Open Thread 53.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread.

Today the Open Thread is politics-free. Please avoid any topics about politics, policy, government, or tribalism. Don’t worry, you can talk about politics in the next open thread on Wednesday.

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425 Responses to Open Thread 53.5

  1. alaska3636 says:

    I have been working on a Sci-Fi serial in a sort of Douglas Adams’y sort of vein. I just finished the first “episode”. It is sort of the character, world introductory episode, but I would appreciate any feedback from interested readers.

    It is about 4000 words, FYI. If you leave feedback under any post indicating any logical flaws, reading comprehension issues, general encouragement that would be much appreciated.

    Oh and it is in blog form, so it is read from the bottom up.

    • alaska3636 says:

      Just realized that comments might have been closed.

      They are open now. Thanks to anybody for taking a look.

  2. sweeneyrod says:

    Do any SSC readers have ideas about the relationship between chess-playing ability and general intelligence? (Bonus points for anyone who can work out why I’m asking this question).

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      (Bonus points for anyone who can work out why I’m asking this question)

      Is it something banned from this thread?

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Loosely, but on a subject that’s seen quite a lot of discussion anyway (not human biodiversity).

    • Sandy says:

      I’m assuming it’s something about Ashkenazi Jews being severely over-represented among the chess world’s all-time champions.

      At any rate, this study posits that higher intelligence and stronger chess skills are correlated.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Bonus points for anyone who can work out why I’m asking this question

      I was going to guess this, but you said it’s not HBD, so my next guess AI.

    • dsp says:

      Well, I have a really high g and I picked up chess intuitively, but there probably isn’t any specific connection, since I pretty much pick up everything intuitively.

    • Anonyrat says:

      (Bonus points for anyone who can work out why I’m asking this question).


      • sweeneyrod says:

        Correct! If you mean joint with Jane Garwell, rather than the birth of Judit Polgar.

    • dndnrsn says:


      So, it’s no secret that elite athletes usually peak late 20s to early 30s. After that, any possible increases in skill are offset by the body declining. Sports that are more about raw physical ability than skill or strategy peak younger, sports with a higher skill/strategy component peak older.

      However, chess players have a peak too, and it’s quite young – usually late 20s, as I understand it. I’ve also read stuff about major players in the hard sciences usually doing their best work while relatively young.

      Assuming that intelligence is important in chess and science (I think this is a safe assumption to make) … Does this indicate that intelligence declines as dramatically as physical capabilities do?

      • Lumifer says:

        Intelligence does decline with age. See e.g. this.

        • dndnrsn says:

          While some cognitive functions peak at around the age of 25, which correlates with peak brain mass, but it appears many other cognitive functions including inductive reasoning and verbal ability do not peak until sometime after 50 years old.

          I wonder which cognitive functions are most useful in chess?

          • Lumifer says:

            Probably NOT verbal ability : -)

            I would guess that fluid is more important than crystallized (at least once you get past the opening) and that speed is very important. Plus the ability to focus, obviously.

            I’d probably describe the skill at chess as fuzzy pattern-matching and being able to quickly follow long chains of consequences.

      • Tibor says:

        I am not sure about chess (which seems to me as being more about raw computational power and ability to memorize a lot than about creative use of intelligence…so there I would not be surprised if that goes down as fast as physical strength), but I think the science claim is not entirely accurate.

        I believe that the correct statement is that if you don’t come up with anything ground-breaking in science in your twenties or thirties, you are unlikely to come up with anything afterwards. But it does not mean that all your good work, or even the most important work has to come from that time. It is just that in your thirties you should have learned enough already to come up with something big, if you have not, it is an evidence in favour of your inability to do so. But while especially the ability to learn does decline after some point, I think deteriorates at a slower tempo than physical capabilities and it can be offset by the increase in knowledge and experience well into a much older age.

        By the way what is the average peak age of Go players? Is it higher or lower than that of Chess players? I am only an amateur at Go and I never really liked Chess (I know the rules, played it a few times but I did not like the rather arbitrary way the figures’ moves are defined), but it seems to me that Go requires a different approach which is less focused on memorizing sequences of good moves (of course, Go professionals know a lot of josekis, but Chess seems to me to be much more heavily dependent on “josekis”). So based on that I would expect the peak Go age to be higher than the peak Chess age.

    • sweeneyrod says:


      I was asking because I recently found out that Angela Eagle (the British MP who is currently challenging Jeremy Corbyn for leadership of the Labour party) was the 1976 UK Under 18 Girls Chess Champion.

  3. InferentialDistance says:

    I request the aid of a pro-gun person. I need a short list of times an armed civilian has stopped/slowed an attacker, for the purpose of presenting it as data in a rather one-sided discussion.

    • keranih says:

      Perhaps this article has what you need.

    • bluto says:

      Does /r/dgu have the data you’re looking for?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The only such incident I’m familiar with is the University of Texas Tower shooting. Charles Whitman initially had complete freedom of movement to pick and kill his victims from the top of the tower, but, this being Texas, he eventually started receiving return fire from armed civilians, which forced him to take cover. Thereafter he could only shoot from through the tower’s waterspouts, which severely limited his range of targets. Ramiro Martinez, one of the officers who killed Whitman, later wrote “I was and am still upset that more recognition has not been given to the citizens who pulled out their hunting rifles and returned the sniper’s fire. The City of Austin and the State of Texas should be forever thankful and grateful to them because of the many lives they saved that day. The sniper did a lot of damage when he could fire freely, but when the armed citizens began to return fire the sniper had to take cover. He had to shoot out of the rainspouts and that limited his targets. I am grateful to the citizens because they made my job easier.”

      Also, one of the four men who climbed the tower to confront Whitman, Allen Crum, was a civilian. He took part in the encircling maneuver which ended the massacre. However, Crum did not use his own weapon; he borrowed a rifle from an officer.

      • keranih says:

        [extensive commentary redacted because of OT restrictions]

        Even such a banal thing as the WP entry on Charles Whitman is a heartbreaking record of human potential just wasted, and the shocking courage of common people.

        Such horrible things that were done. Such brave people.

        If Scott could figure out how to accurately find and fix such people as Whitman before they did such things…Scott or someone

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          [extensive commentary redacted because of OT restrictions]

          Well, now I’m curious. Could you please post it in the next OT?

          • keranih says:

            Maybe. I already have one I threatened to put up, and the CW case is just not so fun, given recent events.

    • hlynkacg says:

      This would appear to be what you’re looking for.

      That said, defensive gun uses (and successful resistance in general) are notoriously hard to track in part because the category is so broad and also because a successful defense isn’t going to leave much evidence and may not even be reported if there isn’t a body to clean up.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      Thank you, everyone who replied, that was very helpful.

  4. sweeneyrod says:

    In this world of tumultuous political change, there is one constant.

    Also, I know that Angela Eagle feels very strongly that Corbyn shouldn’t be the leader of the Labour party, but this is not necessary.


    This is partly about how trying too hard to make sure of getting a little money can make the money go away entirely, but it’s also about how the US government doesn’t actually control whether a person is American.

    • Jiro says:

      She says it’s not about how she’s avoiding taxes, which is technically true, but it’s certainly about taxes.

      This is partly about how trying too hard to make sure of getting a little money can make the money go away entirely,

      The laws are made to catch big companies. Individuals are affected, but that isn’t the primary purpose of those laws, and anything the IRS can get from individuals is just icing on the cake, so they don’t actually care that they’re driving people away and can’t get money from them. Also, they don’t make enough for US taxes anyway.

    • John Schilling says:

      I could not help thinking, “But of course women in abusive relationships always love their partners beyond reason and to their own destruction”. At least Mrs. Heller had the sense to walk away from this one, whatever her regrets.

      At the practical level, why the joint bank account with her non-American husband? Are separate bank accounts for married couples somehow impractical in the Netherlands? Because that seems like a particularly raw deal for the husband, and one where the stated object-level problems for both parties could be dealt with by a bit of financial restructuring (with the added fun of legally outmaneuvering the idiot bureaucrats responsible for the mess).

  6. Tibor says:

    I probably should not ask, but what is Pokémon Go (I could probably UTFG but I prefer asking people to looking things up)? I know Pokemons from when I was something like 10 and they broadcasted a kids show about them in the TV, there was also a card game, something like Magic the Gathering but with Pokemons. A lot of my classmates had the cards but I never liked them or the show.

    Go is a board game which I really like (unlike chess) but I cannot imagine those two things together, so it is probably something else.

    • Leit says:

      There’s a place that answers questions like this…

      Basically, it’s a branded smartphone app that lets you AR-overlay pokemon onto the real world using GPS features, then collect as in the game*. There are a number of other features as well, such as setting up gyms etc. The “Go” is as in “On The”, not “Boardgame”.

      * Edited to note: your question doesn’t mention the most popular incarnation(s) of Pokemon, those on Nintendo’s various GameBoy handhelds. There have been many versions, and their following is fanatical. These are what I mean when I say “as in the game”.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Don’t listen to this guy! It’s a variant of Go (as in the board game) where if a group with 1 eyes survives for ten turns, it evolves into a living group that can use Mega Punch to destroy an enemy ladder.

  7. Nicholas says:

    So last week, we were talking about the supernatural, and in regards to astrology, Jiro said something like “It’s not like astrology works using magical rays, that you could focus using magical telescopes.” and I didn’t know if that was true or not. So I asked around, consulted some people in the wizarding community, and it turns out that that is exactly how astrology is claimed to work. One of the big complaints on that front is that since your average astrologer doesn’t have anything resembling an R&D budget, progress on the next generation of star-ray-focusing magical telescopes has progressed agonizingly slowly.

    • Nornagest says:

      So that is how it’s supposed to work. I thought I remembered that, but I didn’t post anything about it because I couldn’t remember if it was something I made up for a fictional setting of mine or something I mined from real folklore.

    • Jiro says:

      Googling this up shows that astrologers have a concept “seven rays”, but it does not literally mean that celestial bodies are emitting narrow beams of radiation with specific properties.

      Also, I suspect that a “wizarding community” would not speak for astrologers other than their own brand of astrologers.

      • Nicholas says:

        Sure, but in the field of “So how do the magical properties of the stars work?” I expect there are a number of competing consensus answers, and I’m aware of at least three others. But a sizable-ish number of people (adjusting for the number of people I assume have theories on the mechanism of astrology?) exist for which the claim is made literally, enough that I feel comfortable labeling it one of the Currently Debated Orthodox Theories. I’m pretty sure one particular astrologer I talked to was convinced that we could close the book on how astrology worked, if only he could get the investment to demonstrate conclusively that the Star Magic Focusing Crystal worked better than control astrology at a statistically significant rate p.01.

        • Jiro says:

          “Scientific” astrology doesn’t seem to be very prominent on the Internet, and astrology as a subject doesn’t have a central authority who can say what true astrology is, so in this case I think not being able to find it on the Internet is actually meaningful.

          • A very long time ago, there was an SCA event at which classes were taught in persona, with the teacher speaking from the point of view of a period person. The one I remember was the class on astrology, which started with the teacher warning the audience against the frauds who pretended to be astrologers without actually knowing anything about the true science of astrology.

          • Jiro says:

            I would imagine that medieval people would be a lot more likely to treat astrology as scientific than modern ones–after all, it hadn’t been debunked then, and as far as everyone knew it was scientific.

  8. Is anyone else weirded out by the massive universal popularity of a franchise that’s centered around anime-styled dog-fighting?

    For serious: Pokemon presents a world in which it’s entirely normal for a teenager to be a professional dog-fighting trainer. Hardly surprising, since dog-fighting is the national sport and wild fighting dogs can be found wandering the streets just about anywhere.

    Actually, it’s closer to chimp-fighting, since Pokemon are clearly more intelligent than dogs, but outside of international waters ( we don’t really do that IRL, so the clear real world referent has to be dog-fights.

    Is everyone in Kanto a sociopath? Or just brought up with the same morals as Michael Vick? Is there a game we’ll never see because of Nintendo copyrights about the dark side here, with Squirtle being trained by shock collar while a cowardly Pikachu is beaten senseless for hesitating in the ring, then released out into the wild (to be found by our friend Ash…)

    • ulucs says:

      Well, they seem to be holding back in order to not actually hurt their opponents (Pokemon always faint, never die or sustain an injury as parodied by ). So I don’t think the situation is as grim as that.

      • Sandy says:

        They mostly die off-screen. Lavender Town has a tower that is filled with Pokemon graves and haunted by dead Pokemon. Why anyone would go there, I don’t know, but it’s a thing. And Cubone has a backstory about a dead mother.

        There are also Pokedex entries that say some Pokemon eat other Pokemon as a staple diet, but somehow this is never displayed in the various Pokemedia.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Andrew Hunter – “Is anyone else weirded out by the massive universal popularity of a franchise that’s centered around anime-styled dog-fighting?”

      It’s a point that has certainly been raised before.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      It’s been a long time since I played or watched any Pokémon, but in-universe it seemed ridiculously biased to the Friendship side of things. The trainers who mistreated their Pokémon were inevitably the ones who lost, and having a strong bond to your Pokémon is supposed to bring out the best in them.

      I think at least one game (Conquest?) used this as a mechanic, where the strength of your link to a Pokémon determined it’s power. It sort of explains how trainers who specialize in one type could possibly reach the rank of Gym Leader: in a pure rock-paper-scissors system they ought to be crushed, but if they have a stronger “link” to that type then they could still beat less well attuned trainers even with a type disadvantage.

      The whole dog fighting thing seems like it requires deliberately ignoring a large part of the setting. The only really questionable aspect of the lore I can think of is that it’s implied that they eat Pokémon, or at least parts of them. And that seems like it could just be a Japanese thing tbh.

    • Artificirius says:

      We try and fit it in around worrying about ‘murder simulators’, the ‘glorification of theft’, and of course, sexual deviancy.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Wait, which popular videogame franchises are sexually deviant?

        Are you referring to Street Fighter?

        • Outis says:

          Overwatch, obviously. Those immodest bottoms.

        • Artificirius says:

          Immodesty promotes lust and masturbation.

          It is known.

        • Lumifer says:

          Anything which involves chainmail bikinis?

        • Lysenko says:

          One recent example would be the Tomb Raider reboots. Some people were arguing that the repeated beatings the main character takes over the course of the new games have an overt aspect of sadosexual exploitation to them.

          EDIT: To be clear, said beatings are generally administered by the environment, not people. For people making accusations of sadosexual voyuerism about -personal- violence, see Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

      • Jiro says:

        Would adding misogyny to that list be considered politics?

    • Nicholas says:

      I think it’s drawing on an earlier Japanese trope of “People walking around challenging each other to fistfights to determine the social pecking order, then forming a friend-group/ small gang as a result” as seen most recently to my knowledge in Kill la Kill in the building of the 4 vice-president team. Pokemon tries to apply this trope to animals with magical powers, and may work better if you assume that the pokemon are more intelligent than presented, and are actually some kind of ronin-samurai esque caste.

    • Jiro says:

      Pokemon was inspired by Japanese beetle fighting, something which is hard to google up good information about because it’s typically mentioned in a one sentence aside in an article about keeping beetles as pets in Japan. For instance mentions it as an ongoing thing, but says it is not common.

    • domino says:

      It’s worse than just dogfighting — for example see this link about people eating pokemon. And, in addition to the cruelty of capturing wild animals and making them fight, there’s also the environmental issues involved in running around capturing all the wild animals (at a rate that’s presumably much faster than replacement).

      But no, it doesn’t bother me that much.

      Games are based on conflict, and most video games involve much worse conflict than Pokemon. The predecessor to Pokemon Go was Ingress, in which one team wanted to give control of humanity to a rogue AI, and the other wanted to give control of humanity to a group of creepy alien invaders.

      Mario and Link are, by most standards, mass murderers. (Depending on how intelligent you think Goombas and Koopas and the various Zelda enemies are.) Samus Aran’s thing is to land on an alien planet and run through the caverns killing all the inhabitants. Most of our MMO games are worse than that — for example in World of Warcraft you regularly kill humans. And (arguably) worse than that is games like Grand Theft Auto where you’re explicitly playing as a criminal.

      Pokemon, where you’re walking around in a sunny field, and nobody ever gets killed? That’s downright cheery by comparison.

    • Vorkon says:

      Actually, the plot of the 5th generation of Pokémon games, Pokémon Black and White, revolved around that game’s version of Team Rocket, (each game has a different one) Team Plasma, being a PETA-like organization which objected to people capturing Pokémon and making them fight, and when around stealing Pokémon to “liberate” them.

      (Of course, in the end its revealed that the leader of the team didn’t actually believe his rhetoric, and was just stealing them so he would be the only one with Pokémon, and everyone eventually comes around to believe that the dynamic Dr. Dealgood is talking about below, where the training builds a bond of friendship between people and Pokémon which is better for both parties, is for the best. Still, it was surprising to see a Pokémon game actually go there.)

  9. BBA says:

    Via Matt Levine: “Economics the discipline is to the economy the sphere of social reality as chess theory is to medieval history.”

    I don’t necessarily agree with it, but that comparison is just delicious.

  10. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    Is “reverse” anorexia a thing?

    I went to a massage therapist over the weekend and mentioned that I’m getting a bit of tenderness in my elbow. She suggested not working out for a while and I immediately thought “fuck that!” because I don’t want to lose weight.

    I was always teased for being really skinny when I was younger so the thought of being skinny sorta fills me with dread; my little sister is super skinny too (oddly enough, we both modeled for a little bit, though her a lot longer than me) so the skinny genes run in my family. I do lose weight if I stop working out, so it’s not a hypothetical.

    So would this count as reverse anorexia? It doesn’t really seem to bother me other than an extreme desire to not be skinny…

  11. Tibor says:

    A question for the British:

    What do you think about your new prime minister?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Not really a fan. Theresa May strikes me as the most populist of the candidates, and (although I voted Bremain) I think a pro-Leave candidate should have won. My preference would have been for Leadsom or Gove.

      On this topic, hearing her victory speech did make me realise how left-wing the New Tories are in many ways (though I’m not complaining). It contained some comment about how the government needed to benefit everyone, not just the “privileged few”.

      • Tibor says:

        I don’t know much about British politicians, I only looked up the candidates on wikipedia. The thing I liked about Leadsom is that she spend a considerable amount of time doing things other than politics and she also seems to be more pro-free trade than other candidates.

        What I don’t like about her is her association with the Church and emphasis on christianity, although I cannot tell how much that is a political strategy (is there anything like “christian voters” in the UK in the sense that they care about “christian values” enough to decide who to vote based on that and are numerous enough so that it matters who they vote for?) and how much it is real.

        Still, at least as long as her Christianity is not manifested politically or not too much, she seemed like someone I would chose out of those three.

        May seems dangerously close to Merkel. That is, someone who is a professional politician first and any ideas or values are secondary and can be changed almost arbitrarily based on what is most profitable politically at a given moment. Not quite someone with a vision of how to make the best out of the Brexit.

        But like I said, I have a very superficial notion of these politicians or British politics in general.

        • Tibor says:

          By the way, I also noticed the politics ban a bit late. Now that there is already a thread with some replies here, I guess it is better to stop than to delete it entirely (I still have about 5 minutes to do so).

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I don’t know too much about any of the politicians involved either, but I agree with your assessment of May. I don’t think there are many “Christian voters”; politicians who play up their religion (invariably Anglicanism) generally do so just to get a slight edge. Some are probably genuinely quite religious, but Leadsom (who is pro-abortion and abstained on the gay marriage vote) isn’t one of them.

          Edit: oops, forgot about no politics. I guess I interpreted “no politics” as “no arguing about politics”.

          • Tibor says:

            I simply did not read what Scott wrote and only learned about it in the process of it being discussed in another thread there. As it was pointed out there, people simply don’t expect there to be anything written for the OT, except for the generic “this is the twice weekly open thread, … ) so it is easily missed. I think it is not such a big deal.

          • DavidS says:

            I don’t think being pro-choice and abstaining on gay marriage means you’re unlikely to be genuinely religious. Given the all-party support for gay marriage I’d suspect abstaining was a fairly solid sign that religion was somewhat driving your position (although plenty of genuinely religious people supported gay marriage too: it’s just that almost all atheists did).

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Clarifying what I mean about “genuinely quite religious” — I’m not suggesting that she is actually a closet atheist, but that her religious beliefs won’t have a large impact on her beliefs (in comparison to e.g. Tony Blair who apparently reads the Bible before making important decisions and supported creationist academies). On the other hand, Tony Blair is also pro-abortion and gay marriage, so who knows.

          • DavidS says:

            I don’t think Tony Blair was anywhere near a creationist, though. And did he explicitly support creationist academies or just turn a blind eye? It’s not clear to me she’d be different.

            Also, as an atheist, I’m not sure someone reading the Bible per se is that worrying, in that I don’t think Blair was looking for OT prophecies or following an explicit dogma. I think Christianity drove his values, but that he would debate those values on their own strength not by appealing to divine authority. He generally downplayed his faith (on the advice of Alastair Campbell, his ‘spin doctor’ who famously said ‘we don’t do God’

      • DavidS says:

        I think Leadsom was clearly the most populist candidate, surely? She was definitely being sold as the anti-establishment ‘normal mum’ outsider.

        As for the speech: lots of twitter/blogger people have said it’s very similar to speeches by (previous Labour leader) Ed Miliband. People seemed to think it was unexpectedly left wing rather than ‘normal for new Tories’. Will be interesting to see what this translates to in practice though.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Leadsom might be populist in the sense of being an outsider who in some way represents “normal people”, but May seems populist in the sense of having few beliefs other than those calculated to appeal to the populace. In comparison, Leadsom’s beliefs seem more genuine to me (and she hasn’t spent the last few years positioning herself to be the next Prime Minister).

          Interesting, I only heard a snatch of the speech so I might have misjudged it.

          • Tibor says:

            Since we are apparently ignoring the politics ban…

            I think this is a problem in general. It might be just an impression of mine, but it seems to me that more and more politicians are like this. They have no strong opinions on anything and only follow whatever seems to be the most advantageous course at the moment. That does not necessarily mean reflecting the will of the majority (it depends on the time during the election cycle), so it cannot be described as turning a representative system into a direct one through politicians like this.

            The worst example of this kind of a politician is Angela Merkel. She keeps changing her policy, sometimes 180 degrees (in her support of nuclear power for example), sometimes in a less obvious way, since otherwise it would look bad (her treatment the immigration crisis in Europe, especially after her dubious deal with Erdogan).

            I think I prefer a genuine politician I largely disagree with to this kind of a technocrat who might on average support comparably better policies (which is why I have more sympathies for Bernie Sanders, even though I think his policies, if actually implemented, would be very harmful, than for Hillary Clinton, who also seems like this kind of a Berufspolitikerin). The reason for that is that if there are problems to be fixed or big decisions to be made (like coming up with a way to make the most out of Brexit – limit the bad and emphasize the good), these people tend to simply favour policies that postpone the big decisions to the future. But that is often not the best way to deal with problems and they can grow until they are unbearable.

            But maybe this is the default state of representative democracies, in fact it should be since this is the optimal strategy for a politician, and it is only in times of a big crisis or through extraordinary luck that politicians of a different kind get to be prime ministers and presidents.

          • DavidS says:

            Oh sorry, we’re talking past each other a bit. I think someone can be a very sincere populist in that anti-establishment sense. But I can completely see the use of populist to mean ‘deliberately, cynically courting whatever’s most popular’

          • DavidS says:

            @Tibor: interesting point. I think the technocrat vs ideologue is definitely a very real tension in politics in lots of countries. Arguably Cameron fits your definition as well (in that he was quite flexible, not massively ideological, and many people felt that the EU referendum happened because he was making short-term decisions about party management and hoping he’d find a way to win the referendum by the time it came around.

            Only thing: I’m not sure if the technocrats are worse at addressing long-term policy issues. Do ideological types get that fired up over things like ‘long term impact of aging on our population’ or whatever? I have a gut instinct that dealing with long term issues might actually happen most effectively when there’s enough technocratic consensus that parties can take difficult decisions to invest for the future or whatever. The way outsider/ideological type parties appeal to people means they often seem just to reject that.

    • Ano says:

      I’ve heard almost nothing good about Leadsom, so I’m glad it’s not her. There’s a lot to dislike about May, but she’s probably the best of a bad lot, compared to the others that it could have been (Johnson, Osborne). This is of course, speaking as someone who prefers the left to the right, so it may be that actual Conservatives have a different opinion.

  12. Tibor says:

    Do you think teaching economics at school would shift public opinion towards a more libertarian one? If so why? If not, why not?

    The reason why it might do so seems obvious. The vast majority of economists hold views on policy which are clearly more libertarian (in the sense more laissez faire) than the public opinion of almost any country. At the same time, most people know close to nothing about economics.

    The reason why not is that teaching things at schools does not always lead to people understanding those things better. Even if you present views on which there is an almost universal consensus among economists (such as the desirability of even unilateral zero tariffs) and if you present the basics of the price theory, the result might even be negative in if it is presented in a bad way (as is the case of much what is taught at school, maths classes people give an absolutely inaccurate and possibly harmful idea of what maths is).

    If you think teaching economics would not lead to a more libertarian public opinion, do you think that an increased understanding of economics would? If not is it because you disagree with the basics of economics or because you disagree with the premise that knowing and understanding the basics of economics makes people more libertarian (on average)?

    • Nornagest says:

      I got my first serious exposure to libertarian ideology from my high school econ/civics teacher. I don’t think that lead to any serious change in my actual viewpoints at the time, but I do think it went some way toward convincing me that there was a coherent set of ideas there, not just selfishness, greed, and hating poor people.

      So, the answer’s yes in at least one case. Can’t guarantee that it works for everyone, though; a bad teacher or a bad curriculum might do more harm than good.

    • Jiro says:

      If it was possible to teach good economics in public schools, that implies that good economics would be widely accepted by the public and the powers that be–in which case you really don’t need to teach it.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Good economics courses would probably shift opinion away from some bad policy ideas (which are broadly accepted now), but to the extent that shifted things toward a libertarian viewpoint, it would just be because people generally ideas are so poorly grounded now. Maybe on the margin some cartoonish evil, greedy, villain version of capitalism is debunked. For the few Communist true believers in HS, they might have their ideas challenged.

      But I think the general academic consensus, or at least some super majority, is that Keynes was broadly correct. So, lots of bad ideas about government spending, taxes, budget deficits and monetary supply would also be debunked. Then you get into coordination and commons problems, etc.

      I don’t think the net is likely to be “more” libertarian.

      • onyomi says:

        I think the results would be “more” libertarian, even if we define “good” economics as mainstream Keynesianism, because the differences between Keynesian, Chicago, and Austrian school economics seem to me to lie more on the macro level of issues like “what caused the Great Depression,” or “is a gold standard a good idea.” They mostly agree on the most basic stuff like supply and demand, division of labor, free trade, etc., and those are areas were most Americans’ knowledge is ridiculously deficient.

        Your average person is not going to have a really strong opinion on monetary policy even if you teach more economics in school; they might, on the other hand, understand better why increasing employer mandated benefits can increase unemployment.

        At least, I’d put it this way: as a libertarian with broadly Austrian sympathies I’d totally support any effort to put more economics in the curriculum at all levels, even if Paul Krugman got to define “economics.” Remember, Paul Krugman is a Keynesian, but so too, roughly speaking, is Bryan Caplan (I know he’s not an Austrian, but not sure whether he leans more Chicago).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          But on the average people think that government debt and spending are bad things, that taxes to fund these things are evil, and generally think that a government balance sheet is similar to a household budget and can and should be run in the same way.

          But I think we both agree that more economic knowledge, if it were actually gained, would be a net good.

        • Anonymous says:

          What about that whole “a priori” thing in Austrian economics? I’d say the difference between that an epistemology grounded in empiricism is a pretty basic and fundamental difference.

          • I think it depends on the Austrian economist. The hard core version, in which theory tells you everything and there is no point in looking for real world evidence, is a substantial difference from the way the rest of us do economics, but I don’t think all Austrian economists accept it.

            The theory itself is pretty conventional. In the Chicago school approach as I understand it, the theory gives you plausible conjectures but not rigorously proved conclusions, since almost any real world observation could be consistent with the theory plus a sufficiently odd set of assumptions about utility functions and production functions. So you test the conjectures against the real world.

          • onyomi says:

            @David Friedman

            Every time I see a debate between an Austrian and someone else, including your debate with Bob Murphy, I feel like there is a long back and forth about the relative value of theory and empirical evidence, but no one asks the question I really want to ask, which is why, say, your father and Murray Rothbard arrive at such different interpretations of the Great Depression, its causes, and ideal solutions.

            In other words, when I hear you and Bob debate, for example, it sounds like a simple matter of priorities: he says “you have to interpret the evidence in terms of the theory because otherwise any evidence can be interpreted any number of ways”; you say something like “but if the evidence keeps contradicting your theory, maybe you need to change your theory,” and I leave feeling like you’re both right, but simply emphasizing different things.

            Yet if the difference were just subtle emphasis on one side or the other, I wouldn’t expect Austrian and Chicago policy proposals to diverge as strongly as they seem to. Like, if I understand correctly, had your father been in charge during the Great Depression he would have rapidly expanded the monetary base to combat the deflationary spiral, while the Austrian would have done nothing, essentially, saying the deflation was the unavoidable cure to the derangements and misallocations of resources caused by the inflation. In other words, the policy proposals are almost opposite.

            Is this because an Austrian says, “based on the theory (do you agree with Austrian Business Cycle Theory, btw?), this is what is happening and this is what must be done,” whereas someone like your father says “based on history, even if we don’t understand why in theoretical terms, depressions are not as bad when somebody puts a break on the deflation”? Or would you just say that by abandoning the Austrian theory which seemed not to comport with the evidence, your father was able to come up with a better theory?

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Keynesian economics, given that it involves reducing government spending during economic upswings and greatly reducing or eliminating minimum wages and other business regulation during economic downswings, would still be significantly more libertarian than the current strategy of “Constantly increase spending and government regulation”.

    • If you succeed in teaching economics, it would make people more libertarian.

      The reason is that economics provides an answer to the most important bad argument against freedom–the idea that you can’t have coordination without central control. Decentralized order is a very important idea, but not an obvious one. Once you understand it you can still be in favor of government interference for other reasons, but the gut level “unless someone in authority makes sure there is enough X for people to eat or use in making Y it won’t happen” is no longer convincing.

      • The Crunge says:

        In fact, schools should simply teach the principle of coordination without central control. It would not only kill Stalinism and Maoism, it would also kill creationism and the conspiratorial view of politics (especially Magic President Syndrome). Both of these latter ideas require complex, interlocking systems to be developed by a singular will.

        • Tibor says:

          That’s a nice point. “Spontaneous order” is a recurring thing one can observe in many areas.

          In fact, one of the reasons I think the STEM people are way more supportive of the laissez faire than they used to be 100 years ago (when most of then were, at least according to Hayek, proponents of communism and central planning) is that the STEM fields itself have moved more to the direction of spontaneous order. Neural networks are a good example – you set up some initial conditions and an environment and then let it run on its own. And you can achieve things which are not possible with a “top-down” approach where the programmers simply writes everything down themselves. Evolutionary biology is another nice example. Dawkins’ Selfish Gene contains a lot of beautiful examples of “spontaneous order”. Not that one could not find examples of this before. Statistics might be also seen in spirit as being about “order emerging from chaos”, yet many 19th and early 20th century statisticians were people with rather totalitarian political ideas.

          In any case, the fact that you can have a structure and order without central and/or top-down organization is something perhaps non-trivial and a very important idea.

  13. Orphan Wilde says:

    Incidentally, being minded of the Shakespeare discussion taking place: If there are any gods reading this, can you please change society so it stops forcing children to READ plays? (And please tell me in one hundred years students won’t be forced to read movie scripts…)

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’d be worried that the cure would be worse than the disease.

      In more than one of my lit classes coming up we had to watch excruciating “updated” movie versions of Shakespeare plays. There’s essentially zero chance of having a public school English class go see a legit Shakespearean stage play: if it’s not reading the scripts, it will be watching bastardized relevant movies loosely based on them.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        “There’s essentially zero chance of having a public school English class go see a legit Shakespearean stage play”

        Why? My (British) state school didn’t have have any trips to see Shakespeare, because we didn’t really study any of his plays properly. But we did go to see other plays (unfortunately I had to study the garbage that is Blood Brothers), and theatres often do put on Shakespeare, so there’s no reason in principle why we couldn’t have gone to see a production of e.g. Hamlet (Pericles, Henry VI, or Cymbeline might have been less possible).

        • LHN says:

          I remember being taken to a local college theater production of Hamlet in high school when we were studying the play.

          (Granted, that was long enough ago that Master Will’s original production at the Globe had only lately closed.)

      • brad says:

        For every 10 Things I Hate About You there’s a Branagh’s Hamlet.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          There’s absolutely nothing wrong about 10 Things I Hate About You

          • 57dimensions says:

            I concur. It’s a masterpiece. Or I might just be biased because of young Heath Ledger’s long hair…

          • Xeno of Citium says:

            Funny, I was just about to defend Branagh’s Hamlet.

          • smocc says:

            Branagh’s Hamlet may be the one most in need of defending. The final scene goes way over-the-top for no apparent reason. His Much Ado on the other hand, or his Henry V

          • keranih says:

            Much Ado About Nothing has the dubious honor of being recorded in three versions which I will drop everything to watch, even though I’ve seen them all before.

            I flatly refuse to choose between Branagh’s, Joss Weldon’s, and the Tennent/Tate version.

            If one was wanting more Hamlet of Branagh’s direction, my favorite holiday flick is A Midwinter’s Tale ( aka In the Bleak Midwinter) which is about madness and hope and artistry and impossible things and Hamlet. And geology.

          • smocc says:

            I am greatly distressed to learn that there has been a David Tennant version of Much Ado for 5 years and I didn’t know about it. How was alive without this?

      • I completely agree with the grandparent: plays are meant to be seen. Reading a play is entirely missing the point.

        But what? I thought that the Branagh Shakespeare movies were considered standard, and they’re extremely good, with the original scripts. Just watch those, if you can’t find a stage production.

    • Anonanon says:

      Reading plays out loud is pretty fun though, as long as there are enough literate kids in the class. It certainly got us more engaged than watching the terrible movies.

    • 57dimensions says:

      I’ve read and seen several Shakespeare plays as a high school student, I vastly preferred to read them. The problem with watching them is that you only understand 50% of the words and 20% of what is actually going on in the play because of the language. I just read Othello (for a 12th grade English class) and I enjoyed it a lot, I absolutely loved analyzing the text in detail. This is the third play I’ve read, when we did Macbeth in 8th grade I struggled to understand anything that was happening, but when I read Hamlet in 11th it was much easier and more enjoyable, even more so with Othello now. It just takes a lot of exposure and practice before you can easily digest the language.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        And you are, of course, entirely free to read them in your own time, if that is what you choose to do.

        But, first, from an artistic perspective, they are not meant to be read, and it is insulting to the creator and to the craft to read what was meant to be played. Second, as you observe, reading them takes a certain degree of skill and familiarity, and bluntly, this is not a skill that has any societal merit whatsoever. The ability to understand and quote classical works originated as class signaling, and its filtration down into common education is nothing short of absurd. Third, as literature, plays are, quite simply, garbage; stripped of the players, plays become dialog sparsely interrupted with instruction. Which brings me back to the first point – they aren’t meant to be consumed this way, and it is an artistic travesty to force people to consume media in anything short of its full and intended effect.

        • 57dimensions says:

          I don’t know, can you go back in time and ask Shakespeare if he feels insulted that his works are being read instead of watched by millions of people hundreds of years after their publication? I don’t think he’d be too unhappy with that, I think he’d be thrilled.

          And your original comment was specifically about reading Shakespeare in school, which I would assume is usually part of an English class, and in that context being able to closely read a text–any text!–and analyze it is one of the main (stated) goals of our (America’s that is) 12 year public English education system. So to say that there is no merit in reading Shakespeare carries over to most of what we do in English class, because even though it is trickier to read, you employ the same skills you would use to critically read any other text. Are you arguing that we should completely revamp our educational goals? Or do you just not like Shakespeare? And no English class I’ve ever been in has required me to memorize any lines for quoting purposes, hell, all I can come up with now is, “To be or not to be”, which most people seem to know without ever picking up Hamlet.

          If you just don’t want kids to read Shakespeare in English class, and you think there’s no use in learning to understand the language, why would you make the argument that people should watch the plays instead? Because like I said in my previous comment, it is much harder to understand the dialogue when it is spoken than written, just like any other foreign (non-English) language.

          And to your last point, if plays as literature are garbage, why the hell do so many people get so much out of reading them? That is really nothing more than personal opinion, one that is clearly not shared by the copious amount of people who study and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            The “copious amount of people who study and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays” is contingent upon almost every English-speaking person being forced to read them. If you forced everybody to read -anything- you’d get a huge body of people who loved the work; I mean, if we force people to read 50 Shades of Gray two hundred years from now, the same group will enjoy it then as enjoy it now.

            “Good literature” as a concept just means “Appeals to my personal and moral aesthetics”. Attempting to make a popularity contest the basis of what is and is not good literature will not result in the literature you want to win, winning.

          • Lumifer says:

            “Good literature” as a concept just means “Appeals to my personal and moral aesthetics”.

            It’s a bit more complicated. “Good literature” usually means “appeals to moral aesthetics of the upper class“. And if your personal aesthetics don’t match, ugh, you smell, go learn to be like civilized people : -/

      • smocc says:

        I think my experience the opposite. I always found the plays easier to understand when watching them rather than reading them. I’m not necessarily able to understand every word while watching it, but seeing the context of the lines in action and hearing the actors’ inflections and body language can communicate enough to make up for not knowing exactly what they’re saying all the time. I may not know exactly what this one character just said, but he’s clearly really angry and the other guy and he’s threatening him and that’s exciting. If I really want to know exactly what was said I can look it up in a dictionary later.

        Note this only really applies to good productions, where the actors have carefully studied the play are able to deliver all the lines with intention and meaning, and the staging enhances the action in the script. Seeing a poor high school production is probably worse than reading.

        • John Schilling says:

          Seeing a poor high school production is probably worse than reading.

          Ideally, the point of a high school production would be to get the student performers at least to actually study enough of the play to understand the words they are enunciating, etc, and so deliver some of that meaning to their fellow students in the audience. That’s probably the best possible way to build understanding of the material in that environment. If instead you’re just going to train a bunch of teenagers to recite without comprehension, why bother?

          Obviously that is going to happen anyway; I don’t have a feel for how common it is.

          • smocc says:

            Oh sure, there’s value in putting on the plays for the students. But the value is just for the students who have to put it on, unless they do a very good job (and dedicated high schoolers can; I was in a very good production of Midsummer’s). My point is just that watching a bad performance is as bad or worse than reading it.

  14. In the cause of more non-political threads …


    1. What Kipling poems do people here like?

    2. What other poets and poems?

    • DavidS says:

      1. Err, various but nothing leaps out in particular

      2. Metaphysical poets (especially Donne). T.S Eliot. Ted Hughes. R S Thomas. William Blake.

    • Psmith says:

      1. “MacDonough’s Song”, “The ‘eathen”, “Hymn of Breaking Strain”.

      2. Robert Service, in the same vein as Kipling. Seconding Eliot. Weldon Kees. Philip Larkin. Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney. The Havamal. The cowboy Havamal.

      • 1. “The Mary Gloster” is probably my favorite.

        2. Millay. Chesterton. Hopkins. Not Eliot–I’ve never seen anything of his I really liked. Mathew Prior. Dylan Thomas–who I think of as Hopkins drunk.

        Service isn’t bad, but I can only think of two poems of his I really like (both famous ones), and I don’t think he is up to Kipling’s standard.

        Havamal I only know in translation. Many of the chapter headings for my first novel were lifted from it.

    • keranih says:

      All the kiplings, yes.

      The Power of the Dog. And The Sons of Martha. And White Horses.

      I am deeply pleased by the march of modern technology, so that one can get open mic versions of all sorts of things – such as this version of Tommy and here Servants of the Queen.

      Other poems and poetry:

      A. E. Housman’s The Oracles, Edna Vincent de Mallay’s Intention to Escape From Him , and Hart Crane’s Repose of Rivers.

      An Ted Hughes’ Examination at the Womb-Door.

      And To the War God’s Horse, which is traditional Navajo.

    • caethan says:

      1. The Sons of Martha – by far my favorite.

      2. I had a Blake phase in high school when I thought I understood all the strange allusions in his work. I’ve since come to the conclusion that he was probably just moderately crazy. Still some beautiful poetry, though! “To His Mistress Going To Bed” is another favorite. I read it to my wife occasionally.

    • Skivverus says:

      1. “If” is the only one of his I’m really aware of, but it definitely counts under the ‘like’ column.

      2. In no particular order, “The Conquerors”, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, “Sestina d’Inverno”, “l(a”, and “Kind of an Ode to Duty”. A couple others I don’t know if you’ll find on the ‘net on account on having written them myself (and thus having suspect judgment on their quality relative to the others).

    • Luke says:

      2. I’ve never gotten really into poetry, except when I discovered Edo period haiku in a university course on Japanese literature. I’ve always preferred imagistic poetry to anything else, and haiku does that plus constantly treads the line between beautiful and vulgar. I find people respond very well to Issa.

      Napping at midday
      I hear the song of rice planters
      and feel ashamed of myself..

      I’m going out,
      flies, so relax,
      make love.

      Buson is less personal, but more beautiful:

      Calligraphy of geese
      against the sky–
      the moon seals it.

      And then there’s Basho who basically invented the genre (at least he gave it the character it had in the Edo period).

      Fleas, lice,
      a horse peeing
      near my pillow.

      And as a shame-filled plug, my wife and I have just started a project where I write haiku and she illustrates them. Once a week on Thursdays! Boston Haikai.

    • Lysenko says:

      1) Most of him. That said, several stand out. “A Death-Bed“, “Chant Pagan“, “An American” (relevant to earlier discussions here, if not in this thread, maybe), “Hymn Before Action“, “Recessional“, and so many others, including several already mentioned.

      2) A.E. Housman’s “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries“, D.H. Lawrence’s “Self-Pity”, Burns’ “Sic a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation”, a couple of Poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca I can’t remember by name, “Crow Law” by Linda Hogan, Edgar Allen Poe (Am I the only one who likes “The Conqueror Worm”?), Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”, and I’ll stop there.

    • onyomi says:

      I like Li Shangyin’s “untitled” poems, such as:

      Time to meet is hard to find and parting, too, is hard
      The east wind has no force and a hundred flowers fail

      Unless spring silkworms reach their death silk cannot be spun
      When waxy candles turn to ash will tears begin to dry

      In morning’s mirror only worried about her temples turning white
      She recites at night while I’m sure she feels the chill glow of the moon

      From this place to Mount Penglai is just a little road
      Bluegreen bird indulge me please and spy a little glance

      I like Bai Juyi’s longer ballads, like The Lute Player’s Ballad and The Song of Everlasting Regret, though it’s hard to capture their sound quality, even in Mandarin, much less English, better to listen to them in Cantonese if you can.

      • keranih says:

        A-ha! I have had a poem question which google is not helping me with. Perhaps you know the answer…

        There was a famous poet (I think Chinese, will feel silly if Japanese) who wrote a poem about stepping on his dead wife’s comb in the dark. Google doesn’t admit that Li Bai was this poet, but that name keeps sticking in my head.

        Much later, another (American?) poet wrote a free verse poem “When she was here” talking to the Chinese poet, about his dead wife.

        Do you have any idea of the authors or poems I am talking about?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Unless there are two such poems, it was Japanese poet Taniguchi Buson’s poem “The piercing chill I feel”. (Found it through googling “stepping on dead wife’s comb poem” and clicking the first link). No clue about the American one.

          • keranih says:

            Ok, thank you so much, I was able to hunt down what I was looking for!

            Firstly, yes, the original poem was Japanese. (here, middle of the page.)

            It’s disappointing to me to read various reflections on this poem, and find that many modern readers don’t seem to understand that the comb is not a prosaic plastic hair grooming tool, but likely a fragile cherished decorative hairpiece, carved of ivory or tortoise shell. Stepped on, it shatters, and will never be passed on to a child or a relative.

            Other poems by Buson are here – I note with some delight that at least one (the woman in the moonlight) was used by David Brin in Startide Rising.

            The other poem was about a poem by Li Bo – Peter Williams’ When She Was Here, Li Bo, She Was Like Cool Summer Lager.

            (Which has its own parody, When She Was Here, Li Bo – A Parody.)

            (And that brings me back around again to George Starbuck’s Margaret are you drug, and then past that to GMH’s Windhover.)

            The circle is not round.*

      • Both good. Although the Three Decker is something of a period piece–I don’t believe I have read any examples of the genre it is about.

        Am I the only “Mary Gloster” fan? I think it’s not only one of Kipling’s best poems, it’s the best Browning monologue I’ve read, despite not being written by Browning.

        Anyone else enjoy “Muse Among the Motors,” the series of parodies all written about motor cars? Including part of a Shakespeare play and a parody of one of Kipling’s own poems.

        • Mary says:

          What I like in “The Three-Decker” is unashamed exultation in all the favorite tropes, not to say cliches, and escapism.

  15. Is anybody reading Alan Moore’s “Providence”?

  16. Dr Dealgood says:

    SSC Science & Scholarship Commentary Thread

    What is this?
    > A lot of us come from academic backgrounds, or just occasionally stumble across interesting research, and think “what will people at SSC make of this?” Well now there’s a place to find that without reading 84 quadrillion comments first. Just Ctrl+F and search for ~ S S C i e n c e ~ without spaces.

    How does it work?
    > On the fractional Open Threads commenters are welcome to post links to and suggest for consideration any articles, and I will put an updated list of those suggestions in the top-level post for each.
    > During the integer Open Thread, I will select one article from the list for general discussion.

    Who can participate?
    > Everyone! Just read the article you plan to comment on or suggest, at least past the Abstract, and then feel free to post away.

    How do we keep it from descending into murderous anarchy?
    > This thread is strictly apolitical: even if you think an article has “policy implications,” this is not the appropriate place to discuss them. Violators will be drawn and quartered.

    Suggested Articles:
    (I cheated this week, because noone actually suggested any in last week’s interest-gauging thread. Including myself. Oops.)
    1. Alliteration suggested the preprint study Genetic evidence for natural selection in humans in the contemporary United States, in the 53.25 Open Thread.
    2. Ilyusha suggested the extremely bizarre study Does comedy kill? A retrospective, longitudinal cohort, nested case–control study of humour and longevity in 53 British comedians, in Links 7/16.
    3. I, just now, suggested Enhanced Longevity by Ibuprofen, Conserved in Multiple Species, Occurs in Yeast through Inhibition of Tryptophan Import because it’s something I wasn’t aware of before this May. This research does not necessarily mean that Ibuprofen extends human lifespans and you probably shouldn’t take it in a way which isn’t physician recommended just because of a handful of interesting studies.

    • keranih says:

      Executive decision making in the domestic sheep.

      (For those who were not aware of sheep as animal models for human disease, this page is an interesting summary. (I hadn’t heard of the Huntington’s studies, but I had heard of Tay-Sacs and Jacob sheep.)

    • lemmy caution says:

      Dead comedians are considered to be funnier. Especially, comedians that died in their prime. Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd, and Steve Martin (even bob hope) have had a chance to piss away some of their goodwill, but they were very funny in their prime.

    • Java Mask says:

      Re. #1, sorry, I got distracted by a format issue in the paper: I get that it’s a preprint, but surely he caught his use of the word “I” during his (presumably) many revisions, right? Is this some kind of trend in academic writing, where people are slowly tolerating the use of first person singular?

      [EDIT] OK, overcome my distraction and read the abstract. First random thought: this is the Idiocracy we’ve been waiting for.

      Second random thought: I thought it was pretty clear that humans were still evolving, and that the interesting question was what traits were being selected for. At times I can’t tell whether the author is answering the first question or the second one.

      Anyway, cool paper, it’ll be interesting to see more researchers leverage the burgeoning wealth of genetic data to study this issue.

  17. keranih says:

    Are we doing the “suggest a paper” thing discussed in the last OT? Or no?

    • Java Mask says:

      I liked that idea a lot too, but I didn’t see anyone say exactly what field the papers would be drawn from.

      I’m interested in technology and design ethics from a human factors perspective, so I’m hoping for papers relevant to that, but of course I expect to be drowned out in a sea of people looking to discuss papers from even “softer” academic fields.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        So far we’ve got a populations genetics preprint, a genetics / cell bio paper and what might be a joke study from a cardiology journal.

        But the field is open to anything. Linguistics to QM. Drop any studies in there that you think people would like to read.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Yes, I just had to run some gels. The thread is directly below this one.

  18. onyomi says:

    Maybe a good picture to keep in mind for the no-tribalism OT.

    • Rob K says:

      It’s sort of amusing to me to see this posted today, as the various tribes of NBA fans unite to celebrate Tim Duncan. (Actually now that I think about the “basketball fan” identity may be unusually strong relative to the “[individual team] fan” ones right now, probably because of a sense that basketball is in a golden age right now. Rising tides, etc.)

  19. Cell phones and bicycles were once toys for rich people, but have become extremely useful for poor people.

    Are there any things which have been designed for poor people which have worked out to make a large difference?

    Are there any things which are expensive now but which seem to be on the trajectory to become cheap and broadly useful?

    • keranih says:

      things designed for poor people

      Not really sure what you mean by this. Do you mean “economy” versions of things? Aren’t most people looking for cheaper ways to do things?

      Capitalism seems to work pretty good at filling the needs of people who want something cheaper than it currently is – except when it runs up against limits like quality standards and codes.

      Are food trucks and the like a version of this?

      • There’ve been some designs by idealists– a water pump that doubles as a playground merry-go-round, for example.

        • Murphy says:

          If I remember right that was a bit of a disaster, they went into villages with perfectly functional normal water pumps and installed those roundabout things which were complex and more likely to break and which unsurprisingly, kids then didn’t use because they weren’t fun.

          roundabouts are fun because you can run them up to speed then jump on them and go with the momentum.

          So what they actually ended up creating was basically this:

        • keranih says:

          Another couple that didn’t work as well –

          The idea of putting untreated water in used plastic water bottles and putting it on the roof to expose it to UV light and sterilize it was really big a few years back. Turned out to knock down giardia, sure, but the E. coli counts went through the roof.

          Another that worked, but was rejected by the end user, was small portable solar stoves. The idea was to reduce the use of charcoal and/or firewood, being both cheaper, less work, and exposing the women to less risk while gathering wood.

          Turned out that the social/exercise/outing aspects of wood gathering were important, too, and that the women wanted rapists to go away, rather than to stay in their homesteads. And that the women were used to cooking in the evenings, and having a fire that people could sit around and socialize around.

          And that the solar stoves had to be repositioned – just a hair – every half hour or so, which didn’t allow for trips away from the homestead, and if one left the pot in the yard, it had a high risk of walking off.

          A good solution, just never worked for the end user.

      • gbdub says:

        Food trucks seem like a decent example, or really any ethnic food that takes off – often this is “poor people” comfort food that turns into haute cuisine (e.g. all the fancy versions of mac and cheese, street tacos, etc).

        Other examples might be clothing – denim blue jeans were developed as practical working trousers, turned into high fashion with ridiculously expensive high-end versions. (Maybe Chuck Taylor shoes and Ugg boots would also fit?)

        Trouble there is that those have more to do with fashion/taste than maybe what you’re looking for, which is more like “designed for poor, turns out better than what the rich have so they adopt it”.

        • Nornagest says:

          Chucks are still cheap, and the ultra-expensive high-fashion sneakers I know about seem to be following more of a “generic sneaker” model than a Chuck Taylor ripoff model. I don’t know a lot about the history of Uggs, but when I first encountered them in the Nineties, they were going for a hundred and twenty bucks to the same demographics that buy them now.

          Jeans are a good example, though.

          • Gbdub says:

            Uggs were always relatively expensive due to the material cost, but my impression was they were casual wear for surfer bums as opposed to fashion accessories for sorority girls?

            Actual Chucks are still (relatively) cheap, I guess where I was going with that one was as an example of a brand that got co-opted as high fashion despite humble origins (Just saw a picture of Ryan Reynolds wearing white low-top Chucks with, in the interest of the casual hat discussion elsewhere in this thread, a felt driving cap) Maybe that’s more what Nancy was looking for?

          • Nornagest says:

            I first saw them on soccer moms, subtype: hippieish.

          • gbdub says:

            I should have phrased better – Uggs were I think originally popular amongst surfer bums (interestingly not a female exclusive phenomenon). My first contact with them though was in college when “Uggs + yoga pants + black North Face jacket” was the official daytime cold-weather uniform of every sorority girl at the University of Michigan. That was when they were at peak fad for the well-to-do.

            Hippie-ish soccer moms seems to be the current demo.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Would mass jet transportation count? It’s a lot less of a luxury than it once was, but it’s gone from a status symbol to the normal way to travel long distances.

    • Lumifer says:

      Rich vs poor is not a particularly good dichotomy here. A great deal of things were designed for the middle class — notably a lot of home labour-saving devices. The rich didn’t really need them because they had servants, and the poor couldn’t afford them, but for the middle class they were just the right thing.

      • TPC says:

        They were designed to reduce use of servants by the middle class for a bunch of complicated historical reasons. The poor were at least occasional servants, even in America.

    • Java Mask says:

      Are there any things which have been designed for poor people which have worked out to make a large difference?

      The water pump/merry-go-round example which you mentioned is often used to show what happens when those ideas totally crash and burn. A better example might be something like shipping container housing or the various kinds of lighting fixtures built from water bottles. (I don’t know whether these have worked out much better than the merry-go-rounds, but I at least haven’t heard otherwise.)

      Another example is certain Obamacare sign-up apps, which have greatly simplified the process and clarified the relevant health insurance concepts and terminology, not to mention increased usability for disabled people.

      Are there any things which are expensive now but which seem to be on the trajectory to become cheap and broadly useful?

      Is that a rhetorical question? Most (all?) new products follow an adoption curve that usually begins with a few early adopters (who tend to have a lot of spare cash) before moving to mass marketability.

      I’m kinda curious why you’re asking.

      • I asked about current tech becoming drastically cheaper because it occurred to me as I was writing, and prediction can be fun. In this case, it’s not just a question of what will become cheaper, but what might become a lot cheaper.

        • keranih says:

          but what might become a lot cheaper

          Audiobooks. *Good* audiobooks.

          Kindle’s text-to-speech is at the level of a mediocure recorded audio book, and is way better than I expected. I think that with a bit of improvement in machine learning, we’ll get to where ebooks come “tagged” with stock characteristics for each character (old, young, male, female, basic accent) and the TTS program can pick up on para breaks and the like. This is just 20 min into the future, sure, but I am really looking forward to decent tts books on my phone.

          Something that I expect will have deep market penetration as soon as it becomes available is cheap area sound buffering. So you can sit on your fire escape in the big city and listen to mozart and bird song as though the jackhammers, car radios, sirens, and quarreling neighbors were not there.

          • Lumifer says:

            So you can sit on your fire escape in the big city and listen to mozart and bird song as

            I use in-ear earphones (*not* earbuds) and they provide excellent sound isolation.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I use in-ear earphones (*not* earbuds) and they provide excellent sound isolation.

            Seconded. I don’t buy anything but in-ear earphones anymore.

            For extra isolation, I sometimes use white noise. For example, if I want to listen to a song on YouTube but somebody next to me is watching TV, I play the song at high volume in one tab and “12 Hours of White Noise” at about 1/4th the volume of the song in another tab at the same time. It works wonders.

          • keranih says:

            Thank you both for the suggestion, which I think I will end up using in my new place. But that wasn’t quite what I was looking for – I am not crazy about stuff in my ears. I would rather a whole room sort of sound baffling.

          • Winfried says:

            @jaimeastorga2000 and Lumifer

            Any brand/model recommendations for good earphones? I have yet to find a pair I like.

            Actually, that’s open for anyone who reads this. What is your recommendation, bonus points for ones I can workout in.

          • Lumifer says:

            Hard to give specific recommendations. There are two basically independent issues: the sound quality and the ear fit. For the sound you basically get what you pay for and there are a lot of websites and boards which review headphones and which will point out the strengths and weaknesses of a particular pair.

            For the ear fit, it depends on your ears : -). I would recommend earphones which come with a set of different earplugs (foam, plastic, both of different sizes) so that you can try and see what works for you.

          • bluto says:

            I recently got a pair of Audio Technica’s ATHAD500X, and find them very comfortable to wear, and they sound very good (they’re open back so don’t isolate well if that’s a goal).

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Winfried: I bought these recently. They work great.

    • Lumifer says:

      It’s not what you mean, but cheap weapons accessible to hoi polloi certainly “worked out to make a large difference”.

      “God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” X -)

      • The AK 47 is especially interesting because it’s very light and durable.

        • Lumifer says:

          It’s not particularly light, I think what made it very popular was that it was cheap to make and very simple to maintain. It worked well in the hands of people with little to no training and the factories in Russia, China, etc. cranked them out by millions.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      Not sure if it qualifies for “large difference” but machine-woven cotton fabric was a poor people’s thing when it first came along.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Most products start at the high-end and work their way down. But some do the opposite. This is called Disruption. One example is mass production. Mass produced products are introduced specifically to be cheaper than existing handmade products. Often the initial mass-produced version is inferior, so the rich keep buying the handmade version, but often the mass-produced version keeps improving and becomes superior to the handmade version.

    • “Are there any things which have been designed for poor people which have worked out to make a large difference?”

      Possibly cuisines which developed because they were cheap but then spread widely?

    • Outis says:

      Cell phones were never toys for rich people, they were expensive business tools.

      In general, there is a common pattern where a newt-introduced technology starts out as expensive, and relies on rich early adopters to cover the cost. This is actually one major advantage of inequality.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        If it is a legitimate business expense, it does not rely on inequality. Toys for rich people do.

  20. hermanubis says:

    Did anyone go to EA Global last year? I’m debating if its worth the registration cost. Currently my only involvement with EA is donating once a year, did attending help anyone get involved further? Is it mostly students or professionals?

    • Snodgrass says:

      Isn’t much of the point of EA that the effective thing for almost-all people to do is to donate once a year – volunteers sufficiently unsure that they’ll make a difference to worry that it won’t be worth the registration cost, should probably donate the registration cost to mosquito nets.

    • Splotch says:

      I recommend it if you want to get better connected with the EA community, explore alternate career options, or reaffirm your commitment to altruism through subtle social pressure.

      “Is it mostly students or professionals?” – They try to make it a mix of everything.

  21. Anthony says:

    I want some outside opinion on a **GASP!** Reddit thread. It’s on r/askhistorians, which is my favorite subreddit.

    I feel like I’m looking at an argument that must be wrong, but I also know very little about the subject, and so I don’t feel comfortable arguing my point with real, live experts. The question is the following: does it make sense to speak of European civilization as being “more advanced” than Native American civilization? There are ways one can argue that point and end up sounding uncomfortably close to Rudyard Kipling or, if you’re being real boorish, Ann Coulter. But I think one must be able to do so more intelligently, as well.

    The thread is here. I’m u/asdflkaiuwemn.

    EDIT: one quick thing — I choose “European” civilization randomly. I think one could equally speak of Middle-Eastern, or Chinese civilization, to pick two examples, in the same manner.

    • Anonymous says:

      Tech may have some breadth that allows native americans to have unique things, but it has a lot of linearity. Can’t make big ships without a lot of experience making small ones. It seems to me that everything that guy is bringing up except calendars is simple stuff with very little or none of those prerequisites – by obsidian, does he mean that the native americans had the genius and technological advancement to go pick up stuff lying near volcanoes, or that they had obsidian architecture that would’ve taken the europeans a millenium of trial and error to figure out, similar to how it took forever to go from rowboats to ocean-faring sailing ships?

      I don’t have the gall to go argue with real experts either, but as far as I can tell his examples for advanced tech is low-hanging fruit as long as you have the north american types of trees around.

      • Nornagest says:

        by obsidian, does he mean that the native americans had the genius and technological advancement to go pick up stuff lying near volcanoes, or that they had obsidian architecture that would’ve taken the europeans a millenium of trial and error to figure out, similar to how it took forever to go from rowboats to ocean-faring sailing ships?

        The Mesoamerican civilizations used obsidian and other amorphous stone for blades, along with mirrors and some other stuff. And they were really, really good at it — they left sculptural knappings of extraordinary delicacy, for example. You can’t do that sort of thing without a lot of cultural experience making knapped tools, which is not easy — but probably not as generally useful as metallurgy.

        • gbdub says:

          But then again, civilizations outside of Mesoamerica had also used knapped stone tools – and developed beyond them thousands of years prior. Perhaps they never (as far as we know) developed the level of artistry that the Mesoamericans did. But then again, if you came across a civilization that had never invented vacuum tubes or semiconductors who had nevertheless developed room size mechanical computers operating on a series of steam valves, I don’t think you’d have a hard time calling an iPhone “more advanced” simply because we never reached the level of artistry they had with steam power.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, not objecting to that. I think the argument in the ancestor is weaselly at best. But I also think the Mesoamericans got lithic technology to a place the Old World didn’t, and we may as well give them credit for that.

    • Lumifer says:

      does it make sense to speak of European civilization as being “more advanced” than Native American civilization?

      Of course. If you want a more complex approach, look at what each civilization achieved, at their respective capabilities. If you want a simple answer, the outcome of the collision between these two civilization is it.

      If you want to steelman the question a bit, the underlying issue is whether technological progress (I hope we’re not talking about moral progress) flows through a sufficiently narrow channel so that you can rank the societies-at-a-particular-time on some sort of a single axis and have it make sense.

      Now, there are cases where you can reasonably disagree about the relative ranking. But Native Americans vs Europeans is not one of those cases.

      • onyomi says:

        “the outcome of the collision”

        I’ve been thinking for a while that this also applies, to some extent, on a cultural level: if your culture’s music completely disappears when it encounters another culture’s music, that may indicate there was some sense in which the other culture’s music was “better.”

        Which does not mean that every time, e. g. the kimono gives way to the suit that the suit is inherently “better” (could just be a way to signal something else, like a modern, Western sensibility), but I think we can see, in some ways, where different cultures have advanced differentially in how those cultures are received by other cultures. Japanese animation, for example, has more heavily influenced American animation in recent decades than the reverse. Ayurveda and yoga have influenced Western health and spirituality more than the reverse (yes, I think Ayurveda is more advanced than Western medicine up until the discovery of the microbe and the invention of vaccines and antibiotics, and is still way better for many other things; I also think Chinese and Indian mysticism and metaphysics are more advanced than Western counterparts). India learned many things from Britain, but cooking wasn’t one of them (contrast the extreme popularity of Indian food in England), etc. etc.

        • This might be a good place to ask about a book I lost.

          It’s by a woman with a chronic disease. (If I could remember the disease, I could probably replace the book.) She isn’t happy with her results from western medicine, and she explores alternative medicine, mostly Arevedic. I remember there was light therapy.

          The main advantage she gets from alternative medicine is becoming calmer and clearer headed so that she can make better use of western medicine.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          What on Earth would it mean for a group to be more advanced in mysticism? They’re better at fooling people by pretending to do magic? Or other science/technology/learning just isn’t widely spread enough for people to be skeptical?

          • Jaskologist says:

            What does it mean to be more advanced at music? They provide more satisfying descriptions of the numinous, and/or richer experiences of it.

          • onyomi says:

            Spiritual practices (meditation, fasting, prayer, chanting, marathon walking, standing, qigong, yogic postures, breathing exercises, herb consumption/drug use, sensory deprivation…) have definite physical and psychological effects. Having had a much larger number of people trying harder to figure them out over a long period, India, Tibet, China, Japan, et al have accomplished more in this realm than the West, though Christian monasticism and Islamic Sufism have some practices to recommend them.

          • You’re a program in the holodeck of a giant robot made of Turing machines made of quarks called a human body; reason is the process of making yourself a more accurate map of the robot’s self and environment, and magic is the process of making the robot’s self and environment more like you, the map.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          cooking wasn’t one of them

          How do you know? Do you know what Indian cooking was like in 1500? It was obviously revolutionized by New World plants. I don’t know that we should credit that to European cuisine, but it makes it clear that there is something to know before passing judgement. It’s just one dish, but vindaloo is based on a Portuguese dish. I think it is to the credit of the British that they introduced tea into India.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not claiming that the borrowing is ever entirely one-sided. I am saying that strong memes and products have a tendency to win out. Of course, it depends somewhat on the culture adapting: they will adapt what best fits their existing culture/traditions, but I think they will also adapt the objectively best things. Tomatoes and chili peppers are super useful culinary tools, for example. Chinese food did very different things with the tomato as compared to Indian or Italian food, but there was some sense in which, if you encountered the tomato and could grow a tomato, you would find a place for the tomato, given its objective usefulness.

            I am somewhat skeptical of the globalist dream where everyone speaks one language and shares one relatively homogeneous culture. But on the other hand, I tend to think the cultural melting pot works better than the salad bowl. I don’t like the American version of Chinese food or the Chinese version of Italian food, but they’ve both been getting better because good stuff seems to win out in the long run.

            So, the plus side of globalization is maybe everyone will do yoga, eat thai food and pizza, watch hollywood and bolywood movies, wear kimonos on Sundays, listen to Gamelan…

            Put another way, no one from New Orleans goes to Ohio and says “wow, I’ve got to bring this cuisine back to my hometown,” but the reverse certainly happens. This is because the cuisine of New Orleans is objectively better than the cuisine of Ohio. In terms of memetic evolution, it may tend to win out over time with American food in general becoming more New Orleansish and less Ohioish. And that would be a good thing.

            In the Indian case, I merely mean that on any given day, a British person is much more likely to have chicken tikka masala than an Indian person is to have spotted dick.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            How do you know? Do you know what Indian cooking was like in 1500?

          • jeorgun says:

            David Friedman linked to a book of medieval recipes he cowrote in the last OT which includes a couple Indian ones; I’m no expert on Indian cuisine, but they look to me much more like modern Indian food than they do to period (or, indeed, modern) European food.

          • Chalid says:

            @onyomi You might be interested in Tyler Cowen’s book Creative Destruction.

          • onyomi says:

            I think it is actually somewhat tangential to my point whether vindaloo and tempura are “essentially” Portuguese, Indian, or Japanese. The point is the degree to which vindaloo or tempura as a kind of “food preparation meme” may “crowd out” other competing cooking methods, wherever they’re found, by virtue of in some sense being “better” (keeping in mind that “better” doesn’t just mean “tastes better,” but may be interpreted broadly to include things like practicality, cost, nutritional value, etc.)

            The scary possibility, of course, is of virulent memes, which, despite not being actually better for human health and happiness, nevertheless tend to “win” due to some other factors like convenience or happenstance correlation with a politically powerful group. Fast food comes to mind, as does, arguably, the religious farmer lifestyle’s victory over the free loving hunter gatherer.

          • “Do you know what Indian cooking was like in 1500? ”

            The Nimatnama is late 15th century, so pretty close. I have only done a few of the recipes, but I know someone else in the SCA who has worked pretty extensively with it.

            So I don’t, but she does.

          • onyomi says:


            Thanks for the recommendation. Does seem very relevant.

          • Aegeus says:

            “no one from New Orleans goes to Ohio and says “wow, I’ve got to bring this cuisine back to my hometown,” but the reverse certainly happens. This is because the cuisine of New Orleans is objectively better than the cuisine of Ohio.”

            That proves that New Orleans cuisine has a broader appeal, but it seems weird to declare that something is “objectively better” because it appeals to more people. Niche tastes are a thing.

            For instance, Cincinnati is the home of Cincinnati chili, and I’d love it if it spread outside of Ohio, but apparently no one else in this country thinks that putting chili on spaghetti is a sensible idea. It’s a niche taste. But it’s not objectively worse – you cannot tell me that I’m guaranteed to enjoy New Orleans gumbo more than Cincinnati chili. Nor can you say that Cincinnati chili is destined to die out and be replaced by “superior” foods – it’s a local favorite and will probably survive as long as the city does.

            It sounds like by “Objectively better” you just mean “better in the subjective opinion of a lot of people.”

          • onyomi says:

            I’m with Ayn Rand, and, I think, Scott, in thinking that there is such a thing as “objectively better” in matters of taste. He wrote a post somewhere about how, basically, everyone thinks Hamlet is better literature than Fifty Shades of Grey (even though many people would rather read the latter), but they also, erroneously think there’s no way to “prove” it. His argument, if I recall, was that you could break down a big, seemingly subjective question, like “which is better literature, Hamlet or Fifty Shades of Grey?” into lots of little, more objective questions, like “which has better characterization?” “Which uses language more creatively?” etc.

            So, actually, it may be that Cincinnati has one or two really great things to contribute to world cuisine, but I think New Orleans has more, so I rate New Orleans cuisine as objectively better. But just because Cincinnati has more to learn from New Orleans than the other way around, doesn’t mean New Orleans has nothing to learn from Cincinnati, as Europeans didn’t have nothing to learn from Native Americans.

            That is, as you can break down the “which is better literature: Hamlet or Fifty Shades?” into many smaller questions, you can break down “which has better food, New Orleans or Cincinnati” into many smaller questions like “which has more sophisticated sauce making technique?” or “which has contributed a larger number of commonly recognized great dishes?” Even the smaller questions may seem to be subjective, but, then, so is the question of whether horse or car travel is better.

            Maybe in the ideal world you can find Cincinnati chili (though frankly that sounds awful to me…) in New Orleans and authentic po boys, beignets, gumbo, etc. in Cincinnati.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            You think there are mind-independent facts about culinary goodness? Man, that’s… that’s gonna be a tough row to hoe. Do you think that of an apple and an orange one of them tastes Objectively Better than the other? Which? If not, how can there be mind-independent facts about culinary goodness when there aren’t mind-independent facts about the goodness of the constituent ingredients? At what point in the cooking process does the goodness come in, when you first mix the ingredients together, when the oven timer dings, when you add the sauce? Some people, I’ve heard, have a mutation that makes cilantro taste like soap. Are they Objectively Right that cilantro tastes bad, or Objectively Wrong? What if a region’s cuisine is marked by the ubiquitous use of cilantro? Surely their culinary prowess shouldn’t be discounted just because some other people have a mutation which prevents them from properly appreciating it! But what, then, if we discover a remote village in the Caucuses whose residents have an even stranger mutation that makes them enjoy the taste of feces, which they use in a wide and creative array of dishes? Does feces taste Objectively Bad? Could literal poop-eaters have better taste than the rest of us? If not, how is this different than the cilantro?

          • Skivverus says:

            But what, then, if we discover a remote village in the Caucuses whose residents have an even stranger mutation that makes them enjoy the taste of feces, which they use in a wide and creative array of dishes?

            I seem to remember an Ace Ventura movie – the second one, I think – that referenced this.
            Anyway, though. I think the point is that there is a sense of ‘objective’ which doesn’t care (so to speak) about mind-dependence, but merely to what degree reality matches the description.
            For instance, we usually think of color as an objective property, despite the existence of colorblindness and varying lighting conditions; rather than saying “there’s no objective reality about whether the apple is red”, we say “the apple is objectively red if, under ordinary solar lighting, it reflects 6-700 nm light”.
            Taste is more closely tied to qualia and currently less testable beyond “do people statistically come back for more”, but that hardly precludes there being an objective reality for taste in the sense of ‘objective’ described above.

          • Nicholas says:

            An observer-having-a-mind-independent fact about the aesthetic qualities of a thing is “number of people with tastes in alignment with the thing, and number of different times and places those people are distributed across”.
            You could make an argument that, when talking about the quality of human-designed dishes, these two number make a serviceable metric. Is there any real difference between “widely considered good” and “widely liked”?

        • Mary says:

          on the other hand, India got quite a bit from the Americas. Within fifty years of Columbus’s voyages, we have an Indian poet hymning the praises of the poor man’s spice, red pepper.

          • And in about the same amount of time, maize shows up in Chinese references.

            Vegetable species are the only important technology I can think of where the old world got something major from the New World–maize, peanuts, capsicum peppers, vanilla, chocolate, pumpkins and squashes, allspice.

            I’ve seen the claim that hammocks originate in the New World, am not sure if it’s true or not.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      It would seem an enormous coincidence if technology developed at such a rate in different areas, starting from different time periods (some areas were settled earlier than others), with different resources available, that technology could be said to be equal in the old and new worlds. One could make the argument that they were close enough to not be directly comparable, or that each region had relative advantages in some fields (some fairly ingenious agricultural techniques get mentioned in the thread). One could also argue that if you want to ask about “better technology” you have to specify “better for what?”

      But saying that the technology is equal because they had different resources available is absurd. That might be a good explanation as to why technology is different, but it can’t make the technology actually equal. Would someone say that the technology available to a modern industrial economy is not superior to that of a caveman because we have different resources available? Of course not. It would render the term without any meaning at all.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      They are not “real, live experts” and you will not learn about the history of technology from them, so you should just go away. Maybe anthropology nerd will tell you about the controversies in the demography of what is now the USA, though.

    • “The question is the following: does it make sense to speak of European civilization as being “more advanced” than Native American civilization? There are ways one can argue that point and end up sounding uncomfortably close to Rudyard Kipling”

      Why “uncomfortably?” What do you think Kipling’s view of the subject was?

      • Anthony says:

        I used Kipling for his production of “The White Man’s Burden,” which seems emblematic of a particularly paternalistic and reductive view of foreigners which supposes that they live how they do simply because they haven’t yet figured out how to live like we do.

        In general, I think it’s right to be skeptical of claims of linear civilizational progress. The only thing that reliably progresses is time.

        In this case, I think one can make the argument that the Old World was significantly more advanced than the new, both socially and technically. But the argument is hard to make, because 1) it relies on vaguely defined constructs like “robustness of governmental institutions” and “intricacy of trade networks,” and 2) it immediately pushes me towards arguing that the structures I’m familiar with are more advanced than the structures I’m not familiar with — very dangerous ground, and subject to a lot of bias.

        • Lumifer says:

          But the argument is hard to make

          It’s very easy to make about being more technically advanced. Socially, if you find that argument hard to make, is there anything you can say about social organization of people throughout history other than listing bare facts?

          • Anthony says:

            is there anything you can say about social organization of people throughout history other than listing bare facts?

            Most of the time, you can’t even do that. I just listened to an hour-long program on the Maya, and the sheer amount people don’t know is astounding. Spaniards burn as much text as they can. Entire cities filled with monolithic architecture disappear beneath dense jungle-cover. The accounts we have left are written by extremely untrustworthy sources.

            Even to the degree that researchers have been successful, I’m still not very knowledgeable on the subject of either pre-Columbus America, or its counterpart in Europe.

            These are the difficulties I run into before I even try to come up with a theoretical comparison of the two societies, and even that problem alone is one that’s not easy to approach in a compelling manner.

        • “I used Kipling for his production of “The White Man’s Burden,” which seems emblematic of a particularly paternalistic and reductive view of foreigners which supposes that they live how they do simply because they haven’t yet figured out how to live like we do.”

          Have you read Kim, Kipling’s only really good novel? It paints a pretty positive picture of the culture of a non-western society. The Tibetan Lama is a convincing portrait of a saint, several other admirable non-western characters. The English very much a mixed bag, with the implication that the ones who grew up in India are reasonably competent, the ones who came from England as adults mostly not. Much the attitude that Usamah ibn Munqidh expresses towards Franks.

          I think the assumption of “White Man’s Burden” is that some combination of ignorance and coordination problems result in a society much less attractive than it could be, and that the situation can be fixed by sufficient time and effort. It’s paternalistic–I’m not sure what “reductive” means in that context. But is it obviously false?

          • Anthony says:

            I haven’t read Kim, and would like to.

            As I understand, the idea of the “White Man’s Burden” was not nearly as benign as you paint it. First off, it’s a poem about “White people” vs. “Not-White people,” not “English” vs. “Indians.” This fits in pretty neatly with the prevailing racist attitudes of his time.

            Have you read the poem? He refers to “Your new-caught, sullen peoples, \ Half devil and half child”. It’s really nothing like “Those people living over there who are the same as us but unfortunately lack constitutional structures.”

            He wrote the poem on the occasion of the absolutely brutal US invasion of the Philippines. The Americans conducted horrendous massacres in order to secure their new colony — here’s a famous picture of one. There was no democratic pretense — they were taking the island away from natives who wanted independence.

            Look at the art of the time. There’s nothing nice or thoughtful or measured about this. They didn’t see brown and black people as equals — they saw them as savages who didn’t know what “civilization” was.

            I don’t want to go into a much longer explanation of all the ways in which the “White Man’s Burden” idea was screwed up, but suffice it to say I think we should not take political actors at their word when they say, “No, we weren’t invading to oppress them! You’ve got it all wrong! We really just wanted to help them!”

          • keranih says:

            @ Anthony –

            Under the cover of the “no politics” I’m not going to engage here with your pov on the American intervention in the Philippines, but will do so on the OT, and invite you to join me there.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Anthony, I read the poem as a sarcastic response to the cartoon. I’m not saying that you would like Kipling’s real opinions any better, but I think that you are making a serious error.

          • Anthony says:

            keranih — On the “No politics” — good point. What open thread are you referring to? The one on Wednesday, or a past one?

            Douglas — as for the sarcasm of the poem, I can make no comment except to say that the context given by the wiki page makes that seem like an unlikely reading. They quote him speaking to Roosevelt:

            Now, go in and put all the weight of your influence into hanging on, permanently, to the whole Philippines. America has gone and stuck a pick-axe into the foundations of a rotten house, and she is morally bound to build the house over, again, from the foundations, or have it fall about her ears.

            Is there a thing I’m missing about his position?

          • keranih says:

            Da new one, on Weds. Tomorrow. Whatever. See you then!

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anthony – “Is there a thing I’m missing about his position?”

            …I haven’t read the rest of the letter, but from that quote it sounds like he’s saying “you broke it, you bought it.” ie, having intervened, you’re morally responsible for what happens next, and so should make sure the outcome is a good one.

          • ” First off, it’s a poem about “White people” vs. “Not-White people,” not “English” vs. “Indians.” This fits in pretty neatly with the prevailing racist attitudes of his time.”

            I don’t think it has anything to do with race, despite the way the term sounds to modern ears. Consider the bit in Gunga Din, “And for all his dirty hide/He was white, clean white inside/When he went to help the wounded under fire.”

            He’s using the racial term as a metaphor representing, in this poem, civilization.

            Kipling has a couple of stories set in Roman Britain. The imperialists are the Romans, the colonized are the British.

            The poem doesn’t make sense if you interpret it in racial terms, since the whole point is that it’s the duty of the civilized people to bring the uncivilized up to their level. He isn’t proposing that the color of people’s skins be changed but the nature of their culture.

            It is indeed paternalist, but the paternalism has nothing to do with race. Two thousand years earlier, it was the British who needed civilizing.

    • Nicholas says:

      Actually you have to back up one step and ask three more abstract questions to argue this one, as the answer to these will sort of prejudice the answer to your question.
      1.’ Does it make sense to say that a society is more “advanced” when it is more “complex”?’
      This is basically a values question, in the sense that it all comes down to mutually exclusive frames of reference for an abstract word. Most Americans and Europeans are apt to consider ‘technologically advanced’ and ‘complex technology’ to be synonyms, because they grew up with an education environment on technology that by total coincidence considers their society the most advanced on Earth. But you could equally validly argue that the society with the least complexity is the most advanced, in the sense that the engineers art is finished when there is nothing left to take away, or that the society that used the least energy was most advanced because it was the most resource efficient. I’m given to understand that many Indigenous American writers have advocated for the last point, suggesting that their ancestors’ civilization was more advanced because of its more symbiotic attitude toward natural cycles of energy and matter.
      2. ‘What is a technology?’
      This is where things get semantic. Many people in the modern and post-modern eras have favored a definition of technology that is synonymous with machines, but in the pre-modern eras thinkers would tend to consider things like languages and memory castles and the Scientific Method to themselves be technologies of a conceptual kind. If you accept lore as a kind of mental technology, then the knowledge base of animal migrations, relationships, plant-companion planting, the pedagogic tools to learn all this information orally is evidence for an argument that Indigenous technologies were all digital, but they had a lot of them. If you don’t accept concepts and processes as technology then your going to subtract some of the most complicated things invented on the American continents from your discussion of technical complexity.
      3. ‘What is Native American Culture?’
      This question affects both in space and time. The Iroquois League and the Navajo were across a continent from each other. By the time the Comanche nation was founded the Mayan and Aztec empires had been collapsed and gone for over 200 years. There’s basically no information at all left about the urban metal-working city states that were wiped out in the great plague that swept across the Americas, and no reason to think they had much contact with the Aleutian tribes of NW Canada and Alaska. Are all of these disparate groups with their own redundant technical answers to identical problems going to be weighed all at once against a single abstract Europe? All the groups existent in some year against the Europe of the same? Which year then, because the Mayan High Period is in the year 900, and the Late Medieval Period hasn’t even reached England yet.
      My personal take is that the complexity of the tools, ideas, and personal organizations of any particular Indigenous nation are best plotted as an arc with a peak that is probably comparable to European nations with similar resources and size, but after that peak societal complexity begins to reduce: By the time the Spanish reach Central America for example, the nations there are almost back down to where they started some 1900 years earlier. It doesn’t make sense to talk about which of two parabolas is “more advanced”.

      • onyomi says:

        Point taken about definitions, but here’s why I think people use the term “advanced”: all the more “advanced” civilizations passed through a stage like the hunter-gathering Comanche, the city-states of Cahokia and the empires of the Inca. Passed through and developed something which they perceived as “better.”

        Now if a society were to develop warp technology but simply choose to live a simple life like the Amish, then there is a sense in which they are more “advanced,” but since I don’t believe the Comanche wouldn’t have driven cars had you given them to them, I don’t consider them to have been more advanced on some sort of civilizational scale which seems to follow similar patterns worldwide.

        • “but since I don’t believe the Comanche wouldn’t have driven cars had you given them to them”

          The Comanche, and the other plains tribes, did in fact start using guns and horses when they became available as a result of European contact. The life style we associate with them was a new invention when Europeans came into contact with them, made possible by European technology, broadly defined.

          That suggests one possible approach to defining how advanced a society is. If society A and B come into contact and B copies lots of stuff from A, A only a little stuff from B, that’s some evidence that A was more advanced.

      • John Schilling says:

        Does it make sense to say that a society is more “advanced” when it is more “complex”?’ This is basically a values question

        Taken literally, it mostly isn’t. If we compare a society with its past self, anything that can plausibly be called an “advance” will give it aspects or capabilities it didn’t previously have. A society with those aspects, plus all the old ones, will be more complex than a society with just the old aspects – and it is rare for the old to be completely eradicated in favor of the new.

        There will be occasional exceptions where one advance almost wholly replaces several previous aspects of a society, such that “more advanced” could plausibly equal “simpler”. Maybe war was simplified (for a time) when armor, shields, swords, spears, and crossbows were all replaced with just muskets, and yet most people would consider the musket more advanced than the crossbow.

        But I don’t think these exceptional circumstances are going to dominate any real comparison between “more advanced” and “less advanced” societies. And, generally speaking, if the abilities of one society encompass those of another, I have no problem calling the one “more advanced” than the other.

      • Lumifer says:

        Does it make sense to say that a society is more “advanced” when it is more “complex”?

        I don’t see any need for that question, or, actually, for bringing the word “complex” into discussion at all. The OP specified “advanced” which I interpret as “wide and deep set of capabilities” and not as “complicated”.

        ‘What is a technology?’

        A set of tools for manipulating the physical reality. Again, “complicated” is not a particularly relevant concept here.

        What is Native American Culture?

        Is there any New World culture that you could argue was as advanced as Europeans? If no, then the question is pointless.

        an arc with a peak that is probably comparable to European nations with similar resources and size

        Citation needed.

        • Nicholas says:

          1. Please tell me more about what you mean by the phrase “wide and deep set of capabilities”.
          2. Your definition doesn’t actually resolve the question I posed as important: “Is a procedure like the Scientific Method a tool in the same way a machine like a hammer is?”
          3. My last question wasn’t about any New World Civilization being as ‘deeply and widely capable’, but I was asking if the OP was saying that every indigenous civilization simultaneously added together had a ‘wider and deeper set of capabilities’, because to my knowledge there were more cultures in the Americas than Europe, and counting all five unique technology suites of knapped stone tools seems like an unintuitive comparison.
          5. If you look at the two post above yours by onoyomi and John, you’ll notice that they compare more advanced cultures to other cultures that were simpler and other cultures from earlier in history. “Happened later in time” isn’t what people normally seem to mean by the term “advanced”, because we talk about the post-Roman kingdoms in Britain being less advanced than their Imperial precedents. If “advanced” is the opposite of “simple” that makes it a synonym for “complex”. To make the meta level explicit here, I’m accusing this entire thread of sneaking ‘complicated’ into the meaning of ‘advanced’ with statements like “breadth of accomplishments”. The reason it seems like an unconnected non-sequitur is because I think it’s an unconnected non-sequitur, and my point is that how complex a society is and how “advanced” it is should be two relatively unrelated things.
          So I agree with you, maybe?

          • Lumifer says:

            Wide and deep set of capabilities means the ability to achieve many things, of large variety (“wide”) and with considerable impact (“deep”).

            Re the scientific method, I don’t know — it depends on the definition of technology and the proper definition depends on the purpose behind it. For this discussion, does it matter? Thinks like basket-weaving skills might be unique, but they will not give you much in the way of important capabilities.

            No, I still think that even all pre-Columbus civilizations added together are very clearly less advanced than Europe of that time. Once again, the five technologies of knapping stones are irrelevant because they all give you similar knapped stones. You don’t get additional capabilties from additional technologies.

            Advanced is not the opposite of “simple”. It is the opposite of “crude”, “naive”, “ineffective”, “unrefined”. I agree that “complicated” is unnecessary in this conversation.

          • Nicholas says:

            I think that “complex” is supposed to be doing the same kind of work for me that “wide” is for you. I’m not sure how much width has to do with advancement though.
            For example: If the capability we are discussing is “a person reads a written message”, then the postal service, text messages, and emails are all technologies that give us the same capability. It seems to me that many people consider societies with text messages and email more advanced than societies that only have postage, even if all other things are equal. In what sense is this more width, and five different ways of achieving the goal “have a thing for carrying things that isn’t my hands” isn’t?
            As far as degree of impact, I’m also unsure this is a good measure, because you always get the most depth from the lowest hanging fruit. Golden Rice is a really cool innovation in the field of rice technology, but the original invention of Oryza sativa seems like it was a much higher impact improvement over wild rice than Golden rice was over Oryza sativa. Does this mean the proto-Chinese agriculturalists that first domesticated rice had deeper capabilities than modern agricultural science?
            Your proposed antonyms to advanced don’t seem very useful to me: how is a society’s technology described as naive? Do we compare the crudeness of Ming Vases and Walmart plastic cups, and conclude that we have more primitive cups than the ancient Chinese? Are our roads more effective because they are easier to build, or are ancient roman roads more effective because they require less maintenance? Is it possible to make a design less refined by iterating on it, and if so, what does refined technology mean?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nicholas – “For example: If the capability we are discussing is “a person reads a written message””

            That’s not the capability in question. The capability is getting your thoughts into another person’s mind as rapidly as possible and regardless of distance. the platonic ideal would be instantaneous high-bandwidth telepathy of unlimited range, basically some sort of mind meld. Postal services, email and instant messenger are ways of approximating that ideal; we can easily rank them by how close they get to it.

            “Do we compare the crudeness of Ming Vases and Walmart plastic cups, and conclude that we have more primitive cups than the ancient Chinese?”

            red solo cups and ming vases are objects with entirely different purposes. Even a red solo cup compared to a drinking gourd is a bit off, because the solo cup is a hyperspecialized design while the drinking gourd is a generalized design. but even here, there’s an obvious ranking: people who only have drinking gourd tech are less advanced than those who can make drinking gourds and ming vases, who are less advanced than those who can make drinking gourds, ming vases, and solo cups. utilitarian < refined < optimized. making a utlilitarian, general purpose object is easier than making a highly refined object for a specific purpose in tiny batches at fantastic expense, which is in turn less advanced than making a highly refined object in massive batches at minimal expense.

            Ditto for roman roads; the point of a road is transportation. The ideal would be instantaneous teleportation with unlimited distance and payload. Our roads let us move more farther, faster, cheaper, ergo they are unquestionably more advanced.

    • rsaarelm says:

      Here’s an article arguing that energy rate density can be used as a quantitative measurement for how advanced a system is, where a system might be an evolved lifeform or a technology-using society.

    • rsaarelm says:

      (Tried to comment with an URL to the PDF article, but the comment didn’t seem to show up.)

      Energy Rate Density as a Complexity Metric and Evolutionary Driver by E. J. Chaisson argues that you can use energy rate density as a quantitative metric to describe how advanced an evolved lifeform or a technology-using society is.

  22. Outis says:

    What team should the gray tribe choose in Pokemon Go? Maybe yellow? It’s not red or blue…

  23. Java Mask says:

    Do there exist SJW or otherwise left-wing writers who present intelligent, rational critiques of the Alternative Right’s arguments? I’d be interested in reading them.

  24. Nornagest says:

    Any Charles Stross fans here? I just finished The Nightmare Stacks, and I was wondering what the hivemind thought of it.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      I haven’t read TNS, but the previous book in the series was catastrophically bad — it almost felt like a deliberate attack on people who liked the Laundry series. It was bad enough that I’ve stopped automatically buying Stross’s books or indeed buying them at all.

      More generally I’ve noticed that a) his recent books tended to fall apart at the end due to claimed deadline pressures (cf. Neptune’s Brood) and b) a tone of increased grumpiness and misanthropism taking over the work.

      • Nornagest says:

        The Annihilation Score? I wouldn’t go as far as “catastrophically bad”, but I certainly found that less impressive. Seems to me that the further the Laundry books get from the spy genre, the less well the formula works; The Apocalypse Codex was an action/adventure story, sort of an occult technothriller sort of deal, and was no more than decent despite some good ideas. The Rhesus Chart felt like a partial return to form, but TAS tried to cross genres with the superhero thing and didn’t quite pull either one off.

        • John Schilling says:

          Seems to me that the further the Laundry books get from the spy genre, the less well the formula works

          I think it’s more about getting away from source material that Stross respects, about whether he is writing more of a homage or a parody. He’s clearly a Len Deighton fan, and Le Carre and even Peter O’Donnel I think, and it shows in Atrocity Archives, Fuller Memorandum, and Apocalypse Codex. Jennifer Morgue was IMO weaker than the other earlier works even though still clearly in the spy genre, and I think that’s because he couldn’t bring himself to do more than a coarse parody of the Bond franchise. Now that he’s broadened his horizons, we get to see how he feels about vampire stories, superhero stories, elf stories, etc…

          I can understand not respecting the superhero genre, but for the Laundry Files I’d rather Stross take a pass on source material he feels the need to ridicule. And, at the character level, maybe he doesn’t need to focus on Bob Howard every time, but I think we have established that he can’t do more than a trite cliché of a Career Woman in a Man’s World.

      • I was curious about this. I read the first book in the Laundry series and found it frankly dire, and am genuinely curious how much interest it’s garnered.

        Would someone who is a fan of the series like to explain what they liked about it?

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          I’m assuming that you don’t mind Lovecraft pastiches on a basic level? Then if you only just happened across it recently, it may be that The Atrocity Archives is a book of its time. TAA was published in 2004, right at the beginning of a recent explosion of genre literature interest in Lovecraftian horror and remixing it in different contexts. (Thinking of things like Johannes Cabal, Delta Green, A Study In Emerald, et cetera, as well as extensive pop culture references that have seeped outside the nerdier realms it inhabited in the ’90s.) If you’ve read a lot of that newer stuff first, then TAA won’t feel quite as original.

          More generally, Stross also basically has one character voice, well-demonstrated by Bob Howard in TAA, and if you don’t like that voice you’re definitely not going to enjoy his work in general. You might power through it to focus on the ideas in books like Singularity Sky, or his generally excellent short stories, but it is going to be a negative for you.

    • I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I’m dubious about the highly authoritarian bad guys who are nonetheless highly advanced. (See also Draka, John Barnes’ Closers in the TimeWars series, Boskone) How likely is it that the punitive bosses will allow for the mistakes needed for progress? Such governments are very handy for fiction, though.

      I’m not sure whether this is Stross’ fault, or whether it’s just that other people have been reacting to the book as though it’s a hilarious takedown of elves. From my point of view, Stross’ elves have only a superficial resemblance to other fictional elves (of course, there are several types). However, they’re a pretty satisfying menace.

      This will probably be a plus for some readers and a minus for others– a big chunk of the book is milsf.

      Brexit may cause the ending of the book a world of hurt.

      Also, if you value freedom but the elves in general really are predators, what happens when you start releasing elves from their geases?

      Of interest for rationalist theory, but also a serious spoiler: Jung unccraf jura (vs?) Nyrk svaqf bhg gung n ybg bs “Pnffl’f” punezvat uhzna genvgf ner n erfhyg bs ure univat pbcvrq Pnffl’f zvaq, juvyr gur bevtvany Pnffl jnf gbezragrq naq riraghnyyl xvyyrq ol ryirf?

      • Murphy says:

        They felt a lot more like Pratchett’s elves with a strong twist of technomancy.

        I think their tech kind of makes sense given their power structure.

        The mages are shown to be among the most free in that society since geases only partly hold them and the nobility needed other measures to control them.

        As such the mages are the most free to experiment meaning magic is going to become far more advanced.

      • John Schilling says:

        I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I’m dubious about the highly authoritarian bad guys who are nonetheless highly advanced. (See also Draka, John Barnes’ Closers in the TimeWars series, Boskone)

        …the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, the Military-Industrial Complex?

        Engineers and authoritarians, unfortunately, work quite well together. And authoritarian leaders are generally tolerant of engineering mistakes. Scientific mistakes, maybe not so tolerant, but authoritarian Bad Guys can usually copy the Good Guys’ basic scientific research.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m not sure whether this is Stross’ fault, or whether it’s just that other people have been reacting to the book as though it’s a hilarious takedown of elves.

        Really? I haven’t been hitting the reviews hard, but this isn’t anywhere close to the first story to use the elves-are-bastards angle. Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies (which Stross would definitely be aware of) comes to mind.

        At this point it’s a standard interpretation of the folklore, though not the only standard interpretation.

        • I didn’t see anyone claim it was the *first* hilarious takedown of elves. It was more like “Charlie Stross is doing elves. He’s already written nasty unicorns*. This is really cool!”.

          *”Equoid” That wasn’t the first nasty unicorn story. There’s Hodgell’s Dark of the Moon and a story whose title I’ve forgotten in which it turns out to be a very bad idea to put a bridle on a unicorn.

          • keranih says:


            Have you kept up with the more recent stories? I adored Godstalk & Dark of the Moon, but didn’t get past the first chapter of the next novel, to the point of thinking I’d missed one.

            Also, Diane Duane’s Door Into Shadow, which I also loved *despite* it having my least favorite element-of-female-character-backstory, also had a not!unicorn of unpleasantness.

          • I’ve tried with the later Hodgell novels, but I haven’t finished them. I still mean to give them another chance.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I remember reading that elves were bastards up until Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which changed them into, at worst, playful tricksters. No idea if that’s true or not.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, it’s not like there’s just one folkloric tradition. We don’t see much of them in Norse mythology, but from what we do see, the ljossalfar seem to be roughly benevolent and a sort of lesser god. (One of Freyr’s epithets is “lord of elves”). The svartalfar on the other hand are more like modern dwarves: subterranean, good at metalwork, with a bent for petty vengeance.

            This is the model Tolkien was working from. The native British traditions are highly varied and often malicious, though yeah, Shakespeare popularized a lighter take. (I’m not sure we can say it didn’t predate him.)

          • Mary says:

            Folkloric elves were a wide range of moral character. Even the best of them had their faults and could be dangerous.

            Shakespeare — and his contemporaries — had good reason to push the playful and innocuous side of them. Trafficking with fairies was something witches did, and Puritans indeed condemned them all as devils. If you used them at all, you wanted on the extremely light side.

      • Nornagest says:

        Also, if you value freedom but the elves in general really are predators, what happens when you start releasing elves from their geases?

        That is an interesting question, and occurred to me too; it’s one of the reasons I think the book would have benefited from more denouement. And as far as I recall it’s not a dilemma that the Laundry’s shown to have dealt with; the elves are as far as I recall the only species in the setting with basically human (i.e. not Lovecraftian sanity-eating) psychology but a line in their stat block saying Usually Lawful Evil. The vampires are just regular people subject to a selection process. Even BLUE HADES are pretty reasonable.

        You could make a case for letting them loose, given that our society is something like a percent and a half sociopaths already and the world has not ended. But in the event, I’d be willing to bet they’ll keep the geasa, maybe in modified form. It’s already part of their culture, the Laundry’s shown itself to be ethically flexible in this regard, and an elven armored battalion is too powerful an asset to let loose, especially if you have good reason to think its members will just start haring off and trying to enslave Mrs. Grundy.

    • Murphy says:

      Far better than The Annihilation Score, I think it was the return to the low level grunts point of view in the organization. Also it got some of it’s fun back with characters like pinky and the brain who actually enjoy things rather than spending the story having a nervous breakdown.

      The DM was an odd addition, apparently he has some backstory which was/is intended to go into a short story at some point.

      • Nornagest says:

        I spent half the book thinking that the DM was going to turn out to be Bob Howard, or another character we’ve already met, just seen through Alex’s eyes.

    • Snodgrass says:

      I started off as a Stross fan (to the point of being a beta reader) and have faded away. Saturn’s Children / Neptune’s Brood were very good, but with the Laundry series he’s got a novel-a-year franchise without having a novel a year of fascinating ideas that fit in the franchise, and so he goes with not-very-fascinating ideas central in the franchise and good ideas badly reshaped to fit in the franchise. The Laundry series would be fantastic if you chopped down the novels to novella-length works and produced three novellas bound together every three years – of course, that’s incompatible with the shape of the publishing industry and with Charlie’s requirement to keep paying the mortgage and feeding the voracious cats.

      • Murphy says:

        He really got into beating the dead horse of


        uvf punenpgref obff/znantre/fhcrevbe cerggl zhpu nyjnlf orvat gur onq thl.

    • Agronomous says:

      I really like Stross’s Laundry series (even though I started with the second or third); they’re some of the few books I’ve read twice within five years. There are some hints of deep ideas, but mostly they’re entertaining, fast-paced, and feature a protagonist that it’s very, very easy for me to sympathize with. Also I get 90% of the references, since they’re to stuff like Vannevar Bush and complexity theory.

      I liked Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise even more, but that’s an orphan series now.

      Halting State and Rule 34 (the lesbian Scottish detective series) were also fun, but a little more constrained because they’re near-future (or maybe last-year-future at this point).

      I haven’t gone back and re-read the Mackx books, but I remember there were some things about the Vile Offspring and Economics 2.0 I just didn’t follow. I hope that was me missing or conflating some things rather than there just not being anything there.

      His blog is occasionally entertaining, but his politics are as unimaginative as his fiction is imaginative. He seems to have taken his analysis of American politics directly from a precocious seventeen-year-old who skims Mother Jones and The Nation.

      • Murphy says:

        The The Merchant Princes was quite good.

        Reading his blog is surreal sometimes though. Finding out that he had utterly different ideas about the characters or planned bizarre twists.

        Apparently what orphaned the Iron Sunrise universe was that he’d planned for it to be about what a time-war might look like from the inside but he decided he’d screwed up the logic and made it impossible to close the circle in a manner that he found logically acceptable.

      • Nornagest says:

        Singularity Sky was very good, but I didn’t think Wednesday was a strong enough character to carry her half of Iron Sunrise. And for all that the ReMastered were designed to be a vicious authoritarian society without the usual flaws of such, I still got the feeling it’d implode from internal stress on day 2.

        Their planetary takeover plan was clever, though.

        • Urstoff says:

          I tossed Singularity Sky half way through. When you have two fairly unsympathetic sides in a conflict, you need strong characters to make the reader care, but the book didn’t have that.

          • Nornagest says:

            I wasn’t rooting for either side, I just wanted to see how hilariously the neo-Czarists’ plan would fall apart.

            It did not disappoint.

        • keranih says:

          too bad about his other tics

          What are those?

          I like a lot of Stirling’s stuff – I think the Draka are an great addition to the SFF villain collection, but I enjoyed the 3rd Millennium collaborations better and really liked In the Court of the Crimson Kings.

          (Stirling does some things that get old, so I could guess at what you dislike, but I’d rather hear it from you.)

    • keranih says:

      Have not read that one. I liked Halting State but can not for the life of me remember why. I liked Saturn’s Children quite a lot, but thought the book could have done with 30% more plot and 10% less titillation.

      I started Neptune’s Brood last year, and thought the concept *rilly* cool – sf economics! – but about halfway in it started to slog and I gave up on it.

      Stross’s writing/prose is very enjoyable, and his politics are not invisible but are not overwhelming, which I appreciate in an author.

      • Murphy says:

        To be fair Saturn’s Children was intended as a straight up pisstake of “Friday”.

        The “titillation” to me read as comedy.

        • keranih says:

          I suspected it might be at least inspired by Friday. For what it’s worth, Friday was one of Heinlein’s later works that I actually finished, so to say I mostly loathed it should be taken in context.

          I liked SC much better – even though I didn’t find the titillation as funny as some may have.

    • I liked it! The Annihilation Score was a hot mess–Stross succumbed to his perpetual tendency to get preachy about his politics and forgot to actually write a novel [1]–but this one had quite a bit of fun content. I quite liked the elves. I’m not sure I fully understand what Stross thinks the effect of them having yngr ynathntr qrirybczrag was–anyone want to suggest something I’m missing?–but they had a fascinating society and I liked the writing from their perspective. (Some pacing issues, however, and the title was something of a shoehorn; the gvghyne Avtugzner Fgnpxf fhqqrayl fubjrq hc yvxr Fgebff gubhtug “Bu, fuvg, V sbetbg gur gvgyr qebc!” naq znggrerq eryngviryl yvggyr; bxnl, gur unys genpx unf n tha abj, qb V pner jurer gurl tbg vg sebz? Abg jvgubhg zber pbagrkg nobhg jul gur fgnpxf znggre.

      But a great read nonetheless, and I want to see more of Alex.

      [1] Also, I’m really not sure why I’m supposed to side with Mo about Bob actually being secretly awful when she, you know, has an affair with a direct subordinate.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        That was what really drove me away from TAS to the extent of not wanting to read any more Stross (well, that and his politics leaking all over the place like oil from a holed supertanker.) The relationship between Bob and Mo is vital to keeping the Laundry series grounded and human, making it clear how devastating and scary the world’s impending doom is by how it affects these two seemingly decent people; the way Stross treated it felt like a slap in the face.

        But everyone talking about the new book being quite decent is making me think I’ll check it out of the library at least and give him another chance. The summary certainly makes it sound interesting, and maybe the series does need a change in protagonist to freshen it up.

      • My first reaction to The Annihilation Score was that I had no idea how invested I was in Mo and Bob’s marriage. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

        Some discussion of Mo and Bob’s marriage and the book generally.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think that article actually made me less well disposed to the book.

        • [T]hey specifically disliked Mo, accusing her of being bitchy, nasty, aggressive, self-centered … all the epithets that get hurled at assertive, competent, strong women (and especially managers) in day to day life.

          I haven’t read the book, but this sentence stands out to me as possibly a good example of an author using politics to cover for the fact that he’s written a shitty, unlikeable character.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Attacking your readers is never a good look. I imagine his blog commenters were applauding, though.

          Not to mention that Mo hardly came off as competent or strong in that book. Ironically, she appeared far more competent and strong in the previous novels… that we’re now supposed to understand were written by an unreliable narrator.

        • Nornagest says:

          Oh, absolutely. The Mo that showed up in The Jennifer Morgue to paint the walls with the minions of a cthonian war-god? The one that turned out to be gur qrfgval genc’f Wnzrf syvccva’ Obaq? I liked that Mo better than this one.

          I mean, I’m not totally unsympathetic. But the first criticism I heard of The Annihilation Score (from a friend of mine, after I’d read the book on her couch) was that Stross hadn’t quite convincingly nailed a woman’s inner life, and I think I’m more inclined to take that as an explanation for why I found her kind of dull and phoned-in as a protagonist than latent misogyny or whatever.

    • brad says:

      Having read most of his published books the one I remember most fondly was the first I read — Accelerando. There were some plot holes, sure, but all in all a lot of fun and a high rate of neat ideas.

    • umpty says:

      There’s a part in the very beginning where Alex, looking back on the story, writes: “Oh, and Cassie, if by any remote chance you ever read this? I’m very, very sorry…”

      What is he sorry for? The book ends on a sort-of-happy note, but one suspects that Pnffvr’f nggrzcg gb fheeraqre gb Nyrk znl abg unir tbar nf cynaarq…

  25. Anon. says:

    Are bad arguments Bayesian evidence against the position they defend?

    • FacelessCraven says:

      maybe not per se, but if the loudest/most prominent arguments are bad ones, that’s usually not a good sign.

      • Eh, I wouldn’t put much stock in it. In most systems the loudest/most prominent arguments are the ones which are most memorable or easiest for average-intelligence people to understand, therefore will usually be pretty bad. Badness of the headline arguments doesn’t communicate anything very meaningful about the overall strength of the case.

    • In the general case, people don’t make decisions based on well-constructed and reasoned arguments.

      In the specific case of people bringing bad arguments to an arena designated for the best arguments, that is a bad warning sign. It could mean something’s false, or that it’s true and so obvious that no one’s spent time coming up with good reasoning, or that it was true at one point and might not be, or so on.

      This is why steelmanning is supposed to be a thing, I think. Vast numbers of bad arguments on any side of an issue don’t change which side is true, and the popularity of arguments is not correlated to their quality.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Pretty similar to Robert’s answer…
      There are usually a lot more bad arguments available than good arguments. To receive a good argument you need a conjunction of a good argument existing and the arguer bothering to search for it. A bad argument is evidence against that conjunction, but usually better explained by lack of effort, or even selection against good arguments.

      People make bad arguments when they don’t care, but merely feel obliged to mimic the form. Bad arguments for mainstream positions are extremely common. Contrarian arguments, no matter how bad, are rejected with arguments that demonstrate ignorance of the position.

    • Murphy says:

      It depends on the skill of the people arguing.

      Lets imagine 100 people who normally argue their positions incredibly well, provide solid arguments basing their positions on credible evidence.

      Issue after issue they deal with in a solid and credible way.

      Then some subject comes up and suddenly these 100 people are utterly failing to make any concrete points. They stop referring to credible evidence and instead base all their arguments on variations of “that’s icky” or “good people don’t make that argument”

      Since they’re the sort of people who usually find the most solid arguments for their position their failure to do so in that case implies that they *couldn’t* find anything better to back their position.

      So that might be Bayesian evidence against the position.

      On the other hands idiots who spew nonsense on lots of issues spewing nonsense on 1 more isn’t providing much information content and I wouldn’t take it as Bayesian evidence against the position.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Not necessarily, but they do wiggle their eyebrows suggestively.

      About the only time I take them as good evidence is when they’re being presented by somebody who normally does a good job of arguing a position.

    • Ano says:

      Every popular position will attract arguments that are both good and bad, and in addition it just creates the problem of determining which arguments are bad, which can be quite subjective.

      (My personal least favorite argument is “sending a message”. Whether it’s the necessity of strict drug laws to “send a message” about marijuana, or the claim that capital punishment sends the “wrong message”, or the claim that to disallow gay marriage “sends a message” that they are second-class citizens, I always find it to be incredibly weak. It’s practically admitting that the only reason to do something is signalling.)

  26. Outis says:

    What’s the best way to keep your skin healthy and youthful, apart from avoiding sun exposure?

    My very limited understanding is that vitamin E is great for it, and it’s what you should take to avoid scars, for instance. But you can’t even just go into the store and buy a tube of vitamin E ointment. You have to buy a triple antibiotic just to get a smidgen of vitamin E, or something. Why is that?

    • Loquat says:

      You can buy vitamin E pills, though. Oral ingestion should still benefit the skin, that’s how you get vitamin E naturally anyway.

    • onyomi says:

      There is such a thing as vitamin E oil which can be applied topically. Don’t know if it does anything, though.

    • onyomi says:

      I do think avoiding the sun, though, is really the best way to keep your skin healthy. Look at the effects of 28 years of unilateral sun on this truck driver’s face.

      As for vitamin D, etc. my view is to just focus on protecting the face, which tends to get too much sun relative to the rest of the body, and is also the thinnest and most wrinkle-prone (also what everyone looks at).

      • Outis says:

        Next question: what kind of hat can I wear without looking stupid?

        • onyomi says:

          Got me there, though I guess it’s somewhat context dependent. Baseball caps seems to be a good default for American men, though I personally don’t like them. Hats are really not very “in,” right now, it seems, which is inconvenient for purposes of sun protection. I mostly just use sunblock.

        • hlynkacg says:

          It’s largely dependent on your head shape. I spend enough time out in the sun, and am thin enough on top, that a hat of some sort is pretty much a necessity. I have range of baseball caps for everyday use, and a green felt stockman for more formal occasions.

          I’m vaguely annoyed with the MRA-types for ruining the Fedora and Trillby.

          • Outis says:

            Fedoras and Trilbys were ruined by fatheists way before MRA.

          • onyomi says:

            I still won’t attempt the fedora and inherently dislike the trillby, but I do think a big part of the problem is people wearing them with clothes which look way to casual to pair. If you wear a three-piece suit then you can probably also wear a fedora. Only problem is then you look like some kind of prohibition-era gangster…

          • Creutzer says:

            Only problem is then you look like some kind of prohibition-era gangster…

            Only if the suit is pinstripe. There’s also worse things to look like.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ onyomi
            Agreed on the “casual” point. A collared shirt and a nice pare of pants are the bare minimum for most men’s hats.

            @ Creutzer
            Agreed as well.

          • gbdub says:

            Did Prohibition gangsters actually dress that differently than other well-heeled professional men of the time? My impression was that basically everyone looked like that.

            As opposed to something like the later zoot suit, which really was associated with a particular subculture.

          • gbdub says:

            It does rather suck that you’re pretty much stuck with baseball caps if you want something truly casual – and you’re completely hosed if you want something that actually shades your neck.

            Trillbys have the unfortunate MRA connotation (at least when worn with casual clothing), bucket hats look dopey, etc.

            Panama hats are probably perfect, but you either need to be a relatively well-dressed hipster or an old man to pull that off. Cowboy hats are quite functional, but obviously imply a certain cultural milieu.

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            I literally wear at hat all of the time (ok, except when sleeping), no matter how I’m dressed. I’ve been doing so for at least 15 years. They’re all kangols so they don’t really do much for sun protection; I have ones for casual days, for work, and for dressing up.

            I think I look god damn fantastic. Though YMMV. Also, everyone thinks I’m a lot younger than I look, so maybe the hats do work.


          • Tibor says:

            @gbdub: I have a colleague in Germany, he is German and he wears the cowboy hat. I made fun of him that he looked like Crocodile Dundee but I guess since there are no actual cowboys in Europe, it does not make people associate you with anything (except that it is rather unusual for people to wear them). In fact, I think they are pretty cool, but yeah, I think people in Europe will think you are a bit funny if you wear them.

            There are also berets (I would classify the “kangol hat” above as a type of a beret). I don’t really like them personally, but they are an option. They do look rather hipster-ish though, if that is your concern.

            I personally like panama hats. But I also agree that if you don’t want to look ridiculous with that, you need a shirt, nice pants (not jeans) and shoes too. Basically, you have to look like someone from Havana in the 50s 😀

            The only hat I actually own is one I bought in Tai O,Hong Kong, made from proper straw (not paper as many of the “staw hats” you often see in shops) but super cheap, looks something like this. I don’t wear it all that much though, mostly when hiking.

          • Outis says:

            I like the one Tibor posted.

            In terms of casualness, I usually don’t go full casual (concert t-shirt and shorts). I typically wear polo shirts and decent pants.

            I was thinking of a straw hat, in fact. Maybe a Panama hat. Or a pith helmet (French style, not British), but I don’t know how that would be received.

            For when I have to wear a t-shirt and sweatpants (gym days), I guess I need a baseball cap. There is one that I desire above all others, the red MAGA hat, to wear ironically. But I’m afraid I’d get physically assaulted in SF.

          • Outis says:

            Actually, I want a hat with a visor and a forehead, but with an open dome where your hair is. Like in POKEMON GO. What is that style of hat called?

          • Leit says:

            @Outis: the images of Pokemon Go trainers I find are all wearing baseball caps, but it sounds like you’re describing a golf visor.

        • keranih says:

          what kind of hat can I wear without looking stupid?

          A straw gardening hat can be found cheaply at most gardening/plant shops. Pick one with minimal ornamentation, add a colorful bandanna as a band (because you can change the color) or a single long quilled feather, and you’re set.

          • onyomi says:

            The gardening hat can look good… if you’re gardening (though probably okay for some other outdoor activities); the feather is definitely over-the-top, though the bandanna would be fine for women, I guess. Probably a bit too much for men.

            If I know I’m really going to be out in the sun a lot, I sometimes just bite the bullet and bring a small parasol I bought in Asia, where they are much more commonly used for this purpose (admittedly mostly by women). I’m pretty sure this looks weird in America, but maybe not worse than me in a large hat.

          • keranih says:

            I don’t mean this kind of feather, I mean something like this.

            I think one of the second sort is restrained, mildly ornamental but not flashy, and more “professional” than a plain hat.

            Also – the question was about hats to protect one from the sun. Which would be worn outside. So I’m not clear on why a hat that was okay for outside work would not be correct.

        • Matt C says:

          Most of the time I’m outside I wear a straw hat. I’d call it a straw cowboy hat. Nothing special, just a cheap hat from Walmart.

          I think it looks fine, my wife thinks it suits me, I don’t get funny looks when I’m wearing it.

          I only picked up the habit a few years ago (standing around at swim meets, ugh) but I’m very happy I did. Much better than cooking your head or having the sun in your eyes all the time.

      • Lumifer says:

        Look at the effects of 28 years of unilateral sun on this truck driver’s face.

        Yeah, I’ve seen this picture. I don’t believe it. I think this guy had a stroke or some kind of nerve damage. The eye doesn’t droop like this from wrinkled skin. And notice that his forehead is quite symmetric…

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Here is the source. It developed gradually, so not a stroke. As for the forehead, maybe he wore a hat; as a delivery driver, he had to get out a lot.

          • Lumifer says:

            There are a lot of drivers including old drivers. They don’t look like that. And the guy said the problems appeared only three years into his job.

            He might have some kind of weird photosensitivity to UVA, but that’s not the case for the great majority of population.

          • onyomi says:

            I have also wondered about this photo, given that I see a lot of truck drivers and none of them look like this. It does look a little like a stroke, but considering it’s cited in medical journals, I think they’d at least do enough diligence to rule out some obvious hemiplegia-type problem.

            It may be that he has some problem where his skin is predisposed to react more strongly than normal to sun by overthickening or something. But that could just mean he is a more extreme example of something of which happens to everyone (all pictures of dermatology problems are horrifying and selected to be an incredibly obvious/extreme example of a problem). Also, I don’t think you’d think this guy looked SO weird if he weren’t under this particular lighting, intended to amplify the wrinkles.

          • Lumifer says:

            The most weird thing (to me) is the asymmetry of the eyes. Wrinkles are not as big of a deal.

    • Rigpae says:

      I’m currently nursing a scar and asked my dermatologist last week for guidance. She told me to buy the Vitamin E softgels, pop them, and rub the liquid on the scar.

    • TPC says:

      Buy vet products if you want vit e ointment.

  27. Acedia says:

    Do the probiotic yoghurts available at grocery stores do anything, or do you need medical-grade stuff to actually benefit?

    • Evan Þ says:

      Anecdotally, I’ve done fine with regular yogurt and over-the-counter probiotic pills from drugstores.

      • onyomi says:

        How can you tell it’s working?

        • Evan Þ says:

          Myself, I take probiotics occasionally for loose bowels; I haven’t bothered looking into any other benefits. (Except taste – yogurt can definitely have that benefit.)

    • Cadie says:

      I’ve noticed no benefit to store-bought active culture yogurt when I’m healthy, other than it being a tasty snack with better nutrition than many other snacks, but they work pretty well for keeping diarrhea to a minimum if I have to take antibiotics, and seem to help some when my intestines are acting up for other reasons. Hard to tell if the latter is a real benefit or placebo and/or getting better quickly anyway; in the first case it’s a very noticeable decrease in symptoms. I’d eat yogurt twice a day at different times from taking the meds.

      • Evan Þ says:

        FWIW, last time I was taking antibiotics, my doctor recommended yogurt or probiotics two hours or so after each dose.

    • Lumifer says:


      Make your own, it’s pretty simple and, um, potency is visible.

    • gbdub says:

      My understanding is that most yogurts specifically advertised as “probiotic” have just the same active cultures that all yogurt marked “live and active cultures” (which is most yogurt) has. The “probiotic” part is a recent marketing addition (somewhat oddly targeted at women?). So they may work, but don’t pay a premium for them.

      Aside – why is “probiotic” stuff, or most things having to do with “digestive regularity” advertised targeting women specifically? Do women have more digestive issues, are they more likely to do buy something specific to address them, or is this just a weird coincidence like pink getting picked for girls’ toys way back when?

      • Julie K says:

        Maybe women are more likely to pick food advertised as healthy.

        Why are all the online ads about snoring targeted at women whose partners snore?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, it is targeted at partners because they are the ones, obviously, who are kept awake by the snoring.

          Not sure if sexual characteristics have an effect on either snoring or sleep difficulty, but both seem plausible.

          Edit: This article seems to do a decent job of setting out that men do snore more and enunciating theories of why.

  28. sweeneyrod says:

    Anyone got any recommendations for specific free online courses (on edX etc.)?

    • Pku says:

      nand to tetris is fun. More generally, I like MIT’s open courseware (assuming the course you want has both notes and homework plus maybe solutions online).

    • Brad says:

      Boneh’s crypto I course is very good. Now if only he’d ever start crypto II …

      • Nornagest says:

        That was a good course, but I think Coursera is no longer free? At least, when I tried a few weeks ago it wouldn’t let me do the coursework without paying a small but noticeable fee.

        Wouldn’t surprise me if that had changed, though; Coursera seems confused about how to monetize.

        • brad says:

          I hadn’t heard that. I understand they need to monetize somehow, but it’s too bad they couldn’t figure out something else.

    • Brock says:

      A possibly non-exhaustive list of my favorite MOOCs I’ve taken.

      On edX: “Paradox and Infinity” (MIT), and “Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science” (University of British Columbia).

      On Coursera: “Calculus One” and “Calculus Two” (from Ohio State), “Probability” (UPenn), “From NAND to Tetris” (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Fundamentals of Computing” (Rice), “Functional Programming Principles in Scala” (EPFL), and “Programming Languages” (University of Washington).

    • ulucs says:

      I just came here to recommend Statistical Learning from Stanford. I’ve always had a non-statistician’s approach to statistics, and I feel this course is really helping me out in that aspect. It also comes with the mathematical rigor I had missed while taking similar courses on the subject (Machine Learning or Econometrics)!

    • Chalid says:

      I’ve been looking for courses on statistics and/or machine learning that are targeted at someone with a good math background, but which are also practically oriented. Do these exist?

      Basically I’d prefer to avoid courses that say something like “no knowledge of calculus or linear algebra required.”

  29. Gbdub says:

    Movie reviews. I usually frequent Rotten Tomatoes, but lately I’ve noticed its particularly lousy at handling mediocre movies, because it breaks every review down into a binary “fresh” or “rotten” rating. Now this gives you a nice simple percentage rating, but you run into trouble for movies in that “so-so” category.

    For example, the new comedy “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”. It’s sitting on a pretty lousy 41% rating. But reading the reviews, most of the “negative” reviews are more like “eh, it was okay”, “close to being good”, “fun cast but the third act drags”, “fun if you turn your brain off for a bit”. In other words, the sort of comedy you’ll have fun with but won’t remember next year. The Rolling Stone review was typical – actually has a lot of praise, sounds like a competent but not terribly original raunch-comedy – a 2.5 star review. This seems to line up more with the audience score – 70%.

    How do you fix this without over complicating things? The big problem seems to be that a 2.5 star review gets an identical rating to 0 stars. Maybe they could add a third “stale” category, worth like 50% or 66%, for 2 and 2.5 star level reviews?

    • CatCube says:

      41% actually feels about right for me on that one. It was pretty forgettable, but I don’t know if it was outright bad. It didn’t do anything new, or anything old more than serviceably.

      • Gbdub says:

        I’m not really defending that one specifically (haven’t seen it) other than that it has a big split between the critic rating and the audience rating, which seems to be common for “so-so but not awful” movies.

    • Outis says:

      I saw The Secret Life of Pets, which sits at a fresh 76%, and found it boring. Most of the critical reviews were actually rotten when I looked it up a couple of days ago, although now they have more fresh ones.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What are you using movie ratings for?

      If you are making a list of the top thousand movies in history to watch at leisure at home, then “eh, it was okay” means it should be left off of your list. If you are committed to seeing a movie in the theater this weeken, then you have a short list to choose from and you don’t need precision. You probably should choose by genre rather than quality. Maybe you want to be warned about truly terrible movies. For this purpose, intermediate reviews should be treated as positive. If audience have lower standards, their scores may be more useful.

    • Sandy says:

      People complain about how critics are overrated, especially big time syndicated newspaper critics, and increasingly they turn to Regular Joe style critics on blogs and YouTube. But I worry that Rotten Tomatoes has added too many bloggers to their roll of critics and the quality of criticism has taken a dive as a result.

      Who do you guys usually follow for criticism? I used to follow Ebert religiously; I didn’t agree him with him on a lot of things but I liked his writing and thought process, and it was fun to try and watch as many items on his Great Movies list as possible. Ever since he died, there hasn’t really been anyone whose opinion I would immediately seek out upon a new release.

      Also @gbdub: You should disregard the tomatometer rating and look at the “Average Rating” right under that for a better picture. Mike and Dave need Wedding Dates has a 5/10 rating, middle of the road.

      • Peter says:

        I’m English and listen to the Kermode and Mayo film review podcast every week. The appeal is only sort of tangentially about movies (more about the chemistry of the hosts), and the in-jokes may put off newcomers, but my tastes match up with Mark’s closely enough that I usually get a good idea if I’ll like a flim based on his review.

      • Zombielicious says:

        Who do you guys usually follow for criticism?

        Film Crit Hulk is golden, though the essays are infrequent and are far more about analysis and semiotics of particular films than recommendations on whatever is recent. I’d say it’s as far above most/all other film criticism as SSC is above typical internet blogs.

        The all-caps posting style can be annoying (he writes in the first person persona of the Incredible Hulk). There are tools to convert it to something more reader-friendly. In any case, I find the content is more than enough justification to put up with it.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I don’t know if God Himself could persuade me that someone with bad enough taste to rock that gimmick has good enough taste that I should listen to what they have to say about art.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            It’s probably countersignalling. It signals that the Film Crit Hulk is not a snob who only favorably reviews the “high-brow” films.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        David Thompson is a good substitute for Ebert. I haven’t read his blog, but his books have the same sort of conversational arguments that get into how a movie works. In fact, I’m not sure he gives star ratings at all.

        Recently it looks like his books are receiving better “production values” than Roger Ebert ever had; “Moments That Made the Movies” is gorgeous in the way it presents film stills.

        There is a lot of overlap with Ebert’s Great Movies, though.

    • lemmy caution says:

      Comedy’s tend to be underrated so I give them a little bump.

    • alaska3636 says:

      Steve Sailer does surprisingly good movie reviews.

      Rotten Tomatoes also favors “big important” movies. If there is slavery in it, that thing is going to 90%-Land.

      I saw Sisters recently which got a 50 or 60 on Tomatometer, but I would say it was a solid 80 comedy.

      Imagine a Tomatometer for impressionistic artwork. That thing would be useless.

    • pheltz says:

      Lately I’ve found I’m having better results just watching trailers (which by and large are honest about what kind of tastes the filmmakers are appealing to) than with review aggregator sites or with any particular critics.

      • gbdub says:

        I’ve taken to treating film reviews like Amazon reviews – I’ll skim a couple of the positive ones and a couple of the negative ones. Are the positives praising things I’ll actually enjoy? Are the flaws mentioned by the negatives things I’ll actually care about? Still, it would be nice for an aggregated value somewhere that was a bit more useful without being overly complex.

        • onyomi says:

          This is an interesting approach. It would be nice if Rotten Tomatoes categorized reviews by stars, say, and not just as “rotten” or “fresh.”

          I tend to look at the five and one-star reviews on Amazon, because I want to know the best and worst. Anything with enough reviews will have some 5s and some 1s, but I find that if the 1s seem stupid and incoherent and the 5s cogent and reasonable, then it’s probably a good product, and vice versa. Maybe same could apply to film.

          • bluto says:

            You would probably prefer metacritic’s collections of reviews (they do movies now, too) though they convert everything to their own 100 pt scale.

  30. Outis says:

    Is San Francisco a good place to be for a single straight man?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      What does that even mean?

    • Pku says:

      The two obvious measures for romantic possibility are gender ratio and percentage of people in a relationship.
      The effect of the first one on your relationship prospects is pretty straightforward. The second one is more interesting – more people in relationships means fewer single women, but fewer people in relationships might mean some factor that makes relationships less likely (a less romantic atmosphere? social norms that promote singleness?). Does anyone have any data on how percentage in a relationship affects the average time it would take new entrant in the community to find a relationship?

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        more people in relationships means fewer single women

        It also means fewer single men, though.

        For a given total number of women and total number of men (and neglecting the number of gay people, poly relationships, etc.), the ratio of single women to single men increases with the number of relationships if there are more women in total, and it decreases with the number of relationship if there are more men in total.

        • RCF says:

          There’s also the issue of whether you’re counting the absolute number of single women, or the probability of a woman you meet being single. And the fact that in some circles (which are considerably larger in SF than in many other places) whether a woman is single is not the primary concern regarding whether she will date you.

    • drethelin says:

      It depends on how socially adept you are, and your social milieu and age range. There is an enormous supply of cute, young, intelligent women, but many of them are going to be cordycepted by Berkeleyian ideology. If you can handle a solid fraction of other young people disliking you for simply being a straight man there are ton of opportunities, but if you’re the kind of person who can’t deal with that it can be terrible. Online dating can be hard because a lot of people in the “Bay area” have multi-hour commutes just hang out with each other, on the other hand Bart makes going out drinking safer and more feasible.

      • Nornagest says:

        Bart makes going out drinking safer and more feasible.

        …provided you don’t expect to be leaving after midnight. Or live in the Peninsula, or the South Bay, or the North Bay, or Alameda.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        “but many of them are going to be cordycepted by Berkeleyian ideology”

        I wouldn’t have thought San Francisco would have too many subjective idealists.

      • lemmy caution says:

        “If you can handle a solid fraction of other young people disliking you for simply being a straight man”

        I don’t think that is true anywhere

      • jeorgun says:

        I feel like describing people as “cordycepted by Berkeleyian ideology” might just qualify as tribalism, though it is a pretty cool metaphor.

        • RCF says:

          Presumably, the prohibition is on posting topics about tribablism, not on posting on topics tribalistically. The latter would be rather difficult to enforce.

          • jeorgun says:

            True, but to my mind the problem with discussions about politics/culture war/tribalism stuff is that they tend to go from being about tribalism to being tribalism, with all the acrimony that entails. In this case drethelin cut out the middleman, engaging in tribalism without directly talking about it. It might be harder to enforce, but that doesn’t make it any more prosocial.

            (or, to play the T/K/N game: truth value aside, comparing a set of political beliefs to a parasitic brain-eating fungus definitely isn’t kind, and it’s hard to see how it’s necessary, especially in an ostensibly nonpolitical context).

    • Sandy says:

      Just going off gender ratios, I’ve seen some stats that say no, it’s really not — the number of men in the 25-40 age range is much higher than the number of women in that age range. Even assuming all of those women are single, straight and prospective dating partners, you’re still going to be filtering down that group based on whatever factors you look for in women, so the pool gets smaller.

      This is contrast to a city like New York, where there’s a lot of young single straight men but an even greater pool of young single straight women.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Given the Bay’s reputation as a tech incubator, and the notorious preponderance of men over women in tech, I would be surprised if it were otherwise.

        • Nornagest says:

          More true in some places than others. The South Bay is an enormous sausage fest. SF is too, but a disproportionate number of those excess men have no interest in women, so the dating scene there is friendlier to straight guys.

    • Splotch says:

      In my experience (and the experience of my friends) it’s a pretty terrible place to be a single straight man, for the reasons mentioned by Sandy and others in this thread.

      I’ve heard lots of anecdotal evidence backing up this data: pickup travel forum where posters say San Francisco is a terrible city to visit, Metafilter San Francisco vs New York thread where posters recommend SF for straight women and NY for straight men, coworkers who have friends who visit Boston and are shocked by how easy it is to get a girlfriend there, friend of a friend who said dating in NY is like shooting fish in a barrel, female friend who moved to SF from Boston partially because she couldn’t find anyone to date in Boston (and married a high status male soon after moving to SF), etc. Let me put it this way: guys in San Francisco certainly don’t have “pussy affluenza” (condition male Tinder users in New York apparently have, according to Vanity Fair writer). (I have a theory that Tinder causes gender ratios to be laid bare in a way no other dating platform does. Note that both the universities mentioned in the story skew heavily female.) In the past few years living in the Bay Area, I remember two different women I met in public places who smiled at me and seemed to want to talk to me… after chatting for a while, I learned that both happened to be visiting the Bay from New York. Anecdotes on the other side would be *one* guy who told me he found it easier in SF than NY.

      I’d be wary of a couple issues when you’re asking this question: First, guys who don’t have any other point of reference and think that things suck this badly for men everywhere. Second, people don’t like admitting that they are lonely, so those who have it tough are more likely to not respond to your question.

      It’s an unfortunate that the (extremely heterosexual male-dominated) rationalist community has chosen one of the worst metros in North America to be a single heterosexual male. But it’s also where all of the AI stuff at Google and Facebook is going down so maybe it’s the right choice.

      • TheAltar says:

        Do you know of any good resources for checking in on dating gender ratios in other cities in the US?

        • brad says:

          Check here:

          but even after adjusting for age, it still doesn’t show the whole picture.

          If you look at the sister map to the one Splotch linked with zip code level detail ( *and* you are familiar with the ethnic/sexual orientation/economic geography of NYC:
          you can see where the “it’s so great for men on tinder in Manhattan” thing comes from despite the fact that the 20-29 and 30-39 maps for NYC shows more single men than women. But it’s hard to know whether that is just post hoc justification and if I really could have predicated it from just the maps.

        • brad says:

          Check here:

          but even after adjusting for age, it still doesn’t show the whole picture.

          If you look at the sister map to the one Splotch linked with zip code level detail for NYC *and* you are familiar with its ethnic/sexual orientation/economic geography you can see where the “it’s so great for men on tinder in Manhattan” thing comes from despite the fact that the 20-29 and 30-39 maps for NYC shows more single men than women. But it’s hard to know whether that is just post hoc justification and if I really could have predicated it from just the maps.

  31. Pku says:

    Kind of a long shot, but is anyone here going to this math/cs conference?

  32. onyomi says:

    Since we’re thinking about discussing academic journal articles and the like on here, a more general question to other academics: do you have any strategies for staying abreast of everything going on in your field?

    For me, it can feel overwhelming with several different important journals coming out in both Chinese and English, sometimes several times a year, new PhDs being minted every year, and, of course, all the books in related, or somewhat related fields. One strategy, of course, is to read book reviews, and I’ve gotten better at skimming in general, but I often feel like my academic knowledge is a much vaster version of the “to read” tabs which tend to crowd my browser. The books I should read pile up as I work on things directly relevant to me getting published or teaching my next class; all the while they keep coming and I keep discovering old works I should already feel bad about for not already having known existed. Eventually, I’m forced to deal with them somehow before returning them to a library or what have you, though that also hasn’t stopped me getting nasty comments on peer reviews to the effect of “how can you not quote so-and-so here?”

    Any tips for feeling like you have a handle on this stuff without sacrificing all the time necessary to teach, do your own writing, and have a life?

    • Pku says:

      What field are you in?
      I have a friend (who does Algebraic Geometry) who reads the headlines and abstracts of his Arxiv subscriptions every morning over his coffee. I’ve tried to emulate him on several occasions but always failed in a day or two.

      • onyomi says:

        Asian Studies/Chinese Literature. One thing that helps is subscribing to an e-mail listserv which usually offers descriptions of new books coming out in the field. But they come rather fast and furious and don’t usually cover the bigger, harder-to-keep-track-of world of journal articles, and especially not those published in Chinese (part of my problem is that I’m studying a tradition where the number of native speakers/readers is bigger than any other language and also uniquely obsessed with higher education; hence they produce dissertations, theses, articles, conference papers, etc. at an alarming rate; but I wouldn’t even claim to have a really good handle on new stuff coming out on China in English, much less all the older stuff I should already have a handle on).

        Besides the listserv and book reviews ideas, one other thought comes to mind: academic conferences. Attending the panels and wandering the publishers’ aisles help give me a sense of what’s been going on recently. I don’t think I fully appreciated how important that aspect was until somewhat recently (ironic, I know, since that is sort of the explicit purpose, but when you’re a grad student or new PhD/job seeker, academic conferences tend to feel like weirdly fraught networking opportunities; they definitely also serve as a space for older colleagues to drink together).

        • i need a nap says:

          Not an academic and can’t answer your question, but maybe you can answer mine, if you don’t mind. Know of any good Chinese language (Mandarin) blogs? Preferably something that’s not overly political and maybe more sci/tech. The last time I did a good search was a couple years ago, but I found nothing interesting at all.

    • “do you have any strategies for staying abreast of everything going on in your field?”

      No–and I don’t. I’m more interested in following out my own ideas, even at the risk of reinventing a wheel someone else published ten or twenty years ago.

      The one thing I do do is to attend law and econ workshops at Stanford, which is reasonably close. I’m not on the faculty but do get invited. That gives me a more or less random sampling of recent work.

    • I find Google Scholar to decent for this, although definitely not great. They have this feature that lets you see a list of papers “recommended based on your citations.” (I’m not sure how it works if you don’t have any papers yet.) At least for me, the list gets updated less than once per day on average, so it’s not at all overwhelming. The papers aren’t a perfect match, but the list includes every paper that I would say is an obvious match.

      To get there, go to Google Scholar and click “My Updates” at the top.

  33. Jiro says:

    I would like to make a comment on Higurashi. However, using rot13 would be a trivial inconvenience. On the other hand, I don’t want to spoil anyone. would anyone be upset at not using spoilers if I put in large caps “scroll past this if you haven’t played it yet”?

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Given the disordered way comments are added (I find them by using the new comments feature or the feed) you should just use rot-13, otherwise people will stumble over it.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      You said it yourself, it’s trivial.

      Since we are on that topic, I finished the two chapters that are available on Steam and on reviewing the available evidence so far I want to register a prediction that

      Gung uvfgbevna jbzna vf gur Ovt Onq. Va gur frpbaq puncgre fur snxrq ure qrngu naq va gur svefg fur cergraqrq fur jnf qrzbarq njnl. Fur jnagf gur frperg sbezhyn bs gur vax gur ryqref hfr sbe gur qrzba gnggbb, juvpu vf npghnyyl fbzr xvaq bs fhcre-fbyqvre frehz gung znxrf crbcyr fznegre ohg zber cflpubcnguvp. Gur Fbabmnxv snzvyl unf orra hfvat gung frehz gb perngr n pyna bs hygen-pbzcrgrag ohfvarff bjaref naq cbyvgvpvnaf.

      Am I close to correct? Because if the explanation turns out to be “an ancient god did it” I’m going to be so mad. If that is the case, please spoil it for me (in rot13) so I don’t waste my time with the rest of the chapters.

      • Jiro says:

        Vs ol uvfgbevna lbh zrna Zvlb, lbh ner pbeerpg gung fur vf gur ovt onq. Nyfb, ab napvrag tbq vf erfcbafvoyr sbe nal onq guvatf. Rirelguvat ryfr lbh thrffrq vf jebat.

        The actual solution is that
        1) Vg’f abg n frehz; vg’f pnhfrq ol n qvfrnfr naq fur vf erfrnepuvat gur qvfrnfr nf n ovbybtvpny jrncba gb pbagvahr gur gurbevrf bs ure tenaqsngure. Gurer ner obgu pnfrf bs crbcyr fcbagnarbhfyl orvat nssrpgrq ol vg (zbfg pnfrf) naq orvat qryvorengryl nssrpgrq.
        2) Gur Fbabmnxvf ner abg vaibyirq. Frrzf gurl unir n unovg bs uvagvat gurl’er vaibyirq va guvatf gurl’er abg vaibyirq va.
        3) Gurer vf na npghny fhcreangheny sbepr vaibyirq, jub vf pnhfvat gvzr ybbcf naq jub vf ersreerq gb nf gur fuevar tbq ng yrnfg bapr. Guvf sbepr vf abg znyvta naq vf abg pbaarpgrq gb gur qrnguf.

        I think you figured out about as much as you could reasonably figure out.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          I read your first paragraph and that was the best case scenario. I’ll refrain from reading the rest of the spoilers until I either finish the other chapters or get bored.

          Thank you.

      • shemtealeaf says:

        I’m as anti-spoiler as anyone, but the inconvenience of rot13 is not trivial if you’re using a mobile device.

        • jeorgun says:

          Is it any less trivial than on a regular computer? AFAIK something like works just as well on mobile as on desktop (don’t have my phone available to confirm, though).

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            The site itself is fine, but copying and pasting text is an additional trivial inconvenience on mobile that compounds on the base inconvenience.

          • LHN says:

            On a regular computer, you can install d3coder or Leet Key and decode rot13 with a right click. It’s also easier to select text with a mouse than a fingertip.

            (I’m not anti-rot13, but I do regularly wish it were less cumbersome on touchscreen devices.)

    • RCF says:

      Inconvenience for the writer, or for the reader? If the latter, there are other options, such writing it on a separate page and posting a link (assuming links are allowed). If it’s a short comment, you can even put the comment as the URL and another text as the anchor text (again, assuming this is allowed), and then when they click on it, they’ll see the comment in the address bar.

  34. Gbdub says:

    Anyone here into cosplay? I’ve dabbled a little and am looking to get better at it. What are some good resources for skill-building? I’m particularly interested in sewing and costume armor crafting.

    Also, what costume or theme had been your favorite? Any amusing cosplay stories?

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’m a dabbler myself who into it through the modeling (scale models that is) and prop-building side of things so if you have specific questions on that end I’d be happy to field them. My sister on the other hand is very active in the community and a regular panelist at DragonCon. She’s the one you’d want to talk to when it comes to sewing and general costuming.

      As far as general skill-building is concerned, the biggest mistake I see a lot of newbies make is biting of way more than they can chew and then getting discouraged. Start with something simple, like a hat, belt buckle, shoulder guard, etc… work on it till you’re satisfied and build outward from there.

      ETA: As for favorite theme, for the last few years my (sadly now ex) girlfiend and I would do a paired Game of Thrones cosplay a DragonCon First year she went as the Red Priestess and I went as “Gendry in a row boat”, the next year She was Daenerys and I was a crucified slaver, and last year we went as Circe and I a member of the Faith Militant. Half the fun was the performance art aspect and watching other peoples reactions.

      • gbdub says:

        One thing I’m pretty interested in on the prop building side is creating 3D models for use in either 3D printing or to produce patterns for molding etc. Basically, I have enough experience with CAD as an engineer to make basic “functional” shapes, but am mostly at a loss when it comes to making the more “artistic” shapes you need for things like fantasy armor or sci fi weapons. Any suggestions on good places to start there? Free or low cost tools / tutorials obviously preferred, I’ve already got too many expensive hobbies and want to keep my initial investment low until I know it’s something I want to get relatively serious about.

        • hlynkacg says:

          If you know how to do “functional shapes” you’re already a good chunk of the way there. Are you looking to duplicate existing designs, or generate your own?

          • Gbdub says:

            Duplicate first, but do it “from scratch” to build skills for mods/original designs.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I don’t know what sort of tools you have access too but If you don’t have a dedicated suite like 3ds or Solid Works at home Blender is a powerful and open source 3d rendering and design program with a fairly active community. The initial learning curve is quite steep but there are a lot of tutorials out there, and your CAD background should help you out a lot. If you’re interested, the main development branch can be found here and the community forum here.

            As for work flow. My first step when working from an existing design is to get as many pictures of it as I can from as many different angles as I can. If you can get precise measurements and orthographic images that’s great, but more often than not it isn’t an option.

            I then start blocking out the design into basic shapes, and adjust their positions / scale until I’m comfortable that I have the overall size and proportions correct. For example, if I were modeling the Millennium Falcon I’d start with wide flat disk (the body) with 2 trapezoids pointed forwards (the “mandibles”) and a smaller cylinder offset to the right (the cockpit) .

            From there I use the blocking to break the model into manageable chunks. Think of them as sub-assemblies in CAD. Modelling “just the cockpit” of the Millennium Falcon or “Just the shoulder pad” on a suit of armor is much less daunting than trying to do the whole thing in one go.

    • I’ve done SCA for a very long time, which could be thought of as in part cosplay. For costume armor, you might look at cuirboulli, water hardened leather. It’s an easy technology, requires no tools not available in the average kitchen, not terribly expensive.

      Here’s a book my wife and I self-publish on our SCA interests. The article on cuirbouilli starts on page 315.

      • gbdub says:

        Thanks for the link! Leatherworking is certainly a skill I’d like to pick up, and that’s a cool tutorial. I might even try a few of the recipes in there.

        To be honest, while I have a great deal of admiration for the SCA and their efforts, I’ve avoided getting involved from a (perhaps mistaken?) sense that it’s not a particularly good group for “casuals” (something like the 501st Legion gives me a similar vibe for Star Wars fandom). I’m definitely a “dabbler” and am more interested in building a breadth of skills to make fun, good-looking but not necessarily authentic/period costumes from multiple fandoms than putting in the considerable effort to produce an authentic persona in a more narrowly focused group like SCA. I think that effort would be a lot of fun, but I’m more likely to want to build a Game of Thrones costume this year and a Fallout vault suit the next.

        So with that in mind, any suggestions from the crowd for amateur-friendly cosplay groups in the Phoenix area, not necessarily associated with serious persona building in a single genre?

        • The SCA includes an enormous range of commitment and authenticity. The only official requirement is some attempt at pre-17th century garb and at an event like Pennsic a fair number of people don’t even meet that requirement. You can be casually involved or make it the center of your life. You can dress in modern pants and a belted T-tunic or elaborate and accurate Tudor.

          • Gbdub says:

            Perhaps I shouldn’t have based my assessment on your articles in defense of authenticity 😉

            I kid a little, but really I mean that I appreciate the effort folks like you put into making things authentic and wouldn’t feel right detracting from your experience – as you say, it’s a lot easier for a person out of character to hurt the mood for a committed persona than vice versa.