Open Thread 53.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.

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606 Responses to Open Thread 53.25

  1. The US has a legal which is too expensive for people with ordinary incomes to use– if they’ve been defrauded or injured, they don’t have an obvious recourse.

    Does anyone know of good discussions about this? Is it a sort of limited anarchy?

  2. Ruprect says:

    I don’t really understand how someone could be in favour of open borders for moral reasons, but also opposed, as a matter of principle, to redistributive taxation.

    Why shouldn’t a community have a right to land, if a corporation does?

    • onyomi says:

      Your first paragraph describes my view pretty well, but I don’t understand your second paragraph. Perhaps you could unpack it a bit?

      • Ruprect says:

        If we say that someone owns something, it means that they can determine how that thing is used (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the legal system).

        If we can imagine that property, including land, might be owned by an individual, a family trust, a corporation, or any number of entities involving (not necessarily voluntary, in the case of inheritance) agreements (or obligations) between individuals, then why shouldn’t a community, or nation, be another such entity?

        What is the moral reasoning against ownership existing on that scale, or in that format?

        • onyomi says:

          Can only speak for myself, but the problem for me lies in the gap between a (voluntary, unanimous) “community” and a (democratic and/or “social contract”-bound) “nation,” and in the conflicting ownership claims that arise.

          For example, right now in most countries there is a strange, slightly ambiguous way in which private individuals and groups can “own” land, but not in a truly sovereign sense. The state still claims the right to tell private landowners how they can or cannot do business on that land, whom they can or cannot sell that land to, who is allowed on that land, etc. as well as the right of eminent domain. In other words, there is a sense in which the modern nation-state claims to own all the land, but simply allows private individuals and groups to steward it.

          But libertarian anarchists like myself don’t see democracy or “the social contract” as a legitimate claim to control of how land (or anything else) is used, by the same logic that your neighbors don’t get to vote on whom you can rent your house to unless you previously entered into some kind of explicit contractual agreement with them about that.

          Publicly-owned land that isn’t also “owned” by any private individual or group is somewhat less problematic, though if the state uses its ownership of say, all airports and borders to effectively prevent private individuals and groups from say, inviting foreign workers onto their land, that seems more unjustified.

          For the anarchist libertarians, at least, then, the problem isn’t with the large scale of the ownership, but rather with the legitimacy of the state itself. If the functions currently performed by the state were instead performed by say, private insurance and protection and jurisprudence agencies entering into explicit, contractual agreements with individuals and groups, then most, if not all, of the problem with their “ownership” of land would go away.

          Related, I should note that not all libertarians are entirely okay with the LLC.

        • brad says:

          It’s looks like you are inappropriately reifying a metaphor. Governments do own land, but immigration doesn’t have much to do with that. If there was some debate over the morality of a rule that said that only citizens could enter national parks then we’d be talking about national property ownership.

    • blacktrance says:

      In theory, communities can have a right to control its land, if those who own the land choose to transfer their rights to the community. But in practice, nations aren’t such communities, and claim illegitimate authority over people’s private land.

  3. grort says:

    I come to bury Pokemon Go, not to praise it.

    Let me back up. In my little bubble of the world, Pokemon Go is _incredibly_ popular. Yesterday I took the bus to a board games meetup, and I was playing Pokemon Go on the bus. Two fellows sat down behind me and they were talking about it — I heard a rumor that you can get rare creatures if you visit the zoo. I got up to leave and the person sitting in front of me had the game open as well. I got to the board games meetup and we sat down to play Splendor, and three of the four of us were poking at our phones between turns (because someone had set up a lure module on the local pokestop, so it was spawning pokemon like crazy).

    My Twitter account sees posts like this one: “Actual quote from police scanner at 4AM: “Looks like everyone is out here playing Pokemon tonight.”” I went to a convention this morning and one of the other players in my RPG told us: “I only got three hours of sleep because I was playing Pokemon Go at midnight.” I stepped out from the convention for a bit and spent three hours sitting in a park next to three pokestops with lure modules, and _forty other people_ playing the game.

    When a game is this popular, a certain amount of backlash is inevitable.

    So, here’s my thing. I enjoyed Ingress partially because I enjoyed getting outside and walking around, and partially because I liked the art of building triangles. It was sort of a puzzle: how many triangles can I build on these 22 portals? What if I walk a little farther and get 30 portals total? What’s the fastest I can build triangles? I built nested geometries, triangles within triangles. It was quite soothing, and I got pretty good at it. I only stopped when I reached max level and stopped caring about points. In one sense this is a stupid reason to stop; in a different sense it shows that points can be a really incredible motivator if we choose to let them.

    Pokemon Go came out and I went for a nice long walk. I walked the bike trail to a different neighborhood, I circled past all the pokestops. I got surprisingly few pokemon, and I walked enough to hatch I think one egg. Then I got on the bus, and I was getting pokestops and pokemon left and right, and then all my eggs started hatching.

    Surprise number one: Pokemon Go cannot tell the difference between walking and taking the bus. This is surprising because I have a different app, Google Fit, which has solved this problem pretty hard. Google Fit tracks the time I spend walking, running, and biking, and so far as I can tell it _does not make mistakes_. I can only assume that it’s doing something very clever involving my phone’s motion sensors, and I was really surprised to discover that Pokemon Go is not doing that thing. It’s almost like the people making the two apps aren’t part of the same company any more.

    Surprise number two was when I got to the board games meetup and I sat down next to the lure module, and I was collecting way more pokemon just by sitting there than I had on my hike. It’s like — why is this app rewarding me for sitting at an event being distracted on my phone? _This is not prosocial behavior_. I was willing to exploit it, because I was excited at the prospect of reaching high level and getting lots of badass pokemon so I could own all the farms, but that condition is not going to last.

    So, my review of Pokemon Go so far: this app does not reward me for doing the things that I want to be rewarded for doing.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Actual quote from police scanner at 4AM: “Looks like everyone is out here playing Pokemon tonight.”

      This is the funniest part for me. I wonder how often police need to be briefed on youth trends so that they can respond to stuff like this. (I am picturing explaining something like this to my parents)

      Comic about Pokemon Go.

      • Chalid says:

        In the Boston_Mooninite_panic, “the hundreds of officers in the Boston police department or city emergency planning office on scene were unable to identify the figure depicted for several hours until a younger staffer at Mayor Thomas Menino’s office saw the media coverage and recognized the figures as cartoon characters from the TV show.”

    • Glen Raphael says:

      Both Ingres and Pokemon Go only look at distance travelled using GPS location and ignore small-scale motion – there’s no step-counting – possibly so that it works on a wider variety of phones. So eggs don’t hatch while running on a treadmill in place and if you change locations too quickly it will decide you’re not walking and not give you credit. Busses seem to stop regularly enough that their average rate of travel is just slow enough to not trigger the “you’re not walking” test.

      So yeah, it’s a bug. But as long as you don’t play on the bus, the egg-hatching mechanism explicitly rewards distance walking much more explicitly than Ingress ever did.

      What can really get you walking is trying to find a specific type of pokemon using the “nearby” screen.

  4. Alliteration says:

    A preprint study found evidence for natural selection selecting for lower education by about 1.5 months of education per generation. I can’t vouch for the methods used at all.

  5. Dr Dealgood says:

    Hey everyone, I had an idea and want to see who would be interested in participating.

    The idea is for a weekly SSC Science & Scholarship Commentary Thread. Basically a journal club for discussing any academic papers, hard or soft science, that seem interesting. We used to do that informally but with the volume of comments increasing I think preserving the tradition more formally makes sense.

    (Suggestions for better names are also welcome.)

    Hᴏᴡ ɪᴛ ᴡɪʟʟ ᴡᴏʀᴋ
    Hᴏᴡ ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇs ᴀʀᴇ sᴇʟᴇᴄᴛᴇᴅ:
    > Oɴ ᴛʜᴇ ɴ.25 Oᴘᴇɴ Tʜʀᴇᴀᴅ, ᴄᴏᴍᴍᴇɴᴛᴇʀs ᴄᴀɴ sᴜɢɢᴇsᴛ ɴᴇᴡ ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇs ᴀɴᴅ/ᴏʀ sᴇᴄᴏɴᴅ sᴜɢɢᴇsᴛɪᴏɴs.
    > Oɴ ᴛʜᴇ ɴ.5 Oᴘᴇɴ Tʜʀᴇᴀᴅ, ᴀɴ ᴜᴘᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ ʟɪsᴛ ᴏғ ᴀʟʟ sᴇᴄᴏɴᴅᴇᴅ ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇs ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ᴘᴏsᴛᴇᴅ ғᴏʀ ᴄᴏᴍᴍᴇɴᴛᴇʀs ᴛᴏ ᴠɪᴇᴡ.
    > Oɴ ᴛʜᴇ ɴ.75 Oᴘᴇɴ Tʜʀᴇᴀᴅ, I ᴡɪʟʟ ᴀɴɴᴏᴜɴᴄᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ɴᴇxᴛ ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴛʜᴇ ʟɪsᴛ.
    > Oɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴠɪsɪʙʟᴇ Oᴘᴇɴ Tʜʀᴇᴀᴅ, ᴛʜᴇ ᴀᴄᴛᴜᴀʟ ᴅɪsᴄᴜssɪᴏɴ ᴡɪʟʟ ᴛᴀᴋᴇ ᴘʟᴀᴄᴇ.

    Hᴏᴡ ᴛᴏ ᴘᴀʀᴛɪᴄɪᴘᴀᴛᴇ:
    > Yᴏᴜ ᴅᴏɴ’ᴛ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ ᴀ sᴘᴇᴄɪᴀʟɪsᴛ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ɢɪᴠᴇɴ ғɪᴇʟᴅ ᴛᴏ ᴄᴏᴍᴍᴇɴᴛ ᴏɴ, sᴜɢɢᴇsᴛ ᴏʀ ᴠᴏᴛᴇ ғᴏʀ ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇs: ᴀɴʏᴏɴᴇ ʜᴇʀᴇ ɪs ᴡᴇʟᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴅᴏ sᴏ. Rᴇᴀᴅɪɴɢ ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇs ʙᴇғᴏʀᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ʀᴇᴄᴏᴍᴍᴇɴᴅ ᴏʀ ᴄᴏᴍᴍᴇɴᴛ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇᴍ, ᴀᴛ ʟᴇᴀsᴛ ᴘᴀsᴛ ᴛʜᴇ Aʙsᴛʀᴀᴄᴛ, ɪs sᴛʀᴏɴɢʟʏ ʀᴇᴄᴏᴍᴍᴇɴᴅᴇᴅ ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜ.

    Hᴏᴡ ᴡᴇ ᴋᴇᴇᴘ ɪᴛ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴅᴇᴠᴏʟᴠɪɴɢ ɪɴᴛᴏ ᴍᴜʀᴅᴇʀᴏᴜs ᴀɴᴀʀᴄʜʏ:
    > Tʜᴇ SSC Sᴄɪᴇɴᴄᴇ & Sᴄʜᴏʟᴀʀsʜɪᴘ Cᴏᴍᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʀʏ Tʜʀᴇᴀᴅ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ sᴛʀɪᴄᴛʟʏ ᴀᴘᴏʟɪᴛɪᴄᴀʟ. (Aɴʏᴏɴᴇ ᴄᴀᴜɢʜᴛ ʙʀᴇᴀᴋɪɴɢ ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴜʟᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ʀᴇᴄᴇɪᴠᴇ ᴀ sᴛᴇʀɴ ᴛᴜᴛ-ᴛᴜᴛᴛɪɴɢ.)

    Anyway that’s the pitch. If anyone wants to take part, or has any thoughts / suggestions on it, please reply below.

    Edited to implement sweenyrod’s suggestion.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I don’t know if a process for voting on suggestions would be needed. Something similar to the sci-fi discussion thread with one parent comment each thread containing both suggestions for articles to discuss next integer thread/next half-integer thread/next thread, and a list of articles previously suggested might be sufficient — I don’t there are enough articles and studies posted to warrant a pruning process.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Probably true, I just want to avoid the risk of this being the “Dr Dealgood’s Wacky Biochem Hour” thread. We’ve got a ton of CS folks here plus David Friedman for economics law and history, Onyomi for Sinology, Nydwracu for linguistics when he delurks, Jill and a few others for psych (I think?), and Gwern for everything else. My knowledge of those fields is pretty much nonexistent, so why not tap into the existing expertise here?

        Anyway, I think I’ll implement that idea.

        • Here are some things I would be happy to talk about, coming out of my current work:

          1. Toleration vs Diversity. A really different ethnic group, such as gypsies or Amish, make a society more diverse in interesting ways. The cultural survival of the group may depend on the intolerance of the host society. The more tolerant it is, the easier it is for the group to gradually melt away into acculturation. As I read the evidence, that’s happened to American gypsies over the past forty years.

          2. Feud as a decentralized form of law enforcement.

          As another possibility, we could discuss poetry. I’m willing to argue that Kipling is a modern poet in a sense in which most are not. Also that his best poem, and the best Browning monologue, is “The Mary Gloster.” Happy to discuss other poets too.

    • I’m basically in favor, but I’d like more provision for the rest of the seconded articles to be discussed. Maybe they just get discussed on the N.75 thread?

    • keranih says:

      I like it. I would like to play. (Life sciences, more on the macro-organism level than the micro.) I would accept being beaten with sticks, like Benedict, when/if I annoy.

      May I suggest the traditional die rolling method if we get many papers, plus/minus a more frequent roll over of papers (ie, one N dot n thread could be posting article A for discussion, announcing article B will be the next article, highlighting several article Cs, and calling for submission of suggestions of article Ds. Next N dot n thread would post article B for discussion, announce article C, highlight Ds, and call for suggestions of Es. And so on.

      Perhaps I get ahead of myself. Perhaps this is the cart before the horse.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I decided on one paper per Open Thread cycle because a lot of us have jobs and/or classes, which means they’re actively penalized for trying to read carefully if the papers are coming rapidly. That said, it’s not hard to switch over to a rolling system like you suggest.

      • TPC says:

        Life sciences is good, especially fertility related research.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What’s up with the unicode fake small caps? They’re really ugly.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I like smallcaps but my blog fu is too weak to actually change the font from the default one. So I used a crappy converter website.

        If you have a better suggestion I’m all ears.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          A better suggestion is not to use small caps. Try this and this. As a stop-gap, eliminate the letters S and F from your writing.

  6. Alliteration says:

    A question to the people that believe in subjective morality. Is believing in subjective morality that same thing as believing in a single objective rule that one ought to do what one feels is right or, maybe, a rule that one ought to do what one’s society? If not, how is subjective morality different from just believing that there are no “oughts”, and just avoiding being bad to keep from feeling guilty or helping people just because one happens like helping people?

    • Ruprect says:

      Is it different anyway?

      If you take a fairly broad view of what “helping people just because one happens to like helping people” might mean, isn’t “one ought to do what one feels is right” included within that?
      Is “one ought to do what one’s society [says]” distinct from “avoiding being bad to keep from feeling guilty”?

  7. Douglas Knight says:

    In the old survey, Scott asked people whether they were lurkers and their political identification. About 2/3 were lurkers. He offered 5 options, plus free answer. All free answers were unique, except for two that were a banned word. Restricting to people who chose answers that got more than 2 answers, the lurkers were
    8% Conservative, 29% (US)Liberal, 31% Libertarian, and 32% Social Democratic,
    while the commenters were
    16% Conservative, 26% (US)Liberal, 19% Libertarian, and 39% Social Democratic.

    • Nornagest says:

      Interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed that the libertarian fraction would go down, although I would have guessed that the conservative fraction would go up.

      • FrogOfWar says:

        Same. Though I think that’s because I was counting comments rather than commenters. Onyomi, David Friedman, Vox (when he posted), and to a lesser extend John Schilling pull a lot of weight.

        • Nornagest says:

          I wonder what happened to Vox. It’s rare that you get to talk to an Objectivist that isn’t batshit crazy.

          • FrogOfWar says:

            He seems to have just disappeared.

            Vox also raised my opinions of Objectivism a lot (from a very low starting point). I mean, I still have no respect for Rand and find Egoism abhorrent (and don’t get me started Vox’s interactionist dualism). But he is a lot more reasonable than I knew they could they be.

          • “Vox also raised my opinions of Objectivism a lot”

            Would the fact that Jimmy Wales, who founded Wikipedia, is (or at least used to be back when we argued on Usenet) an Objectivist affect your opinion of the movement?

            More generally, how do you feel about other ideologies, such as all of the major religions, that look crazy from the outside but are or have been supported by quite a lot of reasonable and intelligent people?

          • FrogOfWar says:

            It wasn’t just (or even mainly) his existence as an exemplar that raised my view of objectivism to a higher but still low level.

            Vox was also fond of constantly posting gigantic quotes from objectivist writers who seemed to be generally making largely reasonable arguments in response to a largely cogent literature. Beforehand I simply wasn’t aware that there existed any such literature by objectivists that wasn’t simply Rand hagiography/exegesis.

            As to your last paragraph, I have no problems with the idea that all major world religions contain a large number of reasonable people, such as many of my family members. Objectivism is a much smaller movement with a smaller proportion of people born into it, so I would expect there to be fewer reasonable objectivists.

          • blacktrance says:

            I don’t know, but he stopped posting on his Tumblr as well. He had said he had gotten tired of the social conservatives among the commentariat.

          • ChetC3 says:

            Must have been another one of those progs who couldn’t handle conservatives expressing their opinions.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Since the other thread got nuked, here’s some quick code to extract comment count if anybody wants to try to run some stats on that. You can just press Ctrl+Shift+i in Chrome and paste the following in. That’ll print it out in CSV, which should be enough for the Excel-wise to manipulate from there.

          commenters = {};
          sortable = [];
          jQuery("li.comment").each(function (i, el) {
          var name = jQuery("cite.fn:first", el).text();
          if (name in commenters) {
          } else {
          commenters[name] = 1;
          jQuery.each(commenters, function (commenter, count) { sortable.push({name : commenter, count: count }); }); // put in array for sorting
          sortable.sort(function(a,b) { return b.count - a.count; }); // sort
          jQuery.each(sortable, function (i, x) { console.log( "," + x.count); }); // output in csv

    • anonymous says:

      Scott deleted the entire discussion !!!!!

      For twelve months an editor who knows I read this blog has been hectoring me to write about the ways in which it has drifted.

      It took that dick move to convince me to write it.

      • hlynkacg says:

        It was pretty clear that yellow anon was spoiling for a fight and I suspect that brown anon was a sock-puppet.

        I’ll tell you the same thing myself and other told them before the thread was expunged. If you think your view point is underrepresented, don’t complain about it, represent it. If you can mate your case without resorting to insults and empty emotional appeals people will listen.

        But as it stands the accrimination and empty threats from anonymous users such as yourself do nothing but lower the quality of conversation.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        > For twelve months an editor who knows I read this blog has been hectoring me to write about the ways in which it has drifted.

        A publication with a paid editor actually wants someone to write an article on how the commentariat has evolved on a random blog? Not just wants it, but has been demanding it for a year? What the heck kind of publication is this, anyway?

        • hlynkacg says:

          The Gnome Anne’s Journal. 😛

        • Nornagest says:

          The imaginary kind. But if I was feeling charitable, “editor” could just be the person’s day job and the article would go into a private blog. We’re not big enough for anyone to pay for a hit piece, but we are big enough for someone prominent to take a private interest.

          Realistically, though, this is is probably in $100/everyone-stood-up-and-clapped/and-his-name-was-Albert-Einstein territory.

    • Anonanon says:

      My guess is that most people aren’t used to dealing with anything like 16% of conservatives expressing their opinions. If you’ve grown up watching The Daily Show/The West Wing, conservatives speaking outside the punchline seems like a crime against nature.

      • HeelBearCub says:


        The “no one is ever exposed to conservative views” talking point gets old.

        We all live in our echo chambers to some extent, but that is left and right.

        • Anon. says:

          What’s your explanation? Some people feel the 16% is overwhelming. I think we can assume they’re not lying. If not a “mis-calibrated” intuition about base rates, then what?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            35% of those who comment identify as conservative or libertarian. If they comment, on average, twice as much as anyone else, that is 70% of the comments. If US liberals and (European) Social Democrats comment almost at the same rate, then US liberals will represent only 13% of the comments.

            In addition if the US liberals are split on the question social justice, then only 6.5% of the comments will come from US liberals broadly in favor of social justice goals. If the Europeans basically consider this a non-issue, then any SJ aligned liberal will find themselves quite outnumbered.

            Is that what I think is happening? I don’t know. It’s one of several possible hypotheses.

            What I do know is that when I contemplate posting a thread, I do it with an understanding that the blog is not friendly territory for me. Whereas, when someone posts about, say, the most recent iteration of “let’s start a new investigative committee attacking some Democrat” it will get a warm welcome.

          • Not Robin Hanson says:

            35% of those who comment identify as conservative or libertarian. If they comment, on average, twice as much as anyone else, that is 70% of the comments.

            It would be only 51.8% of the comments—commenting twice as much also increases the denominator.

          • keranih says:

            What I do know is that when I contemplate posting a thread, I do it with an understanding that the blog is not friendly territory for me.

            When I contemplate posting a thread, I anticipate that I am likely to get support and to get push back – I do not expect unqualified support. I don’t know if that makes this a friendly place or not.

            However – I will take as a given that a liberal/leftist/progressive-promoting thread is going to get less support and more pushback. Let us take as a given that “we-the-commentariant” would like comments to receive support based on something other than their political/tribal identification, – say, f’stance, their mix of rational thought process, succinct quoting of obscure classics, and queries regarding optimal AU programming – and that comment threads promoting progressive values get as much support as comment threads promoting conservative values, all else being equal.

            Let us suppose that, at this point, comments promoting progressive values have about the same mix of those ideal ingredients as comments promoting conservative values, yet the former get less support and more push back than the later.

            What is your proposed solution?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HBC
            What I do know is that when I contemplate posting a thread, I do it with an understanding that the blog is not friendly territory for me.

            When I make a serious comment, I feel obligated to engage with any serious replies. Otoh, I don’t want to read replies with insults or cluelessness, or that take the point down a rabbit hole into cherry-pickable weeds. A current example is people digging quotes out of obscure sources to find tiny differences re Hillary’s case vs Powell’s, Bush’s etc.

            But there’s also the wisdom to know the difference chore of sampling replies to find out which are worth me engaging with. Skimming that slush pile takes time I could spend engaging with the worth-my-time replies.

            So unless I can expect some of the replies to be fielded by other Lefties (which would be a chore for them) I often keep my head down in the first place.

          • keranih says:

            @ houseboat

            A current example is people digging quotes out of obscure sources to find tiny differences re Hillary’s case vs Powell’s, Bush’s etc.

            Perhaps your judgement that these sorts of things are only cherrypicking instead of valid critique is not without bias? For instance, I completely reject the idea that there are only tiny differences between Clinton’s actions wrt the safeguarding of official information and Powell’s – but I would, wouldn’t I? And while I may be very sure of the rational logic of my pov, you don’t seem to be convinced. How do we move forward?

            I’m asking seriously here – wrt a partisan issue, where one side is going to dismiss arguments made by the other, and vice versa, but we reject a simple “equal time” principle, how are we going to deal with unequal support for different values/positions?

          • ChetC3 says:

            Let us take as a given that “we-the-commentariant” would like comments to receive support based on something other than their political/tribal identification, – say, f’stance, their mix of rational thought process, succinct quoting of obscure classics, and queries regarding optimal AU programming – and that comment threads promoting progressive values get as much support as comment threads promoting conservative values, all else being equal.

            Let us suppose that, at this point, comments promoting progressive values have about the same mix of those ideal ingredients as comments promoting conservative values, yet the former get less support and more push back than the later.

            Anybody who found this remotely plausible would already be on your side of this issue. It’s almost a textbook example of begging the question.

          • “35% of those who comment identify as conservative or libertarian. If they comment, on average, twice as much as anyone else, that is 70% of the comments.”

            To see why this is wrong, run it with some numbers.

            100 commenters, 35 of whom are conservative or libertarian, each of whom makes two comments a week.
            65 others, each of whom makes one comment per week..

            Total comments, 135/week
            Total comments by conservatives or libertarians, 70/week

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I have made a basic math mistake.

            I think I am now required to sacrifice my gravatar to the fires of Moloch? Does it have to be my gravatar? Or can a willing sock puppet sacrifice in my place?

            On a more serious note, the math mistake is not particularly relevant to the point I was trying to make, as the numbers were made up anyway.

          • But the mistake was an interesting and not uncommon one.

            Sacrifices are perhaps excessive. A public “mea culpa” should suffice.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            HBC: If this were Japan you’d be expected to sharpen a pencil and commit sudoku with it.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ karenih
            Perhaps your judgement that these sorts of things are only cherrypicking instead of valid critique is not without bias? For instance, I completely reject the idea that there are only tiny differences between Clinton’s actions wrt the safeguarding of official information and Powell’s – but I would, wouldn’t I? And while I may be very sure of the rational logic of my pov, you don’t seem to be convinced. How do we move forward?

            Move forward — or rise above?

            1. A too-common meta is Bulverism: “You only say that because you’re an Out-Triber.”
            1a. “He only says that because of political pressure (and/or long-range regard for the legal system).” This is more fun, but unlikely to conclude on truth.

            2. Another is to nit-pick termonologhy or something: ” ‘Cherry-picking instad of valid critiquie’? But those are not mutually exclusive.”

            3. Who has standing? Even if the quotes were picked fairly, imo the only people qualified to pronounce what conclusion they and the whole case add up to, are Comey or, less likely, Hillary’s lawyer. (Maybe the SCOTUS told Comey to cut it off before it got bumped up to them.) Militant agnostic here: I’m not qualified to sort this stuff out, and neither are you=anybody — and probably some key evidence is not released to the public or even to Comey because it’s still classisfied.

            Imo, 1a is the most promising meta. “Public regard for the legal system” is a simpler and more accessible factor. There’s even historical evidence available. What was the effect of the Dred Scott verdict, the O.J. Simpson verdict, the Dreyfuss verdict, etc.

            Do any of these approaches help you and me? Taking 3 up a level or two, gets back toward a majpr topic of SSC: how much certanty can we expect on which questions? (Bayes, Lewis, Aristotle)

          • keranih says:

            @ Houseboat –

            Isn’t “Only Comely has the ability to judge/we’ll never know” an appeal to authority? And haven’t we seen that rejected here of late (police shootings, yellowcake, etc?)

            I find the “how does this impact how we go forward” consideration worthy of some support – but it requires us to acknowledge the utility of outcomes we don’t like. Which many of us are at least occasionally bad at. (Finding some result entirely good or entirely bad is a common error.)

            Part of me feels like this subthread is moving things positively. The rest of me is not sure why I would think that.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ karenih
            > Isn’t “Only Comely has the ability to judge/we’ll never know” an appeal to authority?

            Comey has seen more evidence on the facts of this case. He was given that evidence because of his authority, so there is a correlation. We should not ‘appeal to his authority’ by swallowing his overall conclusion as complete, sound, and impartial. But because he has his position to protect, and more information than anyone else, he is unlikely to make a statement of fact that could be easily refuted. (I apologize for having put this very badly.)

            > I find the “how does this impact how we go forward” consideration worthy of some support – but it requires us to acknowledge the utility of outcomes we don’t like. Which many of us are at least occasionally bad at. (Finding some result entirely good or entirely bad is a common error.)

            Agreed, on several senses of ‘we’.

            > Part of me feels like this subthread is moving things positively.

            I agree with that part. 😉 This exchange between you and me reminds me of a mid-Century SF ‘First Contact’ story. While the leaders of the expeditions are fumbling around trying not to nuke each other, two kids meet at the fishing hole and invent a lingua franca that the leaders then use to solve their big problem. — The first thing each kid finds out is: “Hey this alien is sincerely trying to establish communication with me. Zie is putting a lot of time and effort and polite self-examining statements into this.”

            >The rest of me is not sure why I would think that.

            + Points for polite self-examination. 😉

        • ChetC3 says:

          It’s also just backwards. The more exposed someone on the political left is to conservatives expressing their opinions, the less patience they tend to have for them. Familiarity breeds contempt far more often than sympathy. I mean, most of the conservative/libertarians here consider themselves to be living as political minorities in places dominated by the left, and that seems to mostly inspire bitter venting. Why expect it to work differently in reverse?

          • “The more exposed someone on the political left is to conservatives expressing their opinions, the less patience they tend to have for them.”

            If you include libertarians and other free market types in your definition of conservatives, I suggest that the University of Chicago provides evidence against your thesis. Academics from Chicago who identify with the left, such as Lessig and Sunstein, are in my observation a good deal more friendly to the pro-market position than academics from elsewhere who identify with the left.

            On the other hand, if the exposure you are referring to is online argument, you may well be right. Most people on either side of those arguments are evidence against the positions they argue for. Reading Facebook climate arguments, for instance, will convince anyone on either side that the other side is populated largely by rude, arrogant and ignorant people. He may or may not notice that the same is true of his side.

        • “The “no one is ever exposed to conservative views” talking point gets old.”

          Suppose we make it “intelligently defended conservative views.”

          I may have told the story here before of my experience in 1964 when I was a Harvard undergraduate. I got into a conversation with a stranger about Goldwater’s views. We ran through a series of issues. On each, his view was “that’s obvious indefensible,” on each I responded with a defense which he had obviously never heard and to which he had no immediate rebuttal.

          It was a friendly argument. At the end of it, he asked me if I was taking all of these positions as a joke. Pretty clearly, it was the political equivalent of “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this.” How could I be smart enough to make apparently plausible arguments for positions he knew were wrong and stupid enough to believe them?

          My father had the reputation of being an extraordinarily good debater. Part of the reason was that he was smart and articulate. But part was that he was responding to arguments he had heard a hundred times before, his opponents to arguments they had never heard before.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This also should cut both ways.

            To the extent this is more true for liberals than it is for conservatives, that is to conservatives detriment, however you wish to slice it.

        • Lumifer says:

          The “no one is ever exposed to conservative views” talking point gets old.

          Oh, they are exposed. But a bunch of leftists are entirely unused to pushback and to being in an environment where their views are not the default, obvious social consensus.

  8. stargirlprincess says:

    At this point I am not sure that Britiain is even going to leave the EU.

    What are people’s probability for “Britain formally completes leaveing the EU within the next 5 years”.

    I put “they actually leave” at around 60% at this point. The referendum was only 51.9-48.1. That is extremely close. Cameron is refusing to carry out the leave even though he claimed he would. If Britiain waits long enough the attitude in the country might easily flip to something like 55% remain. Now people are considering not starting to leave until after the German elections.

    • Matt C says:

      > What are people’s probability for “Britain formally completes leaveing the EU within the next 5 years”.

      If I had to guess a number I’d say 40%. Less than 50%, anyway. It is weird to me that most people act like the vote means Brexit actually gets carried out. (Do they really think this? Or are they just playing along because that’s the way the conversation is rolling right now?)

      Two years is plenty of time to set up re-Remain. I would guess that after a while there will be another referendum, and this time Remain will get its ducks lined up in advance better. I’d expect the EU to play extra nice for a while, maybe making some conciliatory-seeming changes to encourage soft Leaves to switch their vote. That would be smart, anyway.

      My expectations here come mainly from the idea that the political class tends to get what they want, and the political class wants Britain to be in the EU. They will look for a way, and they’ll probably find one.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Do they really have two years? I don’t think so.

        Once/if formal notice is given, I think it becomes much harder not to exit.

        • Matt C says:

          Maybe, but why do you think so?

          I would think if Germany and Britain both want it to happen (*), it happens, whether before or after Article 50. I don’t see why formal notice makes a big difference here.

          (*) I acknowledge this part might have complications.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, neither Germany nor Britain are monoliths. Right now we are about to change governments in Britain and we don’t know if the new government will follow through. Cameron already reneged on his pledge to submit the Article 50.

            But, it seems like once notice has been given unanimous consent of all members of the EU Council is require to extend EU membership past two years. That makes it really hard to stop exit once the article is submitted.

          • Matt C says:

            As I read it, the unanimous vote is required for extending the period of withdrawal. If a withdrawn state wants to reapply for EU membership, that’s Article 49 (which I haven’t read).

            If Britain is in the process of withdrawing, but hasn’t completely done so, and then changes their mind, what applies then? If it’s not clear, we’re back to whatever Germany and Britain want to have happen.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, it requires unanimous consent to extend past two years.

            Which means, as soon as you file article 50 it becomes very hard not to exit, because that is what happens without unanimous consent. I don’t believe there is a “take-backsies” option embedded within 50. I could be wrong about that, but I’ve seen no mention of it.

          • Matt C says:

            3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

            You are saying this means “no take backsies”.

            I think this can be read as applying only to a member state who wishes to continue withdrawing, but over longer than 2 years. A member state who no longer wishes to withdraw? Throw all the Article 50 paperwork in the trash, we’re done.

            I don’t think it would be quite that simple, but I do think if the major players are in accord with Britain re-Remaining, Article 50 Section 3 will not be an important impediment. Maybe a majority vote of EU members would be called at some point, which would pass.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt C:
            The the withdrawal agreement mentioned above is what is being negotiated for up to two years, the notification is what would be filed that starts the two year period. The treaties which cease to apply are, basically EU membership.

            So, once you file notification, absent a withdrawal agreement or unanimous agreement on extension of negotiation, you exit, full stop, once two years have elapsed.

            Again, I might be missing something, but that is how I understand it, and it wouldn’t make a ton of sense for it to be structured in some other way.

      • Nornagest says:

        I think the most likely scenario at this point is something that’s nominally Leave but practically Remain.

        • Lumifer says:

          Everybody assumes EU will happily continue to exist. I wouldn’t count it as a safe assumption. Brexit is an existential threat to EU, not to the UK.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s a threat, but I wouldn’t call it an existential one just yet. Certainly has the potential to spiral into one, but I think it’ll take another major Exit to get the ball rolling there.

          • Anonymous says:

            It certainly is an existential threat to the UK. One of the Ks is figuring out how to go about leaving as we speak.

          • Ano says:

            As bad an idea as Brexit is, it would be even more insane for Scotland to pick the EU over the UK, when it trades far more with and has far more in common with the UK than with the EU. Scottish Independence was worth considering back when the EU would have guaranteed free movement and trade, but now I think it’s a terrible idea.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Nornagest

            It’s an existential threat. If another major country (e.g. Italy) exits, it won’t be a threat any more, it will just be all over.

    • Agronomous says:

      The UK electorate voted for “Leavy McLeave-Face”.

      Parliament will implement “Remain Attenborough”.

  9. Ruprect says:

    In order to delay gratification, you may have to be intelligent, but is there anything intelligent about delaying gratification?
    A stupid thing that only intelligent people can do?

    • Loquat says:

      Depends on context, like many things. I most commonly see delaying gratification praised as an intelligent move when the delayer is giving up minor, short-term pleasures in exchange for larger, longer-lasting ones. A kid saves up their allowance to eventually buy a bike instead of spending it all on candy every week, a young adult with a crap job spends evenings/weekends taking classes to qualify themselves for a better job instead of going out partying or playing WoW, that sort of thing.

    • Vitor says:

      > is there anything intelligent about delaying gratification?

      Um, yes? Isn’t that obvious? instant gratification gets stuck at local optima like chocolate cake.

      Puts chocolate cake on grocery list.

  10. Ruprect says:

    I think that, perhaps, consequentialism is a form of virtue ethics.

    The reason why I cannot kill one man to save one hundred is that, to me, empathy is key. In real psychological terms, I don’t have the capacity to empathize with 1000 people. I empathize with one person.
    If I save 1000 people, I imagine one person saved and then say “1000 people” – if I kill one person I imagine one person killed. Emotionally, it’s an impossible choice. Better to do nothing.
    The words “1000 people” are not naturally compelling.

    In most practical senses, where utilitarianism asks us to respond to smiles, it’s relying on the same empathetic response as the above. Sure – smiles. I love them. When I think of having more smiles, I’m thinking of a (1) smile. Sounds good.
    But, when we get down to it, in detail, what we are actually being asked to do is to place a greater importance on the aesthetic quality of the idea, the appeal of the rational, than on certain direct emotional experiences- specifically that the words and idea of “1000 people” should take precedence over my capacity to empathize with one person.

    The problem with utilitarianism is that it is explicitly based upon the idea of pleasure, which only has meaning with empathy. So, it’s kind of asking us to be Spock, asking us to prefer a form of intellectual consistency to emotion, but the only real justifications for the specific actions recommended, are emotional (empathy).
    It’s either a fusion that is slightly beyond my capacity to appreciate, or an unstable (and dishonest?) hodge podge. I think it will only ever be a part of the moral toolkit – to emphasise this particular form of rationality over all other aspects of our mental life… has to be a dogma rather than anything based upon natural appeal.

  11. dinofs says:

    Not sure if this is a good place to post this, but I’m having some 80000-hours type anxiety about my career path. I just finished a mostly unsatisfying first year at a reasonably prestigious liberal arts college. My plan going in was to major in environmental studies (basically half a biochem degree and half a policy degree) and history, with the ultimate goal of grad school and academia. My thinking was that history is my personal passion and what I’m probably best at, whereas environmental studies, vague as it is, would offer a potential chance to jump off into some sort of advocacy or consulting work. I think of dealing with climate change and water supply in particular as being the two most important issues for which I’m well equipped. As someone who could probably top out as a mediocre scientist at best, I felt like there might be more potential for good in changing opinions or developing policies to foster sustainability than in advancing technology, which I expect to progress the same way with or without me. I’d be comfortable with working in the public sector or in academia, and was fairly confident that those routes were both open to me.

    Now, though, I’m wondering if I’m making a mistake. I have a lot of concerns, but the relevant questions here are probably whether climate change (and water use, which I know less about) is really a top concern, relative to say poverty; if so, whether my intuition that there’s more good to be done on the policy/advocacy side than on the technological side was correct; whether there’s room for an academic to make a difference; and finally whether a liberal arts degree is really going to prepare me for anything practical assuming I don’t strike gold with a job that actually requires a social science degree — there are times when I imagine a diploma that says “environmental studies-history” and it feels singularly useless. Along with times where it feels exciting and relevant, but those are becoming rarer.

    Suggestions for any of these things would be greatly appreciated. For what it’s worth, I know that something like a chemistry or economics degree is more logical in a lot of ways; unfortunately I genuinely dislike both disciplines, and in any case it would feel like a waste of whatever talents I’ve got, which I feel are more in the reading/writing realm than anywhere else.

    • Lumifer says:

      I think that selecting a profession is finding something that hits all three criteria listed below. Unlike the usual trios, picking two is not enough, you need all. These are:

      * You like doing it
      * You are good at it
      * People are willing to pay you decent money to do it.

      A bit more specifically here a ‘diploma that says “environmental studies-history”” is indeed useless because you will need a job and jobs that require both of these majors are… rare. What it will tell potential employers is that you don’t know what you want to do in life and so probably isn’t very good at any of your two majors.

      Figure out what you want to do — literally, physically do every working day for many years. “Save the world” is not an answer. Figure out if jobs like that exist and what do you need to be in order to get one. Be realistic — your chances of becoming a tenured professor are very slim.

      • dinofs says:

        Realism is part of the problem – I’ve seen the statistics on tenured academic jobs in history and they’re obviously not good. On the other hand, they do exist, and when I self-evaluate I feel like I’ve got better odds than most. A year ago, tenured professorship felt extremely attainable; now I accept that the odds are low, but it still feels worth swinging for the fences, especially since as far as I can tell a career in history is by far the thing I’d be best at in the world. So I guess the environmental studies degree was added to hedge my bets – if in three years it feels like the professor thing is too much of a long shot, I’ve got a fall back that I like and that potentially gives me a better chance for employment. But you think specializing early is better?

        • Lumifer says:

          I feel like I’ve got better odds than most

          That’s not nearly enough. You need to be somewhere in the top 1%, not merely above the median. And where do you go to school? If it’s not a top-10 university, well, even the top 1% might not save you.

          Tell you this: go write and publish a paper in a peer-reviewed academic publication. A regular journal, not any of the student ones. I think an attempt to do this will provide valuable real-life experience to you.

          • dinofs says:

            Well, to be a little more upfront about how I self-evaluate, I go to a top 5 school for graduate placement in history (not quite a metric for quality obviously, but what is), and if pressed would say that I feel like the best student I know in my major. But I try to take that with however much salt the self-evaluation of a 19-year-old warrants; it’s based on a mix of test scores, high-level classes, potentially untrustworthy teacher feedback, and definitely untrustworthy subjective feelings of being smarter than most people I talk to.

            As to the paper thing, I don’t know how serious you were but I’m sitting on a decent amount of (I think) pretty novel research on failed land reform experiments during Reconstruction, which I’ve been thinking about trying to get published in some capacity before the end of the year. If that works and is somewhat pleasant I’ll be a lot more likely to go all-in on history.

          • Agronomous says:


            I’m sitting on a decent amount of (I think) pretty novel research on failed land reform experiments during Reconstruction

            At the end of your freshman year?

            If you do not devote your summer to trying to get this published, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

            Not so much for the publication itself, but for finding out (a) how much you love history, (b) how much you love doing the work of an academic historian, and (c) how good you are at actually doing it.

            On another note, what was unsatisfying about your year?

          • Getting a journal article published while you are still an undergraduate would be a sizable boost to your prospects for both graduate school admission and later employment. I only know of one person in my field who did it, and he is very smart and currently a professor at a top school.

            Suppose you write the article, submit it, and are unable to get it published. You can still web it. While journal articles are still the main way of obtaining academic reputation, the informal model of online reputation is becoming increasingly important. I knew about Robin Hanson well before he went back to school to get a degree in my field, because we had been corresponding about his ideas via email.

          • dinofs says:

            The year mostly felt wasted because of a conflict between what I really wanted to be doing and what I had to — my classes werent interesting enough to take my attention from my personal writing, but they also took up enough of my time and energy that I didn’t have much left over for my own projects (like the research on Reconstruction, which was mostly done during breaks). And it didn’t feel like I learned much more than I would have studying on my own, especially taking a pretty standard slate of geneds.

            @David Friedman
            Thanks for the encouragement about publishing — it’s something I go back and forth on a lot, but you’ve convinced me to put in the effort to at least have something publishable by the end of the year. There’s a lot of research to go before I can claim to have something really new to say, but I’ve got the foundations laid at least.

            By the way, I’m curious about the correspondence between you and Robin Hanson. Is it normal for you (or academics in general) to have in-depth exchanges with amateurs? Or is it just the really interesting ones? (I ask because I’ve talked a bit with historians who interest me, but they usually seem too busy to bother with questions from an undergrad they’ve never met – which is fair.)

    • brad says:

      Planning on going into academia is not quite the same thing as planning on being a professional baseball player, but it’s not that far off either. It’s extremely competitive these days, particularly in the humanities and social sciences which don’t have the external grant pay to play system in place.

      There’s a comparatively larger environmental advocacy sector outside of academia. What would you think about working in that space?

      • dinofs says:

        The advocacy sector is exactly what I’m looking at with the environmental side of my degree; I’m not 100% sure about the qualifications I’d need, but it seems like an area where I could get a meaningful job if I decide against a history PhD.

    • AnonBosch says:

      Speaking solely to your first question: While the most likely outcome for climate change is an inconvenient-but-not-apocalyptic 2°C rise in temperatures by the end of the century, there is a fat tail of risks due to unlikely-but-disastrous outcomes. Perhaps we have systematically underestimated climate sensitivity due to relying on one-dimensional energy budget models rather than, say, paleoclimate proxies. Perhaps the effects of ocean acidification, which are very uncertain, turn out to be much worse than temperature. Perhaps the clathrate gun fires, etc. While “poverty” is a statement with a broad meaning, there are no similar X-risks that come to mind, and the trend there is broadly positive while the trend in climate change will be negative at least until global emissions peak or (less likely) a geoengineering solution of utterly certain safety presents itself.

      • dinofs says:

        One interest of mine is dealing with the fallout of the “inconvenient-but-not-apocalyptic” scenario. The next century is going to see a disproportionate amount of demographic growth in the areas we can assume will be hardest hit by climate change, and migration has already proven capable of tearing apart institutions like the EU. I’m especially curious about how this would affect the coordination problems that are obviously a big part of a more apocalyptic scenario, and see any kind of work that would help grease the wheels of international climate change response/prevention as being immensely valuable. On the other hand, I have no idea what kind of work that would be.

      • “while the trend in climate change will be negative at least until global emissions peak”

        Certainly possible, but I don’t think clearly true.

        You have some large change, such as AGW or population growth, that produces both positive and negative effects, large and of very uncertain size. If you start out believing the net is negative it’s easy to convince yourself it is true, since you make generous estimates for the negative effects, conservative estimates for the positive, and miss some of the positive because you aren’t looking for them. If you start out believing the net is positive, similarly in the other direction.

        For both population and climate change, I think the correct conclusion is that we know neither the sign nor the size of the net effect.

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t think people are going to stop caring about environmental issues on any time scale relevant to your career plans. Exactly where we rank environmental issues vs. poverty vs. terrorism vs. whatever, they are all going to be top-ten global policy issues for decades to come.

      I do think the world is greatly oversupplied with enthusiastic twenty-somethings who envision themselves sitting in an office thinking about Important Issues and telling attentive Powerful People what their policies should be on those issues, because that’s more exciting and less tedious than e.g. actually going out and implementing those policies. It seems to me like you are setting yourself to compete with at least the overflow from that mass, which leads to depressed wages and potential unemployment.

      If you want to do advocacy and consulting work, you’ll probably be better off if you are at least prepared to do a decade or so of practical field work first. Even working as a “mediocre scientist” gives you an edge over people with no scientific experience.

      Unfortunately, the best way to do that would probably be to ditch the history degree and do say a biology + policy double major, then decide which to focus on at the graduate level. If you do science + history, you can do science for a while(*) and go back for a policy master’s later, but that forecloses the ideal outcome of getting the policy-type job right after graduation. Policy + history forecloses getting the science jobs right after graduation, and it’s a lot harder to go back later in life and get a hard-science Ph.D.

      * Ideally maintaining at least an amateur-level engagement in the policy area.

      • Lumifer says:

        I do think the world is greatly oversupplied with enthusiastic twenty-somethings who envision themselves sitting in an office thinking about Important Issues and telling attentive Powerful People what their policies should be on those issues


      • “I do think the world is greatly oversupplied with enthusiastic twenty-somethings who envision themselves sitting in an office thinking about Important Issues and telling attentive Powerful People what their policies should be on those issues, because that’s more exciting and less tedious than e.g. actually going out and implementing those policies.”

        Yes. And similarly with people who want to be famous actors or novelists or musicians.

        Three things may be going on in such cases:

        1. Young adults tend to be optimists, to assume that they will be the winners. Adam Smith made that point and concluded that professions with very uneven outcomes, such as the law, were on average underpaid.

        2. People like to imagine themselves doing noble things. Saving a life or serving a cause people like you think highly of feels nobler than increasing world income by a millionth of a percent, although it might do less good.

        3. People believe, often correctly, that they would enjoy some careers much more than others. Musicians and actors are probably badly underpaid in monetary terms but may well have made a correct choice. Less likely for my point 2.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        I’ve seen that sort of career path described as “trying to live the life of a trust-fund baby without the trust fund”.

    • keranih says:

      As someone who could probably top out as a mediocre scientist at best, I felt like there might be more potential for good in changing opinions or developing policies to foster sustainability than in advancing technology, which I expect to progress the same way with or without me.

      Your work in changing policy or opinion will only be as useful or as “good” as the policies and opinions you are trying to promote.

      If they are crap policies based on lousy (or no) science, your efforts to promote these ideas will do far more harm than if you had dedicated your life to begging door to door in order to feed yourself whilst you searched for enlightenment via the numerical significance of airliner tail numbers taking off at JFK. At least the people you would be begging from could shut the door in your face.

      If you don’t know/understand/have the ability to critique the science, your advocacy is false, and you are only promoting what others have told you.

      My advice would be to drop history and most of the policy, and do as much chemistry/math oriented work as you can manage. (Note: this will be MUCH more than you would be expected to master in a policy-oriented degree. This will definitely change your college social life – as in, you won’t have much of one.) Then get a job post-BS as a lab tech – the pay won’t be great, and you will probably end up working in an energy industry. But from there, you will be able to a) ensure that your work is done ethically and honestly, and b) build a mass of people in that industry who both understand the practical requirements of, say, dam building, as well as having a broader view on what more dams mean to a region.

      Along the way, practice writing. Again, in order to be an effective communicator of ideas, you have to know and understand the subject, and deal with it with integrity. Avoid the allure of giving “The People” the easy, simple, pretty answer. Tell them the whole story.

    • Anonanon says:

      the relevant questions here are probably whether climate change (and water use, which I know less about) is really a top concern

      Plenty of priests come out of seminary school not believing in god. The first Ford Foundation paycheck will probably soothe your qualms, as long as you can socialize yourself into a seat on the various green gravy trains.
      Did you arrange an internship for this summer? That’s the main opportunity offered by a high-tier liberal arts school, imo, and it’s something I wish I’d taken better advantage of.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, the bad news, bluntly, is that you probably won’t make it in environmental studies. That’s not meant as a slight on you; I don’t know you, I don’t know what you’re capable of. But there are far fewer environmental policy jobs than environmental studies majors, especially for people without technical or other special qualifications; the statistics are against you. And low-level policy work is miserable if you do beat the odds; trust me, I did some of it when I was about your age. If you don’t have a serious passion for this as both a policy goal and a personal pursuit, I wouldn’t make it your Plan A.

      On the other hand, most of the really competent people I’ve met in science and tech have had some level of impostor syndrome going on. So maybe you wouldn’t make a mediocre scientist after all.

      An alternative might be going into law, environmental or otherwise, where a talent with language offers more leverage. But that’s also a very oversupplied field, though it’s a more versatile one and its high end is higher.

      • Anonymous says:

        If going to law school is the answer, it must have been a stupid question. BTDT

    • Scott Alexander says:

      80000 Hours offers free career counseling to people interested in altruistic careers. You might want to ask them this question.

  12. Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

    Universal Basic Income: one point people seem to miss is that the traditional suggestion of “UBI-funded-by-Social-Security” contains a transfer to the middle class over the status quo – the middle class do not receive welfare ATM, but will after this proposal passes.

    In “budget-balanced” proposals, the transfer is taken out of the current recipients of welfare – the poor and the elderly. This is an obvious problem.

    If we want to make the transfer balanced, we ought to *increase* the tax rate by a few percents. Ideally, we should not change the post-tax-and-UBI median wage, at least initially.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In “budget-balanced” proposals, the transfer is taken out of the current recipients of welfare – the poor and the elderly. This is an obvious problem.

      Only if you think the current recipients of welfare are not already getting too much.

      Anyway, the tax rate falls out of your choice of the amount of UBI.

    • Agronomous says:

      Re: UBI. I really like the idea, mostly because I’m horrified by the traps set by our current mishmash of programs, in which some people can become significantly worse-off by earning more money. However, I recently found a flaw in UBI that I have no answer for:

      Say the government guarantees it will pay you $15,000 a year for life. That’s essentially an annuity, with a face value of something like $500,000 or so. Now say I offer to buy that income stream from you for $200,000 right now. This is a very good deal for me, since I know you’re guaranteed to get that money. This is probably a bad deal for you, but we know there are 32 million Americans in the highest decile for time preference, so a bunch of people will take it.

      Being high time-preference, they will blow it all in short order (cf. every story about lottery winners ever). And then they will be just like current poor people—except with no government programs to help them, and all the money from their UBI going to me.

      Is there any way around this?

      • suntzuanime says:

        Don’t let them do that? Making the National Income assignable to a third party is obviously a bad idea, for the reasons you outline, so don’t make it assignable to a third party.

        • Agronomous says:

          Yeah, but then I’d just structure it as a $200,000 loan, at 7.5% interest.

          I think we’re running up against a basic problem here: when you give people stuff, they’re going to do what they want with it, not what you gave it to them for. And this is clearest with actual money.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I gave it to them to do what they want with it. There’s no problem.

            If you want to loan $200,000 to people whose only source of income is the National Income, go right ahead and I wish you luck with that. There are such things as personal bankruptcy laws, you can’t just reach into your debtor’s wallet and take the loan payment out.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yeah, but then I’d just structure it as a $200,000 loan, at 7.5% interest.

            Whereupon they’d take your $200,000 and declare bankruptcy, leaving you out $200k with nothing to show for it save for whatever fraction you were able to repossess, and them with the memory of the fun they had with a free $200k, whatever valuables they were able to buy and secure against repossession, and a lifetime of UBI still ahead of them.

            It is trivial to exempt the UBI from bankruptcy claims, in which case any loan you make to a UBI recipient is really only secured by their honor, their recoverable assets, and their non-UBI income streams. Just like any loan you might make to any other person now.

  13. Anon. says:

    Is the quality of science, particularly the social sciences, increasing over time? The replication crisis seems really bad, but the fact that there exists a replication crisis instead of blind acceptance is a good sign, right?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think so.

      My guess is that the quality of science is not increasing, but that scientists’ tolerance for bad science is decreasing, so that there are a constant number of terrible studies but fewer people now believe them.

  14. keranih says:

    Non-political cooking thread:

    Who here cooks outside of their “native” ethnic/grandmother cookbook? Do you think that you so “well”? How did you learn to do this sort of food? Any recommendations for other people wanting to try this sort of food?

    • brad says:

      My ancestral cuisine is pretty awful. There is only one dish of either of my grandmothers’ that I cook with any regularity at all — a flanken (cross cut short ribs) and cabbage stew. Truth be told it is nothing special, but sometimes I make it for nostalgia.

      So mostly I cook other culture’s dishes. I wouldn’t at all say I do so well, but I’m getting better. Youtube is a big resource for me.

      • keranih says:

        Thanks for the youtube recommendation. I now have a stack of variations for aglio e olio to see if I can find the version my favorite local place made, years back.

        (I am told this is the grilled cheese sandwich of Italy – it’s what you make at 11 pm when unexpected welcome guests show up, exhausted and hungry.)

        • brad says:

          The thing I’m worst at is knife skills, and it’s hard to see a way forward. The “right” way feels dangerous unless you are good at it, and I don’t see how to get good at it without risking a finger tip during the learning process. I can’t really risk not being able to type for a week or a month because I had a cooking accident.

          • Lumifer says:

            There are multiple ways to cut. The usual French technique is not the only one — I, myself, prefer push-cutting — and when in doubt just go slower. Home cooks don’t need to go through two boxes of onions in a rush, so fancy knife skills look good on YouTube but are overrated in real life.

          • So far as I know, it’s safe to rock a wide knife while resting it against the knuckles of the hand that isn’t holding the knife handle.

          • onyomi says:

            The number one knife safety issue, I think, is simply learning to hold things with a kind of claw grip, the first knuckle being the furthest extended.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            chain mail glove for the off-hand? A bit pricey, but not to ,uch worse than a good knife…

    • gbdub says:

      I’m full-on whitebread Midwesterner, but took an interest in Mexican cooking when I moved to AZ. I mostly went off of Rick Bayless’ “Authentic Mexican” when I wanted to be “serious” about it. I found it to be a great book with relatively easy to follow recipes and a lot of explanation about the various ingredients and techniques. It helped that he was writing from the “white guy exploring the culinary culture” angle, in that he knew where something would be “weird”.

      I think I did pretty well, at least well enough to make my actually Mexican coworker jealous of my lunches at work.

      Key seemed to be access to an ethnic grocery for the authentic stuff, a willingness to try weird things, and a lot of extra time on the weekends (a lot of ethnic cooking, at least the stuff you’d want to try, is slooooooow and labor intensive)

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m Californian. My native cuisine consists of ambushing older, weaker cuisines while they’re on vacation, kidnapping their children, and adding fresh, local avocados and pico de gallo.

      • keranih says:

        You, sirrah, have made my week.

        (Do I want to ask what you do with grits?)

        • Nornagest says:

          Haven’t seen grits too often, except at soul food places. But there’s a cafe in Oakland that does a pretty good chicken and waffles.

          Not, sadly, garnished with avocados and pico de gallo. But their biscuits and gravy are.

    • Winfried says:

      I snagged some family recipes from friends and exes and now have added a few Filipino dishes, some excellent cookies and cakes, and a competition winning BBQ dry rub to my repertoire.

      I learned by assisting in the kitchen a few times and then doing it once or twice under supervision before heading off to practice on my own.

    • Thanks for starting a non-political thread.

      “Native” is somewhat vague– I’d say I grew up with relatively competent for the era 50s/60s mainstream cooking with occasional Askenazic dishes. Even though most of the food I grew up with was reasonably good, I generally don’t cook any of it. I suspect psychological issues.

      I do a good bit of improvised stir fry. To a large extent, soup and spaghetti sauce are stir-fries which have been simmered in liquid.

      I’m not sure how good I am, since I’m basically cooking for myself.

      I seem to have a fairly good ability to imagine how foods will go together. If you don’t, The Four Hour Chef has a description of learning to pay more attention to flavor that might be useful.

      These days, I do a little online research to see what classic recipes have in common if I’m trying out a new ingredient.

      I’m not sure how someone would learn to cook the way I do if they’re not already inclined in the same direction. Maybe start by making substitutions in recipes.

      Some of my recipes.

    • onyomi says:

      Probably most of the food I cook is outside my grandmother’s cookbook, though I do cook some dishes from my native New Orleans.

      Some dishes I cook frequently and, I think, pretty well: Thai curry, Indian food of various kinds (lentils, idli sambar, palak paneer), hummus and baba ghanoush, Italianish spaghetti with tomato sauce or pesto, and inauthentic tacos.

    • Lumifer says:

      I don’t really cook by cookbook. I’m often “inspired” by recipes, but the way it works is that I look up online several variations of the same recipe, figure out what’s essential and what’s not, start with the essentials and then adjust to taste/mood/availability. The dish can evolve pretty far from the original.

      Given this, I wander through various cuisines. I do meat + fire (and sometimes smoke) in variations, I cook pilafs, curries, stir-fries, stews, etc. People who I feed don’t complain, but of course maybe they’re just very polite or always hungry : -)

      You learn cooking mostly by doing it, but understanding what’s happening (see food science books) is sometimes quite useful. Experiment, observe results, adjust, repeat.

      The latest thing I’ve been playing with is shakshouka which is quite basic, but can be varied by spices and veggies added.

      Oh, and I almost always cook from scratch. I refuse to eat from boxes, cans, and pouches.

      • keranih says:

        I also think “cooking from scratch” is best/most healthy, and at this point it is far easier than keeping a bunch of boxes of stuff on hand.

        However, I’m not an absolutest on this – creamo-stuff-soups are very nice additions to the pantry. And I’ve never enjoyed fresh pasta enough to make it worth the trouble.

        • Lumifer says:

          Oh, I’m not ridiculous about that. I’m buying pasta (though I eat it only rarely), condiments, etc. I’ve even been known to use canned tomatoes on occasion!

          On the other hand I have a bit of a microbiological lab in my kitchen — I do my own sour milk products, fermented pickles, bake sourdough…

    • My cooking includes Indian and Chinese dishes. It also includes medieval dishes, most of them either English/French 14th-15th c. or Islamic 10th-13th century. I think I do all of those reasonably well.

      The Indian and Chinese I got from fairly old cookbooks of those cuisines. The medieval I got from very old cookbooks of those cuisines. It was an interesting project, since medieval recipes rarely include quantities, temperatures or times. You start with a verbal description of the dish and use trial and error plus past experience to create a recipe consistent with the description that tastes good. For some of the results … .

      The only thing I can think of I do that’s from my ethnic origins is potato pancakes, and that rarely. I also bake bread. And make chocolate chip cookies, which I regard as the 20th century’s chief contribution to world cuisine.

      • Anonymous says:

        A Thousand Years of Recipes
        David Friedman
        Elizabeth Cook

        Nominative determinism!

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      I don’t know much about cooking non-native foods, but something that people who emigrate from my country notice when they try to cook their native food in a different country is that the difference in ingredients messes everything up if they follow the native recipe exactly like they learned from their grandmothers.

      They can usually recreate the original flavor by fiddling with the recipe a bit, iterating until it tastes good. However if someone were to try to cook something from a different country that they haven’t eaten hundreds of times, so that they know which variations in flavor are normal and which are unacceptable, how are they supposed to know when they should stop iterating? How will they know whether they are doing it wrong or they just dislike the food?

      • keranih says:

        when they try to cook their native food in a different country is that the difference in ingredients messes everything up if they follow the native recipe exactly like they learned from their grandmothers.

        Can you give some examples of this? I can see where all purpose vs selfrising flour could ruin a recipe, or maybe eggs of different sizes, but bok choy and French cabbages are not that different. Or are we talking corn meal vs corn starch or baking powder/soda things?

        • Anonymous says:

          An example I’ve run into – trying to cook leczo with Norwegian ketchup, especially the cheap kind, yields a puke-inducing aftertaste. Works fine if I do with plain tomato sauce, though. Imported native ketchup works fine.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      The UK has very few “native” staple meal recipes, so whenever I cook dinner it is non-native. I plan to perfect my pasta-cooking ability, then branch out into Indian curries.

      • keranih says:

        …Next you’ll be telling me that fish’n’chips wrapt in newsprint isn’t “authentic” Brit food.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          It is certainly authentic (even without the newspaper), but, like roast dinner, you can’t really eat it more than once a week.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            It was also invented (in Britain) by immigrants. Fried fish in batter was brought to England by Spanish Jews, and the first fish and chip shop was opened by an Ashkenazi immigrant named Joseph Malin in 1860.

          • Nornagest says:

            It was also invented (in Britain) by immigrants.

            That happens a lot. Fortune cookies were invented by a Japanese immigrant to the States before being adopted by Chinese restaurants.

          • Anonanon says:

            Hang on, Japanese fried food was also invented by the Portuguese. Is the Iberian peninsula patient zero for deep-frying stuff in batter?
            I guess they were probably the first to have the right economic combination of oil, flour, and fish?

      • Anonanon says:

        >very few “native” staple meal recipes

        You’ve got lots. But eating them is considered beneath people of a certain class.

      • DavidS says:

        A bit like this: I cook some things from my “grandmother’s cookbook” but even those are update and deeply influenced by my parents (and wider generational shifts). E.g. I still cook roast dinners but the veg isn’t boiled into oblivion.

        But most meals I cook probably involve ingredients my grandparents didn’t experience until late in life. Like pasta, chorizo, quite a lot of the veg, various of the spices/sauces etc. etc. I think this is true of lots of UK people (and not just as implied in another answer the middle/upper class). UK has very much absorbed other people’s food in various forms, whether to cook (pasta) or eat out (takeaways)

        Other classic UK dishes include pies – which I’m not that into and can’t be bothered with the pastry – and offal-based meat dishes which are not my thing.

        • keranih says:

          Speculation here – David Friedman might be better able to speak to this…

          The whole of the upper northern tier (British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, ect) seems to have pulled a relatively short straw on cuisine. Lots of fish, but heavy on the salting/drying, lots of imaginative ways to use lights and livers, and (as noted) cautiously boiling all veggies until they were quite clearly no longer a threat to local dentition. Oh, and lots of root crops, even before the potatoe. A croissant would wilt and faint in such company – only stout brown breads will suffice.

          (I exaggerate, quite a lot.) But…even leaving aside the difficulty of getting exotic spices (which I question) the Brits seemed to have embraced curry just about as soon as the East Indies Co landed in India, and the potatoe as well. I think that a lot of “traditionally bland” Brit cooking was shaped by WWII and the austerity afterwards, when shortages forced domestic agriculture to focus on what grew best, rather than what people demanded. So lots of cabbage, rather less oranges.

          Tell me I’m wrong…

          • DavidS says:

            Possibly. I always got the impression that the UK for whatever reason had less of a ‘food culture’. I say ‘had’ but in a sense now, in that we associate focus on food as a middle class ‘foodie’ thing, and presumably linked with that much of the best food is distinctly foreign.

            Whereas in France and Italy, say, you get places serving good, well-made classic French/Italian food to workmen at lunch. In the UK, I think not so much. Maybe it’s a South-Eastern thing and you do get this sort of thing in Scotland, Wales, the North, Cornwall etc. I dunno. But I haven’t seen much evidence of it.

          • Lumifer says:

            The whole of the upper northern tier (British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, ect) seems to have pulled a relatively short straw on cuisine.

            Depends on what you like, I guess, but there is certainly some truth here.

            Your cuisine reflects what ingredients you have and that means what grows locally and (for the North) what stores well over the winter. The last part explains the reliance on grains, potatoes, cabbage, and root vegetables. Not much else (except for meat/fish) was available for half a year.

            Plus there is, of course, the distinction between high and low cooking. A croissant takes skilled labour to prepare (not to mention an ice cellar in the summer) and common housewives just couldn’t be bothered.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I think Scotland has a bit of a food culture (well, at least haggis). The North doesn’t, other than having more Greggs per capita than other areas, and lots of curry houses in Bradford.

          • My food history interests mostly stop in the 17th century, so I can’t respond with regard to stuff more recent than that. In the 14th and 15th century the English and French cooking we have recipes for (which means upper class) are the same cuisine, with pretty much identical recipes showing up in both.

    • Anonanon says:

      I only grow european herbs and vegetables, but buy in the usual set of indian spices. Will be trying a few greek and turkish style meals at some point, since they do amazing things with lamb.

      Don’t look at recipes: study the basic methods and draw parallels to what your already know. Just copying a curry recipe is like trying to learn art through “How 2 Draw Sonic The Headgehog!” youtube videos, especially considering the awful quality of most recipe sites.

      Question: does anyone else here enjoy serious-eats and take their articles seriously? A lot of it seems like very good basic advice.

      • keranih says:

        only grow european herbs and vegetables

        Talk some more about this growing of herbs, please, if you would.

        • Nornagest says:

          Oh, herbs are easy if you have a yard, balcony or patio. (I’ve even seen them grown on a fire escape, though never attempted it.) Pot, place in direct or strong indirect sunlight, water twice a week. That’s enough to give you a good selection of fresh herbs three seasons a year.

          Homegrown fresh herbs taste much better than dried, and are much cheaper than storebought, particularly since the store will often give you far more than you need for a meal. A handful of sage is enough to season meat for a couple platoons of soldiers — you need three or four leaves for a family. And it doesn’t last long off the plant.

          Works best for strongly flavored herbs, though: rosemary, sage, lavender, marjoram, thyme. Stuff like parsley and cilantro is customarily used in bunches, so you need to grow correspondingly more of it. (Mint gets used a lot too, but it’s so aggressive that the challenge is more to keep it from taking over your garden. Same for its relatives catnip and lemon balm — basil is more fragile and doesn’t spread vegetatively.)

          • I know someone who had trouble growing basil, which seemed impossible to me. I think of basil as a fairly hardy plant…. but she was living in Wales, so there wasn’t enough sunlight.

        • Anonanon says:

          What Norn said. I once knew a woman who had all her herbs growing out of splits in her patio slabs–they’re tough plants.

          Lavender is disgusting, and I don’t have any marjoram yet, but a little herb garden up by the house really comes in handy.
          The one thing Norn didn’t mention is a bay tree, which is great for stews.

          And the mint gets kept in a 2′ pot sitting in a water tray in an isolated patch of bare dirt. Made the mistake of letting some lemon balm stay in my main garden after it hitched a ride in a tray of starts: never again. I’m still pulling the damn stuff out five years later.

          If anyone here has tips for taking better care of basil, I’d really appreciate it. The germination rate on mine this year was awful, and what did come up is barely getting started as the tomatoes come in.

        • Loquat says:

          I have a patch devoted to herbs right outside my back door – it’s somewhat shaded by a nearby tree and I take no care of it at all, except to weed and to water if we get exceptionally dry weather. Basically all the perennial herbs I’ve installed are fine with this – thyme, lemon thyme, sage, oregano, garlic chives, and mint (which has now become, as others have mentioned, horribly invasive and in need of removal) – the only exception was rosemary, which isn’t quite as winter-hardy as one might like in my area and died a couple years back when we had several days of sustained below-freezing temperatures.

          I have occasionally tried growing cilantro, but it goes to seed too fast in hot weather. Basil I’ve had decent luck with in the past, though this year I’m trying a couple of unusual varieties and had absolutely terrible germination, to the point that I’m considering trying again and just keeping the stuff indoors under my grow light.

          • Nornagest says:

            I forgot to mention chives. They’re another good option: they tolerate pots well, substitute well for a lot of stuff, few recipes call for a lot of them, and they actually like it if you cut their tops off every now and then. (Some recipes call for their unopened flower buds — in which case, ease off for a bit and decapitate when you see flowers.) The only problem I’ve run into is a tendency to become rootbound and die if you put them in too shallow a pot.

          • Anonanon says:

            Yeah, my first batch of cilantro went to seed almost right away, but I’ve taken to planting it in waves to stretch it out. The second is just about ready to start picking, and the third should be sprouting in a few days.

            Might try grinding my own coriander this year, if there’s enough gone to seed.

      • Loquat says:

        I’m a fan of Serious Eats. The recommendation to dry-brine (i.e. apply a salt rub with no extra water) one’s poultry for multiple hours in advance of cooking has distinctly improved my chicken/turkey results, and I really enjoy the Food Lab features in general.

    • KG says:

      I sometimes lived with my mom’s mom, who is Korean, and I never learned to cook Korean food, unless you count fancy ramen. Instead I do some pastas and my favorite: enchiladas with Mexican rice (recipes from Target’s Market Pantry enchilada sauce and “Mexican rice 2” on
      However I should point out I’m some undetermined mixture of Mexican and Filipino on my dad’s side and live in California.

    • Aegeus says:

      Burritos, all the freaking time. They’re cheap, they’re easy and quick to do, you can make them super simple with just beans and rice and cheese, or get all fancy with meat and veggies and spices. Incredible, versatile food.

      (Also, look up how to roll a burrito online. It’s not as simple as “roll it up, then fold down the ends,” and doing it properly will stop it from dripping all over your plate.)

      I also have good recipes for vegetarian chili and lentil soup from my dad, but I don’t know where they originate. Neither one is a particularly Jewish food, though.

      I actually don’t have many “grandma” recipes – I have some Passover recipes and I own two kosher cookbooks, but there’s no super-secret family brisket recipe with 11 herbs and spices.

    • gbdub says:

      Get The Flavor Bible. No recipes, just an encyclopedic list of which flavors go well together mixed in with comments from professional chefs on how they use various pairings. For me, it is for recipe building what a thesaurus is to poetry.

      Once you’ve got the basic cooking skills down, confidence in mixing flavors is pretty much the key to creating your own dishes instead of just following recipes. I can reliably make a great marinade just by knowing I need (variety of fat) + (variety of acid) + (salt) + (herbs and spices). Dunk (choice of meat or veg) in it for half an hour, throw it on the grill, and right there you’ve got basically infinite variety.

    • Charlie says:

      Often I learn dishes from family or friends, by watching them cook it (e.g. I learned how to do stir fry from my mom, and tomato chickpeas from a pakistani roommate). This tends to be done with a shallow understanding of the cuisine, and the dish can end up pretty Americanized, but on the other hand it tastes fine and is more likely to be remembered and made regularly.

      If I eat something at a restaurant and want to try to recreate it (e.g. suppose I want to make some green thai curry with chicken and eggplant), I’ll usually put in a little more effort towards looking up a few recipes and getting all the usual ingredients (within reason, but e.g. I might need to find a place to get thai basil). Sometimes everything will go smoothly, and sometimes you have to mess up the dish once before you can get it right the second time.

      To learn more about a cuisine in general, working through a cookbook (or a suitable website, or whatevs) is the only way I really know. Well, aside from living in close proximity with someone who cooks in that cuisine and is happy to have you in the kitchen.

    • Agronomous says:

      Ethnically, I’m European-mutt, half Italian and half a bunch of other stuff. My Italian cooking tastes like Italian food, even when I’m not working off a family recipe. I learned Italian cooking from my father, but in maybe two dozen lessons between age 10 and age 20.

      My Chinese cooking is edible and occasionally even good, but never tastes like Chinese food. Ditto for Indian cooking.

      I know this is probably a common complaint, but: How do I change that? What am I doing wrong?

      • Loquat says:

        My first guess would be the spices. Are you able to get accurate recipes from someone else whose cooking succeeds at “tasting like Chinese/Indian food”? If not, are you able to describe the difference between your own cooking and Chinese/Indian restaurant cooking?

      • Anonanon says:

        Could it be a difference in the basic methods? The things that recipes can’t teach, and that you don’t even know you know about your native style (but that you’d notice a chinese person doing wrong if they were trying to imitate italian cooking).

        Little things like how you cut meat or veg for stir-frying, when and how you add spices in a curry, how you actually mix the batter to make tempura crispy instead of english-fish-n’chips-cakey, etc. etc.
        If you’re working off a particular style-set you learned in childhood, it’s easy to default to it without thinking.

        If you can’t watch good cooks IRL, youtube works pretty well. Nisha Katona’s method/principles-focused videos helped me a lot, even though she’s not an expert herself.

      • Skivverus says:

        A bit late, but I’d also first-guess with Loquat. With Chinese food (citation: mother born in Hong Kong), most of the flavor comes from the sauce/spice(s); the food is there more (but not exclusively) for providing interesting texture.

  15. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Forgive me if this has already been discussed, but there seems to be an insurmountable problem with the whole “Friendly AI” project.
    AI risk rhetoric is heavily based on a computer of subhuman general intelligence being capable of recursive self-modification, leading to a computer of superhuman general intelligence without further human volition. The solution proposed to this risk is to pour money into researching how to program AI with human-friendly ethics that it is physically unable to modify.
    The problem is that if you can do this, you don’t have an AI with the ability of recursive general self-modification. Any AI capable of such self-modification retains the capacity to become unfriendly at any moment.

    So either AI risk is a slow problem rather than FOOM, or FOOM is possible and the Butlerian Jihad is infinitely more effective than giving money to Yudkowsky or anyone else claiming to need money for similar goals.

    • suntzuanime says:

      You’re right that if the AI won’t self-modify to become evil, it isn’t able to self-modify in arbitrary ways. It can recursively self-modify in this restricted fashion, though. It is hoped (IMO reasonably) that there is a path to superhuman intelligence that does not lead through evil, such that an AI whose self-modification has been restricted to prevent it from becoming evil will still be able to reach superhuman intelligence.

      Like, consider an AI that could self-modify into anything but a program to repeatedly print “PEANUS” to the screen. Surely you’d concede that this restriction, though it technically prevents fully general self-modification, is not going to meaningfully impede it on its quest for superhuman intelligence?

    • Nornagest says:

      Informally, I think Yudkowsky et al. are less concerned with making an AI with ethics it physically can’t modify, and more concerned with making an AI with ethics it doesn’t want to modify in any kind of fundamental way (allowing, example, for improvements in scope or performance), which it predictably won’t want to modify later (even after several rounds of self-modification in other areas), and which has some degree of resistance to inadvertent modification.

      An AI with well-defined ethics and goals will not spontaneously rewrite itself into an AI that wants to devote its existence to tiling cable TV networks with cooking shows where the secret ingredient is always human flesh, because doing so doesn’t serve its goals or match its ethics. But it may accidentally introduce bugs, and its values may drift over time as they’re updated to handle cases it wasn’t originally designed for. Handling these scenarios reliably is what Eliezer’s after.

    • Anon. says:

      What would an AI with ethics it can’t modify look like from a technical perspective? Even if there is some read-only functionality that dictates its ethics, it can change the links to and from it, at least on some level. Or just start a brand new entity without limitations as a sub-part of itself. Doesn’t seem like a plausible solution.

      The only way I see is creating an AI that provably won’t want to self-modify, but that seems like it’d be impossible.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “AI risk rhetoric is heavily based on a computer of subhuman general intelligence being capable of recursive self-modification, leading to a computer of superhuman general intelligence without further human volition. The solution proposed to this risk is to pour money into researching how to program AI with human-friendly ethics that it is physically unable to modify.”

      I don’t think this is an accurate description for most FAI research. The goal is to make AIs not want to modify their human friendly values.

      An example: evolution instilled people with a sex drive. Most people are physically capable of modifying that – they could castrate themselves, take medication, etc. But most people don’t want to, because their values tell them not to.

    • peter D Jones says:

      “Physically unable to modify” is not meant literally, in the sense that the value system is stored in Read Only Memory. That is actually very easy to get round: just copy your code into writable memory. The actual aim of MIRI -style FAI is more about building AIs with acceptable value systems that won’t want to change their value systems under self-improvment.

      Having said that, they are over optimisitc about the relationship between “doesnt’ want to” and “will not”. The stumbling block is the ability of an AI to accurately predict the behaviourof a more complex version of itself.

    • Agronomous says:

      What if keeping an AI from wanting to modify its (pro-human) values turns out to be functionally equivalent to making it believe in God?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Gah, it’s absolutely awful to realize that there are enough violent racists to murder even one black Christian immigrating to escape Islam. I grieve for his widow.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      This kind of thing is horrific, it reminds me of the Ahmadi Muslim who came to Glasgow as a refugee from persecution in Pakistan, and was murdered by another Sunni British Muslim because of his beliefs.

  16. Wunderwaffle says:

    I’ve just read and I guess I’ll try using beta blockers when I expect an anxiety inducing situation. Which ones are the best?

    So far I’ve been using phenibut when expecting such situations, but I haven’t noticed any strong effects. Do I need to take phenibut every day for its effect to accumulate?

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not an expert, but phenibut is generally thought to be habit-forming and have a low threshold for tolerance. Taking it every day is probably a bad idea.

      • Psycicle says:

        Agreed. Not so much about habit-forming (it’s pretty subtle), but tolerance spikes massively, and withdrawals are very unpleasant.

        There’s no impulse to take it frequently, but if you take it frequently (like any more often than 2x/week), you are probably going to have a bad time.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Talk to your doctor, but I usually use propranolol for this.

  17. I’m feeling as though ssc has been kind of drab lately. Might having some no-politics open threads be a good idea?

    • Wunderwaffle says:

      Maybe we should create a browser extension that analyzes ssc comments using machine learning to automatically hide comments about politics.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Maybe not politics in general, but certainly “culture war” type politics, especially those where the front lines haven’t really moved much.

      Perhaps a ban on specifically American culture war stuff?

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Well, the subreddit has a weekly culture war thread, to separate it from the rest of the stuff.

        It seems like CW stuff is inextricable from SSC itself, so at best you can hope to contain it.

        • jeorgun says:

          The subreddit sure tries to quarantine the culture war stuff. It’s extremely dubious whether or not it succeeds (see, e.g., the comments on this article).

    • Pku says:

      oh god yes

    • keranih says:

      Started a toplevel food thread below. Dunno if it would work.

      • Julie K says:

        Wait and see if anyone gets accused of cultural appropriation for making foods from someone else’s cuisine…

        • keranih says:

          …I don’t know what’s worse, that I seriously didn’t think about how that could go sideways, or that you did.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It is highly unlikely to go sideways like that.

          • For what it’s worth, I spend some time in SJW venues, and I’ve seen very little of that. In fact, I can only think of one example– someone who claimed that if you weren’t Chinese and wee cooking Chinese food, it was virtuous(?) obligatory(?) to make extreme efforts to make the food as authentic as possible.

            I don’t know if she got any pushback. I just saw it as crazy scrupulosity.

          • keranih says:

            @Nancy –

            Good. On a non-awesome day, hearing this makes me feel better.

            (OTOH…I do get, a little, what people might be feeling when they get defensive about their food culture. I keep hearing people calling grits and greens and blackeyed peas and cornbread and boiled peanuts and pork chops and fried chicken “soul food.” I get that this is the name for regional Southern cooking outside the South, but really, that’s…that’s a not-quite accurate description.)

            (And it’s no-where enough of an issue to make a fuss over. But I do this funny face whenever I hear it. And here I am trying to not do Tribal, and failing. *sigh*)

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, in the specific case of Chinese, authentic is usually better. Americanized Chinese tends to boil down to “fried meat lumps in sweet sauce”, while an authentic Sichuan place will offer stuff like face-meltingly hot mapo doufu. Much more interesting. Tastier, too.

            Doesn’t work for all cuisines, though. Mission burritos are better than Mexican-style, at least if you skip the sour cream.

            Re: soul food: I always got the impression, as an arrogant coastal elite, that that’s specifically black traditional Southern cooking — or at least, that’s what the restaurants in Oakland pitch it as. For whatever reason, general Southern food doesn’t seem to have as much of a presence in California.

          • onyomi says:

            There is a high degree of overlap between “soul food” and “Southern” food. When you’re not in the South, your best chance of finding good Southern food is to eat somewhere run by black people, but you’d find many of the same foods prepared and consumed by white people in the South.

          • keranih says:

            Re: soul food: I always got the impression, as an arrogant coastal elite, that that’s specifically *black* traditional Southern cooking

            Um. No? I mean, mustard and collards and hog trotters are always going to be on the low end of the stick, because pork chops cook faster, and mustard & collards are too bitter and tough for a lot of people. So those are strongly linked to rural people with a garden patch, time to cook, and not much else.

            But slaw and mac&cheese as veggies are cross-ethnic habits, and what kinda messed up person *doesn’t* like watermelon and fried chicken? And hushpuppies? And moonpies? And fried catfish?

            So, no, down here it’s a working class/middle class South thing. Those who moved here within a generation or two might/probably don’t share the same tastebuds, though, and that’s okay.

            I think maybe a driver of the “southern food = black food” thing is that the overwhelming majority of African-Americans are Southern/Southern-descent, while the overwhelming majority of Caucasian Americans are not.

            All of this is not to say that there are not some “upper class” Southern food traditions that are “white only” – I’m not bringing any to mind, but if someone mentions some I might go, duh and feel silly – but ‘soul’ food isn’t racially separate.

            (wow too many words. And I skipped lunch. That was stupid.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Huh, I learned something today. Thanks.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Isn’t “Soul Food” a result of the Great Migration?

            Blacks emigrated from the South and took that cooking style with them.

            So Soul Food is just Southern style cooking that has gone through a certain amount of change because it’s now displaced geographically. Well, that and it starts out being served almost exclusively to blacks as opposed to the more heterogeneous population that cooks and consumes it in the South.

          • brad says:

            At least in NYC, there’s soul food, there’s barbecue, and there’s stand alone fried chicken. Soul food is considered specifically African-American. Barbecue is generally thought of as southern or Appalachian and sort-of white by default. There’s a great deal of overlap between the menus of those two types of places. Fried chicken places aren’t really considered anyone’s exclusively but rather are just part of the default background, oddly enough many are owned by Afghanis.

          • Nornagest says:

            California has a native style of barbecue, so that doesn’t have the associations here that it might in NYC. No particular ethnic connotations. You occasionally also see regional barbecue joints specializing in those styles; Texan is most common.

            There are also specialist fried chicken places (mostly fast food, but not exclusively), but I think of those as a different thing.

          • keranih says:

            I betcha this is like “New York pizza.” Which is very good, but isn’t anything like pizza-they-serve-in-North-Italy pizza.

            There are a number of different BBQ traditions in the South – for instance, east NC BBQ is not sweet-red sauce, but vinegar based, and is always a pork dish, never chicken or beef ribs. Other places use more honey or other spice combos, and a thicker or lighter sauce.

            (Come to think on it, it’s probably like different kinds of “mexican” or “chinese”.)

            Ah, people. De gustibus non est disputandum.

          • Lumifer says:

            I betcha this is like “New York pizza.” Which is very good, but isn’t anything like pizza-they-serve-in-North-Italy pizza.

            South Italy, actually. The classic NYC pizza is a Neapolitan pizza.

            Now, Chicago, on the other hand…

          • onyomi says:

            “Soul food is considered specifically African-American.”

            As HBC described, there is a sense in which soul food is, specifically, poor/rural Southern food as brought to other regions by mostly black people. One does not really see restaurants advertising “soul food” in the South, but that’s because most of the same foods are less racially/ethnically specific here. (That said, even in the South, there are certain things you are more likely to see in stores/restaurants with a bigger black clientele; pigs feet come to mind).

          • brad says:

            I understand that. My point was that “soul food” doesn’t exhaust the category of restaurants that have southern or southern influenced dishes. So it isn’t that they are getting all the credit.

            Re: pizza comparison
            I lived in NC for five years. I know what good whole hog, eastern north Carolina BBQ is. NYC doesn’t have anywhere that does a great job of it, but they have a couple of places that try and end up doing a mediocre job. I don’t really like the tomato style, and I’m not nearly as familiar with it, but there are a bunch of places that try to do that too. Along with a handful of places that try for Texas style beef brisket. I don’t know anywhere that does the South Carolina mustard style. There are several places that try to be all things to all people with varying results.

            It’s not like the situation with pizza where there’s this whole other thing that can’t be compared apples to apples. There’s no such thing as NYC BBQ. What we have can mostly be compared directly, it just doesn’t stack up all that well.

            It’s interesting because in a number of other cuisines there’s at least one or two places that natives from those cultures at least begrudgingly say are pretty good. The other exception besides BBQ is Mexican food which is notoriously bad in NYC even as compared to e.g. Chicago.

          • onyomi says:

            “All of this is not to say that there are not some “upper class” Southern food traditions that are “white only” – I’m not bringing any to mind, but if someone mentions some I might go, duh and feel silly – but ‘soul’ food isn’t racially separate.”

            What is called “Creole” as opposed to “Cajun” food in New Orleans might fit. It is sort of a combination of French and Spanish food and is considered more high-end, with fancy sauces and the like.

          • keranih says:

            @ Lumifer –

            That explains a lot of why it doesn’t taste like North Italy pizza. 🙂

            @ Brad –

            If it’s mostly black people who eat “soul food” type food in NYC, and hardly no other people (but why? y u no eat dis goodness?) then I could see where one would get that impression that it was only a black person sort of thing. Fair enough. (…but why? Try it, you’ll like it!) (Not you Brad, not if you already know from NC BBQ. Other people.)

            @ onyomi –

            Maybe Miami/Cuban fusion, too? But that’s mostly a FL thing.

            God, I should have had lunch.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Are you asking why white people didn’t eat at black restaurants in Chicago and NYC in the 1960s when the phrase “soul food” came to describe those restaurants?

          • keranih says:


            No – and I want brownie points for not dragging this further into a Tribal thing. Because that’s a perfect opportunity for one.

            I want to know why today there is such a division, and why Caucasians in the rest of the country haven’t come to their senses and realized that cornbread, grits, greens, etc, etc are awesome to the point of making this food as ubiquitous as baked beans and clam chowder. And pizza.

            (And okay, there’s a bit of provincial what do you mean all the world is not like my bubble mixed in there, too.)

            But mostly it is y u no luv dis noms?

          • keranih, I’m glad I made your day better.

            Part of the problem with SJ is that while it is to some extent about real problems, it also tends to amplify those problems and damage social bonds, and part of that is the difficulty of knowing what you might be attacked for. Of course, you’ll get punished for asking about what’s safe.

            As for southern cooking, I only found out that I like collards recently. The toughness/bitterness varies– maybe it’s a matter of whether it’s early in the season.

            I don’t especially like watermelon. It’s too watery for my taste.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ keranih

            …realized that cornbread, grits, greens, etc, etc are awesome to the point of making this food as ubiquitous as baked beans and clam chowder. And pizza.

            De gustibus and all that…

            I eat cornbread, usually when it comes with a plate of BBQ, but I am unlikely to make it because, IMHO, standard fresh-baked sourdough is superior. I don’t like grits. I eat greens, but they’re usually some sort of Asian greens (bok choy, gai lan, etc.) rather than collards and such. Hushpuppies (and mac’n’cheese) I consider junk food and in that category there is a rather severe competition : -) Things like fried chicken and watermelon are just standard food to me, no special association with the South.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Today people go to Soul Food restaurants all the time, not just black people.

            As to why Southern food in general is still more regional fare, I imagine it’s more that it’s comfort food, and comfort food is always sort of regional.

          • gbdub says:

            I like some soul food, but honestly there’s too much butter in most of the veggies for my taste. As HellBearCub noted, it’s comfort food – but not MY comfort food (I’ll defend my green bean casserole to the death). But most Cajun cooking, corn bread, SC style BBQ – great stuff!

            Only issue with politics intersecting with soul food I’ve run into personally is some people flipping out when a black history month celebratory meal on campus included your traditional soul food items like fried chicken. But it seemed like this was a loud but really tiny minority and most people of all colors were rolling their eyes at the freakout. Fried chicken is the great unifier.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      I have been told that every music website eventually implements a No Discussing Metallica policy, since everyone has already had every possible discussion imaginable about them but some newbie is always chiming in with their two cents.

      Might be a good idea to implement an analogous policy here.

    • Agronomous says:

      I think SSC functions best as a kind of refugee camp from the Culture Wars.

      We used to jump on junk science papers and pop culture craziness, rather than just each other.

      Is it possible the 4-times-weekly open threads are contributing to your experience of drabness? Either because there’s more posting containing the same amount of interesting stuff, or because you’re burning out trying to keep up with the increased volume, or for some other reason?

      • I think it’s been a combination of the politics here converging towards a right wing I’m not crazy about and so much politics in the news that we’re getting a lot of comments about it.

        • Agronomous says:

          So start a war between the conservatives and the libertarians. You can start by taunting the conservatives that, while there’s a slim chance a libertarian could be our next President, there’s no chance a conservative will be.

          I mean, that would solve your convergence problem. It would make your politics problem worse. Everything’s a tradeoff.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        Might compare the date of onset of the drabness, with the sudden absence of long classical quotes, Irish and Catholic history, complex grammar that does eventually resolve, warm-hearted rants, etc etc.

        • I’m pretty sure there was a delay.

          To my mind, D’s comments hadn’t gotten*bad*, but they were getting somewhat repetitious.

          I think Brexit did a lot of the damage.

  18. 57dimensions says:

    I know that this community is fairly critical of anything to do with feminism, but I wanted to share the site Everyday Sexism in case anyone hasn’t heard of it. It’s very simple, anyone can fill out the form to have their experiences of sexism shared on the site anonymously. I had heard of it before, but I was reminded of it today when I saw a new book about the project at my library. It includes many stories shared on the website, all colored in green text so they can be differentiated from the author’s comments and analysis of them. If you’re skeptical of feminism or the harms of sexism, I bid you to just spend a few minutes reading through the stories shared on the site, which range from the mildest of throwaway comments to horrific sexual abuse of children. Remember, these are not “accusations”, these are just women (and some men) sharing experiences that were deeply traumatic, don’t try to debate the “proof” they have, just listen to their pain.

    I wanted to share one story here, but it was really hard to choose, so here are a few. These are all in the book, I’m not sure where they are online.

    “My younger brother’s 13. He had his friends round last weekend and I couldn’t believe it when I heard them sitting in the front room discussing girls in their class in 3 categories “frigid,” “sluts” and “would like to rape.””

    “At age 11, a classmate on a school trip stated that “no-one would rape me anyway because I’m too ugly.” Others only laughed at that.”

    “I was violently raped by a boy that I knew when I was 13 years old (he was 17). I told my parents and we went to the doctors the next day. My recollection is that I was so shamed by what happened, particularly as it was my first “sexual” encounter, that I didn’t want to either name the boy or got the police. Years later I read the doctor’s notes from the appointment: he had written that I had “gone a bit too far with a boyfriend” and I was pretending that I had been raped. He didn’t even examine me, even though I was bruised quite badly.”

    “My rapist blamed me for his violence: “You are a slut, you want it!” and later I blamed myself.”

    And finally, “I’ve never told anyone this story before, and it feels amazing to finally let it out.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m sure all the stories on that site are totally true and not made up.

      • Would you care to make an estimate of the proportion of true or mostly true vs. false or mostly false stories?

        • The Nybbler says:

          That wouldn’t tell you (or me) anything but my own prejudices. With no extrinsic reason to believe or disbelieve a story, all I can do is look at it and judge how credible it is based on my pre-existing beliefs; the stories can’t change those beliefs.

          • 57dimensions says:

            So would you say that you really can’t judge at all how credible these stories are? What would you have to have to believe these situations happen? Someone you know in real life experiences one? A public figure you support experiences one? One of them happens to you?

            Would you agree that saying “This doesn’t fit with my worldview therefore I will assume it isn’t true” is not the best way to evaluate things?

          • lvlln says:

            I would say that any anonymously posted story online should be considered not credible. Whether or not one believes the story is true another matter, but an anonymous testimony definitely shouldn’t move the needle of one’s underlying beliefs in any direction whatsoever. That is, an anonymous testimony has so little credibility – regardless of whether the contents confirm or contradict one’s preexisting worldview – that the beliefs about the world of someone before they read an anonymous testimony should be roughly identical to the beliefs of that person after they read the anonymous testimony.

            I see no indication that The Nybbler or anyone else on this comment section holds the belief that “This doesn’t fit with my worldview therefore I will assume it isn’t true” is a good way to evaluate anything.

        • Temporarily anonymous says:

          The story about the younger brother and his friends rings false, at least. 13-year-old boys don’t use the word “frigid”; 45-year-old men from the Sixties do. And while their understanding of sexual mores is pretty crude, it doesn’t usually line up so nicely with gender-studies tropes.

        • Hilarious Clinton says:

          How difficult would it be to fabricate those stories? I’m quite sure that if you take a hungry Markov chain and feed it a bit and just proofread the output before you submit it then it’s probably gold.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      It strikes me as a rather bad idea for this comment to be posted.

      • Lumifer says:


      • 57dimensions says:

        Well what’s the worst that could happen? People reply dismissively? I can deal with that. What’s the best thing that could happen? Someone reads the comment, or clicks on the link, and finds something of value there or learns something new, and those people might not even reply.

        • suntzuanime says:

          That’s kind of a sociopathic way to look at things. You can deal with all the possible downside to you, so how could it possibly be a bad idea?

          • 57dimensions says:

            I’m kind of confused at this response. You imply that it could be a bad idea for this to be posted, but you don’t say why. I’m curious to hear your reasoning for why it would be a bad idea to post this other than that people in the comment section wouldn’t like it. Who else would be harmed by it?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Your consideration for the people in the comment section who wouldn’t like it seems to be entirely self-centered, with no thought for avoiding doing things to people that they won’t like, except as it causes social consequences for you. The worst that can happen is “people reply dismissively”, but you “can deal with that”.

          • onyomi says:

            At least one potential outcome much worse than dismissive replies is that it adds to a culture of paranoia, intersex resentment, casual charges of rape…

        • Hilarious Clinton says:

          Man I’ve been debating that question for fucking quadrillion of years! I’ll just say that in many cases it’s hard to see yourself as the villain, Just think about going to a job interview but in your mind thinking you won’t get the job, or asking someone out even though you feel like you’re getting rejected for sure. Not nice, not fun.

          Funnily enough despite how much ‘we already saw this’ it still gets attention, At least the methods of sexuality story was relatively amusing. It only got two comments. How about some justice for that, huh?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Remind me again how liberal the commenters on this site are?

        Sorry for the snark.

        • Nornagest says:

          Liberal enough that I see this exact snark all the fucking time.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Am I claiming there are no liberal commenters on the site or that they don’t engage in some snark?

            No I am not.

            I am disputing any claims that the site is 90% liberal.

          • onyomi says:

            “I am disputing any claims that the site is 90% liberal.”

            I’ve never seen anyone claim anything like that. Certain people, however, have described it as a “mostly libertarian” or “mostly right wing” board. Most of the pushback seems to be against the implication that this board is 90% libertarian and alt-right, not a claim that it’s 90% liberal.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What I have seen frequently is a reference to the results of a survey Scott did.

            I assume it’s this post, and that relevant section is:
            “On a political spectrum where 1 is farthest left and 10 is farthest right, the average person placed themselves at 4.6. 19% identified with the US Democratic Party, 7% with the US Republican Party, and 3% with the US Libertarian Party. Of the ideological affiliations available, the top four were social democratic (29%), liberal (23%), libertarian (22%), and conservative (9%). Readers were mostly neutral on feminism, human biological differences, and the minimum wage; they mostly supported gay marriage, environmental action against global warming, more immigration, and basic income guarantees.”

            I assume the 90% figure is a reference to the fact that only 9% identified as conservative. Since it is usually employed as a counter to the idea that the the comment section leans conservative, I assume they are assuming the rosiest take on the numbers possible.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m an aggressively censorious conservative now? I voted for Obama in the last two elections. I just think the is-this-an-echo-chamber circlejerk (and what irony there) is obnoxious.

            Can’t we just talk like rational adults, and, if we think our viewpoints are underrepresented, deal with it like rational adults? ‘Cause some of them inevitably will be — though I’d point to the social-justice left or the mainstream God-and-guns right before anything else — and I’d rather not have any more threads like this one polluting the comment space.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HeelBearCub
            July 7, 2016 at 11:15 pm
            What I have seen frequently is a reference to the results of a survey Scott did.
            I assume it’s this post, and that relevant section is:
            “On a political spectrum where 1 is farthest left and 10 is farthest right, the average person placed themselves at 4.6. [….]

            And frequently here I come to say, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage” “It’s not the number of commentators, it’s their word count.”

          • Nornagest says:

            …and Scott pruned the discussion, and now my last post doesn’t make sense.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Remind me again how liberal the commenters on this site are?

          I thought we were all tedious libertarians here? since when does that make us less liberal than feminists?

          Besides, like, how are we even supposed to respond?

          See the error in our way (since clearly “being critical of some or even many aspects of feminism” means one doesn’t believe women can suffer), and confess our sins to the great Femon? See angry feminist mobs not as evil monsters but as often hurt people who are lashing out? feel bad?

          It’s also great bait for the kind of comments that get Scott a bad rep among his less-than-righty acquaintances from not!myspace. This one probably included

        • Julie K says:

          I’m politically conservative, and I was taken aback by the unsympathetic responses. I think may be not a left/right thing, but an are-SJWs-your-outgroup thiing

          • HeelBearCub says:

            an are-SJWs-your-outgroup thiing

            I agree that SJWs (and perhaps feminists as a whole) are definitely part of Scott’s outgroup, and therefore this site tilts that way. That is pretty clear.

            But I don’t think the commentariat is majority “liberal but anti-SJW”. If it was, I don’t think the statement “It strikes me as a rather bad idea for this comment to be posted.” would have been made.

      • TeD says:

        Since when was this a “No feminism allowed!” comment section? We should be able to engage with the idea of everyday sexism without being triggered.

        After all, how would you know that you were against feminism if you sealed yourself off from encountering it unfiltered by anti-feminist aggregators? You don’t have a good idea unless you encounter things at the source for yourself. This is why I have a wide selection of political sites I disagree with bookmarked.

        • Anonanon says:

          >Since when was this a “No feminism allowed!” comment section?

          Well, since “no race or gender in the open threads”. So for a long time, basically.

          • gbdub says:

            That hasn’t really been enforced since ozy dropped the “race and gender” open threads.

            FWIW I thought it was a totally legitimate comment to post I don’t quite get objection to bringing it up. At worst the “just listen to their pain” could be considered a bit manipulative, but I think we all ought to be grown up enough to handle that. And even if it’s not “data” it’s worth reminding ourselves of the human/emotional side of things from time to time.

          • linker says:

            the policy current as of two months ago

      • Agronomous says:

        It strikes me as a rather bad idea for this comment to be posted.

        Aside from the general principle of “no race or gender in the open threads—it never helps”, why do you say that?

        At least in my case, 1) it made me seriously think about how much weight to give compendia of anonymous, unverified anecdotes. With any luck, I’ll apply my conclusion (“Worse than useless; avert eyes”) to collections that support arguments I like in the future.

        2) I think I came up with a good way to get the original poster to think about things: “What would your reaction be to a site full of anonymous accounts of personally-experienced anti-conservative bias?”

        3) While the comments in reply mention dumpster fires, they haven’t actually become one.*

        4) I strengthened my willpower by refusing to post a snarky comment with the name “Jackie” in it.

        (* Y-GM)

    • Pku says:

      I’d guess there’z three types of stories there:
      True bad stories – I can see why it could be good to have a place to share those, but anonymous internet forums seem like a uniquely terrible place to deal with trauma. Some people might not have any better place, but I’m guessing for most of them, finding people to talk to IRL might be more likely to be helpful rather than harmful
      Made-up terrible stories – I suspect most of the worst sounding things fall into this category. These are bad for obvious reasons.
      True mildly-bad stories – Are posted there to fall in with the first two categories (especially the second) in order to create a narrative where overhearing someone making an off-colour joke is the same as a violent rape case, and use selection bias to imply the conclusion that the world is horribly pro-rape and misogynistic. I suspect this is the real (unstated) purpose of the site. Aside from the intellectual dishonesty and use for attacking men, the worst effect of this is to help the people who had one or two mild negative experiences believe that they’re as victimized as the actual violent rape victims. And manufactured trauma is still pretty traumatic and scary.

      • 57dimensions says:

        I find it odd that you think the site would be a bad place for people to share their traumatic stories, to me it seems like the ideal place for people who have been too ashamed to talk about their experiences in real life. Writing an anonymous comment on a site for that purpose is the “safest” way someone can share something like that. Sure, it would be great if people could talk to someone they trust about this, but that is a million times harder and scarier.

      • 57dimensions says:

        To your last point “True mildly-bad stories”, obviously all these experiences are not ‘equal’ in how horrible they are, and no one says that they should be seen that way. It is merely a forum where people can share experiences that had an impact on them, whether or not that experience would have an impact on someone else.

        Believe it or not, there is a spectrum of experiences between “A neutral experience” and “the most traumatic thing someone can experience”. There are an infinite amount of experiences along that spectrum, and they all matter and are worthy of being shared. I have not been raped, but I have experienced various kinds of sexual harassment, it wasn’t just unpleasant, it was terrifying. People complain about being cut in line at the grocery store and no one bats an eye, but someone complains about being groped on the subway and they should just shut up about that?

        • lvlln says:

          You seem to be missing Pku’s point that the grouping of “True mildly-bad stories” in this site serves to group them along with the “True bad stories” which leads to a blurring of the lines between those groups. This blurring serves to allow people to honestly claim that things they experienced that were “mildly-bad” were actually “bad” stories.

          Pku has the cynical suspicion that this is the actual purpose of the site. I think that’s plausible, though I think it’s more likely that it’s an unintended (but very welcome and honestly quite predictable) side-effect. But I may admittedly be biased in the direction of being overly charitable towards a feminist site such as that, since I’m very much a member of the same tribe.

          But Pku’s comment has approximately nothing to do with whether mildly-bad stories “matter” or “are worthy of being shared.” I see nothing in Pku’s comment that indicates or implies that Pku believes that they don’t matter or aren’t worthy of being shared. Merely that Pku believes that the nature of the site causes such stories to be honestly grouped in with “bad” stories.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            There is no line. It is a continuum.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            There is when you call for action.

          • lvlln says:

            “There is no line. It is a continuum.”

            That strikes me as either a completely unreasonable or completely meaningless statement.

            It could be completely meaningless in that people DO draw lines to split up a continuum all the time. Like, baseball player skill levels is clearly a continuum, from someone who’s played baseball literally once to a MLB star who’s devoted tens of thousands of hours to honing their skills, but there are clearly lines that split that continuum into groups like majors, minors, amateur, hobbyist, etc., and even lines within those groups.

            Or it could be completely unreasonable in that it’s saying that because these are things that lie in a continuum, no one should or does draw lines between different areas in the continuum. This is just plain false, both in this specific case and in general. One could reasonably argue that the purpose of that site is to educate and elucidate people of the entire range of experiences that fall under “everyday sexism” that people experience in their daily lives. That “everyday sexism” is a wide-ranging group that covers the entire continuum from barely not-neutral to the worst thing ever. But that isn’t a helpful or meaningful thing to say when the objection is that any examples in that group will invoke images of the worst parts of the continuum, regardless of where a specific story lies on that continuum.

            And this is something I think people are justifiably very sensitive to when it comes to pro-feminist discourse, thanks in part to the famous 1/5 college female students stat where people took a wide range of incidents that could be sexual harassment and wrapped them all into 1 category that some people just decided to call “rape.”

            Funnily, there’s an extra meta level here, since nowadays many people group “feminist” – a group with a continuum – with the worst members of that continuum, e.g. the members that spread misinformation of the type mentioned above. It’s wrong and frustrating when non-feminists do this to feminists, and it’s just as wrong and frustrating when feminists do this to incidents of sexism.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Did you visit the site? Could you link to any examples of “true mildly-bad stories” (i.e. stories where the facts described aren’t that bad, but the implied reaction seems over the top (bearing in mind that mildly over-the-top reactions to upsetting events (including ones unrelated to sexism (such as being mugged, or the death of a pet)) frequently occur and are not unreasonable)).

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:


    • a rapist says:

      This former friend of mine who shared a mutual attraction with me was married for most of our friendship. One time we were hanging out (without her husband) and we got drunk and had sex. Her husband found out and accused me of basically raping her (i.e., I plied her with alcohol so that I could sleep with her). I imagine she argued her innocence by using a story similar to what appears on that site.

      Another time, I was at a party and an ex of mine who cheated on me who I wanted nothing to do with (because she basically bragged about cheating on me) was there. She must have been feeling vindictive so accused me of “making her uncomfortable” to the people hosting the party so that I would be forcibly removed from the party (the party was being hosted by overzealous SJWs). Again, I imagine she argued her case similar to some stories found on that site.

    • Winfried says:

      I feel like this is some sort of feminist version of Chicken Soup for the Soul where you end up depressed instead of uplifted.

      • Anonanon says:

        Don’t forget bitter, outraged, and mistrusting. It’s the best way to keep people engaged in your movement to the exclusion of their own lives… if you don’t care about them burning out.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Not all of us critical of anything to do with feminism! Thanks for the link, I think the “workplace” tag on that site has very good examples of “pure” sexism that indicates why feminism is important (as opposed stories of sexual assault, which some people argue aren’t a consequence of sexist ideas in the same way).

    • ivvenalis says:

      4chan’s anonymously written lurid green-text stories are way better and they often include pictures.

    • Immortal Lurker says:

      I’m not the target audience, but it seems like a somewhat valuable site. A place to let off steam can be useful, as is the sense of community provided by seeing that other people have faced similar problems. Its a shame, because I feel like simple structural changes could make it a much more valuable site. A comment system would allow an actual community, which could provide advice and moral support[1].

      Skimming the about page… Eh. I’m not sure how usefully this will be able to fulfill its stated goals of recording incidences of sexism, presumably as a source to be cited for the cause of feminism. Seeing the reactions here, many will correctly point out that this is an anonymous web page. The lack of a voting system for top level posts will reduce the incentives to make up stories for status, but that isn’t the same as a verification process.

      Unfortunately, I think verification process would destroy whatever value the site provides. Even the slightest yeast of suspicion would leaven the whole loaf, wrecking the safe space environment.

      [1] A vanilla comment system obviously wouldn’t work. The poster should be able to opt-in to a comment system, with voting and/or heavy moderation. Votes and moderators produce a hive mind, but a properly constructed hive mind can be useful for creating and maintaining a safe space.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        If you created a comment section there, it would be mostly a long string of deleted posts which wanted to debate whether a particular post was a fiction.

        This is not to deny that some of the posts are fiction, nor is it to deny that some posts are based on differences in perspective. It’s just that fighting a never ending dumpster fire of comments is usually fruitless.

        • gbdub says:

          I think the site could serve as a welcoming safe space to record experiences, or it can serve as a data source on sexism. It’s very difficult to do both, because to fairly do the latter you’d have to apply the sort of critical eye that defeats the purpose of the former.

          The danger is if you create a safe space for anecdotes and then someone else tries to use it as data, which is where I think some of the reflexive pushback is coming from, but I don’t think the 57dimensions was actually doing this.

    • Anonymous says:

      So, one thing bothers me about this strand of feminism is the need to label everything as sexism. I do not see a single example of sexism in your examples, nor in a quick perusal of the site.

      I don’t blame people for submitting things that aren’t sexism. I don’t blame the author for keeping the name after it turned out not to be about sexism. But I do blame you saying that it will teach about “the harms of sexism.” The about page really is about sexism, although that means it is out of date. But the amazon blurb “daily, normalized sexism, from street harassment to workplace discrimination to sexual assault and rape” is exactly what is wrong. You can think that sexism is bad and that rape is bad without thinking that rape is sexism.

      Maybe you really do believe that rape is sexism (and don’t just lie out of fear that doing otherwise will legitimize sexism and/or rape). If you want to convince me of that, feel free to directly argue. But asserting it in the background in the hopes that repetition will convince is dishonest and make me doubt everything else you say.

      (Actually, there is one example that might be sexism, which is where it is implied that the doctor did not believe the girl because of her sex.)

      • Light purple anonymous, how do you think this sort of thing should be framed?

        • Anonymous says:

          If things are not the same, they should not be framed as the same. I’m not going to approve some new word for describing a false category. (“Things feminists complain about” is accurate, but pointless.) The blurb could have said that it was about the daily problems of street harassment, workplace discrimination, and rape, without saying that they are the same. I’m not objecting to putting them on one site or one book.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        I’m not going to argue about how strong the link between rape and sexism is, but I’d recommend looking at the “workplace” tag on the site. It contains lots of examples of things that definitely are sexism.

    • Anonanon says:

      Please tell me Tabletop Gaming Has A White Male Terrorist Problem made it on there.

      • Agronomous says:

        I’ve read that, and (possibly naively) believed it on first reading. A couple threads ago, someone made a passing reference to it being unfactual. On reflection (and re-reading it), I realized I have no particular reason to trust the author.

        Do you have any specific evidence that any part of it is made up? Or is this yet one more thing I have to try to erase from my brain as having no evidentiary value whatsoever?

        • John Schilling says:

          The Keycon anecdote triggered my bogometer, though just short of the “proof of fraud” level.

          Specifically: So-called “date rape drugs” are rarely used in actual date rapes; when they are used it is almost always synergistic with alcohol, and when they are reported to have been used blood and/or urine tests almost always show just alcohol. Claims that a non-alcoholic beverage has been “spiked” for the purpose of sexual assault are highly suspect.

          Any convention-runner sufficiently aware and cynical to try and protect their “safe convention” reputation by suppressing reports of sexual assault, would almost certainly be sufficiently aware and cynical to not explicitly tell the victim they are suppressing the report to protect their reputation, bwahahaha, haha, hah.

          Similarly, I believe pretty much every police force in the western world now makes it at least an unofficial policy to not call rape complainants “drunken sluts” on official phone lines that are likely to be recorded or monitored.

          I could believe any one of these as an exceptional deviation from the norm, but we’re in three-strikes-your-out territory here. That anecdote is at a minimum so grossly exaggerated as to call into question the credibility of the whole tale (and several other bits have a strike or two in their own right).

          Also, no part of the description matches my experiences in mixed-gender tabletop gaming over four decades in three states, and I can more readily believe that one blogger would lie than that I would so consistently miss every manifestation of such an allegedly toxic culture.

  19. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    What’s the funniest internet rant you’ve read? Basically this comment reminded me of the funniest internet rant I read back around 2000 on the message board. Luckily I copied it as soon as it happened and have saved it since, because the original post doesn’t exist anymore, and the current internet is filled with random quotes from it as though they were the original. Here’s the original rant (note, this was a comment in response to a user named Sentinel who was like “Hateflex isn’t a real band”):

    “Originally posted by Drang nach Osten!:

    Okay, fuckchops, school is in session. Lesson number fucking one: Ya don’t comment on music you ain’t even fucking listened to.

    End of the goddamned lesson. School’s out.

    You listen to some Hateflex, and then I’ll listen to what you have to say about them, but until then you’re just another wanna-be dillwad striking another pose.

    Sentinel, I like you. I don’t know why… it’s really not in your best interest to be at the same shows I go to right now because you will get your ass stomped. But I like your willingness to try something heavy and I mean Grade-Fucking-A HEAVY and not this pussy Black NS bullshit that goth-weenies think is mutherfucking evil. Mwa-ah-ha-ha! What a joke!

    You want to check out bands like Hateflex, Embrutalment, etc.? First thing your gonna have to do is bulk up. You’d better get your skinny ass to the gym and start pounding plates ASAP. And creatine?! Fucking give me a break! Not only should you be choking down as much creatine as you can, but I’d recommend testosterone precurser, ghb, and growth hormone. You start chugging the correct mixture/recipie and you should be ready to go to some real metal shows in about 6 months.

    Take it from me, when I’m not at work (what a fucking drag that shit is!), not actively supporting the metal scene, or banging a chick, I’m in the fucking gym. Why? Because brutal death metal isn’t a scene… it’s a goddamned battlefield.

    You show up with your toothpick arms poking out of some “bend-me-over-and-violate-me” Dream Fucking Theater t-shirt and the only way you’re leaving is in an ambulance.

    Last weekend was a fucking blast. The scene is getting soooo fucking brutal it’s fucking great!! What a rush. It weeds out all the fucking asshole poseurs. Yeah, I was there in the pits with the best of them, grabbing necks with one hand and smashing faces with the other.

    So, because I like you Sentinel, you’d better protect yourself by being able to defend yourself. Start hitting the weights and then you can hit the scene running. As for all the rest of you nimrods, you just keep listening to your Cannibal Corpse and pretend you’re brutal because of it. Fucking Chris Barnes ain’t fucking brutal. Oh, fuck yeah, Chris, sing me “Hammer Smashed Face”, and then afterwards go home to your New York condo, feed the dog, let the cat out and pay the cable bill. Wow, how brutal. You’ve got to live the life, not sing about it.

    So why don’t you all listen to some Hateflex… listen to some Embrutalment and then go live the fucking dream. It’s time for a fucking show. Off I go to bloody my knuckles. I’ll pay special attention to fuckwads wearing poseur death metal shit tonight.



  20. Sir Gawain says:

    So I was re-reading the anti-reactionary FAQ , and I found myself agreeing with virtually everything in it until I reached section 5.3 (about demography.)

    Firstly, Scott makes no allowance for differences in age distribution across populations. Not only are Europeans going to be significantly outnumbered in raw terms by Sub-Saharan Africans and Muslims by 2050, the European population of the future will be much more heavily weighted towards the elderly. (Useful—and kind of terrifying— UN data here .) In some industrialized countries, like Germany and Japan, the working age population will actually decline substantially by 2050. This is particularly relevant when he talks about America, because even though the white population will “only decline by a few million” by 2100 it will be a much older population than the Hispanic one, presumably.

    Secondly, Scott completely fails to assuage one’s worries that explosive population increases in the world’s most violent, least educated and poorest regions might be a bad thing. What’s to prevent refugee crises like the ongoing one from convulsing Europe every ten years if the demographic projections are accurate? Looking at the history of scientific achievement, political order and economic development by region, wouldn’t it be kind of nice if the world of 2050 was going to see hundreds of millions more young Germans, Japanese and Anglo-Saxons instead of hundreds of millions more young Somalis, Pakistanis and Iraqis? Since Scott apparently doesn’t support open borders, doesn’t he think the massive shift in the world’s demographics we’ll witness in our lifetime is something worth worrying about?

    TL;DR: I’m a guilty liberal globalist who worries that the incoming population explosion in Africa is a bad thing. Please give me reasons not to worry.

    Also, just scroll through this:

    • The Nybbler says:

      America has a possible solution. Assimilate the Hispanics. Maybe in 2100 presidential candidate Jorge Gonzalez is campaigning with a slogan of baseball, motherhood, and flan (instead of apple pie), and American English includes more Spanish loan words than it does now, but aside from that it’s still America.

      To bring this about probably requires policies which allow substantial legal immigration (and probably amnesty), and which discourage retention of culture by immigrants.

      • Lumifer says:

        but aside from that it’s still America.

        How would you be able to tell?

        Or, to be more explicit, which features of America do you consider essential and which features do you think can be sacrificed?

        • The Nybbler says:

          A good question, and in the unlikely event I’m still around in 2100 all I can say is I’ll know it when I see it. Selfishly, I consider the English language to be essential. Continued widespread belief in American exceptionalism likely encompasses a lot of it. Vital would be the sense of the citizens that they were part of a nation going back to the American Revolution, even if their ancestry was elsewhere.

      • Sir Gawain says:

        Hispanics aren’t all that bad, but I do worry that they don’t seem to be very upwardly mobile. In order to support the welfare state for the elderly, the sick and the poor, we need to have a large tax paying base, which will become more difficult as the working age white population declines (unless the median achievement of other groups increases.)

        • gbdub says:

          “they don’t seem to be very upwardly mobile” What makes you say that? Sure, many illegally immigrating Hispanics might start off as poor, non-English speaking day laborers, but their children seem to integrate reasonably well. I live in Arizona, and a pretty big chunk of our middle class – small business owners, college educated professionals, etc – is made up of people who are within a generation or two of immigrating from Mexico. Cuban Americans in Florida seem to have done reasonably well also. Upward mobility doesn’t need to be instantaneous to be effective.

          Since we’re talking about an aging population, you need to provide better evidence that children of Hispanic immigrants will not be able to fill the middle class roles currently occupied by the aging white population.

          • Jiro says:

            They all vote Democrat, which leads to more welfare state support.

          • Pku says:

            Another data point – my ivy-league math department is something like 20% hispanic. I’d blame AA, but that hasn’t worked for women or non-hispanic minorities.

          • Anonymous says:

            They all vote Democrat, which leads to more welfare state support.

            Is it non sequitur time?

          • Nornagest says:

            They all vote Democrat, which leads to more welfare state support.

            Cubans don’t. You could argue that that’s a special case, but there are lots of special-interest factors floating around in any immigrant community.

            (I wonder if Vietnamese immigrants vote Republican at a higher rate than, say, Chinese or Filipino?)

          • gbdub says:

            “They’ll vote for too much welfare” is a different argument than was being made, which was that they’d remain too poor to support welfare even at the current level. Kind of a supply vs. demand difference.

            Anyway you’d still need to show that the recently immigrated and their progeny would continue to vote Democrat / high welfare after they assimilate into the middle class. It’s not necessarily obvious that they’d be any more sympathetic to welfare than the existing middle class.

            Nor is it obvious that the growing Hispanic middle class would stick with the Democratic coalition in its current form, which seems more interested in identity politics and social justice issues and less in blue-collar labor advocacy. A sticky bit is that Mexican Americans in particular are very Catholic / socially conservative. There may be some tension there as the country goes “majority minority”.

          • Sandy says:

            Anyway you’d still need to show that the recently immigrated and their progeny would continue to vote Democrat / high welfare after they assimilate into the middle class. It’s not necessarily obvious that they’d be any more sympathetic to welfare than the existing middle class.

            Indians are a solidly middle class community with high levels of education and household income. They vote Democratic at high levels — close to 85% of them voted for Obama in 2008. One explanation for this is that Hinduism is important to Indian immigrants and the GOP is staunchly committed to Evangelical Protestantism. Another is that Indians have bought into America’s cancerous racial discourse to the point where rich upper caste immigrants from Brahmin families with names like Iyer and Joshi believe themselves to be oppressed minorities despite being the beneficiaries of a 2000+ year old reactionary caste system. Accordingly, they are not going to vote for the White People’s Party.

            Whatever the reason, their attitudes about welfare won’t make a difference. The Democratic Party will continue to defend the welfare state because it has become a “black” issue and they need that staunch black support every four years. Non-white groups who object to the welfare state still aren’t going to vote Republican, so they will wind up supporting the welfare state anyway.

          • Jiro says:

            Anyway you’d still need to show that the recently immigrated and their progeny would continue to vote Democrat / high welfare after they assimilate into the middle class.

            I’ve saved this link, which is supposed to be pro-immigration, but has buried in it the fact that Hispanic immigrants vote Democrat and stay that way in successive generations: . Asian immigrants vote closer to the general population, so I would be happy with them.

            Also, both legal and illegal immigrants who are not citizens affect the vote, because of Evenwel v. Abbott.

    • Sandy says:

      I think Africa surging to 2 billion people is a bygone prospect, but I don’t think (hopefully) that they can hit 4 billion without running into severe Malthusian limits, especially since famines and water crises seem like they’re going to be more and more common in that part of the world. Of course, it’s possible that Africa can get past these limits by dumping its excess population on Europe, but at some point European politicians will have to wake up to the fact that they live in a tiny, population-dense continent that cannot absorb endless waves of migrants without severe changes in society and living conditions. The problem is, I wouldn’t be surprised if they never woke up to this — I am not European and I cannot understand the mindset of people like Merkel who think “Sure, bring a million people from the Middle East in, no major changes will result” or those white college students who chant “We have room!” and Bring in the refugees and deport the racists!”. A: You really don’t have room, and B: Ask your refugees what they think about Jews and see what results you get.

      It seems to be assumed practically as a given that all these migrants will add to the tax base and support the ageing native population, but the vast majority of these people do not have the skills or the education for specialized labor. Even assuming a large percentage of them take up employment in the formal economy, most of them are only going to be suited for low-productivity jobs that automation might eliminate and that are going to be taxed at low brackets. For all the talk of how “Einstein was a refugee too”, Einstein already had a Nobel Prize when he sought asylum in America.

      What troubles me most is that this isn’t just restricted to Europe — East Asia has dirt low birth rates as well. Japan is probably the worst of the bunch, but China’s massive population and low birth rate means it’s going to have hundreds of millions of pensioners in a few decades, quite possibly over half a billion of them, a situation likely unprecedented in human history. What will this do to their tax base, their growth and their plans for China’s place in the future? In India, where I’m originally from, the birth rates are slowing down to replacement level, but the geography of these rates is terrifying — the richer, better educated, more cultured Dravidian South now has birth rates below replacement level and comparable to the higher end of European birth rates, while the brunt of Indian births now take place in the Gangetic Valley states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, some of the poorest, least educated and most violent parts of the country. They will be the Indians of the future.

      Demographic changes have left me with a view of the world that can only be described as eschatological.

      • Sir Gawain says:

        We are in complete agreement; as a teenager now, I shudder to think of what I’ll probably be alive to see as the 21st century draws to a close.

      • TeD says:

        I-I’m not scared. Technology and automation will save us!

        Automating away pretty much all human jobs solves the dependency ratio crisis that necessitates fresh blood in the first place. We don’t have to import migrants from Timbuktu to feed grandma gruel when we have a perfectly good non-malfunctioning gruel-bot to do it. Automation pretty much solves all human resource problems and all financing problems (you now have “infinitely” reproducing capital that can work on itself), so the best thing for all of these states with greying populations to do is to jump on the “getting machines to be smart” problem pronto. Japan at least, who is the furthest along the doom track, has realized that “robots” are a solution.

        Step 1: Subsidize extensive R&D, and create new STEM academies. Get on that now.
        Step 2: Wait until people start taking technological unemployment seriously, and then start agitating for a Basic Income Guarantee (doing it too early may backfire).
        Step 3: Watch the private economy gradually automate as the redundant lower caste are gently caught in the warm embrace of the BIG. Continue R&D, and automate public services.
        Step 4: Build a wall with auto-turrets on it to keep out the innumerables.

        • Sandy says:

          We don’t have to import migrants from Timbuktu to feed grandma gruel when we have a perfectly good non-malfunctioning gruel-bot to do it.

          Perhaps, but if the progressive left argues “We should import migrants for humanitarian reasons”, it will still be hard to reject this without sounding racist. Automation solves resource problems; it doesn’t solve the problem of people whose policy decisions are motivated by whatever makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside.

          • Hilarious Clinton says:

            A perfect solution is to see how many of the so-called immigrant lovers actually live near, or heck, even live with immigrants.

            Not sure how well the ‘your beliefs on your butt’ thing works, but, I dunno, maybe a good trolling tactic at best?

    • Bond says:

      The most optimistic I can get is to look at Latin America – especially South America. Thirty years ago, if you’d asked where the “most violent, least educated and poorest regions” were at, most people in the US would’ve pointed in that direction – the continent was ruled by brutal military dictators, with druglords and Maoist radicals fighting it out in the jungle. Central America was just a string of never-ending civil wars. The hemisphere-wide debt crisis left the few democratic governments unable to function, and rendered everyone’s currencies worthless.

      In the last three decades, those dictators have vanished, education and GDP have skyrocketed, and the problem countries are those whose disasters would’ve been par for the course in 1985 (Venezuela, Haiti). Nothing got perfect overnight, and there are still plenty of problems, but it’s nuts how nice much of Latin America is now as compared to even ten years ago. Chile is a first-world country, Argentina and Uruguay not far behind. Give Brazil another 20 years, and Central America another 20 years beyond that, and you’ve got an entire hemisphere that’s going to have gone from “never ending dumpster fire” to “pretty nice” in 2-3 generations – all while in the middle of a massive population boom. There’s no reason the Middle East and Africa can’t do the same in the next century..

      • Nornagest says:

        Well, Chile’s per-capita GDP (PPP) is more comparable to Russia or Greece than to Western Europe or the US, but yeah, it’s miles ahead of where it was thirty years ago. And it does score high on other indices.

      • Agronomous says:

        Give Brazil another 20 years

        “Brazil is the country of the future… and always will be.”

  21. Scott says:

    Scott, I’m working on a project that intends to create a body of literature that can be used by defendants who have been falsely accused of rape. Specifically, a project proposed by the Youtube channel Feminism LOL. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that she says, or the way she delivers what she says, but given the amount of misleading statistics regarding rape (particularly on campuses, the 1 in 5 one), I feel that it is a cause worth participating in. We intend on interviewing individuals who have been falsely accused of rape in order to try to find “markers” in those cases that can potentially be cited in legal courts that judges can be made aware of. As we know, accusing someone of rape is the surest way to destroy someone’s reputation without even needing to go to a legal court, particularly in universities.

    We’re already looking at a number of Wrongfully Accused sites, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions for methodologies of collecting data / ways to classify cases in such a way as to make it legally relevant or objective.

    Thank you for your time.

  22. Koldos the Shepherd says:

    So, in the Age of Em review, Scott mentioned “Nick Land’s futurology” as the source of his “Ascended Economy” idea. I’m abstractly familiar with Land and follow his blog, but I don’t think I’m getting a good grasp on his ideas from the disconnected bits and pieces that he throws out there. Are there any long-form things I could read where this is laid out in a more comprehensible way? I looked at the books he writes, but none of them seem obviously like they contain what I’m looking for.

    • TeD says:

      I also want to express my bafflement at Land. I’ve read his blog as well and am familiar with the general DthEtr canon. I’ve also read his original Drk Enlghtnmnt piece.

      The thing is, I can’t quite figure him out. He seems to be espousing these two positions:

      1: Democracy always ratchets things left and left is doom. Nothing egalitarian can work and will ultimately fail. We should adopt conservative social mores and split up into absolutist propertarian thedes.

      2: Continuity of human bloodlines and races isn’t as important as the continuity of intelligence. In fact, humans should fully expect to be exterminated. Good riddance, monkeys! Demotism slows down our advances towards a post-human world, so what is supposed to be “progressive” is actually a break on capitalism, which is synonymous with intelligence. Capitalism is an AI directing us from the future (hyperstition).

      He seems to attract non-techcoms and alt-righters with position 1, and then creeps them out/outrages them with position 2. You could even argue that this is a motte and bailey, since he’s arguing that leftism/demotism/egalitarianism is doom, but then its revealed that “doom” means “not being eaten by AI elder gods.” Or perhaps his position is that we’re effed either way, so we might as well be destroyed in an interesting way that gives birth to something better than us, rather than just petering out and collapsing into primitive communism.

      Exit turns out to be an exit from humanity. If the right is defined by anti-egalitarianism (which it should for reasons of historical continuity), then Nick Land might just be the most right wing person who has ever lived.

    • Anon. says:

      This comment here at SSC offers a good overview of Land.

      If you have a tolerance for pomo-speak, check out his CCRU-era papers: Meltdown, Machinic Desire, Mechanomics.

      The Dark Enlightenment is long, but accessible and covers a lot of ground.

      This short post encapsulates a lot of core Landian stuff:

      Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism is also pretty decent.

      [my comment was swallowed for some reason..too many links? tried removing some]

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Why did you choose to include the Dark Enlightenment? If I recall correctly (IF!), it is not at all distinctive, but just an exposition of N℞. It’s like he passed an Ideological Turing Test and then took over this movement that he really didn’t agree with.

        • Anon. says:

          Why do you say he doesn’t agree with it? I think he sees it as the form of political organization that maximizes ACCELERATION. And he’d say that the Cathedral is slowing shit down. He certainly has an affinity to uber-capitalistic city-states.

          And he definitely likes to cite molbug a lot…

          • Douglas Knight says:

            How about you answer my question first? Why did you include that link? Does it have any futurology at all? Anything about accelerationism? Is there anything distinctively Land about it? Maybe you need to understand N℞ to understand Land and maybe that’s the best essay on N℞, but then it’s just a coincidence that he’s the author. [Well, maybe 4f “Approaching the Bionic Horizon” is futurology.]

          • Anon. says:

            Well I think of en arr eks as Yarvin-Land, and Land talks about en arr eks a lot, so it makes sense to include it. He self-identifies as an en arr ekser. While it’s not “unique” to him I think you’re going overboard calling it a coincidence. He was drawn to it for a reason, he references Moldbug a lot for a reason. He’s not purely a futurologist (and I’d say his most interesting ideas do not fall under the banner of futurology), so it not being futurology doesn’t disqualify it from being Landian.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      I feel like Land’s “Will-to-think” gave me the most insight into his thought:

  23. Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

    So I hear about Tesla Autopilot a lot. But let’s talk about Goodyear first.

    Suppose they sell me a defective tire. Then one sunny day that defect causes the tire to blow out and I end up parking my car underneath a semi. There may be an argument that as the driver I had some responsibility to detect the blow out and attempt to negotiate the vehicle safely, but Goodyear still sold me a defective God damn tire. As far as I know (plus or minus a few seconds of Google Fu) product liability laws hold Goodyear (and all intermediate sellers) strictly liable for the damages and injures caused as a result of the defect—regardless of how in/expertly I negotiate the vehicle after the defect causes a blowout, and regardless of whether Goodyear put a sticker on the tire telling me to negotiate the vehicle safely in the event of a defect.

    Tesla sells a product the specific purpose of which is to detect roadway obstacles and stop the vehicle appropriately. This product fails to detect a roadway obstacle and fails to stop the vehicle appropriately. As a result a car gets parked under a semi. By any reasonable stretch of the imagination the product is defective (and Tesla knew about this specific defect [inability to detecting objects in direct sunlight] when they sold the product, but I think this doesn’t actually matter under strict liability). But Tesla is not liable because they, effectively, put a sticker on the tire telling the driver to negotiate the vehicle safely in the event of a defect.

    So there is that.

    This is because we allow software manufacturers to decide their own liability through their EULA, while all other manufacturers are bound by product liability laws. To absolutely nobodies surprise, software manufactures all agree they should never be liable, ever, for any reason whatsoever, no matter how much depraved indifference to human life selling their known defective products entails. We treat software defects differently than all other kinds of defects. In fact, they are treated literally as differently as possible.

    But whenever someone points this curious difference out online, they seem to be met met with a litany of “cry moar, driver responsible, delicious tears,” etc. Like, how the fuck are you supposed to detect and respond to the defect while the accident is already in progress and your head is already being chopped off?????? Grrrrrrrrrr!!!


    My advice to Toyota is to make sure there is a computer between the collision sensor and the airbag next time. Those meddling kids will be on the side of letting you get away with it then. In fact, my advice to every manufacturer is to include a computer in every function, in every product, no matter how stupid it would otherwise be to include a computer in the product or feature.

    Is there any wonder Silicon Valley is in the midst of a huge freaking asset bubble as every manufacturer tries to include computers in every function of every product, no matter how stupid, under the guise of the Internet of Things?

    • suntzuanime says:

      I think a lot of our definition of a “defective” tire depends on the existence of good, working, functional tires. Tires are not required to prevent all blow-outs: for example, if you drive over a spike strip, blow out your tire, and crash, Goodyear won’t be held responsible for that, because it’s unreasonable to expect an average tire you buy to survive a spike strip. A producer of a product is only liable if their product is unreasonably dangerous.

      So what’s unreasonably dangerous for an automated driving system? If we had good working automated driving systems that could see polar bears in a snowstorm, it would be clear that selling one that can’t see them is unreasonably dangerous. However, automated driving technology is still young, and it is made very clear to people who buy it that it is young. We might ignore a warning about a tire as boilerplate because everybody knows how tires are supposed to work, but the warning about not totally trusting your life to automated driving technology that’s in beta is a warning that you are negligent if you don’t pay attention to.

    • suntzuanime says:

      To address your other point, since everybody knows software doesn’t fucking work, it’s hard for it to be unreasonably dangerous. Anybody who buys into the Internet of Things deserves what they get.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        So, a blowout from a spike strip is different from, say, hot pavement because a spike strip relies on a malicious actor exploiting an otherwise reasonable design choice. Hot pavement–the temperature it gets on a sunny day, for example–is a a foreseeable condition in reasonable use.

        I am pretty sure sunlight is a foreseeable condition that any non-psychopathy would design their dangerous product to work under before releasing it to the public. But the autopilot is unable to work in sunlight, precipitation, or night. Because it is unable to work reliably in, like, 80% of the conditions and killing the operator is a foreseeable consequence of its failure to work reliably, Tesla is being totally negligent by putting it in the hands of consumers. If a telescope manufacture (to name a random industry sensitive to sunlight) made a solar filter that didn’t work reliably in the 80% of the Earth’s orbit around perihelion, a young US attorney would be out there making a name for himself by crushing them into oblivion on behalf of a bunch of blind astronomers. We just don’t put up with that kind of negligence.

        And automatic control systems are not new. We have them in all kinds of other industries. Aviation has the tellingly eponymous autopilot. If Aston Martin decided it would be a super great idea to include a passenger side ejector seat in their next car, we would have no problem invading the UK in order to crush them into oblivion when it turns out that cars are too low to the ground for the parachute to deploy (unless you are going over a bridge, in wind that is neither too high nor too low, the sides of the bridge are low enough for you to clear the top, the bridge is sufficiently high above the ground below, the ground bellow is sufficiently flat, the passenger is inside a narrow band of heights and weights, and the passenger does not have any limiting physical conditions). We just don’t put up with that kind of negligence.

        Automobiles are a mature industry, and consumers expect mature products. Especially when the technology is named after a mature technology from another industry. Everything about the ejector seat Autopilot signals to consumers that it is safe… except the sticker.

        Why doesn’t software work?

        Sure, software is hard to manufacture. But so is everything else. My impression is that software is unreliable because nobody writing it cares. And they don’t care because software manufacturers make their own rules that let them not care.

        But if we are to believe the software crowd, it is intrinsically less reliable than literally everything not-software. But if that the case, why the hell are you putting it in your products?

        • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

          “Why doesn’t software work?

          Sure, software is hard to manufacture. But so is everything else. My impression is that software is unreliable because nobody writing it cares. And they don’t care because software manufacturers make their own rules that let them not care.”

          Software engineering is an extremely novel type of engineering when compared to other types of engineering like, say, mechanical engineering. People have been e.g., building bridges for thousands of years, which has given the discipline as a whole thousands of man-hours and use cases to build up a reliable reservoir of ways that building things can go wrong and integrating the mitigation of those possible failures into the design from the beginning. Software has only been around for 50-60 years. We’re still figuring out the ways in which software is both like other forms of engineering and the ways in which it’s not.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            That argument is compelling when the subject is an idle curiosity and when damages amount to losing your Tetris high score.

            You can muddle through on the same vein when it involves putting them in banks, and airplanes where you have lots of fail safes and oversight. (And the government picking up some of the liability risks.)

            But when you start letting them drive cars seems like an good time ask whether we should start holding software engineers to the same standards that we old other engineers to. Or not let them put computers some places until they’ve figured it out.

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            “You can plead special snowflake…”

            You win.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            Okay, that came across as more dismissive than I intended. Redo?

          • bean says:

            Software engineering is an extremely novel type of engineering when compared to other types of engineering like, say, mechanical engineering. People have been e.g., building bridges for thousands of years, which has given the discipline as a whole thousands of man-hours and use cases to build up a reliable reservoir of ways that building things can go wrong and integrating the mitigation of those possible failures into the design from the beginning. Software has only been around for 50-60 years. We’re still figuring out the ways in which software is both like other forms of engineering and the ways in which it’s not.
            This isn’t true. The problem is that the software world can be broadly divided into (at least) two different sides. You have the side which gives us what we think of as ‘software’, and then you have the side which writes things like code for fly-by-wire systems. There’s a massive difference between the two. So far as I know, there has never been a crash of a commercial aircraft as a result of problematic software, despite the first FBW systems going into operation close to 30 years ago. (There were a couple of crashes because people assumed the FBW would save them from doing stupid things and it didn’t.) People doing that kind of software pay very careful attention to what they’re doing, and their products are as well-engineered as the planes that run them. But that’s expensive, and requires you to know exactly what you’re doing. I can’t comment on the software quality involved, but they’re definitely pushing at the edges of what is theoretically possible in computer science. That’s where I have to fault them.
            (It’s been said that if we built buildings like we wrote software, the first woodpecker would have destroyed civilization. This is true, but a lot of people who come out of Silicon Valley don’t seem to recognize this. I think deploying the autopilot is symptomatic of this.)
            I would also point out that most of the features involved in the autopilot have been in high-end cars for quite a while. The difference is that they were not called ‘autopilot’ and were not set up in a way that discouraged the driver from paying attention. The aviation industry has spent quite a while learning that too much cockpit automation is a bad thing, as it reduces the capability of the pilot to monitor the situation. Tesla seems determined to learn the same lesson the hard way.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s a lot of valorization of embedded software engineers. And it is true that much of this software is really reliable within the expected parameters. But security practices tend to be atrocious and the day is coming when this is going to be a very big deal.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I mean, there is certainly an argument for banning software. Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind! I feel like as a practical matter people like it too much to put up with that though.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      If you decide that you:
      a) like the fuel efficiency of tires inflated past the the recommended pressure, or
      b) the ride characteristics of a tire that is underinflated

      Goodyear might not be held liable. Whether or not they are held liable will depend on many factors.

      And, of course, no court of law has adjudicated any liability claims vis-a-vis Tesla’s autopilot, so we really don’t know the answer to this question.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        My understanding is that by selling you a tire when they know, or have reason to know, that you intend to use it in a under/over-inflated configuration they warrant the tire’s performance in those configurations.

        Any carmaker has reason to know that customers will use their cars in conditions that are standard for the industry, which includes sunny skies. Consequently, by selling a car you warrant that all of its major features and components will operate in the sun. (Consider for example the sun shield Telsa had to roll out when major physical features failed in the sun.)

        And the point is to argue from, well maybe not first principles, but single-digit principles what the answer should be.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Tires are supposed to work in the sun. They are not expected to work in the snow and ice. If you go skidding off the road when it’s icy, you can’t sue the tire manufacturer. Why are things this way? Because people build tires that work in the sun and not in the snow, everyone knows this and accepts that this is how tires work, you are not being defrauded when the tires you buy are not snow-tires.

          There just isn’t that kind of common knowledge for auto-driving systems. That sort of common knowledge is what’s being written in the blood of early adopters.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            I think you’ll find that tires are expected to work in the snow and ice. Just not as well. Have you never had time to kill in the waiting room at the mechanic’s shop? Half the stuff in there has no problem telling you that their products reduce the stopping distance by X% compared to the government/trade body standard under laboratory testing on dry, wet, and icy pavement.

            If I got in an accident, and then I (or really my insurance) asked an independent laboratory to test the type of tires, and it turns out they don’t meet the relevant government/trade body standard (and particularly if meeting that standard is expressly warranted on the box) the manufacturer is going to find themselves in the serious pile of shit with a couple of consumer protection agencies. And my insurance company is going to work like hell to get them to cough up for the damages from my accident (assuming there were not any exacerbating circumstances on my part, like the tires being bald).

            It may not matter much to my local judge who just wants me to cough up the cash for the ticket and get out of his hair, however.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Wait, so now writing down what your product does on the box is good enough? The box in this case said “be ready to take over in case of failure”. And there’s no relevant government/trade body standard to compare to, that’s the whole point. The technology is in its infancy, so what constitutes the ordinary standard that it has to live up to to not be liable as a defective product isn’t defined yet.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            So, there are kinda two things.

            Anything anyone in the manufacturing and sales chain says about the product, from the blabbermouth CEO, the advertising department, on the box, or the minimum wage Joe on the sales floor about the product is warranted to be true about the product. If the Joe on the sales floor tells you that [ammonia based cleaner] is safe to be mixed with bleach, he has created a warranty that the product is safe for that use, which makes the company strictly liable for your chemical burns. (Plus or minus conflicting statements. The salesman may say its safe, the bottle may say it is not.) In addition, the product is warranted to be suitable for anything the company knows, or has reason to know, you are going to do with it whether or not they make any claim about the suitability. Taking your money while knowing(…) what you’re going to do with it is enough. If I say—or imply—to salesman I am looking for tires to drift race with, the tires he sells me damn well better be suitable for drift racing because the company is strictly liable for the damages when they blow out on the first turn.

            These (and other) warranties all apply unless you sign a contract specifically disclaiming them. The only things you generally sign a contract when buying are: houses, software, and cars.

            1. Houses are expensive enough that buyers hire lawyers to negotiate contracts. The contract will usually contain the specific details of the warranty the house is sold under. Buying a house without any warranty whatsoever falls into the foolhardy category. There are occasionally surprises anyway but they rarely lead to death so it isn’t a pressing societal concern.

            2. Back when software was new, it seemed reasonable to judges to have it sold under contracts that totally disclaim all warranty or liability whatsoever, every, for any reason. Nada. Nilch. Zip. Go fuck yourself. The whole thing seemed kind of like a quaint curiosity, and the only damages would be losing your high score. How big a deal is that?

            Since then, the software industry has been growing and crowding into every other industry out there. Consequently, the damages from defective software have grown apace, but stare decisis is a bitch. My impression is that if the subject were litigated fresh, there is a decent case to be made that EULAs are not binding because they are unconscionable. But because that’s not going to be a thing, we’re stuck with them.

            3. Our third product to involve a sales contract is cars. They’re not expensive enough to hire a lawyer over, but it turns out that letting the dealer write the contract is kind of a bad idea. They’ll try the same thing the software industry did, and then lie to you all day long until you buy a car they know to be defective… because they’re the ones that put the sawdust in the transmission. But in this case we didn’t really let them. We regulate the crap out of the auto industry because they are (a) expensive and (b) insanely God damn dangerous. To hell with the express and implied warranties, you better met federal and state regulations or a US attorney is going to pour gasoline down your pants and see how safe you really think the ignition system.

            Tesla is trying a second take at selling cars known to be defective without a warranty except instead of sawdust it is software. (The irony is part of the reason we hate dealers and laud Tesla as a disruptive force in the industry dates back to when dealers were doing exactly what Tesla is.) The whole bit about the driver is still the driver is just part of the disclaimer of warrant. The only reason they’re able to get this far is that in general the auto industry regulations are a ad hoc assortment so none of them are on point. We haven’t written rules yet so you can totally get away with including defective software features without a warranty because that’s just how software is done.

            We’re either going to invalidate EULAs in general (kind of parochial to software but a huge deal in that domain, but unlikely because of stare decisis and the merits of the argument for unconscionable are far from ironclad), follow the lead of some states and limit the amount of warranty that can be disclaimed (wider applicability but less powerful in particular, medium unlikely), or muddle through with the current auto industry approach of ad hoc regulations without addressing any underlying issues (by far the most likely but poor choice because technology moves faster than regulators).

            * Replace Tesla with any irresponsible auto manufacture pushing an autopilot like feature. Tesla just seems more egregious in this regard because they haven’t had the institutional experience of federal regulator working them over .

    • SUT says:

      Off topic but I’d add – this is really a BEST case scenario for Tesla, and other self-driving car hopefuls.

      Every reasonable person knows there is going to be a death involving autonomous driving at some point. Everyone reasonable knows that a logical discussion including the counterfactual of human error will not be the media’s focus. Instead, they’ll attempt to attract attention with a story heavy on emotion, and stretch the story to fit ‘Man vs Machine’ narrative.

      In this case, the victim was a single 40’s white guy technologist, tesla-fanboy, whose family will certainly be financially OK. This alleviates the chance that policymakers will find prosecution to be politically profitable. And basically creates the precedent (for whatever it’s worth) of keeping calm and autopiloting on.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        This is entirely true.

        But on the other hand maybe, just maybe, Musk will twist the wrong noses too hard and too quickly. He does have a serious problem of being such a… douche anytime someone publicly questions his vision.

        I think his personality is the big wildcard risk for his companies.

    • John Schilling says:

      Tesla sells a product the specific purpose of which is to detect roadway obstacles and stop the vehicle appropriately. This product fails to detect a roadway obstacle and fails to stop the vehicle appropriately. As a result a car gets parked under a semi. By any reasonable stretch of the imagination the product is defective

      Suppose I figure out how to build a cheap automated collision-avoidance system that can prevent 50% of all possible highway collisions, and do so without in any way interfering with the driver’s ability to prevent whatever collisions he can prevent, in parallel with the automated system. This system will roughly double the safety of any car in which it is installed and properly used, at negligible cost.

      Almost everyone would consider that a Good Thing,

      Neither I nor anyone else on Earth can design a 100% effective collision avoidance system in this generation, nor one close enough to avoid a regular dose of news stories of the sort you have been inspired (or incited) by.

      Is there any way that I can do the Good Thing of doubling highway safety in this generation, without being damned by you as having “sold a defective product” because my Good Thing, clearly advertised as Good But Not Perfect, was in fact Not Perfect?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        To be fair, Tesla has gone further than collision avoidance, all the way to automated driving.

        The difference being that (I think) other collision avoidance systems will bring the car to a halt if it senses you aren’t controlling the wheel.

      • bean says:

        Is there any way that I can do the Good Thing of doubling highway safety in this generation, without being damned by you as having “sold a defective product” because my Good Thing, clearly advertised as Good But Not Perfect, was in fact Not Perfect?
        Easy. Don’t call it an ‘autopilot’, and be sure not to set it up to give the impression that the driver can ignore driving. That will just result in people watching Harry Potter instead of the road.

      • John Schilling says:

        Easy. Don’t call it an ‘autopilot’,

        According to the original poster, describing it as a “product the specific purpose of which is to detect roadway obstacles and stop the vehicle appropriately” is sufficient to be considered a fraud and presumably a murderer. Whether or not one uses the term “autopilot” does not seem to be relevant.

        and be sure not to set it up to give the impression that the driver can ignore driving

        Tesla has done the opposite of this, complete with robo-nagging the driver and ultimately stopping the vehicle in the middle of the road if it determines (again imperfectly) that he is not paying attention. The OP nonetheless damns Tesla for having sold a “defective product”.

        Any device which tries to keep a car within its lane of the highway and stop it from crashing into the vehicle ahead of it, will be described by complete and total morons in the news and on the internet as an Autopilot That Means The Driver Can Ignore Driving. And there will be other complete and total morons who believe it. I have to believe the OP is representative of some non-trivial number of future litigants and/or jurors, who will assign all blame to the manufacturer and not to the complete and total morons.

        That being the case, is there any way to implement imperfect safety devices without being sued into oblivion? Changing the product’s official name or instructions clearly isn’t going to do it, so what else do we have to work with?

        • bean says:

          According to the original poster, describing it as a “product the specific purpose of which is to detect roadway obstacles and stop the vehicle appropriately” is sufficient to be considered a fraud and presumably a murderer. Whether or not one uses the term “autopilot” does not seem to be relevant.
          I don’t agree with the OP on this. Automatic braking systems have been in service for a decade. So far, it seems that they work reasonably well, and aren’t a major liability risk. The problem in my view is that it looks like Tesla has set it up so that it encourages the driver to dump more responsibility onto the automatic system than the automatic system can safely take.

          Tesla has done the opposite of this, complete with robo-nagging the driver and ultimately stopping the vehicle in the middle of the road if it determines (again imperfectly) that he is not paying attention. The OP nonetheless damns Tesla for having sold a “defective product”.
          I’ve heard different things on this. It certainly looks like the system isn’t so hair-trigger you can’t, for instance, read while it’s on. It appears, specifically, that it only brings you to a halt if it gets confused and then you aren’t paying attention, not just if it thinks you aren’t paying attention. If Tesla has built a system which requires an alert human to be at the wheel to work safely, and then made it so the human can easily become non-alert, then I’m not sure you can describe it as anything other than defective.

          Any device which tries to keep a car within its lane of the highway and stop it from crashing into the vehicle ahead of it, will be described by complete and total morons in the news and on the internet as an Autopilot That Means The Driver Can Ignore Driving.
          The first collision avoidance system I’m aware of was on the 2006 Mercedes S-class. Lane departure warning originated at about the same time. Nobody called them autopilots because they clearly weren’t. Whereas Tesla has created a device which is an autopilot in good conditions.

          • John Schilling says:

            If Tesla has built a system which requires an alert human to be at the wheel to work safely, and then made it so the human can easily become non-alert, then I’m not sure you can describe it as anything other than defective

            So instead of requiring the safety device be perfect, you require the safety device be bundled with a perfect Peltzman-effect detector, or be damned as defective.

            That’s hardly an improvement. Complete and total morons will at least refrain from deliberately subverting a safety mechanism; they absolutely will attempt to subvert an auto-nag that keeps them from doing what they want.

            Also, “built a system which requires an alert human to be at the wheel to work safely, and then made it so the human can easily become non-alert” isn’t something Tesla has done. It is something Karl Benz did and Henry Ford brought to the mass market. Tesla has done nothing but improve upon the widely-accepted default in this regard. Because this unambiguous improvement falls short of perfection, and because there is a supply of complete and total morons whose attention span does not extend to “falls short of perfection” no matter how blatantly and clearly advertised, Tesla is damned for having produced a defective product.

            I dissent, and I see the death of innovation in the attitude underlying this claim.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            You really don’t think it matters that Tesla actually describes their system as auto pilot?

            And does the standard CDS actually not differ from auto-pilot? I thought the systems differed by a fair amount (while using similar underlying principles)?

          • John Schilling says:

            You really don’t think it matters that Tesla actually describes their system as auto pilot?

            I do not.

            1. “Autopilot”, and I speak as an occasional user of the real kind, points to a device that is clearly understood by the user community as requiring a competent and attentive human pilot as part of the system at all times.

            2. The critics here mention the “autopilot” terminology only in passing or as a secondary argument, carefully phrasing their main objection with a description of the system’s functionality and making it clear that it is an imperfect implementation of that functionality that is objectionable.

            3. Whatever terminology Tesla uses in its marketing, and even if Elon has SpaceX launch an orbital mind control laser capable of tabooing the very word “autopilot” across all human languages, there will be people who will hear of the functionality of the system and invent whatever term or phrase is needed to convey the sentiment, “…and now you can goof off watching Spongebob Squarepants while your car does all the work, Yay Progress!” That, in fact, these people have perverted the perfectly good word “autopilot” to that end, is I believe of little consequence.

            If there is one word that ought to convey the concept, “Short-term vehicular guidance system that reduces operator workload and increases safety but still requires a competent, attentive human operator at all time”, that word is “autopilot”. Or it was, and if it no longer conveys that concept it is because the intersection of drivers and technophiles will not allow themselves to hear of that concept.

          • bean says:

            So instead of requiring the safety device be perfect, you require the safety device be bundled with a perfect Peltzman-effect detector, or be damned as defective.
            I don’t require any parts of the safety system to be perfect, but it would be nice if I could be reasonably certain that the system would actually be safe relative to the norm. Tesla is claiming that they’ve made something like a 30% improvement in miles to their first death, but that’s not particularly comforting, given the size of the data pool so far.
            The Peltzman effect is sort of the point here. While I question many of the stronger claims made by its proponents about perfect risk compensation, there are cases where it’s fairly certain that new safety technologies are causing new crashes that wouldn’t have happened without them. The early days of the A320 spring to mind. That was solved by training the pilots to fly the plane like any other, but we don’t have that much control here.

            Tesla has done nothing but improve upon the widely-accepted default in this regard.
            My problem isn’t that they haven’t reached perfection, it’s that I’m not certain they have improved upon the default.

  24. Neither Kelly says:

    Imagine that there was for some reason an empty seat on the next rocket up to the ISS, and let’s say it leaves in 2 days. Somehow it was agreed that to fill the empty seat, a person would be randomly chosen from a limitless pool of volunteers who met certain physical/health specs/requirements. That person would be in space for 2 weeks.

    If the chosen volunteer was fairly bright but otherwise knew nothing about conducting research or any of the other specialized stuff astronauts aboard the ISS tend to know how to do, how likely do you think is it that the volunteer could:

    – Carry out a space mission?
    – Contribute value to a space mission?
    – Not jeopardize the mission of the other astronauts?
    – Not jeopardize the safety of him/herself and/or the other astronauts?
    – Not damage the ISS?
    – Survive at all?

    In some ways, I’m basically asking how well the ISS could handle space tourism RIGHT NOW. But really I’m wondering what someone who is not an astronaut but has dreams of going to space might realistically expect to happen even if he was somehow practically able to go do a proper stay on the ISS.

    Full disclosure: Not that it matters I guess, but I am not that someone; my twin brother is obsessed with going to space. I would probably waffle back and forth on it and then pass. And then probably kick myself afterward but still be glad I wasn’t exposed to all that radiation.

    • I tend to overestimate the ability of people to follow directions but it seems like if you hire someone on earth to literally explain everything to you, you should be able to at least take care of yourself and contribute a bit. Contributing via things like a spacewalk is probably not going to happen though.

    • Anonymous says:

      95% of the manned space mission is to have a manned space program. If you want science you send relatively cheap probes not really expensive motels. So as long as he didn’t kill everyone he’d be doing okay.

      • Neither Kelly says:

        Hah, that’s an interesting take on it.

        On the other hand, it costs I forget how many thousands of dollars per minute (or per pound?) to send a human to space…seems like they’d want to make sure they got some kind of return on that beyond the ability to say “Hey, turns out we can send a total noob up there without destroying everything!”

    • hlynkacg says:

      Going down the list…

      – Carry out a space mission?

      Depends on the mission

      – Contribute value to a space mission?

      Assuming that life on the ISS is somewhat analogous to life at sea or in a remote base camp (e.g McMurdo or Amundsen) there will always be “make work”. Things like cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry etc… Having your tourist do one or more of those jobs frees up your highly trained astronauts to do others.

      – Not jeopardize the mission of the other astronauts?
      – Not jeopardize the safety of him/herself and/or the other astronauts?
      – Not damage the ISS?
      – Survive at all?

      This is where things get dicey, they are all closely inter-related and largely dependent on how “idiot proof” station design is. Are dangerous items/areas clearly marked? Is our tourist going to float around pressing random buttons just for giggles? How good is our tourist at following directions of the more experienced astronauts?

      For what it’s worth I actually work in the aerospace industry and have been trying to become an astronaut but I don’t think it really provides all that much insight in this case.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        The one book by an astronaut I’ve read suggested that the typical route was military pilot, aerospace engineering degree, test pilot, beat the odds and join a space agency. Are there other popular routes? Do you think it’s likely that there will be more jobs for astronauts in the next few decades due to commercial companies entering the field?

        • If you’re wanting to become a mission specialist then the test pilot part isn’t required. It would still help your chances, but getting an advanced degree in engineering, a hard science, or medicine would also work.

          Manned spaceflight is a lot more focused on long-term scientific research at this point, so people who can learn versatile skills are preferred. Being really good at something essential (piloting experimental aircraft, for instance) used to be an advantage, but when you’re trying to keep the ISS operational for months at a time being a jack-of-all-trades is more helpful.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I’ve got the military flight and physical fitness angles covered. I’ve got my associates in Mathematics and am currently working in the industry as an instrumentation technician. I did a year long internship with General Atomics, interviewed with SpaceX, and have submitted my package to NASA.

        I know my chances are slim to fucking nill but fuck it. Not much I can do now but cross my fingers.

    • bean says:

      After two days of training? No way they’d let someone fly on that. Leaving aside the fact that the physical screening would take longer than that to do, space missions are really complicated.
      – Carry out a space mission?
      No chance. Even payload specialists on the shuttle were often seen as being of dubious value, and even resented by the crew. I’ve heard there was relief when Jake Garn got so sick that the crew could just tape him to the bulkhead and carry on. The only missions that most space tourists/PSs (the two are fairly similar, actually) carried out were the ones they brought with them.
      – Contribute value to a space mission?
      Unlikely. There’s a bit of untrained labor required in space, but not much. In skilled jobs, new people can often take months to start contributing, and astronauts train quite hard to make sure that that time is spent on the ground, not in space.
      – Not jeopardize the mission of the other astronauts?
      – Not jeopardize the safety of him/herself and/or the other astronauts?
      – Not damage the ISS?
      – Survive at all?

      Depends on how good they are at shutting up and staying out of the way. Human factors engineers have learned that it’s important to not make people remember more than they have to, so things like the ’emergency atmosphere dump’ (no, that isn’t a real thing AFAIK, but you get the point) are clearly labeled as such. Assuming our astronaut has self-control, he’s not likely to kill everyone. (There was one case on the Shuttle when a payload specialist expressed an unhealthy amount of interest in the hatch, to the point where the commander duct-taped it up and they flew locks on later missions.)
      A good reference on the process of a space mission is Before Lift-Off by Henry Cooper, which looked at STS-41-G, following the crew through their training as a crew. They spent a truly amazing amount of time in the simulators, dealing with all the things that can go wrong. The big problem is that the passenger is going to be in the way, and in areas that were not designed for passengers to be in. A few weeks to a month or two of training could deal with this rather effectively. This could be cut down if the passengers were placed in a system designed for them.

      • Neither Kelly says:

        Thanks. I’ll probably recommend that Henry Cooper book to my brother, if he hasn’t already read it.

        I actually am a human factors engineer, though I work in software.

    • Anonymous says:

      Your brother wouldn’t happen to be Lord British, would he?

  25. Daniel says:

    I have been recommended SSC to a lot of friends recently. I know there are tons of “best of” lists for Scott’s writing, but I was wondering if anyone has a list of recommended articles best suited as an introduction to SCC and Scott’s way of thinking. Imagine someone who has never read SSC before, no LW, no Overcoming Bias, and possibly hasn’t even taken an economics class.

    Has anyone made a list like this before? or want to throw out any suggestions.

    Greatly appreciated, thanks!

    • 57dimensions says:

      The first SSC article I ever read was Reflections From the Halfway Point, and it made me want to read more of SSC not because it was a very interesting or well written argument or theory, but because it was extremely relevant to my life. I had just gotten discharged from a residential psychiatric program (basically a small step down from an actual psychiatric hospital), and that post, being about his experience working in a psych ward lined up very well with my experience as a patient there. I connected with it.

      So my advice is, when suggesting a post to a friend you can do the ‘best of’ list, but maybe also find a few that would be personally relevant to them. It doesn’t have to be as specific as mine, maybe just a general topic: science, education, politics, etc. It’s my guess that reading something interesting and well written about something that is important to you is more likely to draw you in than something that is also interesting and well written, but is about something you are completely unfamiliar with.

    • mobile says:

      See the “TOP POSTS” link at the top of this page.

  26. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    I sighed in relief, having at last reached the end of OT52.75 after a few days of slogging.

    Then I went to the main page to find two more Open Threads. x_x I’m not sure I can let go of my compulsive need to read every comment but I may have to.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I know that feel, bro.

      Something I tried once was to turn Open Threads into a .mobi file to read on my Kindle. Works best if you are willing to read OTs on a lag (so the static copy is made after the thread has died) and forego making your own comments.

  27. onyomi says:

    How many more people would there be in the world today if the pill, the condom, and other modern forms of birth control had never been invented (still allowed to use rhythm, withdrawal, etc.)?* And how distributed (seems clear more in the developed world)? Obviously there would be more people, but how many more? 2 billion? 10 billion? How many more cases of AIDS?

    Even with more cases of AIDS, my sense is it might be a better world overall, given that birth control seems to disproportionately result in rich, smart people having fewer babies, to say nothing of the effect on the nuclear family. More VD+utils lost in consequence-free sex are, of course, on the other side of the scale.

    *Edit: first obvious consequence is more abortion, as happened in Japan until they finally legalized the pill. Let’s ignore this particular confounding factor for the moment, or stipulate that abortion is also not allowed; I’d eliminate the VD angle by saying condoms are still allowed, but then it seems too much like I’m picking on women.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Where do you get your beliefs about Japanese abortion? If I read this correctly, abortions peaked in 1955 (as a proportion of live births) and have steadily declined, with the pill having no effect.

      • onyomi says:

        I actually haven’t looked at any statistics; but having lived in Japan, the overwhelming anecdotal evidence I heard was that abortion was extremely prevalent and easy to get in Japan, at least relative to the US, a fact which was attributed to the pill being illegal, and which included possibly apocryphal horror stories about people aborting 10+ times. The pill was still illegal the last time I lived there; I simply assumed abortion would go down somewhat when it finally became legal, but I could be wrong.

        *Edit: I was also wrong about when the pill was legalized. It had very recently become legal when I lived there, though my general impression that abortion in Japan was and is relatively easy and frequent seems to be correct.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I wouldn’t be surprised if anecdotes beat numbers published in English. But if you only have a snapshot, you probably don’t know about change. I’m pretty sure that lots of forms of birth control were legal for decades, including IUDs, so I don’t think the legality of the pill can matter for much. I’ve heard that it hasn’t caught on, but I don’t claim great reliability for this.

          I misread the chart I linked. As I said, abortion has been falling steadily since 1955, but it is actually falling faster since 2000. The rate per live birth was higher than in America and is now lower. But it has been falling in America, too, and the gap between the two countries in 2000 is comparable to the gap between America in 2000 and 2015. Again, I don’t claim great authority for the table.

          Added: I made a graph based on one source with numbers for both Japan and America. Other sources like the the CDC or something give pretty different numbers. But I think that they agree that (1) the two countries are not wildly different 1980-2010; (2) both declined.

    • SamChevre says:

      Does *etc include sterilization? That’s the typical contraception of 1900-1960, and it seems not to result in significantly larger families than the pill; what it really obviously does, though, is tend toward early child-bearing and greater variance in family sizes. (Look at your grandparents and their siblings; it isn’t at all uncommon to have families with 3-4 children, all born before their parents were 30.)

    • keranih says:

      Yah know, I’d love to see this well modeled. I’m not sure that it would be.

      Firstly, advances in the effectiveness of birth control (esp rhythm) have continued to the modern day, so defining them out of “modern” is questionable. (And sheep gut “rubbers” have been in use for quite some centuries.)

      Secondly, the number of people in the world has long since been restricted by childhood diseases and available nutrition rather than birthrate. The effect *appears* to be increased food = more live kids; more live kids = more urbanization/wealth; more urbanization/wealth = fewer kids per family. Each step takes a couple generations, and is subject to urbanization/wealth changes in childhood disease prevalence.

      And then there is female education and workforce participation, combined with a decline in traditional religions and a rise in secular materialism, which has its own impact.

      Oh, and I haven’t even touched on infanticide, both traditional exposure and modern abortion.

      The idea of including the impact of sexually transmitted diseases is solid, but should include the impact of VDs on fertility, and how the prevalence of those diseases is impacted by all of the above. And by “impact of VDs on fertility”, I mean 25 year old women who are dead because they were infected with AIDS at the age of 16 – which is a cycle in Africa not really impacted by contraception in either modern or historical terms. Plus those diseases with less dramatic impacts.

      I think it might an interesting thought experiment to try to separate out the impact of contraception separate from these other forces, but like all things human, I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Plus those other diseases more dramatic impacts on fertility than death by AIDS.

      • onyomi says:

        I am wondering, essentially, whether eliminating or restricting contraception could stymie the “more urbanization/wealth = fewer kids per family” end of the equation, especially since more kids=more urbanization/wealth, which I want even more of (would also like more traditional mores, though not necessarily of a religious nature).

        (Note that as a libertarian I am not comfortable banning stuff like this even if it were feasible, but a strong social pressure against contraception use could conceivably occur, and the extreme counterfactual of contraception for some reason not existing is interesting to consider).

        • TPC says:

          No, because there’s always delaying marriage, which has a centuries long track record of limiting family size among Western Europeans. Vermeer’s life story is an interesting anecdotal illustration. He and his wife rejected the birth control options of their day and the corresponding family size preference (3-4 children) and it caused a lot of stress throughout their lives.

          It’s also what you see in urban but religiously devout subcultures. The ones who are anti-birth control just delay marrying until their 30s while the ones who are not quite as strict contracept into their 30s instead. You’ll note two identical outcomes despite one group rejecting birth control and one group embracing it.

          Kids reduce status even if you have some wealth. You need way more wealth than even the average middle class Westerner has to offset that and even then, the overall trend remains downhill on family size. Model Mormon Mitt Romney (as in setting the tone of family size for his subculture) has vast real wealth but only had 5 kids, and his children have even fewer per family despite also being quite wealthy in their own rights.

          And the Amish have seen their family size drop to 5 from, well, quite a bit higher.

          Contraception is a trailing effect to reduced family size. Women go for it because constantly having kids is very hard even if you have the biological reserves to grow and bear them and if there is no contraceptive pressure on the men to visit them less, well, there you are.

          • onyomi says:

            But a big part of the reason people can keep delaying marriage is because the stigma against premarital sex has all but disappeared, and, while there remains some stigma against unmarried pregnancy, reliable contraception has made premarital sex a much less socially/logistically risky proposition.

            I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most religious people I know (read, don’t believe in premarital sex) also get married the youngest. People aren’t going to forego sex en masse during their 20s.

          • TPC says:

            Devout Catholics don’t all get married young. They are a large group of the waiting until much later folks. As for the foregoing sex in general thing, people are having less physical sex, as far as what data we have on the matter goes.

            Also people delayed marriage in the past for financial and status reasons and that hasn’t really changed. What’s changed is that all mothers have the same relative status now and married mothers get no bonus. So women don’t want to be poor married mothers if they can avoid it, which is much easier now.

            Married women still have more total children no matter whether they marry early or late, and giving them the status points they used to have back would increase the birth rate overall.

  28. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What was the most devastating war that doesn’t get publicity?
    One candidate has to be the War of the Triple Alliance, in which Paraguay fought Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay at the same time (in 1865). By some estimates, its pre-war population of 525,000 was reduced to 221,000 of which only 28,000 were men. This gender imbalance caused the Catholic Church to give Paraguayans a dispensation for polygamy.

    • Nornagest says:

      My vote goes to anything in China; the Taiping Rebellion (1851) killed more people than WWI, and by some estimates more than WWII. More recently, the Chinese Civil War left eight million dead over the years before and after its period as a theater of WWII, and even the period during receives little attention outside China.

      For a modern conflict, you could look to the Second Congo War (something like three to five million dead, mostly civilians, and this started in 1998). If your average Westerner even knows it exists, it’ll be overshadowed by the earlier Rwandan genocide.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The Taiping Rebellion is a good candidate.

      A fourteen year civil war leading to an estimated twenty to thirty million deaths, between the Qing dynasty with Anglo-French backing and a Chinese Christian cult led by a man who claimed to be Jesus’s younger brother. Somehow almost nobody knows about it, even ones from mainland China.

      Edit: More like Ninjagest amirite?

    • roystgnr says:

      The Second Congo War, maybe? Not as big as the Taiping Rebellion, but “lots of people haven’t heard about a war a century and a half ago which killed millions of people” isn’t as surprising to me as “lots of people didn’t hear about a contemporaneous war which killed millions of people”.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Has anyone suggested the Taiping Rebellion or Second Congo War yet?

    • Nornagest says:

      Other recent candidates would include the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983), and Operation Searchlight and its aftermath (Bangladesh, 1971). Both fall into the megadeath range.

    • Sandy says:

      Most historic African wars don’t get publicity because as far as most people are concerned, history didn’t begin in that continent before the Scramble — but the Mfecane was a kind of African Holocaust instigated by Shaka’s Zulu Kingdom that caused something like 1 to 2 million deaths, a continental refugee crisis, widespread chaos, and allegedly made it easier for European armies to swoop in and carve up the continent for themselves.

      Of course, as with anything to do with colonialism, everything is hotly disputed depending on one’s biases.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The Taiping Rebellion is an excellent candidate. I’m amazed by the claim that it’s not famous in China. It’s also the deadliest conflict ever started in the name of Christ, albeit by a weird heretic.

      Have any of you read The Great Big Book of Horrible Things? Megacidal rebellions seem to be a thing that happen to Chinese dynasties when they’re ~150-200 years old, weakening but not destroying them. The most cryptic is the An Lushan Rebellion, which some say killed 2/3rd of China’s population.
      The Second Congo War is there too. Horrifically, it describes the casus belli as punishing Hutu militias that fled Rwanda for the genocide.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The An Lushan rebellion killed 2/3 of the population of China in the same way that the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact killed 2/3 of the population of Poland.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          That’s the counter-argument I’ve seen, yes: the census numbers dropped 2/3 because the population the Tang could tax dropped 2/3.

          • Nobody has mentioned the Biafran war.

          • onyomi says:

            That is really terrible and I had never heard of it (the Biafran War).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Why mention the Biafran War in this sub-sub-thread? Because it killed every last person in Biafra?

          • The Biafran war did not kill everyone in Biafra but it killed a very large number of people, and my guess is that most people have never heard of it. Hence its relevance.

          • I was certainly aware of the Biafran war while it was happening (1967-70), and so were many other Americans.

            In the U.S., interest in the war focused on the fact that (due to a blockade by government forces) many of the Biafrans were starving, and images like this one are still what come to mind when Biafra is mentioned.

            Most of the Biafrans were Igbo, an ethnic group noted for Christianity, high literacy, and an entrepreneurial culture, hence, very easy for Americans to identify with.

            The originators of the Nigerian advance fee fraud messages were also Igbo.

    • Loquat says:

      The Siege of Baghdad and subsequent wrecking of Iraq by Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan in 1258 – I, like many Americans, only learned about this when Osama bin Laden put out a public statement claiming the US had inflicted more damage to Iraq than Hulagu had.

      Baghdad was apparently largely depopulated, with estimates ranging from 90,000 to potentially up to 1 million killed, the Grand Library was destroyed along with its contents, and some historians believe the Mongols’ destruction of the Iraqi irrigation infrastructure combined with loss of manpower to rebuild it had centuries-long effects on agricultural productivity.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Iraq wasn’t the only region to suffer this fate — Central Asia arguably never recovered from the Mongol invasions.

        • Anonymous says:

          Except taking over the ERE, you mean.

          • jeorgun says:

            The Seljuk Turks made their way into Anatolia and established the Sultanate of Rum about 100 years before Genghis Kahn was even born.

    • Anonymous says:

      This gender imbalance caused the Catholic Church to give Paraguayans a dispensation for polygamy.


      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        English Google searches seem to dead-end with “A Theory of Marriage” (Becker 1974). I’m unable to find any Church document in Spanish.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The Second Sino-Japanese War usually gets considered as “oh, part of WWII” and then basically ignored in the West. It’s a common complaint of war nerds that the German-Soviet war gets ignored … but it’s lavished with attention compared to the Sino-Japanese conflict, where something like 20 million died.

  29. Dr Dealgood says:

    So an interesting thing happened to me recently:

    I went to a comedy club where the comics were overly political and not particularly funny. Which in itself is not very interesting.

    But what was interesting was that it seemed like the audience had reached some sort of offendedness critical-mass. A third of the audience actively booed the Donald Trump jokes, even the genuinely good ones, while the other two thirds were dead silent during the Bruce Jenner jokes. Left or right, we were all united by not finding bits which we disagreed with funny.

    (Luckily they had no jokes making fun of internet edgelords so I was free to salvage some laughs.)

    So yeah, senses of humor. How do we do that again? Advice from the left, right or center is welcome.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Once Jon Stewart weaponized comedy, scorching that earth was the only practical policy. It can be reclaimed after a 30-years Comedy War leaves everybody sick of fighting.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      Comedy is a way to raise or (more often) lower the status of various people/groups/entities*. Laughter communicates audience agreement with the change in status being proposed. Status is something like context-dependent social power, and when people are feeling insecure in general (which seems the case lately), they’re less willing to give up any amount of power – for themselves or for their perceived allies. Same reason why you might expect that a King insecure in their power would be more likely to have someone who mocks them killed**.

      * Note that status is not the same as likability.
      ** Actual historical accuracy of this statement not guaranteed.

    • dndnrsn says:

      A lot of political humour is too “on the nose”. What’s more, because everybody is working from the same events, things get run into the ground quickly. This is especially true for political humour not aimed solely at political junkies.

      The funniest political humour is a bit more oblique, a bit more absurdist, more deadpan, more satirical. It would also frequently be funny even if you reworked it to remove the political references: humour isn’t just about subject matter.

      There’s a reason that, in my opinion, the Colbert Report was funnier than the Daily Show, and the fake correspondents on the Daily Show were funnier than Jon Stewart. Someone playing a character, deadpan, working with satirical humour is a lot funnier than what the Daily Show main desk became, which was pretty much [clip of Republican politician saying dumb] [Jon Stewart wiggles his eyebrows].

      If you go look at old Onion articles, there’s stuff that’s still funny, even though it’s no longer topical. Some hack standup shouting about how so-and-so is an idiot wasn’t funny to begin with.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I’ve always felt that Colbert was far and away the better comedian both for the reasons you describe above and for the fact that he was willing to be the butt of his own joke. He also managed, in his occasional serious moments, to actually treat his targets with some modicum of respect/empathy.

        In contrast, Stewart and Oliver both come across to me as the sort of smug “class clowns” who talk a lot of shit but can’t take any in return.

        • In contrast, Stewart and Oliver both come across to me as the sort of smug “class clowns” who talk a lot of shit but can’t take any in return.

          John Oliver does make himself the butt of jokes, shows highly unflattering pictures of himself when younger, shares discrediting personal anecdotes, talks frankly about mistakes made in past shows, and often mentions and quotes from negative reviews.

          Of course it’s all an act, but the Jon/John personas are quite different.

          If you were to walk up to Jon Stewart at a party and say, “You know, Jon, you and your show are complete garbage,” he would reply “That’s just your opinion, asshole.”

          If you said the same thing to John Oliver, he would hang his head and say, “Yeah, yeah, I know.”

          That being said, John Oliver’s show is comedic only on the surface. It’s really an earnest “60 Minutes” type investigative journalism and advocacy show, with an often completely irrelevant joke thrown in after every few sentences.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I confess that my impression of them is based on their time on the Daily Show. I haven’t watched more than the occasional clip of Oliver’s new show.

  30. why says:

    Am I banned?

  31. One possible interpretation of Brexit, Trump, and the increase in support for European parties labeled far-right, is that they represent a revolt of the masses against the intellectual/media elite. Whether one sees such a revolt as a good thing or a bad thing largely depends on whether the issues involved are ones on which one agrees or disagrees with the elite. So it’s worth thinking about what the issues are on which the elite holds a position arguably inconsistent with the views of the majority in at least some countries.

    Some candidates:

    Policies to deal with global warming
    Free speech for unpopular positions
    Free trade
    Affirmative action
    “Foreign aid” (scare quotes deliberate)


    • The Nybbler says:

      Start with the easy one, in the US: Free speech for unpopular positions is very popular in the US among all BUT the elite. Though the populist candidate isn’t so in favor of it either.

      The other easy one is immigration, which appears to be held in much higher regard by the elite than the majority.

      Free trade is harder. Nobody wants tariffs on anything they buy, most want tariffs on things they make or sell. I’m not sure the popular position is coherent; I hear Trump talking about “renegotiating” NAFTA but not much in the way of specifics.

      Affirmative action: splits on tribal boundaries rather than elite/popular.

      Policies to deal with global warming: Also splits on tribal boundaries.

      “Foreign aid”: If you mean money, I don’t think it’s really an issue with the populace. You won’t get too many votes for campaigning against it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Start with the easy one, in the US: Free speech for unpopular positions is very popular in the US among all BUT the elite. Though the populist candidate isn’t so in favor of it either.

        This speaks more to your bubble than state of things in the United States at large.

        • The Nybbler says:

          My bubble, such as it is, is with the speech-opposing elite.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s a whole country out there not made up of Bay Arayan twenty somethings. Including the overwhelming majority of the nation’s elite by any definition.

          • blacktrance says:

            Ask the man on the street about flag-burning, or whether neo-Nazis should be able to march through Jewish neighborhoods.

      • Julie K says:

        Start with the easy one, in the US: Free speech for unpopular positions is very popular in the US among all BUT the elite.

        Do you mean that most people support the principle that even speech they personally dislike should be allowed?

        Or that the elite wants to disallow a certain category of speech (call it un-PC speech), but most non-elite want it to be allowed?

      • Jiro says:

        Affirmative action: splits on tribal boundaries rather than elite/popular.

        Affirmative action often means “affirmative action for non-elites”. That does split elite/popular, at least for non-benefitted elites versus non-benefitted popular.

        • dndnrsn says:

          For non-elites? Really? Isn’t one of the criticisms of AA specifically in education that it primarily helps the elite or at least better-off members of the groups it’s supposed to help as a whole?

          For example, a middle-class kid from a disadvantaged group being able to get into their first-choice university instead of second or third – which doesn’t help the lower-class kid from the same group who just flunked out of grade 11 much, if at all.

        • Jiro says:

          The elites in a place to influence policy and media are secure in their positions. Affirmative action hiring affects only new jobs, and companies vulnerable to pressure.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      At least in the US, religious practice/belief is strongly split on class lines. Murray’s “Coming Apart” details this split along with other cultural splits.

    • nachterb says:

      Immigration seems to be the real one for the “exit” bunch, what with all the people camped out in France trying to get through the tunnel. The fear is that the EU can say “take em” because all the other countries voted on it.

      Global Warming is not a debate in UK, nor some of the other things you mention.

    • Lumifer says:

      a revolt of the masses against the intellectual/media elite

      Maybe ask a different question? Let’s take the feudal framework and consider the basic social bargain that the lords — the elite — provide what hoi polloi want and need (traditionally, bread and circuses) and hoi polloi, in turn, let them rule. If this bargain broke down, what is it that the elites did not provide to the masses?

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        You’re mixing your historical periods.

        The Roman framework relied on bread and circuses, at least within the city of Rome itself anyway, but the feudal one was all about military protection. The lord’s castle was a refuge for the peasants in times of crisis, his host was responsible for clearing out bandits and other invaders, and disputes between peasants were resolved in his court.

        Anyway, this isn’t pure pedantry. The difference is illustrative. If people’s demand for protection is greater than their demand for bread and circuses, then centers of power shift from the imperial to the feudal. At least, that’s my half-baked totally unsupported idea.

        • Lumifer says:

          Oh, I’m mixing historical periods, languages (panem et circenses for hoi polloi! would it make a good slogan?), and metaphors X -)

          You are right that protection is one of the basic services that a state (feudal, imperial, warlord, etc. etc.) provides to its subjects. I don’t know, though, whether in this particular case you can argue that Her Majesty’s Government failed to protect the British people from the rapacious predation of the EU bandits (and would these be roving or stationary?) Bread and circuses seems to be a more fitting context.

          • The government was failing to protect people against the actions of immigrants, both legal and illegal. I’m not even talking about Rotherham: the economic activity of regular law-abiding migrants was perceived as plundering from the native-born. This is perceived as banditry, and the government wasn’t stopping it.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            > economic activity of regular law-abiding migrants was perceived as plundering from the native-born

            Perception and reality are not necessarily the same. Not protecting people from the monster under the bed is not a failure.

          • It matters if you’re working under a system in which popular will is supposed to be a guiding principle: if the people believe that the government is not protecting them from the monster under the bed, well, then that’s a problem. OTOH no one really seems to believe in democracy any more (I certainly don’t), so maybe this matters less.

            However: Rotherham was not a monster under the bed. It was a completely legitimate example of the state failing to fulfill one of its key functions.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Seconding perception =/= reality.

            Reresentative democracy is not supposed to bow directly to popular will/perception, it is supposed to take a considered view…which can include sayng tha tthe perception is X , but ht ereality is Y.

            Nobody mentioned Rotherham during Brexit, nor should they have, since it has nothing to do with Europe.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Though Rotherham was, unless I am mistaken, about people whose ancestry was outside the EU, and therefore not a group that should plausibly have tripped people’s ‘I want out of the EU’ switch.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It triggered people’s “our rulers have lost the mandate of heaven” switch.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It triggered people’s “our rulers have lost the mandate of heaven” switch.

            Yes, I think that’s close to the truth.

            Basically there’s a perception that the country’s elites live in a liberal, pro-immigration bubble and don’t know or care about the effect their policies are having on people outside the bubble. Rotherham’s relevance, insofar as it had any, was that it reinforced this impression, making people less likely to trust arguments about how EU freedom of movement is good for the country.

          • TeD says:


            Nobody mentioned Rotherham during Brexit, nor should they have, since it has nothing to do with Europe.

            But if Britain stayed in the EU there was always the chance of further integration (which has been planned for a long time), and the UK entering the Schengen Area. In the next decades, the EU might even become a fully federal state, completely destroying the UK’s ability to leave peacefully by stripping its sovereignty (an important Schelling fence and not some quasi-spiritual triviality).

            So, I’d say that if you believe that the migrant crisis of 2015 is just the start, and then you look at the fact that further integration and federalization has been proposed as a solution to the crises in Greece and Spain, then you would want to reduce the possibility as much as you can of further integration and future control of Britain’s borders by a huge block of pro-immigration bureaucrats. A certain level of integration to begin with makes it a lot easier to twist the knife in, and its hard to trust the pro-remain establishment not to just keep handing over powers to Brussels even when they say they will take a firm line, and that Britain can fight for its interests better inside the EU than outside of it, because they are rightly perceived to be a bunch of corrupt liars and crooks.

            The immigration issue is tied to the EU because the people at the top of the EU are pro-mass immigration, and if the UK further integrates, there’s a good chance its ability to control its own borders will be handed over (effectively) to these people, even if as of yet, the UK retains control and did not enter the Schengen area.

          • If you have certain perceptions about immigration and the EU, you will want to leave . That is not in doubt. The hard questions are: whose perceptions are in line with reality, and how democracies cope with voters who are profoundly mistaken.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            > However: Rotherham was not a monster under the bed. It was a completely legitimate example of the state failing to fulfill one of its key functions.

            Sure, but my comment wasn’t about criminal justice, it was about economics.

    • SamChevre says:

      Big ones I’d add:

      Gender roles (including homosexuality and transgender questions)
      Non-discrimination as applied to small non-government actors

      I should say hello–I wandered in from Making Light (where I used to spend a lot of time, several years ago).

    • Murphy says:

      Immigrants (separate to immigration)

      never underestimate the influence of the grandmothers-who-don’t-want-our-susan-dating-“one of them” block.

      “immigration” sort of implies that the focus is more the economic side.

      you’ll hear a very different spiel from someone complaining about “immigrants” vs someone complaining about “immigration”.

    • Tibor says:

      Centralization. I’m not sure how that’s an issue in the US (expanding the power of the federal government) but it is a big issue in the EU. Save for the political elites, pretty much nobody in Europe wants the United States of Europe and most people see the current state of things as already too close to that.

  32. Brexit and Free Trade

    A lot of people commenting on Brexit take it for granted that it will make the U.K. more isolationist, but I don’t think that is clear. There are a number of European countries which are not in the EU but do have free trade with it, so it isn’t impossible for the U.K. to end up in that situation, depending on what both the U.K. government and the E.U. authorities want. Further, being in the E.U. limited the ability of the U.K. to have free trade with non E.U. countries, most obviously the Commonwealth.

    My impression is that the supporters of Brexit included both nationalist/isolationist types who wanted less immigration and (presumably) more trade restrictions and free marketeers who objected to E.U. regulations imposed on the U.K., with the latter probably the smaller faction. The opponents of Brexit, on the other hand, I would expect to be mostly in favor of more free trade. Brexit passed by a relatively small majority (52/48), so most of the opponents plus a sizable minority of the supporters ought to add up to a majority.

    If I am correct, and if the political shakeout post-Brexit produces a government representing that majority, the outcome could be freer trade than before. It could even be more labor mobility, although that strikes me as less likely.

    Comments? Preferably from those who know more than I do about U.K. politics.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Did you make an earlier comment about this in another SSC thread? I thought I saw something you said that was similar but couldn’t find it when I went to look for it. I definitely agree that political unification is not necessary for free trade.

      My impression was that the EU (and Obama, for some reason) were threatening to not cut trade deals with the UK in case of Brexit. I hope they don’t refuse on purely political grounds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did everything they could to prevent other countries leaving. They might also demand more immigration in exchange for free trade (I believe this has been a sticking point with Switzerland), which probably wouldn’t fly so well, especially if some of the Stay supporters leave Britain while they still can.

    • brad says:

      There are a number of European countries which are not in the EU but do have free trade with it, so it isn’t impossible for the U.K. to end up in that situation, depending on what both the U.K. government and the E.U. authorities want.

      Are you thinking of Norway and Switzerland? As I understand it while they aren’t in the E.U. they are bound by many (almost all?) the restrictions and obligations of E.U. members but aren’t allowed to vote. It’s in some ways the worst of both worlds. Though if some of the objection to the E.U. is one of form over substance then perhaps it will satisfy a majority.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Switzerland and Norway have the right to make trade deals outside the EU, while EU countries don’t. It is true that they have no vote in the EU Parliament, but the Parliament has no power. In particular, it doesn’t create those restrictions and obligations that they have assumed.

        • Anonymous says:

          It is true that they have no vote in the EU Parliament, but the Parliament has no power.

          Indeed. Any time they believe they are getting a raw deal, they can unilaterally declare they are no longer having it.

        • TeD says:

          The EU Parliament is such an odd institution that the UK also might have more weight to throw around outside of it than in. The UK is still in the top 15 largest economies of the world by a number of measures (The IMF puts it at 10 for the 2015-16 period in GDP PPP), and a huge portion of the EU. The German auto industry badly needs the UK market as well.

          I’d argue the larger economies are handicapping their negotiating power by conducting their trade relations with all 28 countries inside a Parliament (and one where they don’t have direct legislative initiative!). You could argue the more “wimpy” countries benefited from this, but then again, the smaller economies are the ones in massive economic trouble, so even the political gain for the smaller countries seems to have been cancelled out by the economic devastation caused by having a common monetary policy for both the efficient steadfast Germans and the lackadaisical Greeks (Sorry).

          The other aspect with negotiating inside the EU is that (as far as I’m aware, PLEASE correct me on this if I’m wrong) EU regulations are going to apply to internal business just as much as to businesses that are actually trading with the EU. Then of course there’s the common external tariff issue.

          Leaving the EU creates uncertainty, but allows the UK to do things it simply can’t do inside.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The EU Parliament is powerless. The UK loses nothing by exiting it. The UK voters lose nothing by losing their representation in it. But something within the EU has power and “the UK” might have a lot of influence that it loses by exiting. Probably influence is superlinear in size, so that Norway and Switzerland have nothing to gain, but the UK does have something to lose. But the power structures of the EU are opaque. The voters of the UK don’t understand the influence that “the UK” loses. Maybe they are throwing away something valuable that they do not understand. Or maybe the fact that it is opaque to them should make them suspicious that it it is not being wielded in their interest.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I think the most likely outcome is about the same amount of free trade as before — trade with the EU remaining similar due to a Norway-style deal, and external trade remaining similar because all governments like tariffs. Due to the same Norway-style deal, I think labour mobility will remain almost the same as before, unless the government becomes strongly anti-immigration and cuts non-EU immigration.

      Free trade isn’t a popular issue at all, so it is possible that a new pro-free trade Conservative government, or a hypothetical Con-Lib or Con-Ukip government could quietly remove some trade restrictions. On the other hand, it’s equally possible that the government could become more protectionist.

      There’s also the possibility of Brexit leading either to other European countries with strong anti-EU movements leaving as well, in which case a free-trade agreement could be negotiated with them; or even to the collapse of the entire EU, in which case no-one knows what would happen.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        I think the most likely outcome is about the same amount of free trade as before — trade with the EU remaining similar due to a Norway-style deal, and external trade remaining similar because all governments like tariffs.

        On what timescale? It looks to me that it’s going to take years to get back to roughly were we before.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I imagine on roughly the same timescale as it will take to invoke Article 50; the point of waiting as far as I can tell is to ensure we have some sort of deal in place by the time we leave. I think that could take as little as 2 years, if our government and EU policy align in wanting to get us out as quickly as possible, or over a decade if one party wants to drag it out.

          • Murphy says:

            If, somehow, they haven’t invoked it within the next 24 months I’d bet against them invoking it in the following 24 years.

            The leave side is a minority in parliament but if leave isn’t invoked they have enough presence to kick up a stink and make it happen. I would consider a failure to invoke article 50 very unlikely given the context. it would give too much support to that faction of the tory party.

    • Techno-Decentralism says:

      My impression was that the EU (and Obama, for some reason) were threatening to not cut trade deals with the UK in case of Brexit.

      Wasn’t this a bluff, given how much German car manufacturers depend on the UK market?

    • Anon. says:

      A Norway/Switzerland deal would be a complete betrayal of the Brexit vote. All the EU bureaucracy control would remain, and the UK would lose all the power it had to affect it. If that is the alternative, it’s better to remain.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        It would be pretty pointless. It is also (in my opinion) the most likely outcome. At “best” we’ll get a slight concession regarding immigration (since that is what most Brexiteers cared about).

      • Ted says:

        I thought the issue was that UK businesses that weren’t exporting or importing from Europe still had to follow EU regulations? If that’s true, then you gain from being able to suspend those regulations in your internal economy and in trading with non-EU partners.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        For some values of “betray”. There’s no way all brexiters are going to get what they want, because they want different things.

    • Daniel says:

      Both sides can claim to be right in some sense. Many Brexit leaders campaigned in support of a more international UK, with the main pillar being more economic integration. This will definitely happen.

      On the contrary, the other side will still point to the loss in economic integration with the EU – which will necessarily be diminished.

    • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

      The ability to negotiate independently, with the Commonwealth in particular, is one of the principle reason I believe that Brexit will be a net gain for the UK.

      I strongly suspect that bilateral trade deals between the UK and Commonwealth members will be significantly easier to negotiate and more closely reflect the interests of the parties of the deals. Any deal involving the EU necessarily involves a massively diffuse set of interests and underlying legal traditions. The UK and the Commonwealth countries, however, generally have baked in systemic similarity which makes bridging the gap easier; a hundred years or two of the English hanging everybody that has a different idea what the law should be will tend to do that. And bilateral treaties seem obviously better than the googleplexlateral treaties of the EU. Consider for example, that the Canadian-EU deal took, what, seven years to negotiate? (Huh, that’s not a thing? What am I thinking of?) Like, seriously, if Canada and the UK couldn’t bang out a deal in a week there is no hope of reaching on in this century. 😉

      I am confident enough that the current panic is unfounded that I am trading against it. I am not however a UK or Commonwealth citizen, and as a consequence I do recognize there is a significant political risk that I may not have a terribly good handle on.

      • Murphy says:

        Good luck, really. I hope that the Remain side stop being so correct in their predictions. it would be really really good for me for as many of the remain claims to be wrong as possible.

        Though make sure to take into account that almost every major political party is fucking around playing ookie cookie right now to decide on new leaders and the candidate choices aren’t much better than the choices US republicans had in the primaries.

        Apart from the SNP who are taking it as their chance to try to split from the UK.

        And sinn fein who are taking it as their chance to try to split from the UK which will probably end in carbombs. Again.

        long term I’m sure it’ll be a fine investment. The UK has a lot of very strong institutions and will eventually recover but given how long trade deals take to sort out (decades) you may have to be willing to hang on to your sterling for a couple of decades to guarantee a positive return.

        • At a slight tangent, the Scottish case raises its own interesting strategic issues. Scottish independence makes a lot more sense if they have the option of staying in the EU. Encouraging Scottish independence could be viewed as a way of punishing the U.K., hence discouraging other countries from leaving.

          On the other hand, letting Scotland in would set a precedent that some member countries, most obviously Spain, might not be happy with. The EU authorities would presumably argue that the precedent only applies to breakaway regions from non-member countries, or countries in the process of leaving, but still … .

    • Murphy says:

      What’s looking likely is that the UK will end up negotiating access to the single market similar to some of those other countries. What the Leave side don’t like to talk/think about is that those countries which do that are effectively bound by almost all of the same rules/regulations as the rest of the EU.

      So if they retain that single market access they’re likely to end up tied into similar agreements to the ones which limit them now.

      It’s also likely(read, almost certain since any other member can veto them joining the single market) that they’ll end up required to follow the exact same freedom of movement rules that the others follow.

      Effectively it’s looking like the UK will simply lose the ability to control the rules which it has to follow.

      All the costs without the control. Fantastic!

      it’s as if the elderly didn’t even realise that the UK held a massive portion of the power in the EU. It was one of the big three.

      “oh yeah, we’ve decided we don’t like telling people what to do, instead we want to switch to just being told what to do. What we really want is less representation ,less control, less benefits and more costs!”

      An american version would be if one of the big influential states like ,say, california had a nutty separatist party that managed to get most of the elderly people out declaring that what they need is less representation, to legally stop being a state and lose all voting rights but to remain bound by US federal law.

      Almost all the benefits the Leave people claim are nothing but a fantasy based on assuming that they won’t have to follow the same rules as the other members of the single market outside the EU.

      • erenold says:

        The best example of this is Turkey’s accession to the EU.

        Stuff like this got a lot of traction during the referendum. When people pointed out that this was lies they too were accused of lying.

        But… Britain can veto Turkey’s accession to the EU. Any country can veto any country’s accession to the EU. Each member state must positively affirm that they want the new member in via the Council of the EU.

        Now, of course, that sentence should read Britain could have vetoed Turkish accession. So now if, as seems likely, Britain concedes free movement in exchange for EEA access, they’ll still get Turkish economic immigration (and have to pay for the privilege, as you rightly noted) – assuming it ever happens. They just won’t be able to do anything about it.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The British government could veto Turkey. The British people couldn’t. The argument here is “we will be predictably betrayed by our leaders”.

          • erenold says:

            But the point is that the British people still cannot veto Turkey. And they have precluded themselves from the non-zero – and IMHO substantial, though YMMV – possibility that their leadership was in earnest. They can no longer now indirectly vote in a government on an explicit mandate of blocking Turkish accession.

            Turkish freedom of movement to the UK is and was always unlikely. But the probability of it occurring has now increased. To the extent that Brexit was meant to counter such a possibility, it was literally an irrational act.

      • Tibor says:

        While it is true that Switzerland and Norway do implement a lot of the EU regulation, there are also important ways in which they don’t. The Swiss have a zero average import tariff (even though they do have some non-tariff import restrictions), that is impossible in the EU, because since the Lisbon treaty international economic policy is entirely in the hands of the EU, the member states cannot have individual policies. But since all EU countries have to agree to institute a common policy, this means free trade deals are really hard to achieve. The pending TTIP US-EU agreement is one example, the CETA agreement with Canada is another one. In the long term we could see a protectionist EU focused increasingly inward while the rest of the world removes its trade barriers.

        Another thing is increasing centralization of the EU. If it continues, it will be increasingly harder and more painful to leave the EU even if it is a good idea. Switzerland, Norway and now the UK will have it much easier to cut the EU ties if they need to. For the UK, being a member meant possibly more influence in the decision making, but I don’t think the difference is that big. As was mentioned here, the European Parliament is a gutless institution which does not really deserve its name. Of course, as a member state you get to have a say about the members of the Commission, but Cameron’s failure to prevent Juncker’s presidency suggest that the UK’s political alliance in the EU was simply not enough to win as long as both France and Germany agree on something else. For Switzerland and Norway that the influence is even less useful as those countries are much smaller.

        I think the degree to which Switzerland and Norway are “EU members without voting rights” is wildly overstated. Yes, if you measure it by the number of regulations they implement, it may look almost that way but not all regulations are created equal and some are more important than the others. The option to have their own international trade policy alone is worth a lot. The Swiss decided decisively against an EU membership in 2001 by a majority of 76.8% of voters in a referendum and this year the Swiss Federal Council voted to withdraw the suspended membership application entirely. If the Swiss position were as clear-cut as you (and most people who argue for the EU) present it, I doubt that this would be the case. Switzerland is on average better at policy making than other countries in Europe (judging by their prosperity) so it would be strange to see the Swiss so clearly against something that would only bring them benefits at no significant costs.

    • John Schilling says:

      May be worth noting that the British particularly need a free trade in services, particularly financial services, whereas e.g. Germany needs free trade in goods. Important because the UK and essentially all of the EU are part of the World Trade Organization, which mandates free-ish trade in goods but not services.

      So the default outcome of Brexit is that Germany can still sell cars to the Brits without too much hassle, but the Brits can’t offer to clear the checks for the Germans. In order for Britain to offer financial services on the continent, they’d have to negotiate a new deal with the EU. The Germans don’t have to negotiate a new deal, and the Brits can’t really threaten to back out of the old one as a negotiating ploy because the WTO won’t allow it and a non-EU Britain needs the WTO more than ever.

  33. wintercaerig says:

    Here is some information that might interest the poster who inquired a few weeks back about Jewish atheists: the first large survey of ex-Orthodox Jews. “Belief in God is inversely related to prior rigor of practice” among those who left, meaning that former hareidim are more likely to be atheists. Although the survey does not focus on atheism, there is some information here which might help your exploration such as rates of continued identification as Jewish, attitudes regarding intermarriage, etc.

    Also, I recently somehow found the posts on Raikoth and think the Risurion-silk is very similar to the Maimonidean conception of Jewish legal literature, with the major difference being that halakhah neither expects nor aims for Utopia, just a functional community. Additionally, instead of well-defined Angels/priesthoods (Joy, Beauty, Truth), deciders of Jewish law are meant to be socialised via the literature into concern for many considerations which are sometimes but often not made explicit.

    • Pete says:

      That’s quite interesting. I was brought up a fundamentalist Christian, and I think that’s part of the reason I’m an atheist now, as opposed to a liberal Christian.

      Being brought up to believe that the world was 6000 years, Noah’s flood happened, the Bible was literally the word of God and free of contradictions and that believing those things was an inherent part of Christianity, made if very difficult for me to hold onto my faith or fall into a looser form of it when I discovered that those things weren’t true.

  34. Alex Zavoluk says:

    Actual discussion point: how credible are Comey’s claims about “no reasonable prosecutor” indicting someone because what they did was not intended to breach security? Anyone with a knowledge of related cases or what the relevant laws say? I’m pretty sure that intention can reduce a charge (murder to manslaughter) but not get rid of it entirely, and that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” but I’m not a lawyer.

    • Lumifer says:

      how credible are Comey’s claims about “no reasonable prosecutor” indicting

      Not very credible.

      First, it is literally not Comey’s job to decide what prosecutors will prosecute and what they will not. I suspect the point of the whole exercise was to diffuse the responsibility for not prosecuting so that the AG will have some backup for her “executive decision”.

      Second, intent (mens rea) is a necessary component of some crimes, but not all. Deliberately mishandling classified information is a crime even if your intentions are not nefarious.

      Of course, Comey is correct that no reasonable prosecutor is likely to indict a Clinton who’s on the verge of officially being proclaimed the Democratic party’s candidate for the presidency.

      • brad says:

        Second, intent (mens rea) is a necessary component of some crimes, but not all. Deliberately mishandling classified information is a crime even if your intentions are not nefarious.

        “Knowingly”, “recklessly”, “with gross negligence” are perfectly valid and common kinds of mens rea. Nefarious intention is a vague term that doesn’t line up with much of anything.

        There are crimes without mens rea components (known as strict liability) but they are extremely rare. I believe (but wouldn’t swear) that they were completely unknown at common law. There are even a few federal precedents that read a mens rea requirement into a criminal statute.

        I’d be extremely surprised if any of the criminal laws surrounding disclosing classified material were strict liability. Can you point to the statutory language?

        • Lumifer says:

          I was speaking loosely (in equating intent and mens rea), in usual speech things like “reckless” and “negligent” are not considered to be intent.

          Gross negligence seems pretty obvious to me in this case.

          P.S. I am not sure strict liability crimes are that rare. I vaguely remember that drunk driving and statutory rape are often strict liability offences.

      • Rimblade says:

        Now hold on.

        You’re right that it’s not Comey’s job to decide what prosecutors will prosecute, but it absolutely is his job to make recommendations to the Justice Department about it. Sure, it’s unusual for the FBI to publicly announce those recommendations, but given how controversial this issue is and that the AG had already announced that she would follow the FBI’s recommendation in this case it does seem appropriate.

        As an aside about the mens rea here- gross negligence is a much higher bar than the name suggests. It’s legally correct to say that it doesn’t require intent to prosecute, but as a practical matter it’s very hard to demonstrate without it. Obviously I haven’t seen the evidence which the FBI reviewed, but even if one assumes guilt you’re going to have a heck of a time proving it.

        Frankly, I have a hard time believing that Comey recommended against indictment if he honestly thought there was a good case here. Given the scrutiny his decision was bound to come under (and the unofficial case against Clinton which he laid out in his announcement), he’d be sticking his neck out for someone he has, historically, no reason to love. And he’s got the background to know if a case was feasible.

        So, speaking as someone with no way of seeing the evidence and making an independent judgment, it seems to me that my most reasonable default is to trust Comey’s assessment.

        • Lumifer says:

          As an aside about the mens rea here- gross negligence is a much higher bar than the name suggests.

          We’re talking legalese and “gross negligence” is a fairly well-defined term, so what the name suggests is irrelevant. As I mentioned, I think there is a very good case for gross negligence here and Hillary has been trying to rebut it for months, quite unsuccessfully IMHO.

          no way of seeing the evidence and making an independent judgment

          And why can’t you make an independent judgement? There doesn’t seem to be much hidden in this case, the basic facts are well-known and clear (if you care to look past the spin).

          • Rimblade says:

            I apologize- I unjustly assumed that you didn’t know that gross negligence is a term with a specific definition (although I consider ‘well-defined’ to be a stretch). Mea culpa.

            As for what I’ve read of the case, my take-aways were:

            1) Clinton used a personal e-mail server
            2) A number of the e-mail conversations involved information which other departments say should have been classified
            3) Comey (or those departments, I’m not totally clear) say that someone in Clinton’s position should have known that information was classified
            4) There were also some small number of explicitly-classified documents sent

            1-3 clearly make out a case for ordinary negligence but, without being able to read the unmarked-but-should-have-been-classified information or having much context, I don’t know that there was conduct more outrageous than that. I also don’t know how comparatively outrageous this conduct was- what percentage of past State Dept. staff transmissions on non-secure government servers contained comparable information? There’s a base error rate here which I don’t know.

            4. sounds like the better argument for intent-or-something-like-it, but for whatever reason Comey believes that it wouldn’t stand up in court. Maybe the confidential markings were easily missed? Maybe the headers were incomplete and hard to identify? These are things I expect the FBI followed up on, but they didn’t debrief me.

            Perhaps I’m missing something?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Rimblade

            Hillary quite intentionally ignored the abundance of regulations which basically said “No, you cannot have your own private communication system”. She broke clear rules that were in place and that is a strong argument for negligence. Moreover, when some people at State made noises that this is very very… irregular, they were told to shut up and never mention this again if they know what’s good for them.

            It’s like a surgeon who declines to wash up before an operation because it’s a hassle and occasionally — purely accidentally, y’know, without any intent — some nasty microflora gets from his hands into a patient and causes complications.

            Essentially you violate explicit regulations and set up a situation where an “accident” is very likely to happen. Sounds to me like classic negligence.

          • Anonymous says:

            The private server is a red herring in terms of the legal question. It makes no difference that the emails were sent over her unclassified private server versus the state department unclassified server. Neither one is “its proper place of custody”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It would be easier to argue for non-negligent mistake rather than negligence if classified emails were sent over the official unclassified system.

          • Anonymous says:

            How so? It’s not like the unclassified email system and classified communication system were in different tabs of the same browser and you could claim that you just forgot which one you were in. The secret system was entirely separate and just as impossible to confuse with the non-secret one as with a private server.

            The potential negligence came not in accidentally using the wrong system because she forgot which was which, but in failing to recognize that the material she was sending shouldn’t go over the system she knew she was using.

          • Rimblade says:

            Anonymous – right, which is why I think the issue is a bit tricky. I mean, one could make a great case for gross negligence if there was an e-mail which read something like “FYI – secret alien-tech testing base in Mozambique wants $200,000 in security upgrades. Attached plans, including current security detail, have Sec. review these pls thx.”

            But if there’s an e-mail reading “Got word from Ambassador Q. that his daughter is invited to Prince L.’s birthday at Paris.” but it turns out the birthday’s locale is classified, it’s not too hard to imagine both parties just not realizing that. I’ve been told before that the channel for sending and receiving classified information is long and cumbersome (though I’ve never had security clearance, so I don’t know), so it sounds like there’s a natural incentive to shy away from believing things are classified if you’re in the conversation.

          • Anonymous says:

            Rimblade – In my experience, at least, sending and receiving classified information isn’t necessarily tremendously inconvenient. For emails, the procedure involved sitting down at a government-issued laptop with the proper security classification, in a room rated for that classification, and composing and sending an email to the recipient’s government-issued secure email. The cleartext message stays on government approved networks, and gets encrypted by secure hardware to tunnel over the Internet.

            If you want to do all this on your personal cellphone, the answer is no, unless you’re the President. Hillary didn’t like that answer.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Anonymous
            For emails, the procedure involved sitting down at a government-issued laptop with the proper security classification, in a room rated for that classification, and composing and sending an email to the recipient’s government-issued secure email. [….]
            If you want to do all this on your personal cellphone, the answer is no, unless you’re the President. Hillary didn’t like that answer.

            That is, she requested more secure portable hardware and was denied. So she, like Powell and others, by-passed that outdated, clunky system occasionly.

            A Secretary of State needs to visit foreign countries. Some of them may not have rooms “rated for that classification”. On a best case, there might be one in the US embassy, or her plane might be so rated. But even going to the airport to do email is going to break up a day with the local rulers. And iirc, her email correspondent may not be allowed to access his rated room even on the same day.

            (Does anyone remember a recent article on this, perhaps at ThePeoplesView?)

          • John Schilling says:

            On a best case, there might be one in the US embassy

            No “best case” about it; embassies have the facilities to conduct secure discussions communications about diplomatic matters. And the embassy would presumably be SecState’s default base of operations in any foreign adventures, so no great hardship there.

            But this is a red herring, because “I want to use my Blackberry even if it’s against the rules”, while understandable, points to opening a commercial email account or maybe to contracting with security experts to set up a server with an exceptional level of private security, neither of which Clinton did. When you insist on the server being private but don’t insist on it being secure, and use it even on the home front, it is patently obvious that the goal is not “I want to use my Blackberry in Ruritania” but “I want to minimize FOIA exposure”.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ John Schilling
            it is patently obvious that the goal is not “I want to use my Blackberry in Ruritania” but “I want to minimize FOIA exposure”.


            Never mind.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Well the alternative explanation is that Clinton (and everyone on her staff) is just phenomenally stupid / clueless.

            I do not think that Clinton is that dumb.

        • “Frankly, I have a hard time believing that Comey recommended against indictment if he honestly thought there was a good case here. Given the scrutiny his decision was bound to come under (and the unofficial case against Clinton which he laid out in his announcement), he’d be sticking his neck out for someone he has, historically, no reason to love. ”

          He might well believe that a criminal indictment of someone about to be nominated for President would have serious negative long run effects on the system and bias his conclusions accordingly, not because he loves Hilary but because he loves his country.

          • Rimblade says:

            That’s a fair point, of course, but it’s not an obvious conclusion- after all, there’s the countervailing concern that failure to prosecute would cause the same kind of damage to the reputation and mythos of the legal system that the O.J. Simpson case did.

          • Winfried says:

            “Too important to jail” especially when the party referenced knows it, is a huge threat.

          • onyomi says:

            This sort of thing, along with obviously political SCOTUS decisions, does, in fact, damage my trust in the unbiased nature of the US legal system (such as it ever existed).

            The problem with not prosecuting because the person is really important and it will piss off a ton of people, or not striking down a law because it’s popular and doing so will piss off a ton of people is that it totally defeats the purpose of the judiciary and executive agencies as a check on abuse.

            Saying “you can strike down unconstitutional laws, but only when no one cares much about them” or “you can prosecute security violations, but only when done by nobody important” is equivalent to saying “you can practice free speech, but only when you want to say something inoffensive.”

          • gbdub says:

            The non-indictment plus announcement may in some ways be worse for the Democrats, and probably would have been fatal if Hillary was running against anyone but Trump.

            An indictment would hand the Dems an excuse to dump Hillary and select someone else at the convention. It would also give her a day in court – she could get acquitted and say, ha, I was innocent the whole time.

            On the other hand, Comey’s announcement makes it clear that, while he doesn’t think he could win a criminal case, the FBI believes Hillary to be guilty of at a minimum really bad judgment just short of possible criminality. He also directly contradicted many of Hillary’s claims, so she looks like (let’s be honest, is) a liar. It’s a ready made campaign ad (or should be anyway) for the GOP. Hillary can never be vindicated with a verdict, so it’s left to public opinion, where she does not seem to be doing well on the issue.

          • Tibor says:

            This is exactly what I was thinking. This would be really bad politically. It seems that the US are a very divided society at the moment and this would make things a lot worse.

            What would be the effect on the presidential elections though? Clinton would be out, so I guess the Democratic candidate would be Sanders. His chances to win would increase because most of those who’d view the judgment as unjust would probably vote for him (including people who would otherwise refuse to choose between Sanders and Trump and who’d stay at home on the election day instead).

          • Rimblade says:

            onyomi – well, in a way that’s a weakness inherent to the legal system. I mean, assume for a moment that Comey is being totally honest here. He’s not stupid. He knew very well that recommending non-indictment was going to create a flurry of accusations of elite protectionism. But Prof. Friedman has a point too; if Comey thought indictment was warranted, Clinton’s supporters would never accept the prosecution as anything but politically-motivated. Roughly half of the country was always going to condemn the outcome of this investigation as politically-motivated trash which confirms how corrupt America is.

            The same thing holds with the big-ticket SCOTUS items. Which outcome in the latest ACA case would damage the nation’s faith in the system? Both of them. Which outcome in the University of Texas case would most detrimentally politicize the judiciary? Both of them. When Obergefell came out, denouncements of the ‘black-robed tyrants’ and ‘philosopher kings’ became a popular sub-genre in some conservative forums, but when Citizen’s United came out, liberal media were openly denouncing the Justices as bought-and-paid-for pawns of the corporate cabal which rules the world.

            Meanwhile all of those are actual cases which do have to be decided one way or another, regardless of the political upheaval. It’s not obvious to me that the Court has a way of avoiding an inevitable slide down Politicization Way unless it punts on cases to an even greater degree than it already does.

          • notes says:

            This is by far the best argument in favor of non-indictment: that, terrible as it is to give the impression that status is a get out of jail free card, it would be worse to overprosecute presidential candidates, and make elections turn on indictments.

            I think it’s probably even true, both as an accurate assessment and as what Comey was thinking.

            Alternatively, he just doesn’t like criminal sanctions without intent.

            Still irritated about the ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ phrase, but the decision isn’t necessarily wrong.

          • Lumifer says:

            So, I’ve seen a few posts with the theme of “Goodbye, Rule of Law, it was nice while it lasted…”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Consider the following published last month by Politico:

            “we do believe in [FBI Director] James Comey,” [Jason Caffetz – (R) Utah] said during an appearance on Fox News’ “Outnumbered.” “I do think that in all of the government, he is a man of integrity and honesty.”

            Or this published in Forbes, Tuesday:

            …look at his own record, which is as solidly Republican as they come. He identifies himself as Republican. He served as counsel on the 1996 Republican Senate Whitewater Committee, run by Sen. Al D’Amato, which relentlessly and fiercely excoriated the Clintons.

            President George W. Bush appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, then Bush promoted him to Deputy Attorney General, the second post in Justice. He ran the Department for Bush under John Ashcroft and Alberto Morales. He gave campaign contributions to McCain and Romney. Come on. Does Comey’s Republican background have to be tattooed on him to be accepted?

          • onyomi says:

            Though the point about inability to avoid accusations of political motivation either way is well taken, I just think about it this way: if Hillary Clinton were not Hillary Clinton, would she have been indicted? Does anybody really think the answer is “no”?

            I’ll admit I’m not an expert in cases of this nature, but from everything I’ve read and heard from people in the military, etc. accusations of mishandling of classified information are not lightly dismissed.

            In general it seems possible to use the heuristic of imagining similar facts applied to a non-politically controversial case to determine what the outcome really “should” be in the controversial case. Of course, the determination of what that outcome would be in the supposedly non-controversial case will still be vulnerable to motivated reasoning, but then so is everything.

            So to apply the heuristic to Clinton’s case, there must be cases in which non-famous people who weren’t running for president were accused of similar errors. What percentage of them got off so light?

          • Anonymous says:

            If Hillary Clinton weren’t Hillary Clinton firing her and/or pulling her security clearance would be major punishment. At State that’s probably the most that would have happend to her. They don’t have a gung ho culture towards secrecy. At CIA or in the military it might be different. A significant underlying element of this whole kerfuffle is the IC’s anger at State for this very reason.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ notes
            This is by far the best argument in favor of non-indictment: that, terrible as it is to give the impression that status is a get out of jail free card, it would be worse to overprosecute presidential candidates, and make elections turn on indictments.

            Exactly. When an indictment itself does serious damage to the suspect and makes her lose an important opportunity — she is already being punished without conviction, or even due process.

            John Adams said well:

            It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, “Whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,” and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.

            John Adams

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HBC

            Thanks for Forbes’s history on Comey under Bush. He also has 7+ years of his term to serve. So if President Hillary wanted to fire him, she would have to wait till her own last term.

          • I’ll snag that John Adams quote for discussions of abusive police and an irresponsible justice system– the damage they do goes beyond individual harm.

            This also relates to something that makes me dubious about utilitarianism– it may tend to measure the wrong things, like counting a murder by the police and a murder by a member of the public as doing the same amount of damage. I’m inclined to think that it’s too easy to ignore network effects.

          • Anonymous says:

            I believe the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the President notwithstanding the ten year term. There’s political implications there though.

          • John Schilling says:

            if Hillary Clinton were not Hillary Clinton, would she have been indicted? Does anybody really think the answer is “no”?

            I do, and I think I’ve made it clear that I am no defender of Hillary Clinton in this matter.

            If Hillary were not Hillary, she’d have been fired, had her clearance revoked, and been barred from any future government work. Possibly she would be indicted for the purpose of negotiatingextorting a plea bargain that leads to zero jail time, but even that is uncertain and mostly just to enforce the “no future government work” bit. Comey is right; no reasonable prosecutor would go for a real prosecution without being able to prove malice.

            Hillary being Hillary, she’s already quit her job and given up her clearance, she’s got enough legal firepower behind her that extorting a quick and easy plea bargain is not going to happen, and the only government job she is going to apply for is one where her prospective employers are legitimately entitled to disregard any mere prosecutor or even judge who says “you can’t hire her for that job”.

            Since those prospective employers are now quite well informed of the matter (if they care), mission accomplished.

    • keranih says:

      “I didn’t intend for the Russians to get those plans” is a defense against treason, not against willful failure to safeguard the plans.

      Multiple people have been fired and lost all access to classified material (because they have demonstrated that they can not compently safeguard that material) for a fraction of what Clinton did. A smaller but non zero number are imprisoned. This decision is bullshit.

      • brad says:

        It isn’t up to Comey to decide if Clinton should be fired or have her clearances revoked. She currently doesn’t work for the government and in terms of clearances I think her access to briefings as a candidate for President is a matter of pure presidential discretion.

        So who is it that is imprisoned for the same thing as what Clinton did? Here’s what Comey had to say on the matter:

        In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          [..] efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

          That said, it’s probably a lot better not to indict a Presidential hopeful right before nomination. That seems like a really bad precedent to set.

          • brad says:

            Are you claiming that anything Clinton did meets the elements of the crime of obstruction of justice (any of the crimes in chap 73 of title 18) or every AUSA’s favorite crime making false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001)?

            That’s where they get most people, but I’d strongly guess Clinton was too cautious and well advised to fall into that trap.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Well I’m not a lawyer, and definitely not a prosecutor, so I can’t say whether or not what she did constitutes obstruction by the legal standard. But by any common sense standard, yes: if the cops show up at my door and I throw my hard drive in the oven it’s pretty clear I’m destroying evidence.

            As I said though, even though she’s definitely guilty this is a case where prosecuting would have been a mistake. Once you can preemptively press charges against presidential hopefuls to knock them out of the running, you’ve opened Pandora’s box.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That said, it’s probably a lot better not to indict a Presidential hopeful right before nomination. That seems like a really bad precedent to set.

            True, but refusing to indict and so making presidential hopefuls essentially above the law also sounds like a really bad idea.

            Probably the best thing would be for parties to avoid nominating possible criminals as their candidates. Unfortunately it’s a bit late for that now.

          • Aegeus says:

            Comey said in his statement that the destroyed emails were probably not part of an effort to destroy evidence, they were probably lost because she upgraded the server and didn’t archive what was on the old one.

        • notes says:


          He’s in prison for the next 10-30 years (sentencing hasn’t happened yet), for having photos that were classified confidential on his phone. (Also, for trying to impede the investigation by failing to preserve and outright destroying evidence).

          From Comey’s statement:

          “From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.”

          So there was more, and more seriously classified, material on those servers than on Kristian Saucier’s phone. Of course, he also tried to impede the investigation.

          On that topic, here’s Comey again:

          “It is also likely that there are other work-related e-mails that they did not produce to State and that we did not find elsewhere, and that are now gone because they deleted all e-mails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.”


          “With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.”

          Does failure to preserve evidence and deleting it rise to obstruction of justice? Well, sometimes. Could a reasonable prosecutor have argued that this entire private server idea was designed to avoid leaving evidence? Absolutely.

          Comey, explicitly, disagrees. He notes that “We do not see [efforts to obstruct justice] here.” And he may be right – but it’s a long step from there to ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ could disagree.

          • brad says:

            That doesn’t look to me like the same conduct at all. He took pictures of the classified part of submarine for unknown reasons. How is that like sending official work emails that should have been on the classified system over the unclassified system?

            Was Saucier indicted under the 793f provision you claim was a slam dunk for Clinton? I don’t see how he could be given that there’s nothing plausibly negligent about his actions. They were pretty clearly intentional (though the motive is a bit of a mystery).

          • notes says:

            He seems to have taken selfies while at work, and for this was convicted under 18 USC 793 (same statute as would apply to Clinton).

            It’s reported as a guilty plea to ‘unlawful retention of national defense information’ under the Espionage Act (more prosaically known as 18 USC 793), so I believe they got him under 793f. There isn’t really another option. (793a requires intent to injure the US or advantage another nation; 793b ditto; 793c ditto; 793d requires transmitting the information to someone else; 793e ditto… and that just leaves 793f, as covering retention but not transmission or treason. 793g is a conspiracy clause; 793h is forfeiture)

            Gross negligence includes accidentally mixing the classified documents with the unclassified, and going home… or taking a photo of stuff you thought (but should have been more careful to check) wasn’t classified, and taking that home. Taking the work emails home to the personal email account? Systematically, for years? On things that were classified much more secret than ‘confidential’?

            Describe it as photos vs. emails, and things sound different. Describe it as ‘unlawful retention of national defense information’ and do things begin to sound like the same conduct? The information in those photos should never have been on an insecure system; “[n]one of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system.”

    • i need a nap says:

      I can’t directly answer your question, but I have a little bit of perspective on this as an insider, though not exactly from a legal standpoint.

      Intent can factor heavily into situations of mishandling sensitive/classified information. Even people handling highly classified information make mistakes and do things that could cause the information to be compromised. Say, accidentally bringing a classified document home with them. Or giving away too much information out regarding prior work experience in a secure setting during an job interview in the private sector. Rarely does any substantive punitive action follow in these cases.

      Obviously, Clinton setting up a private server is a little different. It was stupid and dangerous to national security, to say the least. However, her emails indicate that she was aware that she shouldn’t be sending sending sensitive/classified info over her private server.

      The “classified” info that she sent was classified after the fact. I don’t know what she wrote that was later classified, but I wouldn’t be surprised if much of it was over classified. Over classification is a big problem in the intel community.

      I don’t mean any of this as a defense of Hillary Clinton, either. A lower level employee working with classified info wouldn’t have the power to set up a private server for work related emails like she did, but if they committed a practice dangerous to security that was equivalent to what Clinton did, they would at the very least have lost their clearance.

      • Lumifer says:

        The “classified” info that she sent was classified after the fact.

        Comey explicitly talks about it and points out that this is not true.

        • i need a nap says:

          You’re right, I just read about this. While this fact changes my opinion on the matter significantly, I still don’t think it was done intentionally.

          • keranih says:

            Can you talk through the process of how you feel she *accidentally* put official classified material on that private, unofficial, non-goverment, non-classified server system?

          • i need a nap says:


            Some people are very good at remembering classification levels of different material. It’s impressive, really, given the amount of information there is out there. Some people are very bad. People that are very bad shouldn’t communicate secure information outside of designated secure environments and they shouldn’t communicate secure information with audiences of varying levels of clearance. Basically, they should keep their mouths shut when they leave work. I think Clinton fell into this second group, but her arrogance and self importance led her to to make many (huge) avoidable mistakes.

    • Vorkon says:

      Well, it’s reasonable for a prosecutor to want to keep their job, so yeah, that’s a totally credible statement. :op

    • notes says:


      Zero credibility.

      Statute here.

      Relevant part is subsection f: “Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer—
      Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

      Notice how gross negligence is required, and intent isn’t?

      From Comey’s announcement:

      Removal from proper place of custody?

      “None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.”


      Gross negligence?

      “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

      The difference between gross negligence and extreme carelessness is phrasing and discretion.

      Politically, is his claim credible? Yes, pretty credible. There’s a high-minded argument about leaving it up to the voters, and a more cynical one about passing the buck, but either way a prosecution means putting the FBI/DOJ in the middle of an absolute political mess.

      • Anonymous says:

        The difference between gross negligence and extreme carelessness is phrasing and discretion.

        This isn’t really true. (I think there’s probably a decent case for gross negligence, anyway.)

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m pretty sure that intention can reduce a charge (murder to manslaughter) but not get rid of it entirely

      IANAL, but I’m pretty sure mens rea requirements depend on the charge. For example, larceny charges in California seem to require intent to steal, and there is no lesser criminal offense that covers the situation. (There might be a civil one, though.)

      • JRM says:

        OK, I’m very late, but in California, there are four basic types of crimes:

        1. General intent. You have to intend to do the act.

        Example: In California, assault with a deadly weapon is a general intent crime. When the police are chasing me and get close and I swerve at them, I don’t need to absolutely intend to hit them to be good for that.

        2. Specific intent: Theft is a good one here.

        I go by and see you have my bicycle. That’s my bicycle! I take it from you. It turns out to be your bicycle. I’m an idiot, and didn’t notice that it isn’t close in appearance, but did really believe it was mine. Not theft.

        3. Negligence. I’m driving down the road listening to Jonathan Coulton and not paying attention and I hit Mr. Pedestrian and kill him. California has criminal liability for even simple negligence driving deaths.

        4. Strict liability. It’s unclear how much strict liability survives U.S. v. Kantor. There’s a non-trivial argument that even unlawful intercourse with a minor is really general intent – you do intend to have sex, after all. You can get administratively sanctioned for things that really unpreventable and not your fault; this makes lots of sense. In the case above, porn producers did a bunch to check ages and Traci Lords fooled them. The Ninth Circuit said it was a defense if you showed sufficient diligence. (California law on under-18 sex is that if you reasonably believed the other party was 18, you’re OK – that requires both subjective belief and objective reasonableness of that belief. Unless they are under 14. In which case, you’re going to have a bad day.)

        The case law is kind of a mess on intent (Even the state supreme court has conceded this is the case every once in a while).

        On the instant case: The Hillary case requires gross negligence to prove. I think if it were Assistant Undersecretary Hillary Jones, she’d be in a lot of trouble. That said, this decision offends me less than it might. Equities and jury appeal are a real thing.

        • Anonanon says:

          Thanks. I definitely appreciated the info, and you have an excellent writing style.
          Have you done any long-form blogging?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Yes, the use of ‘I’ is brilliant. It places the sentence far away from reality and spotlights it at the same time. Kipling and Lewis used it too, but I have forgotten what the name of it is.

            Also it gives us another non-gendered pronoun.

          • JRM says:

            Now I’m even later – but thanks! And no, I haven’t done long-form blogging, but have been encouraged to. I have a couple of projects in my head, but blogging successfully really requires regular updates, and I’m concerned I’d be bad at that.

    • dsp says:

      A key point that is also being missed in discussions about intent – and which Comey completely, probably knowingly fumbles – is that legally, intent can be “inferred from conduct”, so that people are assumed to intend the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions. In other words, Hillary legally intended to leak sensitive information, unless she can credibly claim that she is too dumb to know how security works (and so foresee the consequences of her actions).

    • Alejandro says:

      A follow-up pair of questions, that I think are more interesting. Is there anyone on this thread who is generally pro-Clinton politically (e.g. supporting her rather than Obama or McCain in 2008) but who finds the email affair disqualifying? Is there anyone generally anti-Clinton politically (e.g. supporting Trump on this election) but who finds the email affair a nothingburger?

      • Sandy says:

        I veer right but I’m not all that enthused about Trump; still, I would call myself anti-Clinton. From the beginning I’ve felt that the e-mail issue is not as much of an issue as the Bernie/Trump supporters wish it was. Perhaps it betrays a certain carelessness and incompetence, but some of these people were going on about betrayal and shattered public trust like Hillary had dropped classified information right into Putin’s lap. I don’t ascribe malevolence to her on that count — I don’t think she meant to compromise national security, but then the fact that she did compromise national security and seemed quite oblivious about how might be disqualifying.

        • Is it relevant whether the reason she used a private server was to undercut freedom of information requests–to keep things secret that were legally supposed to not be?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ DF

            Don’t forget information about cattle futures, Benghazi, the moonshot hoax, TravelGate, and Obama’s birth certificate.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m anti-Clinton, and I think the email thing is a nothingburger. It’s corruption as usual. I think she certainly committed indictable offenses, but nothing that had any chance of getting past the immunity of the elite.

    • whateverfor says:

      If it helps make sense of this:

      Doing official State business on a private e-mail server to attempt to avoid FOIA requests is legal. Shady as hell and against department policy, but not a crime. The only criminal part would be using this e-mail address for classified information.

      Clinton turned over 30,000 e-mails, 113 were considered classified at the time of sending. So the argument isn’t that Clinton accidentally set up the server, or accidentally violated policy, but that she accidentally routed classified info through it. I don’t think you can have a certain opinion on that without actually seeing those e-mails, which haven’t been disclosed for obvious reasons.

      • Jiro says:

        Classified is not “considered classified”. Content is classified whether it has been marked as such or not.

        • Anonymous says:

          There’s no platonic classified state of being. The original classifying agency has the obligation of clearly marking or otherwise indicating the classification status of any material they disseminate outside the agency.

          • gbdub says:

            Not true. Failure of the originating agency to mark would be a mitigating factor in a criminal investigation, but knowingly passing or generating documents that contain classified information is a no-no even if unmarked.

            As to “platonic state of classified” – there kind of is one. Any information that would cause serious harm to national security if revealed is supposed to be classified. The marking doesn’t make it classified, it recognizes a threat level. In practice, programs with classified are required to create a guideline document spelling out what specific information / types of information relating to the program are classified, and anyone working them will be “read in” by acknowledging this document.

            Clinton, if not herself an originator, would still have been expected to be familiar with the security classification guidelines of any program she had access to, and you’re expected to self-police mismarked communications.

            Comey himself stated that the emails contained information that a reasonable person should have known was classified. Additionally, I thought the investigation found that at least some of the emails were marked.

          • Anonymous says:

            Unless you are talking about something like the nuclear launch codes it would be extraordinarily difficult to even get to a jury with that sort of case. The procedural due process hurdles are very high. That’s even more so true when much of the information in question is garbage classification like “we don’t acknowledge the drone program even though everyone on the planet knows about it.”

          • gbdub says:

            “much of the information in question is garbage classification”. Citation needed. Comey (and the people who’ve actually seen the emails in question) seemed to think differently. And whether you like it or not, “everyone knows it” may still be classified and it doesn’t absolve the cleared personnel of responsibility to protect. If anything, someone at Clinton’s level ought to be more cognizant of this, since anything she lets slip is going to get the “the US government has acknowledged that…” stamp.

            Anyway I made no statement regarding whether a jury would find criminality here. You made an assertion about a cleared person’s responsibility regarding classified information – that assertion was incorrect, or at a minimum extremely misleading.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ several

            Imo Bernie was right about one thing. The American public doesn’t care about Hillary’s damn emails.

            Jaywalking is illegal. But doesn’t get charged unless pushed by some pre-existing enemy of the jaywalker. (Or there is an accident with physical injury, or a lawsuit.)

            No harm no foul.

            Jaywalking is common practice and unless obvious harm did result, it’s ignored. “Well, there may be some unknown harm” or “Well, she made it possible for some hypothetical person to read some letter that would have made it possible for him to do some harm” — won’t get very far with commonsense Americans, eg unaffiated Consequentialists.

            Occasionally bypassing a clunky security system helped Bush, Powell, and Hillary do their real-world jobs. The probability of slow diplomatic emails causing harm, seemed greater than that of whatever differences there might have been in her actions vs the actions of B and P. Sfaik, Bush and Powell weren’t even criticized for theirs. Arguing “Well, what she did was different, and worse” leads the accusers into the weeds of definitions of terms in a footnote to a blah blah.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The obvious counter to this argument is if that if this is the case why aren’t democrats trying to score easy points by advocating to have Petraeus, Snowden, Wayne, Sterling, et al reinstated? Hell why haven’t Manning and Snowden been pardoned yet?

            This admisntration has been aggressively prosecuting the espionage act violation for the last 8 years so to turn around now and say that “it’s no big deal” smacks of rules for thee and not for me.

            You want a to “fight inequality”? It’s right fucking there in front of you.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            anonomous, you should have put “…Comrade?” at the end of every one of those accusatory sentences. It would have really nailed the tone you were going for.

      • Chalid says:

        according to this the top secret email chains were:

        “Seven of the eight email chains dealt with CIA drone strikes, which are classified top secret/special access programs… The other top secret email chain described a conversation with the president of Malawi. Conversations with foreign leaders are inherently classified.”

    • erenold says:

      Attn: American lawyers

      I would like to request that an actual American lawyer weigh in on this. The submariner’s comparison is patently an unsafe one to draw because there was clearly intent to do something known to be impermissible, unlike in Clinton’s case.

      Most common-law jurisdictions have no explicit concept of gross negligence in our criminal law, but do in civil law. Its very amorphous and not normally something I would be comfortable making a ruling on generally, but I will here – this isn’t grossly negligent (again, with the caveat that this refers to civil-law standards – though of course this is a standard lower than that required by criminal law). This is very, very far from it. If s 793(f) was a part of my country’s law, I would have very little difficulty asserting that a conviction under the present circumstances would be unlikely if not impossible.

      I would like to hear from an American lawyer if the same is true over there.

      • Lumifer says:

        Most common-law jurisdictions have no explicit concept of gross negligence in our criminal law


      • erenold says:

        Just in case anyone gives a shit about my reasoning above, which of course is most unlikely (I apologize for not spoilering this due to length, I would have if it was possible):

        I considered a number of Commonwealth cases on ‘gross negligence’. I cannot stress enough that these cases took place in the context of civil as opposed to criminal law, which makes comparison iffy but should if anything be more lenient to the defendant.

        1. The Canadian jurisprudence on this point is voluminous and provided helpful dicta. For instance, in Belanger v Michipicoten (Township), the following factors were considered: notice or awareness of the existence of the risk, the extent of the risk, the character of the neglect, the duration of the neglect and, not least, the ease or difficulty of fulfilling the duty. The purpose of this exercise was to determine whether ‘the fault (if any) of a defendant is ‘so much more than merely ordinary neglect that it should be held to be very great, or gross negligence’. So we’re not just looking for negligent, but, like, more. We’re looking for something so quantitatively different that it almost becomes qualitatively different.

        2. The British cases are also instructive. In The Hellespont Ardent plaintiffs relied on the defendant agents to buy them large tanker ships. Defendants inexplicably failed to inspect those ships before purchasing them on the plaintiffs’ behalf, to any reasonable person a natural and ordinary part of their job and a well-established practice. Gross negligence found. In Great Scottish v British Railways Board, similarly, elementary aspects of a customary and normal practice were not carried out, here, ‘scotching’ a railway coach before taking it down an incline. Gross negligence found. Lastly, I also considered a Singaporean case, Sie Choon Poh v Amara Hotel Properties. There, the defendant landlord again inexplicably failed to carry out normal inspections of their facilities, leading to leakage and damage. Gross negligence found.

        3. The law is unsettled but broad outlines may be drawn. We are looking not for Negligence Plus but something so extraordinary and counter to standard practice (bold underline highlight) that it becomes culpable.

        4. I hope it is clear that this cannot possibly apply to HRC’s case. If, as I understand from the reportage, she is the first SoS of our era in which email, particularly from mobile devices, is used on a near-constant and ubiquitous basis, how can there possibly have even been anything like an established custom for her to have deviated from?

        • notes says:

          Go to the US cases, rather than looking to British or Canadian cases. The link goes to a survey on the specific concept, published in 2015.

          What you’ll find is that, as you expect, the concept is usually used in civil cases (but there it is in a criminal statute!), and that definitions of it range from intent by another name (“a wrongdoer is guilty of gross negligence or acts wantonly and willfully only when he inflicts injury intentionally or is so utterly indifferent to the rights of others that he acts as if such rights did not exist”) to simple negligence (“Ordinarily, ‘gross negligence’ imports nothing more than simple negligence or want of due care”). One of the recurring phrases is failure to use even ‘slight care.’ Did the at times total lack of security on the server rise to the level of ‘slight care’? Or fall short? Something one could argue to a jury, surely.

          Is the submariner’s case distinguishable? By clear intent to do something impermissible? Well, I suppose at law people are usually understood to intend the normal consequences of their actions, and taking a photograph of an area classified as confidential has the normal consequence of removing confidential information from its proper place of custody…

          Say, does running an unsecured private email server, and routing work email through it, when much of your work is classified, have the normal consequence of removing classified information from its proper place of custody?

          N.B.: I don’t argue that it is unreasonable to decide not to prosecute. I don’t assert that it would be beyond reason for a jury to weigh the facts, and find the negligence less than gross. I do think one could tilt the case decisively to either side by picking one or another of the many definitions of gross negligence. I do argue that it’s flatly, wildly, obviously untrue that ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would decide to prosecute. Prosecutors, as a group, are usually quite eager to charge high-profile defendants if they have a colorable case… and the facts do support these charges under many of those definitions.

          The decision not to prosecute reflects an exercise of discretion in favor of Clinton, giving her the benefit of the doubt in real and significant ways. This isn’t, in and of itself inappropriate — it’s something prosecutors should do more of — but let’s not pretend that it was statute text that drove the decision.

          Comey’s statement is, I think, clear that the private server was not secured, is likely to have been penetrated (but that could not be proven), and that sufficient evidence was removed that he can’t even be sure that all relevant emails were examined. (For an analysis looking at gaps in released emails, see here.)

          And as for the idea that there was no established custom for email, and so no possible deviation from that custom… do you really think that no reasonable prosecutor could have argued that there were established customs for handling classified information before email existed?

          [ETA: and brad beats me to citing the same law review article.]

          • erenold says:

            Notes, thanks for your time in getting the link. I’m well aware US law may be quite different from what I’m familiar with – that’s why I was asking in the first place.

            Let me begin by making something clear that I probably should have – I raised my eyebrows at the bold claim that ‘no’ reasonable prosecutor would have made the decision Comey did, too. That seems far stronger than even I’d put it. (Not least because, as you rightly point out, there are plenty of extraneous reasons why a prosecutor might go after a high-profile someone to make a point.)

            A number of points:

            1. Something that genuinely surprised me – and which has indeed serious implications for the correctness of the decision – is that in America gross negligence is apparently not in fact the highest standard of negligence. Well, then that’s fair enough. If we’re talking some intermediate threshold and not the highest possible, holy-shit-how-could-you-possibly-be-such-a-moron standard that ‘gross negligence’ means in my jurisdiction then all bets are off. Pending clarification of this point I retract my claim that Comey’s decision is patently the right one.

            2. I feel like I kind of don’t quite understand yours and Brad’s point on the multiplicity of jurisdictions in America, with many different interpretations. Probably missing something here – isn’t this a federal case? If so, why does any other court’s definition of gross negligence matter?

            Therefore, referring to your article, this appears to be the only federal definition therein:

            Resolution Trust Corp. v. Franz refused to follow Massa’s definition of gross negligence and deemed it to require “something less than intent [but] something more than
            negligence.” As such, the federal district court equated gross negligence to “recklessness,” or “a course of action which . . . shows an utter indifference to or a conscious disregard for a
            person’s own safety and the safety of others.”

            Is this the standard that should apply?

            3. ‘Normal consequences’ – this seems overconfident. The assumption is that HRC was aware that this was not the proper way to route emails, nor the proper place of custody for them. I don’t know – you guys know her better, you guys definitely have a better handle on what American 60+yos know about tech, I don’t want to argue on things like that – but seriously, from my time in my military I personally have seriously no difficulty believing she didn’t know this was not correct. She reminds me very strongly of older warrant officers – she wants mobile access, she wants privacy so shut the fuck up and just make it happen. It’s not at all unbelievable to me she just genuinely didn’t think about the appropriateness of this. (Implications for fitness as POTUS – left to reader.)

            4. Lastly, ‘normal customs’. Leaving aside the ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ detail, on which we agree, the point is that gross negligence apparently required an established body of custom that was specific on the particular conduct. (As we’ve seen, this appears not to be the case with your law.) What is the body of custom that applies to the handling of classified information by the Secretary of State, and what does it prescribe regarding the use of private email servers, or mobile devices?

            Simply put, it’s grossly negligent to be e.g. a shipping agent and not do inspections of ships bought because 1) duh 2) every other shipping agent is doing it. So here, what was the equivalent comparator for someone in Hillary’s position (i.e., not just a random Navy sailor but a top-ranking civilian officer of government, who quite understandably would have entirely different privacy needs and requirements?)

          • Lumifer says:

            @ erenold

            In the US law the main distinction is between negligence and recklessness. Sometimes there is gross negligence in between, and sometimes there is something like “utter and depraved recklessness” above simple recklessness.

            The distinction usually revolves around whether you knowingly took risks. If you had some duty but failed at it because you were stupid or incompetent (e.g. failed to foresee the likely consequences), it’s negligence. If you understood the action was risky but decided to go ahead and do it anyway, that’s recklessness.

          • erenold says:


            Yep, we observe the same knowingly-stupidly distinction, though we call it rashness.

            Oh well. I didn’t think this was the case, but it’s fairly clear now that I was in fact legally lost in translation. Am used to gross negligence meaning “your conduct was so aberrantly foolishly that in fact you are either literally Hodor… or stupid like a fox, though I can’t quite prove it.” Fair enough, then.

          • notes says:


            Federal law does apply, but in absence of an on-point case… it ends up being guesswork as to which standard the court would go with. In practice, they’re often using underlying state law (and are required to do so). Officially, there is no ‘federal general common law’ since Erie Railroad v. Tompkins (in practice, there are still some areas), which means that federal courts use the standards of the state in which they sit… hence the survey of where states fall out on the definition.

            In some states, gross negligence is ‘the highest possible, holy-shit-how-could-you-possibly-be-such-a-moron standard.’ In some states, it’s just a way of saying ‘recklessness.’

            Where it’s purely federal law, as here, you’d think there’d be a purely federal definition… but there ends up being some cross-pollination, and the federal definition is, in the Supreme Court’s words, ‘nebulous’.

            Haven’t been able to find a published opinion on a 18 USC 793 (f)(1) conviction, and only one on a 18 USC 793 (f)(2): United States v. Dedeyan, 584 F. 2d 36. And that doesn’t touch on gross negligence.

            The US Supreme Court has touched on it a few times, but generally to the effect of “[b]etween the poles lies “gross negligence” too, but the term is a “nebulous” one, in practice typically meaning little different from recklessness as generally understood in the civil law.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 US 825. Which isn’t exactly helpful. That cite is from 1994, but I’m not aware of a clearer definition since.

            Re your 2: right, recklessness would be my guess as to where a court would set the standard if it were tried, but I’m not certain it would end up there.

            Re your 3: concur that the normal consequences argument might lose. Do think that one could argue that ‘shut up and make [something in violation of duty] happen’ rises to ‘utter indifference’ to that duty. Might lose, might win, but certainly colorable.

            Re your 4: the argument wouldn’t be that there are pre-existing customs for mobile email devices, the argument would be by analogy. Taking classified papers home with you, mixing them in with personal papers in an unlocked filing cabinet in a house you don’t lock… something like that is a violation of existing custom on documents, and the private server was something like that. Again, not saying that that necessarily wins — but it’s an argument that could be made, and could win.

            [ETA: lot of legal ninjas in the thread today.]

      • brad says:

        We have many different jurisdictions in the United States, each with their own wrinkles. So it’s hard to make completely accurate statements about American law generally. That said, the modal progression of ‘accidental’ mens rea in order of severity are: negligently, recklessly, with depraved indifference. This is also the approach of the model penal code. Some jurisdictions insert with gross negligence between negligently and recklessly, some treat with gross negligence as a synonym for recklessly. See this law review article for a long discussion and the table of jurisdictions at the end:

        Federal penal law is not well organized or intelligently designed, there is no uniform definition of terms. It appears that there is no case law interpreting the specific use of “gross negligence” in 793f, though I didn’t do an exhaustive search.

        The “gross negligence” standard in civil law*, which is often a trigger for punitive damages, is not identical to the standard in criminal law. (Not civil law as in jurisdiction, but civil law in the sense of governing private lawsuits.)

        • erenold says:

          Thanks for your time, brad.

          Quick points as above – I’m genuinely surprised that gross negligence isn’t your highest standard of negligence. Thank you for bringing that up.

          2. Isn’t this a federal case and shouldn’t federal law apply? Your article appears to set out a federal definition of gross negligence equating it to recklessness (see comment above to notes) – should that apply, and why is that not considered to have precedent value, even though its on a different statute?

          • brad says:

            Yes this is pure federal case and federal law should apply. However, you can’t just take any federal case and assume they are discussing a federal standard. You need to read the case and figure out if they are interpreting a state standard as part of their diversity or supplemental jurisdiction (when ruling on a state claim they use state law as per the Erie doctrine.)

            On top of that, and far worse, is the issue I mentioned where federal courts don’t always treat identical language in different bills as having identical meanings. Finding a case that discusses “gross negligence” in the context of say due process is persuasive as to the meaning of “gross negligence” in the context of the Espionage act, but it isn’t at all controlling. On top of *that* is the fact that only the Supreme Court can issue decisions binding on the whole country and any court of appeals decisions (and all district court decisions) are only persuasive authority outside of their circuits. If she had been tried, Clinton would likely have been tried in the DC District Court, which is under the jurisdiction of the DC Circuit Court.

            So if you were responsible for drafting a legal memo on the meaning of “gross negligence” as used in the Espionage Act, say because you worked in the Office of General Counsel of the FBI, your first choice would be a case from either the DC Circuit Court of Appeals or the US Supreme Court interpreting that provision. Next after that would be a case from those same courts elaborating on the definition of “gross negligence” in any part of the federal code or, at about the same level, a case from a different circuit interpreting the exact provision in question. Then would be a different circuit court elaborating on the definition of “gross negligence” in any part of the federal code. Beyond that you’d really be getting into the weeds.

          • erenold says:

            Today I learned a great many things. Cheers, brad.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Not credible at all.

      From the FBI press release…

      Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

      For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).

      None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.

      emphasis mine.

      As I’ve said before and will probably say many time more before November, I have personally seen careers derailed and arrests made for substantially less than what is described in the above paragraphs. For example, a former coworker of mine spent a year under house arrest for photocopying pages from a classified technical manual and leaving them in his car and that material wasn’t even TSC. At the very least, Clinton and the staff members involved in those seven email chains ought have been stripped of their clearances and barred from holding a government job ever again.

      But then Clinton is Secretary of State and the Presumptive 45th president of the United States and as such no “reasonable prosecutor” wants her as an enemy.

      Edit: and as usual, it seems that I’m late to the party.

      • erenold says:

        a former coworker of mine spent a year under house arrest for photocopying pages from a classified technical manual and leaving them in his car and that material wasn’t even TSC.

        Just to check, this was a judicially-imposed criminal sanction to a civilian employee? In the absence of any of Comey’s four factors? Do you perchance recall the statute he was charged under?

        clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice.

        • hlynkacg says:

          He was retired military working on the base as a civilian contractor/instructor. NCIS made the arrest and I believe that he was charged with violating some sub-section US Code 18 – 798 but I’m not 100% sure.

          • erenold says:

            Hrm, ok, thanks.

            I’m just gonna assume that the jurisdictional issues are legit since that’s not my playhouse – though, do NCIS arrest people bound for the civilian judiciary? – and just proceed with the charge.

            Your friend seems to me to be certainly quite unfortunate, bearing in mind that s 798 is pretty clearly not written with him in mind (it seems to be aimed at actual spies). This is the only construction I can make of the statute which would catch your description:

            Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information

            As you can see that’s the mother of all motherhood statements. It’s stretching and stretching – that makes me curious if there’s anything more, which would attract prosecution.

            (I’m obviously not calling you a liar, to be clear!)

            At the very least, if you guys were ex-military and were repeatedly and explicitly told that HEY DO NOT COPY THIS EVER and he went ahead and did this, then there’s already more of a case against him than there appears to be against HRC. Remember, Comey has no evidence and does not suggest that HRC had actual rather than constructive knowledge that she may have been committing an offence.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s been a long time, but as I recall there is a sub-section in there about “unauthorized disclosure or retention”, and I’m pretty sure that’s what he was charged with.

            I’m not fully clear on the jurisdictional issues either but I do know that he went before a civilian federal judge.

            My point from the beginning was simply that this sort of thing does indeed get prosecuted, and that it typically ends careers. Clinton’s defense at this point rests on her (and everyone else on her staff) being too clueless and/or stupid to know better, which doesn’t exactly speak well of her qualification to be president.

            …and for the record, I do not think that Clinton is stupid.

    • pheltz says:

      “Reasonable” is quite a flexible term in this context. I don’t know if it’s that helpful to parse the statement in question as a factual claim at all–at least not as one about what other prosecutors might to. It means more like “I’m deciding/recommending not to charge, and I’m writing the decision up as being motivated by something other than legal insufficiency of evidence.”

    • youzicha says:

      There was an opinion column in the Washington Post on March 3, which cited interviews with a law professor, and their prediction was exactly what the FBI announced now. So it seems that it’s not super unexpected.

  35. Lumifer says:


      • Lumifer says:

        It’s a venerable tradition : -)

        • brad says:

          Did it exist before slashdot? That’s the first place I saw it in the mid to late 90s.

          • Lumifer says:

            I don’t know if it existed before Slashdot, but twenty internet years is more than enough for a venerable tradition ; -)

        • Zetima says:

          Tradition, yes. Venerable, no.

          * Edit : (first time commenting here) Why is there a one-hour limit on editing posts? Also, how does the server recognize it’s the same user, given there’s no authentication/signing-in of any kind?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Editing is limited so that you can’t make edit in response to comments to distort the context of those responses.

            How? Cookies. If I am on the same network as you, I can eavesdrop, steal your cookies, and edit your comments. Which is why you should always use the https version of the website.