people with very different mind states to have very similar brain states.

    Now, my question is:

    1) Does this seem like a reasonable way to test the reductionist hypothesis?
    2) Does anyone know if something similar to this has already been studied or tested?

    • The original Mr. X says:

      You could do some sort of Mary the neuroscientist experiment, if you can get the ethics committee to let you.

    • Seneca says:

      No, because some systems are very chaotic, where one small change to the state can produce a very different outcome.

  9. Jon says:

    Since a lot of SSC folks are interested in CRISPR and its potential: First Human Test of CRISPR Proposed

    Allowing terminal patients to choose to participate in trials of medical technology has always seemed to me a Good Thing, so I’m on board with this, but I’m interested in hearing from knowledgeable people about potential effects — good and bad — of CRISPR therapy.

  10. I’m watching what’s happening in Venezuela with considerable horror– it’s economic collapse caused by an especially incompetent socialist (communist?) government.

    “Economic collapse” doesn’t say it– it’s widespread dire poverty caused by government policies which make production just about impossible.

    Any thoughts about what a way out might be Venezuela? About whether there will be huge numbers of refugees?

    • Matt M says:

      A refugee situation probably gets tricky, as I believe both US and EU officials have been trying to cover their political behinds by loudly insisting that in the Middle East, they are ONLY accepting war refugees and are absolutely NOT accepting “economic refugees.”

      I mean I guess if the civil unrest gets bad enough they can call it a war and start taking people in – but the position of western governments from the beginning has basically been “we aren’t taking you in here just because you’re poor and you’d like to be less poor.”

      • I’m not expecting this to be a matter of entirely legal immigration.

      • John Schilling says:

        The Venezuelan government has spent the past fifteen years or so openly blaming the United States of America for every bad thing that has happened in their country, and handing out Kalashnikovs to Chavez loyalists. If we do see massive illegal immigration from Venezuela to the US, I fear it will likely take on a form that will make Donald Trump look prescient.

        Most of the immigrants will be honestly looking for peace and prosperity, but they will like any immigrant class (illegals especially) be vulnerable to a predatory class of immigrants that Venezuela is well-positioned to supply. Rather like the Salvadoran MS-13, dialed up to eleven (MS-141?)

    • Lumifer says:

      Any thoughts about what a way out might be Venezuela?

      The usual. Hang the bastards and start anew. The interesting question is whether becoming middle class (and Venezuela grew a large middle class when the petrodollars were flowing freely) makes you soft enough to be incapable of revolutions :-/

      P.S. In case you’re interested in Venezuela outrage porn, you can find some here. From there comes an awesome quote:

      Should we stop enjoying ourselves just because the country is burning?

      • erenold says:

        Hmm. Serious questions – why are they blaming ‘the rich’? What did the rich do to cause any of that, and what should ‘the rich’ have done otherwise?

        • Jiro says:

          Socialism is anti-rich, so having the people running a malfunctioning socialist country be rich is hypocrisy.

        • Lumifer says:

          They are blaming the rich because in the context of socialism (and Venezuela specifically) “rich” means “possessing state power” or “friend of / close to those possessing state power”.

          • cassander says:

            If only that were true. Among a certain set, socialism can never fail, it can only be failed, and for a century they’ve watched people starve rather than admit, even to themselves, that ““rich” means “possessing state power” or “friend of / close to those possessing state power”.” is true.

        • erenold says:


          At least from that article, I didn’t get any impression that the people in nice suits and dresses, eating nice food on nice golf courses, had anything to do with the chavista government, though. Seemed rather random to blame the haves for the plight of the have-nots without some kind of causative relationship between the two – that’s what seems to have gotten them into trouble in the first place, come to think of it.

          And that it was coming from the Daily Mail, not exactly Pravda, that surprised me.

        • brad says:

          At this point anyone left in Caracas and wealthy is chavista. Everyone else either had their companies expropriated or fled.

          Source: admittedly biased Venezuelan expat friend

    • John Schilling says:

      The only workable answer I can see is colonialism. To build a workable Venezuelan economy in this generation, you need to be able to extract and refine heavy crude. The expertise to do that probably no longer exists in Venezuela, what with the people who used to know how to do that having been declared enemies of the people on account of their persnickety insistence on being highly paid for their valuable skills. And nobody is going to soon trust a government elected by the Venezuelan people not to do the same thing all over again, so any foreign investment is going to insist on a high degree of foreign control.

      Venezuela would be particularly hostile to US colonialism, and Europe is pretty much out of that game. Brazil might be up for it, but China is another possibility. They’ve been doing a fair bit of quiet resource-extraction colonialism in Africa, and they can sell “…and you can count on us to keep the Yankees out!” to make the whole thing easier to swallow.

    • Lysenko says:

      It’s probably not a particularly popular opinion among the political cluster I’m closest to, but I’d actually like to see us take as many Venezuelan immigrants as we can, upon meeting certain conditions. While their kids can sometimes become problems (in much the same way that immigrants fleeing the problems of the middle east can produce children ready to see ISIS as admirable and something to cling to in their search for meaning), I think that when we took in Vietnamese and Cuban refugees we gained a LOT of good citizens who were serious about the political and ideological principles that distinguished the US from those countries. I don’t see any reason why the same shouldn’t be true for Venezuelan refugees.

      Of course, attempting to actively filter for those mindsets/beliefs would be politically…difficult…

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This won’t work now that no one can eat, when they all would want out.

        But in “normal” times, if you open up for 50,000 spots for 5 years, you would probably get the Venezuelans who most like America.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        For what it’s worth, I agree.

      • Nornagest says:

        I spend a lot of time in a largely Vietnamese neighborhood. There are flags all over that I always assumed were simply Vietnamese flags; not until I looked it up did I realize that they were specifically the flag of South Vietnam used from 1949 to 1975.

        Tells you something about the history of the people living there.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        I’m all for increasing the amount of foreign aid, but there ends up the risk of large parts of America having the same functionality of a 3rd world country with this principle of accepting large amounts of refugees applied across the world.

        For a country to increase its average citizen quality it needs to be selective! So I can see a large number of people from Venezuela being accepted, but also a sizeable rejected.

        It sounds cruel, but Malthus will eventually rear his ugly head with current technology, and any realistic refugee or aid policy must keep that in mind.

      • James says:

        Didn’t Obama recently ban all Venezuela visas via executive order?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I think a lot of the wealthier Venezuelans already immigrated here. My aunt is a Venezuelan immigrant who came here fleeing Chavez, and she says there’s a big community.

        • Lysenko says:

          Generally speaking, the wealthier you are:
          A) The more able you are to get liquid and mobile. In many cases you are even able to leave capital assets behind and then hire agents to liquidate them on their behalf. If you don’t have the assets to do so, the best you can do is rely on family (“the rest of the family is moving now, and uncle Joe will come once he finds someone to buy the family farm.”)

          B) The better your medium to long-term situational awareness is. You’re aware of social trends and possible dangers further out than failing to make next month’s rent, or maybe even not finding the next meal.

          So yeah, I suspect that those who COULD get out with a minimum of trouble started doing so years ago.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:



      “Venezuela approved a new law on Dec. 23, 2015, that imposes one of the world’s toughest regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”

      From a german study on GMO.

      “On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.” (thus plausibly around 50% more crops can be grown/bought for the same amount of capital)

      Clearly, it was a progressive and intelligent move, banning a product that has not been shown to be more harmful then “normal” food!

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        Seems superfluous. Even before the ban, you could walk through a Venezuelan supermarket and not see any GMO-derived food on the shelves.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          Yeah, there were a good deal of anti-gmo measures there a decade earlier. All that did was prevent the country from being able to grow large amounts of the stuff themselves. Now it seems they can’t even buy it!

          That’s possibly over 50% more food for the same money. That’s the difference between literally starving to death and being bad, but functional(though still not well off at all).

          What I find prescient was Penn and Teller’s BULLSHIT! episode on GMO’s where banning it was tantamount to making poor people starve. Came to pass in Venezuela in a big way, aye?

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think banning GMOs is generally dumb, but I doubt it’s a significant contributor to Venezuela’s problems. Feeding your populace was solved a while before we invented GMOs.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            Oh, I would not say solved by any means. I think the first world lucked out in that people stopped breeding above replacement levels, and agricultural progress happened to progress faster above replacement levels, when there was no real good a priori indicator that would be the case (and plenty of intellectuals believed Malthus would be in America today)

            With china’s population control, if any nation solved it its them. They don’t have to worry about changes in those national trends!

          • Theo Jones says:


            Its probably not a big contributor to Venezuela’s problems. But it is a contributor to over-all food issues. Because the amount of agricultural land in the world is relatively fixed,so, any policy that reduces yields substantially reduces food output. And the methods of making up for this by getting new land are destructive (ie. ploughing over natural ecosystems).

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Huh. I didn’t even know about the earlier anti-GMO measures; I only knew that the stores don’t have food of any description.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I was just in Puerto Vaillarta, Mexico and met a family of Venezuelan refugees. There’s no reason to expect the refugees to make a mad dash to the US rather than settling in richer Spanish-speaking countries.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      The economy will improve if you
      -eliminate price controls
      -eliminate currency controls

      unfortunately, the budget was powered by oil money which is an issue now (it turns out spending the maintenance money on supporters and hiring people for political loyalty is bad for production) and the crazies aren’t willing to give up power. So it looks like a lot of people are going to die before things improve.

      • Agronomous says:

        So it’s a trolley problem:

        Leave the coup lever alone, and let tens of thousands die?

        Or pull the coup lever, and kill the top 100 Chavistas to save tens of thousands?

        SPOILER: the U.S. pushes the Fat Man off the bridge, but thousands of miles away, in the Middle East.

    • BBA says:

      Was it just coincidence that the shit really started hitting the fan when Chavez died and Maduro took over, or would Chavez have been competent enough to avoid the current disaster, or at least charismatic enough to convince everyone it was America’s fault?

      • Sandy says:

        I suspect the usual suspects (the Guardian et al) would also have been more eager to convince everyone it was America’s fault if their darling Chavez was still around. Their loyalty to Maduro is likely less firm given that he’s just some bus driver Chavez elevated to power and not a famed left-wing ideologue.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The massive blame game against America is why I am skeptical of people who say that the US will get “less blowback” if it stops being world cop. The US is going to get blamed for all problems even if it was completely uninvolved.

  11. SUT says:

    I’m guessing there might be some Shane Carruth fans here – indie sci-fi director of Primer and Upstream Color.

    I found a reading and discussion of the script of his notorious un-produced film, A Topiary, which he spent 10 years trying to make. Spolier alerts below, but it looks like the film will never get made.

    A lot of plot elements in this film (Written 10+ years ago) are eerily similiar to today’s disucssionon AI, there’s paperclip maximizers and characters/special effects that look like OpenAI Gym. Too bad this film didn’t get made, I could see the SSC community treating it like the Rocky Horror Picture show if it ever did.

    • Anon. says:

      Carruth is great, I highly recommend reading the script.

    • Zombielicious says:

      Have been a fan since I first saw Primer, and after hearing that script summary, I’m deeply disappointed that the film isn’t being made. Given the recent trend in AI films (Ex Machina, Transcendence, Age of Ultron, etc) maybe there’s still a long shot chance he’d get funding for it sometime after The Modern Ocean comes out.

  12. Max Goedl says:

    I’d like to get your views on a proposal by two economists on how to solve the refugee problem. The problem is how to host 15 million refugees worldwide in need of protection taking into account the costs of hosting refugees as well as the preferences of refugees. The proposal consists of three parts:

    1) Each country is assigned a quota based on some set of objective characteristics such as GDP, population size, etc.
    2) Countries are able to trade quotas in a centralized market place. Countries who want to host fewer refugees must pay those who are willing to host more. This should ensure an economically efficient allocation of refugees across countries, i.e. equal marginal cost of hosting refugees everywhere.
    3) Refugees are matched to destination countries based on their stated preferences using some matching algorithm.

    Here’s a more detailed description of the proposal by one of its inventors: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/06/22/how-a-tradable-refugee-admission-quota-system-could-help-solve-the-eus-migration-crisis/

    I think the biggest problem is reaching an agreement on the initial allocation of quotas, since it determines who is going to pay how much to whom in the trading stage. So each country will want to negotiate as low a quota as possible.

    What do you think is the biggest problem with the proposal? Any ideas how to improve on it?

    • Matthias says:

      Instead of starting with a quota of refugees, perhaps one should start with a proportion of the load (say go by total GDP of each country). Countries submit sealed bids for taking refugees, multiple bids allowed.

      Price of for taking a single refugee is set so that all refugees get a place, every nation gets the same amount per refugee (even if their bid was lower, to encourage honest bidding).

      The cost of the whole affair will be distributed according to GDP of the nations. A nation that takes more than its `fair’ (=GDP share) of refugees makes net money from this, a nation that takes less pays into the pot.

      There are two main points of contention with this scheme:
      – how to allocate the quota of payment (by GDP is just one option)
      – how to agree on minimum standards for refugee care (to avoid North Korea taking all of them, pocketing the money, and then letting them starve)

      Also, this treats all refugees as equal.

      Eg Germany might prefer refugees that have already made the effort to learn German, or that have a university degree. Refugees might like some countries better than others, eg rather Germany than Belarus.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      What do you think is the biggest problem with the proposal?

      The biggest problem is that the economists have come with a solution not a single person has asked for, since the economics aren’t the issue here. It’s like solving the trolley problem by saying you’ll engineer a way to make sure it just veers harmlessly off the track.

    • Lumifer says:

      What do you think is the biggest problem with the proposal?

      That it has no relationship to real life.

      In the second place would be the observation that once becoming a refugee guarantees you a resettlement in the West, you’ll have a LOT more “refugees” than just 15m.

      • Zombielicious says:

        UNHCR claims a total of 21.3 million “refugees” worldwide. Counting all “displaced persons” that number balloons to 65 million, or around 1% of humanity.

        Numbers probably vary depending on who’s doing the estimating. Not sure where the 15 million number came from – possibly the approximate total from the Syria. (Edit: Actually, looking closer at the first link above, it looks like it’s the total excluding Palestinians.)

        • Lumifer says:

          The number of refugees is not a stable value.

          Imagine, say, that the India-Pakistan conflict flares up and becomes a hot war. How many refugees would you expect?

          • Zombielicious says:

            My point was that there are already a lot more than ~15 million refugees, if you start using broader estimates than just the ones registered as such by the UN.

    • John Schilling says:

      What do you think is the biggest problem with the proposal?

      “We have an army, our own currency, and we don’t want any of your refugees”, said by everyone who isn’t a member of the EU and a few that are. As a way of shoehorning all of the world’s refugees into the Eurozone, it might be workable in the short term. And then we need to find where to put all the refugees fleeing the collapse of Europe…

      • The Nybbler says:

        If accepting refugees results in continental collapse, refusing them seems quite rational. Refugees from collapsing Europe can be blockaded. Cruel, but better than cascading worldwide collapse.

      • Murphy says:

        And yet most of those same countries were able in the past to come together to sign agreements saying that they would accept refugees who meet certain criteria rather than shooting them.

        • John Schilling says:

          Which agreements are you thinking of? Because there’s been nothing on the suggested scope that I know of, and e.g the Evian Conference was a conspicuous failure.

    • Murphy says:

      Monitoring the minimums and deciding whether they’re being systematically violated or whether various cases of people complaining are just outliers or people intentionally screwing around might be a nightmare.

      It might also need some kind of payment system for the cost of initial processing. A country getting a lot of refugees would have little incentive to investigate whether they actually meet the criteria for refugee status while the countries getting payment for them would have little incentive to decline such status which we might expect to inflate the number of people qualifying.

    • “This should ensure an economically efficient allocation of refugees across countries”

      Only if the welfare of the refugees is left out of the calculation. They might have preferences between the U.S. and Mexico, say.

  13. Anonymous says:

    What do you lot think about there having been at least one advanced human civilization beyond the veil of prehistory?

    I mean, we have a smattering of out-of-place artifacts all over the place, and as far as I know, sufficient passage of time will erode everything down to something nearly indistinguishable from naturally-occurring terrain features – stone structures last longest, but how many megaconstructions of that sort are we even building nowadays? According to some of the “what would happen if humans disappeared” material I’ve seen, it wouldn’t even take that long for everything to crumble into dust. Is it plausible that something like this happened in the far past?

    • AlphaGamma says:

      What does the passage of time do to plastic? Even if plastic objects are unrecognisable as objects they would still be recognisable as plastic.

      Also, as far as large stone structures go, the remains of such a structure would be out of geological context.

      Finally, there would be evidence of atmospheric pollution in ice cores from Greenland (if it was <100,000 years ago) and possibly also Antarctica (where cores go back 740,000 years). Note that lead from Ancient Greek and Roman silver refining has been found in Greenland ice cores.

      • Anonymous says:

        What does the passage of time do to plastic? Even if plastic objects are unrecognisable as objects they would still be recognisable as plastic.

        Plastic biodegrades slowly on a human perception scale, but it does biodegrade pretty quickly – according to Wikipedia, on the order of hundreds of years. Glass, OTOH, apparently has more lifespan than just about anything, to the point we can’t measure it well.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Wouldn’t glass eventually “degrade” physically to sand?

          • John Schilling says:

            A very unnaturally pure and transparent sand, which we would not mistake for anything natural if we checked. Obviously we’re not going to check every grain of sand, and I’d like to see the numbers for how much manufactured glass could possibly have existed in various past epochs and have been plausibly missed by the world’s geologists to date.

    • thirqual says:

      As αγ said, ice cores are great.

      In addition, evidence of large scale use of natural resources, for starters native metal deposits, and then coal and oil.

      Traces of metallic structures, even if they are just gigantic rust stains with strange ratios of rare metals.

      Geochemical footprint in general (dispersion of many elements normally found concentrated in a few areas).

      • Anonymous says:

        Right. So it probably couldn’t have been anyone doing large scale mining or oil drilling or anything like that.

        Traces of metallic structures, even if they are just gigantic rust stains with strange ratios of rare metals.

        Suppose that such a civilization that left those traces existed, and did leave those traces scattered all around the place. How do you distinguish ‘natural’ ratios of rare metals from ‘strange’ ones?

    • We’re left a notable footprint because of plants and animals suddenly appearing in places they couldn’t have moved to themselves so quickly, or perhaps at all.

      • Anonymous says:

        And how would we distinguish the introduced artificially from those introduced naturally?

        • Nornagest says:

          Natural introductions usually correspond to geological changes. In Southeast Asia, for example, there are noticeable biogeographical boundaries between island clusters separated by straits too deep to have been dry during the ice ages, and the populations on islands that aren’t show the levels of genetic divergence that you’d expect from ~10,000 years of isolation.

          (This works best when you’re dealing with land animals, or with plants whose seeds aren’t spread by wind or by birds.)

    • Protagoras says:

      From what I recall of archaeology, this previous civilization would have to have lacked pottery, which would make it not very advanced, because pottery really lasts; it crumbles into fragments, but not into dust.

      • Anonymous says:

        Are there any known civilizations that did not have significant pottery, but were otherwise advanced? I mean, it’s not impossible to do without the wheel and be civilized.

    • dndnrsn says:

      How advanced are we talking?

      Like “the Lemurians were far in advance of us, but were all eaten by the lizard men” advanced, or “hey, looks like a society that had Egyptian-level technology but 5-10,000 years earlier” advanced?

      • Anonymous says:

        I was thinking substantial metallurgy and up. Anything not primitive neolithic peoples.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Ah, because “out of place artifacts” are often a staple of classic pseudoarchaeology/pseudohistory: “look, we found these ancient batteries!”

          • Anonymous says:

            No, that would be too silly. 🙂

            (Well, to be honest, I can buy that the ancients might have by accident constructed a battery purely coincidentally – batteries are actually really easy to produce.)

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Anonymous
            the ancients might have by accident constructed a battery purely coincidentally

            What were they trying to construct?

          • hlynkacg says:

            If history, and my own personal experience are any indication, booze.

          • Anonymous says:

            For example.

          • I believe there is evidence for an ancient battery, although I don’t know how good the evidence is, whether there is another plausible interpretation.

            The obvious thing to do with a battery is electroplating–a lot easier, cheaper and safer than fire gilding.

    • tcd says:

      What timeline are you considering?

      We already have curious cases like Göbekli Tepe which suggest that there was some activity not characteristic of primitive neolithic peoples coming out of the Younger Dryas period. I am open to the argument that the timeline can be extended back even further if it turns out that the rapid cooling and massive devastation experienced in the Younger Dryas was caused by an impact event.

      If you want to push the timeline back a hundred thousand years I would be a lot more skeptical.

      • Anonymous says:

        I was thinking of something like from 50 000 BC to 5000 BC. According to my learnings, we’ve colonized most of the planet by that time, and were roughly the same biologically as us modern humans.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I can’t assign a Bayesian probability to it, but I think there’s a decent one.

      Archaeologists like to ignore what ancient people said about themselves when it goes against their biases toward easily-accessible sensory evidence. One example: the Sumerians (and through them, the Bible) and Indians claim that there were cities before the Flood. Scientific consensus is that sea level has risen 125 meters between 21,000 Before Present and ~5,000 BP.. So there could be vast amounts of evidence for lost cities at depths of 1-125 m below sea level, but archaeology and allied sciences prefer to say everyone was a forager until ~10,000 BP because they don’t have easy access to the old lowlands.

      Another example is the insistence that Khafre built the Great Sphinx, when there’s purported water erosion and the only hieroglyphic text mentioning its origin, the Inventory Stela, claims Giza was an abandoned sacred site when Khufu found the Sphinx buried in sand and rededicated the site.

      In this context, it’s crucial to define “advanced”. All that “Atlantis had aircraft” stuff originates with the Theosophist W. Scott-Elliot. An industrial civilization or even something on par with Classical antiquity would have left much more evidence.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, I consider the Ancient Greeks and Romans to be plenty advanced. So too concurrent Chinese peoples, medieval Europeans and renaissance Aztecs and Incas.

      • Protagoras says:

        Flood myths arose in places which had rivers that flood (which turns out to be nearly everywhere ancient civilizations arose). I thus lean toward the simplest hypothesis, that they’re exaggerations of a kind of natural disaster the storytellers had experience with.

      • Anonanon says:

        I’d known about this, but never really considered the implications. A huge proportion of all ice age settlements would now be under the sea, especially since people cling to coastlines and rivers.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Many historic civilizations have made a point of conquering others and eradicating their history — effacing the conquered people’s monuments, burning their books, killing their scholars, even banning the use of their language. There have been definitively unsuccessful attempts at this (e.g. the Nazis against the Jews of Europe); there have been almost-successful attempts (e.g. the Spanish against the Mayans); there have presumably been fully successful attempts as well.

      (I am not talking about any conquest or genocide here; but specifically those where conquerors or tyrants set about *destroying the written records* of the conquered or oppressed people.)

      The boundary between “prehistoric” and “historic” is exactly the existence of written records such as inscribed monuments, tablets, or books.

      If civilization X existed and had written records, and then civilization Y emerged and destroyed all of civilization X’s records, then from *our* standpoint sometime later, *X is prehistoric.* It doesn’t matter that X *did have* writing; *we* will still consider it prehistoric because we don’t have access to that writing — because of the deliberate action of Y.

      (Or, put another way, “prehistoric” is relative to an observer; and “prehistoricness-to-a-future observer” can be artificially created through destruction of records.)

  14. Mongeese says:

    Title and escrow is well and good, though to be honest I was hoping for something more like this:

    Emilsson had an idea for “consciousness engineering” — building a brain dashboard, more profound than any drug, on which one could “play different permutations of keys, and that instantiates different states of consciousness.” He was also a panpsychist, which meant that he thought consciousness was a universal property of matter, and a negative hedonic utilitarian: he wanted to minimize the world’s suffering before maximizing its pleasure. “Once that’s done we then can go on and actually party really hard.”

  15. onyomi says:

    Any thoughts on Yes, there have been aliens?

    I can’t evaluate the numbers, but the basic idea seems to be to come at it from the opposite perspective. Instead of asking how likely aliens are, it asks how likely it is they never have been (though arguably this is just restating the same question), which, according to these calculations, is very, very unlikely (ergo, aliens, the theory seems to imply).

    I’m still not sure how this is supposed to get around our sample size of 1 planet we know for sure has ever had life on it, though.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      “Specifically, unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in 10 billion trillion, then we are not the first.”

      That sounds like an absurd number. But that’s because somebody threw huge numbers and expected you not to know how to process them.

      log2(10 billion trillion) is approximately 74. So if the evolution of life required 74 50/50 chances to line up exactly right, you’ve arrived at their extraordinarily improbable number. 1/3 chances requires only ~50 filters. 1/4 chances require ~37.

      They’re engaging in a probably-unintentional dishonest trick, of shoving a bunch of unknown-unknowns into a single variable, and pretending the large improbability that comes out is evidence. If there are 11 1%-shots required for intelligent life to arise (if 1% of planets have X characteristic, and 1% of those have Y, and 1% of those have Z, and so on, and all 11 characteristics are prerequisites for intelligent life), you’ve met your 10-billion-trillion figure. Their mind-bogglingly huge number amounts to 11 1% chances.

      My personal belief – I won’t call it a theory, both because it’s untestable and it’s based on a guess based on a single data point – is that multiple mass extinction events are a necessary precursor to intelligent life; you have to hit the reset switch a few times to allow chemical complexity to develop sufficiently, and also because in any given iteration, once you’ve met all the prerequisites, intelligence is only one of many possible evolutionary paths. And given that a planet has experienced multiple mass-extinction events, it’s probably more likely to experience more.

    • SUT says:

      Whenever a scientist scoffs that the “degree of pessimism required to doubt [my theory] … borders on the irrational.” the hair on the back of my neck goes up. And when that theory happens to be as speculative as the existence of extra terrestrial life, we’ve got to wonder about the author’s psyche. But I’m not going to do that here…

      Instead I’d lay out a very simple thought experiment: Take the Earth and crush it up into dust, all the planets, the Sun. Then do that to every galaxy and piece of dust in the universe and sweep it up into one pile of 10^80 atoms. Now start building random DNA molecules of nucleotide length N. (There are 30 atoms per nucleotide), and there are 4^N possible combinations of each molecule. You’ll see your coverage of the possible combinations gets incredibly sparse past 180 bp.

      Consider that the smallest known viable genome consists of 500,000 base pairs. Origin of Life researchers theorizes 160 bits of information of a theoretical self-replicator in the ’60’s. One’s way over the limit, the other is straddling it.

      So imagine that all the matter in our universe is used for DNA, and not once does it create a viable genomic code.

      Everything we know about evolution and biology requires some form of digital information storage. So sure you can have auto-catalytic chemical reactions, you can randomly get information molecules into the mix too. And you have multiple energy sources of heat, sunlight, tidal currents etc. But since the chemistry doesn’t imprint on the information molecule (instead the arrow goes the other way XNA -> Protein), you can only get randomly generated information, until the first self-replicator, at which point you easily get increase complexity and competence from evolution. But this minimum necessary amount of random information looks to be even more statistically unlikely than OP’s likelihood.

      • Nornagest says:

        Early life apparently evolved so soon (after the Earth cooled down enough to support it) that we don’t even have a good geological record of the transition. However abiogenesis happened, that speaks against it being rare or difficult — early abiogenesis is of course possible by pure chance, but that’s not what we’d expect on priors.

        The transition from single-celled life to complex multicellular, on the other hand, happened fairly late. That’s not the only possible low term in the Drake equation, but I’d put my money there before I put it on molecules capable of information storage.

        • Theo Jones says:

          Abiogenesis only happened once though, as far as anyone can tell. This is consistent with a world where it is unlikely, but if it does happen it pretty much had to of happened on the early Earth.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s consistent with the idea that once it happens, it spreads rapidly to the extent of the biome and continues for as long as the biome does.

            You wouldn’t expect abiogenesis to have occurred multiple times on Earth, because first you would have to have the end of the biome. And biomes don’t end and then restart.

            In other words, the fact that abiogenesis was a single event on earth just suggests that once you have self-replicating things, Darwin really does almost guarantee that it will be the one and only abiogenesis event.

          • Anonymous says:

            Aren’t there some signs that it also happened on Mars?

          • Nornagest says:

            Undetermined so far. Every few years there’s a “confirmation” of fossil microbes on Mars, but as far as I know the evidence has never yet been found to be strong once the hype dies down.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also note that even confirmed fossils on Mars wouldn’t be proof that abiogenesis had occurred on Mars. And for that matter, we still don’t have proof that abiogenesis occurred on Earth. We know that rocks are randomly transported from Earth to Mars, and vice versa, under conditions that wouldn’t be entirely guaranteed to kill any extremophiles trapped in the cracks.

            Actual living Martian organisms, if we find any, we could look at whatever they use for a nucleoprotein and make a pretty good guess as to whether we share a common ancestor. Barring that, we’re stuck with the single data point that life emerged at least once in the Solar System, about half a billion years after the planets cooled. Good luck turning that into proof, even at the P<0.05 level, of any hypothesis over any other.

  16. whatnoloan says:

    Can someone explain the whole “all infinite recursions are at most three levels deep” thing? Is it trolling or actually serious? I don’t understand why Eliezer claims the meta-meta-meta level isn’t useful.

    • E. Harding says:

      I suspect it’s trolling.

    • Pku says:

      Recursions generally become less applicable the futher down you go. Take the radar detector example: A radar detector detector is less useful than a radar detector, because it can only be used in reaction to it, and a radar detector detector detector is less useful still. In general, there’s a habit of expecting these recursions to go on for longer than they should and forget about interfering factors, so thinking of “at most three levels deep” is a good rule of the thumb.

    • Nicholas says:

      To the best of my recollection.
      When “I know.” I have a model of you in my head for predicting your actions. (Object)
      “But you know that I know.” when you have a model of me in your head, so you know what I would predict you would do, so you can do something different. (Meta 1)
      “But I know that you know that I know.” so my model of you in my head includes your model of me in it, so I know how you will try to juke me. (Meta 2)
      “But you know that I know that you know that I know.” So your model of me includes my model of you, so you know I will predict how you will try to juke me. (Meta 3)
      The thing is that from here, adding another round of “you know I know”s to the nesting doesn’t add more models, it’s just the second and third meta steps running through time.
      Because I can predict you predicting my prediction of your prediction of my prediction of your prediction of my prediction of your prediction of my prediction of your prediction of my prediction of your prediction of my prediction of your prediction of my prediction until the cows come home, without having a more complex structure in my head than “A model of you that includes you modeling how I model you.”. There’s no tactical benefit from analyzing someone at any deeper of a level.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Nicholas

        Have you read Scott’s blog entry about the blue-eyed islanders?

        • Julie K says:

          I haven’t, but I think the “recursion is at most three levels deep” is exactly why, although I understand the islanders puzzle in theory, I have trouble convincing myself it could actually work with more than, say, 3 people on the island.

    • John Schilling says:

      If you’re going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line, you’re going to win by cheating playing a different game, not by being meta-recursively one level deeper than the other guy. It’s more a matter of meta-recursion having rapidly diminishing returns than always failing at exactly the fourth level, but even Rationalists can be allowed an imprecisely poetic turn of phrase now and then.

    • gbdub says:

      How much of it is just that the language gets really unwieldy? For example, arms and armor have been continuously evolving in relation to each other since the first dude picked up a rock to win a fist fight. Counters and counter-counters have gone back and forth in the millennia that followed in a mostly logical and incremental fashion, but rather than call ceramic plate carrying Kevlar vests a counter-counter-counter-counter-countermeasure to the medieval longbow, we just default to “armor” and “weapon” with no modifiers.

    • thisguy says:

      Here’s an interesting related description using fighting games to explain the concept.

  17. dsotm says:

    All the qualia job descriptions appear as unrendered markdown, at least in my subjective experience.

  18. http://siderea.livejournal.com/1283810.html?nc=11#comments

    A small survey suggests that geek women typically becamse interested in geekishness after being introduced to it by an older male relative, usually their father. This is somethiing like being handed a book, not a big mentoring program.

    • Zorgon says:

      Hasn’t worked with my XX-spawn so far in anything except Minecraft, and pretty much every kid is into Minecraft. She just ignores things I suggest as being probably boring, which is not a terrible prediction in all fairness.

      OTOH she’s picking up Young Mathematician awards so clearly someone is doing something right. I’m just putting a low prior on it being me.

  19. Steve Sailer says:

    Why wouldn’t former London mayor Ken Livingstone side with Muslims over Jews, since Muslims make up an ever growing percentage of London voters, while London’s never sizable numbers of Jews have largely decamped to the suburbs?

  20. Zombielicious says:

    So I read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind recently. I was wondering how the rationalist community (not equivalent to SSC, but I don’t know a better place to ask) had reacted to what he called “the rationality delusion” – the hypothesis that reasoning evolved as a way to justify our intuitions, rather than to actually seek the truth, and that this is how it’s actually used.

    The obvious implication is that rational thinking and decision making is incidental, and the real purpose is just to be able to out-argue your opponents and bludgeon them with your intellect, as well as deceive yourself into believing what you want, when necessary. Probably best summarized in this image. Between the work of Haidt, Kahneman & Tversky, Dan Ariely, etc, there’s a good amount of research supporting at least the general idea.

    If true, this seems pretty bad for rationality, but I couldn’t find any great fisking of it on LW or the usual places, despite numerous references to Haidt’s book. Was there ever a good response or did people just kind of collectively shrug it off?

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      As far as I know, rationalist doctrine isn’t: “We are rational”, but ” We actively have to try to be rational, because it’s very hard”.

    • Skivverus says:

      Don’t know that I count as a capital-R Rationalist, but I’ve read the book, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.

      Our capacity to understand the truth is limited compared to the amount of truth out there (citation: number of atoms in a human brain << number of atoms in the observable universe), so we necessarily have to prioritize. We can only accumulate facts so quickly, and storing the facts compactly means a compression algorithm of some sort, and a lossy one at that: you only want the important facts.

      When it comes to relative strangers, changing your opinion right off the bat probably means digging up the facts that got you to that opinion in the first place, and people’s decompression algorithms are not instantaneous – so, it takes some work to figure out whether or not you’ve run into the facts they mention before, and it takes more work to recompile your possibly-new set of facts into a fresh opinion on the matter. And if you recognize the facts they have mentioned, odds are you don’t have to change your opinion just yet.

    • Ted says:

      and the real purpose is just to be able to out-argue your opponents and bludgeon them with your intellect

      Don’t impute purpose to evolved traits. It may be historically the case that reasoning evolved mainly to out-argue your opponents, but what of it? Why would this be bad for rationality?

      In any case, this is discussed plenty on LW, but largely as a subcategory of discussions of biases in general.

      • Zombielicious says:

        By “real purpose” I mean how it is actually used. Aside from the possibility of a group of hyper-rational elite, the implication is of the tail wagging the dog: Rationalists aren’t actually engaging in rationalism, instead just creating a new memeplex to advance their subjective interests. Hence “delusion.” (For reference, here’s a link to the ~4 pages where Haidt makes his version of the case.)

        It’s not to say rationality is “bad,” but that you essentially can’t escape your own intuitive motivations. So take whatever conclusion you think you’ve arrived at through years of careful rational analysis, while avoiding your own biases as best you’ve been able. Sorry! You mostly just came up with self-serving arguments that changed as your intuitions and motivations changed (maybe you aligned with a new social tribe, for example). To the extent you actually fail to understand your own motivations and decision processes, that seems the opposite of typical rationalist goals…

        There are counterarguments, some of which were already given above:

        1) Rationality is a social process, not something individuals can do. This still has the problem of resting your decisions on cultural memes and intuitions of others, rather than some kind of objective decision-theoretic analysis.

        2) Rationality is still something individuals can do, but it’s an ideal, and you just try to get better at it (basically what SolipsisticUtilitarian said). Part of the problem here is that it’s not really used that way. People definitely claim that they’re being rational and others are being irrational and that’s why they’re correct, especially with regards to more complex debates about stuff like religion, politics, life decisions, etc, rather than straightforward hypotheticals like one-boxing vs two-boxing. This is a similar dilemma to the case of academic religion vs popular religion – the former may be well-reasoned epistemic stuff but the latter often eventually devolves into a dogmatic tribe war.

        3) Epistemic rationality is different from instrumental rationality. You can theoretically make rational decisions about objective, decision theoretic stuff, but your internal motivations are just as wishy-washy as anyone else’s. The problem then is that lots of conclusions people would like to imagine are rational fail to be so. Pretty much anything based in utilitarianism is out (x-risk, effective altruism, etc), since that’s being determined, in the end, by your pre-rational mind. (Haidt seems ok with this and is what he seems to advocate with embracing other non-utilitarian moral foundations, though interestingly his justifications for doing so basically all come back to utilitarian reasons.)

        4) Rationality is actually way more powerful than I’m giving it credit for. Our primitive intuitions and post hoc judgments eventually become negligible after we’ve become well-trained rationalists, and while the others may be true, we can basically get to 99% rationality if we try, it’s just hard and takes a long time.

        My main problem here is that the two sides seem mostly incompatible. Calling rationality a “delusion” is a pretty big rejection of projects like CFAR and LW. It claims that, sure, it’s great to learn about psychology, decision theory, and cognitive biases, but when push comes to shove all that stuff is only going to be used to justify whatever intuitive desires you decide to run with anyway.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          There are a couple of ways to deal with this

          -avoid politics
          -focus exclusively on policy, not politics
          -make testable predictions to calibrate your uncertainty with regards to politics
          -ignore national politics and focus on local politics
          -join a third party (it frees you of the need to ‘win’; unfortunately it imbues you with smugness)

          but when push comes to shove all that stuff is only going to be used to justify whatever intuitive desires you decide to run with anyway.

          I’d put it as incomplete. Rationalism won’t make you join effective altruism or contribute. However if you follow EA, you can in fact donate money as efficiently a possible.

          Or tldr
          The justification for the goals and the goals may not always be rational, but the means to achieve them can be made to.

        • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

          “Rationalists aren’t actually engaging in rationalism, instead just creating a new memeplex to advance their subjective interests.”

          I’m pretty sure this is why Yudkowsky initially wrote what would become the Sequences.

          As someone else mentioned, in the rational-sphere there are two different but related types of rationality posited: Instrumental and epistemic.

          Instrumental is about achieving your goals and epistemic is knowing what’s true. A sort of hidden confounder is that there’s probably a third issue, which is rationally *creating* goals. This completely depends on your values as a person and most other types of rationality are slaves to this propensity. And then, by what metric do you say one value is better than some other opposing value?

          What if someone doesn’t value epistemic rationality? But then you’ll have to find some way to argue that person into valuing epistemic rationality either towards some instrumental goal or for its own sake (hence the Sequences).

          But I think that actual “full-stack” rationalism is impossible, since our subjective interests are always going to be dictated by what we value. And what we value is largely dictated by our emotions.

          At some point, unless you’re a robot, you’re going to value something for “irrational” reasons. Indeed, I read somewhere that people who are unable to assign value to things are completely incapable of making decisions (anyone remember what the name of that is called?).

    • Matthias says:

      That’s why you always have to ask yourself ‘what would change my mind?’, and ‘how could I test/falsify this opinion?’

      You are right, that most thinking is more rationalisation than rational. Humans are hypocritical by nature, too. (Ie they want to be seen as the kind of people who are generous, because that’s good signalling, but they actually try to wiggle out of these commitments when push comes to shove.)

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      If reasoning was more often fake than real (for evolutionary reasons), wouldn’t we have evolved to ignore others’ attempts to reason at us? It seems like it has to be mostly honest, most of the time, but with significant incentive to try to “cheat” where possible.

      • Matthias says:

        People do in fact ignore most reasoning that goes against what they already believe.

        • William Newman says:

          “People do in fact ignore most reasoning that goes against what they already believe.”

          Talk is cheap, and people tend to require that input from talking must clear high hurdles before they let it influence their behavior except in superficial or manipulative ways. Similarly, DNA and especially RNA are cheap, and organisms tend to be exceedingly paranoid about precautions to prevent it from influencing their behavior. (As an undergrad I worked for a while in a lab converting viral RNA into DNA, splicing it into plasmids, and doing various tricks with the convenient plasmid form afterwards. The work with the RNA was particularly fiddly because of how everything alive tends to produce RNA-chewing enzymes as a first line of defense against mischief such as viruses.)

          Once you get to evidence that is not cheap, evidence like what people are actually doing, human behavior tends to switch from notoriously stubborn about ignoring other people’s reasoning to notoriously vulnerable to stampeding instabilities like manias and bubbles and crashes. Similarly, the peacock sperm DNA itself is cheap, but the spectacular peacock tail is not, and peahens are observed to be highly motivated to acquire a sample of the corresponding DNA and spend a lot of resources mixing that sample into their offspring.

    • dndnrsn says:


      This is something I’ve thought about, for the reasons you describe. I think I’m being rational, but aside from when I absolutely know I’m being irrational, I always think I’m rational.

      As I recall, Haidt’s hypothesis is that people form their beliefs/opinions based on what makes them feel good and/or what brings them social status, and then find a way to view their opinions as rational. This dovetails uncomfortably with my realization that changes of opinion on my part have generally been preceded by some external change in my life: a change in my social circle, a move from one place or another, some personal experience, etc. And it’s fairly obvious to find ways that my opinions improve my self-conception or are socially motivated.

      On the one hand, it could be that these changes gave me new information that I then adjusted my opinions based on. That’s entirely plausible. It doesn’t show that believing 2×2=4 is irrational that you only came to that belief after being taught it in math class, etc. On the other hand, I could just as easily be adding another layer of motivated reasoning.

      And of course, by being aware of this, am I just finding another way to feel good about myself – “unlike all those other people who think their opinions are rational, I am enlightened and know I am an irrational beast”?

      Somewhat related: I’ve begun trying to openly state (to myself or to others) when I know I’m being irrational. Is this good, because I’m not pretending I’m being rational when I’m obviously not, or bad, because I’m giving myself license to be irrational?

      • “Somewhat related: I’ve begun trying to openly state (to myself or to others) when I know I’m being irrational. Is this good, because I’m not pretending I’m being rational when I’m obviously not, or bad, because I’m giving myself license to be irrational?”

        I recommend viewing it as an experiment. What effect does saying you’re irrational have on how irrational you are?

        • dndnrsn says:

          So far I’ve only really applied it to my preferences regarding the value of art – in a previous OT I had brought up the question of whether governments should support art that can’t survive on the free market, with the caveat that I place an irrational amount of value on a lot of art.

          I’m going to try applying it to more things, especially emotional stuff, and see what happens.

      • Emily says:

        As someone who has experienced belief changes that make me feel bad and are low-status, I don’t really recommend this. I think what you’re doing is probably better.

      • Wrong Species says:

        If you “give yourself license to be irrational”, it can paradoxically make yourself more rational. For example, lets say that I think free speech is a good thing. Instead of being based on my “irrational” intuitions, I say that it’s based on good utilitarian reasoning. If someone gives evidence against free speech having good consequences, I’m more likely to deny that evidence. But if I’m being “irrational”, I might accept that evidence but still want free speech anyways.

    • This seems like one of those claims that sounds reasonable at first glance but then falls apart when you examine it a bit. Yes, often the way we use reasoning is to justify things we already believe. This happens all the time, especially in the realm of the political. But to claim that that’s the only way we use reasoning is simply crazy. I mean, just take a step back and think about it for a second. Of course we use reasoning to reach new conclusions. It happens all the time! Last week I thought it was wednesday when it was actually thursday. When I encountered evidence that contradicted my belief (my watch telling me it was thursday) I didn’t use my reasoning skills to come up with elaborate justifications for why it was actually wednesday. I just shrugged and said “oh, I guess it’s thursday.” Trivial? Absolutely. But there are countless less trivial examples, all the way up to and including committed, diehard theists becoming atheists after being convinced of its truth by argument. This happens all the time – there are many, many testimonials of it on the internet. Those theists didn’t end up as atheists because they already had a favourable disposition towards atheism – on the contrary, they were dragged kicking and screaming to the position by evidence, reasoning, and argument. Or, like, just look at the past 500 years of scientific progress: where the heck did all that knowledge come from if we weren’t using reasoning to reach new conclusions? How would we have learned all of the stuff we did if we were only capable of rationalizing previously held beliefs?

      I don’t know, I kind of see Haidt as trying to be contrarian here. “Ah, most people naively believe that we use our reasoning to reach new conclusions. But I, a sophisticated thinker, have realized the truth: we only use reason as a tool to rationalize our already held beliefs, and to force our opponents into submission by making them agree with us.” It’s the perfect contrarian position: plausible-sounding, so you don’t question it too much; partially true, so it can be defended to a point; and most importantly cynical about human nature, so anyone who disagrees with it is going to seem naive. But it ignores the commonsense, drop-dead obvious truth: humans are plenty good at updating based on evidence when we don’t have a reason not to. Like, of course we are. The project of rationality is just to try to extend that capability to cases where we do have a reason not to update. And that’s hard, but there’s no reason to think it’s impossible.

      • Wrong Species says:

        There’s a strong claim and weak claim to his argument. The strong claim, that people are always rationalizing their beliefs instead of looking for the truth, is obviously wrong. But the weaker claim, people more often than not are rationalizing their beliefs rather than carefully considering them, seems likely. If we think of the strong claim as being “1” and the opposite claim as being “0”, the question is where do people on average generally fall on the scale?

        • Right, so all I would claim is “not close enough to 1 to make rationality a hopeless endeavour”

          • Wrong Species says:

            I don’t think even he makes the strong claim. I think the purpose of his book was simply to push it closer in that direction. I think debates in general would be better if we tried to quantify our stance in between two opposing claims. Like if I had to give a number on my support of capitalism versus not capitalism, I would say somewhere between 0.75 and 0.85. Of course, that’s not perfect but it might clear up more debates.

          • Fair enough. I’ve often found myself doing the same kind of thing (pushing in a certain direction because I think people aren’t “X” enough, while still not believing people should be completely “X”). Actually, capitalism is a pretty good example – I’m way more libertarian than any of my friends, but I still don’t think full-blown libertarianism is a good idea. I would even agree that the average person needs to be pushed in the direction of the strong claim as you describe it – probably even the average rationalist. We definitely do a lot more rationalization than we are aware of, and we would do well to recognize that.

            All I’m trying to do is push back against what I see as people taking this line of thought too far. For example, I think I have a real disagreement with Zombielicious:

            By “real purpose” I mean how it is actually used. Aside from the possibility of a group of hyper-rational elite, the implication is of the tail wagging the dog: Rationalists aren’t actually engaging in rationalism, instead just creating a new memeplex to advance their subjective interests. Hence “delusion.” (For reference, here’s a link to the ~4 pages where Haidt makes his version of the case.)

            It’s not to say rationality is “bad,” but that you essentially can’t escape your own intuitive motivations. So take whatever conclusion you think you’ve arrived at through years of careful rational analysis, while avoiding your own biases as best you’ve been able. Sorry! You mostly just came up with self-serving arguments that changed as your intuitions and motivations changed (maybe you aligned with a new social tribe, for example). To the extent you actually fail to understand your own motivations and decision processes, that seems the opposite of typical rationalist goals…

            I don’t agree with this. Or, well, it depends on what they meant by “mostly”. But I think there are plenty of examples of people changing their mind that are not based on “self-serving arguments”. Again, I don’t think that a typical theist’s conversion to atheism could be described as “self-serving” by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a harrowing, isolating affair that in no way comforts the ego.

            Examples like that put a toe in the door. All I’m trying to do is establish an existence proof – it’s possible to be rational in certain circumstances. That’s enough to make me not despair of the entire project of rationality.

  21. Anon. says:

    What will post-singularity memetics look like?

  22. JoyCS says:

    Assume you have to pick one of the three places in the classic trolley problem for yourself, which one would you go for, and why?

    1. The one who decides whether to pull the lever (and consequently is responsible for who lives and who dies)
    2. One of the five on the main track who are bound to die if no action is taken (because you’d rather sacrifice yourself than take responsibility for others dying, for example)
    3. The one on the alternate track (because you can’t bear to take the responsibility but hope you’ll live because the decision maker will hesitate to pull the lever, for example… or maybe for the opposite reason)

    No, no other choices are available.

    Bonus question: did you ever have to make a choice like that in real life?

    • Anonymous says:

      What are the odds of getting punished if I’m the guy at the lever? As in, do I do the job anonymously with no risk, or get my decision reviewed by court with the assistance of professional lever-operators, something else?

      I’d be at the lever but only pull it if I’m unlikely to be punished for it.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      1. The one who decides whether to pull the lever (and consequently is responsible for who lives and who dies)

      That’s not the classic problem, as I understand it. You need a fat man perched precariously on a ledge.

      • Aegeus says:

        The lever version came first, and the fat man variation was added later when people argued that they aren’t deliberately killing the one man, he just dies as a side effect of saving the other five. The fat man makes it so that the act of killing is what stops the train.

        Wikipedia says the trolley problem was first written in 1967, and has a citation for the fat man from 1976.

        • FrogOfWar says:

          This doesn’t get the history quite right.

          Your framing makes it sound like the lever case was an argument for consequentialism that deontologists resisted by arguing that they weren’t actually killing the man on the one track. But the case began its life (in Philippa Foot’s “Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect”) as an argument against consequentialism. It was always contrasted with cases of deliberate killing (not as a mere side effect) with Foot claiming that those killings seem impermissible whereas the lever switch seems morally required. Consequentialism cannot account for this fact, but the doctrine of double effect or a distinction between killing and letting die can. Judith Thomson added the fat man case along with a huge number of others to reinforce these points and also argue for her own non-consequentialist resolution.

          As side note, this is one of a significant number of things Scott gets wrong in his consequentialism faq, where he claims that deontologists are typically against switching. A large majority of deontologists are in favor of switching, and the original version of the thought experiment requires that switching is good to argue against consequentialism.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I prefer Newcomb’s Trolley Paradox myself:

      A highly superior being from another part of the galaxy presents you with a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are two boxes, one open and one closed. In the open box there is a fat man. In the closed box there are either five people tied up and unable to move or there is nothing. The trolley is headed straight for the closed box. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch towards the open box containing the fat man. But there’s a catch.

      The being claims that he is able to predict what any human being will decide to do. If he predicted you would not pull the lever, then he placed five people in it. But if he predicted you would pull the lever, he left the closed box empty. Furthermore, he has run this experiment with 999 people before, and has been right every time.

      What do you do?

      Edit: inspired by this SMBC.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I say he is a murderous arsehole and call it a day.

      • Nornagest says:

        Huh, my intuitions return a different result in that one than they do in standard Newcomb. That’s interesting.

        I think the correct answer is still to pull the lever, but I’m a good deal less confident of that.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Huh, my intuitions return a different result in that one than they do in standard Newcomb.

          This may be because it’s not a genuine Newcomb problem. Evidential decision theory (which recommends one-boxing in the standard Newcomb case) clearly enjoins you to pull the lever, but causal decision theory (which recommends two-boxing in the standard Newcomb case) can’t issue a verdict based on just the information Dr. Dealgood presents. In the classic case, two-boxing strictly dominates one-boxing for causal decision theorists, but no dominance reasoning is available here, so the expected utility of pulling the lever depends on the unconditional credence you assign to the hypothesis that the closed box is empty. Specifically, assuming each loss of life is of negative and equal value, a causal decision theorist is obligated to switch just in case her unconditional credence that the closed box is empty is less than .8.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Try to kill the being with the lever, of course. By admission, it’s responsible for at least a thousand murders, and will almost certainly keep killing. Pulling the lever or not is utterly insignificant compared to that. So Superior being murder it is.

      • Two McMillion says:

        If you think that the being knows your choice in advance, I’d say the correct choice is to flip a coin and do what the coin says. You have a higher chance of choosing correctly by doing that then by getting into a “wine in front of me” situation with the being.

        • The Nybbler says:

          While it violates the rules of the hypothetical, I think it more likely that the being is cheating (e.g. with some secret way of moving people in and out of the box after the lever is pulled) than actually has a method of prediction. This means that basing my decision on something truly random will not work, and pulling the lever really always saves 5 people, though not by the visible mechanism.

      • Skivverus says:

        If this were coming at me fresh, I wouldn’t pull the lever – “superior” being or not, I have only their word that there’s even the possibility of anyone in the closed box. Having one person guaranteed alive at the end of it beats zero.
        And yes, see what this “superior” being’s justification for this atrocity is.

        After thinking about it, though, I’d pull the lever twice. Once to trigger “hey, the box was empty”, and again to put it back on track towards the retroactively-empty box. Of course, the lever might not work that way at all, but it’s worth a shot.

    • Aegeus says:

      If you’re a utilitarian, it seems like being the one who pulls the lever is the best option – you are at no risk of dying, and you know you’ll pick the choice that saves the most lives. “Had to be me, someone else might have gotten it wrong.”

      That said, I think that being on the alternate track sounds more self-sacrificing than the main track. If you’re on the alternate track, then you’re comfortable with allowing yourself to be killed to save the lives of others, but you’re not comfortable with letting a stranger be killed to save your life. It’s the “jumping on the grenade” mindset.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      Just in case I ever find myself in the alternate track, I precommit to murdering the guy with the lever in the most painful way possible if I survive.

      Other than that, I obviously want to be the guy with the lever. I get to save 5 people and the risk of punishment is better than the risk of death.

    • Hlynkacg says:

      Yes, I have had to make a choice like that in real life. It isn’t something I’d recommend, and I often wonder if I wouldn’t have been happier being “on the tracks” as it were.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Bonus Round 2


      This is the ultimate in ethical quandaries

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I think the answer to this question is obvious, and am so confused that I feel I must be misunderstanding one of the premises.

      This premise here, to be specific:

      The one who decides whether to pull the lever (and consequently is responsible for who lives and who dies)

      [emphasis mine]

      Responsible to whom? In what way? On what basis? Who or what enforces this responsibility?

      Suppose I say “I choose option #1, then walk away” (you can call this “not pulling the lever”, if you like, but to be quite honest, at the moment of writing this, I don’t even remember what “not pulling the lever” entails — do five people die? or only one…? — so my point is that I ignore the problem, make like a tree, and get outta there). What are the consequences, then, of the alleged fact that I allegedly have some sort of responsibility here?

      • “Responsible to whom? In what way? On what basis? Who or what enforces this responsibility?”

        “Responsible” meaning that it is your fault. Insofar as anything enforces the responsibility, it is your conscience.

        Is the unstated assumption of your comment ethical nihilism, the idea that normative beliefs are all illusory?

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      I wonder if there are any modern video games where you have to make this sort of decision: Pull the lever and kill one man to save five, or don’t pull the lever and five people die.

      I’m surprised that ethicists haven’t been trying to work with video game developers like BioWare to collect data on these sorts of things.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I’ve heard that’s what Mass Effect is.

        If you go way back, Ultima 4 opened up with a series of 7 ethical quandaries, which sorted you into your starting class.

    • Yehoshua K says:

      I’d go with being the one pulling the lever, because I have clarity in what I believe to be the morally right response to the situation, and think I’d be able to live with the emotional turmoil that would necesssarily arise from making the right choice.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Ohh you sweet summer child.

        • Yehoshua K says:

          I don’t think you can reasonably call me a “summer child” without knowing a good deal more about me and what I’ve gone through in my life than you do.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would choose to be lever puller, because I do not want to die.

    • thisguy says:

      This one seems pretty easy to me. Option 1 because I am guaranteed to not die. Then I’d flip a coin on whether or not to pull, or perhaps just walk away and continue about my day.

  23. Keketchine says:

    Many people have told me that slatestarcodex nowadays is THE place for rationalists. But comments here seem extremely different (in a bad way) from lesswrong.com. How so? And why do people keep saying that?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Well, I’d agree they’re different but not really in a bad way.

      I was on LW before I came here, not under this name obviously, and even back then the site was dying. The discourse norms that sounded good on paper, like making sure everything is well-sourced and written with an eye towards defending any claims made, ended up being too stifling to actually produce new quality content. And a lot of highly irrational ideas (cryonics, super-intelligent AI, wacky fad diets, etc) had slipped in via founder bias, yet were difficult to question since they had reached consensus among the top posters. And most damningly the core mission of LW, “raising the sanity waterline,” didn’t seem to have taken even amongst the rank and file: people used the right words, sure, but didn’t seem any less plagued by cognitive biases than any other group of very smart people.

      SSC comments are a bit rougher around the edges but I think they foster more in the way of intelligent discussion. And, more importantly, Scott actually produces new content.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        And a lot of highly irrational ideas (cryonics, super-intelligent AI, wacky fad diets, etc

        None of those items are irrational ideas. heck, fad diets aren’t irrational; if different diets work for different people, trying different ones until you get one that works for you is a reasonable strategy.

    • Feeble says:

      Though Scott still blogs about many of the same issues he did while he was active on lw, this is still his personal blog where humor and more light-hearted observations occupy a comparatively larger proportion than they would have over there. This sets a different, more casual tone.

      But you’ll have to be more specific about what you mean by “different in a bad way”. Do you mean that there are more trolls/smart-asses here, that the comments are less cerebral and well-reasoned, or what? I do see what you’re saying in the abstract, but more specific complaints will have to be made if we are to ever conclude something more concrete than “Alas, the Golden Age is over”.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Many people have told me that slatestarcodex nowadays is THE place for rationalists. But comments here seem extremely different (in a bad way) from lesswrong.com. How so? And why do people keep saying that?

      SSC is just a place that has a lot of rationalists. The comment section is not rationalists as evidenced by some of the more insane things that pop up here.

      • 57dimensions says:

        Yeah, this is my only connection to the rationalist community. I’d never even heard of LW before I started reading SSC. So idk if I’d even call myself a rationalist. I also am not sure in what way the comments are bad, from my perspective the comments are the best I’ve ever seen on the internet.

        • Nornagest says:

          Relative to LW at its peak, SSC‘s comments have more political bickering (but not as much more as you might think) and a lot more sniping. But on the upside, we also have a lot less groupthink going on, and we’ve shed some of LW‘s more annoying preoccupations (like the oh-no-are-we-a-cult thing).

          Probably more importantly, though, rationalism means a lot of things to a lot of people, and some of them are poorly represented here. This probably isn’t the place to be if you want to discuss AI or decision theory, for example.

          • Zorgon says:

            Most importantly, the strain of Rationalism (with the capital R) that states “If you are a Rationalist then you are required to be pre-occupied with These Important Rationalist Topics” is not particularly well-represented here, while it was overwhelmingly dominant on LW. We might joke about it, and there’s certainly an SSC-specific ingroup lingo in place (Moloch and Toxoplasma leap to mind), but overall the window of potential discussion is much, much wider.

            I also find this place much more comfortable quite straightforwardly due to the absence of a couple of specific individuals that made LW uncomfortable.

          • TD says:

            I know LW through reading the sequences and thinking “Oh, this guy thinks the way I think but with 20 more IQ points. Cool.”, being impressed, and moving on.

            It’s weird how I’ve ended up back at a place associated with LW. I always seem to end up at rationalist places in spite of not identifying as a rationalist (I’m really not sure what it means to be rational ultimately), or being well educated, or even smart really.

            I’d say I found LW through the new atheism movement.
            I’d say I found SSC through the new antifeminism movement.
            On Youtube, the one half morphed into the other.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            like the oh-no-are-we-a-cult thing

            Having openly acknowledged it is, frankly, quite liberating.

          • Nornagest says:

            Having openly acknowledged it is, frankly, quite liberating.

            My take on it is that about 30% of LW was Eliezer’s personality cult and the other 70% was terrified of being mistaken for Eliezer’s personality cult. These perspectives interacted to produce a sort of cultural dissonance that was probably worse for PR than just going full-bore cultist would have been.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I also am not sure in what way the comments are bad, from my perspective the comments are the best I’ve ever seen on the internet.


          Enjoy the fruits of the world while you can lay hands on them, Xerxes and Alsadius. Then in eternity when you are howling with the misery of the damned, the saved poor man Lazarus shall rejoice when beholding your sufferings.

          Declaring other commentators are going to suffer external damnation in Hell is not exactly compatible with rationalism. It got D banned…Wait, Xerxes was banned too? WTF?

          • suntzuanime says:

            If other commentors are going to suffer eternal damnation in Hell, I desire to believe that other commentors are going to suffer eternal damnation in Hell.

          • nyccine says:

            His first response was “You somehow feel you have the right to make others pay for your luxuries.”

            That’s sadly become a go-to for libertarians, but it’s still a bullshit response that blatantly misrepresented her positions. It’s also pretty much perfect bait for anyone with a social justice (Catholic) background; he might as well have been waving a red cape in her face.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            If other commentators are going to be rounded up for counter-revolution I desire to believe that as well. If you talk about how someone is a fucking Kulak who will be put up against the wall or that the AIs will scoop out your brain and use your body as a servitor, you are also a pretentious asshole.

            His first response was “You somehow feel you have the right to make others pay for your luxuries.”

            That’s sadly become a go-to for libertarians,

            You do realize the position he was advancing was ethical altruism?

          • Theo Jones says:

            “It got D banned…Wait, Xerxes was banned too? WTF?”
            Both were being pretty major assholes in that thread, and doing personal attacks on other posters. I would have given deiach a one week ban, but Xerxes did that type of thing in other threads, so, I think he deserved an even harsher consquence.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I would have given deiach a one week ban,

            Yeah, celebrating other people getting torture for eternity is funny and not horribly sociopathic.

            but Xerxes did that type of thing in other threads, so, I think he deserved an even harsher consquence.

            Also he conspired with Trotsky against the workers revolution! When one is freed from the need to provide evidence, revolutionary justice can eliminate enemies no matter their guilt or innocence.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I fail to see how being a pretentious asshole is incompatible with rationalism.

          • Nornagest says:

            Xerxes deserved it. The other two in that batch probably didn’t.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Steve Sailer
            Enjoy the fruits of the world while you can lay hands on them, Xerxes and Alsadius. Then in eternity when you are howling with the misery of the damned, the saved poor man Lazarus shall rejoice when beholding your sufferings.

            I’ve seen this happen before. A Christian makes a very mild joke (“Okay, you can ask Satan when you meet him.”) and the atheist takes it seriously and freaks out.

            Quoting St. Schadenfreude is a classy way of doing it, too.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Deiseach’s wasn’t being mild. Maybe there are ways to throw that into an otherwise mild post and have it be mild as well, but she was at “peak Deiseach”. When she gets going, I think “high dudgeon” might be the way to describe it.

            Again, I think a temp ban was/is the way to go. But indignant seemed to be kind of her default state.

            That said, I don’t think that line is what got her banned, it’s probably hyperbolic read at as her “celebrating”. She’s angry in those posts, not more, not less.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I fail to see how being a pretentious asshole is incompatible with rationalism.

            It isn’t. I’m just not in a mood to state the obvious; I’m sure you are aware of what I mean.

            Xerxes deserved it. The other two in that batch probably didn’t.

            You know what is awesome? Quotes. Because so far no one has provided any actual evidence of Xerxes behaving bad and the particular line of discussion that got him banned has absolute nothing out of the ordinary.

            I’ve seen this happen before. A Christian makes a very mild joke (“Okay, you can ask Satan when you meet him.”) and the atheist takes it seriously and freaks out.

            “I will enjoy watching you tortured” is not a mild joke.

          • Matt M says:

            Even D herself literally said “I am about to do something that deserves a ban”

            The fact that people are brushing it off as a friendly rib is kind of astounding… Some people may sometimes say similar stuff as a light-hearted joke, but she CLEARLY was not…

          • Seneca says:

            Xerxes very harshly said things that progressives find disturbing. Not kind, so they had to be true and necessary.

            Plus, there’s that thing where you throw a penalty flag early in the game, and then realize it was a bit ticky-tack, but you can’t go back, because then people think you’re a lousy ref. So now you have to throw an offsetting one later in the game.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You know what is awesome? Quotes. Because so far no one has provided any actual evidence of Xerxes behaving bad and the particular line of discussion that got him banned has absolute nothing out of the ordinary.

            I don’t exactly keep a stash of quotes from random internet folk handy on the off chance that I am later asked to substantiate the claim that one of them was an arrogant ass. Furthermore Scott has specifically discouraged quote mining.

            That said you can’t deny that xerxes had “a bit of a rep” in the same way that Deiseach did. Where Deiseach would go on about how sin and hellfire Xerxes would go on about how those who aren’t utilitarianism/EA/whatever don’t deserve the air they breath.

            Seems like one half dozen or the other in my eyes.

            Xerxes very harshly said things that progressives find disturbing. Not kind, so they had to be true and necessary.

            Progressives find?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ‘sigh’ I’m going to regret this. I’ve spent most of the time ignoring you since I posted information about The Great Purge from a historian and you spent the entire thread repeating objections the article talked about.

            I don’t exactly keep a stash of quotes from random internet folk handy on the off chance that I am later asked to substantiate the claim that one of them was an arrogant ass.

            It is called ctrl+F. It takes about 5 minutes. It takes slightly longer than telling me “I refuse to do it but I will tell you about why I won’t because I am an asshole”.

            Furthermore Scott has specifically discouraged quote mining.

            A pity this isn’t quote mining. Look it up. Or don’t.

            That said you can’t deny that xerxes had “a bit of a rep” in the same way that Deiseach did. Where Deiseach would go on about how sin and hellfire Xerxes would go on about how those who aren’t utilitarianism/EA/whatever don’t deserve the air they breath.

            I had never heard of X until the last thread.


            You somehow feel you have the right to make others pay for your luxuries.

            If this is a human right, then get in line behind the 2 billion people worse off than you. No, even better. You have the obligation to work more, save more, spend less and then use those resources to find a way to make their lives better.

            If, however, this is not a human right, and just human envy and greed in another package. Well, then. Take your manufactured outrage elsewhere. I understand it is an effective strategy for getting what you want. But I don’t tolerate it from my children, and I certainly have no sympathy for it from adults.

            That is not
            “go on about how those who aren’t utilitarianism/EA/whatever don’t deserve the air they breath.”

          • hlynkacg says:

            Going through the last year or so worth of posts to find all the times that Xerxes suggested that the unproductive should be eliminated would take a lot more than 5 minutes. And I don’t think Scott would approve of my using a script to do it for me.

            But the part where they said…

            In the present reality, someone else’s failure to be productive makes me and future generations poorer. Undermining the culture that encourages contribution and productivity makes me and future generations poorer.

            …and then acts completely oblivious to the fact that part of that “culture that encourages contribution” is that we don’t euthanize people they fall behind on their widget quota was pretty typical.

            That is not
            “go on about how those who aren’t utilitarianism/EA/whatever don’t deserve the air they breath.”

            No it isn’t, but the rest of their comments in that thread were certainly in that vein.

            Also note that haven’t demanded that you prove that Deiseach’s prickly Catholicism was part of a trend either. But if you want to keep playing this game let’s see what you got.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Only because I talk about self-discipline up thread.

            “But if you want to keep playing this game let’s see what you got.”

            If you remove this sentence, the rest of your post becomes mostly dispassionate. Whereas, if you leave this sentence in, the whole post can be read as fairly angry.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I’m not asking all of X’s posts. I’m asking from that thread.

            And quote mining is when you take a quote out of context; the way to avoid it is to take the entire quote AND the entire quote it is responding to OR link with a keyword. It helps if individuals use words that aren’t likely to have been repeated by others.

            …and then acts completely oblivious to the fact that part of that “culture that encourages contribution” is that we don’t euthanize people they fall behind on their widget quota was pretty typical.

            That is a bit like claiming Republicans in the 90s who were railing against welfare moms wanted to liquidate the blacks.

            Also note that haven’t demanded that you prove that Deiseach’s prickly Catholicism was part of a trend either. But if you want to keep playing this game let’s see what you got.

            Why does it need to be a trend? Sociopathic behavior is to be discouraged and telling someone you would enjoy watching them tortured is not even remotely a grey area.

          • “Yeah, celebrating other people getting torture for eternity is funny and not horribly sociopathic.”

            It isn’t funny but it is interesting, given that what was being quoted was a reasonably traditional view of one of the world’s more successful, in the past and present, religions. There is much to be said for a conversation including a sizable range of world views.

            The belief in an all powerful, all wise creator god raises interesting issues for a libertarian world view, despite which a fair number of libertarians are also theists.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I’m not rationalistic, but I’m rationalist-sympathetic, and this is the first community of rationalists (or not) I enjoy being around.

    • Randy M says:

      SSC has gotten linked by diverse bloggers. It also has no registration required to comment; the only filter is finding out about it and finding the commentary interesting. So while many rationalists follow it, many others do as well.
      Personally, I came here through LW, but don’t consider myself a Rationalist. I do try and respect the local norms and the host, etc., but I’ll make comments from my own perspective.

  24. Feeble says:

    Question for other working programmers.

    I’ve been working at a financial tech company for 12 months now, and am considering finding a new job. My current job basically involves integrating code other people wrote into our clients’ customized codebases. The uninteresting nature of the work combined with the fact that my SO is probably going to find employment on the West Coast makes me think that it’s time to make a move.

    I’m thinking that the best way to do this is to register for a bootcamp in either full-stack development or data science, as I don’t have any experience in either of these fields and they seem to be skills that are in highest demand at the moment. Does anyone know of a trusty comparative ROI analysis of popular coding bootcamps? Or have strong positive/negative experiences with them? I’m trying to make sure my decisions are somewhat informed before I drop >$10,000 on a 12 week course.

    (I’m also open to the suggestion that bootcamps are a waste of time and money. But if they are I’d like to know why.)

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I wouldn’t do a bootcamp if you already experienced. Seeing a bootcamp on an experienced developer’s resume would look weird. Seeing a bootcamp on a young person would indicate some go-getterism that I would like, even if it was a waste.

      But software hiring is hit-or-miss. One thing is to start looking at companies that you want to work for, and try applying there, and see what you are missing, if anything. If they want you to know something in the interview process that you don’t, learn it.

    • Matthias says:

      What Edward said about bootcamps.

      What’s your experience so far? Why do you think you’d need a boot camp? I’d recommend going for fundamentals instead of the bootcamp experience. Fundamentals get you a job at Google, Facebook, etc.

      If you are interested in data science, have a look at https://www.springboard.com/learning-paths/data-analysis

      The benefit of a bootcamp, as far as I can tell, is that it’s paying someone to outsource your willpower to push through. Everything else you can get better without.

      • Feeble says:

        First off, I’m 23. I’ve only been working for a year.

        My rationale is something like the following:

        1) In college, most of my coursework was centered around systems work, like designing databases from B-Trees and implementing networking protocols straight from their RFCs. We didn’t spend any time studying the in-demand web-oriented languages and frameworks (which I think is a good thing, but it does leave you bereft of at least formal instruction in these ideas), which bootcamps are designed to give you a quick and dirty introduction to.

        2) I’m not interested in working at the big tech companies like Google and Facebook. I’d prefer to target companies that are about 100-300 employees where there is more space for individual impact closer to the entry-level. It is my (perhaps mistaken) impression that for big tech company interviews you can get through by having excellent knowledge of algorithms and data structures, but for smaller companies they place higher importance on domain-specific knowledge (having X number of years with Y language).

        3) I find that my previous opening forays into learning about CSS, JS, rails, django, etc left me really, really bored, but I’m sure that there are a lot of riches to be found in this domain for programmers with extensive experience with these technologies, and maybe being in an environment where everyone is really excited about frameworks would help me get to that point. It’s more about buying an environment and a structured environment, rather than buying willpower (though maybe that’s a distinction without a difference in this case).

        4) Finally, there is a wider rationalist question for me about making evidence-based decisions. I have heard things like what has been said above before: “it looks weird”, “you could do without it”, etc. But all of that has to be qualified against the empirical effectiveness of the program under question. The top camps seems to report excellent placement figures for those who complete the programs, and paying a one-time charge of $10,000 for a program which reliably helps you secure a job that pays >$10,000 annually than your previous one seems worthwhile, even if you could teach the same material if you had enough guts and willpower.

        Edit: By the way, the springboard link is much appreciated. I will go through that this month.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          A bootcamp can be good if you are young. Just don’t expect it to necessarily open a bunch of doors, besides the connections you make while at the bootcamp itself.

          Would you do it if you couldn’t put it on your resume?

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Related to your question, does anyone have any experience with a staffing agency that works as an intermediary between a job seeker and the employer? I’ve never used one and they seem to be kinda shady to me based on nothing but intuition.

      Of the few that I’ve Googled for reviews, the only reviews that I come across depict them as scams that farm job seekers to find out who they can try to add to their “client” list by asking the job seekers who else they’ve been interviewing with.

      • J says:

        My SO had good experiences with a few staffing companies, largely stemming from a big inhibition to pursuing a career; the staffing company just kind of makes the decision for you. But they also (invisibly) take a big chunk out of your paycheck or signing bonus.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve gotten jobs with and without staffing agencies. They can help you cast a broader net than you could on your own, but they won’t open any doors that would otherwise be closed to you, and I never got the impression that they were working very actively on my behalf; the value-add seems to be more along the lines of having your name in another database.

        And yes, their business model usually relies on taking a cut of your pay for the first year or two, though this will not be visible to you. (It will be visible to HR, and may affect pay decisions.)

    • J says:

      Do your research into what kind of pay and perks you’ll get at different companies. Big companies have a lot of nice features. There’s also a lot be said for working at a company that’s run by people from your discipline (vs being a programmer at a law firm, for example).

      hackerrank.com is a great place to do interview prep questions.

      I’ve heard mixed reviews of boot camps from people who’ve been. I tend to agree that it doesn’t make sense if you already have training and experience with programming.

  25. Pure Awesome says:

    I’ve come across some claims that women’s medical problems are dismissed more frequently than men’s, especially by male doctors. See:

    and this article in the Atlantic which links to it: .

    Now what happened to the person in the article sounds awful, but I don’t see the article as showing much evidence that this is specifically about women being mistreated in medicine. Most of the claims in the media and social media seem to consist of collections of anecdotes.

    I’m curious whether there’s any truth to this claim, or else a study disputing it?

    • Zorgon says:

      My own wholly anecdotal experiences would suggest quite the opposite. Getting a doctor to acknowledge I was even sick was like pulling teeth.

      • What were you sick with?

        My impression is that women, fat people (higher threshold for men), and people whose problems are pain and/or fatigue are likely to have their symptoms ignored. One anecdote suggests that being seen as an alcoholic is also a risk factor.

        I’m still nerving myself to read Black Man in a White Coat, which is by a black doctor and describes beliefs doctors have about black people.

        • Anonymaus says:

          Does this maybe make sense from a bayesian perspective with the symptoms in questions? IANAD but it seems likely to me that fatness could cause certain symptoms (e.g. joint pain?) and therefore reduce their positive predictive value for other diseases (maybe joint pain in fat patients is so much more likely to be osteoarthritis than anything else that further diagnostics are a net loss?).
          I was always wondering whether the women-getting-less-treatment-than-men-for-the-same-complaint anecdata make sense when considering that women on average visit a doctor for less severe symptoms than men. This would mean that, to a doctor, being male is bayesian evidence in favor of disease.

        • Zorgon says:

          Severe fatigue and feverish symptoms initially lasting over a month. They didn’t even take it sufficiently seriously to give me a thyroid check until four consultations in.

          The period is foggy and difficult to remember now, but I do recall a lot of talk about how I should learn to “manage my symptoms” without actually investigating the illness in any way. I got the strong impression that I was actively unwelcome in that office and was expected to go away and stop wasting their time.

          Meanwhile my wife’s MS was diagnosed successfully in 2 consultations from fatigue and pain symptoms. Because the same doctors seemed to believe that she was actually suffering.

          • Matthias says:

            Did you try going to a different doctor?

          • Zorgon says:

            Yes. Annoying English language structual ambiguity. Three different doctors, out of which one told me to go home and get some rest,.one told me I had CFS and then two weeks later categorically claimed he had not said that, and then a locum temp who actually tested me for something.

            It wasn’t thyroid, but just having something done was better than weeks of being blatantly fobbed off when I was spending days at a time unable.to stand.

            The biggest obstacle after that was getting doctors to read past the word “depression” on my records.

          • Matt M says:

            The whole medical system operates from the same one or two diagnostic books or patterns of habit or whatever.

            I had a skin condition that went un/mis-diagnosed for about 15 years. Only finally got it right when my dermatologist was out sick one week, so I got to see the nurse instead. Rather than being a downgrade, this was a huge upgrade, because the nurse wasn’t able to fall back on a “I see 50 cases of X a week therefore you must have X” type of attitude and actually listened to me when I said “Listen, I’m VERY certain I don’t have X” and bothered to do some research and investigation – something that at least 5 other dermatologists and GPs simply failed to do.

            Turns out that what I *do* have has pretty much no treatments and/or cures, so there is nothing to sell me and nothing they can do for me. Perhaps that’s why none of the “professional doctors” ever bothered to consider it?

        • Julie K says:

          The time I went to a doctor complaining of pain and fatigue, I felt she wasn’t taking me seriously, but she did refer me for a blood test that revealed I had mono. (Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any treatment for mono.)

    • Pure Awesome says:

      Did my links fail?

    • 57dimensions says:

      Idk about exact numbers or studies, but I am fairly sure that there are some kicking around. Basically women’s pain is just not taken as seriously, especially any kind of pain having to do with the reproductive system. From my experience and from reading many many anecdotes with women corroborating, it is very difficult to get doctors, male or female, to take you on your word that you have debilitating cramps. Endometriosis has an especially bad track record with this, it is horrifically painful, and many women suffer with it for years with doctors telling them it’s just cramps.

    • sabril says:

      Women are much more likely than men to go to the doctor over a minor ache or issue. This is so obvious from just simple observation, there is no need for a study to confirm it. So I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it turned out that women’s complaints are taken less seriously by doctors.

    • Xeno of Citium says:

      Your links were eaten. The spam filter does that sometimes?

    • gbdub says:

      Are women’s similar complaints taken less seriously, are women bringing more frivolous complaints, or are men less likely to complain when their doctor tells them “don’t worry about it”? All seem plausible, and hard to distinguish.

      One thing I have noted (in observing my gf’s experiences) is that doctors seem to default to “women’s problems” when presented with a complaint. For abdominal pain, assume gynecological cramps until proven otherwise. Or the particularly bad one for my gf: “I’m losing weight because I have serious stomach pain and can’t eat” “Clearly, your issue is anorexia. Why do you have body image issues?”

  26. A Non Today says:

    Anyone here happens to know about oncology and decision theory and can give an opinion about whether 1 cycle Carboplatin (AUC7) chemotherapy is better or worse than 16% chance of needing to go through 4 cycles BEP chemo?

  27. Anthony says:

    I wonder if anyone can help me.

    I have a problem: I don’t understand scientific studies. I don’t know what the individual statistics mean, how they’re commonly abbreviated, and how to interpret or derive them. Does anyone know a good, in-depth intro to the stats one commonly sees in scientific studies? Perhaps a walkthrough based on an actual study?

    • gwern says:

      I think you need to be more specific. You mean you understand stuff like correlation!=causation, means, medians, and whatnot, you just don’t understand what a crossover experiment vs a two-group experiment is? Then it sounds like you want the material which is typically covered in a ‘research methods’ course or textbook; since you’re commenting on SSC, that means you’re probably more interested in the methods/designs used in psychology. I don’t have any particular recommendations but maybe that phrase will help you find a textbook or MOOC on it.

    • Lisksntope says:

      I have a related problem: I’m really not sure in general how to find original scientific studies for that relate to social/economic issues that I’m interested in lightly researching.

      • Theo Jones says:

        Google scholar and web of science are good for that. Other tip — look for literature reviews.

      • Agronomous says:

        Sorry to derail*, but Lisk[sa]ntope: is your icon a regular tiling of the hyperbolic plane?

        (* No, not really, but politeness requires me to lie sometimes.)

    • Yehoshua K says:

      Try looking for a good statistics course (or sequence of courses) Coursera or Edx.

    • Agronomous says:

      I wonder if anyone can help me.

      Of course. Unless, of course, you are yourself a scientist. They seem to be beyond help in this area.

  28. C.B. says:

    That baconbacon comment on how people save (or don’t) was interesting and insightful. I got to see an even “purer” form of this when I worked for a touring circus. The thing about the circus is, they house you and feed you while you work for them, and take care of all the basic bills (water, electricity, sanitation). The wages aren’t high, but your cost of living is almost zero. By taking out housing situations, etc., you really got to see people’s personal finance abilities in raw form.

    Some people saved 80-95% of their paychecks, some sent almost all of it back to their families. Other people were constantly broke for a variety of reasons from addictions (drugs, alcohol, scratch-off tickets), to over the top spending, to having an abusive spouse who confiscated their paychecks (that one was really sad), to being in long-term debt that they could never seem to get on top of.

  29. There’s something I’ve observed, but which I don’t quite trust my own observations on, given that I’m emotionally disposed not to like it. Hoping that others will tell me if I’m right or if I’m seeing things.

    It seems to me that among trans people there are two sub-populations. (I’ll be using “trans-women” as my examples here, but the same applies to trans-men.) The first sub-population are those trans-women who really just want to be women, full stop. They want hormone treatments and surgery, and after transitioning they hope to pass as assigned-female-at-birth. If they had access to a magic wand that rewrote their life histories so that they had always been women, they would use it.

    The second-sub population specifically want to be trans-women. That is, they actually like being noticed as assigned-male-at-birth, they take trans-ness (and not just femininity) as a core part of their identity. They might take hormones, but they’ll avoid surgery. They’re the ones who are likely to insist that a penis can be feminine if they say so. They’re more likely than the first group to be involved with trans activism.

    Do others notice this bifurcation? Part of the reason why I don’t quite trust myself is because I see the first group as essentially harmless but the second group as dangerous, for reasons which are probably obvious.

    • Lumifer says:

      See e.g. this.

      Warning: this is an emotional and hotly debated topic. Taking the “wrong” position is likely to lead to people saying that you strangle kittens for fun and that it would give them great pleasure to see you die in a fire.

      • Right, I’m aware of this line of research, and I was aware of the controversy. Partly because of the controversy, I was curious whether my own observations fit with what others have observed.

        • Zorgon says:

          I’ve noticed a lesser version of what you describe; an apparent divide between “I would like to embody my identified gender as soon as possible, cure my crippling dysphoria and get on with my life” vs “I AM TRANSFURY! DIE CIS SCUM! YAAAAAAS SLAY QUEEEEEEEN!”

          They even look different. Now, I would never be so tasteless as to suggest the latter aren’t actually “trans” so much as “attention seeking arseholes”… but I am willing to make a strong prediction that once being a Magical Trans Person is no longer a fashionable way to rebel against one’s parents, the first type at least will still be trans.

      • Zorgon says:

        Oh, that comment thread.

        I haven’t let myself near Radfem Crazy Town in a while, I’d forgotten the sheer quantity of hate. Stormfront 10 minutes after Cologne couldn’t match a lesbian sepratist on a good day.

      • Nornagest says:

        The comments on that article are a trainwreck. I can’t even tell who’s insulting whom and why; all I can work out is that half the posters would like to see the other half get eaten by dingos.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Sheer ugliness of most of the comments aside, the format seems off somehow – it is indeed hard to tell who’s responding to who.

          The fact that they constantly use “Sir” as an insult makes it seem like some kind of bizarro TERF version of the Economist.

        • Zorgon says:

          Not to mention the apparent admin referring to literally every single dissenter as a “predator”.

          And then there’s the guy (? Hard to be sure) who posted about being addicted to autogynephilia… over and over and over and over…

        • Lumifer says:

          Oh, boy. I haven’t actually read the comments because at first glance they seemed the usual kind of stupid, but I see now that some managed to transcend that.

          …you are a viscous gang that doesn’t’ deserve the privilege of my better side

          So turn around and tear ass back to transgender land howling some shit that unless women suck you off you are going to read page 2 of the script—you know causes you to not exists or to be killed or to jump out a fucking 12th story window.

          Amusement value: high. Sense: negative.

        • Theo Jones says:

          I liked the one that says that Jezebel is the home of hateful sexist males who want to treat women as puppets.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      I don’t notice, because I’m not paying attention and generally just don’t care. People are entitled to their aesthetic opinion and they are a harmless sorts here.

    • heh says:

      >Do others notice this bifurcation?

      Kek. I view it as the difference between having a mental illness and being a fetish-ist IRL. Not kidding.

      Honestly, I view the second group as more realistic. They are the ones that see a financial opening in certain industries(cough cough) and take it. I don’t see why you view them as dangerous.

      Like, the second group is more likely to admit, rightly so, that their brain will probably never be fully *typically* female.

    • 57dimensions says:

      Look up autogynephilia. Also read this. Also: https://transgenderreality.com/

      There really are two different “types” of trans-women. You won’t see this acknowledged by the trans community, but it is definitely a thing. The dividing line is really between the trans-women attracted to men and those attracted to women. Autogynephilia appears to be the driving force of transness in trans-women attracted to women. This phenomenon is not nearly as present with trans-men, most are attracted to women, and those who are attracted to men don’t seem to have a comparable “philia”. As another commenter said, this is really dangerous territory. This is one of the biggest sins in the community, and is a belief really only held by rad-fems (usually lesbians) aka “T(W)ERFS” (trans (women) exclusionary radical feminists). So be careful where you bring this up.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        The dividing line is really between the trans-women attracted to men and those attracted to women.

        Wouldn’t they have the same attraction before as after?

        • Nornagest says:

          Yes; hence, I assume, the “attracted to” phrasing, as opposed to e.g. “gay”.

          I haven’t read 57D’s links, but Lumifer’s link a few posts above contains a paper by Bailey et al. (2007) which alleges (I can’t really say “finds”; it’s an overview, not a research piece) differences in etiology between MtF transsexuals attracted primarily to men, both before and after their transition, and those who’re attracted to women, to both, or to neither. Specifically, it claims the former get their dysphoria through generally more feminized neurology, while the latter’s more closely resembles a paraphilia.

          Then the comments dive into some of the wackiest, most hateful territory I’ve ever seen. I suggest sparing yourself and trying Google Scholar instead.

  30. Ruprect says:

    Re: David Cameron and his dodgy narrative.

    A few months ago David Cameron claimed that if he didn’t get the reforms of the EU he was demanding he would campaign to leave the EU. The reforms he achieved were mostly vague promises and rather minor reforms of the benefits system, for example, child benefit payments paid abroad will now be linked to the cost of living in the country to which the money is being sent. As far as I’m aware these reforms have not yet been finalised.

    And yet, Cameron is now claiming that leaving the EU would be a terrible economic disaster. If that is the case why was he considering campaigning for leave in the first place? Seems that either the economic consequences won’t be that dire, or that he was never planning to campaign for leave.
    So… he’s a big fat liar. Why isn’t more being made of this? I feel like politicians get more heavily criticised for telling the truth (Corbyn) than they do for lying.

    • Snodgrass says:

      He was never planning to campaign for leave; he was expecting the referendum to be something that would placate his Eurosceptic bank-benchers in 2014, and that could be called off as part of the coalition agreement after the 2015 election. The Conservatives did much better than anyone was expecting in 2015, and their coalition partners much worse, so he ended up compelled to hold the referendum.

      It’s moderately infuriating that something designed to hold the coalition of realists and Eurosceptics that is the modern Conservative party together might end up costing the country vastly; I might well prefer sixty UKIP MPs to Brexit, but it depends entirely on the strength of will of the Conservative Party leader and his willingness to form a grand coalition with Labour rather than to interact with UKIP.

      • Sweeneyrod says:

        My fingers are crossed for Brexit followed by a Lib Dem resurgence followed by another Con-Lib coalition.

    • erenold says:

      I’d venture that it was because it’s in no one’s interests to do so… not right now.

      Guardian/Mail on Sunday/Observer (Bremain): He’s on your ‘team’, for now. You win the present battle with the allies you have, then you get back to your regularly scheduled left-right wars. You don’t start internecine factional conflict in a foxhole.

      Times/Telegraph (Brexit): Brexit is being framed in quasi-religious terms right now, almost as if of a moral crusade to liberate occupied Britain. It does that narrative no good to remind everyone of the Breferendum’s origins in grubby little parliamentary politics.

      Cameron – and particularly Osbourne – seem to have dealt their careers significant blows though, and it’ll be interesting to watch the narrative change after the referendum. Osbourne in particular has to be done, surely. He’s been utterly inept.

      Johnson… now Johnson, I’ve been very grudgingly impressed by in this whole affair. He’s really revealed the Littlefingerian aspect of himself – he’d see the whole country burn if it meant he could be king of the ashes.

      • sohois says:

        Gonna point out that the Times is actually Bremain as well, though not it’s Sunday counterpart. Also that I have seen some mention of Cameron’s flip-flop, not that I can recall where.

        In any case, I don’t think the change needs any other explanation than simple Politics. Cameron had to convince the EU that Brexit was a credible threat for them to give a decent deal that in turn would kill off any chance of Brexit. Hence saying he would campaign to leave.

        However, the EU failed to believe it was, so they gave no real concessions in the negotiations. This in turn infuriated many MPs and members of the public, leading to the surge in support for leave and the real danger of an actual Brexit. Good job all round really.

  31. Tom says:

    I’ve been pondering a question about mental health and would love some input from the people here.

    How do you tell the difference between a person who is suffering from depression, anxiety and so on from a person who is lazy, spoilt, sheltered, etc?

    It’s often stressed that depression is not particularly connected to the underlying circumstances. Even people in otherwise great circumstances can be affected and a common symptom of depression is demotivation. On the other hand, I’m sure some people are just spoilt and lazy.

    Where is the distinction? How can you tell from the outside, or from the inside which person they/you are?

    • Matthias says:

      If they get better on the right medication they were the type that could be medicated?

      If recently begun treatment for ADHD. It’s weird, because I am now much more dependable and less ‘lazy’, but earlier on these two things would have been picked up as ‘character’.

      Is your character separate from all the chemical influences on you?

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Its arbitrary and can be based on if you already hold a favorable view on the person or not.

      I find it annoying that depression is linked to demotivation. All proper people are motivated to get that next raise and promotion, aye?

    • Anonymous says:

      If your laziness is causing you issues and you want it fixed it’s a medical issue and it’s up to the doctors how they define it and what they do with it. We want this type of laziness to not be viewed as a character flaw so that people will admit to it and get help about it.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Lazyness and depression are distinctly different phenomena. They happen to share the same outward appearance, i.e. a person not being very ‘productive’, but lazyness is being unwilling to work due to prefering rest, while depression is wanting to be active but being unable to do so.

      The more precise distinction has to be made between depression and having low self discipline (only concerning the aspect of productivity, obviously). A ‘low-energy’ kind of person will find it difficult to get as much done as he wants to, not unlike a person diagonsed with clinical depression.

      So, where do we draw a line, and what epistemic value does that line have? I used to think that many psychiatric diagnoses are mostly a medical tool instrumental to healing rather than designed to be entirely precise descriptors. From that perspective, you are depressed if for some reason you are strongly dissatisfied with your life and seek out help (either drugs or therapy). I still consider this a humble attitude valuable in a profession structurally prone to hubris.

      However, there are some clear and unambigous differences: For example, normal people taking Adderal, the most widely prescribed medication for ADHD, will after some time regulate downward, i.e. the same dosage has decreasing effect. ADHD patients, on the other hand, do *not*.

    • Agronomous says:

      From the inside, it’s easy: if on a daily basis you think of yourself as lazy, spoilt, sheltered, etc., depression is eating your brain and you should go get a psychiatrist appointment today.

  32. M.C. Escherichia says:

    [Content warning: anti-semitism]

    For some time I’ve been reading these damn “dark enlightenment” blogs that one comes across (many are two clicks away here, e.g. via Xenosystems). They’re nothing if not interesting. But some are quite anti-semitic, and would have me believe that Jews are drastically over-represented in the halls of power and influence.

    I recently went to the Anti-Defamation League’s website to see what they had to say, and was struck by the following: “Of the 100 most powerful people in the [movie] industry according to a recent survey by Premiere, most, including the top 12, are Jewish … though individual Jews control Hollywood, Jewishness does not.” (they’re quoting a researcher but seem to agree with him).


    I found this astonishing. But the following Jewish author agrees:


    So “most” of the Hollywood elite are Jewish? Neither article asks how this came to be so, or why it persists. I’m reminded of thermodynamics: when a system is far from its equilibrium state, it takes constant energy and work to keep it that way. One might suggest mundane cultural factors are responsible, and I could accept that if the Hollywood elite were, say, 10% Jewish, maybe 20% at a stretch. But over 50%? No way. I roll to disbelieve.

    So that leaves me with the alternative, that there is massive discrimination against non-Jews when selecting for those roles. I guess this isn’t a socially acceptable thing to say, so I’m happy to be talked out of it, but the case seems pretty strong at this point. What do the commentariat here think?

    tldr: the ADL persuaded me that Jews in Hollywood are behaving badly. But I’m open to correction.

    • Hackworth says:

      Jews have historically been persecuted and marginalized. In many countries in the medieval ages, they have been forbidden from doing “respectable” jobs, couldn’t join guilds, prohibited from owning land etc., so they have been pushed into less respectable jobs such as banking, trading, and so on:


      With jews being overrepresented in those businesses and the competitive advantage they have from their religious and being-persecuted bonding over non-Jews, they have established traditions in those sectors. With the financial sector rising to prominence since the 19th, 20th century, and jewish persecution and prejudices mostly unabated, it is natural for anti-semites to suspect a global jewish conspiracy. Basically persecuted groups can’t win in the eyes of the *-phobe. Same with foreigners – they either “took our jerbs”, or they are lazy bums, or even both at the same time.

      I don’t know about Hollywood in particular, but I imagine a very similar mechanism at work.

      • Lysenko says:

        My understanding was that the Jewish presence in banking, business, and trade was fostered by their ability to extend credit with interest, while custom and in many cases law forbade Christians from charging interest to other Christians and Muslims from other Muslims, thus making it extremely risky and unprofitable for to make any sort of investments or to extend credit outside of individuals they already knew and trusted intimately.

        Sort of like the discussion on book keeping awhile back, the ability to correlate risk with interest is sort of really fricking important if you want to have any sort of credit/investment system at all.

        Combine that with lower to no interest loans to other Jewish businessmen (I am less clear of what the religious guidance on usury was for Jews operating with other Jews in the middle ages through the renaissance and early modern period) and the social stigma much of the Christian and Muslim world put on being a businessman or banker, and by the 16-1700s they had a massive head start.

        I welcome correction/clarification here, but I always thought that Jews were disproportionately present at the upper levels of Hollywood and other similar places because it was Jewish bankers and money men who provided the start-up capital, and in turn ended up with a lot of influence the resulting business ventures.

        So yeah, it continues due to nepotism, but the origin was a simple function of who was interested in investing at the time, and in turn the number of Jews in the ‘investing’ business is a function of very long-running historical patterns going back to religious laws on the charging of interest to coreligionists.

    • Matthias says:

      There’s a bit of history. Jews were barred from lots of respectable professions and social circles on the East Coast, but were for (genetic, cultural, ..) reasons obviously smart. They found ways to make a living.

      Now we have lots of path dependence.

    • Mark says:

      Seems like you should be asking at what rate they enter the industry relative to other groups and what qualities are necessary for executives.

      Suppose 10% of industry entrants are Jews (which your comment seems to grant as believable) and the rest are gentiles. Suppose (Ashkenazi) Jews have a mean verbal IQ somewhere around 120 and gentiles have a mean verbal IQ of around 100, and both have the same standard deviation of 15. Suppose further that success in the industry is mostly a function of verbal IQ, such that we’d expect all industry leaders to have verbal IQ of at least 130, i.e., at least two standard deviations above the global mean. Then 55% of the IQ-eligible population is Jewish. If we instead assume a verbal IQ floor of three standard deviations – maybe just for CEO’s or something – then that portion becomes 93%.

      None of these assumptions strike me as terribly implausible. Some of them are even, in fact, well-evidenced.

    • Johnjohn says:

      Everyone in Hollywood knows someone, or someone who knows someone. Having listened through all of Marc Marons WTF podcast where he mostly interviews showbiz people and digs into their past, it seems obvious that nepotism is the biggest factor. The vast majority seems to have grown up knowing people already in show-business. Hell, the vast majority seems to be related to someone in show-business.

      That’d explain why it’s not “self-correcting” once the majority got there.
      I have no say in how they got there in the first place, but it’s been like that since the beginning of hollywood afaik

      • M.C. Escherichia says:

        Ah. So on this hypothesis the causal relationship is:

        Jewish –> known to someone –> successful

        And so being Jewish is not the proximate cause of success, and the selection criteria is “do we know this person” rather than “is this person Jewish?”

        Well this at least seems like a socially acceptable thing I could believe, saving myself from self-torment. Nepotism is still kind of sucky, but at least it’s ordinary suck.

    • TD says:

      The Jews are represented in high places because the alt-right (NearOldWreckCanaries are usually more philosemitic/neutral/focus on progressiveness as a protestant heresy), or just bog standard neo-nazis for that matter, are absolutely correct on racial disparities in average IQ. Jews are overrepresented in high places because the Ashkenazi average IQ is particularly high.

      However, nazis/alt-righters are absolutely wrong that this means we should be trying to make that thing that never happened happen again. Suck it up and stop whining about “disparate impact” please. It doesn’t matter if the top figures in an industry are white, Jews, black, men, women…. etc.

      • Emily says:

        It doesn’t matter? I think it matters. And my impression has certainly been that a lot of other Jews think significant disparities in terms of the distribution between a population vs. people in positions of power or influence matter, at least in a bunch of other contexts. When you don’t see your people represented, it’s normal and not wholly unreasonable to feel like the deck is stacked against you. That doesn’t mean it’s always correct or even mostly correct, or that the solution isn’t worse than the problem, but it’s a standard human response across political/ideological/demographic groups.

        • TD says:

          When you don’t see your people represented, it’s normal and not wholly unreasonable to feel like the deck is stacked against you. That doesn’t mean it’s always correct or even mostly correct, or that the solution isn’t worse than the problem, but it’s a standard human response across political/ideological/demographic groups.

          Then that “standard human response” is disgusting and destructive. I’m also not sure that it’s so standard as you think it is. It seems to be concentrated on the far-left and far-right.

          Also, even if you do feel that way, you should suck it up. Equality of outcome just makes things shittier, because you’re turning merit into a second tier consideration in favor of trying to fit an ever growing list of grievance groups into your business and political positions in the “correct” ratios.

          • That doesn’t actually adress the problem (although of course it’s very representative of the way many heads of state seem to think).

            If you keep telling angry and frustrated people that they are wrong to feel that way and should just stop, for long enough, what actually happens is an armed insurrection, which is bad for your health.

            Feelings by definition are not rational and cannot be reasoned with, and trying to bully or shame people out of their anger and frustration just makes them angrier and more frustrated.

            If people feel cheated on a societal level, either society finds a way to placate them, either it falls appart.

            (Also calling IQ “merit” is an interesting view — that’s like saying the “merit” of a top ranking NBA player is the genes making him tall, as opposed to the dozens of thousands of hours he practiced to get there).

          • TD says:

            If you keep telling angry and frustrated people that they are wrong to feel that way and should just stop, for long enough, what actually happens is an armed insurrection, which is bad for your health.

            Then I join anyone that’s willing to drum the heads of those waging an insurrection against “privilege”. What if I’m angry and frustrated about the progressive intersectionalists and the alt-righers?

            Feelings by definition are not rational and cannot be reasoned with, and trying to bully or shame people out of their anger and frustration just makes them angrier and more frustrated.

            We can discuss it, but the answer will be that I just don’t care about disparate impact. The thing you are angry about intrinsically doesn’t upset me. I don’t care about inequality per se – I care about equality before the law and I care about poverty – and if you care about equal outcomes in such a way that the ethnic composition of corporate boards and the media is a pressing concern to you then we are political opponents.

            I mean, do you want a board to appoint genders and races in equal proportion to the business and media? We can discuss that, but I’d tell you that would be extremely damaging to the economy and society.

            If people feel cheated on a societal level, either society finds a way to placate them, either it falls appart.

            The people who want to fight Jewish privilege are an extreme minority and can be safely marginalized. If they can’t be then just as they are willing to kill me to tackle disparate impact, I am willing to kill them to preserve the system I care about. If it’s war, then it’s war.

          • “Placating” doesn’t have to mean “access to all the demands of”, but rather finding things and solution that make the anger goes away, if possible without upsetting other people too much (social safety nets or basic universal income are a good way to make people less angry about their neighbor being rich).

            Accessing blindly to all the demands of angry people is probably not a good idea, but pretending the angry people are just being silly and ignoring them is *certainly* not a good idea.

            This is not about Jewish privilege in particular, this is about a general attitude of provileged people toward unprivileges ones.

          • “I’m also not sure that it’s so standard as you think it is. It seems to be concentrated on the far-left and far-right.”

            Possibly relevant, Malaya is a Malay majority/Chinese minority polity. The system is openly biased against the Chinese, pretty clearly on the grounds that if it was not they would have a disproportionate number of the high wage/high status positions. I don’t know enough about that society to say whether the Malays are embarrassed about the system but justify it in terms of group self-interest, but my guess is not.

        • Urstoff says:

          Jews are numerous in these areas, but this does not entail that white people (who the anti-semites in question are) are underrepresented. There are plenty of white people getting Nobel Prizes and producing movies in Hollywood.

      • Sweeneyrod says:

        Jews are 20% of Nobel winners, and apparently 50% of Hollywood. If it’s all down to IQ, why are they more overrepresented in the thing where IQ matters less?

        • Sandy says:

          I think the largest part of that 50% of Hollywood Jews is going to be producers, directors, financiers etc.; IQ matters for the business of tinseltown. You can get an endless array of replaceable Midwestern blonde shiksas to be America’s latest sweetheart in front of the camera, but they’re going to be shit at running things behind the camera.

          • Sweeneyrod says:

            More than twice as much as it matters for winning a Nobel?

          • Sandy says:

            “More than twice as much as it matters for winning a Nobel?”

            Why not? Barriers to entry for the Nobel club are much higher than barriers to entry to the Hollywood elite. To win a Nobel Prize (or at least to win a non-Peace Nobel), you generally have to be in the upper echelons of intelligence. This limits the number of Ashkenazim who could qualify, as it would limit any group, although the Ashkenazim are still highly over-represented; which I think is likely a combination of higher mean IQ and access to Western institutions that are also highly over-represented in Nobel fields. There’s not really as stringent an intelligence requirement to be a member of the Hollywood elite, so a broader range of Ashkenazim can qualify for that.

            Plus there’s the element of Jewish networking in Hollywood — you can get a job if you know someone, but it’s not like you can get a Nobel because your Jewish uncle is on the committee. You have to compete against the entire world (or at least the West and Asia) for Nobel Prizes, but if you’re a Jew in Hollywood, there is an existing setup that advantages you over the gentiles, and certainly over foreigners.

          • Matt M says:

            “but if you’re a Jew in Hollywood, there is an existing setup that advantages you over the gentiles, and certainly over foreigners.”

            I think that’s sort of the point…

          • Sandy says:

            I’ve gone and got lost somewhere

          • Creutzer says:

            Sandy, the higher you go on the IQ scale, the greater the proportion of Jews, because the tails of a normal distribution fall much faster than you think. So if it were a matter of IQ alone, the proportion of Jews among Nobel prize winners should be higher than the proportion among Hollywood whatevers, given that the IQ requirements for the former are more stringent.

          • Matt M says:

            In practical terms, how exactly would one tell the difference between “there is a Zionist conspiracy via which Jews control the media” and “Jews succeed disproportionately in Hollywood because they have an opportunity to network with other Jews who found success there earlier”?

          • Sandy says:


            In practical terms, how exactly would one tell the difference between “there is a Zionist conspiracy via which Jews control the media” and “Jews succeed disproportionately in Hollywood because they have an opportunity to network with other Jews who found success there earlier”?

            I guess it’s tricky to draw a line without giving fodder to the neo-Nazis, but probably a question of motive; I have no proof for this but I imagine most Jews are in the business for the same reason anyone else would be in the business: glamour, power and money.

            Of course, it turns out there are in fact some Zionist Jews who want to use the media to sway public policy in favor of Israel — back during the Sony leaks, there was an e-mail chain with various Hollywood Jews where Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of Relativity Media, said a media war had to be waged because Israel’s future was in danger from college students campaigning against it. He literally said a second Holocaust may be around the corner and was apparently so insistent on that point that Natalie Portman said “Dude, stop sending me this shit”.

          • Julie K says:

            Are Jews in media/entertainment more likely than American Jews in general to be Zionists? Are they more likely to show signs of loyalty to other Jews, such as directing their philanthropy to Jewish causes or marrying other Jews? (I suspect the opposite is true.)

          • TD says:

            I would expect Hollywood Jewish persons to be left leaning and not particularly Zionist or nationalistic. I remember hearing that Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t very popular among American Jewish persons.

          • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

            I’d like to draw attention to the fact that the nobel prizes for jews are by far not equally distributed. If we assume that personal drive and interest for a particular subject matter play a role, it’s not surprising at all to find that that jews are awareded 40% of the nobel prizes for economics, twice their normal percentage of nobel prizes. (If somebody thinks it’s just an artifact of the US winning more economic nobel prizes, nope, jews make up 53% of American economic nobel winners, but only 35% of nobel winners total.)

            So to me high IQ, interest stemming from the first jewish role models when showbiz was one of the only professions a jew could make it big in, coupled with a subconcious form of favouritism (obviously we treat people similar to us better) seem completely sufficient to explain that number.

            Edit: Source for the numbers: http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/jewish-nobel-prize-winners/

          • “So if it were a matter of IQ alone, the proportion of Jews among Nobel prize winners should be higher than the proportion among Hollywood whatevers, given that the IQ requirements for the former are more stringent.”

            Not necessarily if the Hollywood positions are mostly drawn from the U.S. population, the Nobel laureates from the entire world, and Jews are a larger fraction of the U.S. population than of the world population.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Supposedly, the Ashkenazi IQ advantage is primarily in verbal intelligence, which could explain it. Don’t take that as gospel, I haven’t tracked down the literature to confirm that.

          That said, the Jewish community itself is a valuable institution. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if something similar to the situation of Jewish diamond merchants hasn’t happened in other heavily-Jewish professions.

          • anonymous says:

            Supposedly, the Ashkenazi IQ advantage is primarily in verbal intelligence, which could explain it.

            Jews are good at chess.
            Almost all the Soviet chess champions are Jewish, right?
            Jews are good piano players.
            “There are three kinds of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists, and bad pianists.”

            Therefore, Jewish intellectual advantage is unlikely to be mostly a verbal one.

        • Matthias says:

          There are lots of jews in America, and being an American helps a lot to get into Hollywood.

          You can be any nationality (being from a richer country helps) to get a Nobel prize.

      • JDG1980 says:

        However, nazis/alt-righters are absolutely wrong that this means we should be trying to make that thing that never happened happen again. Suck it up and stop whining about “disparate impact” please. It doesn’t matter if the top figures in an industry are white, Jews, black, men, women…. etc.

        That might be a plausible argument if we were talking about, say, STEM fields. The problem is that Hollywood has a tremendous amount of cultural influence, and there really are reasonable concerns about the vast majority of that influence being in the hands of a small ethnic group that holds political,ethical, and aesthetic views very different from much of the rest of the nation.

        How often do we see positive portrayals of conservative Christians in Hollywood films and TV? Almost never. Yet nearly 40% of the American public are conservative Christians. How often are rural and/or southern white Americans portrayed as villains? Would the gay rights movement have advanced as far or as fast as it did without Hollywood? Joe Biden doesn’t think so.

        • Julie K says:

          there really are reasonable concerns about the vast majority of that influence being in the hands of a small ethnic group that holds political, ethical, and aesthetic views very different from much of the rest of the nation.

          I see your point, but their ethnicity is not really relevant. At least, I don’t think you would like it any better if they were replaced with a group of people who matched the ethnic balance of the US, but whose political, ethical, and aesthetic views matched those of the current Hollywood elite… would you?

          (Disclosure: I am Jewish, but politically conservative, and I would prefer to see more influence from people with views like mine, from any ethnic group.)

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s pretty common for ethnic communities to target particular economic niches, and you don’t need discrimination for it to work; you just need a disproportionate level of interest. There’s not necessarily anything more sinister going on here than the forces that lead Koreans to own a large fraction of independent donut shops in the US.

      • M.C. Escherichia says:

        As I said, I could accept this sort of argument up to a certain point, but the presentation of Stein and the numbers in the ADL piece are beyond the point at which this alone seems enough.

        It’ll have to be combined with some combination of Mark and Johnjohn’s reasoning, I think.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        Language barriers and credentialism can make immigrants work as independent businessmen even though they would have preferred a white collar 9 to 5 job.

        • Nornagest says:

          Yeah, that’s one of the contributing factors. This isn’t exclusively an immigrant phenomenon, though.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Im ultimately skeptical of that. And I flat out don’t believe the top 12 are all of jewish heritage. Are they going to be overrepresented in the leagues of the powerful there? As others have mentioned, with that +1 SD number of course.

      But selecting any list of the “most powerful”, an ultimately subjective term unlike “richest as determined by the IRS” can be moved one way or the other.

      Are the Gangnam style guys jewish? Its the most watched videos ever on youtube. That in itself gives psy a good deal of cultural sway.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      the ADL persuaded me that Jews in Hollywood are behaving badly.

      So, there is no denying that jews are disproportinately represented in Hollywood.
      I decided to test your hypothesis by going through some Hollywood scandals. If Jews are behaving badly, they should try to keep any scandals about other Jews as small as possible, thus making Jews less affected by scandals than Gentiles.
      I’m not the most objective, since I’m Jewish myself, and really want to find that there is no bias in Hollywood, so take it with a grain of salt:

      I was only able to find three major scandals involving Jewish showbiz people:

      Roman Polanski, rape of a minor in 1977. Still going strong and no problem getting A-list actors like Kate Winslet or Jodie Foster to act in his movies, despite not being able to enter the US (without an arrest). It’s really incomprehensible how that’s possible.

      Woody Allen, married the adoptive daughter of his ex-wife Mia Farrow, allegedly having started the relationship while she was 17. Also accused by Dylan Farrow of sexually molesting her when she was a child, but all charges have been cleared. Atlhough the scandal, despite happening in the 90s, has continued presence in all media, Allen continues to be a highly respected director.

      Paul Rubens was famous in the 90s as the kids show host Pew-wee Herman, when he was witnessed by a police officer masturbating during a movie in an adult theater. This pretty much ended his career.

      So, this gives you a 2/3 of important jews whose career is going strong despite very public sex scandals. I personally think that their treatment is rather normal compared to Hollywood baseline treatment of scandals: Allen and Polanski’s scandals are extremely famous, while many other, to put it mildly, quesitonable celebrity actions are much less publicized or downright forgotten. A small selection:

      Allegations against Bill Cosby were numerous and visbile to anyone who wanted to see them for more than 20 years, but it only become a problem in the last couple of years.

      Despite beating up Madonna green and blue, Sean Penn is Hollywood’s model liberal and good guy.
      Similar for Josh Brolin, also charged with domestic battery.

      Jimmy Page, guitarrist of Led Zeppelin, abducted 14 year old Lori Maddox, raped her and subsequently held her captive for three years, possibly not such a big scandal because Maddox fell in love with him very quickly.

      There might be some scandals of other Jewish people I have overlooked, but in conclusion I see no substantial reason to assume that Jewish people are somewhat insulated from the consequences of scandals (leaving open the possibility that many things do not see the light of public attention at all).

      My confidence grows even stronger, if you take the other class of people with large influence into account: politicians. Jewish media should have an interest in protecting Jewish politicans as well if they want to push a Zionist agenda or something.

      The three most important Jewish politicians in the last decade have been: Eliot Spitzer (governer of New York), who visited prostitutes, Anthony Weiner (IIRC senator), whose unforgivable sin was not being able to stop sending dick pics and Dominique-Strauss Kahn (chairman of the IWF), accused and arrested for rape but cleared of all charges.

      The media circus around all of those was immense, with all of them having ruined politcal careers as a consequence.

      So, from these examples I do not see any favouritism and positive discrimination towards Jews.

      However, what the HELL is going on with all those sex scandals? Why can’t we get arrested for doing coke or for embezzlement once in a while?

      • Sandy says:

        Allegations against Bill Cosby were numerous and visbile to anyone who wanted to see them for more than 20 years, but it only become a problem in the last couple of years.

        The Cosby situation is a little complicated. Quite a few of the (black) women he allegedly raped said they were pressured to stay silent because Cosby was a beloved representative of Black America and a rape scandal would thus reflect badly on “the community”. This is not entirely dissimilar to the stated hypothesis that Hollywood Jews might “try to keep any scandals about other Jews as small as possible”. Some of the other women were white and there were mutterings in a few liberal circles that the rape rumors brought back old tropes of predatory black men and helpless white women, and so they should be taken with a grain of salt.

        The whole thing only really blew up after Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist at a Philadelphia club and the video of that went viral. Buress was probably the best person for it; he’s a black man, so there’ll be less people insinuating racism on his part for calling another famous black man a serial rapist. Plus Cosby has been out of the spotlight for a long time and there are a lot more black performers and entertainers now, so “the community” no longer hinges on one guy representing them to White America. Even so, there was in fact a concerted, widespread media effort to suppress the Cosby allegations for as long as possible, for a range of reasons.

        Sean Penn is just a shitbag, though. Scum of the earth and worshiped nonetheless, I really don’t know how that works.

        • Matt M says:

          Worth noting that Cosby had been taking increasingly “conservative” and/or non-politically correct stances on racial issues – such that he went from “representative of the community who must be respected” to “ignorant uncle tom who must be destroyed”

          Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think if he would have fell in line with Al Sharpton as everyone demanded he do – none of this ever would have blown up as it did.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        However, what the HELL is going on with all those sex scandals? Why can’t we get arrested for doing coke or for embezzlement once in a while?

        There aren’t enough journalists anywhere in the world if this were the kinda thing they would need to cover every time.

      • nyccine says:

        What about Bryan Singer? Repeatedly accused of sexually molesting underage boys, known to favor throwing parties with men of a certain look, of whom a Hollywood producer was quoted as saying “I had no idea if the boys at his parties were legal or not, and I didn’t care.”

        I don’t see how you’re coming to the conclusion that there’s not favoritism, given the results of some pretty obvious scandals.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Not embezzlement, and not Hollywood or a politician, but still important: Bernie Madoff is Jewish and got busted for the biggest Ponzi scheme since Ponzi.

      • JDG1980 says:

        I think one factor in the Roman Polanski and Jimmy Page cases is changing sexual mores. Both of these incidents happened in the 1970s. From my readings, I get the impression that sex between adults and teenagers was a lot more socially acceptable back then, and that a lot of things that even non-SJWs now consider to be rape were then considered to merely be bad form. In Decade of Nightmares, Philip Jenkins points out that the majority of American Catholic clerical sexual abuse cases come from the 1970s, and attributes this to cultural factors. I think he’s right. In the Seventies, the old (Christian-based) sexual morality had broken down, and nothing had replaced it yet, so the result was a reversion to primal norms where powerful men felt entitled to do whatever they pleased. What ultimately took the place of the old ethos was a new sexual morality based on principles of informed consent. Feminism, whatever its other failings, deserves much of the credit for this.

      • M.C. Escherichia says:

        To be clear, when I suggested “bad behavior” I simply meant in terms of hiring and promotion practices.

        i.e. The sort of thing a normal person can do without feeling too bad about it. Covering up for crimes is quite different, any normal person would hesistate to do so.

    • JDG1980 says:

      So “most” of the Hollywood elite are Jewish? Neither article asks how this came to be so, or why it persists. I’m reminded of thermodynamics: when a system is far from its equilibrium state, it takes constant energy and work to keep it that way. One might suggest mundane cultural factors are responsible, and I could accept that if the Hollywood elite were, say, 10% Jewish, maybe 20% at a stretch. But over 50%? No way. I roll to disbelieve.

      So that leaves me with the alternative, that there is massive discrimination against non-Jews when selecting for those roles. I guess this isn’t a socially acceptable thing to say, so I’m happy to be talked out of it, but the case seems pretty strong at this point. What do the commentariat here think?

      It seems pretty straightforward to me.
      (1) Hollywood was founded by Jewish Americans.
      (2) Hollywood is, and always has been, notoriously nepotistic.

      You might ask why Hollywood hasn’t been supplanted. Isn’t nepotism economically inefficient? Maybe, but path dependence counts for a lot. Hollywood has a massive infrastructure built up for making movies that is extremely hard to replicate elsewhere. Also, while nepotism often runs into trouble because of regression to the mean, Ashkenazi Jews have a median IQ one standard deviation higher than gentile American whites. Thus, nepotism is more efficient for Jews (and Asians, for the same reason) than for gentile whites, because your relatives are more likely to be intelligent enough to not screw things up too badly.

      • Matt M says:

        Has anyone bothered to look into whether one specific branch of Hindus dominate Bollywood?

        • Sandy says:

          There’s a huge, disproportionate level of representation from the Khatri and Arora castes. There’s nothing particularly special about those two, could have been any other upper castes, but I suspect it’s similar to the Jewish situation in Hollywood: they got there first or early enough, and were nepotistic enough that they stayed there.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think that being kshatriya ( and as far as ican discern from wikipedia both khatri and arora are kshatriya) is also probably a strong help in getting into Bollywood ( at least for males). The male standard of attractiveness generally involves height, classically masculine facial and body structures, ect. And from my observations Kshatriyas have a higher level of average masculinity than the indian population at large. This is probably due to the selection effects of being bred for war.

    • U. Ranus says:

      I’m reminded of thermodynamics: when a system is far from its equilibrium state, it takes constant energy and work to keep it that way.

      I like that analogy. Running with it, here’s an even bigger puzzle for you: Forget Hollywood, how the hell did Jews manage to keep themselves so Jewish over all those centuries?

      It was not geographical separation as with the rest of us; even while living right amongst us they kept themselves more genetically isolated from us than geography isolated the various European nations from each other. Aren’t Ashkenazim actually the most inbred of European-ish peoples?

      It must have taken significant energy and work to keep the non-Jews they lived amongst out of their gene pool to the extreme extent they did.

      • Sweeneyrod says:

        I think you’re looking at it from the wrong angle. The current Ashkenazim are the only descendants of the original Ashkenazim who didn’t assimilate, it’s possible that historically large numbers didn’t put in any work to ensure their descendants had Ashkenazi genes (and hence have descendents who aren’t Ashkenazi).

        • U. Ranus says:

          Raising additional children just to “boil off” those who outmarry may be among the most expensive ways to get the job done.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Aren’t Ashkenazim actually the most inbred of European-ish peoples?

        No, they have typical levels of inbreeding.

        • U. Ranus says:

          @Anonymous: I don’t deal in non-metaphorical teleology.

          @Douglas Knight: I can agree with that. I remembered what I wrote from somewhere, but it was long ago. Checked it, and it seems modern genetics says they’re not inbred in the “cousin marriage” sense although still only 4th to 5th cousin level distant from each other because of endogamy.

  33. Vitor says:

    A note on steganography: It’s actually kind of easy to break by an attacker that targets you specifically.

    Let’s roll with the suggestion that data can be hidden in the least significant bits of the pixels of a photo. The problem with this is that the data that naturally goes there has a certain probability distribution that’s not completely random. This is caused by things such as the physics of the camera (did you know that your “10MP” camera doesn’t actually have 10 million red, green and blue sensor elements?), jpeg compression artifacts, etc.

    I’ll give a very simple example: If some area of your photo is overexposed the data will be pure white. The LSB will always be set to 1 in an unadultered version, and any deviation from this is easily detectable by an automatic tool that scans all photos looking for patterns other than 1,1,…,1 in overexposed spots. The tool will detect that some kind of communication is going on, and you still have to rely on cryptography to keep the message secret.

    A more effective form of steganography hides itself in data that is expected to have the same distribution as the secret data you’re sending. I don’t know what the state of the art in steganography is, but a couple of years ago I dreamt up a scheme that I think works significantly better than the photo example. The idea is that you use a computer to raytrace some 3d scene at a low quality setting, where there will be a lot of noise occurring “naturally”. Now, any raytracer uses randomness for its computations, and if you write yours carefully you can make it so that when you give it a specific number to use as a random seed, it will always spit out the exact same image.

    Now, me and my terrorist buddy have previously agreed on 2 random seeds we’ll use. I render an image twice using both seeds, and make a composite image that sets a pixel to the color of the first image to transmit a 0, and the color of the second image to transmit a 1. This gives me as much bandwidth as there are pixels that have different colors in both renderings, and I think it’s probably as hard to break as any crypto based on the same random number generator.

    • Matthias says:

      You can also just use plausible deniability, but that’s dicier.

      Ie just endlessly publish random data on the internet, that you officially gather from some physical process.

      Sometimes you slip some extra information in there. (It’s trivial to hide it so that the distribution doesn’t look bad. Actually, the ciphertext of a good encryption should already look random.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Even if you know steganography is being used, isn’t it still hard to extract the ciphertext? That is, suppose two terrorists have agreed beforehand to use the first, tenth, fiftieth, fifty-seventh, sixty-third, etc, pixel of the image to encode their message. You see one white part of the image that looks like it might have some steganography. Can you figure out exactly which pixels are involved?

      (also, it seems like use of Photoshop’s Add Noise filter could fix this pretty quickly. I guess the NSA could become suspicious of all noisy photos, but I don’t know if natural noise and Photoshop noise are so easily distinguished)

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        The purpose of steganography and its techniques is to hide detection of sent information, wheras for encryption of course the point is to make it difficult to find information already known.

        When known it suddenly becomes a subset of encryption methods, and that of detecting non-random numbers in a random stream, with no real difference. Which is to say when using the right algorithms and sparse messages, still difficult.

      • Anonymaus says:

        There are two different kinds of “knowing how steganography is used”.
        If you know that a specific picture contains hidden information, and know the algorithm that was used, you probably won’t get any further since there is enough effectively unbreakable crypto around.
        The maybe more interesting problem would be if you know the algorithm but don’t know which pictures contain information. (E.g. if there is an app that encrypts messages in pictures before uploading them to facebook on the ISIS app-store and NSA want to see who is using it.) If the artificial noise added by the algorithm has a different distribution than the natural noise one sees in pictures, it could be detectable. It would probably amount to who has a better statistical model of noise in pictures.

      • Vitor says:

        No, it’s not easy to figure out exactly which pixels are used for data transmission. Think of the scheme you’re proposing as a very weak form of encryption. Recovering the data requires breaking that encryption.

        As Murphy has pointed out below, the smaller the fraction of pixels used, the harder it gets to detect. In my way of looking at things, that’s the same as saying that if your encryption scheme produces data that is statistically similar to the image data you’re replacing, it will be hard to detect. However, this statistical similarity can only be achieved by reducing your transmission rate, due to fundamental information-theoretic limits. Note that hard does not mean impossible: compared to breaking crypto it will still be very easy.

        The main take away is that steganography works for some purposes under some threat models but not others. If you’re under active surveillance, it’s completely useless. It’s not and will never be a replacement for encryption, and rolling your own encryption (which is what you’re implicitly doing) is not advisable. Stick to provably unbreakable stuff like one-time pads.

        • brad says:

          and rolling your own encryption (which is what you’re implicitly doing) is not advisable.


          Stick to provably unbreakable stuff like one-time pads.

          No, no, no!

          One time pads are the mark of snake-oil encryption. It’s even worse than rolling your own because you are using some certainly unqualified and maybe unethical person’s roll their own encryption.

          If you are in c or c++ use djb’s NaCl. If you are in java use google’s Keyczar (or in python I guess, but I don’t really know anything about python). In javascript use Stanford’s SJCL.

          • Vitor says:

            Hmmm. One time pads are impractical to use for everyday stuff of course, but they are literally unbreakable.

            Just to be clear, I do mean one time pads, where you need to exchange a key of length n in person to encrypt messages of total length n later. No key stretching or any such stuff, I won’t stand for my high-grade random bits being cut with inferior product.

          • Nornagest says:

            One-time pads are theoretically unbreakable, yes, but that advantage comes at the cost of multiplying key exchange problems many times, and those are already the second trickiest part of crypto. (The trickiest part is avoiding human error.)

            These days, the actual crypto algorithm is usually the last part of any cryptosystem to be attacked seriously, anyway. (By a hostile actor, I mean, rather than for research purposes.)

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            >Hmmm. One time pads are impractical to use for everyday stuff of course, but they are literally unbreakable.

            Are you sure? At least in todays’ world, its very easy to get a 500gb micro-SD card.


            I’m not sure its difficult to quickly generate effectively random bits. There is the neumann coin flip trick, which lets a heavily biased source give random variables thats easy to simulate. If any fairly common device can make an accurate reading of a physical property every millisecond or so, I guess multiple readings of an effectively random property(like the 4th decimal of a temperature reading) can be statistically mashed together to produce a random variable.

            Heck, adding 100 unpredictable biased variables together and modding them with 2 should give a decent random distribution of 0’s and 1’s, though not perfect. Simply have 100 devices that give millisecond accurate readings of random enough physical processes like the third decimil of temperature moving and add and mod them. In fact, a large enough number of sums of any somewhat random process modded by 2 tends to produce an even number of 1’s and 0’s.

            So shouldn’t in todays world it be an easy enough task of securing two identical 512 GB SSD drives with effectively random data made quickly enough to be used and hidden as a one time pad? If one only sends textual information, thats a *big* text file, more then enough for virtually any purpose.

            Am I missing anything critically important in this?

          • brad says:

            Authentication, syncing, preventing pad reuse, keeping the unused parts of the pad secure, programming errors, side channels, social engineering attacks, rubber hoses.

            The security of best in breed symmetric cipher primitives (AES, Salsa20) is the absolute least of your worries.

            Someone going on about one time pads is a huge red flag. Like if you went in to a see a lawyer about a contract dispute and he started talking to you about yellow fringes on flags in courthouses.

          • Vitor says:

            Tsnom Eroc: What you say is sound, but it assumes that you’re communicating with one or at most a few other people at a time. By everyday use I meant frequent, low importance stuff with a variety of actors involved, like encrypting all your email by default. If I sent a spy to a foreign nation, sure, I’d give him a 500gb card to carry.

            Brad: Authentication and syncing are easy problems to solve. Knowing not to reuse a pad is trivial. What remains are side channel attacks, keeping your key secure, etc, which are serious problems no matter if you use a OTP, NaCl or anything else for that matter! Also, just in case this wasn’t clear: I’m not advocating using OTPs in practice, but the idea is far less ridiculous than you’re trying to make it sound.

            PS: I don’t get your courthouse flag reference at all.

          • It's a sove says:

            It’s a sovereign citizen thing.

            edit: This would be James Picone, somehow managed to type into the author field.

          • Murphy says:


            [Putting on my paranoid hat]

            I have some mixed feelings on some of the norms in the crypto community. I wonder how hard it would be to seed a meme which allows certain attack types.

            The cyphers themselves are rarely a vector of attack but the code that implements them are a far more common vector.

            That particular “never roll your own” rule is one that almost guarantees that almost everyone will be using one of about a dozen notable crypto libraries and we’ve seen in the past that those libraries can go for years with massive flaws. Thinking in terms of the underhanded-C contest I wonder how subtle the flaws you might be able to introduce would be if you had a team of top mathematicians and coders in your employ submitting (mostly good) fixes to those libraries.

            How much would it cost to subtly compromise a dozen top crypto libraries? I bet you could do it for less than 10 million.

            Rolling your own is a defense but then you’re losing the many advantages of those crypto libraries.

            You could try for the best of both worlds: encrypt with a well used library and then layer with one of your own using utterly separate keys.

            though always make sure that a high quality crypto library is used for the first layer.(Cascade Ciphers: The Importance of Being First)

            If someone is automatically cracking messages that use the most common libraries then even a home-rolled solution would be better.

            at this point we come to the objection that I detest, that makes me wonder if the meme was actually seeded intentionally by someone who wants everyone using a dozen mainstream, easily compromised libraries:

            “but what if your outer cypher leaks info” to which I say “this is running on top of 10 million lines of other peoples code, most of it not security conscious, if the couple dozen lines involved in adding a second layer of crypto is what leaks then that risk is far smaller than the other 99.9999% of the code leaking data somehow”

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            Vitor: I did some math, and it seems that large groups can communiate frequently using this OTP with *todays* tech securly for a very very large amount of time.

            I did a few calculations, and it appears to be the case that its very easy for a fairly sizeable group of spies (at least 20+ people,possibly 100 people) to securly communicate for years with no risk, besides side channel attacks, with modern day technology for years and possibly their entire life and beyond even while transmitting absurdly large text files on occasion.

            After a slight calculation, even with a heavily biased coin of 60H/40T, flipping it three times and counting even sums as heads and odd as tails gives 0.504/0.496, making it fairly fast and easy to find effectively random sources of information. Flip it a fourth and its 0.5008/0.4992, basically even odds.

            Even for a *horribly* biased coin of 80/20, flipping it 10 times gives 0.502/0.498 even/odd chances. It seems a similar result arises even for heavily biased “mixed” coins, like an 80/20 HT with an 80/20 TH and the such.

            “never roll your own?” That seems easily bypassed for very very simple modulo arithmetic for fast random physical sources.

            A 10 TB drive can be bought for about 500 dollars in todays world.

            1 GB can store 1,073,741,824 characters of ascii text, and assuming 10 characters on average for a word, with each actor having 500 GB, that’s 53,687,091,200 total words. Or, the king james bible has 783,137 total words, giving 68,553 total bibles.

            Heck the average person speaks (calculation found online) 860.3 million words in their lifetime, giving that 500 GB drive the ability to store 62 lifetimes of people speaking. If you compress the text, which can idally usually be compressed to 20% of its original size(10% for the best algorithms with a long time to compress) , that’s 300-600 average lifetimes of people speaking on a 150 dollar drive, buyable for any serious operation.

            Filling that 10TB of data is easy to do with absolutely random information, and distributing that to 20 different actors is also doable.

            If each actor was careful and summed up what they said, I could see it being feasable for 100 different individuals using different portions of the same 10TB(or larger) one time pad transmitting summed up documents securly for a multi-year period of time.

            So it actually *is* feasible for people to use this for everyday things like email and phone texting, as long as one does not send videos and large images.

            So what I gather is that banning encryption, though not useless, is not that large of a hinderence for clandestine operations.

          • brad says:

            There’s a difference between compromising the garbage pail fire that is openSSL and compromising NaCL.

            That said, even if you don’t trust any crypto library and insist on rolling your own, you still don’t have any good reason to roll your own OTP over rolling your own salsa20/poly1305 implementation (or AES/GCM but that’s harder to do in software without a side channel). Because all you are going to be doing is saddling yourself with a ridiculous key distribution and security problem for no good reason.

            Anyway, I don’t see a real problem with putting whatever homegrown cryto you want to on top of the output of NACcrypto_box as long as you use independent keys. I mean if I was your boss, I wouldn’t want you spending time on it, and if I was your customer I’d be dubious, but if it is for your own purposes no harm, no foul.

            Authentication is a solvable problem (I wouldn’t call it easy) if you know what you are doing. But even most programmers don’t know what they are doing when it comes to cryptography. To this day we still have people on standards committees that propose things like MAC then Encrypt.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Brad, I largely agree with you, but the one exception is that there is a long history of compromised RNGs.

            Bitcoin is an instructional example. Apparently one guy working alone managed to build a pretty good (though not perfect) protocol and implementation out of crypto primitives. But since then lots of people have built vulnerable clients for it, usually because of bad RNG.

          • brad says:

            @Douglas Knight
            Technically authenticated encryption doesn’t require a PRNG. That said your shared secrets should be randomly selected from the keyspace (and depending on which algorithms you are using you may need random IVs or nonces). In any event you certainly need far far fewer trusted random bytes than you do with a OTP.

            For example, crypto_secretbox_xsalsa20poly1305 can safely encrypt 2^70 bytes of plaintext with a single 32 byte secret key. It would take a fair bit of time but you could generate that by hand by rolling dice. OTP would require a 2^70 byte key. You’d be rolling dice until the heat death of the universe.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        It’s trivial to make your encryption literally unbreakable by any means – just use one time pads. This does *not* stop the NSA from mapping out your social relationships by watching who you send encrypted messages to, then dropping the lot of you into a blacksite.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:


          With today’s tech OTPs can more or less let one get away with *any* amount of verbal information for cheap, and a good amount of decent quality photographic information.

          Social engineering and side-attacks are *the* research area.

        • John Schilling says:

          It’s trivial to make your encryption literally unbreakable by any means

          For a very limited definition of “literally unbreakable” that is of almost zero relevance in the real world. What matters isn’t the security of the algorithm but the implementation of the algorithm, key distribution, and other petty details of operational security that you may imagine are possible to make absolutely secure but which almost nobody actually bothers to make even a little bit secure.

          So, yeah, maybe you can write your very own perfect OTP encoder. The guy you are corresponding with, after your version glitches on his machine, is just going to download one from an archive. Written by the NSA and/or Chinese intelligence, which produces an absolutely secure OTP ciphertext for you but also sends a plaintext copy to its masters by a covert side channel. You and he will be certain that this is not the case and that the algorithm is secure, because it comes from the Open Source community where many eyes have vetted it to ensure that it is at least as secure and bug-free as say OpenSSL.

          In the extremely unlikely event that you and all of your correspondents are both skilled and disciplined enough to avoid this, nobody is going to be saying, “The fools! They used CAST-256 instead of a One Time Pad! We’ve got them now!”. The algorithms aren’t the weak point, and you aren’t important enough for anyone to waste the computronium cracking yours even if their is a known attack.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            That part is trivial to. You do all the work with the secure data on air-gapped systems. The zero’th level attacks can try to tattle all they like, it doesn’t work if they’re not on the net. The main issue being while all this ought to just be standard practice for security, actual competence will make you stand out like a sore thumb, which is dangerous.

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            That part is trivial to. You do all the work with the secure data on air-gapped systems.

            I don’t think John is arguing that compromised encoders that send copies of the plaintext to the NSA will inevitably doom all efforts at secure communication. If that were the only concern, then yes, air-gapping would solve your problems.

            His point is that technology is not the weak point, humans are — no matter how technically clever you are, your system can (and probably will) still be compromised by idiot users. Air gapping won’t help you when somebody picks up a USB drive from the parking lot and plugs it into their “secure” system.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Air gaps help with that too because it is a physical manifestation of proper information flow control. If the things that need to be confidential is kept in the faraday work room, and the rest of the workflow isn’t, doing things like carrying in random flash drives and plugging them in takes a special, rather than just a common level of wrongheadedness. There’s more to it than that, like the tray of personal electronics at the door and it doesn’t prevent outright subversion of your staff, but it is possible – and not *that* cumbersome, to not have electronic espionage be a gaping vulnerability in an organization.

          • CatCube says:

            It might be a special level of wrongheadedness, but it is a very common one.

          • brad says:

            That part is trivial to. You do all the work with the secure data on air-gapped systems.

            That’s not what I would call trivial. Working with air-gapped systems are a colossal pain in the ass. So much so that defense contractors that are mandated to use them have somehow contrived to be allowed to use “data diodes” on “air-gapped” systems.

            The bottom line is that a method of communicating securely is useless if it can’t or won’t be used by anyone. It’s always been secure to just not communicate, you don’t need any fancy technology for that.

    • Murphy says:

      Actually I spent the best part of 6 months learning about digital image forensics and the problem you point out is only a problem if you’re greedy.

      The smaller the fraction of pixels you use, the harder it gets.

      Use a reasonably smart algorithm to choose what parts of the image to exclude and it becomes harder still.

      Combine with a HMM based on the surrounding pixel values to match the local patterns and I’m pretty sure you could entirely defeat that kind of analysis.

      but the most important thing I learned was that there are very very few virgin untouched images on the net. Almost everything has been compressed, recompressed, cropped, lightened, darkened, had it’s format changed etc. Any tool for spotting steganography in the wild will have literally 100,000 false positives for every real positive.

      It was the biggest problem I hit writing tools to spot tampering in images: almost everything is already tampered with. All the pretty statistics that hold for virgin raw images fresh from the camera have already been destroyed.

      CFA Interpolation, Benford’s law, Lens Aberration,Chromatic Aberration. Almost all are useless outside the context of a newsroom who just want to confirm that their photographer sending them RAW images hasn’t been photo-shopping things.

      Hide something in a cat-meme that’s visibly covered in jpg artifacts and watermarks already and bid good luck to the searchers.

      • Vitor says:

        You make excellent points, but I was addressing a different scenario, namely the (wrong) idea that you can sneak things past people who are actively monitoring your communications by using clever tricks, as fantasized in stuff like the Da Vinci Code.

        “and I’m pretty sure you could entirely defeat that kind of analysis.”

        I want to believe this, but what little I know of crypto strongly suggests the opposite lesson. We don’t trust crypto just because we’ve so far failed to come up with an attack against it, but on a theoretical grounding that excludes all possible forms of attack in principle. At least that’s the standard we should aspire to, side-channel attacks notwithstanding.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Steganography does not sound too amazing. It can hide messages from someone you otherwise would not expect, which is useful in any initial stages of communication, but if one is already a target then it won’t add anything, and you have to rely on the validity and security of the initial encryption.

      As far as I can tell, steganographic methods mentioned are an isomorphism of a subset of already established cryptograhic techniques. Its already effectively totally impossible for any attacker to find the decoding key and thus the actual message sent with known cryptograhic algorithms.

      And if someone is sending large amounts of nearly random data that can effectively hide a message(a dark grey pixel in an otherwise sea of black won’t be noticed by the human eye, but will really stand out to a computer), that in itself is suspicious. And of course, how do you transmit the information needed for someone else to use whatever steganographic method you are using? You would have to encrypt it! It falls flat on its face.

      So banning encryption really is a big thing a government would care about. Encryption algorithms really are the golden method of hiding data you want to send and know people want to find out.

      Anyways, it seems easy enough to thwart most attackers for occasional messages not massive in size. Simple Book ciphers from hundreds of years ago have not been cracked yet.

      Of course, tech backdoors, like a virus which transmits whatever is on a screen, is a great method for getting around breaking encryption, and is what the NSA is really after in todays world. They *know* that mathematically they can’t break common encryption, and try other methods.

      • Murphy says:

        Steganography is to address Rubber-hose cryptanalysis.


        A compression artifacts vs the occasional pixel which is 1/255 off in one colour band are surprisingly hard to distinguish. Also you’d send non-random data for the cover, ideally the kind of thing people send each other constantly anyway so cats pulling funny faces works.

        • brad says:

          The task of steganography is to find a legitimate reason to send random looking data.

          The security model for all modern encryption protocols require that the output be indistinguishable from random by any efficient algorithm (semantic security).

          The tricky version is when the noise you need to hide your random data in has some structure or bias to it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Steganography was brought up as an example for why banning encryption would be pointless. If you want to stop terrorists by banning encryption, all they have to do is send each other cat memes and you can’t prove they’re using encryption anymore.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          My point is that banning encryption *isn’t* pointless.

          Steganography, book ciphers, easily memorable tricks (add several boo ciphers together, add some of the easy modular math) can make it easy to get away with occasional messages.

          However, encryption methods let possible terrorists(and ordinary people and corporations) send giant, detailed information easily. Like, this is the difference between sending 1000 highly condensed words, as short and to the point as possible, over time occasionally vs an Yottabyte hyper detailed plan complete with video and high-def images.

          Banning encryption isn’t pointless. Its impossible as of now. Its all public domain knowledge and common knowledge in academia.

    • Skef says:

      Let me try to generalize about some of the disagreement in this thread.

      There is an arms-race aspect to encryption. But there are currently methods of encryption that are both difficult for motivated governments to break and that have implementations that can be used by novices. (Effective quantum computing would change this landscape for at least a while.) So some governments would like to ban forms of encryption they (presumably) cannot break. A government ban doesn’t prevent all use of what is banned, it legalizes government intervention against such use. So the government could potentially a) prosecute people just for communicating with encryption (not even knowing what was communicated) and b) systematically detect and prevent the transmission of encrypted messages. Criminalizing strong encryption makes it harder to communicate with.

      Steganography would interfere with goals a and b. But steganography is itself an arms race. In fact (and I think this is the key point) steganography is probably a more balanced arms race at present. Assuming that the U.S. government could actually effect a ban with consequences a and b (which is questionable), the steganographic playing field is more level. There are certainly fewer “canned” solutions, and the research is less conclusive. There are no magic bullets on either side of the race. So the overall advantage, at least over the short-to-medium term, would shift in favor of the powers-that-be.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        It’s an arms race because everyone except the FSB has been bamboozled into treating it as one. One time pads = Unbreakable. Clear Text: Known to be public. These two methods of communication really ought to cover all your needs. Especially since you can fit really large one time pads on USB drives.. and if you have never met the person on the other end of a communication in person and have thus had the opportunity to give said person such a flash drive, why, trusting that person with things which needs to be confidential is highly inadvisable.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          Its easy these days to physically conceal 1 TB of OTP data. While I can see the point of encryption for commerce of large sites and that sort of data transmission, for most things *spy* related that TB should do it. With compression, that’s a lot of data.

          I suppose for things like large amounts of video feed, that still won’t do it, and large image databases. Besides that and some scientific databases, with how much data can be stored in small devices today, a OTP should do it for just about anything it seems like.

          Considering how vast the amount of data that can be stored on todays very small hard drives, it almost sounds like people arguing against OTP’s as the main thing for a critical operation(other known algorithms could be a good backup if more data is needed to transmit) is almost believed propaganda.

          Its only $500 for an easily transmittable and erasable and reusable 10 TB hard drive!

          • John Schilling says:

            How much does it cost for me to deliver that hard drive to you, whose name and meatspace address you have concealed from me, with high confidence that no third party has tampered with it or even copied its contents?

            Add that to the cost of establishing secure communications between the two of us using the “one simple trick” of a OTP.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            A OTP fulfills the requirement that if someone wants a document today to be encrypted until the end of time regardless of any possible future technology sans an all knowing eye-of-sauron tech, it will be so, and the proof is so simple that an AP calculus grad, not only someone who has taken graduate courses, can easily understand the proof. Actually, I would say any competent algebra student could do so too. Even then, I might be overstating the complexity of the OTP security proof.

            A lot of the problems that you mentioned are also true with any form of encryption, and assurance that the other person on the end of the line can be trusted.

            The public-private key algorithms are absolutely fantastic, but with the ease of making very large amounts of OTP data quickly(100 GBS per second for $10,000) that should suffice for a very large deal of espionage I would rely on them as a secondary. A useful secondary that you could probably bet on needing to use, and in many situations may be your only option, but not the preferred option.

  34. SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

    How can I become a good software engineer? I am currently in school, studying something slightly related, but from the little actual programming I have done already I can tell that my school won’t help me much in improving my programming skills.

    Specifically, what subskills or knowledge make up a great engineer, and how can I train them?

    • Anonymous says:

      How can I become a good software engineer?

      Get a job in software engineering.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        Hah, if only.

        This will take a long time, software is an art form. You will also need to learn to be comfortable with some types of math.

        I will always suggest getting through “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs.” A lot of computer science is in that book.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’ve learned more about software engineering in my first year of employment than in six years of schooling in the same.

    • Matthias says:

      I’ve helped two friends get jobs in programming. (Currently working for Google myself.)

      First, you have to figure out what you want and what works for you.

      There is a theoretical aspect that some people really enjoy. This will also be tested in interviews.

      There is a practical aspect about how to bang out some code to solve a real world problem quickly. This is useful on the job, but not tested in interviews. (That’s one reason interviews suck at predicting performance.)

      No matter which aspect works better for you, you have to practice. And that includes practicing programming. If you go the more theoretical route, that will be toy programs, re-implementing classic algorithms (or solving intricate but ultimately small problems).

      If you go the more applied route, you will want to be writing bigger programs that actually do something useful and contributing to eg open source.

      I recommend you get good at passing interviews.

      To be more specific, I recommend you learn the following:

      – a few programming languages (eg Haskell, Scheme, Python, C)
      – incidentials like git and github, linux command line, vim/emacs
      – algorithms and datastructures
      – how to write an operating system
      – how to write a parser
      – how to write an interpreter
      – how to write a compiler

      Focus on acquiring evergreen skills. As a rule of thumb, stuff that has been around for a long time, will probably stay around for a long time. So ignore JavaScript frameworks for now, and concentrate on understanding eg how to write parsers.

      You want knowledge with a long half-life. Indefinite is best.

      Happy to answer more questions, and give more specific advice, if you tell me more about you.

      You can write to me at orb@google.com, too.

      • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

        Focus on acquiring evergreen skills. As a rule of thumb, stuff that has been around for a long time, will probably stay around for a long time. So ignore JavaScript frameworks for now, and concentrate on understanding eg how to write parsers.

        This makes a lot of sense and will counterbalance my impulse to learn the latest xyz just to be able to put it on my resume.

        And thanks a great deal for those suggestions, I’ll make sure to try my hand at these projects.

        While I definitely enjoy musing over a thereotical problem, I’m more passionate about being able to create something that serves a purpose, so I would like to focus on the practical aspects.

        I realize that getting better at programming requires programming a lot. But what should I pay attention to when I am coding? To exemplify, when I’m learning a foreign language, practising by speaking is good, but it’s even better to pay attention to correct pronunciation during practice. But programming lacks a clear and immediate feedback mechanism: A literary writer can just read his last sentence and determine if it sounds pleasing to the ears. When I’m writing code, I can make sure that it’s compiling without an error, but surely this is a very low bar.

        Also, how do you usually approach a problem? Do you just start coding or should I follow a methodological approach?

        I hope I’m not asking too many questions!

        • The problem there is that the best way to identify great code is that you can come back to it in 6 months after working with a completely different technology, read it once, and have every detail of its function make sense.

          In the moment while coding, look for inconsistency. For example, if you have a function that takes some parameters as arguments and uses global variables for other things, and intermixes the two, this can rapidly become very confusing.

          I generally approach my own problems with a mish-mash of code and research. I’ll build the bits of framework I’m reasonably sure I’ll need (“OK, I want to scan my EPUB collection, so I’ll need file IO.”) while simultaneously poking at the problem space.

          I rarely do any design until I’ve got a good understanding of the details of the problem and a thrown-together prototype; if the prototype is good enough, I don’t need a proper, elegant solution.

          • brad says:

            The problem there is that the best way to identify great code is that you can come back to it in 6 months after working with a completely different technology, read it once, and have every detail of its function make sense.

            Exactly right. A programmer is a professional writer. Your job is to write programs that are easy for human beings to read, understand, and modify. The requirement that it run on a computer and perform certain tasks in an acceptable amount of time, using acceptable resources is a constraint — like the rhyme scheme of a sonnet form.

        • James Picone says:

          I realize that getting better at programming requires programming a lot. But what should I pay attention to when I am coding? To exemplify, when I’m learning a foreign language, practising by speaking is good, but it’s even better to pay attention to correct pronunciation during practice. But programming lacks a clear and immediate feedback mechanism: A literary writer can just read his last sentence and determine if it sounds pleasing to the ears. When I’m writing code, I can make sure that it’s compiling without an error, but surely this is a very low bar.

          Do quick-and-simple tests when you’re running stuff – sanity tests, smoke tests, whatever you want to call them. When you’ve got a basic unit of functionality, run it, debug it. Gives you some feedback.

          Other than that I haven’t found it helpful to think of anything other than the problem.

          Readability will take care of itself the first time you return to some code you wrote n months ago, where n is a function of how good your memory is.

          Also, how do you usually approach a problem? Do you just start coding or should I follow a methodological approach?

          Depends on the problem. Anything small enough to fit entirely inside your head and non-complicated, just write it out. That boundary will shift over time as you get better at programming, but if the problem was “write a function that says whether or not its input is prime” you’re not going to need to think about it.

          For anything larger, try to identify conceptually-distinct subproblems. For a toy example, “print out all prime numbers between 1 and 10,000” can be split into “count from 1 to 10,000” and “determine if a number is prime”. For a less toy example, the problem of simulating 2d billiard-ball physics can be split into “keep a list of objects and iterate over them with a timestep”, “update position of objects according to velocity and acceleration”, “detect collisions” and “resolve collisions”.

          Then recurse on the subproblems until they fit inside your head and you can just write them out. This is where the tricky part is, because the stuff inside the subproblem is usually fairly simple, and when it’s complicated you can figure it out. The problem is that when you recurse, you add more subproblems, and the number of potential interactions increases as the square of the number of subproblems. You have to think very carefully about the inputs and the outputs of the subproblem, with the goal being to be able to treat it as a black box as much as possible.

          Also that’s kind of a procedural way of looking at it; from an OO point of view you’re trying to identify actors in the problem and that’s how you split things. It’s the same thing, really, just a different way of thinking about it.

          (Some of this will differ to some extent depending on the industry you work in; I do simulation work in C++).

          EDIT: Robert’s answer above reminded me to point out that you probably shouldn’t treat your subproblem-split as gospel that must not be altered nor try to design things down to a really low level; initial designs will approximately never survive contact with development. Throwing away stuff and writing a better version is a really good habit; and doing big design up front is a bad habit, in my experience.

          • Matthias says:

            I’d definitely suggest giving purely functional programming a try. It does nudge you in the right direction in terms of good style almost automatically.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Legibility. All software projects of any significance are collaborative. Therefore, producing code that is clearly readable and well commented > most things.
          After that, run time.

    • Mammon says:

      Get your theoretical skills to baseline level – learn logic, functional programming, types, distributed systems, and concurrent programming.

      Get your applied skills to baseline level – learn networks, operating systems, and compilers.

      Get your software engineering skills to baseline level – learn version control, IDEs, and refactoring.

      Get your communication skills to baseline level – learn technical writing, preparing and giving talks, conflict resolution, and covering your ass.

      How to do all of the above: you can learn quite a lot on your own, but there is no substitute for learning from your peers. Do projects, work with people, watch lectures online. You need about 10,000 hours of learning to get anywhere, just get started now and don’t worry too much about whether what you’re learning is going to come in handy or not.

      • Matthias says:

        In 10k hours of deliberate practice you might become an expert. The bar to becoming a good enough engineer is considerably lower, but the sky’s the limit.

        I agree: all good advice!

    • insul8 says:

      >How can I become a good software engineer?

      some random thoughts…

      dont stop learning, dont think you can do a degree in comp sci and thats it.

      read The Pragmatic Programmer by dave thomas and andrew hunt, research the software craftsmanship movement.

      once you can write good code, you’ll need to understand how thats done in a team (cos most software is written by teams). this is non-trivial and hard. read up on agile software processes like scrum and xp (extreme programming)

      but the best advice i can give is to learn from others, sign up to …


      these have a constant stream of people describing issues they have and then a whole bunch of people helping them out (or not).

      >Specifically, what subskills or knowledge make up a great engineer

      focus, can you bang your head against the same problem for weeks on end whilst debugging?
      can you keep coming up with ideas if that last one didnt work out?

      but really, thats a hard question. a great engineer makes things simple, anyone can code a clusterfuck it takes skill to code something elegant, simple and open to change. then add in that you’re almost certainly in a team so you have to be able to work with and mentor others too.

      lastly, remember the oldest software slogan, “loose coupling, tight cohesion”

    • James Picone says:

      1) Write lots of code.
      2) Repeat

      This used to be really good but it doesn’t exist now and its robots.txt doesn’t allow the wayback machine to display it. :(.

      (also use source control).

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Really? I found that if you do a bit of research and try for some of the heavier programming courses you can get pretty good experience in a variety of programming languages and paradigms.

      At the least, load up on a variety of courses and be sure to do well and you won’t have fundamental gaps in the knowledge of programming outside of specific technologies and algorithms.

      I would recommend adding a udacity/edx/udemy course that explicitly tries to go over a good portion of a programming language/style and has several projects along the way. Seems more thorough then self-guided projects.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Some things I would suggest:

      Learn about algorithms, e.g., why a quicksort is better than bubble sort.
      Learn data structures, e.g., try to write an M-ary tree in your favorite language.

      Repetition is key, so whenever I’m looking to learn a bit about a new language, I attempt to write a merge sort or a binary tree in that new language.

      Learn how to code for other people: Software engineering isn’t a one-man career. You’ll have to learn how to write code so that other people can read it and know what it’s attempting to do. A rule of thumb is to try to modularize your code. So for example, our keyboards are “modularized”; we don’t have keys for common words, we have the alphabet which we can mix and match to write words.

      Relatedly, you should learn how to use one of the popular repositories for version control like github or subversion.

      I would also learn a popular framework for a particular programming language. My current job for Java we use some of the Spring framework due to some Internet-ish programming.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Practice. You will write a lot of junk early in your career that you will be ashamed of later. This is good. It means you are improving.

        • Lycotic says:

          Practice isn’t quite sufficient. I’ve seen plenty of “industry veterans” who still can’t code.

          FWIW, I’d say you need to actually be forced to go back and be ashamed of your old code in order to really learn from it.

    • Skef says:

      I want to add one point to the already good and abundant advice:

      Virtually everything you will be taught or evaluated on will be designing or writing code. A tiny exception to this is that you may be asked to evaluate a tiny fragment of code in a job interview, but such questions tend to be more like intelligence tests than anything else.

      Learn to read code. Including large subsystems. Including just average or even poorly-written code. Including projects old enough to have been patched repeatedly. Everyone will tell you they have and value this skill but most aren’t very good at it beyond the level of small stanzas. An almost visceral aversion to dealing with other people’s code is very common and easy to excuse by labeling it as krufty or “spaghetti” or beyond hope or whatever. Do not rewrite code before you understand it. Learn to not restructure bad code when you don’t need to. Learn to restructure bad code when you need to in small steps you can test at each step. Embrace that changing code in this way may not result in the same structure that rewriting it from scratch would.

      Starting at a given point in a large code base, for example a particular function, understanding how that works is a combination of a) familiarity with the code in the function itself, b) familiarity with how and were the function is called, and c) familiarity with the functions called and (when applicable) the non-local variables (including object members) used in the function. a is probably the most important but c is the most difficult and subtle — ramping up on new code requires a sense of how deep to explore (because understanding those functions will often require understanding further functions that they call) and how to split research between the code itself, documentation (for example of libraries), poking around in internet resources, etc.

      A good if deeply frustrating way to develop these skills is to extend existing projects. Don’t worry, unless you need to for motivation, about extending them in ways you can actually re-contribute; what you write is in service of what you are reading. Given the number of open source projects there are plenty of projects to choose from.

    • Agronomous says:

      I have a CS degree from a well-regarded school (a smattering of Turing Award winners in the department). Beyond broad ideas such as “keep things simple” and “don’t optimize yet”, I learned nothing of value with regard to Software Engineering. (I can’t complain, since I wasn’t in the Engineering school.)

      Things I Wish I’d Done Before Going Into Industry:

      1) Use version control. Just skip right to git. Commit every time your code is vaguely stable (a few times an hour). (Try using git for other, non-code stuff you change over time: papers, todo lists.) Play around with it: branch when you don’t have to, merge when you don’t want to. Pro tip: you will screw up your first conflicted merge, so you might as well do it on something non-critical and far from a deadline.

      2) Work on a single project over the course of years. Nowadays you don’t have to start the project; you can pick some interesting mid-size effort from GitHub. It’s one thing to think about the programmers who will come after you; it’s another thing to realize one of them will be you.

      3) Work on a project with more than one other person. The GitHub approach can help here, too. You know your code is communicating effectively when other people can understand it enough to work with it (without needing you at their elbows).

      4) Dive into a legacy big-ball-of-mud system. There’s no shortage of them. Try to do something trivial with it. Hell, try to build it. Try to fix a simple bug in it. Try to fix a more-complicated bug in it. Try to figure out if a reported bug is actually a bug. Talk to a user or two about the system.

      5) Write unit tests as you go. Better yet, do Test-Driven Development. Yes, it seems like a lot of extra work. Putting down tarps and taping over hardware before painting a room seems like a lot of extra work, too (SPOILER: it is not—go try cleaning paint out of a carpet or out of nooks and crannies in brass fixtures). Bonus: you’ll see how many mistakes an actual programmer makes all the time, and find them without wasting hours debugging.

      6) Write something non-trivial in each of: (a) an Object-Oriented style; (b) a Functional style; (c) a Dataflow style; (d) a Logic Programming style.

      7) Read up on software engineering and the history of software projects; Brooks’s The Mythical Man-Month is a classic, for good reason.

      8) Cultivate a healthy contempt for how complicated, hard to understand, hard to use, and hard to compose (i.e. put together) current popular software systems are. If you think the previous generation of software engineers got things mostly right, you’re going to miss a lot of low-hanging fruit.

      9) Do not fall for the temptations of the big heavyweight Software Methodologies. Think a little, design a little, implement a little, fix a little, repeat. No big book of rules will make you An Engineer. Paying attention to what you’re doing, how well it’s working, and who else has their stuff together is how you get there.

  35. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    The final section of the “Unnecessariat” article from ” Three Great Articles On Poverty, And Why I Disagree With All Of Them” makes a very interesting point. Poor rural whites have only now become unnecessary to the economy, but poor urban blacks became unnecessary to the economy years ago.

    Note that the government’s response was not to implement a basic income, wage subsidies, protectionism, or any of the other potentially humane and comprehensive responses that are frequently debated in internet articles and forums; it was to keep them half-alive on welfare / food stamps / disability / section 8 housing and lock up the ones that caused too much trouble in prisons or mental institutions. Apparently, this is what business-as-usual has in store for all of us.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Welcome to the party.

    • TD says:

      “it was to keep them half-alive on welfare / food stamps / disability / section 8 housing and lock up the ones that caused too much trouble in prisons or mental institutions.”

      But minus the mass incarceration part that is the basic income solution. The basic income just means everyone effectively gets a basic standard of welfare that would cover food stamps and housing and so on rolled into one. They’re not exactly half alive on food stamps either. Mass starvation is not the major problem of the African American community.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        By “half-alive”, I don’t mean that their food stamps are not providing enough calories to avoid starvation, I mean that the lifestyle that members of the black community have adopted since they lost their jobs and became dependent on welfare has been incredibly dysfunctional and self-destructive (and other-destructive, for that matter). I am not sure to what extent this is caused by badly-designed incentives and bureaucratic hurdles in the welfare system (in which case a basic income should fix it) and to what extent this is the natural result of long-term unemployment (in which case wage subsidies, guaranteed make-work, or job protectionism are probably better ideas than unconditional income).

    • Lumifer says:

      The proles are restless tonight, dear. Up the voltage on the fence, please.

    • John Schilling says:

      Poor urban blacks are a small enough fraction of the population that this “solution” is affordable for the rest of us, and culturally isolated enough that it is acceptable to the rest of us (generally speaking). I suspect neither of those things will remain true when we add working-class whites into the problem space, and we’ll get a different outcome. Not necessarily better, but different.

      • TD says:

        But the necessity of the basic income is tied to technological unemployment. If machines can do more that’s going to apply to public services too, so a basic income that wouldn’t be affordable today might be affordable when it’s needed.

        This is why I’m pro-basic income, but against trying to roll out the basic income too early.

        • J says:

          Well, people have been saying technological unemployment is right around the corner for about 200 years now, so I’m sure it’ll be along any minute now: https://timeline.com/robots-have-been-about-to-take-all-the-jobs-for-more-than-200-years-5c9c08a2f41d#.wtdikypn1

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            It’s already here:

            When Alex Tabarrok writes “If the Luddite fallacy were true we would all be out of work because productivity has been increasing for two centuries”, I think, isn’t that correct? If you’re not a student, you’re retired; if you’re not retired, you’re disabled; if you’re not disabled, perhaps you are institutionalized; if you’re not that, maybe you’re on welfare, or just unemployed.

            Compare now to most of human history, or just the 1300s:

            * every kid in special ed would be out working on the farm; there would, if only from reduced moral hazard be fewer disabled than now (federal Supplemental Security Income alone supports 8 million Americans)

            * everyone in college would be out working (because the number of students was a rounding error and they didn’t spend very long in higher education to begin with)

            Indeed, education and healthcare are a huge chunk of the US economy – and both have serious questions about how much good, exactly, they do and whether they are grotesquely inefficient or just inefficient.

            * retirees didn’t exist outside the tiny nobility

            * ‘guard labor’ – people employed solely to control and ensure productivity of the others has increased substantially (Bowles & Jayadev 2006 claim US guard labor has gone from 6% of the 1890 labor force to 26% in 2002; this is not due to manufacturing declines); examples of guard labor:

            ** standing militaries were unusual (although effective when needed31); the US maintains the second-largest active in the world – ~1.5m (~0.5% of the population), which employs millions more with its $700 billion budget and is a key source of pork and make-work

            ** prisons were mostly for temporary incarceration pending trial or punishment; the US currently has ~2.3m (nearly 1% of the population!), and perhaps another 4.9m on parole/probation. (See also the relationship of psychiatric imprisonment with criminal imprisonment.) That’s impressive enough, but as with the military, consider how many people are tied down solely because of the need to maintain and supply the prison system – prison wardens, builders, police etc.

            * people worked hard; the 8-hour day and 5-day workweek were major hard-fought changes (a plank of the Communist Manifesto!). Switching from a 16-hour to an 8-hour day means we are half-retired already and need many more workers than otherwise.

            In contrast, Americans now spend most of their lives not working.

          • Anonymous says:


            Don’t believe the hype. We’ve automated every single job that existed in 500BC, and there is still demand for human services. Also, Autor.

          • J says:

            I think it’s awesome that people are gradually (over decades and centuries) getting more free time as everyone’s wealth increases.

            The argument I’m skeptical of is “this time it’s different” — that there’s some new phenomenon that will soon or that has just recently started harming people. I read the whole screed you linked and Gwern does the common thing of pointing at some gradual and neutral-to-good trends like “16-hour workdays -> 8 hour workdays” or “look at all the unemployed horses!”, and then switching to “therefore sentient EMs and their capitalist overlords are about to send us to the poor house”.

            My standard for luddite arguments is: translate argument to ~1820 and see what we’d conclude. If it ends up arguing that the mind-blowing and job-market-disrupting phenomena of industrial agriculture, mechanized transit and modern medicine are anything other than crowning achievements of mankind, reject.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Welfare, food stamps, and Section 8 were the “humane and comprehensive responses” that would have been debated on the internet forums back then.

  36. Nornagest says:

    I read the title three times before I caught the pun. Now I feel dumb.

  37. M says:

    Does anyone have any pointers to good research and information on gut flora? I’ve heard that healthy gut flora are important for weight loss, general health, etc., and there are lots of articles out there about foods and lifestyle choices which are supposed to improve your gut flora (whatever that means).

    But what does the actual science say? Is there any metric or test which determines if you have “good” gut flora or not? Any comprehensive literature reviews like the ones Scott or Gwern do for other issues?

    • Matthias says:

      Have you tried searching pubmed?

    • Lumifer says:

      I think the science here is… how do they say it? unsettled.

      Basically, by now we know that gut microbiota is important and we’re taking, um, stabs in the dark (e.g. fecal transplants) to see what would happen if we poked this particular bit, but as far as I know there is not much in the way of actual science having been able to figure specific, reliable methods to achieve useful things.

      There have been interesting attempts at DNA sequencing of the microbiota and they show that it’s somewhat stable but can be pushed around by your diet, but the overview is still too crude and it’s still to early to conclude much.

      You might want to check out the American Gut Project, some hunter-gatherer studies, or a PubMed overview.

  38. Julie K says:

    In a previous open thread, someone expressed a wish for more talk about books, to leaven the political discussion. Here’s my 2 cents.
    Mary Poppins (1934 novel)
    I’ve been reading this book to my almost-11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, and picking up on a lot of things I missed when I read it as a child.
    I hadn’t realized how satirical the book is. For instance, I accepted Mary Poppins’ high opinion of her own beauty and gentility at face value. Now I notice that she has “large feet and hands” and “small eyes”, traits not usually considered beautiful. On Mary’s day out, she and Bert indulge in lower-class pleasures, eating whelks and riding Merry-go-Round horses “all the way to Yarmouth and back, because that was the place the both wanted most to see.”
    My daughter is more attuned to nuances than I was at her age. [Two cheers for regression to the mean!] “Mary Poppins isn’t a good nanny,” she declared before we had even competed the second chapter. And she’s right. Like the Alice books’ Queen of Hearts and Red Queen, Mary Poppins is a caricature of the capricious, domineering authority figures many children know.
    By the time we had finished the third chapter, I could say more: Mary Poppins is a horrifying nanny. She takes the children on a magical adventure, and afterwards pretends it never happens and that she doesn’t know what the children are talking about when they mention it. This is classic gaslighting, and the children’s devotion to her is a horrifying picture of how people stay in abusive relationships.

    tl, dr: This ain’t the Disney movie.

    • DavidS says:

      On tl:dr, I’ve heard that. But the Disney movie does have the blatant denial of what just happened. And indeed the threat to summon a policemen if they continue to insist it did.

      Also, anyone who likes Narnia and/or Mary Poppins should read Neil Gaiman’s The Problem of Susan (spoilers for Narnia, less so for Poppins. Also apparently genuinely quite disturbing for some Narnia fans)


      Almost entirely about Narnia (and Susan!) but with this rather lovely interlude on Mary Poppins:

      The professor’s lips prickle with shock. And only then does she understand that she is dreaming, for she does not keep those books in the house. Beneath the paperback is a hardback, in its jacket, of a book that, in her dream, she has always wanted to read: Mary Poppins Brings in the Dawn, which P. L. Travers had never written while alive.

      She picks it up and opens it to the middle, and reads the story waiting for her. Jane and Michael go with Mary Poppins on her day off, to Heaven, and they meet the boy Jesus, who is still slightly scared of Mary Poppins because she was once his nanny, and the Holy Ghost, who complains that he has not been able to get his sheet properly white since Mary Poppins left, and God the Father, who says, “There’s no making her do anything. Not her. She’s Mary Poppins.” “But you’re God,” said Jane. “You created every body and everything. They have to do what you say.”

      “Not her,” said God the Father once again, and he scratched his golden beard flecked with white. “I didn’t create her. She’s Mary Poppins.”

      • Julie K says:

        > The Disney movie does have the blatant denial of what just happened.

        Thanks for the info. I haven’t seen the movie in- well, probably the same length of time since I read the books.

        • Julie K says:

          There’s a nice reference to punching up vs. down in The Horse and His Boy:
          “Shame, Corin,” said the King. “Never taunt a man, save when he is stronger than you: then, as you please.”

      • I’ve always considered “The Problem of Susan” (as critique, not necessarily as story) to be definitively answered by RJ Anderson’s analysis, so much so that I am mildly surprised when people continue to bring it up as a real thing.

        • Jiro says:

          People who speak out against something often caricature it as well. “She’s not being criticized for being sexual, she’s being criticized for vanity” may actually mean “she’s being criticized for being sexual, and the author thinks of what we would consider healthy sexuality as associated with vanity”.

          It would be incorrect to say that Birth of a Nation only warns us against lazy, indolent, black people.

          • Julie K says:

            There are also some male characters who are vain (Bree, Uncle Andrew).

            For girls (but not mature adult females, e.g. Mrs. Beaver) I think there’s a pattern of “tomboy good, girly-girl bad.”
            “The fuss [Lasaraleen] made about choosing the dresses nearly drove Aravis mad. She remembered now that Lasaraleen had always been like that, interested in clothes and parties and gossip. Aravis had always been more interested in bows and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            For girls (but not mature adult females, e.g. Mrs. Beaver) I think there’s a pattern of “tomboy good, girly-girl bad.”

            I dunno; Lucy’s not a tomboy, but we’re clearly not meant to think of her as bad. I’d hesitate to call Jill a tomboy too, membership of the Girl Guides notwithstanding.

          • Mary says:

            “she’s being criticized for being sexual, and the author thinks of what we would consider healthy sexuality as associated with vanity”.

            The problem with that theory is we in fact have no evidence that way. All we have is the knowledge that she denies Narnia and is fascinated with makeup. On the face of it, if you are reading “healthy sexuality” into the overt statement of vanity, it’s probably you.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The problem with that theory is we in fact have no evidence that way.

            Further more, the presence of apparently healthy romantic relationships elsewhere in the books would seem to be evidence AGAINST Jiro’s interpretation. I mean come on, Lewis isn’t going to say “and then they fucked” in a childrens’ book but when he says that two characters got married and lived happily with babies ever I think its safe to surmise that there was sex involved.

        • DavidS says:

          I think that’s a correct response to J K Rowling’s criticism. But I read Problem of Susan as a story more than a critique. It certainly isn’t very specific about what Susan’s fault is. It quotes the nylons/lipsticks/invitations and tentatively refers to Susan having time to repent for “Not believing, I suppose. And the sin of Eve.”

          It also talks quite a lot about luxuries and ordinary pleasures: her perfume is her one luxury, after the train crash there are few luxuries etc. etc.

          To be honest, I think that sense of incompleteness and left-behindness fits very well with Lewis’ idea of people blocking themselves out of heaven as set out in the Great Divorce (and implicitly Narnia and various other things). Although I suspect he’d have hated the imagery of the Problem of Susan and the sexualised, rather Freudian feel of bits of it (the Dark Tower, if indeed he wrote it, has an almost comically Freudian villain and then has the main character say what idiots his fellow academics are for thinking it’s Freudian, presumably because people pointed this out when they read the manuscript and he didn’t like it…)

        • Evan Þ says:

          Myself, I consider the definitive answer (again as critique, if not as story) to have been given by Tom Simon in his The Problem of Being Susan.

          • That’s a remarkable piece of writing, but I’d leave the possiblity open that there are things in people’s minds which are better than the default, not just things that are worse.

        • Julie K says:

          I don’t mind what happens to Susan, but I do have a different critique:
          1) The male villains (Miraz, Rabadash) are humans with human motivations, while the female villains are pure evil.
          2) The good females are static, while Edmund and Eustace are completely transformed the first time they visit Narnia. This pattern is improved on somewhat in the later books, where we get Jill forgetting the signs and Aravis needing to get over her snobbishness.

          • Nornagest says:

            Jadis is basically Satan (with a male counterpart in Tash), and the Lady of the Green Kirtle is implied to be some kind of reincarnation or emanation of her, IIRC. Are there any other female villains? I don’t remember any, but it’s been years since I read the books.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Story order, not publishing

            Book 1- White Witch
            Book 2- White Witch
            Book 3- None
            Book 4- None
            Book 5- None
            Book 6- Green Lady
            Book 7- None

          • Randy M says:

            The female villains may be harder to identify with but they are more memorable and formidable. I think the situation would have been equally open to criticism if the roles were reversed. Maybe you want more and deeper villains all around, but these are seven rather short children’s novels.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I can’t agree there were no male villains.

            Publish Order, because I’m that kind of person

            1: LWW: White Witch
            2: PC: Uncle Miraz
            3: VDT: none
            4: SC: Green Witch
            5: HB: Rabadash
            6: MN: White Witch
            7: LB: Shift, for part of the story

          • Pku says:

            I think the reason behind that, though, is that he didn’t want to have his heroes fight against a human woman. It can come off more like domestic violence than heroic conquest.

          • Julie K says:

            he didn’t want to have his heroes fight against a human woman.

            Good point. “Battles are ugly when women fight.”

        • I think RJ Anderson is right, but have a good critique of a different aspect of Narnia.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I couldn’t read all of that, but the “adults turning back into kids” thing really sat on me after seeing adult Susan in the movie. Because, knowing what follows, if she had died in Narnia, would she still be a Friend Of Narnia?

            My own take is that Susan stopped believing, because she refused to even talk about those pretend games they had. That didn’t necessarily lock her out of the True Narnia. We never see what happened to her.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Yes, that’s a problem in-universe, definitely. (I don’t agree with that post’s personal assessment of it – medieval Christendom approved of celibacy, and Lewis himself was celibate past age 35. But returning to childhood after growing to adulthood was a problem.) But for whatever reason, Lewis never even hinted at any effects of that. By the next year, in Prince Caspian, they were all children again, treating their reign almost as a dream. It was as if the fifteen years of growth and maturing in Narnia had never happened.

            So… On a Doyleist level, this was a failure in worldbuilding. And I’m not surprised; Tolkien once reduced Lewis to silence just by asking where the Dwarves had gotten their sausages and bacon. But given how completely it doesn’t exist in-universe, I’m not comfortable with treating it as a problem or betrayal on a Watsonian level.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m starting to think that Narnia lends itself to good fanfic largely because of issues like these.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            By the next year, in Prince Caspian, they were all children again, treating their reign almost as a dream. It was as if the fifteen years of growth and maturing in Narnia had never happened.

            It’s pretty strongly implied that, if they stay in one world for very long, the time the children spent in the other world gradually comes to seem more dreamlike and less real. (At the end of Lion, their reaction when they stumble across the lamp-post at the end is “I know not how it is, but this lamp on the post worketh upon me strangely. It runs in my mind that I have seen the like before; as it were in a dream, or in the dream of a dream”; near the start of Caspian, Susan says something along the lines of “Oh yes, our old castle in Narnia at Cair Paravel. How could I have forgotten?”) So, presumably that would be the in-universe explanation for why the children don’t seem like adults in children’s bodies when they come back to England.

            And I’m not surprised; Tolkien once reduced Lewis to silence just by asking where the Dwarves had gotten their sausages and bacon.

            I want to know how this medievalesque society invented the sewing machine, or managed to feed itself during a hundred-year-long winter.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            And I’m not surprised; Tolkien once reduced Lewis to silence just by asking where the Dwarves had gotten their sausages and bacon.

            There was an episode of Bojack Horseman (which features anthropomorphic animals devoted to this:



          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            What’s the problem with sausages and bacon? The world explicitly has both Talking Animals and normal animals.

          • Nornagest says:

            The world explicitly has both Talking Animals and normal animals.

            I don’t remember seeing any normal animals in Narnia in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe timeframe, though. They do start appearing in later books, and I think Prince Caspian or Dawn Treader describes than as Telmarine introductions, but I may be imagining that.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You may be right. Magician’s Nephew explicitly says that Narnia has both since its creation, but that might be a retcon. I think Prince Caspian even suggests that all beasts were talking during the golden age but they went into hiding when the Telmarines took over.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I’m always surprised nobody seems to mention that Lewis had an even gender balance for his main characters, even though he could easily have written the books with just boys as the protagonists. This seems a pretty important point against the idea that Lewis didn’t like women or didn’t like his female characters, but for some reason it always gets ignored.

          • Unless I’ve missed something, every time one of the boys says “Isn’t that just like a girl?” it turns out that he’s wrong and the girl is right.

          • Nornagest says:

            I always thought Lucy was very clearly the author’s favorite.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Lucy is the protagonist of the first book. It’s hard for her not to be the author’s favorite character. Sure the other children have their roles, but Lucy gets into Narnia first, gets the true story of Narnia from Tumnus, gets the typical treatment of the protagonist being disbelieved, etc.

          • LHN says:

            Yeah, the problem of Susan is almost a process of elimination, given that Lewis wanted an example of someone who loses faith for a time. (Just as he wanted to do the opposite and show that being a loyal Tash-worshipping enemy soldier doesn’t preclude salvation with Emeth.)

            Lucy is clearly an author (and I think reader) favorite. Edmund can’t be the one, since it would send the entirely different message of “once a traitor, always a traitor”. Peter, maybe, but his being the High King potentially raises side issues (is this a “power corrupts” story?) Eustace presents the same problems as Edmund, and Jill Pole is awesome (and would present the same criticism if it had been her in any case). So that leaves Susan.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Did he intend to write more than one story about Narnia when he started? I don’t think so?

            If so, I submit Lucy is going to be cemented as a favorite once the first book is written.

          • Nornagest says:

            She’s the protagonist of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but she still has a tendency to get the best lines and show the most virtue in Prince Caspian (where Caspian’s the protagonist, later sharing the role with Peter) and Voyage of the Dawn Treader (where Eustace is). Not so much in The Last Battle, but everyone in that book is so overwhelmed by the plot that they don’t have much chance to shine.

            I think the author favorite in The Silver Chair was Puddleglum, but I can’t really blame him for that.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Did he intend to write multiple books when he started? Probably not at the very beginning. But by the time he was getting close to publication, probably yes. After the initial decade of incubation, he wrote the books very quickly. Three more were complete by the time the first hit the shelves.

          • Mary says:

            The original motive was to write a book for his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. One suspects some influence.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I found The Cat In The Hat (and most other Suess works) repulsive as a child because the Cat was doing things to get them in trouble that the kids absolutely did not want to be doing.

      • smocc says:

        And then he gets away with it, scot free! It’s the worst.

      • Julie K says:

        For most of the book the children are paralyzed as they hear the contradictory messages of the cat and the fish. (It’s like one of those scenes where a guy has an angel sitting on one shoulder and a devil on the other.) When the boy finally stands up to the cat, the cat cleans up the mess he made.

  39. Wrong Species says:

    Is there any evidence that pre-industrial people used any extra wealth to increase their leisure time rather than invest it to create more wealth?

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Studies on forgers show very low number of hours worked and the easier it is to produce food, the less they work. Don’t have the links.

      • anonymous poster says:

        I know you meant foragers but I’d much rather live in a universe where we study the habits of workshy counterfeiters and slovenly art imitators

      • Wrong Species says:

        Did hunter gatherers really have much opportunity for investing though? I guess my question is more focused on agricultural and pastoral societies.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ Wrong Species

          It took me a couple of readings of Studies on forgers show very low number of hours worked and the easier it is to produce food, the less they work” to get to “Oh. There should be an ‘a’ in that word.”

          Now, trying to post that Native American beadwork is evidence that some of them had a lot of leisure time, I’m picturing beadwork being forged in a basement.

      • Julian says:

        You are referring to the Original Affluent Society research, largely done by Richard Lee:

        Lee found that the modern day !Kong people of southern Africa spent about 20 per week on “subsistence” activities such as gathering food.

        However, later research has revealed that this calculation left some thing very important out: preparing the food! It would take the !Kong nearly another 20 hours/week to prepare the nuts that comprised most of their diet. So their “work” was closer (but lower) than the 40 hours of the modern world.

        An excellent criticism of the Original Affluent Society theory can be found here (PDF). Or in more readable form here.

        Largely the criticisms relate that !Kong and similar peoples are often semi-starving most or all of the year. These people are often smaller than urban populations largely due to poor nutrition.

        • Nornagest says:

          This deserves more exposure.

        • herbert herbertson says:

          If you want to keep it apples to apples, though, you’re going to need to add some time to the 40 hour workweek for cooking, grocery shopping, etc. Obviously that’s not going to add up to 20 hours, but it’s more than nothing.

    • Matthias says:

      Read these wonderful papers by Lemin Wu about Malthusian theories. Eg If Not Malthusian, Then Why? A Darwinian Explanation of the Malthusian Trap.

      He has more on his website at http://wulemin.weebly.com/

      The Song dynasty and the Romans are great examples of rich societies that predate the industrial revolution. (By some estimates, they both had GDPs of around 1500 USD/y, comparable to modern day India.)

      • Wrong Species says:

        I just glanced at the article but it seems to me like he’s suggesting that “barbarian” groups were responsible for keeping Song China and Rome from industrializing because when they took over, they didn’t have the same “culture of growth”. Is that correct?

        • Matthias says:

          Sort of. Simplified slightly less, and much closer to his argument:

          There are different things the economy can produce. He takes the example of bread and flowers. Flowers make you happy, bread feeds you.

          The Malthusian constraint is entirely on the bread. Ie an economy can produce heaps of flowers and have very happy people, but bread is needed for population growth.

          Now, add a bit of a Darwinian dynamic: the societies that outbread [pun intended] others are miserable but numerous. It’s entirely rational for them to look for happier more prosperous places, either via peaceful migration or conquest.

          Historically, ideas and technology travelled only via people. Thus the miserable breaders spread their relatively more advanced subsistence technology, but the technology for breading flowers doesn’t travel—people are happy to stay where their flowers are. (Some simple computer simulations by Lemin Wu support this argument. I should really write a simple simulator myself, too.)

          Malthus assumes an economy that only produces a single good. By a simple extension to multiple different goods we get a much richer theory that fits the facts much better.

          All of this is very orthodox economics, nothing controversial; just applied in a new and interesting way.

          • Wrong Species says:

            So mongols and Germanic people are the “miserable breeders” in this scenario? Maybe I’m missing something but this doesn’t seem right to me. Nomadic groups are more likely to immigrate(basically by definition) but sedentary groups also have a reason to leave. It gets too crowded so they go find some new land to start their own settlements and increase the population. That’s why agriculture started from just a few places but eventually took over the world, even before the Industrial Revolution. And nomads don’t have higher populations than sedentary groups but far lower. So in China you have a constant expansion of “civilized people” against the “barbarians”, especially to the South. Sure there are exceptions(Mongols, Manchus), but once they took over China they didn’t put a stop to the flower economy. They just reaped the benefits.

    • Hackworth says:

      If with “wealth” you mean “material wealth”, then wouldn’t the whole body of human art, from cave paintings to symphonies, count as evidence?

  40. Douglas Knight says:

    Shortly before LWN showed up, an anonymous comment accused another anonymous commenter of being John Sidles:

    In case you haven’t been following the open thread, the current working theory is that is John Sidles reborn.

    Which open thread does this refer to? (google doesn’t suggest anything)

  41. Yakimi says:

    A movement to restore a monarchy is gaining steam in, of all places, Brazil.

    The Wall Street Journal: New Plan to Fix Brazil’s Royal Mess: Restore the Monarchy

    Financial Times: Brazil’s would-be king and his two-bed rented home in São Paulo

    The emperor presumptive is also appropriately reactionary.

    Just as Jesus sacrificed himself for its people, he says, so too must a king.

    He is not a fan of Kate Middleton. “I prefer the ways of Queen Elizabeth,” he says. “Well-dressed, well-presented, dignified.” “Imagine if she also went out in blue jeans, what a disappointment that would be,” he adds, his placid tone disguising what begins to emerge as an acerbic conservatism and fiery temper.

    “A republic corrupts,” he says.

    While he insists a reinstated monarchy would be non-partisan, he does not hide his hatred for the party that had ruled Brazil for 13 years up until this month. They are “Marxists” who want to “turn Brazil into a Soviet Republic” and “paralyse agricultural progress because communists like misery”.

    • Sounds great. Sign me up as a Brazilian.

    • Sandy says:

      Erdogan is trying to bring the Ottomans back to Turkey, so perhaps the future is all go for the Moldbuggians.

    • erenold says:

      The big question I always want to ask for any political system is: how is the next generation going to be selected?

      An oligarchy of technocratic elites, kept honest by a ferocious anti-corruption watchdog, who self-select via a closed cadre system and rigorous academic meritocracy (something like the Papal Conclave crossed with the Qing Mandarinate) would be my personal preference.

      • Matthias says:

        I wish we had more city states. London would make for a good one—it’s denizens are much more open to immigration and free trade than the average Englander.

        With more and smaller countries, we wouldn’t need to settle on some optimal system for selecting leaders—voting with your feet has a much bigger impact on your life than voting on the ballot.

        Eg Singapore is an awesome place, and happens to have competent and honest administration and government at the moment. I am not so optimistic on their selection process being able to keep up the good luck in the future.

      • DavidS says:

        Assuming the watchdog has power over the technocrats, how do you stop them (1) seizing power entirely (as the people who identify who/what is corrupt they can basically hand-pick the govt.) and (2) becoming corrupt themselves?

        Can’t see from your description how this is different to any proposal from Plato onwards of ‘just put some really moral/competent people in charge’, which always seem vulnerable to this same problem

        • erenold says:

          A strong challenge. Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?

          I’m not concerned about this body – which I’m basing on Singapore’s real-life CPIB – seeking power for their own sake per se, for the same reason that you’re probably not concerned about General Joseph Dunford crossing the Potomac tomorrow – it seems eminently doable to socialize a culture of deference to the civilian executive within a society with the rule of law. Even more so because the watchdog’s (“ACW”) personnel lack the capacity to take power even if they wanted to. Historically, I can find no example of an overt coup by an ACW-equivalent – largely because they are so rare, though.

          Corruption trials are subject to rule of law (albeit that the ACW has a completely autonomous body of prosecutors and investigators from the regular police and prosecution), which prevents another overt means of takeover by completely-fabricated charges. A strong, independent, depoliticized judiciary is crucial here, such as what they have in the UK.

          What I’m really concerned about is a scenario in which there is both (1) factionalism and (2) genuine low-level corruption within the supreme executive, not enough to destabilize the country but sufficient for exaggerated charges to be used as a weapon by council members inter se. “You used your position to get your nephew an internship at $LAWFIRM? Corruption!” I don’t believe such low-level corruption is ever possible to eliminate, so as you rightly point out the answer can’t just be “the ACW will magically make everyone so incorruptible that something like that will never happen.”

          I can’t think of a way out of that one, other than that the supreme executive needs to try to avoid factionalism within its ranks – which in turn I suspect is impossible based on human nature.

          • DavidS says:

            How is the technocratic executive appointed though? Loads of states throughout history do have the civilian executive overthrown by whoever can, and I think that it seems so odd to us because democracy is very good at creating
            1) a sense of legitimacy
            2) a sense that the correct route to wanting to get rid of the government is voting

            I don’t know enough about your system to judge this, but I can’t see how you guarantee the executive is technocratic if they’re elected. And I’m not sure you can get the same stability through other routes without some serious quashing of dissent (e.g. China)

            In terms of ACW powers, if they have no military might etc. what forces the executive to pay any heed to them?

          • “A strong challenge. Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?”

            A phrase which originated in the context not of politics but of the problems of a husband keeping his wife faithful.

            … I know
            the plan that my friends always advise me to adopt:
            “Bolt her in, constrain her!” But who can watch
            the watchmen? They keep quiet about the girl’s secrets and get her as their payment; everyone hushes it up.

  42. Daniel says:

    In Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis risks his life to get his family’s watch back. What do people in this community think of the decision? Would you go back for the watch?

    Most people I’ve asked in real life have said they would have gone back for the watch. However, risking your life for a material object seems iffy, no matter its significance. That being said, I would risk my life for many other things that most people wouldn’t find valuable.


    here is the scene in question:

    • Matthias says:

      Asking people is one thing—they might give you an answer based on social signalling. The other is finding out what they’d really do when faced with such a situation. People are also not very good at predicting their own behaviour outside of known settings.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      There is a term, which I think is “object memory”*, to describe the trait of treating an object as being imbued with a special quality because of who has touched it or where it has been.

      Another example: My grandmother’s wedding ring is more special than one which is identical, but was not worn by my grandmother, bought say at a consignment shop.

      I want to say there are some psychological studies of this, and people can be sorted based on whether or not they largely behave in this way.

      *Searching on “object memory” is not helpful.

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve always thought of this as something of a “sunk cost” problem.

      Willis’ character believes that his grandpa’s sacrifice would be in vein if he does not retrieve the watch – but the sacrifice/suffering of someone years ago is a sunk cost. The real question is, what makes things better at this particular moment – and based on how things turn out – the answer would seem to be “not going back for the watch.”

    • Murphy says:

      I get the impression that this is one of those sacred value things.

      Sort of an “ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods” sort of deal.

      Imagine someone putting their life on the line for a few acres of land with little economic value simply because it’s where their child is buried.

      Ignoring sacred values the obvious answer is “why would you risk everything for some dust and bones” but including sacred values it’s easier to see why someone might be willing to make that trade-off.

      Sacred values need to be balanced against other sacred values if you want people to consider the tradeoff reasonably. If Butch had had, say, a kid and the risk was phrased as “should be have risked leaving the kid fatherless for the watch” then I suspect it would get a very different response.

  43. Daniel says:

    With all the talk now about income inequality and support for politicians like Bernie Sanders, is anyone else surprised that there hasn’t been any movements aimed at living cheaper lifestyles?

    We have access to so much nowadays (and for so cheap). Almost every American alive today is going to wealthier than almost every person in existence a century ago. Yet despite being so wealthy, everyone thinks that they’re so poor.

    I’m not saying one should live on a lifestyle of a person from 50 years ago, but too many people are basing their standards/happiness on the purchases and fads of others.

    Living in cheaper areas, making cheaper foods, buying used clothing, heck – even avoiding buying technology that’s within 4 years old; there are a million things a person can do that shouldn’t impact life satisfaction.

    Mainly, I’m just surprised that everyone’s anger has gone towards political changes, rather than lifestyle, consumer or societal changes.

    NOTE* I’m not talking about those earning $10,000 per year, but those earning $30,000+ and thinking they are broke.

    • Evan Þ says:

      There was a very heated discussion here last week about whether we can expect people to do that, that managed to get a regular commenter banned…

    • NN says:

      Living in cheaper areas isn’t an option for a lot of people, though. Unless you’re one of the rare few people who can work remotely, then you have to be close enough to your workplace to commute every day. Especially if you don’t own a car (and if you do own a car, then that adds to your bills through loan payments, gas, maintenance, parking…).

      • Daniel says:

        I’m not saying for everyone, I’m just saying I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of a conversation about living cheaper lifestyles.

        This isn’t about those in poverty, but those who are above that, yet still feel like they are incredibly poor and angry.

        Bernie Sanders resonated with and gave hope to millions of Americans by speaking of political changes. I’m surprised that some sort of cultural leader/spokesperson hasn’t found a similar audience by offering non-political changes.

      • Julie K says:

        There may be cheaper neighborhoods within commuting distance, but with high crime and bad schools. [Moving into such neighborhoods is called “gentrifying.”]

      • “Living in cheaper areas isn’t an option for a lot of people, though.”

        There are a lot of people for whom it isn’t, a lot for whom it is. There are many jobs which exist pretty much everywhere–waiter/waitress, cook, checkout clerk, carpenter, plumber, police officer, cab driver, truck driver, …

    • Pku says:

      I’m a bit surprised by this too. It’s especially blatant to me since I moved from a country with significantly lower average income, and my current (grad student) salary seems ridiculously decadent to me.

      In particular, regarding living in cheaper areas: If average home size has increased over the last few decades, wouldn’t living in smaller homes/with roommates also help? (of course, that requires more small-home construction, but I haven’t seen much of a push for that.)

      • TPC says:

        The canonical smaller home these days is for show. There is one built by a farming family on the East Coast, but they lived out of their barn, which was fully kitted out (including with cable) and, well, not exactly tiny. I’m not sure they still have pictures of it up anymore, the father of the family got into a number of internet disputes about other matters and the entire farm website has epic link rot issues.

        Many tiny-houseers live in them as weekend homes. And lots of people do the small rustic cabin for holiday purposes. But nobody in America wants to live in a smaller space, it’s something that goes back a long way in American social history.

      • TPC says:

        Or to put it another way, I’d love to invite another family to live in our house, but it’s now very difficult to find people willing to share a home and in the past and quite often in the present day, it’s usually done with relatives.

        I agree with you that we could have the benefits of our technological advancements and labor saving devices but have more people living less expensively if people made slightly different choices in aggregate. But it’s very hard for people to give up having their own private car and/or household even when it’s financially bleeding them, which is not even that uncommon.

        • Julie K says:

          > I’d love to invite another family to live in our house

          You would? I think the lack of privacy would drive me crazy.

        • Julia says:

          In our mid-twenties, my husband and I moved in with another couple (we found them on our local cooperative housing email list) who were expecting a baby. We lived with them and their son for a year and learned a lot about parenting. It was a good experience, and we only parted ways because our apartment itself had problems and we couldn’t find another location that worked for all of us.

          Now we live with another couple and our children. It’s a four-bedroom apartment with four adults and two children. (We’re in the process of building two more bedrooms and will soon have an au pair join the household.) This is also working well for us. Because children make more mess and noise than most adults, I suggest that the children live there from the get-go rather than trying to add them to a household that’s already accustomed to being only for adults.

          We found the combo of parents and non-parents worked well in both cases; first as testing out whether we really wanted to have kids, and in our current situation because our housemates don’t plan to have children but do like having children around part of the time who aren’t their responsibility.

          We’ve saved a lot of money doing this.

          • TPC says:

            We live in a single family home in a very rural area. I only wish we could get a childless or childfree couple to live with us plus an au pair. But it turns out people don’t actually like country living in a rambling old farmhouse with a housewife, town-job handyman husband and more than one or two kids as a cohousing scenario.

            With the costs of an au pair and extra building on to the house, though, I’m not sure where savings come in financially. But presumably the social benefits have their own value.

      • Julie K says:

        I think many people consider living with roommates to be bearable when one is single, but out of the question for a married couple with children. And that there’s a significant demographic of single people who feel that they are currently just getting by, but they can’t afford to have a family.

    • TPC says:

      There are a lot of cost/benefit tradeoffs to the suggestions you’re making. No jobs and/or lack of safe areas in cheap places to live is just one case. For many people, living with airport noise, higher crime, road noise, and etc. are obvious reducers of life satisfaction.

      There is no free lunch. There is an entire (paid) industry (or several, depending on how you want to slice and dice it all up) revolving around One Weird Trick to Save Money But not Lose Living Standard or Life Satisfaction.

      Buying used clothing can be dicey, and you have to have the time and willingness to search for clothing that fits you and is suitable in style and durability. Fast fashion has made this more difficult, since the clothing is less durable.

      People are making the kinds of changes you’re talking about and running hard into infrastructure walls that make them ultimately more expensive or challenging to enact in the first place.

      • Daniel says:

        What I was trying to illustrate is a radical change in the mindset of consumption habits and expectations.

        With the current mindset of most people, there is minimal fat to trim on the margins. If a person embraced a wholly different mindset towards consumption (IE instead of watching my local professional sports teams, I will only watch the local amateur team. Or instead of paying $100 for concert tickets to X nationally touring artist, I will only see free concerts), they could become mentally much wealthier.

        • Amanda says:

          I think it depends on what real-life and internet-based social circles you run in. I’m aware of people who eat take-out on a weekly (or more) basis, buy the next phone when it comes out, get something new because the old one is broken, go to concerts and professional sporting events, and assume vacations happen on an annual basis.

          Few of the people I interact with on a daily basis are like that though. In my bubble, the things Dr Dealgood mentions below (buying in bulk, small wardrobes, handyman attitudes) are just the norm. It’s like the connection between “I want that” and “I should therefore buy it” just isn’t there. It’s more like, “Oh, look, another one of those shiny store things. Pretty.” It doesn’t feel like a hardship when it’s how everyone around you lives. It is, as you describe, a matter of “the mindset of consumption habits and expectations.” I can’t take credit for having them, and only a little for maintaining them.

          I think it becomes a political thing, because most (all?) people don’t want to have anyone tell them to do those things. Political economic solutions (at least appear to) skip over that.

          I don’t have any idea how you could adjust society-wide consumption expectations without bossing people.

          • “I think it becomes a political thing, because most (all?) people don’t want to have anyone tell them to do those things.”

            That’s one reason. Another is that actually living a simpler and less expensive life involves actual costs. Saying that other people should do something so that you can live the life you want to doesn’t. Blaming other people for your problems feels nicer than blaming yourself, although it’s usually less useful.

      • LTP says:

        Also, often not mentioned and also highly underrated, are the social costs of living a more frugal lifestyle in the way people suggest.

        (If) You could find employment in a less desirable cheaper area and move there, you’re probably going to have access to fewer in-person social opportunities than before, especially if it is more exurban or rural. This is because there are just fewer people in the “potential friend” and “potential romantic/sexual partner” pools, there’s less infrastructure and businesses present that facilitate social events and hobbies, and because the people in these areas are more likely to be poorer and so don’t have the time and/or money to run cool meet-ups or go to cultural events. Plus, you’re going to have to move away from all your friends and family in the more expensive place you lived in.

        You could give up your car, but then a lot of your potential social life is cut off from you if it is not within walking distance of a bus stop, and doesn’t end too late at night, and doesn’t require you to transfer buses twice just to get there. But, of course, cheaper areas often don’t have public transit or it is not nearly as good as in more expensive urban areas.

        You could give up your unlimited data plan, but then you are cut off from using many social media apps unless you happen to have access to free wifi wherever you are at the moment.

        You could never eat out, but eating out is a major part of many people’s social lives.

        You could cut back on video games, concerts, movies, etc., but again, for many people their social circle revolves around, or at least significantly relies on, these things. Sure, you can buy a previous generation game console and used games for it very cheaply on ebay, or buy a cheap PC with crappy specs rather than a nice gaming rig, but if all your gaming friends are playing the new FPS or MMO that doesn’t work on your systems, then your social life suffers.

        You could go to a cheap commuter college rather than a university, but (as I know from first-hand experience, having gone to both kinds of colleges) at the former making friends is a real challenge while at the latter I’ve made at least a couple of friends that could last me for decades.

        And so on.

        The social sacrifices of living frugally can be quite large.

    • There have been movements like this. Dave Ramsey is the speaker on these issues who comes immediately to mind, but there are others and you can probably find them pretty easily with a search. (The names escape me right now).

      Ramsey’s particular mantra is actually “get out of debt”, but the main means for getting out of debt is living beneath your means, using techniques very much like the ones you describe here.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I agree with you, which shouldn’t be surprising since I was arguing for frugality and saving before. But it’s not really surprising that people would prefer to frame it as a political issue.

      Actually living on a budget means doing things that are kind of a hard sell when you’re not used to them. Buying ingredients in bulk and cooking them is great for your wallet and waistline, owning a small modular wardrobe and taking care of the clothes can actually make you look better, and taking a handyman attitude improves your quality of life as well as saving you a lot of money in the long run. But all of those sound awful: the mental image you get is of a guy in ragged clothes eating gruel in a house covered in sloppily applied duct tape.

      If you take that attitude to it, that any cost-saving measure is a hardship, then being asked to endure constant hardship while other people live comfortably sounds extremely unfair.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I have this idea that’s vaguely dystopian but possibly practical where single people living in cities decide not to have their own home but treat housing as part of the sharing economy. I don’t mean couch-surfing or anything. Imagine that someone rents out a cheap bunk to sleep next to their work so they can avoid traffic. Their kitchen is a cafeteria in some other location shared with a number of other people. If they want a kitchen they rent one out. Their leisure time is spent at “home” in a microapartment that fits only a couch and a bathroom. They probably have an office room close to their work if they need it. And they can rent out a big room if they need the space. The appeal would be that an economically mobile techie wouldn’t be tied down to any one location and could move at a moments notice. Not only that but “housing” would be more customizable. Maybe you want to move up to a cozier location to sleep but are ok with your tiny microapartment for leisure. Instead of facing a trade-off, you could have both. And there could even be some kind of subscription model so that moving to a new city would be relatively painless.

      • Anonymous says:

        I recall a Google employee living out of a truck.

      • Matthias says:

        > Imagine that someone rents out a cheap bunk to sleep next to their work so they can avoid traffic.

        That’s illegal in places where it counts.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Right. The laws would have to change but I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assumption 20 years down the road.

          • Matthias says:

            If we could change the laws, we might as well make people able to build up. No need for living in trucks or five to a room.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      This kind of discussion is the bread and butter of the personal finance / financial independence / early retirement movement. There’s lots of blogs and subreddits and stuff you can read if you are interested. Personally, I’m a big fan of Jacob’s Early Retirement Extreme. I recommend his “How I live on $7,000 per year”, “How to retire in 5 years”, and this awesome reddit comment.

      • DavidS says:

        Another one is Mr Money Mustache. Although far less extreme than ERE, it’s not just ‘practical tips to save money’ but a lot of stuff on getting the right mindset, anti-consumerism etc.

      • Lumifer says:

        I am not sure I understand the early retirement movement. I mean I get the point about not having to work and thus being “independent”, but there is that issue of first being poor while working and then, once you retire, you continue to be poor for the rest of your life because you have to stretch your money over 50 years or so.

        It is a rather extreme case of trading money for time and while there are surely people for whom it makes sense, there can’t be too many of them.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Let me put it this way; we all know that there are a lot of college students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are poor in the sense that they don’t have a lot of possessions and have to sleep in the same room with one or two or three other guys, and yet are financially secure in the sense that they don’t have to worry about how to pay for rent or food or transportation until they graduate, whether because they have a scholarship, took out loans, or are going to university on their parent’s dime. And these same people seem to be pretty functional and fulfilled and happy with their lives for as long as this state of affairs lasts.

          Early retirement basically offers you the chance to go back to that lifestyle of genteel poverty, except that this time you never graduate. Even if you are not personally interested, can you see why a lot of people would be?

          • Lumifer says:

            You are arguing that early retirement is basically permanent care-free undergrad life?? It certainly doesn’t look like that to me.

            Being poor is very tolerable when you are in your early 20s, fit and healthy, not burdened a family (either kids or aging parents), have all your life in front of you, and can afford to make mistakes. That state does not last.

          • Vaniver says:

            Lumifer, my parents supported a family of 4 on approximately $50k a year, despite earning much more than that. It wasn’t ERE, but it was definitely ERE-adjacent / they made tradeoffs. But they were happy to make those tradeoffs, because they decided they didn’t want those other things that much.

            I think a potentially useful MMM article for crystallizing this debate is Great News! Dog Ownership is Optional!, in which he points out that dogs have costs that are actually non-trivial, and one can simply choose to not have a dog. There are lots of benefits to dog ownership, sure–but it’s not actually clear those benefits outweigh the costs.

            I think that sort of reasoning goes through for basically every hobby. Sure, it makes sense to have an expensive hobby or two, but the more cheap ones you can get, the better.

          • Lumifer says:


            because they decided they didn’t want those other things that much

            Sure. That’s perfectly normal. I’m not arguing that everyone should chase after the Joneses and aspire to what the latest ads tell you to aspire to.

            I understand those who have some goal to retire to. Some people retire early to buy a boat and sail it around the world. Some people retire early to write their great novel. Some might even retire to a cabin in the woods just to contemplate the local pond. But unless you know what you want to retire early for, the trade-off of that much money against that much time seems misguided to me.

            The thing is, your freedom (= abundance of choices) is a function of many things. It certainly is possible to have time as the main constraint because all your time is eaten by work (see the traditional image of junior investment bankers or Big Law associates). However it’s more common to have money as the main constraint — you would like to go spend a week in Tahiti, but it’s just not in your budget. All in all, you need both. This means you need to trade off time against money to achieve the balance that’s right for you at this time.

            And that balance varies. For example, I’ve met a guy in his 40s who is an oil rig worker. The way his life is arranged, he works for about a month a year (two shifts at an oil rig in the middle of the ocean), and the rest of the time he travels the third world (it’s cheap). He doesn’t have a family or a house, whatever stuff he has is stored at his mom’s. He looked happy.

            However this guy is hardly typical. A lot of people want early retirement just to avoid unpleasant work. Once you retire, it’s leisure all the time! You’re free! Even if you live in a trailer park (better $/sq.ft. basis :-/) and don’t have the money to go anywhere. For such people I doubt early retirement is a good options. It will make them worse people and they will have a worse life.

            Again, I’m not posting universal truths. People are different and different things make them happy. My point is that having enough money to scrounge through the rest of your life is not an unalloyed blessing and is not necessarily something to work your ass off for.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m pretty sure that many people would like to retire to a life of uncomplicated, cheap leisure (say, video games) if they could. Like living in your mom’s basement, except it’s your own basement, and nobody nags at you to get a job (because you don’t need a job).

        • Soumynona says:

          From all the talk about changing mindsets I suspect they don’t consider themselves poor.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I forgot to mention his “Frequently Asked Questions”, which is also pretty good.

    • Matthias says:

      Alas, macro-economically moving to cheaper areas is exactly the wrong way. It lowers productivity.

      Ignore areas with a high cost of living because they are hard to supply—like Hawaii or Alaska perhaps.

      The other areas come by their high cost of living because people are productive there earn more and thus bid up limited real estate. One option for the individual is to just move to cheaper places (or equally damaging, stay in the cheaper place and don’t move to the more expensive place). I say damaging, because these places are usually cheaper because of lower productivity bidding up real estate less.

      The obviously Right Thing to do is to allow more substitution of capital for land, ie make sure developers can build higher.

      American cities froze in the 1970s, when NIMBYism and development restrictions like restrictive zoning really started to bite. Before that time, costs of living difference where much less pronounced.

      Check out http://cityobservatory.org/ for some more indepth arguing along these lines.

      You might enjoy this paper about the genesis of NIMBYs.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        This is also why the passing from the world of Georgist Economics is the greatest tragedy to ever befall civilization. Because near as I can tell, old George was 100% right, and got propagandized out of political relevance by the rentier class.

        • Matthias says:

          He was definitely on the right track. We still see some traces of old Georgist policies in eg some American and Australian states.

          However, I don’t think I buy his account of recessions coming purely out of land speculation. The market monetarists seem to have a better explanation there.

          (Ideally we both finance government from land value taxes, and tell the central bank to target nominal GDP.)

  44. madman says:

    Tired of having discussions with friends about Islam and everyone wandering ever back to a few fallback positions (mostly learned from listening to NPR). Round and round things go.

    So I want to get a bit more scientific in my learning. I therefore came up with some potentially-falsifiable hypotheses. Would appreciate links or thoughts on evidence one way or the other for these hypotheses (I consider evidence to include large-scale survey data, quantitative social science, sentiment analysis, quantitative comparison of court rulings or sentencing, etc).

    Hypothesis 1: Muslims in a country are similarly likely (or only slightly more likely) than their fellow citizens to view homosexuality as immoral. (my prior comes from Pew Forum 2010 Sub-Saharan Africa surveys, n=25,000, 19 countries)

    Hypothesis 2: Within a country, Muslims are more likely than Christians to desire rule based on religious text (my prior comes from Pew 2010 above).

    Hypothesis 3: Across countries, Muslims are more likely than other major religions (Christian, Hindu) to favor application of violence for violation of social norms (examples include: physical punishment or death for adulterers, pre-marital sex, or for apostates and blasphemers). (my prior from Pew 2013 “The worlds muslims”).

    Hypothesis 4: Within and between countries, Muslims are more likely to rely on informal or familial assistance than on formal government services (i.e., policing, welfare, support of elders and infirm). (Prior based only on intuition. Evidence that controlled for development level across countries obviously required.)

    Hypothesis 5a: Across countries, muslims in minority-muslim countries are more conservative (prior: us vs. them effect). 5b: Across countries, muslims in more western countries are less conservative (prior: intuition about cultural bleed over).

    Hypothesis 6: The median global muslim is more conservative (via some quantifiable measure) than the median conservative voter in OECD countries. (Prior: intuition but little else)

    Hypothesis 7: Across countries, muslims score higher on indices of social conservatism than on economic indices of conservatism (i.e., classical economic liberalism). (prior: Pew surveys above, intuition).

    Any evidence one way or the other come to mind?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know how relevant “across countries” is – Muslims who immigrate are a non-random subset, and Muslims who immigrate to America even more so (there are shockingly different outcomes between European vs. American immigrants).

      • madman says:

        Yes, that could confound things. Am curious about core modes of thought that are common to the teachings.

    • Sir Gawain says:

      I think quite a few of these are literally true, but I suspect Islam qua Islam isn’t the problem so much as the fact that a lot of societies that happen to be Islamic are also relatively low to mid income, undereducated, tribalistic and lack a long history of effective states with monopolies on violence. Christian/pagan countries in Africa today have a lot of the same problems, and pre-modern Christian Europe likely had a lot of the same dynamics of the contemporary Muslim world.

      In my view, like a lot of debates about culture, a universal “modern/pre-modern” axis is a better guide to this than a “unique individual properties” taxonomy.

      • madman says:

        One reason to look at within-country, between-religion comparisons is that it can get at features while holding most “modern/pre-modern” variables reasonably constant. Example: The Pew Forum 2010 study surveyed both Christians and Muslims across 19 countries in sub-saharan africa. One interesting finding is that muslims are significantly more likely across all countries to support stoning of adulterers. Christians and Muslims both almost universily thought adultery (and homosexuality BTW) were immoral, but Christians were much less likely to support physical violence.

        • Sir Gawain says:

          That’s interesting, and it seems at least possible to me that at a given level of state history/economic development/education Muslims are more likely to have regressive views. But I also think it’s quite possible that there are confounding non-religious variables that explain some of the seemingly religious effect.

          My big picture point is that educated, wealthy, law-abiding Muslims would likely make better neighbors than uneducated, poor, violent Christians. I agree with what I take to be your implication that there are important differences in values and behaviors across societies, that these are under discussed and that some societies are meaningfully better than others; but I think these differences have relatively little to do with nominal religion.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Muslim countries aren’t all poor either. Saudi Arabia has a GDP per capita on par with western countries. And it’s not like a few wealthy individuals own all that wealth. The median income is also at a similar level relative to the west. Also, terrorists aren’t even disproportionately poor. It might even be the other way around but I’m not sure about that. And of course it doesn’t matter if they’re law abiding when Islamic law tells you to kill apostates. Beliefs matter and the currently fashionable insistence that it doesn’t is just bizarre.

      • Except that “modernism” is a name for a particular strand of Christianity that went nuclear and took over the world. “Modernism” is not a universal global end-state which all cultures aspire to, but is its own particularity.

        • Sir Gawain says:

          Mai La Dreapta says:
          June 20, 2016 at 12:55 am ~new~
          Except that “modernism” is a name for a particular strand of Christianity that went nuclear and took over the world. “Modernism” is not a universal global end-state which all cultures aspire to, but is its own particularity.

          Is there some distinctly Christian/European Christian aspect to modernity in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, South Korea and/or Taiwan?

          And I’d say once you consider that huge numbers of people want to move from pre-modern to modern states, but trivial numbers want to move from modern to pre-modern ones, it’s pretty clear which form of society people want to live in.

          • Sandy says:

            You could argue it for Japan and Hong Kong. Japan no longer worships the Emperor as the infallible God-King because the post-WWII occupation stressed on getting rid of Hirohito’s fanatics and replacing their environment with more Western values of government, religion and civil society. Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1997.

            Perhaps Singapore too, because of Lee Kuan Yew.

          • Sir Gawain says:

            Sandy says:
            June 20, 2016 at 1:16 am ~new~
            You could argue it for Japan and Hong Kong. Japan no longer worships the Emperor as the infallible God-King because the post-WWII occupation stressed on getting rid of Hirohito’s fanatics and replacing their environment with more Western values of government, religion and civil society. Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1997.

            Perhaps Singapore too, because of Lee Kuan Yew.

            I think in the cases you describe Anglo-American liberalism is more important than Christianity, and it seems really strained to me to argue that Enlightenment liberalism is actually best understood an outgrowth of Christianity.

            And then you still have to consider that Japan largely modernized pre-WW2, mainland China was never quite colonized, Korea and Taiwan were Japanese colonies, etc.

          • Sandy says:

            I think in the cases you describe Anglo-American liberalism is more important than Christianity, and it seems really strained to me to argue that Enlightenment liberalism is actually best understood an outgrowth of Christianity.

            Depending on whom you ask, Enlightenment liberalism is ultimately an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation.

          • Ah, but now you’re doing a bait-and-switch with the meaning of “modernity”. (To be fair, my own comment was also not completely clear.)

            Your original post was concerned mostly with moral attitudes regarding homosexuality and state violence, which you conflated with “modernity”, but in the East Asian economies I believe that this falls through. The attitudes in eg. China towards violent punishment for criminals are much higher than those in the states (and remember Singapore’s famous use of caning as punishment for certain categories of crimes). And where attitudes are more “modern”, as with the attitudes in Japan towards homosexuality, I believe that these attitudes existed long before modernity came through.

            These countries are economically modern, however, but this does not reshape their moral attitudes as much as you might think. (Though of course it does impact some things.)

          • it seems really strained to me to argue that Enlightenment liberalism is actually best understood an outgrowth of Christianity.

            Er, but that’s exactly what Enlightenment liberalism is. It’s (part of) the moral framework of Protestant Christianity, turned against the cosmology and the ritual content.

          • Yakimi says:

            Is there an East Asian country that didn’t escape the influence of Christianity? Some of the Meiji Reformers converted to Christianity, or were so admiring of it that they wanted the Emperor to convert to Christianity. Over ten percent of Japan’s Prime Ministers have been Christians despite being one percent of the population. Socialism was spread to China by American missionaries. Sun Yat-sen was a Christian. Kim Il-sung was the son of a Protestant missionary family. The first leaders of South Korea (I Sygman) and Taiwan (Jiang Jieshi) were Christians.

          • madman says:

            This is very interesting, but is leading back around to debates about admittedly nebulous topics (“modernity”).

            To politely and gently push back to my original post: does anyone know of reliable data on more specific beliefs? I (perhaps naively) feel that getting data on more specific beliefs is a better way forward than trying to call Islam more or less modern.

            To give more motivation (in case it wasn’t obvious): Trump is claiming that more muslims in the US would be a bad thing. I want to see data.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Er, but that’s exactly what Enlightenment liberalism is. It’s (part of) the moral framework of Protestant Christianity, turned against the cosmology and the ritual content.

            Isn’t it wars of religion and protestant beliefs lead to idea of individual consciousness and freedom of belief with the emphasis on reason and democracy coming from French and British traditions respectively?

          • Matthias says:

            Singapore might be full of overseas Chinese people, but it’s also very much a part of the former British Empire.

            (As an aside, evangelical Christianity seems prevalent in the Singaporean public sector, especially higher up.)

          • Jiro says:

            My explanation for East Asian companies violently punishing criminals is that it has nothing to do with modernism at all, it has to do with the fact that it is difficult for a political movement to spread when the countries are on the other side of the world from you and speak languages you never had a reason to use before. People pretend that the European way of punishing criminals is part of modernism, but it’s just the result of pressure groups that managed to get their way by spreading to nearby places but couldn’t cross the barrier to Asia.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            (You have three comments on this page where you quoted the ∾new∾ banner. This frustrates people who search for new posts by searching for that string. Is there something in your posting workflow you could change to reduce this?)

      • Jaskologist says:

        But Islamic societies don’t “happen to be” tribalistic, low income, etc. Those cultures have been shaped by Islam for centuries, and the shape they are in now is heavily a result of that.

        I guess you could be shooting for a more HBD explanation, but I’d bet that if we carved up a map by religion, we’d find more explanatory power and interesting correlations than if we did it by population group.

        • Sweeneyrod says:

          But historically Islamic societies weren’t all tribalistic, low income etc. (the caliphate in the Golden Age was pretty nice). I don’t think you can argue that shaping by Islam for centuries is the cause of the poor state of most Muslim majority countries, if that shaping involved them being prosperous.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            The Caliphate had low levels of wealth for most of the population. Remember, civilizations are built on agricultural productivity; the fact the Caliphate had an efficient tax system or lots of trade goods has little effect on the vast majority of the people.

            And Jask is using low income in an absolute sense; the fact Europe started industrializing and had growing wealth for the last 2 centuries changed it in ways that the Islamic world didn’t experience. This gets into arguments about inherent characteristics versus colonialism, but ignoring that we can agree societies with factories culturally diverge from those who didn’t build them.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Samuel Skinner isn’t wrong, though his comment holds true for most civilisations at any point in time.

            Aside from that, the Caliphate in its glory days was still very much a tribalistic society. Not a hotbed of civil ware and slaughter, true, but also very tribalistic.

    • I think a good deal of what you are reacting to is not Islam vs Christianity but 21st century Islam vs 21st century Christianity, reflecting the fact that Christians take their religion less seriously than they used to, a change that has not yet happened for Muslims, at least at a mass level.

      Hypothesis 1: In theory, homosexuality is banned by Muslim law. Historically, it’s often been widely tolerated.

      Hypothesis 2: The divine right of kings was a popular doctrine in Christian Europe from at least the 17th century on. In a majority Muslim country, I would expect Muslims to be happier with laws based on religion than non-Muslims, since Islam is likely to be the religion they are based on. Traditional Jewish law, in Jewish communities within Christian and Muslim polities, was based largely on religion.

      Hypothesis 3: I think this is a difference in time, not in religion. There was lots of corporal punishment in European law enforcement through at least the early 19th century, and in Chinese law enforcement through the end of that century. Sodomy was a capital offense in England at least into the 19th century, I think into the 20th.

      Hypothesis 4: Here again, I think you are looking mostly at a difference between traditional and modern societies, not Muslim vs other. One thing that might be relevant, however, is that the Koranic taxes, required of all Muslims, don’t have to be paid to the state. In Islamic law (although not necessarily in the practice of modern Muslim states) you can pay it to the state to spend on the designated categories of recipients, you can donate it to the designated categories yourself, you can give it to a private middleman who spends it on the designated categories (and gets a percentage of it for his work). In Shia Iran, as I understand the system, you pay the Koranic tax to the top level religious authority whose rulings you follow (there being several such you get to choose among) and he then parcels it out to recipients of his choice.

      As may be obvious, my context is traditional Islamic society not modern Islamic society, if which I don’t know a lot.

  45. Jiro says:

    First this thread on why banning encryption won’t prevent terrorism, since sufficiently smart terrorists could use steganography – especially Izaak’s demonstration of such.

    Nobody actually believes that banning encryption would prevent terrorism anyway. It’s just a government excuse because they may convince a few non-experts and it sounds better than just saying they want to spy on everyone.

  46. onyomi says:

    As someone noted in a recent OT, the trend of nasty anon sniping continues. It is somewhat better since the mass anon e-mail was banned. I generally report it when I see it, though Scott seems not to do much about it. I would encourage others to report it too when they see it and maybe Scott will take notice.

    I just hope it is always-anons who are jerks, as opposed to regular posters who go undercover to express their disdain for the people toward whom they are outwardly polite. If the latter, I hope their whole IP gets banned.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I usually only check reports once a month or so, so I may do more once I see it. I actually IP ban a lot of anons, but they just keep coming.

      • onyomi says:

        That is actually strangely reassuring, if bothersome for you. I would rather think that most of the one-off snipes are just passersby taking potshots, as opposed to regular posters being secret assholes.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          In your honor, I just ran through the backlog and banned three named commenters plus about twenty anonymice (some of them might have been the same)

          • suntzuanime says:

            You’re banning the people who get fed up with the tedious posters and not the tedious posters. This is deadly to an online community.

          • Ted says:

            suntzuanime: What’s the alternative? Ban people for no particular reason except you find their posts uninteresting? I don’t think any of the named bans were all that unjustified; I’d hope it’s possible to manage both “fed up with tedious posters” and also “does not actively insult other party in discussion”.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I strongly prefer a light moderation touch that relies on social enforcement by the community over official moderation action in all but the most egregiously disruptive cases. If you are going to engage in heavy moderation, the burden falls on you to make sure you’re not anarchotyrannically banning the people in the community who are trying to enforce good social norms while letting the norm-violators walk free. It can be hard to do that while being “fair” and not banning people for, as you say, “no particular reason except you find their posts uninteresting”.

            In theory, a Reign of Terror could handle this problem, but I don’t think Scott has the energy to devote to doing a proper job of arbitrary authoritarian modding of the community. What I think happens is, a post will get reported, and then the post will be viewed along with the immediate context when Scott views the report, but Scott doesn’t have the time to consider the larger context of the community so that he can prune the community into exactly the topiary sculpture he desires. So working largely locally, he will say “wow, rude, banned indefinitely” without considering reasons that could justify the rudeness, and larger patterns of harmful behavior that are not as instantaneously striking will go unchecked.

          • suntzuanime says:

            So I guess this is the topiary after all. Well, your will not mine be done.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I do put in an effort not to ban people who get angry because they were provoked, but I may have a different definition of “provoked” than you.

            I also have some different incentives – I am pretty sure that any community that is more than 20% alt-right quickly becomes 100% alt-right through a neighborhood-segregation-style effect, so I am trying to push against that by getting rid of the people who sound most stereotypically and aggressively alt-right above a certain point. I still value those views, but they have to be pretty good about not sounding a certain way that scares everyone else off.

            I also really don’t want to end up in the news as “before the massacre, the shooter was known to comment on a blog called Slate Star Codex”, which has been a factor once or twice.

            I’m not going to ban anyone who doesn’t deserve it, but this determines which of the people who deserve it I’m closest to snap on.

            I’m wary of banning people for being boring because I don’t want to seem arbitrary and get people angry or afraid.

          • onyomi says:

            To clarify, were the three named posters you banned also guilty of anonymous sniping from the same IPs, or were they banned purely for their named comments?

          • Anonymous says:


            Why the obsession with named accounts switching to anonymous ones to snipe, you silly bad person?

          • Anonymous says:

            I strongly prefer a light moderation touch that relies on social enforcement by the community over official moderation action in all but the most egregiously disruptive cases.

            The alt-right has spent the last decade consciously seeking to immunize themselves from social pressure online. When edginess is a virtue, social pressure is useless.

          • onyomi says:

            Also, I feel like part of the point of posting snarky things anonymously, besides trying to skirt a ban, is precisely the avoidance of social pressure. If named commenter x keeps saying mean things and everyone calls him out on it, he may be encouraged to be nicer or stop posting.

            But how can social pressure be applied to throwaway identities, other than by discouraging their use for snark more generally (which is part of what I was trying to do here)? Of course, they know who they are, but I think people are also good at compartmentalizing: “I’ll vent using this throwaway identity and my ‘real’ identity won’t be tarnished.”

            And that’s why I was concerned about the possible issue of named users going undercover, though I still have no idea how often it happens. If it were happening, I would see it as a kind of abuse of the commons (arguably good reasons for posting anonymously, like not wanting an online persona at all or politely expressing a controversial viewpoint) and circumvention of the light social pressure which, ideally, would uphold community standards.

          • Anonymous says:

            I agree with the anime general. When someone’s being tedious, you obviously shouldn’t ban them, which is why it’s useful to have someone rude enough to point out their tediousness. In the current policy anyone performing this role is committing a bannable offense.

            That isn’t to say there should be snark under every post or that poor posts should be piled on mercilessly, but not every openly rude post is a bad thing.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I thought we had to be two out of {polite, true, necessary}. If someone is being tendentious, saying so meets numbers 2 and 3.

          • onyomi says:

            “That isn’t to say there should be snark under every post or that poor posts should be piled on mercilessly, but not every openly rude post is a bad thing.”

            Though I’m not perfect myself on this count, I can’t see why we wouldn’t want to aspire to 0 rude posts (which is not to say it would be worth banning everyone to achieve that, but fewer rude posts seems almost always better, all else equal). It often hurts discussion and almost never helps. Which is not to say we should have to walk on eggshells or have no sense of humor, but I think we can all tell the difference between friendly ribbing and mean personal attacks.

            The only time the latter might ever be justified is in response to an openly rude post, but even then, fighting fire with fire is probably not as effective as just ignoring and, if bad enough, reporting.

            As for the idea that we might sometimes have someone spouting so much rubbish that someone would need to put them in their place, I’m not convinced that’s a good idea, either.

            If you actually hope to convince the person, being rude is almost certainly the wrong way to go about it. If you’re concerned others might agree if you don’t point out in the flaws in the argument, then it’s always possible to point out flaws in arguments without getting personal.

            The best response to a really dumb post is to ignore it; any sort of response only increases the probability of derailment. And if the idea is to get the person to stop posting altogether, then ignoring, again, is probably the best strategy. Some people enjoy drama. Nobody enjoys having all their posts ignored.

            The problem with “polite, true, necessary; pick two” is that we are all fallible in our judgment of what is true and what is necessary. As for the rare case when someone comes on to say something unambiguously loathsome, there are ways to point out the opinion is not welcome without being rude, and reporting the comment is one of them.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not sure where to find it now, and as much as we all hate being told “read the sequences,” I definitely recall reading some posts on LW which were dumb enough as to prompt Eliezer to say, in effect, “you lack the background knowledge to express an informed opinion on this topic. I suggest you look into x, y, and z.” I think that was a pretty good model for how to tell someone, in effect, that their posts are bad, without being rude.

          • Zorgon says:

            Problem is, that drags us right back to the 101-Spaces problem all over again. And I don’t remember how that ended up, but I’m pretty sure we never came to a decent conclusion.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            On the rudeness question, I think it’s important to take into account familiarity.

            In a recent thread I said that, theoretically, I would kick FacelessCraven’s fucking ass if [a certain slight was offered]. (I’m sure he would actually best me in any physical contest, but that’s beside the point.)

            Now, he and I have gone back and forth enough that I understood how he would take that (or I certainly hope I understood). Sometime rudeness is a shortcut to communication. Or sometimes it’s a useful signal that communication isn’t occurring. It can be the kind of vent that allows greater communication down the road.

            I think there has to be enough flexibility in the overall norms to allow this type of thing while distinguishing it from the kind of rudeness that isn’t intended to do anything but provoke, and also the kind of rudeness that comes from uncontrolled and corrosive anger.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, part of the reason I pick on anonymice is because of the lack of interpersonal context. If you’ve had many interactions with a poster you may develop enough familiarity with them to know what is or isn’t crossing the line, and they will also be less likely to mistake a strong rebuttal or joke for an intentional sleight.

            Which is not to excuse regular posters being mean, but I think the courtesy bar actually has to be a little higher for those poking their heads out of the ether to leave a comment and again disappear, because there’s no context to draw upon.

          • onyomi says:

            “Problem is, that drags us right back to the 101-Spaces problem all over again. And I don’t remember how that ended up, but I’m pretty sure we never came to a decent conclusion.”

            Well I certainly don’t like the idea that people asking basic questions or making elementary errors must be repelled by insults. No one is obligated to teach them anything, and I think it’s totally fine to say “read this first,” “lurk moar,” or just ignore, but relative willingness to engage people not already in-the-know is probably what makes SSC feel less insular than LW.

          • Anonymous says:

            I thought we had to be two out of {polite, true, necessary}. If someone is being tendentious, saying so meets numbers 2 and 3.

            The issue with true and necessary is that they don’t have to be applied charitably. No comment under a blog post is truly necessary, so if you’re being an asshole your comment is probably unnecessary unless you’re pointing out a blatant lie. To a much lesser extent it applies to “true” as well; does it require your post be plausible, or should it convince everyone who reads it, or? The two combined seem to mostly allow for rudeness if someone is blatantly lying and you’ve caught them in the act and you can prove it beyond doubt..

            You’re making perfect the enemy of the good here. I’ve never seen someone post “dude, politely, I couldn’t read your entire post because it’s boring”. For whatever reason it seems you can only choose between “people who rudely tell tedious people they’re tedious” and “people who don’t tell tedious people they’re tedious”.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            You’re making perfect the enemy of the good here. I’ve never seen someone post “dude, politely, I couldn’t read your entire post because it’s boring”. For whatever reason it seems you can only choose between “people who rudely tell tedious people they’re tedious” and “people who don’t tell tedious people they’re tedious”.

            I don’t think that’s necessarily true. For example, HeelBearCub is usually harsh with the typical “Boo blues” contentless comment, without being nearly as rude as the common anon reply.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To be fair, I probably started out harsher. I’d have to go find and read what I have posted earlier, to be sure. But I feel sure that my approach has changed in response to this communities norms.

            The best “policeman” for this kind of stuff is self-discipline. The adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” probably applies here. That’s one reason I bang on about norms of discourse and the fact that they should be guarded zealously. I also have asked that the norms be applied equally, but I also recognize that my view of this will always be subject to a certain amount of bias.

            Onyomi has a good point about ever changing anon’s vis-a-vis my point about familiarity. I’ll take it a step further and say that when posting without attempting to establish an identity, it seems to me that you make it less likely that you will absorb the community norms, which seems harmful to me in the end.

            Certainly that sword has two edges, though.

          • Julie K says:

            This comment and others nearby are fairly polite. (Whatever happened to Jill? Did we scare her away?)

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Word has it that suntzuanime had her assassinated.

          • Watercressed says:

            The problem with {polite, true, necessary} is that afaik no one is banned for saying things that are polite, but neither true nor necessary.

          • Anonymous says:

            The problem with {polite, true, necessary} is that afaik no one is banned for saying things that are polite, but neither true nor necessary.

            Scott converted from Buddhism to Puritanism. That policy is no longer even in effect.

      • Andrew G. says:

        Why anyone thinks that IP banning does anything useful escapes me.

        People don’t “have” IPs. They use IPs. And in many cases, they’re unlikely to use the same IP from day to day.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I mean, it helps. If you’re not a hardened troll, it’s a hassle to figure out how to evade. And if you’re not a totally malicious troll, it’s a “hey, for real, fuck off” sign that could give you pause.

          • Andrew G. says:

            Some of the commenters on my blog literally would not notice if I banned their IPs, since they essentially never comment from the same IP twice.

          • onyomi says:

            Part of the difficulty may be that the short sideswipe is precisely the kind of comment which is easy to write on a cell phone.

            But as others have said, an IP ban is definitely a strong message and, for some, a hassle to get around. Not perfect, but I’m not sure what else one can do without requiring registration for all posts.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            My view, probably obviously, is that the short sideswipe is the bane of good discussion, whether it stands alone or is embedded in a longer comment.

            Ultimately that is a community norm though. If the sideswipe pushes people in the direction of not supporting the arguments of the person who made the sideswipe, you get better conversation. Otherwise things devolve to snipe fests.

            And yeah, I see the most likely path for SSC continuing to grow and maintaining its commmenting tenor is actual registered users, perhaps even with limited open registration periods so that a banned user can’t just immediately re-register.

            I don’t actually expect Scott will do that though. I think he seems to object to it on principle.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not sure why you seem to value length for its own sake. If there is a six paragraph comment but it doesn’t engage all with the thread it is posted in or any other posters, rather is yet another spittle inflected screed about the evils of the hated outgroup, to me that looks worse than the dismissive sideswap posted in response. (I may be biased though.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure why you seem to value length for its own sake.

            whether it stands alone or is embedded in a longer comment.

            I said the opposite of what you seem to think I said. Or, at least, orthogonal to what you said.

            A long post composed entirely of invective, which might be categorized as 60 car pileup rather than a single side-swipe is certainly worse than the single side-swipe comment. I’m not denying that, if that is what you are thinking.

            But it does take more energy to produce, is actually easier to ignore on the margin and doesn’t quite inspire the race to the bottom that we see at, say, reddit or twitter. “Long form” invective posts don’t seem to result in the “snipe-counter snipe” wars that seem to comprise the bulk of the posts on many forums.

            Of course, it’s possible that long form invective just naturally devolves to short form, so that any long form “cause” becomes obscured after some point in time.

            In any case, I am broadly against invective when attempting to engage those who are in disagreement, long form or short form.

        • Nornagest says:

          Static IPs are a lot more common now than they were in the days of dial-up, but yes, an IP ban is an incomplete solution at best.

          There’s really no good way to ban people, but an expiring IP ban combined with a non-expiring username ban is probably the least bad outside a closed ecosystem. In a context like this one you might be able to rig something up using cookies that’d persist through sessions, but that would only work until someone thinks to clear them, and I doubt there’s an easily available plugin for it.

          • Andrew G. says:

            I’m not sure static IPs really are more common: consider mobile devices.

            My own blog has a relatively small population of regular commenters, but in a 3-month sample of data, more than 50% of the posts come from commenters who have used 9 or more different IPs in that time, with the highest being 37 different IPs.

          • John Schilling says:

            Browser fingerprinting would probably work fairly well for this purpose. Almost all web browsers will tell the client server everything about their configuration to “enhance the user-side web experience” or whatnot, and while the IP may change, the bit where you are running Firefox version on a 1024-by-768 pixel display with the time zone set for UTC-7 DD-MM-YY HHMM and the font preference being small sans serif, etc, etc, etc, generally doesn’t and will suffice for reliable user identification in the short term.

            It would be a pain to set up, but painful once, and it would be a recurring pain to spoof for each user. We’re probably a good ways from needing such a thing here, but it may be worth keeping in mind for the future.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            John, as Andrew says, the most common source of variable IPs is cell phones. But those are exactly the devices unlikely to have interesting fingerprints. At least iphones don’t.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Scott – Speaking of bans, would you mind adding the year to the dates given in the banlog? Sure, it’s pretty easy to click or hover over the “reasons” link, but listing years would let us glance over for trends.

      • Teal says:

        Can’t say I love the new deletion policy. I went to go look at one of last weeks open threads and I had a weird anti-deja vu feeling because parts of conversations I had read are gone.

        The old rule seemed pretty good to me:

        If I need to react to a comment, I will delete it only if it is dangerous to leave it up (ie comment contains people’s personal information, comment contains strong basilisk, comment is so offensive that Internet mob would use my leaving it up as an excuse to attack me). Otherwise, I will leave it up but post in large red letters below it “COMMENT VIOLATED POLICY FOR [REASON]. POSTER BANNED FOR [TIME]”, for approximately the same reason all those people in Game of Thrones leave bloody heads on spikes in front of their castles.

  47. onyomi says:

    I’m interested in continuing this thread in which I began to discuss with HBC, NN, and others what seems like the disconnect between terrorists as popularly imagined and terrorists in reality.

    There are different motivations for terrorism and rampage killings–political, religious, personal, but do Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, and Elliot Rodger have more in common than we may think? Omar Mateen seems to be a strange cross-pollination between Osama and Elliot, but would he find he had a similar psychological profile to, for example, the Unabomber? Are Islam, the environment, government tyranny, and inability to get laid all just excuses for the same “go on a rampage” impulse (though clearly that’s not 100% true, since certain circumstances, such as perception of foreign occupation seem to greatly increase the probability of suicide attacks in particular, nor do I think we can axiomatically say all terrorists are mentally disturbed).

    More to the point, it feels like most of the stereotypes and narratives are wrong: the stereotype of an Islamic terrorist is poor true believer hoping to get into Heaven by sacrificing for his faith. But many of the most prominent terrorists are rich or at least reasonably well-off, have ties to the West, and, as NN points out, prove to have lived rather libertineish lifestyles. And there’s also the fact that it wasn’t the radical Afghani immigrant, but his American-born son on Grindr who committed the rampage.

    What are similarities/differences between these acts of terror/rampage killing and how do we explain them? Do we need to greatly rethink the profile of a terrorist?

    • The Nybbler says:

      The part of the stereotype which DOES hold is “Islamic”. There’s a website which tries to prove otherwise by claiming that “right wing” terrorists (in the US) kill as many as “Islamic” terrorists. One might quibble with some of their examples, but Muslims make up about 1% of the United States. Right wingers, presumably a lot more. That suggests that terrorism is far more prevalent among Muslims.

      The New York Times reported a similar result, this time with _all_ extremists versus Muslim extremists in the US. They got twice as many deaths from non-Muslims. Which, given how rare Muslims are in the US, is extraordinary.


      • NN says:

        I’m not so sure that measuring by death toll is a good way to do it, because often death toll is determined more by luck than by anything else. For example, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold might have killed as many as 500 people if they hadn’t sucked at bomb-making. On the right-wing terrorist side of things, there was a plot last year by several Right-Wing militia types to attack Islamberg, a rural hamlet of mostly African American Muslims in New York State, that was thankfully foiled by the FBI. But of course, there have also been any number of plots by Muslim terrorists that failed to kill anyone due to incompetence and/or the intervention of law enforcement.

        Also, those counts leave out supposedly non-ideological rampage killings such as Sandy Hook, the Aurora theater shooting, etc. But the whole point of this discussion is questioning whether those are really different from ideological terrorist attacks in the first place.

        Regardless, even if Muslims are more likely than non-Muslims to do this, that still leaves the question of why this is the case. The fact that support for terrorism is not positively correlated with religiosity is evidence against the idea that some specific religious doctrine is at fault. Omar Mateen simultaneously pledged allegiance to ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah despite all three groups being enemies of each other, so it’s hard to argue that he was motivated by a deep understanding of ISIS ideology. One possibility is that the additional notoriety gained from pledging your killing spree to an infamous terrorist organization provides an additional incentive for Herostratus types.

        Also, I’ve brought this up before, but the over-representation of converts among Muslim terrorists (2/3 of American Muslim terrorists compared to 20% of American Muslims, 31% of British Muslim terrorists compared to 1-2% of British Muslims) can’t help but make one wonder if a significant portion of Muslim terrorists weren’t Muslim before they became terrorists.

        • Gbdub says:

          I do think it’s an important fact that there are radical and violent sects of Islam that are apparently pretty good at attracting converts (but are you counting Mateen as a “convert”? His dad isn’t exactly a warm fuzzy Muslim, and Mateen was Muslim before he was a radical, if not a particularly devout one).

          I’m not sure what to do about this fact though. I do think there are a group of individuals, often first generation kids of immigrants, who are looking to reconnect with their Muslim heritage and end up in the radical parts. I don’t know that there is a solution for this outside the Muslim community, but were resistant (for both good and bad reasons) to talk about this frankly.

        • Julie K says:

          ISIS’ best recruiting tool seems to be its videos with the message, “If you want to kill people in gruesome ways, we’re the group for you!”

          • Gbdub says:

            It does. And the fact that inspiring lone wolf or small group attacks is apparently part of their strategy would seem to make this different in an important way from your Unabomber type, who is truly “self-motivated”.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Oh, yes, aren’t these the geniuses who start their tally of terrorism-related casualties in the United States on September 12th, 2001? What an odd date to choose at random. I simply can’t imagine why they did that.

        • onyomi says:

          Looking at statistics from further back, it’s true that that’s the point when Islamic terrorism really outstrips all the others. But it’s also true that the number of suicide attacks committed by Muslims in the past 15 years, it also vastly outstrips the number committed by other groups, like the Tamil Tigers (mostly Buddhists, btw!), who racked up the biggest numbers, I think, in the 90s.

          So it IS true that Islamic terrorism is both the most prevalent form of terrorism now and also the most severe in recent memory; it may not be so true, however, that this is some longstanding feature of Arab culture. Rather, it may be a pretty modern phenomenon, as we in the US tend to view Columbine-type killers.

          • NN says:

            But it’s also true that the number of suicide attacks committed by Muslims in the past 15 years, it also vastly outstrips the number committed by other groups, like the Tamil Tigers (mostly Buddhists, btw!), who racked up the biggest numbers, I think, in the 90s.

            So it IS true that Islamic terrorism is both the most prevalent form of terrorism now and also the most severe in recent memory; it may not be so true, however, that this is some longstanding feature of Arab culture. Rather, it may be a pretty modern phenomenon, as we in the US tend to view Columbine-type killers.

            Actually, the Tamil Tigers were mostly Hindus (Tamils in Sri Lanka are about 80% Hindu and 20% Catholic). There were, however, thousands of Buddhist suicide bombers during World War 2.

            Also of note: while suicide bombing is most common among Muslim militant groups now, as far as I can tell there were no suicide bombings during either the Algerian War of Independence or the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. That indicates that, as you said, this isn’t some longstanding feature of Arab/Muslim culture. I have a more complex theory that I might post later on when I have more time.

          • Jiro says:

            I would expect no suicide bombings when the target is ruthless enough to not care about civilians in order to stop the attacks, and when they have control over the media so that measures against suicide bombers can’t be spun as affecting civilians in the media.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      In that thread I had three buckets I was trying to use to loosely sort the various terrorists. Let me try and describe them rather than merely give examples (although I am not particularly wedded to them. This is more musing out loud):
      1 – Engaged in asymmetric war on their (roughly) home turf with a (plausibly) foreign force. The IRA, Hamas, etc.

      2 – attempting to engage in asymmetric warfare in an organized manner, but motivated far more by ideology than an attempt to change “facts on the ground”. A certain messianic component that views an attack as the first domino in a chain of events, but organized and perhaps cooperative with others. Timothy McVeigh, Al Qeada, and Eric Rudolph might all fit here.

      3 – Lone wolves driven by ideological reasons that may only be clear to them. Misanthropic and manifesto writing. They also may have messianic delusions, but there ideology is far less connected to either the real world or their ultimate desire to inflict pain and damage to satisfy their own personal need. Columbine, Brevik, Robert Dear, etc.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Something to note is that many of the suicide bombers employed by Hamas or terrorists in Iraq’s sectarian conflicts may be motivated primarily by money (for their family). I think some of those are true believers in the sense that onyomi talks about, but that is more like an anasthetic that allows them to actually commit the act. My understanding is that they are much more like soldiers in a war than category 2 and 3.

      • onyomi says:

        Wikipedia’s page on attacker profiels and motivations is pretty helpful (probably should have consulted that in the first place).

        Two things stand out to me as relates to this discussion: attackers tend to be educated and middle class, but otherwise, “[individual terrorists] are not sufficiently different from everyone else [to accurately profile]. Insights into homegrown jihadi attacks will have to come from understanding group dynamics, not individual psychology. Small-group dynamics can trump individual personality to produce horrific behavior in otherwise ordinary people.” (argues Scott Atran)

        This latter point seems roughly correct, but also seems to suggest a difference between “terrorists” and “lone wolf” rampage killers. Unless, of course, the “lone wolves” are actually responding to a small group dynamic we can’t easily see.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I have a bucket for “literally insane” in the “barely able to form coherent sentences” sense. Adam Lanza would fit there. Your third bucket comes close, but I think I actually wouldn’t count most the examples you give there in mine.

    • Sandy says:

      It seems like a bizarre comparison to me. McVeigh, bin Laden and Kaczynski had elaborate reasons rooted in political ideology and history for their terrorism. For McVeigh it was Waco and paranoia that the government was coming for us all, for bin Laden it goes all the way back to when he was banished from Saudi Arabia for railing against the House of Saud as corrupt traitors who sold out Islam to the West, and Kaczynski was an extreme Luddite convinced that leftism and advancing technological transformation were tearing human society apart. It should be noted that Kaczynski was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and a lot of people still believe that MKUltra turned him insane.

      Elliot Rodger was a hormonal misogynist filled with teenage angst and self-hatred over his biracial identity, mad that he couldn’t get any while a black guy was fucking his sister.

      • TD says:

        Kaczynski was an extreme Luddite convinced that leftism and advancing technological transformation were tearing human society apart.

        Does this make Kaczynski the opposite of Nick Land who is convinced that leftism is slowing down the technological transformation needed to tear humanity apart?

      • Matt M says:

        “self-hatred over his biracial identity”

        Wait what? I read the dude’s entire manifesto and don’t remember this being mentioned, like, at all…

        • Ted says:

          […] On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with. I envied the cool kids, and I wanted to be one of them.

          It came up a little more in his forum posts. Media made a bigger deal out of this than was I think warranted.

        • TD says:

          There was also a lot of analysis in the media over what societal factors caused Elliot to behave as he did, but it’s pretty clear from reading his Manifesto that he had intrinsic mental problems from the start. Even his stories of early childhood reveal his narcissistic and sociopathic view of others.

          It’s not that Elliot was facing problems that others don’t face, it’s that he was reacting in different and worse ways to fairly ordinary problems and then compounding them. He was a product of his own genetic inferiority, in my honest opinion.

    • hlynkacg says:

      This is an older article but I think it’s the closest that any one has come to actually identifying the actual mechanism.

      In many ways it reminds me of Scott’s Toxoplasma of Rage in that it accurately identifies an entire class of behaviors that I had previously encountered (both here and in the middle east) but had been at a loss to describe and make them “click”.

      9-11 as Symbolic Drama -Lee Harris. September 2002

      • onyomi says:

        Wow, that’s a great article, and makes sense of the point that the most vigorous proponents of fantasy ideologies tend to be middle class and educated. Also seems to support the notion that Osama bin Laden DID have more in common with the Unabomber than the IRA (which has clearly defined political goals).

        Makes me wonder if we should even rethink the label “terrorism.” Not that we are likely to do so, but “terrorism” actually seems more applicable to the IRA case or Tamil Tigers, where basically the message is “we will terrorize you and make you feel unsafe until you meet our political demands.” As the author notes, if this were al Qaeda’s goal, they would have followed up on 9-11, even on a small scale, by any means possible, in order to maintain pressure until political concessions could be achieved.

        But if the US is just a prop in a fantasy of renewed Islamic glory or something, then our terror is really just a side effect of being used as such a prop, and not the goal (many have convincingly argued that crippling the nation economically as a result of our predictable overreaction and overextension was the the real goal, but that, again, I think, gives bin Laden too much credit for having realistic political goals).

    • Sweeneyrod says:

      It’s worth reading the Europol TE-SAT for an insight into European terrorism. There has been a very recent (2014 or 2015 IIRC) change from the majority of arrested terror suspects being nationalist separatists to being religiously motivated (i.e. Islamist).

    • Jaskologist says:

      One semi-related note on a quick rule-of-thumb that I’ve found works well.

      When initial news reports come in about an ongoing attack, I withhold judgement about the motivations. No data yet. But once they reveal that there are multiple attackers, I know that it was carried out by Muslims. I’ve said before that religion is good at overcoming coordination problems, and this is one that Islam is good at.

      Lone wolf attacks tend to split between schitzo and Muslim, at least in the US.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The IRA will be surprised. So to the Tamil Tigers.

        It might work right now. But I don’t think that means too very much about Islam in particular.

        • Jaskologist says:

          My sample is limited to the US, although it seems to have worked well for those European attacks which become big news over here, like Brevik or the latest Paris attacks.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            ” although it seems to have worked well for those European attacks which become big news over here

            I submit that the bolded portion is doing work there.

            The media wants to make available to us things that are novel and interesting. The IRA got more press than the Tamil Tigers got more press than Basque separatists in America, and the “why” of that is going to be fairly complex. Body counts play a part, but cultural connections also play a part, and many other factors, including how slow the news cycle is when a body count event happens.

            Once 9/11 happens, the interest in Islamic terrorism rises exponentially, so we get exponentially increased coverage of it. It crowds out other events from the possibility of being covered in depth.

            So, the fact that you don’t immediately bring to mind the 2014 Kunming attack when thinking about multi-attacker organized terrorism isn’t really surprising.

            Edit: Whoops, looks like those guys actually do identify as Islamic. Score 1 point for Jaskologist. I was thinking I was looking at a Tibetan Buddhist attack.

            Edit 2: But there definitely are multi-actor Tibetan attacks, which was my main point.

          • onyomi says:

            But the Kunming attackers were Muslims?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Let me emphasize again the US-centric nature of this quick-score method. I am mostly concerned with attacks against the US, and I don’t expect the attacks other countries suffer to have the same root causes*. Also, I’m pretty much only concerned with attacks in this century; I don’t think the conditions of the 90s apply anymore.

            This is heavily biased by whatever filter makes us care about some mass killings and not others. Nobody cares if a bunch of gang members kill each other. I don’t know how to define what is “terrorism” and what isn’t, but I’d say it seems to roughly coincide with “attacks concerned with killing a lot of people quickly.”

            Anyway, test it out the next time some big attack is just hitting the news. Worked well for San Bernardino and the (admittedly foreign) Paris attacks.

            * At least, not a priori. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t. I don’t think the US has much to worry about when it comes to the IRA, Tamil Tigers, or Chinese mass knife attacks.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        You seem to have forgotten, somehow, about the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, which was carried out by a team of men who were neither muslim nor psychotic.

        • Sandy says:

          I don’t know if two people counts as a team for such purposes given that such a small group is much easier to coordinate and control without needing the help of a powerful organizing principle like religion or political ideology. See Columbine.

          But then again, the San Bernardino shootings were also just two people working together. I wonder, if we expand it to terrorist incidents with 3 or 4+ perpetrators like the Bataclan shootings and Brussels bombing, how many of them will involve non-Muslims?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Jaskologist clarifies above that he is thinking of attacks that took place in the US. Looking through the Wikipedia article “Terrorism in the United States,” it appears as though only two fatal terrorist attacks since 1990 were perpetrated by conspiracies larger than two: the 1993 and 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center. (A few accessories-after-the-fact were indicted in the Boston Marathon bombings, but McVeigh and Nichols also had accessories). Two will be too small a sample size to draw any conclusions.

            Here is another instance of right-wing terrorism carried out by a duo, in this case a couple.

            It looks to me like Jaskologist’s heuristic is unreliable.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Suicides (which should include these lone wolf mass attacks) I think are a manifestation of male anomie driving men to go literally amok.

  48. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    In “Economic Treadmill”, Scott notes that America “has about 1.3x the per capita GDP now as it did in the 90s” and wonders why “if we’re about 1.3x as rich, why do we feel so much poorer?”

    I think part of the puzzle is a sort of diminishing marginal utility of widgets and internet services. A Kindle isn’t that much better than a library card and a book store, an iPod isn’t that much better than a Discman, a personal cellphone isn’t that much better than a family landline, Blu-Ray isn’t that much better than VHS, Netflix and Redbox aren’t that much better than Blockbuster, Amazon isn’t that much better than a mall, etc… even if they are all cheaper and better than what they replaced, their quality of life improvements were very minimal compared to what already existed.

    By contrast, look at all that was lost. Most of the jobs are gone, and most of the ones that remain are unpleasant, part-time, low-paid, low-status, and/or temporary. Most of the few remaining good jobs require ever-increasing portions of life and money spent in universities and unpaid internships to stand a reasonable chance of getting hired. Young people can’t afford to move out of mom and dad’s house. Can’t get married. Can’t have children and start families. And the ones that do manage to marry cannot afford to have the wife stay at home because the two-income trap keeps getting worse.

    I guess what I’m saying is… this was a really bad deal.

    • Your comment is self-refuting. You complain that “most of the jobs are gone”, but if that were true we wouldn’t be 30% richer than before. We’d be poorer.

      The unemployment rate is 4.7%, i.e. very low: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/UNRATE

      Real compensation (i.e. accounting for inflation) per hour has never been higher: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/COMPRNFB

      Young people can get married, have children and start families. They’ll have a higher standard of living than anyone in the past did. It’s just that the goalposts they measure themselves by are moving faster than standard of living.

      (Incidentally, if you carefully read the two-income trap, you realize the actual issue is taxes. However the author – politician Elizabeth Warren – hides it well by presenting tax numbers in a completely different way than all other numbers. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118705537958296783 )

      • Pku says:

        Why would taxes be an issue? Taxed money generally still goes to things that help people live (unless it goes to the military, but military spending isn’t quite high enough to account for this). The main complaint is that high taxation leads to lower production, which you say wasn’t the problem here.

        • The book in question is about the financial problems faced by a wealthy two-income couple who is trying to keep up with the Joneses.

          Their tax money is taken and redistributed to zero-income households, and it’s done at a much higher rate today than in the past. That’s fine, it might be a good idea, but it doesn’t help their financial situation. (Which is what jaimeastorga2000 was complaining about.)

          • Pku says:

            Thanks. So as I understand it, the original claim is that what offset the wealth gains of double income was primarily higher taxes rather than keeping up with the Joneses?
            I’ve only read Scott’s summary of the book, and while I can believe that taxes had more of an effect than Warren was willing to admit, her primary claim was that keeping up with the Joneses was a rat race that would only end when everyone maximized their income (up to reasonability). If you remove the higher taxes, is there any reason why the race wouldn’t just keep going until it swallowed up that difference too?

          • Right – the point I’m making is that keeping up with the Joneses is, in fact, 30% more awesome than not.

            According to Warren, the hypothetical two-income couple has 2 cars (which costs 50% more than 1 car), a bigger house in a more high status location, and a variety of other consumer goods that the one-income couple didn’t have.

            The higher taxes act as a way to reduce investment, and to shift consumption from productive people (e.g. 2 income couples) to unproductive ones (0 income couples). If you had lower taxes, then investment/savings would be higher, and also the two-income couples would gain a larger fraction of total consumption.

            (But of course Warren would again treat that increase in consumption as a cost to be saddened by rather than a benefit to be celebrated.)

        • Zombielicious says:

          unless it goes to the military, but military spending isn’t quite high enough to account for this

          Controversial at best. The military budget is complicated by what you consider “military,” and it fluctuates from year to year (it has been dropping lately, thank god), but it’s a lot bigger than a cursory glance might make it appear. Depending on the year you’re looking at around 30-50% of total spending (the 50% was from peak spending during Iraq and Afghanistan). DoD by itself is only around 16% of the annual budget, but on top that you have veteran’s affairs, DHS, and military programs all over the rest of the administrations: energy, treasury, state dept, etc. A large portion of NASAs budget (~0.25% total spending, iirc) is for military applications, for example. Just Iraq + Afghanistan + the F-35 alone get you to at least $3 trillion.

          People complain a lot about social security and healthcare, but total defense spending is easily the largest single portion of the U.S. budget (those other two follow it at around 24% each). There was even a GAO audit of the DoD in 2011 that failed because they found them to be “unauditable” due to mismanagement.

          This is probably the biggest reason I’m deeply opposed to Clinton (as well as the entire Republican party). But regardless of that, while I’m not sure how much it accounts for what Warren describes, it’s (imo) the biggest single mistake this country has been continually making since Eisenhower warned about it all the way back in 1961.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Its worse than that, procurement get all the press, but it’s a comparatively small portion of the budget. 20% give or take.

            If you really want to shrink the budget you’d need people to start dying and dying fast. Some people, more cynical than I, (difficult I know) have suggested that this is why the current “VA suicide crisis” isn’t being treated as a crisis and the VA hospital scandal before it wasn’t treated as a serious scandal. It also explains why mercenaries can be cheaper in the long run despite being so expensive. You don’t have to pay for their pensions or medical care.

          • Gbdub says:

            Are you talking total spending or discretionary spending?

            Anyway it’s wrong to say that military spending doesn’t help anyone live – certainly the military itself gets paid, gets health care, etc. And defense contractors (and defense research funds) are directly or indirectly responsible for a ton of high paying jobs in the STEM fields. We can argue about the efficiency of that, but defense spending does benefit the economy.

          • brad says:

            I’m not sure why anyone other than a Congressman and their aides cares about discretionary versus non-discretionary spending. It literally is nothing more than an obscure detail of the legislative and budgeting practice.

            More specifically it non-discretionary is not the same thing as vested or accrued in either the legal or moral sense.

            Some legislative or executive agency should put together an accrual based set of books for the federal government. That would allow us to make statements about new military spending versus military spending that we’ve already done we just haven’t gotten all the bills for yet. But it would be a large and politically inconvenient exercise, so I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime.

          • Gbdub says:

            @brad – I really don’t care about the distinction, except that, because various buckets of US federal spending have different blends of discretionary vs non discretionary, using figures without noting the difference can give a warped view of the true relative size of the buckets.

          • cassander says:

            >oD by itself is only around 16% of the annual budget, but on top that you have veteran’s affairs, DHS, and military programs all over the rest of the administrations: energy, treasury, state dept, etc. A large portion of NASAs budget (~0.25% total spending, iirc) is for military applications, for example. Just Iraq + Afghanistan + the F-35 alone get you to at least $3 trillion.

            This is misleading. the Department of defense includes 3 subordinate departments of the army, navy, and air force. Together, these constitute the standard definition of defense spending. which together account for over 90% of military spending. the DOD figure you quote is the share of money spent by the department of defense proper, not its subordinate departments.

            DHS is not defense spending. Some NASA research is, but not much. neither is the state department or treasury spending. the biggest non-DOD defense spending, if you don’t count intelligence, is energy department handling a lot of nuclear work. BUt as I said, all of this pales in comparison to the defense budget (DoD plus the services) proper.

            >ut total defense spending is easily the largest single portion of the U.S. budget

            No, it isn’t. It’s not even close. Both SS and medicare/caid are much larger. SS is almost twice as much these days.

            >There was even a GAO audit of the DoD in 2011 that failed because they found them to be “unauditable” due to mismanagement.

            the same is true of any US department. None is run well.

          • Matt M says:

            “I’m not sure why anyone other than a Congressman and their aides cares about discretionary versus non-discretionary spending.”

            Because it helps you make the argument you need for your tribe.

            If you’re red-tribe and you want less medicare and more military, you look at overall spending. If you’re blue tribe and you want more medicare and less military, you look at discretionary only.

          • Lysenko says:

            You are jumping back and forth with your numbers quite a bit there. For the most recent year I have data for (last year) the best estimates are that the military accounts for about 50% of all discretionary spending, which in turn is less than 50% of all federal expenditures. Right now, all Military PLUS DHS/Federal Law Enforcement concerned with “Homeland Security”/Counterterrorism comes to about 16% of the federal budget, mandatory and discretionary combined.

            This is down from the post-2000 high of 20-24% depending on how you defined “military spending”, which is still lower than pre-“peace dividend” levels of the 1950s-80s.

          • Zombielicious says:

            No, it isn’t. It’s not even close. Both SS and medicare/caid are much larger. SS is almost twice as much these days.

            It’s extremely difficult to work out these kinds of disagreements, mainly because it’s extremely time consuming digging through all the numbers, and in the end comes down to what someone wants to consider defense spending or not. But I have no idea how anyone comes to this conclusion unless they’re just sticking with the simple number of “official defense spending,” i.e. $620 billion in 2014 (easier to find good numbers for than 2015+) for 16.9% of the $3.65 trillion total federal budget.

            Social Security is $857 billion, 23.5% of the total U.S. federal budget ($3.65 trillion). Medicare + Medicaid is the same, $831 billion or 22.7%.

            Sure, if you just stop right there at “defense spending” then you only get 16.9%. But that’s basically cheating, since you then have, as previously mentioned, Veteran’s Affairs (4.1%), pensions through the Treasury Department (?), interest on the national debt (6.1% but only a portion, maybe 2%, due to defense spending), all of the NatSec agencies (hence, DHS) – CIA, Coast Guard, Secret Service, Border Patrol, FBI counter-terrorism stuff, Nuclear Detection Office, etc) to which it’s only playing with semantics to not consider it military or defense. Then you still have DoE, State Dept working alongside the CIA, etc.

            So yeah, depending on how conservative you want to be in your estimate, you’re looking at 16-30% of the total federal budget on military/NatSec even when there are no major wars going on. Count as much as you can or look at the peak war years and you’re in the 30-50% range.

            Wikipedia keeps separate articles on federal spending and military spending, and most departments have budget summaries online, if anyone really wants to work out the details for themselves (e.g. DHS, DoE). But either way, it’s a damn lot of money. And if you look at the totality of defense + NatSec spending, not just the official allocation for “national defense,” it’s on par with or easily surpasses the other largest programs.

            Which is another major part of my complaint: no one talks about the elephant in the room because a large portion of our military and NatSec spending is hidden behind these budgetary slights of hand, e.g. mandatory vs discretionary vs non-defense discretionary, year to year changes, cuts to spending vs cuts to projected spending, programs with unknown and classified budgets (e.g. CIA), requested budgets vs enacted budgets, etc…

          • Zombielicious says:

            This is down from the post-2000 high of 20-24% depending on how you defined “military spending”, which is still lower than pre-“peace dividend” levels of the 1950s-80s.

            Most of the spending for the Iraq and Afghan wars was budgeted separately from the primary federal budget through supplementary bills, at least up to 2010, and so didn’t appear as part of the defense spending allocation. That’s how you go from your 20-24% numbers to the upper-end 50+% estimates.

          • Lysenko says:

            By the absolute broadest definition of “Defense Spending” I can come up (NASA defense spending, DoE defense spending, debt service on defense related loans, and being overly generous by counting VA and pension spending as 100% “defense” and 0% “social welfare, and all National Defense/CounterTerrorism Federal Law Enforcement spending EDIT: which is not an all-inclusive list of everything I added in), I was able to get the number up to 1.35 Trillion out of a total 3.8 Trillion for FY2015.

            That’s in line with the LOW end of your “30-50%” range, but only by being as generous as possible. I cannot, even for the peak years, to include all the supplemental spending bills, come up with a figure that approaches the upper end of your range.

            Also, if you consider the difference between an Infantryman delivering a 40mm grenade through the window of a building in Mosul during a firefight with insurgents, various USIC agencies coordinating to deliver the talking points and acceptable final positions for the next round of trade negotiations to our ambassador to China to give us a dominant advantage, and the FBI tapping the phone of the founder of the New God Fearing Texans For The Restoration Of The Lone Star Republic to be so functionally, morally, and practically identical as to be “just semantic” distinctions, then I don’t think you and I can agree on very much at all in the way of shared reality, much less the exact figures for line items in the US government’s bud