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Open Thread 57.75

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

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786 Responses to Open Thread 57.75

  1. Agronomous says:

    Wait, what happened to whole-number Open Threads on Sundays? Or am I confused?

    Also: Frist!@<b

  2. An Emphatic Maybe says:

    There’s a certain British accent–Andrew Keen’s is a perfect example, if you’ve heard him talk. What kind of accent is this? Does it come from a particular region?

    • An Emphatic Maybe says:

      Benedict Cumberbatch might also have this accent, or it might just be one he often puts on when playing bad guys.

      Jeremy Irons too…?

      • hlynkacg says:

        I don’t know where it comes from but I know the one you’re talking about.

      • James says:

        I want to say that it isn’t a real accent and is only assumed by fictional British villains, but then again Andrew Keen seems be a counterexample.

        I can’t place it, but something about Andrew Keen’s accent reminds me of Micky Flanagan’s (in most respects completely opposite) accent.

        • An Emphatic Maybe says:

          Hah, when I first heard Andrew Keen I did at one point briefly think “This guy kinda talks like a movie villain.”

    • An Emphatic Maybe says:

      Aren’t there any British SSC readers who can answer this??

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Do you have any more examples? As far as I can tell, it’s just a generic lower-middle-upper-middle class South-Eastern accent. I can kind of hear a separate common element in Andrew Keen and Jeremy Irons’ accents, but I think it’s just a coincidence. Cumberbatch and Irons might have a tinge of Dorset in their voices, but there’s no reason Keen would. Edit: wait, I misremembered Cumberbatch’s school. His father went to school in Dorset though!

      • An Emphatic Maybe says:

        Irons, I think, is from Dorset. [Edit: he went to high school there, according to Wikipedia. No clue whether he’s from there…but people’s accents can be influenced in their high school years, right?]

        I can’t think of any other examples off the top of my head. I’ve heard the accent in a few Middle Easterners who are fluent English speakers, including one I know personally which is why it grabbed my attention when I heard it in Keen.

        [Edit – BTW: Jeremy Irons is, in my judgment, another one of those famous men who look like old lesbians, hah!]

      • Deiseach says:

        Warning: not British, know nothing at all about London, going by impressions picked up from books and telly and looking up stuff online.

        What kind of accent is this? Does it come from a particular region?

        It’s the vaguely posh (not posh posh, but not aspirational-let’s not drop our aitches posh, either; the difference between Sergeant Wilson, who comes of that class by right, and Captain Mainwaring who has climbed up into it, if you like) kind of middle-class London/South-East of England accent.

        Didn’t know who Andrew Keen was, but looking him up, I see he was born in Hampstead, North London. What does Wikipedia say about Hampstead? “Part of the London Borough of Camden, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area. The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom.”

        Yeah – nobody thinks of the village of Hampstead when you mention Hampstead.

        Benedict Cumberbatch: Grew up in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Famously(?) went to Harrow – that’s a public school recognised as being a “proper” public school and not a pretender to such status (see Dorothy Sayers’ “Murder Must Advertise” for a disquisition on what counts as a public school). Royal Borough of Whatsit created out of the former Kensington and Chelsea, both rather well-to-do and associated with arty, trendy types; the Chelsea tractor derives its name from there; also there’s Chelsea Football Club, which was always a bunch of Flash Harrys since the 70s and are now the gilded playthings of a Russian oligarch, hence their rather unflattering or even offensive (if you take offense at possible slurs/terms for sex workers) nickname by opposition fans.

        Jeremy Irons is the odd man out here, since he was born outside of London (on the Isle of Wight), brought up in Dorset, his parents are lower middle-class, but he was public-school educated (not of Harrovian status but quite respectable) and as an actor of his time, would have had his native accent trained out of him so he spoke elocution-lesson “received pronunciation”.

        • Deiseach says:

          What counts as a public school? From “Murder Must Advertise”:

          “I like to be agreeable with everybody,” said Mr. Smayle, “but reelly, when it comes to shoving your way past a person into the lift as if one wasn’t there and then telling you to keep your hands off as if a person was dirt, a man may be excused for taking offence. I suppose Tallboy thinks I’m not worth speaking to, just because he’s been to a public school and I haven’t.”

          “Public school,” said Mr. Bredon, “first I’ve heard of it. What public school?”

          “He was at Dumbleton,” said Mr. Smayle, “but what I say is, I went to a Council School and I’m not ashamed of it.”

          “Where’s Dumbleton?” demanded Ingleby. “I shouldn’t worry, Smayle. Dumbleton isn’t a public school, within the meaning of the act.”

          “Isn’t it?” said Mr. Smayle, hopefully. “Well, you and Mr. Bredon have had college educations, so you know all about it. What schools do you call public schools?”

          “Eton,” said Mr. Bredon, promptly, “ — and Harrow,” he added, magnanimously, for he was an Eton man.

          “Rugby,” suggested Mr. Ingleby.

          “No, no,” protested Bredon, “that’s a railway junction.”

          Ingleby delivered a brisk left-hander to Bredon’s jaw, which the latter parried neatly.

          “And I’ve heard,” Bredon went on, “that there’s a decentish sort of place at Winchester, if you’re not too particular.”

          “I once met a man who’d been to Marlborough,” suggested Ingleby.

          “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Bredon. “They get a terrible set of hearty roughs down there. You can’t be too careful of your associates, Ingleby.”

          “Well,” said Mr. Smayle, “Tallboy always says that Dumbleton is a public school.”

          “I daresay it is — in the sense that it has a Board of Governors,” said Ingleby, “but it’s nothing to be snobbish about.”

          “What is, if you come to that?” said Bredon. “Look here, Smayle, if only you people could get it out of your heads that these things matter a damn, you’d be a darn sight happier. You probably got a fifty times better education than I ever did.”

          Mr. Smayle shook his head. “Oh, no,” he said, “I’m not deceiving myself about that, and I’d give anything to have had the same opportunities as you. There’s a difference, and I know there’s a difference, and I don’t mind admitting it. But what I mean is, some people make you feel it and others don’t. I don’t feel it when I’m talking to either of you, or to Mr. Armstrong or Mr. Hankin, though you’ve been to Oxford and Cambridge and all that. Perhaps it’s just because you’ve been to Oxford and Cambridge.”

          He struggled with the problem, embarrassing the other two men by his wistful eyes.

          “Look here,” said Miss Meteyard, “I know what you mean. But it’s just that these two here never think twice about it. They don’t have to. And you don’t have to, either. But the minute anybody begins to worry about whether he’s as good as the next man, then he starts a sort of uneasy snobbish feeling and makes himself offensive.”

          “I see,” said Mr. Smayle. “Well, of course, Mr. Hankin doesn’t have to try and prove that he’s better than me, because he is and we both know it.”

          “Better isn’t the right word, Smayle.”

          “Well, better educated. You know what I mean.”

          “Don’t worry about it,” said Ingleby. “If I were half as good at my job as you are at yours, I should feel superior to everybody in this tom-fool office.”

          Mr. Smayle shook his head, but appeared comforted.

          “I do wish they wouldn’t start that kind of thing,” said Ingleby when he had gone, “I don’t know what to say to them.”

          “I thought you were a Socialist, Ingleby,” said Bredon, “it oughtn’t to embarrass you.”

          “So I am a Socialist,” said Ingleby, “but I can’t stand this stuff about Old Dumbletonians. If everybody had the same State education, these things wouldn’t happen.”

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Incidentally, the phrase “within the meaning of the Act” refers to the Public Schools Act 1868, and thus to Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster, Charterhouse, Rugby and Shrewsbury (and arguably also St. Paul’s and Merchant Taylors’).

        • Robert L says:

          I am English, and Keen just sounds odd to me – not in a way I associate with any particular region or class. For Englishmen of middle middle class and above one wouldn’t expect any hint of regional accent (and Irons is middle middle, not lower middle, if his dad was an accountant who sent him to Sherborne).

          • Deiseach says:

            I was a bit wibbly about Jeremy, but since he had a grandfather (or couple of greats-grandfather) who was a Chartist, I erred on the side of not placing him too high up the ladder 🙂

            His paternal great-great-grandfather was a Metropolitan Policeman who was sacked for drunkenness, and later a Chartist

      • brad says:

        As far as I can tell, it’s just a generic lower-middle-upper-middle class South-Eastern accent.

        Upon a re-reading I parse this as “lower middle to upper middle class” which is a perfectly fine thing to say. But the first re-read through I parsed it “lower middle of the upper middle class” and thought to myself only the English.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          It was meant as a joking version of your second interpretation.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          But the first re-read through I parsed it “lower middle of the upper middle class” and thought to myself only the English.

          I always tell people I’m lower-middle-middle-class.

        • Deiseach says:

          “lower middle of the upper middle class” and thought to myself only the English.

          Ah, the old “nouveau riche upstart pretender to being the local Squire versus the long-established in the locality family local Squire versus Baronet” problem, eh? 🙂

    • Kevin Monk says:

      It’s posh London. The upper classes don’t really have regional accents but there’s a London lilt to it and probably south, south coast, Dorset, Hampshire. There’s all the sailing set in Southampton and Bournemouth that sounds like this. I sound a bit like it myself.

      I’m a middle class South Londoner.

  3. Disobedient Utility says:

    I’ve already completed the 80 000 Hours career guide and I’m still looking for insightful, personalized career advice!

    One weird tricks and loopholes are cordially welcome: you, the SSC readers, seem to be particularly good at finding them. My background: a 26 y.o. neuroscientist (Master’s degree), with some experience in both molecular and cognitive studies (no programming skills), looking for a high-impact, well-paid job and/or a PhD programme. Remote working and independence would be a huge plus. My fields of interest range from sleep research to nootropics, biofeedback, rationality, hacker culture and AI studies. I care about the measurable, documented progress while disliking bureaucracy, high levels of chronic stress and institutional status games. One of the suggestions was to learn Python from scratch and spend one year on becoming a data scientist. Any other ideas?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know anything about pharma research, but it sounds like a good place for someone with molecular bio skills who wants to be high impact. Does 80K know anyone in that field who can tell you more about it?

      • Disobedient Utility says:

        Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll be happy to ask them.
        BTW, I would be content with managerial/executive responsibilities, as long as there’s a significant chance for a net positive impact by expanding the knowledge and/or drawing practical implications. Safe nootropics or novel treatments for depression/anxiety would sound golden. I was also wondering if the position in Big Pharma could make me a part of the malicious Molochian machine or limit my possibilities for publishing/discovering in the open access spirit. While I still miss the “safe institutionalization” at the university, I’d rather contribute to a more effective research environment. I’ll try to compare the pharma opportunities with the data science prospects.

    • utilitarian troll says:

      You should post your email in case someone wants to offer you a job.

      My impression is that the EA movement already has lots of data scientists and aspiring data scientists, for what it’s worth.

    • Agrononaoxymous says:

      >I care about the measurable, documented progress while disliking bureaucracy

      Allright. You know what the GRE exams are. Try getting perfect scores on the biochemistry, chemistry, and physics GRE. If you are in a state that allows one to become a certified engineer without majoring in the subject, tack on the EE cert, which shows you have working knowledge of the subjects and math involved in electrical engineering, and tack on the software engineering cert as well.

      Assuming you passed the extended marshmellow test of college and the requisitory proper activities of joining X honors club and Y volunteer hours, if the employer *actually* cares about finding or making something new they should value those tests that verify knowledge relative to other people.

  4. Jordan D. says:

    A question of some import for an RPG setting I’m working on for my home game:

    If each of the Persons of the traditional Catholic Trinity were to be matched up to one of the three branches of government in the American system, which matching would be most appropriate?

    (Ex: Father – Legislature, Son – Executive, Holy Spirit – Judiciary)

    I understand that some overlap is inevitable; I’m looking for best fits, not exclusive or perfect ones.

    Thank you!

    • dndnrsn says:

      What works best for the game, eg, what makes your life easiest as GM?

      A rationale for any possible combination can be found that’s plausible – what makes writing adventures and running games easiest, in whatever way?

      • Jordan D. says:

        I don’t really know the answer to that, yet. It shouldn’t make much of a mechanical difference, so I’m starting by optimizing for a sense of verisimilitude.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Not so much mechanically, but will there be any differences in how you structure adventures, etc?

          • Jordan D. says:

            Not too much, I think- this detail is essentially metaphysics, or setting background. I can imagine situations where it would matter to people that the Son was the Executive, or whatnot, but I don’t expect them to drive the plot.

            For the sake of additional context, the basic idea is this- the Trinity was the creator and first Lord of the Universe, but was eventually brought low in antiquity by mysterious causes. As a result of this, the Supreme Executive, Supreme Legislative and Supreme Judicial powers were split, and modern magic relies on leveraging one or more of those parts. In this setting, of course, Separation of Powers is an essential and metaphysical law, and the Creator God’s triune state a method of subverting that law.

            As you can imagine, then, this is likely to be a background element in most cases, but will probably inform at least the aesthetics of magic.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Ah, OK. I thought maybe that the choice would affect things like adventure structure, if for instance the characters are God’s chosen enforcers or whatever.

            My philosophy has become that any game is better than no game, so whatever gets a game on the table regularly is usually the best choice.

    • pku says:

      That sounds about right. The father sets the rules in theory, the son is in charge of executing them on this earth (and also of granting pardons), and the holy spirit is more vague and less talked-about but kinda sorta has the power to overrule the first two in its domain.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      These two systems seem to be incompatible.

      Madison’s system of checks and balances is about having three separate branches each empowered to block and frustrate the other two. I won’t pretend to understand the Trinity, but the fundamental conceit seems that they’re all the same guy so to speak and that as such they work tightly in concert. Merging the two either means adding friction into the Godhead or undoing the separation of powers.

      Maybe an unholy trinity from fiction, like Mahound Baphomet and Termagant, would work better?

      • Jordan D. says:

        I don’t think the introduction of a bit of friction is too absurd- while the three Persons of the Trinity are all one and whatnot, a single person often has competing urges and thoughts. Heck, even in the bible we see things like Jesus lamenting to the Father that his fated agony must come to pass. I could even see an argument that, e.g., the Old Testament to-and-fro between great priests and God is sort of an argument between the Holy Spirit and the Father.

        But I’m not a theologian, so I suppose my ultimate answer is just ‘it’s okay if RPG-God is less unified than the canonical Trinity’

    • cassander says:

      The trouble is the son. The president as father is clearly the way to go, the HNIC has to be the farther. The holy spirit could be either congress (as the spirit of the people sense) or the Judiciary (spirit of republican virtue). No one makes sense as the son. If you go to “sons” congress might not be too bad.

    • Deiseach says:

      (Ex: Father – Legislature, Son – Executive, Holy Spirit – Judiciary)

      Since the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, which I’ve been told is Greek for “defense attorney” (though the term seems to mean more “advocate in court” than defense versus prosecution, or even broadly “solicitor”), that seems appropriate 🙂

      I think you could broadly get away with those matches, e.g. if the purpose of the Son is “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me”, then executive to legislature would work.

      I’m fascinated to know what you’re going to make with all this!

      Though for the magic system and the necessity for three separations of powers, you’re rather sunk if you depend on traditional theology, and if you don’t, what you have is not the Christian Trinity; to quote excerpts from the Athanasian Creed:

      3. …That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

      4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

      5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

      6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

      11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

      14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

      16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

      18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

      20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.

      21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.

      22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.

      23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

      25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

      26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

      27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

      You might work better with the Hindu Trinity, where there are three distinct, separate Gods each with their own roles and powers; whether you take the Vashnaite view that Vishnu is the Eternal out of whom Shiva and Brahma arose, or the Shaivite view that Shiva is the Supreme God who brought forth Vishnu and Brahma, or even the Shaktism that holds the Divine Mother to be the absolute, ultimate Godhead who brought forth the Trimurti – that’s up to you to decide 🙂

      • Guy says:

        I think Jordan’s going for the (not terribly unusual in fiction of this type) conceit that there is or was a God similar to the Christian one, with all the regular trinity trappings, but that this God is Mysteriously Absent from the modern setting. In the setting’s present, that figure has been replaced by a celestial bureaucracy of some sort that is genuinely separated along lines analogous to the US federal government. And there is potentially some way to access the power of the Christian-style-triune creator figure, which trumps the powers derived from the separated replacement in some manner.

        • Deiseach says:

          there is or was a God similar to the Christian one, with all the regular trinity trappings, but that this God is Mysteriously Absent from the modern setting

          Yeah, but that’s bog-standard Gnosticism, and you may as well just bung in Yaldabaoth and be done with it 🙂

          • Gazeboist says:

            Is it? Gnosticism as I understand it is sufficiently different from typical Christian theology that asking whether or not it is trinitarian doesn’t really make sense.

          • Deiseach says:

            Gazeboist, I was thinking more of “Original Creator is gone or otherwise unavailable, what we in the material universe are stuck with are lower-level powers derived from, emanating out of, or acting in place of, or thinking they are the original” qua Gnosticism rather than Trinitarianism per se.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Oh, sure. Yeah, Gnosticism in general is really popular in setting design (especially in American setting design – it appeals to American ideals of religious pluralism). But there’s no need to literally import Gnosticism-the-historical-branch-of-Christianity. There’s all kinds of different ways you can take the idea.

      • That’s very interesting about the Holy Spirit as advocate in court– all I knew about the Holy Spirit is from Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker where the Holy Spirit is God’s presence in people. It makes sense, the Holy Spirit would be the expert on your better points and good intentions.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Don’t forget the all-important 4th branch: The Bureaucracy. This, of course, corresponds to the Demiurge.

  5. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So President Obama has nominated the first Muslim to be a federal judge. Questions this raises:

    1) Does the Constitution give Muslims the right to be US judges?
    1a) If so, why we were we able to go 229 years without Muslim judges?
    2) Is it a good or bad thing for a non-Muslim country to have Muslim judges?
    2a) Does it matter if they believe sharia is superior to man-made law?

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      It raises none of those questions, and if you’re not a troll, you should feel bad for looking like one.

    • Sandy says:

      The Constitution gives Muslims the right to be federal judges. Islamic schools of jurisprudence might frown on Muslims serving as the arbiters of secular laws.

    • An Emphatic Maybe says:

      Contrary to my Alt Right sympathies, I’m inclined to say the Muslim part probably doesn’t matter in most cases–the notable exception perhaps being those cases involving Christian or Jewish cultural issues (e.g. Ten Commandments statues outside of courthouses, etc.). That’s because a Muslim federal judge is probably highly assimilated as an American. (Hopeful assumption maybe?)

      If he is a devout Muslim, then he’s probably fairly socially conservative–which I like–and so I’m actually more worried if he’s a very secular Muslim, in which case there’s a good chance he could just be one more judge from the identitarian/PC Left.

      • hlynkacg says:

        User handle checks out 😉

      • dndnrsn says:

        Thought: A socially conservative, observant Muslim would probably have a bias for social conservatism in general, regardless of religion. You likely think that this is a good thing, being a social conservative.

        A liberal, secular Muslim would generally have the opposite bias. However, I can see a liberal, secular Muslim judge having a bias towards making decisions in favour of Muslim conservative stuff that is seen as under attack.

        I base this on, admittedly, anecdotal observation: I’ve seen a tendency among secular, liberal Muslim friends of mine – worse Muslims than most people are at being Christians, on account of Christians aren’t prohibited from drinking – to essentially defend far more conservative Muslims (including people who might put them to death under some legal systems) against attacks on them that they perceive as bigoted.

        • An Emphatic Maybe says:

          Hm…yeah, I can see that.

          But most cases having to do with conservatism seen by a Federal judge would, I expect, be related to social conservatism in general, not about Muslim conservatism.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Just a hunch, but I think that as the Muslim population of North America increases, there’s going to be a lot of action in family courts over things like the interaction of Muslim family law with secular family law.

            That and same-sex divorce. I think these two things are going to take up a disproportionate amount of energy and ink.

          • Guy says:

            How could the Muslim population of North America possibly be correlated with the same-sex divorce rate, or attention paid thereto?

          • An Emphatic Maybe says:

            @Guy:

            I think dndnrsn was saying that as more gay couples get married, more will get divorced. This will increase the likelihood of our Muslim federal judge having a case cross his desk in which his religious tribalism, overpowering his secular liberalism, could influence him to make a decision that non-Muslim social conservatives would find favorable.

            dndnrsn did not specify how gay divorce would break current divorce precedents and lead to a case crossing our Muslim judge’s desk.

          • Guy says:

            I’m still a little lost, actually. Suppose we have a judge, any judge, who does not believe that Obergefell v Hodges is good law. How does that actually affect his ruling on a divorce case, except in a Dred Scott style “you don’t belong in this courtroom in the first place” way?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Guy: I don’t think the two are connected. I didn’t mean to phrase it in a way that implies they are.

            @An Emphatic Maybe: that’s something that might happen, but I was just thinking of them as 2 disconnected things that happen to occur simultaneously in time.

            Same sex divorce is going to be a big deal because when division of property, custody of kids, support money, etc is being considered, there aren’t going to be the old gendered assumptions. Courts are going to have to at least try or pretend to try to get good at assessing quality of parent minus assumptions about who the kids spend more time with, who makes more money, etc.

            Do innovations from same-sex proceedings make their way over to opposite sex legal proceedings? Does this result in a better or a worse deal for either sex, on average? How do family courts change because of shifts like this?

            I think there’s a fairly probable scenario where overall changes to family courts make them consider parenting skill, ability, etc more and gender stereotypes less. I think this would lead family courts to make better decisions – there are enough men who should get the kids, or get more time with them, and enough women who shouldn’t, for it to matter.

            (rambling: If you disagree regarding the impact of gender stereotypes, a hypothetical argument presented but not endorsed. Let’s assume for a moment that the claim “family courts are biased against men” is true. This is a fairly common claim. If it’s true, considering gender less will make family courts less biased in such a way. Assume also that the claim “men are avoiding marriage because family courts make it a bad deal” is also true. Variants on this run from mainstream right-wing conventional wisdom to Manosphere classics. If you take both assumptions to be true, and see the above scenario as plausible, does that mean same-sex marriage could actually end up saving marriage as an institution?

          • An Emphatic Maybe says:

            @Guy:

            As I pointed out, dndnrsn didn’t say how. Maybe it would indeed be like the Dred Scott thing. Or maybe gay marriages will entail novel arrangements such that eventually a gay divorce will require a new kind of ruling. Or maybe a ruling on no-fault divorce has to be separately extended to gay marriage and isn’t part of it by default. I don’t really know.

            [EDIT: nevermind, dndnrsn responded just before I wrote this.]

            Responding now to dndnrsn:

            I think gay marriage will have a much greater impact than gay divorce on straight straight attitudes toward marriage.

            In general, attitudes toward marriage have a greater impact on marriage than attitudes about divorce, though of course attitudes about divorce do have some impact.

            If gay divorce has the same impact on straight divorce that gay marriage will have on straight marriage, then that would be a wonderful thing.

            Regarding whether there is bias against men in divorce courts, I wouldn’t refute that there is, but I also don’t know whether it’s safe to assume this bias is harmful on net. If divorce proceedings are going to change as a result of gay divorce or anything else, I would hope they change in a way that discourages divorce.

          • Guy says:

            @dndnrsn

            That’s pretty interesting, actually. Thanks for talking past my (rude, honestly) dismissal. Unfortunately I don’t really have much to add other than “I hadn’t thought of that as a possible effect of gay marriage.” So, uh, I hadn’t thought of that as a possible effect of gay marriage.

            @Emphatic Maybe

            Assuming for the moment there is a divorce that’s going to happen, shouldn’t the result be unbiased? Perhaps we disagree about whether unbiased divorces are worse than no divorces, but I think it’s safe to say that a strongly biased divorce is, at outside the limit of a highly destructive relationship, worse than either.

            Aside: to those anti-divorce folks around here, how do you feel about a couple that divorces and then later re-marries? Please do not feel like you have to speak for all opponents of divorce.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @An Emphatic Maybe:

            I think gay marriage will have a much greater impact than gay divorce on straight straight attitudes toward marriage.

            In general, attitudes toward marriage have a greater impact on marriage than attitudes about divorce, though of course attitudes about divorce do have some impact.

            I don’t know about this. A lot of people seem to have their perceptions of what marriage is like shaped by particularly ugly cases of marriages ending. Both men and women have different reasons for getting married less, but I realized some years ago that I had a much more positive view of marriage than my peers, and I think it’s because my parents got married and stayed married, and I’ve never seen any real domestic discord.

            If gay divorce has the same impact on straight divorce that gay marriage will have on straight marriage, then that would be a wonderful thing.

            Do you mean that same-sex marriage has had an inhibiting effect on marriage in general, and that it would be good if same-sex divorce had a similar effect on divorce in general?

            The impact I see same-sex marriage having is pretty obvious, namely, a continuation of the reframing of marriage as being about romantic love first and foremost, which was not always the case. If you’re a social conservative, you probably don’t like this. I’m not a social conservative, but I worry that it will lead people to have unrealistic expectations of marriage.

            Regarding whether there is bias against men in divorce courts, I wouldn’t refute that there is, but I also don’t know whether it’s safe to assume this bias is harmful on net. If divorce proceedings are going to change as a result of gay divorce or anything else, I would hope they change in a way that discourages divorce.

            Well, my pet scenario is that it will discourage divorce, or at the very least encourage marriage, by making the divorce process a little less awful. Family courts still haven’t fully adjusted to the reality of women earning incomes and men spending more time with kids.

            @Guy: no hard feelings. The way I wrote it juxtaposes them in a way that could lead to confusion.

          • John Schilling says:

            The impact I see same-sex marriage having is pretty obvious, namely, a continuation of the reframing of marriage as being about romantic love first and foremost, which was not always the case.

            If you have romantic love, and romantic love is all that you care about in this context, then what value is the marriage providing?

          • Deiseach says:

            dndnrsn, I see your point about custody in divorce cases. I see a lot of it in work (even where the parents weren’t married in the first place) where the woman automatically gets custody, for various reasons, such that if the father gets custody you assume the mother must really be messed-up.

            Where there are two same-gender parents is where it is going to get interesting. Imagine the case where Jane and Sally, or Bill and Ted, have children together. Jane is the biological mother (via donor sperm) or Bill is the biological father (his was the sperm used for the surrogate pregnancy).

            Does custody of the kids go to the biological parent in this case? Depending how nasty the split is, and I see no reason to think gay spouses can’t or won’t get as vicious as straight spouses, there could well be demands along this line. I did read of one case several years back where a lesbian couple went to court to have the biological mother’s partner put on the birth certificate as parent, with the arguments about “she’s as much the mother as I am”, etc.

            Couple of years later they split up and biological mommy went back to court to demand partner’s name be taken off the birth cert because she wanted her to have no contact with the child (so much for True Love and “she’s every bit as much the mother as I am”).

            I’m afraid I don’t see any benefits coming down the line re: divorce reform when we get the first wave of same-sex divorces after the same-sex marriages. but rather new and striking ways humans can be vicious when fucking each other up once they fall out, and to hell with the effects it has on the kids. Then again, I’m very cynical about human nature.

        • Jiro says:

          Right now, the left defends Muslims. Logically, this doesn’t require that Muslims must end up defending the left, but humans often work that way. I can easily imagine a conservative Muslim believing what the left says about conservative Christians oppressing the Muslims, and then ruling against conservative Christians on these grounds.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But aren’t the grounds they’re supposedly oppressed on grounds that a conservative of any religion would support oppressing people on?

            I mean, I doubt a conservative Muslim would think “OK, fornication, idolatry, homosexuality, all bad, but when it’s these Christians condemning them…”

          • Jiro says:

            No, the idea is that conservative Christians are oppressing the Muslims by discriminating against Muslims in favor of Christians, by thinking of Muslims inaccurately (believing that all Muslims are terriorists or idolaters), and by promoting specifically Christian religious policies like Christian prayer in schools, wanting Christmas to be treated specially, etc. Muslims who hear this from their “allies” and believe it may end up on the anti-Christian side.

            You could argue that conservative Muslims are natural allies of conservative Christians because they both have similar attitudes about morality, but you could also argue that Jews are natural allies of conservative Christians because they both have similar attitudes about Israel. That doesn’t stop the left from saying “oh, those Christians just support Israel because they want all the Jews to be killed when the Antichrist comes” and it certainly doesn’t stop Jews from believing it.

            Also, don’t assume that the outgroup are all alike. Conservative Christians often have a problem with Mormons for not believing the same thing they do and Mormons are more similar to them than Muslims are.

          • Guy says:

            All true, but Mormons generally are found on the same side as conservative Christians in cultural battles, and (certain)* Jews and conservative Christians usually are found on the same side in fights about Israel. Thus, whatever their opinions about conservative Christians, we should expect to find conservative Muslims on the same side in those cases where the conservative Muslims would benefit from such a thing. This won’t always be the case, of course. For example, regardless of how they feel about emergency contraception, I doubt there are any American companies that are large enough to need a religious exemption to the ACA that are also explicitly Muslim, so we might not see too many Muslim defenders of the Hobby Lobby decision.

            * Attitudes about Israel as it currently is have caused divisions within the American Jewish community since at least as far back as the 2006 Lebanon War.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Jiro:

            Mormons are maybe not the best example, because in the US Mormons have been direct competition for mainstream (meaning, anything non-Mormon) Christians, more than Islam has. There aren’t very many Muslims in the US – almost twice as many Mormons.

            I don’t really know if there’s enough of a sample from to predict if conservative Muslims and conservative Christians will team up or not in the US. It has not happened in Europe, that I can think of, but there are so many ways that the immigration of Muslims to the US or Canada is different from to Europe.

            The only thing where I can think of evidence for the opposite, though, comes to anti-Israel stuff, where you will definitely find leftie types getting buddy-buddy with conservative (or even radical) Muslims.

            With regard to their political support in North America for traditional social conservative stuff like sex ed in schools and same-sex marriage, conservative Muslims in North America have behaved like conservative Christians.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @John Schilling:

          A lot of people seem to value a public recognition of the relationship. And I’m not saying that romantic love is becoming the only priority, but it’s definitely number 1.

          @Deiseach:

          Or maybe courts will change to be awful for everyone in a new way. Who knows?

    • Eltargrim says:

      1) I’d go so far as to say that modern jurisprudence prevents the government from preventing muslim judges. First Amendment and all that.

      1a) The same reason that there aren’t many female Nobel winners in the sciences. Before we get a muslim federal judge, we need to have experienced muslim lawyers (Forgive me if I skip a requisite step, e.g. DA or state judge, additional steps simply magnify the effect). To have experienced muslim lawyers, we need to have a significant number of junior muslim lawyers. Law schools, undergraduates, high schoolers, etc., etc., etc. In short, to evaluate why we don’t have many muslim judges today, we need to look at the demographics thirty to forty years ago.

      2) The United States is formally secular, and yet has managed with various denominations of Christian judges for ages. Canada is formally secular, and yet I know several Jewish judges personally. I’d say it’s a neutral thing, because the question isn’t muslim-vs.-non-muslim, it’s whether or not we can trust our judiciary to uphold secular laws.

      2a) Actions speak louder than beliefs. If they are able to fairly uphold the laws of man, I don’t care about their beliefs in the laws of gods.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      1. US Constitution, Article VI, clause 3:

      The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

      1a. Globalization.

      2. I’ll take this guy over Roy Moore any day.

      2a. See 1 above. A judicial officer “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution”. A person who lets their religious entanglements interfere with their oath of office is disqualified, regardless of which entanglements those may be.

      • Sandy says:

        2. I’ll take this guy over Roy Moore any day.

        Why? You know nothing about him.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I don’t know who Roy Moore is, but if he is considered to be worse than the average judge, a candidate you know nothing about is clearly preferable (as on average they are the average judge).

    • The Nybbler says:

      1) Yes.

      “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”

      1a) Non sequitur

      2) Bad. I’m currently of the opinion that Islam is a particularly bad religion, and that Muslim judges would be more likely than those of other common religions to let their religious sensibilities guide their decisions.

      2a) That should be a disqualification.

    • I find it a little odd that a Muslim would want to be a judge in a non-Islamic judicial system, but the obvious explanation is that he isn’t a very serious Muslim. I don’t know what the legal doctrine actually is with regard to possible roles for a Muslim in a polity not under Muslim rule.

      • Guy says:

        Do you mean in Islamic law? I think the general rule is (as it usually is): “Continue to be [religion]; respect the laws of the state in which you live unless they contradict the first clause.” I don’t see why a Muslim would be prevented from being a secular judge if that same Muslim is allowed to be, say, a secular academic.

        • I meant in Islamic law.

          A judge is in a somewhat different position than an academic because he is part of the system that enforces rules. Some of those rules might be ones that contradict the rules of Islamic religious law.

          • Guy says:

            So far as I know Islam has historically been pretty ok with non-Muslims and generally not applying Islamic law to them, as in the Ottoman empire. Granted under the Ottomans Muslims enjoyed a privileged position, but non-Muslims were allowed to continue to be so, and Islamic law (as opposed to the law of the Sultanate) was generally taken to apply only to Muslims. The current spate of Islam-only laws in Muslim countries seems to be a historical aberration.

          • DavidS says:

            Indeed: but my (very limited!) understanding was that the non-Islamic law in these cases would be arbitrated by non-Islamic judges from the relevant groups. I don’t know if you’d have direct muslim judges, or more complex things like appealing from a Byzantine/Christian court to a Muslim senior judge, but checking the original law was correctly applied?

            Also, in ‘secular Mulsim’ countries (e.g. Turkey) presumably you have lots of Muslims as judges applying a legal code that isn’t Sharia? And given that Sharia law is to my understanding both quite specific and quite wide-ranging, they’d be passing down judgements that were ‘against’ Islamic law to at least some degree.

          • In the Ottoman Empire you would have had lots of Muslim judges applying law that was not Muslim religious law, namely the Kanun, the law made by the Sultan. In theory it was just a supplement to religious law, but in some cases Kanun contradicted fiqh, for instance by establishing a maximum interest rate when interest was forbidden under religious law.

            I think the usual rule for tolerated non-Muslims in Muslim polities was that they were under Muslim criminal law but that rules such as those against wine and pork did not apply to them and for family law and the like they were under the rules of their own religion.

    • 1a) If so, why we were we able to go 229 years without Muslim judges?

      Five years ago, Gov. Chris Christie appointed (and defended) a Muslim judge at the state level in New Jersey.
      http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/08/gov-christies-righteous-defense-of-a-muslim-judge/243040/

    • Agronomous says:

      1) How is this even a question? How perverse a reading of the First Amendment would it take to disqualify someone from being a judge on the basis of being Muslim?

      1a) We went 1750 years without Christian federal judges, and only 1300 or so without Muslim ones.

      2) If the Muslim judges are good judges, it’s good to have them. (The nominator is going to affect my guess as to whether they’re actually good judges.)

      2a) Only their actions on the bench matter. Remember, too, that federal judges have adult supervision, in the form of higher courts.* Someone who really thinks sharia is what we need is not going to make it through three years of law school, a bunch of years as a practicing lawyer, and a bunch more sitting as a lower judge (municipal, state), so I’m not too concerned about it.

      (* Except the Supreme Court, of course, where some of the worst-thought-out opinions seem to originate.)

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Those questions are silly. The answers are “of course”, “because there weren’t many American Muslims for most of those years, and why do you think ‘Muslims have a right to be judges’ implies ‘Muslim judges are in some way necessary'”, “neutral, but there would be a cost to legal discrimination preventing Muslims from becoming judges”, and “obviously (for a strong definition of ‘believe’), but you have no reason to suppose they do”. Unless the nominee’s path to becoming a judge involved leaving a prominent position in the Saudi government or something, there is no reason to assume there is anything wrong with them.

      I don’t know how many British judges are Muslim, but presumably some of the 159 BME judges at least have a Muslim background. Certainly, a high proportion of Muslim MPs are lawyers. The lawyer who prosecuted the Rochdale groomers after, in his words, “over-sensitivity to political correctness and fear of appearing racist… contributed to justice being stalled” was a Muslim.

  6. CatCube says:

    I’ve got sort of a regulatory situation I ran into at work, and I was wondering about people’s thoughts on it. It’s not strictly regulatory, as it doesn’t fall under making decisions for applying actual Code of Federal Regulations, but it’s making decisions for awarding contracts for Government work. I think that many of the same issues regarding how decisions should be made by the government show up, though.

    For the same reason that Scott changes his stories (he’s not technically free to discuss them) my narrative will be changed somewhat and will be a concatenation of several different situation I’ve both observed and been told about.

    We’re putting out a contract to secure some steel welded structures (basically big steel frames). The selection method used is “Lowest Priced Technically Acceptable” or LPTA. This concept here is to avoid the problems with simple “Lowest Bidder” contracting, but still be objective. The way the process is supposed to work is this: you set some objective criteria for evaluating the fitness of a contractor. Each of these should be basically “yes or no” questions you can answer looking at the bid package, and if the contractor meets all of them their bid is considered “technically acceptable” and the lowest of all technically acceptable bids wins the contract.

    For these weldments, the technically acceptable criteria we established and communicated with the request for proposal were:
    1) They must prove that they’ve done three projects of similar or larger scope valued at over $1,000,000 in the past 5 years.
    2) They must have done $500,000 worth of work on weldments under American Welding Society standard D1.5 with Fracture Critical Welding (bridge welding, rather than the more common D1.1 which is general structural welding)
    3) They must provide certificates proving they have employees who are certified in:
    3a) Certified Welder for AWS D1.5
    3b) Certified Welding Supervisor
    3c) Certified Welding Inspector

    Criteria 1) and 2) were selected to ensure that we got only bids from actual fabrication shops with some experience with the type of work we require–we don’t want to have Jim-Bob roll up in his truck and try to become a gubmint contractor, because those situations tend to collapse in a heap of incompetence. Criteria 3) is simply because those criteria were required for the type of structure we have, and “trust us, we’ll go hire/train a guy if we win the bid” also tends to collapse in a heap of incompetence.

    We received three bids. Those of us evaluating the bids for technical acceptability are given a folder prepared by each contractor, but the prices are separated so we have no idea what the prices from each are. Each had pictures and write-ups of three projects that easily met the bid. Two of them had photocopies of the certificates for AWS D1.5, welding supervisors, and welding inspectors as asked. Those same two also had a list of previous projects with the AWS D1.5 Fracture Critical Members, and they added up to over $500,000.

    The third bid had two issues: 1) instead of providing certificates, they went to the AWS website and printed out a web page showing the list of people currently certified, which did show the required personnel, and 2) they only had $450,000 worth of AWS D1.5 w/ Fracture Critical Member experience. This part is actually not permitted by the rules for evaluating bids, but the two other engineers I was working with said that they had had this third contractor on previous projects (separately), and they were confident that they’d actually be able to do the work on time and on budget.

    So here’s my question: Where is the limit where we can diverge from the “letter” of our criteria in the interest of using good judgement? We asked for certificates, but didn’t get the certificates while the other bidders complied exactly with our instructions. We said $500,000, but that number was chosen as a nice round number that was more likely to get a competent bidder, but we could easily have said $400,000 in hindsight.

    We can stick exactly to the written letter like the good little bureaucrats we are (technically correct is the best kind of correct!), or we can deviate from the written instructions we put out to every bidder to try to get better value for the taxpayer (what if the bidder we exclude, despite knowing that they’re more than capable, is the lowest price?).

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      How comfortable are you with leaving your ass uncovered?

      If something goes wrong with this contractor and you haven’t filled out all of your CYA forms in triplicate, that might be an issue. It’s a question of whether you trust them enough to be willing to risk getting caught in the crossfire if the project fails.

      I’m not involved with construction, and my intersection with the federal bureaucracy is in a different area, but it seems like a general principle of dealing with legal risk.

      • hlynkacg says:

        How comfortable are you with leaving your ass uncovered?

        ^ This

        • Bingo.

          You also say down-below that objectively assessing performance is hard. Which means your manger or your manager’s manager or whatever can say the project sucked. And you enter into the loop of:
          1. This project sucked.
          2. It sucked because you didn’t follow the correct bid process.

          I mean, I am in corporate, and a particularly toxic environment at that, but I would never disregard my own process so haphazardly. I do not have enough political capital to defend myself, and the process is the only defense.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Caveat: I am neither a welder, nor a lawyer, nor experienced with government procurement. Don’t listen to me.

      1. It seems like the system is designed to prevent people making decisions from saying “yeah some of the numbers are off but I know these guys and they’ll do the job”. Presumably, the policy-makers saw a decision between “robotic and stupid bureaucracy” and “cronyism and incompetence” and chose the former.

      2. Not jumping through stupid paper hoops like providing the certificates could be a no-brown-M&Ms-backstage sort of thing: a little bit of harmless corner-cutting that might foreshadow more serious corner-cutting.

      • gbdub says:

        Presumably, the policy-makers saw a decision between “robotic and stupid bureaucracy” and “cronyism and incompetence” and chose the former.

        The cynical engineer observes that the gov’t often seems to say “Why can’t we have both?”

    • Andrew says:

      Either you reject the third non-compliant bid, or you change your bid requirements and re-issue the original request with new requirements allowing for all potential contractors to submit new bids.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This.

        Because the other possibility is that you end up embroiled in a formal dispute when it becomes known that you didn’t follow your own bid process and yet #3 was awarded the bid. And that just wastes everyone’s time and money.

    • gbdub says:

      Others have covered the advice part (CYA is king), but coming from the other side (bidder) the issue with these types of RFPs seems to be big guys winning the contract with a severe underbid, then overrunning the cost and not getting punished for it in future bidding (that is, a criteria 4, something like “X% of their projects deliver within X% of the bid price” really ought to be added). Mostly an issue with cost-plus contracts, but even on fixed price, sometimes the big guys are willing to take (or at least risk) a loss on a small project to shut out upstart competitors, or know that they can run out of money, say “well, we can finish it for an extra 20%, or you can start the whole thing over again….”, and again, not really face a big penalty in future bidding because they are “too big to fail”.

      • CatCube says:

        The problem with trying to evaluate bidders on past performance like that is it’s really prone to lawyering. One of the concatenated projects I built this from actually did have a similar criteria, but I didn’t include it because it’s so inside baseball and hard to explain in a comment. There’s a form that our construction supervision offices fills out at the end of a contract that basically rates the contractor on a wide variety of performance metrics with a 1-5 scale (there’s a lot more subtlety, but I don’t remember the form offhand, and I’m on leave and can’t access one). We basically had as a criteria that nothing lower than a 4 would be acceptable. But in a sort of “grade inflation”, almost nobody receives less than a 4, because then it turns into a protest/court battle about the reason the project was troubled. I don’t know the exact percentage, but a significant number of projects end up troubled and overbudget due to problems from the Government. For an extreme example, look at the Aurora VA hospital. The project management and architectural decisionmaking was so bad that Kiewit (a major construction contractor) walked off the job, and I’ve heard precisely nobody–including the VA–defend the Government’s handling of that project. So we try to get something like you’re saying, but it’s really hard to get objectively good criteria.

        I also think it bears looking at from the other side (which is one of the things that drove me to write the above comment): doing good work doesn’t get you any consideration in further projects when you’re working for the government. I.e., maybe the noncompliant bidder had been a good, honest contractor but none of that means dick on the next contract. “Oh, your last 5 projects were on time and under budget? Well, you missed a piece of paper on this bid. Disqualified!” It can drive a “May as well take what you can when you can” mindset.

        • Deiseach says:

          You may be glad to know that when I was working on the schools tenders, the teacher insisted we purchase an American Bridgeport lathe for the metalwork room, even if it was higher price than the next model tendered, as they had the best reputation for quality and long-lasting machinery.

          We had to wait for it to get shipped over from the USA and I had to haggle a bit to keep the price as per tender (since it had gone up in the mean time) but everyone was very happy in the end 🙂

          (Except me, because I learned a hell of a lot more about lathes and dust extraction systems than I ever wanted to know, but I’ve forgotten it all in the intervening years).

    • Garrett says:

      A few thoughts/questions:
      If item 2 was selected to keep out the riff-raff, how is anybody ever going to be able to break into the industry if everybody wants experience demonstrated somewhere else?

      For the items in (3), I understand that this is your summary. However, do the requirements actually state that the people so certified will be the ones working on the project? If not, they have have a “high-quality” department with the certifications, and a “low-quality” department which is being bid on the contract.

      Personally, I’d be fine with the print-outs of the AWS, especially if you can independently verify that. Not everybody keeps paper certifications around, and it strikes me that the goal is to ensure that qualified people are working on the project, not that somebody has decorative parchment hanging around.

      However, the dollar value is a fairly hard limit. It may be worth messaging them to let them know that they are under the specified dollar limit. If they forgot to include an item, add it in. If they don’t have it they don’t meet the goals.

      • CatCube says:

        Your “chicken or egg” thing is a problem, and the only answer I can give you to the question of “where am I supposed to get experience?” is “someone else’s project.” I can sympathize with the difficulty of breaking in, but everybody I’ve met in government construction contracting takes a lot of pride in their work and doesn’t feel like their projects (and reputation!) being “Baby’s First Drainage Control Structure”.

        If not, they have have a “high-quality” department with the certifications, and a “low-quality” department which is being bid on the contract.

        Contractors do this. Though not for something like welding certifications. While we can require that the welders working on our project be certified, we can’t require that they be the ones that they had in the bid (after all what if the guy quit, or choked on a ham sandwich, or something?) We ask for the certifications as part of the bid process to ensure that they have at least one person qualified for each of those jobs, otherwise we have bidders try to get certified after we award and they start asking for extensions so they can get a guy. We enforce this by having our own inspector on site for a significant portion of the welding, and the inspector can verify the welder’s qualifications on site–and he can reject bad work.

        Where contractors play games like this is under a different type of contracting-Best Value Tradeoff. There, the source selection committee will consider all aspects of a proposal, to include who the contractor is proposing to have as a project manager. The project manager is probably one of the most critical pieces of success in a contract. We had one project that was months behind, and the owner of the company came out of retirement and brought the project home on time. The name of that PM can make a huge difference. So what the contractor will do is put the name of a rock star in their bid, but when we give them notice to proceed, they tell us “Well, it turns out he’s not available. We’re going to have Shifty McFuckstick as the PM on this project instead.”

        As far as verifying the certifications, during the bid process we actually aren’t allowed to verify the certificates (or the website printout)! If the two contractors had forged those certificates, even if we suspected it, we can’t go call the AWS to verify ourselves. We can only consider what is in the bid package in front of us. (Which is why the other engineers commenting that they had worked with the deficient contractor themselves was a violation of contracting rules–that we “know” they can do it isn’t supposed to matter, only what they told us.) I do tend to agree that the printout is probably meeting the intent of the requirement, which is that they have somebody who can do the work. But it goes back to the question about it not meeting the letter of the requirement.

        Same thing for asking for them to resubmit if they didn’t meet the dollar limit–we can only give a yes or no to what’s in front of us. Andrew is correct, above, that the right answer is to ask all bidders to resubmit. The problem is that can have timeline consequences, as well as causing bad blood with other contractors who don’t want to redo the process.

      • Deiseach says:

        Personally, I’d be fine with the print-outs of the AWS, especially if you can independently verify that. …However, the dollar value is a fairly hard limit.

        Funny, I’d be inclined the opposite way: I’d be lenient on the dollar amount (which is a bit arbitrary, but does show they can handle a large-scale project with that kind of budget) but I’d be death on the certificates.

        If they can’t get a copy, that may mean they don’t actually have anyone with the requisite certs. And while we’ve thrashed out the idea of over-regulation when it comes to things like hair-braiding, if you’re using welders you damn well want them as certified and up-to-date as you can get.

        Not being able to produce the paperwork sets off a few alarm bells:

        (1) They’re sloppy. An attitude of “ah sure this is good enough” at tender stage, when they’re trying to make a good impression and sell you on “we can do this” strongly inclines me to wonder if they’ll be equally as sloppy on the job

        (2) Maybe it’s not sloppiness, it’s inexperience. As CatCube says, you don’t want your big expensive government project to be their learning experience where they work out their mistakes and learn how to do better

        (3) Maybe they can’t get the certs because there are problems – they’re not paid up with their taxes, they don’t actually have guys qualified correctly, there’s something wrong somewhere. You don’t want to get in the middle of that. You especially don’t want to be explaining to your bosses why you hired unqualified welders on the unsupported say-so of a third party and that’s why the structure collapsed

    • Deiseach says:

      Speaking as a low-level public service minion with some very limited experience dealing with contracted work put out to tender (building and equipping three new high schools) –

      don’t, under any circumstances, be tempted to deviate from the letter of the law and regs. Even if the Archangel Gabriel provides a testimonial for the third company. Because it will come back to bite you in the behind.

      For one, if you pick Company No. 3, it’s entirely likely one of the rejected competitors will ring up in high dudgeon demanding to know why you rejected them and asking, under Freedom of Information law, for details of the winning bid (this happened to us). Any “we wiggled a bit on the requirements” will then be used to crucify you (we avoided this, but that was largely thanks to our CEO being able to sling bullshit with fluency and comprehensiveness so ruffled feathers were flattened).

      For the second, they’re already deviating from requirements and this is only at the tender stage. I’m going to presume that, like us, you require all your contractors and suppliers to have their ducks in a row when it comes to tax matters. Can they provide the requisite certs there, or will it again be a case of “But won’t this print-out do?”

      Because if they don’t have the right paperwork, you haven’t a snowball in hell’s chance of getting the official government money to pay them. And you can imagine for yourself what a mess that would be.

      Will the other engineers vouching that these guys can indeed do the work on time, to budget and specs carry the can when problems arise? Or will it be your backside in a sling for signing off on the final decision? Yeah, you see where I’m going with this.

      If it were merely “they only had $450,000 instead of $500,000” then I’d give them the benefit of the doubt, but when it’s a couple of things (and most importantly, paperwork – because you live and die by what paperwork you can produce to defend yourself about decisions made), and you don’t have experience of their work yourself but are relying on third party assurances, I’d say don’t take the risk.

      Maybe your excluded bidder is lower price – on paper. But when problems arise (and problems always arise with construction projects), how much extra expense will the cheaper option involve? (I learned that the hard way as well on one of the schools, when goods provided under ‘lowest tender to spec’ were cheaper but didn’t stand up to wear and so had to be replaced sooner, involving more expense in the long run).

      Better to be safe than sorry and go with one of the guys who have demonstrated they know how to handle the requisite governmental box-ticking, because they know the ropes.

    • pheltz says:

      Just because this is not under the CFR does not mean that there is no legal issue here. Talk this (or whatever is going on) through with your legal department.

    • CatCube says:

      I guess, based on some of the responses, that I wasn’t quite clear on that this was based on things that occurred in the past. That is, this is a (heavily fictionalized) what-if look on things we already did, not something I’m planning on doing or currently working on.

      • Deiseach says:

        That is, this is a (heavily fictionalized) what-if look on things we already did, not something I’m planning on doing or currently working on.

        Interesting to see that all of us with any goverment-related experience said “Don’t ignore the regs!” I think this is the voice of experience coming through 🙂

        • CatCube says:

          And we did end up going with the regs. I think the rejected bid was lower than the other two by a few hundred thousand. Again, taking that we’ve worked with that contractor on similar scale projects with good result, it’s likely that the taxpayer paid a few hundred thousand more for the same product.

          I guess I was more looking at what the costs of the regs are, and where we basically end up being what I think in the UK is a “jobsworth.” “Sorry, guv, you’re right that’s a better way, but it’s more than my job’s worth.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Tough to know, though. If the other two were a couple of hundred thousand more, were they scamming the system, or was the third company way underestimating the costs? In which case, they might end up two-thirds of the way through coming back to you saying “Sorry, we’re going to over-run on budget by $$$$” which then bumps the total cost of the project back up to the same as the rejected bids. Better safe than sorry to stick with the regs, even when it comes to “But we probably could save a ton of money here”.

            Once you’ve worked with them and can trust them (and they have experience of working on govt projects), it’s a different matter. Had you worked with them before they put in this bid, or was it their first time going for a big contract like yours?

  7. Agronomous says:

    Scientific American has an article on SMPY (Julian Stanley’s study at Johns Hopkins) and identifying gifted children in general. As you might expect, Dweck and Growth Mindset put in an appearance.

    Way too much is said about skipping grades, and not enough about giving up the assembly-line model of education.

    Out of curiosity: how many readers were in SMPY or went to CTY?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I went to CTY. No doctorates, no publications (well, there’s one I was on but I’m so far down the list of authors it’s not indexed), no patents. Classic underachiever I suppose.

    • mobile says:

      Arizona State, summers of ’83 and ’84

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Went to CTY.

      Probably would have appreciated it more if I had a modicum of social skills at the time, the experience of being with other kids my age was totally wasted. That said, the other kids weren’t exactly impressive as far as brains went. They seemed pretty much the same as your average AP class, not too bright not too dim.

    • anon says:

      I qualified but didn’t attend. There was some confusion in my family about CTY and U of Washington’s Robinson Center. Didn’t get an advanced degree, or publication but found an easy job in government with a 95th percentile income.

      I was pretty happy I stuck to the assembly line model my freshman year of college (they had a non-assembly line style curriculum that appeared awful judging from the stress level of students going through it).

    • BBA says:

      CTY + SET (a spinoff of SMPY) here. I took a long detour off the assembly line, only to rejoin it around when I started college at 16, and I think I’d have been better off socially (i.e. actually had a social life) and accomplished the same amount academically/professionally if I’d just stuck with the assembly line.

    • Guy says:

      Went to CTY and enjoyed it a great deal. It was probably the real driver for me picking up CS as something I actually liked – without the stuff I learned there (basically automata and rudimentary complexity theory), intro courses could easily have driven me away from the discipline. That said, it was a lot better as a place to be socialized among nerds rather than as a place to learn. The courses I attended generally had much bigger nerd populations than my highschool, and that fact (as well as the cultural cues I picked up) played a big part in making me who I am today.

      (I am a current undergraduate at a college that exists)

    • Kevin C. says:

      Was also SET and qualified for CTY, but never attended because we were way too poor to afford it (especially with airfare from up here in Alaska).

    • Scanner says:

      Went to SMPY. 1 non-STEM doctorate, various non-STEM publications, no patents.

    • Vaniver says:

      Went to CTY. Exited my STEM doctorate with no publications because my advisor and I had very different working styles, decided to get a high paying job instead of starting again somewhere else.

    • Manya says:

      Qualified for SET, went to CTY for 3 summers. Not only no publications or anything like that, but no college degree. (At the age of 18, I finally figured out that the assembly line model was… not for me. )

      CTY was really the first time of my life when I actively enjoyed spending long periods of time in the company of kids my age. And largely because of CTY, I went to Mathcamp, where I made the most permanent, stable friendships I have.

      I agree with Guy that CTY mostly did better at collecting nerds in one place than at actually teaching (unlike Mathcamp). Though I think that also varied a great deal depending on who your teacher was.

      • I have no connection with the institutions for gifted children discussed here, but spent several summers as a councilor at a camp for gifted children–Sciences and Arts Camp, generally referred to as SAAC. I don’t know what happened to most of the kids who went there. My impression was that the main benefit was getting to interact with other bright kids, not the classes that we taught.

        • Manya says:

          My impression was that the main benefit was getting to interact with other bright kids, not the classes that we taught.

          Which is perhaps as it should be.

      • Guy says:

        Yes, to be clear, the benefits weren’t largely educational, but they were quite large.

        • To the extent that intelligence is heritable, this is also an argument for home schooling for very bright kids.

          At a considerable tangent … . Part of my explanation of Ayn Rand’s personality is that she grew up correctly believing that she was substantially smarter than the people around her. She concluded, reasonably enough, that when people disagreed with her it was because they didn’t understand her correct arguments. That conclusion was no longer correct later in life when she was interacting with a wider range of people.

          Which is an argument for having very bright kids brought up in the company of other very bright people, kids or adults.

          • bean says:

            Which is an argument for having very bright kids brought up in the company of other very bright people, kids or adults.

            I will absolutely second this. I was bored and lonely through 3rd grade. 2nd and 3rd grade in particular were spent reading books while still doing well enough that the teacher didn’t get mad. In 4th grade, I started at the regional gifted program, which is one of the best things ever to happen to me. After the first day (few days?) of school, I came home and told my mother “Mom, I’m among my own kind”. In retrospect, it was fantastic having an actual peer group large enough to generate social dynamics. Even if there’s one other smart person in your class, you tend to be driven together because you’re a lot closer to each other than anyone else. If you have a class of 10 people, you get factions, and then learn how to deal with them, instead of sorting into ‘friends’ and ‘peasants’.
            Later on, we got grade-skipped and integrated more or less into the regular system, but I think the greatest benefit was probably social.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think it’s a stronger argument for large schools with tracking. When you homeschool, you risk (I know there are ways around it, but thar means homeschooling doesn’t solve the actual problem) not having enough people, period, for the kid in question to find a group that fits them. Also, a big part of all this for me was finding people my age who fit me. Smart adults are great, but they’re no substitute for a genuine peer group.

          • “Smart adults are great, but they’re no substitute for a genuine peer group.”

            Smart adults are better than age peers who are far from peers in other respects. Judith Harris, in The Nurture Assumption, discusses some cases where the peer group was the family rather than school kids, with desirable results.

            I agree that home schooling has the disadvantage of a smaller group to interact with, unless it is a very large family or arrangements are made to interact with other families. But that’s less of a problem now we have the internet. Most of the friends my daughter made of about her own age were people she knew online, only some of whom she ended up later meeting in realspace.

          • bean says:

            I have mixed feelings on homeschooling. I did it for one semester (right before joining the gifted program), and it seemed OK there. But I’ve known quite a few homeschooled kids, and only a very small percentage have turned out to be socially well-adjusted. (On the other hand, who knows how they would have turned out if left in the general public school system.)
            The other issue is that homeschooling seems likely to break down as the kids age. A big high school has lots of options that a homeschool is going to struggle to match. I passed both of my parents in math in about 9th or 10th grade, and got to do other things (engineering classes spring to mind) which would be difficult to duplicate.
            On the other hand, difficult isn’t impossible, and these problems can be solved with homeschool groups.

          • Homeschooling isn’t a commitment to continue homeschooing– some children get homeschooled in the earlier years, then start going to conventional school.

    • gardenofaleph says:

      Wasn’t in CTY but I qualified for Duke TIP State Recognition and was a couple of %tile points away for Grand Recognition. Didn’t attend TIP because my parents didn’t want to pay $$ but I did a class online with the Davidson Institute which was quite fun and educational. It was one of the most helpful writing classes I took until College. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some good online gifted classes.

      Duke TIP used SAT’s administered in 7th and 8th grade. I was in 7th grade and had just skipped a grade (but that’s probably fairly common at this level and doesn’t affect IQ estimates much).

      Recognition Ceremony Cuttofs:

      State Recognition: 50th percentile of HS seniors/juniors taking test
      Grand: 90th percentile of HS seniors/juniors taking test

      My scores were:
      Critical Reading–> 87th percentile
      Math–>30th percentile
      Writing–>79th percentile

      Really lopsided. It fits pretty well with an IQ test I had when I was much younger. I had very high verbal, somewhat lower numerical, and mediocre spatial. I also have a terrible sense of direction xD

      Steve Hsu writes about Duke TIP a bit here

      Anyone else have a pretty lopsided IQ profile? How do you feel in subjects you’re not as naturally gifted in?

      In college it made social sciences, philosophy, and humanities easy and interesting, math and physics tough but not frustrating, and biochemistry and organic chemistry extremely painful. I’m terrible at rotating stuff mentally, for one, so the whole section on enatiomers, diasteriomers, etc. was quite a struggle. I ended up getting good at quickly translating shapes to paper and trying variations out on paper instead of in my head. I also struggle with rote memorization, though that’s more attributable to a bad work ethic than anything else.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Man, I only got 1270/1600 on the SAT in 7th grade. There are some crazy smart kids out there.

    • wubbles says:

      I went to CTY. I was bullied, for reasons I can only imagine were spectrum-related. PROMYS was a much better environment for me.

      Currently a doctoral student somewhere good, with two publications already. Thesis limps along.

  8. HeelBearCub says:

    What do people here make of the fact that surveys continue to show that a vast majority of registered Republicans (as in 72%) unwilling to answer yes to the question “Was Obama born in the U.S.?”

    Is this just similar to how Democrats might answer questions about Bush and his National Guard service? It seems different to me.

    • Jiro says:

      If you’re asked something like that you have good reason to suspect it’s a trick question.

      Furthermore, it’s unfair to count all the “no answer” results as “unwilling to answer yes” with the implication that they think the answer is “no” rather than that they actually have no answer.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        It’s not “no answer”, it’s “Neither agree nor disagree”

        In other words, it’s correct to say that they were unwilling to say that they agreed with the statement “Barack Obama was born in the United States.”

        And, I don’t think “I think this is a trick” is a good explanation. I am quite comfortable asserting that we would not have these kinds of percentages for other (former) presidents, certainly not ones alive when the questioned person was a registered voter.

        Sure, lizardman constant and all that, but this is well past that.

        • Guy says:

          But how would you do with “Is JFK taking orders from the Pope?” (pre-assassination)

          You’d need something there was a genuine controversy about, and in particular a nonsensical controversy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But there never was any actual controversy about whether Obama was born in the US. People might have questioned Bush’s bone-fidas as a rancher, but no one questioned whether he actually owned the ranch (and people would have taken the tax records as evidence and been done with it).

            Taking orders from the pope is interesting, but essentially not provable one way or the other. You really can’t provide evidence, especially if JFK went to confession (did he?)

            Whereas birth records are far clearer, and essentially dispositive.

          • Guy says:

            No, there definitely was a controversy, it just happened to be nonsense. It’s hard to find a really comparable one in recent history, because a controversy being absolute nonsense is a rare thing. “A Catholic president will be subject to orders from the Vatican” was the closest I could find, and like you say it’s not exactly a great fit.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            But there never was any actual controversy about whether Obama was born in the US.

            A controversy does not have to have a factual basis in order to exist. People will believe what they want.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ HBC
            Whereas birth records are far clearer, and essentially dispositive.

            Where a soul can be discerned a long-form record can be obtained short of years of struggle, when the POTUS finally bothers to obtain it.

          • gbdub says:

            So how many Hillary supporters would have said “not born in the US” or “not sure” to the question in early 2008?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ gbdub
            So how many Hillary supporters would have said “not born in the US” or “not sure” to the question in early 2008?

            I personally would feel a difference between ‘not sure’ and ‘would not say yes’. To me, ‘not sure’ would suggest that I had looked into the question far enough to form a definite opinion but (tentatively) concluded that the facts were unclear. But ‘would not say yes’ feels more agnostic, ie scarcely having looked into the question at all, just stating a general policy of not jumping to conclusions.

            Hillary, Gore, Palin, Bush, etc, were from stable families well known (at least within their local areas) and (I presume) born in local hospitals. There would be wide continuity of family and friends who remembered their birth occasion, kindergarten, etc etc.

            Obama had only sketchy hospital records, dodgy parentage, minimal newspaper announcements. The official record-keepers were not forth-coming with what little original long-form record they did (presumably) have.

            Absence of evidence is not evidence of fraud. But weak evidence is not strong evidence, either.

          • gbdub says:

            Well apparently the wording was “neither agree nor disagree”, that response got ~30%, and HBC is lumping it with “was not willing to say yes”.

            Regardless, that’s orthogonal to my point, which is that a significant number of Hillary supporters were birthers and a survey taken at the time when the “partisan” split was between Hillary and Obama would have produced a different result than this latest one. I think this bolsters the idea that it’s mostly signaling, rather than a case of “conservatives are uniquely dumb” which is how it’s being spun.

          • Chalid says:

            @gbdub I really doubt that significant numbers of 2008 Clinton supporters were birthers. No one in the Democratic establishment would have touched birtherism (Polifact if you doubt the obvious) and voters take their cues from that.

          • JayT says:

            I haven’t been able to find any polls from 2008 asking if he was born in the US or not, but I did find that as of June 2008 equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans thought he was Muslim, which I think is a fairly good proxy.

            http://www.pewresearch.org/2008/07/15/belief-that-obama-is-muslim-is-durable-bipartisan-but-most-likely-to-sway-democratic-votes/

          • JayT says:

            I also find it interesting that in 2008 only 12% of Republicans thought he was Muslim. As of a year ago that number was 43%, which would point to pure partisanship as the reason people would claim something like this. Back in 2008 Obama was going against Hillary, and a lot of Republicans were happy to see someone beating Hillary, so they wouldn’t necessarily want to bad mouth that guy too much. A year ago, Obama was the main adversary, so people would take any chance they had to attach something negative to him.

            http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2015/nov/23/arsalan-iftikhar/do-59-percent-americans-believe-barack-obama-musli/

    • gbdub says:

      Regarding your second sentence – why does it seem different to you? I think in both cases, the signaling value has far outweighed the actual truth at this point. And it’s probably one of those cases where we vastly overestimate the likelihood that a random schmoe with a landline who picks up for strange numbers has actually looked into the issue. “Well I heard once that he might not be… I better say not sure”.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Let me put it this way, a think a similar question would be:
        Do you agree, disagree or neither with the statement “George W. Bush was in the Air National Guard”.

        Do you think you would get those kind of percentages from Democrats for this question? I’m somewhat confident that you would not.

        You might get similar questions to “Was George Bush AWOL from the Air National Guard”, but it seems like a different kind of question.

        It’s the simplicity of the statement, and the easy to understand nature of the proof that seems at question. That and incentives at the time. Obama would still have been a citizen even if he wasn’t born in the US, so there was no incentive to lie about it, leaving aside the difficulty of pulling that off by essentially unconnected people, etc.

        • Gbdub says:

          I don’t know, it still feels to me like you’re harping on a minor distinction to put up some anti-Republican boo lights.

          As for why the meme sticks… Well, Obama is pretty “foreign”. And not (just) so much because he’s black, but because he was born in Hawaii (already pretty exotic, despite being a state) and spent a chunk of his youth in Indonesia. He’s not really “African-American” in the sense we usually think of it in America (descendent of former slaves) – he’s half Kenyan. He was raised primarily by a white woman and her parents – I’m not sure when he was first exposed to what we’d call “mainstream American black culture” but he certainly didn’t grow up in it. His background is pretty atypical for any American. (But that’s part of what’s great about America!)

          None of this, of course, matters to his eligibility for the Presidency. But I suspect “was he born in America”, which is a factual question with a straightforward answer, gets conflated with “is Obama a foreigner” which is more of a value judgement. I think for a large chunk of the 72%, they are mostly signaling “Obama does not represent me / my version of America”.

          People are capable of believing pretty dumb things, like e.g. the sizable number of people that believe Bush either was involved in or at least knew about 9/11. Which would be much harder to cover up than a simple birth certificate forgery, if you’re inclined to conspiracy. Or hell, the number of people that think Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer, which started as a stupid and obvious joke but then people started taking seriously for some reason.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t know, it still feels to me like you’re harping on a minor distinction to put up some anti-Republican boo lights.

            I’m sure there is some of that.

            But, if some controversy started that GW Bush didn’t actually attend Yale, and then Yale released a statement saying “He attended Yale” I would expect that people might then switch to “he was actually a bad student” or something like that, but I really wouldn’t expect people to be hanging on to “he didn’t attend Yale”.

            This is such a basic claim, so easy to check. And there was so much coverage of it. You really have to willfully (in some way) hold onto the idea that it isn’t settled.
            Other Republicans/conservatives in this thread find the fact that the question can still be asked to be insulting to Republicans. And yet something like 40% of Republicans still answer “Don’t agree he was born in the US”.

            Like, I might find it dispiriting that so many Democrats are still anti-vax or anti-GMO, but I don’t find it insulting that people would ask that question of Democrats in a survey and report on it…

          • gbdub says:

            Well, I certainly don’t consider it “insulting” to ask the question. And I don’t really see it in the responses you’re getting here – mostly my thought is “You can ask, but the result isn’t that meaningful… and I’d probably be a bit suspicious about the motives of someone asking today”, which is quite different from “I’m insulted that you’d ask!” EDIT: I didn’t realize quite how deep the conversation went after our little subthread here. Still, interpreting “I think you’re up to something, go away” as “I am irrationally insulted!” is kind of uncharitable, and I think the former better characterizes the responses you’re getting. Especially when you’ve got e.g. Tekhno literally doing what they are suspicious of and spinning this as “Ha ha, conservatives are uniquely dumb!” END EDIT

            Yes, it’s an easily checkable fact. It’s also something where knowing the right answer has essentially zero value, while signaling the partisan answer has some value. That probably plays into it.

        • Deiseach says:

          Do you think some of those people might be conflating “US” with “the mainland” (or the continent, or however you think of the large landmass and not the islands lying off it)?

          Also, looking it up, I see Hawaii didn’t become a state until 1959 and Obama was born in 1961. People who aren’t sure of his age and birthdate but know he was born in Hawaii may be unsure if he was born before or after it became a state.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This does not square with the large partisan differences between respondents.

          • JayT says:

            I would wager that the large partisan differences are just partisan signaling. Saying he was born in America is the “good” answer while saying he wasn’t in the “bad” answer. A very partisan person won’t say something “good” about someone from the other side even if it’s true.

          • Tekhno says:

            @JayT

            If something is both clearly false and transparent in its partisanship doesn’t its use only mar the reputation of your side? You’d think they’d be able to grasp the meta-level of “Wait. Even if we have all this obscure evidence on some guy’s blog that Obama was born abroad, liberals being equally partisan will never believe us, and it’s a side issue anyway vis a vis Obama being any good, as it doesn’t do anything to convince Independents that he has the wrong policies, so we should probably just drop it to avoid looking like a bunch of swivel eyed paranoid idiots and alienating people who aren’t already conservatives further.”

            I don’t want to be unkind, but there’s a reason people wonder about the intelligence of conservatives as a group. Surely even a very very partisan person who was intelligent would have an awareness of what believing easily disproved things does to the reputation of their group.

          • JayT says:

            I would agree with that. I think some people get so worked up over politics that they don’t think forward enough to realize that it’s ok to sometimes say something nice about the other side. I know a good amount of Republicans, even some that are of the Glenn Beck/Infowars variety, but I’ve never met one that seriously believed Obama wasn’t born in America. Perhaps my personal experience is an outlier, but I just have a hard time taking these types of poll results at face value, so I was looking for other possible explanations.

          • “Surely even a very very partisan person who was intelligent would have an awareness of what believing easily disproved things does to the reputation of their group.”

            Individuals are interested mostly in the effect on themselves not on their group.

            The example that repeatedly strikes me is the tone of online climate arguments. Most posters on both sides are insulting their opponents, boasting of their superior wisdom and virtue, and providing very few actual arguments in support of their position. Insofar as there is any effect on the debate it is to persuade any reasonable neutral to reject the side they are arguing for.

            But their behavior lets them attack people, puff themselves up, generally enjoy themselves, so they do it.

            Dan Kahan (Yale Law School) has done research on issues that have become markers for group identity. On average, the more intellectually able you are the more likely to support your group’s position, whether that means believing in evolution or rejecting it. It’s entirely rational, once we realize that whether your belief is true has very little effect on the world, whether it fits with the beliefs of the people who matter to you has a large effect on you.

          • “there’s a reason people wonder about the intelligence of conservatives as a group.”

            An obvious reason. The people doing the wondering are unable to imagine that reasonable and intelligent people could disagree with them, observe that conservatives do, and draw the obvious conclusion.

            It works in the other direction too.

          • Jiro says:

            This does not square with the large partisan differences between respondents.

            Sure it does. Because Democrats like Obama and Republicans don’t, only Republicans bother trying to think about whether there are any tricks in the question. This is not rational, but it matches how people actually think.

          • Tekhno says:

            An obvious reason. The people doing the wondering are unable to imagine that reasonable and intelligent people could disagree with them, observe that conservatives do, and draw the obvious conclusion.

            Well, I don’t think conservatives can’t be reasonable and intelligent. I just think that lots of conservatives can’t, more so than for liberals.

            Perhaps I’m just more exposed to conservative stupidity. The non radio talk show US media does have a liberal bias after all.

          • JayT says:

            You must not know enough liberals then. Some of the things I see some of my liberal friends posting makes birthers look sane.

          • For a recent example from the FB climate discussion:

            “we have ushered in intractable near term extinction (NTE) of most of life within the next several decades.”

            That’s an extreme version, but a lot of people are predicting catastrophic results of climate change in the fairly near future.

            In the same thread I had a very rare experience, an interaction with a reasonable and civil person who disagreed with me and pointed me at evidence, although it turned out that the evidence did not provide the support he thought it did for his position. I learned some things, he (hopefully) learned some things.

            Lots of nuts on both sides but a few reasonable people on both sides too, whether it’s climate or other politically linked issues.

          • JayT says:

            Nancy, I see a lot of anti-vax comments that are beyond ridiculous. Lots of alternate medicine using stuff like homeopathy, lasers, and magnets.

            Then there are the ones that still think the USSR would have worked if it just wasn’t for the nasty old US getting in its way.

            Probably my favorite is my one friend that sincerely believes that it would be better if we were to get rid of all technology and just live an agrarian lifestyle in communes.

            Now, I’m not saying that these things are unique to liberals, or even that they are liberal stances. I’m just saying I see people with ridiculous ideas on all sides, and I don’t see a big difference in the propensity to have odd ideas.

          • “and I don’t see a big difference in the propensity to have odd ideas.”

            It’s worth remembering that almost nobody has an adequate primary source basis for most of his beliefs. Almost all of them are based on what sources of information we trust, people we know, books and magazines and blogs we read, tell us. That’s true of people who believe in AGW or evolution as much as of people who don’t believe in them.

            If the people around you claim that conventionally grown food is poisoned by pesticides, or GMO crops a terrible danger, or life at present much worse than life in some idealized past, you are quite likely to believe it without making any serious effort to check.

    • Guy says:

      I’d really like to know what the question was.

      Of course, it’s also worth noting that this was a poll conducted via SurveyMonkey. Ie, self-selected people on the internet are the ones answering.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Mmmm, I don’t think it was that kind of survey, as those polls have essentially no statistical significance. SurveyMonkey is somehow involved, but I don’t think NBC has stooped to putting their names an those kinds of polls.

        And the question was asking for agreement, disagreement or neither with the following statement:
        “Barack Obama was born in the United States.”

        Edit and an aside: Why the fuck do I substitute there for their and vice versa way more than 50% of the time…

        • Guy says:

          Yeah, it’s just strange to see ~30% of respondents in the “neither” category on that question, which makes me wonder if there was something weird in the phrasing on the poll. I mean, how does someone wind up with no opinion on that subject? I don’t honestly believe all of the “neither” respondents are closet birthers, but how do you just not form an opinion on a basic question of fact like that?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Mmmmm, that seems more like it’s just being interpreted as “on a scale of 1 to 3, how much do you agree with this statement”.

            I get that. It feels crappy to being boxed into a set of answers some times.

          • I can see someone thinking “All these people are yelling about it. It’s more work than I care to put in to decide who’s right.”

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Guy
            I don’t honestly believe all of the “neither” respondents are closet birthers, but how do you just not form an opinion on a basic question of fact like that?.

            Hm? Very easily; just cultivate a habit of not jumping to conclusions. Forming a rational opinion wastes takes energy: looking at the evidence on both sides, applying priors, setting a probabiity of how likely the opinion is to be correct, etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @housboatonstyxb:
            My priors say you don’t actually believe that this is what is going on here.

            I’d wager that McCain would get a higher yes percentage than Obama among registered Republicans, and that both other categories would be lower.

          • Jill says:

            The simplest most likely Occam’s Razor type explanation is that, for many years now, propagandists have filled the heads of many people who lean to the Right of the political spectrum, with the idea that Obama was not born in the U.S. And so they are really not sure whether he was born in the U.S.

            Propagandists do not need to convince people 100% in order to have a large effect politically. They only need to sow the seeds of doubt, as was done successfully for a long time with the idea that maybe tobacco doesn’t really cause cancer, and is now done, by the very same forces, to cause people to doubt man-made global climate change. See book below.

            Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming Paperback – May 24, 2011 by Naomi Oreskes
            https://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/dp/1608193942/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473423067&sr=8-1&keywords=Merchants+of+Doubt

            But Occam’s Razor is not usually applied with regard to politics in the U.S. Because the U.S. is such an active, non-reflective culture that most people here do not believe in propaganda– or do not believe that it affects them or others here.

            And many people in the U.S. don’t seem to believe in the subconscious or that they can be influenced without their awareness. Many believe they are aware of everything important, have and exercise complete freedom, have control of everything they do, and choose rationally with complete knowledge. So how could propaganda exist?

            Also, in the case of the Right Wing leaning media, these media have successfully convinced many people that most media and journalists in general are biased toward the Left– in spite of the fact that Fox has been found to be “America’s most trusted news channel”

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/03/09/fox-news-is-the-most-trusted-national-news-channel-and-its-not-that-close/

            and despite the fact that if you see a TV screen in a health club, sports bar, cruise ship, hotel etc., it’s almost always going to be tuned to Fox News.

            Now that’s successful propaganda– when the most trusted news source so easily convinces large numbers of people that it is a beaten down underdog and rallies its viewers to its cause in that way– the poor beaten down “underdog” party that controls both Houses of Congress, most state legislatures, most governorships, and SCOTUS too until Scalia died.

          • ” Many believe they are aware of everything important, have and exercise complete freedom, have control of everything they do, and choose rationally with complete knowledge.”

            I don’t think I know anybody who believes all of that, left or right.

    • Agronomous says:

      I’m going with, “Nobody trusts pollsters,” possibly narrowed to “Nobody sensible trusts pollsters.”

      Also going with, “I want the three minutes of my life you’ve wasted by bringing up a stupid SurveyMonkey poll back.” (SurveyMonkey? Really? You’d think that stuff would burst into flames before getting within six feet of Scott’s blog. Hey, did they at least tell you what Game of Thrones character you are at the end?)

      (Edited to Add (ETA): Ah, so it wasn’t an actual SurveyMonkey survey apparently; NBC News just wanted to get the SurveyMonkey brand on it to make it seem more… um… huh. You know, I think someone over there doesn’t understand how branding works.)

      If they’d asked me, my response would have been “Oh, shut the fuck up about it already,” which I guess counts as “unwilling to answer yes”. The factual question is buried in sixty-four layers of tribalism at this point, and I don’t feel like giving ammunition to a bunch of liberals to bash people of my tribe, however mistaken they may be on this particular issue.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t feel like giving ammunition to a bunch of liberals to bash people of my tribe, however mistaken they may be on this particular issue.

        Ummm, then you would answer “Agree” not “Neither Agree nor Disagree”?

        If you don’t want to give people ammunition, your stated answer is a weird way to go about it.

        This seems more like a statement of “I know I’m wrong about this but I don’t want to admit it”, maybe?

        • Agronomous says:

          I think you’re not grasping something about polls, pollsters, and the experience of conservatives with the first two.

          My belief is “Agree”.

          My answer to the pollster is “Shut the fuck up.”

          My answer as recorded by the pollster is “Neither Agree nor Disagree”.

          Capisce?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think that would be a “declined to answer” and wouldn’t be counted in the survey results.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I think that would be a “declined to answer” and wouldn’t be counted in the survey results.

            I disagree. If that were the case we’d be talking about the number of people who answered “no” to the question “Was Obama born in the U.S.?” not the number of people who were “unwilling to answer yes”. Those who are unwilling to answer one way or the other you are, by definition, included among those who are “unwilling to answer yes”
            .
            Edit:
            The framing seems to be specifically designed so that those who decline to answer will be included in the hated outgroup. That alone should tell you everything thing you need to know about the providence of the pollsters.

          • I think there is a simpler explanation.

            Almost all of us here pay attention to political controversies. Lots of other people don’t. I expect there are a substantial number of people who don’t know that a controversy was ever raised over where Obama was born.

            They see the question. It never occurred to them that Obama might not have been born in the U.S., but since someone is asking them about it …

            So they respond that they don’t know. Which is true.

          • Chalid says:

            @David Friedman

            Such an explanation is difficult to reconcile with the very large difference between how Democrats and Republicans answer the question.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlynkacg:

            My impression is that the survey presented the statement:

            “Barack Obama was born in the United States.”

            And offered three possible responses:
            -Agree
            -Neither Agree Nor Disagree
            -Disagree

            Usually these aren’t one question surveys, so anyone giving up at that question would usually just not be included in the totals.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Granted.

            I’m simply pointing out that MSNBC makes it pretty clear that that Republicans who declined to answer or answered “neither agree nor disagree” are being included in your “%72” total.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlynkacg:

            I’m simply pointing out that MSNBC makes it pretty clear that that Republicans who declined to answer or answered “neither agree nor disagree” are being included in your “%72” total.

            It’s an NBC news poll, not MSNBC, and I don’t see that information on the like I provided. Do you have some other source?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Did you read any of your own link past the first paragraph? 31 percent is a lot less than 72 percent.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlynkacg:
            I am contending that specifically choosing “neither agree nor disagree” is different than refusing to continue the poll and would be treated differently in tabulation.

            Choosing “neither agree nor disagree” is not the same thing as just not answering. I think this relatively standard for polls and methodology.

            So you don’t seem to be responding to my actual contention?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Are you claiming that answering “neither agree nor disagree” is the same as answering “disagree”? Because that’s the argument you seem to be making in your first two replies and the one I was trying to refute.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlynkacg:
            No, I’m not contending that “neither agree nor disagree” is the same as no. You can see elsewhere that I compared it to a 1, 2 or 3 sliding rating.

            All I’m claiming is that about 40% answered “do not agree”, about 30% answered “neither agree nor disagree”. Less than 30% answered “agree”.

    • cassander says:

      I think a better question than the national guard is “did bush know about september 11th”, a question which gets fairly similar numbers of demcrats refusing to say no, as you put it.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        From a signalling perspective, I agree.

        But from a “how reasonable is it to take the partisan position” perspective, they are different.

        • cassander says:

          I don’t see that at all. Both positions seem equally ridiculous to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            A) “Bush was briefed that AQ was planning an attack in 2001” is actually true. Much of the rest after that is into “prove a negative” territory. I think it’s clearly ridiculous to think Bush/the admin knew anything immediately actionable, so the generalized conspiracy belief is wrong, but simple questions may not neatly separate the factual belief from the conspiracy.

            B) There is ample evidence of the positive fact of the location of Obama’s birth.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Do you genuinely think that the Democrats who answered “yup, Bush knew!” were carefully parsing the question, going over that famous Bin Laden memo from 2001 in their heads, and so forth? I don’t.

          • cassander says:

            Here is the supposed smoking gun presidential briefing that said Bin Laden is gong to attack the US. It amounts to saying that a well known terrorist has not stopped being a terrorist. To jump from that to “Bush knew” is at least as ridiculous as jumping from a few oddities in Obama’s biography to “clearly he’s Kenyan.”

      • Chalid says:

        If you’re like me, you read that and thought that there are perfectly respectable opinions that can be interpreted as “Bush knew about 9/11,” e.g. something like “Bush was presented with evidence about Al Qaeda’s intent to attack the US and did not pay enough attention.” This article looks in a bit more detail (and compares to a poll with less ambiguous wording) and still finds high levels of belief in 9/11 conspiracy among Democrats.

        (Further summarizing, to save you a click – comparing the Republican and Democratic sides, Republicans were somewhat more likely to believe in birtherism than Democrats were to believe in trutherism. Also, birtherism is more concentrated among Republicans than trutherism is among Democrats – e.g. around twice as many independents were truthers as birthers.)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The problem is that the “took no action” prompt can still be interpreted far more charitably. The Bush admin did hear about the fact that AQ was planning something. There are ways to interpret the prompt that encompass “even if some rinky dink thing does happen we can use it to our advantage”

        • John Schilling says:

          If you’re like me, you would refuse to give any simple “yes” or “no” answer to that question, any answer that could be taken as “yes” or “no”. A “yes” will be interpreted as “Yes, George W. Bush was party to a conspiracy to allow terrorist attacks on the United States to further his own political ends”, and used to discredit you as confused or worse if you dissent from the extreme version. A “no” will be used to dismiss you as ignorant and unworthy of further attention on the matter because you obviously didn’t know about that memo like all knowledgeable people do.

          If you’re being forced into a simple answer, it’s a trap. The only winning moves are A: agree with the conspiracy theorist about his conspiracy theory, or B: not play that game.

          • cassander says:

            I think it’s safe to say that no one here is much like the average poll respondee.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, you either answer the question in one of the provided blocks are you don’t get counted as a survey participant

            There are large partisan differences in the answers, so you still have to deal with the fact that this question somehow causes a partisan difference in answers.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, you either answer the question in one of the provided blocks are you don’t get counted as a survey participant

            Do they throw out results from people who answer all but one question, or do they count that as a respondent who neither agrees nor disagrees?

            But, yes, for likely “trap” questions where the answers are limited to “Yes”, “No”, and “No Opinion”, the third choice is the safest.

    • It certainly makes me wonder about how good the poll is. Are responders just messing with the poll taker? Do people automatically answer polls according to their tribe? Maybe as soon as they hear the name Obama, they immediately look for the most damaging answer. I find I can’t believe that 72% of Republicans actually believe this, so instead it makes me trust polls less. I am not surprised at a lot of dumb answers to complicated questions, but I don’t think the public is quite this dumb.

      • cassander says:

        I maintain a rule that any poll with a question more complicated than “which of these three people do you plan to vote for in a couple months” is probably worthless. You can get a plurality to agree to basically anything.

        • Guy says:

          Frankly, I’m suspicious of that one. “This person or that one, tomorrow” is about the most I expect of poll respondents.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      When a left-wing journalist goes up to a Republican and asks, seven and a half years into his Presidency no less, if Obama was born into the United States, that has the unavoidable subtext of “ha ha I’m going to write such a great article laughing about how dumb and racist those RethugliKKKans are.” You might as well go up to a random black person, claim you’re doing a survey on food preferences, and sneeringly ask if he likes fried chicken and watermelon. In this context, refusing to state that Obama was born in the US is a way of saying “fuck you” to that journalist.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Pretty much

      • Agronomous says:

        I’m beginning to think political polls should uniformly include a “fuck you” option to all questions.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          You jest, but that could be very useful. At least political scientists wouldn’t have to guess.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ Agronomous
          I’m beginning to think political polls should uniformly include a “fuck you” option to all questions.

          Didn’t Scott write something about the ‘lizardman constant’, with that purpose?

    • S_J says:

      I seem to recall that when Obama’s literary agent was trying to sell the manuscript for his first book, the agent listed Obama as ‘born in Kenya, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii’. (I think it was a manuscript titled Journeys in Black and White, and not the book titled Dreams of My Father.)

      Not sure that this has any epistemic value.

      I think it worth noting that it was probably to Obama’s advantage at that time to be seen as an African-born man living in the United States.

      • bluto says:

        I think the interesting question is whether any of the academic institutions he attended had the same impression.

  9. HeelBearCub says:

    More evidence that the crime rate drop can be explained by a particular cohort aging. It seems fairly clear that the young people of today are far less likely to engage in criminal activity than the youn people of 20 years ago.

    • cassander says:

      that just begs the question of why modern youths are less likely to be criminal.

      • Agronomous says:

        Because they can play Grand Theft Auto. All the fun, none of the criminal record.

        Also, note that the hyper-violent cohort is mine and HeelBearCub’s, so everybody just think twice about crossing either one of us.*

        (* N.B.: misusing “beg the question” counts as crossing me. You have been warned.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Talkin’ ’bout my generation!

          So we’re the angry violent criminals? Yes! Kids these days, don’t know they’re born, they have it so soft 😉

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Leaded Gasoline is a popular answer to this, but lacking dispositive evidence.

    • utilitarian troll says:

      I think it’s porn. (This is also my explanation for decreased teenage pregnancies and the whole “nice guys vs jerks” internet meme.) See http://yourbrainonporn.com or The Demise of Guys

      • The Nybbler says:

        Porn and video games? Before that it was television. And comic books. I’m not sure if radio ever had the reputation but I bet it did. Dime novels.

        (BTW, we had porn before the Internet.)

        I mean, maybe this time, it really is the particular form of popular entertainment which is causing the demise of society, but I gotta admit my priors are pretty strong against it.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Your prior might be off. The Amish and other Plain People are a living demonstration that some combination of TV, comic books and dime novels are causing the demise of society.

          That said, the evidence on porn specifically is weak. Opposing it out of general conservative caution makes sense but then you can’t blame specific social problems on it rather than Modernity as a whole.

          • Given the context, I assumed the argument was that the greater availability of porn was responsible for drops in the crime rate.

            It isn’t an absurd claim. There is evidence that increasing the availability of porn results in a drop in the rape rate, presumably because they are substitutes.

          • Fahundo says:

            The Amish and other Plain People are a living demonstration that some combination of TV, comic books and dime novels are causing the demise of society.

            How so?

          • Yes, I think DF has it right. Both Nybbler and Dealgood seem to think that the argument is that porn has caused problems, but based on context, I think he is saying it has decreased crime. And I suspect he is partly correct, although only a small part. I find the decrease in leaded gas and ground more convincing, and just the general mileau of decreasing violence causing a virtuous cycle, as discussed by Pinker.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not sure how a much crappier reference society is supposed to prove anything about the ‘demise’ of ours.

        • Psmith says:

          >implying previous forms of popular entertainment haven’t been causing the demise of society

        • Tekhno says:

          More like the improvement of society. I want more alienation. I want more destruction of traditional family values. I want less births. I want less people on this planet.

          Machines will fill in the economic gaps and we’re all good.

          So if someone claims that TV, computers, and popular media are causing young people to breed less, my answer doesn’t involve scrambling to defend my favorite low brow entertainment, it involves me saying “Yes. Great, isn’t it?”

          (But actually the real answer is the birth control pill so it’s moot.)

        • dndnrsn says:

          I think the idea was that porn is the reason for young men being less violent and lower teen pregnancy.

        • utilitarian troll says:

          “I mean, maybe this time, it really is the particular form of popular entertainment which is causing the demise of society, but I gotta admit my priors are pretty strong against it.”

          Your serve starts off our game of reference class tennis. I’ll respond with another reference class: that of addictive behaviors and substances. No one seems to doubt that abusing addictive substances (alcohol, cocaine, heroin) or immoderate engagement in addictive behaviors (gambling) can have a profound negative impact on one’s life. We also see other substances and behaviors (cigarettes, marijuana, World of Warcrack) that have some level of negative impact for many people. Porn falls in to the latter category. Tube sites are a concentrated form of Playboy in the same way heroin is a concentrated form of opium. The emerging category of “internet addiction”, I suspect, is basically porn addiction. (It strikes men 3x as often as women even though women use e.g. social media as much or more.)

          I don’t want to try to elaborate the full argument here… you’re better off reading one of the sources I linked. There are truckloads of anecdotes about this online if you know where to look, and it seems like academia is catching up with folk wisdom.

          I didn’t claim that porn is causing the demise of society, btw. I claimed that it’s reducing crime and decreasing teenage pregnancies. And also making nerds socially anxious and unable to converse naturally with women. (Women only sleep with the “alpha males” that are able to converse naturally with them, the way most men have been able to do over most of human history. BTW, anxiety is a common side effect of addiction.) So it’s a mixed bag.

      • onyomi says:

        What about testosterone? Apparently it’s lower. Some worry about sperm counts etc. Though is it lower because we live in a less violent world or is the world less violent because testosterone is lower? Or maybe a positive side effect of everyone being poisoned by estrogenic plastic instead of lead is that we’re less violent?

    • S_J says:

      I would think that the ratio of men-younger-than-20 to men-over-35 in the population would explain more than any particular cohort.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        That’s an odd choice since it omits that demographic most likely to commit crimes. I find that age demographics explain 20% of the doubling and then halving of homicide. Nothing to sneeze at, but glass 80% empty.

        • S_J says:

          My goof. (twice, probably…)

          I was thinking of one of two things, and probably jumbled my comparison:

          A. the fraction of population consisting of males ages 15-to-30, compare to the fraction of population consisting of males-over-age-30

          B. the population groups aged 15-20, 20-to-30, and 30-plus.

          However, I do find it odd that this particular set of numbers is rarely brought up in discussion of historical crime rates in the United States.

          Another set of numbers that comes to mind: how does crime vary with the number young people who are first-generation urban dwellers?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Maybe people don’t talk about age demographics because 20% isn’t much. My comment that I linked to above was on an SSC post that linked to a Vox piece on a Brennan Center piece that proposed lots of explanations and put only 5% on age demographics. Surely that’s small enough not to emphasize. But the report does lots of stupid things, like only looking at the 90s, which downplays demographics.

            What is the significance of first generation urban youth?

          • S_J says:

            @DouglasKnight,

            I don’t have a really good reason for my supposition that the first-generation children of urban youth were more likely to cause trouble than their parents (or their peers whose parents had not moved).

            It’s the kind of thing I wonder when I see a graph like the one here

            http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/05/17/rick_nevin_murder_statistics_safest_year_ever.html

            And I notice that the 20th Century had two large peaks of homicides…which appeared to lag after large internal migrations in the U.S.

            That lag time appears to be about 15-to-20 years. [1]

            Maybe I’m also putting too much weight on the idea of growing up in a small town where your parents grew up might lead to strong social pressure to not cause too much trouble…But growing up in a dense urban area in which your parents are relative newcomers might weaken or remove that kind of social pressure.

            I don’t know how to quantify that question to figure out whether sociologists have studied it.[2]

            [1] To my eye, the first wave of large internal migrations was the industrialization of early-20th-Century. The second wave was the growth of big cities and suburbs following World War II.

            However, I’m willing to accept correction on the details of these internal migrations.

            [2] I have seen references to studies about criminal behavior and transient populations. But I don’t think I’ve seen references to studies of how economic migrants and their children behave.

  10. TMB says:

    Re: Affirmative Consent.

    You know how sometimes you have a jokey thing you do, but then it becomes real?
    Well, after I saw Borat, I started saying, “Shall we have a sexy-time?” before I had sex.

    That movie was released about ten years ago, and I said that expression more and more as time went on. Eventually, I was saying it pretty much every time I initiated sex with my girlfriend (and she doesn’t do much initiating).

    So, this got me thinking. Am I a poster boy for affirmative consent?

    I don’t think it’s necessarily un-sexy to ask, but I do tend to approach things with a bit of aggression when my partner is playing hard to get.

    I wouldn’t really think twice about trying to get to second base if the signs were a bit ambiguous, but I wouldn’t go any further than that unless I was fairly sure she was up for it.

    So… is that affirmative consent?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The short answer is that this, yes, this could be affirmative consent, and it probably is.

      But it also might not be, if you are simply ignoring everything else other than some affirmative answer to that particular question.

    • Poxie says:

      B=/=I dude, fix your username.
      And, assuming that your girlfriend is saying “yes” (instead of running away screaming) when you do that, and that she pretty clearly means it (like, she isn’t looking frantically around the room for a blunt object while saying “ye-e-es?”), I think you have probably achieved affirmative consent. Congrats.

      • TMB says:

        Here is my thinking: if asking for consent is unattractive because women like men who will act decisively, you can get the best of both worlds by asking for consent in the most annoying way possible.

        I’m going to ask you for consent, whether you like it or not.

        PS What’s wrong with my username?

    • I wouldn’t really think twice about trying to get to second base if the signs were a bit ambiguous…
      So… is that affirmative consent?

      No.

    • onyomi says:

      I think the key point is that you found a girl who continues to have sex with you year after year even when you ask like Borat. That seems like a pretty strong endorsement.

  11. onyomi says:

    Recently a newscaster got in trouble for calling a person of color a “colored person.” This may be signalling 101 for SSC readers, but Michael Malice had what I thought was nonetheless an insightful commentary in which he pointed out that acceptable terms have to keep changing in order for those interested in identity issues to keep signalling their greater degree of enlightenment than the general public.

    I recall, for example, when everyone had to stop saying “black” and start saying “African American.” After a while, however, it seems like black gradually became okay again, maybe because too many regular people had caught on to “African American” which started to sound like you were being overly circumspect. I’m not immune to this either: I recall when “oriental” was just the usual word for East Asians. Now “oriental” feels weird and gross–indeed like something someone very not-with-it would say. Of course, “Asian” is not inherently better and is more confusing–Indians (yes, Indians from India, not Native Americans…), for example, are definitely Asian, but look very different from Koreans and would not, in the past, have been called “oriental,” I don’t think. I’d say it was Edward Said, but he wrote that way earlier… though maybe it took a while for it to trickle down from academia.

    I wonder if there’s some old example we can find of this where inquisitor A says to inquisitor B, “hah, can you believe Miguel just called that heretic an ‘infidel?’ *snicker*” Though the difference here would be that the terminology must be right for those whom we are supposedly saving from oppression, not those whom we are damning.

    • LHN says:

      Of course, “Asian” is not inherently better and is more confusing–Indians (yes, Indians from India, not Native Americans…), for example, are definitely Asian, but look very different from Koreans and would not, in the past, have been called “oriental,” I don’t think.

      Well, it depends when in the past. In my lifetime, no. But “oriental” has a history as more generally “Eastern” (go figure), and was often applied to the Near and Middle East (pardon me: Western Asia). Hence, for example, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, whose exhibits center on artifacts from Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Persia. It wouldn’t have been particularly unheard of to refer to the Ottoman sultanate as an Oriental monarchy at a time when its writ extended well into Europe.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Not disagreeing with the general thrust of this, but I don’t think it’s particularly notable, unexpected or worthy of blame that we require people to keep up with how language changes.

      If a newscaster were to think that a TI-80 should be referred to as a “computer” (in an unsophisticated sense), this would be a gaffe, albeit without associated moral opprobrium. “Colored” probably was last in respectable use back when that would have made sense.

      • An Emphatic Maybe says:

        There’s at least a scalar (i.e. logical) reason why a TI-80 isn’t called a computer anymore. Plus I won’t get into trouble with anyone for calling my Macbook a calculator, even if I’m angry with it.

        With African American vs. black vs. colored, the changes are pretty much willy-nilly.

        What I find hilarious is when people use “black” all day and then when they want to suddenly get all solemn about something they switch to “African American.”

        • Brad (The Other One) says:

          >With African American vs. black vs. colored, the changes are pretty much willy-nilly.

          I disagree. “Imbecile” was a medical term, to my knowledge, until people started using it as an insult. The reasons terms change in regards to these things is I think, in part, because A: Human beings insult each others and B: Language is vague enough that we’re not always sure if someone insulted us.

          • LHN says:

            And once a technical or descriptive term becomes commonly used as an insult, many people who don’t want to be insulting want a way to make clear that they aren’t. That the new term eventually gets used as an epithet in turn helps drive the euphemism treadmill, at least as long as the underlying stigma persists.
            The terms may be near-synonyms (“retarded”, “slow”, “developmentally delayed”, all the racial terms which are simply “black” in different languages, or the polite term shifting from “Jew” to “Hebrew” for a while in the 19th century before going back again). But if a term hasn’t yet been used contemptuously they have a connotational advantage, however temporary.

            You do sometimes get a bit of plus royaliste que le roi; at least when I checked a while back, “American Indian” is as or more popular among the peoples so described as “Native American” (or the Canadian “First Nations”). Or the perception that “Eskimo” is insulting and “Inuit” the polite term, where a) North American Arctic peoples aren’t all Inuit (especially in Alaska; they mostly are Inuit in Canada), and Eskimo (again, unless this has changed relatively recently) isn’t perceived as an insult.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I think both things happen. One is that a previously neutral or technical term like “retarded” becomes a colloquial insult, forcing those who might have once used it to find a new term. But I think there are also definitely cases of people inventing a substitution for a neutral word as a way to signal extra respect/enlightened sensibility. I don’t think “colored person” was ever an insult, for example, but it gradually become antiquated sounding.

            That said, given that I think of the NAACP as representing the interests of black people specifically and “persons of color” referring more broadly, basically to anyone not-white (do East Asians count as “people of color”? I kind of think no?), there may actually be a slightly different referent here (though now that I think about it, I realize why “persons of color” bugs me; it’s not just needlessly wordy, it seems to imply, to me, an “us-against-them” mentality with respect to white people from the perspective of all non-white people; for a certain segment, of course, this is a feature, not a bug).

          • Guy says:

            @LHN I recently learned that Eskimo is actually an umbrella term for the Inuit and another, related group called the Yupik. It is an exonym (from another native group) with a history as a pejorative, though it doesn’t have a direct pejorative meaning. Apparently the proposed alternative is Inuit-Yupik.

          • Sandy says:

            (do East Asians count as “people of color”? I kind of think no?)

            Depends on the context. If you’re talking about test scores or the demographics of Facebook’s workforce, then no, East Asians are whiter than Scandinavians. If you’re talking about a Boston museum exhibiting kimonos, then East Asians are people of color and it is wrong to get anywhere near their culture.

            What bothers me about the “people of color” label is that most of the time it’s just used in place of “black”. Most of the gatherings I’ve attended and organizations I’ve checked out that talk about PoC issues are led by black women, talking about issues in black communities that are apparently of major interest to black people, but which they believe should also be of major interest to everyone else who’s not white. Which is a large group of people and thus a label that includes them all could lend a lot of weight to issues that might be considered just black interests.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @LHN:

            the polite term shifting from “Jew” to “Hebrew” for a while in the 19th century before going back again

            In some languages, like Russian, the cognate of “Jew” (zhid) is insulting while the cognate of “Hebrew” (Yevrey) is insulting.

          • LHN says:

            @Guy I’ve been told that the folks in question in Alaska use “Eskimo”, and don’t consider it a pejorative. But I haven’t spent much time there, and it’s possible I’m wrong. (Or that it was true and no longer is.)

            But FWIW, when I was in Alaska, I never saw any references to “Inuit-Yupik”. (Eskimo, yes. Alaska Native, which encompasses both Eskimos and Indians, definitely. I think “arctic peoples” as well.) Which leads me to suspect that it’s something that’s being pushed, but isn’t yet standard usage. (Though of course it may come to be in the future.)

            But since I don’t have much direct knowledge, I’m open to correction.

        • Tekhno says:

          African American vs. black

          In the UK, we still use black for obvious reasons.

          We’ve come up with new acronyms though, like in the sentence; “The BBC needs to prioritize the hiring of more BAME individuals.”

          • Guy says:

            Can you expand that acronym? Is it “black and middle eastern”?

          • Tekhno says:

            Black, Asian*, and Minority Ethnic.

            *Asian identity is complicated in the UK. Whereas in America, Asian more typically referred to East-Asians such as Chinese, and Japanese etc, in the UK, Asian traditionally referred in a more proper fashion to people from the continent in general (not including Russia).

            However, a narrative shift has gone on. In the mainstream media, Asian is more often than not an over-generic euphemism to refer to people from Pakistan when they are implicated in crimes. See the use of “urban youths” in American rhetoric and compare to “Asian youths” in UK rhetoric; we all know they’re not talking about people from India or China. This is driven by political correctness.

            The other shift is the parallel adoption of the American usage where Asian means East-Asian only for informal use. This is driven by porn.

            So, if you are in the UK and you see a newscaster say something about “gangs of Asian youths have blah blah blah” then you know he’s talking about Pakistanis, whereas if you see a young person say he’s got a thing for Asians, he has “yellow fever”.

            EDIT:
            Some people don’t like BAME precisely because it packages minorities that are doing well such as East-Asians and Indians with minorities that are doing badly such as blacks, so a conjoined effort against discrimination against BAME people would not target resources proportionately at where they are most needed.

            Here’s a Guardian article on the subject.

      • onyomi says:

        But “colored person,” semantically speaking is no different from “person of color.” I picked that example because it’s a case where it literally means exactly the same thing; only the connotations feel different due to the former reminding us of an older, more racist time.

        That is, I think most people think they are moving on to a more precise, accurate, and/or kind word when they start calling retarded people “developmentally disabled,” but the difference between “colored person” and “person of color” seems to show that, at least in some cases, it’s really 100% about historical connotations, overtones, fashion, etc.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          But “colored person,” semantically speaking is no different from “person of color.”

          Word order matters not to Yoda.

          But to everyone else it actually does.

          • onyomi says:

            The word order still doesn’t change anything about the meaning in this case. Unless you think “leaves of green” means something different from “green leaves” (obviously it makes a difference rhetorically, poetically, aurally, etc. but it means the exact same thing).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            But if “leaves of green” were a common phrase, substituting “green leaves” would not necessarily carry the same connotation.

            It’s like saying “baby talk” and “talking to a baby” mean the same thing. They don’t.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            HBC, your example doesn’t really hold up. All the other examples are compound nouns, but “talking to a baby” contains a verb. Something something, I’m not a grammar pendant but they are obviously different things.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Fair point, so:

            “Pink slip” vs. “slip of pink”

          • LHN says:

            There’s always Indian American vs. American Indian.

          • onyomi says:

            “There’s always Indian American vs. American Indian.”

            That actually does mean something different. In the first, “Indian” is the modifier, in the second, the noun. Like the difference between an American orange and an orange American. The first is a fruit, the second a presidential candidate.

  12. onyomi says:

    As, apparently, is a typical experience when reading Robin Hanson, I’ve been thinking about his farmer-forager dichotomy and finding it more and more interesting and plausible the more I think about it.

    In particular, I’ve been think about how it relates to the issue of hierarchy versus egalitarianism. Farmers would be more hierarchical and the forager ways we’re now tending to return to are more egalitarian, as meshes well with the strongly egalitarian ethos of most liberal democracies today.

    Yet what got me thinking recently about egalitarianism, ironically, is an argument I’ve always disliked that by paying workers less than they need to live, Wal Mart is somehow burdening the rest of society, which has to pick up the slack. This only makes sense if you see the employer-employee relationship not as a simple transaction of money for labor, but as a kind of personal, hierarchical social institution in which the employee’s agreement to work creates in the employer an obligation to see he’s taken care of, not just on the job, but in life.

    I largely disagree with this conception of employment, though I see its appeal and, indeed, would much rather have one good job than do a bunch of freelance or, indeed, start my own business (though the latter point is also informed by what I see as excessive red tape in attempting to do so, such as the very same expectations people have about Wal Mart).

    Yet we associate this conception of employment much more with liberalism–certainly with progressive liberalism–today, when it actually seems to me to be a more farmerish viewpoint. I have long suspected that economic progressivism/leftism is actually very conservative in a weird sort of way–a return to mercantilism, guilds, protectionism, etc. (though recently this last cause has become more stereotypically right-wing with Trump, Brexit, etc.). This makes me happy in a weird way–Gary Johnson supposedly drawing more from Hillary than Trump and Trump actually moving the GOP towards a more generally farmerish view. Are we getting closer to having parties that actually make sense?

    Or am I mischaracterizing the “Wal Mart owes its employees a decent living” argument, which is actually not about hierarchy, but a forager model where everyone lives in small bands and has to share everything?

    • Guy says:

      Epistemic Status: I have read little, if any, Hanson, and may just be describing the forager/farmer dichotomy by accident, rather than adding to the discussion

      I think there’s more going on with the “standard” conception of employment than the hierarchical social institution you describe, although that’s certainly present. There’s still a sense that a person “should” only have one job; gig-economy lifestyle is viewed as a bad thing per se, whether or not the person in question is actually making a living off of it, and people are generally expected to only have a single job (or perhaps to only have one primary job). Needing to work multiple jobs is generally viewed as a sign that none of the jobs you have are adequate (and implicitly, that you are poor and therefore low-status).

      In this framework, where a given employee is only “supposed” to have one job, it’s natural to declare that the employer must pay the employee enough to live on, otherwise the employee isn’t getting the value that they need out of the job. If society demands that people work only a single job, and employers refuse to provide a living wage, society must pick up the slack (or let people starve, but that doesn’t work in the long term).

      An alternative framework would probably require that Walmart allow employees as much schedule flex as it demands of them – if working their next shift (but not necessarily all future shifts) abruptly becomes a waste of money, the employee needs to be able to say so with the same window of notification that Walmart provides when it’s doing productivity optimization and drops the employee’s shift. Then it matters much less whether Walmart pays a living wage, because the employee can just work a more lucrative shift somewhere else if they need to.

      (As it happens, I’m actually kind of uncomfortable with the standard employment model in Western society. I don’t like making guarantees about my future productivity, so I would much rather complete publicly offered jobs in exchange for bounties, or accept payment after the fact for projects I had done.)

      • “society must pick up the slack (or let people starve, but that doesn’t work in the long term).”

        I’m picking this up because there was a long thread some time back where I was arguing that “living wage” was dishonest rhetoric, since the wage in question was much higher than literally required to stay alive. Many people responded that of course “living wage” didn’t really mean the wage it took to live, it meant a wage sufficient to maintain a tolerable level of status or something similar.

        I think what I just quoted demonstrated that people do indeed take “living wage” to mean “wage below which people starve.” Which is off by an order of magnitude or so.

        • Gazeboist says:

          I know what’s usually talked about as a “living wage” in the US is more than is required to live in many other countries, or even in other parts of the US, but I do generally mean enough to get food to eat, pay rent, pay utilities* (often an unavoidable addition to rent), and probably have a bit of wiggle room for emergencies / improving their lot. A person working 40 hours a week should probably be able to do this while supporting a single non-working dependent (the worker in this scenario might be eg a person with an unemployed significant other, temporarily or otherwise, or a single mother with one child). The person should also be able to maintain whatever status their employer demands of them: if you pay your employees enough to eat and pay rent, but not enough to buy new clothes, you can’t (or, well, shouldn’t) fire them for wearing second-hand or otherwise old stuff.

          These things are what I would consider the basic ingredients of a minimum wage. That said, all of this does have one implicit assumption: the person in question does not need to move far to find a place where they can both live and work. It’s the mismatch (which as I understand it exists) between local living expenses and local minimum wages that drives minimum wage discussions. Some people are foolish and believe a minimum wage should be set nationwide; the entire US is much too big for a single minimum wage to make sense. A Vermont-wide minimum/living wage** probably makes sense, but I’m not sure how much larger it goes. Certainly not up to the size of California or Texas. Of course, my preferred *legal* solution would be a BIG to provide what I think of as “liquidity at zero” (so that you don’t need to work 40 hours a week in order to live for the week, even if you can’t maintain your ordinary standard of living for long), and just let the economy handle the rest.

          *Minimally, by utilities means power and heating. These are basic standards in the US at this point, and the person in question might be required to pay for them as a condition of renting whatever home they live in. Culture is changing such that I might also include an internet connection in “utilities”, but only if we really do start treating basic internet access as a utility and regulating internet providers as such. Internet-as-a-utility is something I believe in a pseudo-moral sense; it is required for a reasonable participation in modern society, but I haven’t looked into the actual practical implications of making it the legal reality and don’t know what they would be.

          ** It might be interesting for various metros to publish studies on what a local living wage is, without actually requiring that businesses pay that hourly wage, and see what happens. Maybe you require businesses to say “this hourly wage is X% of the local living wage, as defined by Reputable Independent Body Y” when making an offer to an employee. What would that do, I wonder?

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Your definition of living wage will vary substantially by person even within a given location. A teenager getting a job for spending money, a wife getting a job to earn vacation money, a student getting a job to make professional connections, a retired person with a good pension getting a job for social interaction, a young 20s professional renting a place with 3 roommates getting their first job out of college, and a single mother with 3 kids trying to make it on her own will all have different values for a living wage as you define it, ranging from 0 (or possibly even negative, if someone is willing and capable of paying to intern at a job) up to $X an hour.

            A one-size-fits-all living wage just doesn’t make sense as an implementable concept.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            Jobs being expensive is a well-known problem with no good solution. See the two-income trap for this continuing to higher-earning people.

          • Jiro says:

            The two income trap ended up being caused by taxes.

          • ” but I do generally mean enough to get food to eat, pay rent …”

            I picked up on this because it’s a good example of the way in which the standards of a very rich society are built into what we take for granted that people need. “Rent,” for us, takes for granted at least one room per person (or couple), typically more.

            George Orwell, in Down and Out in Paris and London, describes the housing used by very poor people in London at the time–many beds per room. Going back a little farther, it was common for strangers to share a bed in an inn. In Moscow in the USSR, as described in the book The Russians, it was common for an entire family to occupy a single room.

            As for food, the minimum cost full nutrition diet costs about $600/year.

            The term “living wage” as it gets used in discussions in the U.S. at present is at best evidence of ignorance, more commonly deliberately dishonest rhetoric.

            A different and unrelated point is that the argument for a basic income and the argument for a minimum wage are quite different. Setting a minimum wage of $15/hour doesn’t mean that anyone who wants can make $15/hour, it means that people who are not worth that much to any employer cannot get hired and so make zero.

          • Jill says:

            Sharing of beds and rooms, in a society like the current U.S., where it is seen as fairly acceptable to be inconsiderate, self-centered, irresponsible etc., could be so problematic that I don’t think most people would wish it on their worst enemy. Would you ever consider sharing a room, much less a bed, with a typical Wal-Mart worker type person?

            The possible problems with room mates are infinite. You could get room mates who are psychotic, who are drug or alcohol addicts, who keep you awake at night, who steal your stuff, who have problems with anger control, who are irresponsible about paying their share of the rent or utilities, who are just hard to get along with in multiple ways etc.

            In thinking of how low a standard of living the poor theoretically ought to be able to tolerate, and how little medical care they should have access to, one can get into one of those situations where the saying applies “Nothing is so easy to tolerate as the misfortunes of others.”

            Here is a book by someone who was actually willing to experience living on poverty level wages herself, to acquaint herself in the flesh with what such people experience, rather than simply thinking in a theoretical way about it. But even she apparently couldn’t bear to part with her health insurance or her car for this experiment.

            Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
            https://www.amazon.com/Nickel-Dimed-Not-Getting-America/dp/0312626681/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473365857&sr=1-1&keywords=nickel+and+dimed

          • @Jill:

            The Orwell book was by someone who had experienced it himself.

            You are asking what one “ought to be able to tolerate.” I am asking what results in your not continuing to live, since that’s what the term “living wage” implies.

            So far as sharing a bedroom with one or more random people, quite a lot of people in even a modern society end up doing that for one reason or another. I did it at various points as an adolescent or young adult, in the context of a summer camp (camper then councilor).

          • JayT says:

            Jill, what you are describing is what pretty much ever person I knew in college (myself included) did for four years. Sharing a room is less than optimal, but it’s hardly the end of the world.

            Also, funny coincidence, my roommate worked at Walmart, and would be considered a “Walmart person” by most.

          • Tekhno says:

            @Jill

            If the culture of people in America has degenerated enough that most of the Walmart worker type people are likely to be inconsiderate, selfish, impulsively aggressive, irresponsible psychotics, why care about them in the first place? Why make special accommodations to people so savage that they can’t even live together as a community in a tolerable fashion?

            Of course, being a poor person from a working class background myself, I don’t think the average Walmart type worker is nearly as bestial as you suggest. Then again, I live in the UK, where Walmart is Asda and all our inconsiderate, selfish, impulsively aggressive, irresponsible psychopaths are pacified on benefits, so maybe it isn’t quite so apocalyptic as to have a society where the standard that the poor tolerate is each other.

          • Gazeboist says:

            @David Friedman

            Like I tried to say, a minimum wage is not my preferred solution. But if we’re going to have a minimum wage instead of a basic income (which is a terrible idea, but also the status quo), then that minimum wage ought to be enough to actually live in what we declare to be the minimum conditions. It’s true that we in the US ban what would be cheaper permanent housing, and to some extent that’s probably a bad decision, but that’s an actual choice that we made, and one of the consequences is that hiring people has (or needs to) become more expensive. Maybe call it a living-in-the-US wage, or a living-locally wage?

          • JayT says:

            That kind of seems like you’re just doubling down on bad decisions at that point. If housing is too expensive why not allow cheaper housing to be made instead of artificially raising wages? The first option seems far more sustainable than the second one to me.

          • As DF said, a minimum wage doesn’t mean everyone gets that wage, it only means that employed people get that wage.

            It is my opinion that welfare to bring every person out of poverty is a much better solution to the poor than a minimum wage. This is especially so in the US since the amount spent on welfare is already over enough to get every person out of poverty if we simply sent the funds to those in poverty. In this manner there would be an effective minimum wage equal to the amount of welfare per person, but in this case it would benefit the poor person instead of involuntarily making them unemployed.

            By the way, Jill, I read Nickel and Dimed. It struck me as writing by a spoiled rich person who never had to work, since most of the bad situations she had that she attributed to being poor happen to just about everyone who has to work for a living. She also complained about how much it cost to live, but always lived in an apartment by herself, which I never was able to do when I was poor, so more spoiled rich person. Also she moved every few months to find a new terrible job, which is also not conducive to living when poor. She was just incompetent at living while poor.

          • Cadie says:

            It’s also illegal – or at least a breach of the lease contract – in most places to rent an apartment and put multiple people in each room, with a few exceptions such as couples being allowed to share a room and newborns not counting. And very small, low-cost apartments, the size of a smallish hotel room with a little kitchenette area and toilet and shower in the second tiny room, are frequently not available for rent. So while theoretically the cost of living could be lowered by renting a tiny efficiency or sharing a bigger place with a lot of people, Americans often can’t because the rooms aren’t available.

          • onyomi says:

            “Sharing of beds and rooms, in a society like the current U.S., where it is seen as fairly acceptable to be inconsiderate, self-centered, irresponsible etc”

            I think the huge expansion in what 21st c. Americans see as a reasonable amount of living space per person is a big part of where all our money seems to get sucked up into such that we feel poor even though we make so much more money than people of the past. People used to (and in poor countries still do) live in a situation which we’d call “living on top of each other.”

            But the problem is the people you used to be living on top of were probably your family, extended family, or members of your high-trust community. As you say, being roommates with random strangers is problematic for all kinds of reasons. One might be tempted to blame a general breakdown in social trust, but a lot of it seems to be a combination of smaller family sizes and especially the higher propensity for children to move away from their families for work.

            That is, people being more mobile nowadays has increased job opportunities (in a way which might compensate for the deleterious effects of other things with anti-employment effects), but also counteracting that improvement is the fact that it costs more to live in a city where you don’t have a bunch of family you can move in with if things get rough.

          • Jill, in regards to what sort of people work at Walmart, I can offer something which is at least information-adjacent.

            I know someone who works at a dollar store in a bad neighborhood. Things are pretty awful. There’s drug use and theft– starting with the management. Most of the people working there are fouled up one way or another.

            There’s more violence than I think most of us would expect in retail. On the other hand, it’s pretty much scuffling related to shop-lifting. It’s actually amazing how territorial the staff is about the store’s stuff, considering that laying hands on a shoplifter is against company policy and the management mistreats the staff.

            However, the staff still doesn’t sound nearly as awful as the way you’re describing people who work at Walmarts in spite of being a step or three lower in terms of the quality of the store.

            The worst of the customers are scarier than the staff. I wouldn’t want to share a room with a random worker from that dollar store, but the customers would be more worth avoiding.

            Part of the problem is that you don’t say anything the probabiliby of any particular bad trait.

            What’s your source of information Walmart workers?

          • @Onyomi:

            One of the cases I cited was Orwell’s description of housing for poor men in London. Unrelated, very low income, many people per room (although I think only one per bed).

          • Gazeboist says:

            @Cadie:

            That hasn’t been my experience (in a 2nd-tier Atlantic Coast city). The general principles seem to be (1) there is a maximum number of people allowed in the unit (usually 2x [number of bedrooms]), (2) everyone needs to be on the lease. I know a set of five people who moved into two bedroom, one bathroom apartment together. While it was a terrible decision for at least one of them, nobody needed to pretend to be dating anyone else and I think they might have been allowed a sixth roommate.

            This does mean that the fallback option Onyomi discussed (depending on length of stay – a week would probably be pretty easy to get away with; a month would likely be pushing it) has barriers it doesn’t need, and as I said the cap is usually a function of the number of designated bedrooms rather than the number of beds you could conceivably fit, but things aren’t quite as bad as you describe.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            A different and unrelated point is that the argument for a basic income and the argument for a minimum wage are quite different. Setting a minimum wage of $15/hour doesn’t mean that anyone who wants can make $15/hour, it means that people who are not worth that much to any employer cannot get hired and so make zero

            Which is to say, they make zero form the potential employer, and whatever from the government. In other words minimum wages without welfare lead to starvation…but who is calling for that combination?

            Are arguments against a minimum wage actually arguments against any kind of minimum wage, or against something more specific…such as a minimum wage without a welfare system, or a minimum wage with US zoning laws?

            That kind of seems like you’re just doubling down on bad decisions at that point. If housing is too expensive why not allow cheaper housing to be made instead of artificially raising wages?

            One answer to that is that various actors are invested in housing continuing to be as expensive as it is. This isn’t a situation caused by a single bad decision, it is highly entangled, and requires real radicalism to solve. It can;’t be solved by the conventional left or right alone, because they are both in the business of supporting different parts of the problem?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            I think the huge expansion in what 21st c. Americans see as a reasonable amount of living space per person is a big part of where all our money seems to get sucked up into

            I think the needs of an aging population is the biggest.

          • onyomi says:

            “a week would probably be pretty easy to get away with; a month would likely be pushing it”

            Only because we have a culture which says successful adults don’t live with their parents. In most traditional cultures it’s quite common, even preferred, to have three generations living under one roof.

          • “Are arguments against a minimum wage actually arguments against any kind of minimum wage”

            The usual economic argument is against any kind of minimum wage–and against price controls more generally.

            Consider someone who is not worth more than $5/hour to any employer. You pass a $10 minimum wage, he is unemployed and goes on welfare. Is your argument that this is a good thing because without the minimum wage he couldn’t qualify for welfare?

            If that is your position, wouldn’t it make more sense to have no minimum wage but a welfare system in which anyone making less than $X/year qualifies? We have a version of that already in the Earned Income Tax Credit.

            You might consider that if you make him unemployable at the wage he can earn you are likely to make him permanently unemployable, while if you let him work for $5/hour, with or without welfare supplementing it, he may well move up in wages over time with experience.

            How do you feel about a society where a substantial number of people are unable to earn money and spend their lives supported by the government? Is that a plus or a minus?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The usual economic argument is against any kind of minimum wage–and against price controls more generally.

            As a rule, rules have exceptions. A completely unregulated market can have very bad impacts on some individuals, even if performs well by the aggregate measures beloved of economists and regulators.

            https://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/price-dikes/#comments

            I don’t see what is so great about having people living in third world conditions in first world countries. It’s not a reinvention of anything worth reinventing. (The many-to-a-room urban area was known as a “rookery” in victorian england: “Rookery” was a colloquial term given in the 18th and 19th centuries to a city slum occupied by poor people and frequently also by criminals and prostitutes. Such areas were overcrowded, with low-quality housing and little or no sanitation. Poorly constructed dwellings, built with multiple storeys and often crammed into any area of open ground, created densely-populated areas of gloomy, narrow streets and alleyways.”)

            It degrades everything else. I mean, I know libertariansim is all about being externality-blind, but…

            Consider someone who is not worth more than $5/hour to any employer. You pass a $10 minimum wage, he is unemployed and goes on welfare. Is your argument that this is a good thing because without the minimum wage he couldn’t qualify for welfare?

            Consider someone who actually gets the $10 an hour…she was worth it , to her employer all along.

            wouldn’t it make more sense to have no minimum wage but a welfare system in which anyone making less than $X/year qualifies? We have a version of that already in the Earned Income Tax Credit.

            Welfare with MW makes more sense than MW without welfare. I wasn’t advocating MW without welfare, I was wondering why you were assuming it , when it is unrealistic.

            You might consider that if you make him unemployable at the wage he can earn you are likely to make him permanently unemployable, while if you let him work for $5/hour, with or without welfare supplementing it, he may well move up in wages over time with experience.

            Consider that if you increase someone wages, they become less likely to jump ship in search of higher wages, become more experienced at their job, and more useful to their employer.

            How do you feel about a society where a substantial number of people are unable to earn money

            That might be the fate of all of us.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          I think what I just quoted demonstrated that people do indeed take “living wage” to mean “wage below which people starve.” Which is off by an order of magnitude or so.

          I’m still not seeing the affordability of accomodation.

          If housing is too expensive why not allow cheaper housing to be made instead of artificially raising wages?

          Like shanty towns? Well, shanty towns create public health hazards, lower existing property values, etc. Cheap do-it-yourself housing isn’t some novel thing, it has well-known disadvantages.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Shanty towns are improvised housing. There are alternative ways to get to cheaper housing than letting people build their own shacks. You can have professional companies build living facilities with communal kitchens, baths, and showers, and have them not be fire or health hazards. All you need to do is change zoning laws.

          • JayT says:

            Also, in the Bay Area at least, strict zoning laws seem to be encouraging shanty town building. As rents have soared due to a lack of supply, I’ve seen more and more homeless encampments crop up.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Helpfully, the user jeff posted a nice link below to give an indication of how much zoning laws can make housing unaffordable: http://www.sightline.org/2016/09/06/how-seattle-killed-micro-housing/

            Key quote: “You draw up plans to build 40 apartments of 175 square feet each. You estimate rent at $900 per month. That amount might sound expensive if you haven’t shopped for rentals in Seattle recently, but it’s a steal: conventional studios now go for $1,400 on average.”

            Through zoning changes that effectively outlaw micro-housing leaving only conventional studios, places to rent go from $900 to $1400, more than a 50% increase in price leading to a large reduction in affordability.

            Supporting quote:
            “So what happened to Seattle’s micro-housing? There’s no one single moment when we lost the war. Rather, it’s been a process of accumulated bad decisions. In short, rule changes made by the city mandate larger and therefore costlier units, drastically limit the areas in which they can be built, require the extra process and expense of formal design review, and discourage participation in the city’s multi-family tax exemption, a program that lowers rents substantially for working-class households.”

      • gbdub says:

        “WalMart is burdening the rest of society” could easily be flipped – WalMart is helping society by providing some employment to people who are not productive enough to pay for a “living wage”, thus freeing the government to only cover the difference.

        Which is better, having to pay a person 100% of “living wage” out of tax dollars, or paying the same person 50% of living wage in welfare with the remainder covered by their WalMart earnings?

        • I’ve wondered about the left wing claim that businesses which can’t pay a living wage shouldn’t exist. Doesn’t it make at least as much sense to say that some of those businesses are supplying a public service and should be subsidized?

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think I feel comfortable saying this: “If a business demands so much time of its workers that they cannot afford what society considers its baseline standard of living while working there, there is a problem to be solved.”

            That’s pretty broad, but I think it gets the point across without saying “this economic model is morally wrong”.

            One solution would be (and I have no idea how to go about this) to make it easier to live off of multiple part time jobs. I think the professional class (both salary earners and single source wage earners) has been dominant for so long in Western society that other models of employment get frozen out of the discussion. That might change if the “gig economy” style of employment actually works, but a series of gigs probably isn’t a solution for the low end of the wage scale.

          • “If a business demands so much time of its workers that they cannot afford what society considers its baseline standard of living while working there, there is a problem to be solved.”

            Of course, the problem might be the society’s idea of a baseline standard of living.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Gazeboist
            One solution would be (and I have no idea how to go about this) to make it easier to live off of multiple part time jobs.

            Hm. Have I missed something about the sort of businesses that choose to have 100 part time employees rather than 50 full time? One incentive for this is regulations that require more benefits for full time employees.

          • Anonymous says:

            ISTR that California, or maybe some city therein, has recently passed a law requiring employers to post schedule some period in advance and forbids them from canceling shifts. That should help with the multiple jobs logistic problem.

          • onyomi says:

            But unpaid internships can exist. So basically the employment band between $0 and $10 should be eliminated, but you can work for free. What if you’re a teenager living at home hoping to get some experience and a business is out there who’d be happy to pay $5/hour, but not 10? Is there a “problem” with that society? I think the problem is with the society that won’t allow that job to exist (yes, I know some places have exceptions for mentally disabled, underage/seasonal, and so on, but the very making of the exception shows recognition that there are people out there who’d like to work but can’t make the prevailing wage and may not even need to, since they’re not on their own; why should only teenagers and the handicapped be allowed the “privilege” of being able to work for cheap?)

          • Gazeboist says:

            I don’t know about seasonal workers, but the difficulty of squaring teenagers, interns, and the dependent mentally ill with people at the bottom end of the working-for-self-sufficiency scale is a big part of why I prefer a basic income (or another measure that would reintroduce the bottom end of the wage scale without harming the self-sufficiency workers). I do believe that there is a set of people materially helped by the minimum wage, that there are people making more money and living better lives because there is a minimum wage. I think we could do even better by dumping the minimum wage in favor of a basic income, but until a basic income is actually in the pipeline I think there is an optimal minimum wage that is greater than zero.

            This is all just from my impressions of the state of things; nobody should take my statements as coming from any position of authority.

          • Fahundo says:

            But unpaid internships can exist. So basically the employment band between $0 and $10 should be eliminated, but you can work for free.

            Not everyone is on board with this, though.

          • “I do believe that there is a set of people materially helped by the minimum wage, that there are people making more money and living better lives because there is a minimum wage.”

            I think almost everyone in the argument agrees that there are some such people, since the demand for unskilled labor is not perfectly elastic. But that doesn’t tell us whether poor people in general are better or worse off as a result of the minimum wage. Since the demand for unskilled labor is not perfectly inelastic, there will also be people who are made unemployed by the minimum wage.

          • ““If a business demands so much time of its workers …”

            Is the existence of a business essential to your argument?

            Consider self-employed people. Suppose the most they can make is below “what society considers its baseline standard of living.” Does the same problem exist? Should we make it illegal for anyone to do such work?

    • John Nerst says:

      This only makes sense if you see the employer-employee relationship not as a simple transaction of money for labor, but as a kind of personal, hierarchical social institution in which the employee’s agreement to work creates in the employer an obligation to see he’s taken care of, not just on the job, but in life.

      I somewhat convinced that this is the default intuitive way of thinking about all human relationships (which explains the the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics among other things) and that’s why the transactional, impersonal market economy feels so ‘wrong’ to so many people (the same way rational, disembodied thought feels so wrong).

      Humans’ natural environment is the tribe, where everyone knows everyone else and all interactions take place in a context of ‘thick’ social relationships — other people are people, not objectified. Large scale societies of thousands or millions of people require different modes of interaction (despotism, feudalism, capitalism, your standard Civ stuff) that brings with them an unavoidable dissonance with our psyches. There seems to be an expectation that we ought to care about everyone else in our society (or even world) the same way we would care about people in our tribe (literal tribe). But it’s unworkable, and because of this I don’t think ‘politics’ can ever be ‘solved’.

      The appeal of communism, various types of anarchisms etc. is grounded in a longing for that “natural social environment” on a large scale without any of the ugly kludges large societies demand.

      People of course vary in how much they’re bothered about this. Libertarians don’t care at all. Many socialists, left-anarchists or small-scale conservatives care a lot. Both Meaningness and Ribbonfarm are kind of talking about this in different terms.

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        (the same way rational, disembodied thought feels so wrong).

        I don’t quite understand.

        • Consider any serious discussion of the value of life and the reception it is likely to get.

        • John Nerst says:

          Abstract and hypothetical thinking has to be learned, essentially. And we’re still not good at it; we compartmentalize, rationalize, contextualize. The phrase “aspiring rationalist” is telling in that it shows us how we’re fighting against our natures* all the time.

          *You can’t strictly fight against your nature, I suppose. But you know what I mean.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Libertarians don’t care at all.

        I don’t think I quite believe this – most serious libertarians seem to be analogous to archipelagans like Scott, who solve the problem by breaking the global community into an arbitrary number of reasonably-sized ones.

        • John Nerst says:

          I meant something closer to “libertarians typically don’t seem to feel squeamish or unsatisfied with a society where transactional, impersonal interactions without open-ended social obligations are the norm”.

          I also suspect your word “serious” is doing a lot of work here, filtering a lot of “casual libertarians” I was including.

          • gbdub says:

            I think that’s a pretty good definition, but still goes a bit far. I think most “real world” libertarians do feel a bit squeamish about it, because it really is such a powerful instinct.

            It’s not so much that “libertarians don’t care about the poor and aren’t bothered by treating them as commodities”, it’s more that they believe that treating them with rational, “disembodied” thought, as you put it, is on net going to help more people than trying to forcibly create artificially that “natural social environment” on a society that has outgrown it.

          • Gazeboist says:

            That is a statement I could agree with. I’d also believe the “serious” is doing a lot of work, but I think it is important work. In general I think we should try to compare who each side of a discussion points to as a serious thinker, on the assumption that their ideas are the ones people are actually advocating. Once we’ve decided what the appropriate framework is, we can then move on to the actual implementation details, where the people on the ground (of the movement, that is) matter more.

    • onyomi says:

      While I’m at it, let’s try to steelman the case for hierarchy/anti-egalitarianism, since it seems maybe the implications of farmer-forager (and recent cultural developments) is that people “naturally” prefer egalitarianism, though hierarchy may be necessary for technological and economic development.

      But some positive arguments for hierarchy (beyond, just, we need it):

      Hierarchy makes you more polite

      People like not being responsible when things go wrong, if everyone’s equal, everyone’s responsible for making important decisions

      People like being taken care of; if everyone’s equal, everyone has to take care as much as be taken care of*

      Being taken care of (employees, women in patriarchies, children) creates a sense of reciprocal obligation and identity to take care among those in authority (some surveys even show women in conservative Muslim countries ranking their happiness more highly than in the West?!)

      People have differing abilities, motivations, desires, ambitions; egalitarianism subtly suggests there’s something wrong with this or that everyone has an equally valuable “core self” separable from all identities; this may be wrong and/or cause cognitive dissonance

      Some people like giving orders/being a leader/constant striving for advancement; egalitarianism not-so-subtly implies they should feel bad about that.

      At the same time, if you’re happy just following orders, being a follower, or putting yourself in a subservient role, egalitarianism subtly implies there’s something wrong with that too.

      I’m not trying to go all Harrison Bergeron or Ayn Rand here: my point isn’t that if we don’t let the exceptional excel we’ll all suffer when Atlas shrugs (though that may, also, be true); my point is I feel sometimes like it’s literally making people less happy to constantly strive after equality when, in fact, people seem preprogrammed for at least some degree of hierarchy/social caste differentiation.

      All this is not to say that I prefer a rigidly hierarchical society to an egalitarian one, and I don’t necessarily agree entirely with all the above myself, though I do also get the sense that maybe focusing too obsessively, in a rhetorical sense, on egalitarianism in recent decades may have made some, possibly many people less happy.

      • Jill says:

        Part of the issue here is that there are lots of different positions that are in the middle, and maybe one or more of them is far more ideal than a society so rigidly hierarchical that the people at the bottom are almost as bad off as slaves in their standard of living and their civil rights. And maybe one or more of these “between the extremes” positions is also far more ideal than a society so egalitarian that unskilled laborers get paid the same as the most brilliant and productive scientists and brain surgeons.

        And then there is the matter of what the hierarchy measures. Is it a meritocracy? Or is it a Molochocracy where e.g. companies might do nothing that is beneficial to society, and might also drive the entire economy into bankruptcy, and might still get paid jillions of dollars in salary and bonuses– just because they have figured out a way to insert themselves into the economy as unnecessary middle men? Is it a crony capitalist hierarchy of “Them that has, gits”? Or is it a hierarchy where competence, and behavior that actually contributes to the society, count for something and get rewarded?

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Another argument in favour of hierarchy: it’s easier to know where you stand in relation to someone, how you ought to act towards them and what you can expect in return. If you know that the person you’re talking to is a Lord and you should therefore address him as “My Lord” and bow when you first meet him, you can do that without thinking about it and without having to worry about messing up somehow, whereas navigating the informal power dynamics with somebody who’s theoretically your equal but actually has higher intelligence/charisma/whatever can be much more fraught.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        Those are good thoughts on why hierarchy might be desired. As to whether it should be allowed, the only distinction I care about is voluntary/involuntary. A BDSM relationship with a voluntary master and submissive is cool. State agents claiming authority over citizens without their consent is not cool.

    • Vitor says:

      Yes, you are mischaracterizing the argument. Let me lay it out to you from the perspective of a social market economy.

      The kind of people who work at wal-mart usually don’t have the bargaining power to refuse a job even if its conditions are unfair. They don’t have the bankroll to wait it out or go looking somewhere else until wal-mart caves and offers them a fair price for their labor. They either take the job or go hungry. An efficient market requires that all its actors are free to make rational financial decisions.

      Ergo, Wal-mart is unduly burdening society by paying terrible wages, and they only get away with it because they are leveraging a market failure.

      One of the fundamental roles of government is to protect society against market failures (other examples of this are laws against collusion, monopolies, pollution, etc). One way to do this is directly helping people who are earning too little, which de-facto is an unjust subsidy to wal-mart by making labor cheaper than it would be available “naturally”, i.e. if the people selling it were able to do so at market prices. A better way is to set a minimum wage.

      You are free to disagree with the philosophy of this position of course, but it is internally consistent I believe.

      • onyomi says:

        “Ergo, Wal-mart is unduly burdening society by paying terrible wages, and they only get away with it because they are leveraging a market failure.”

        But they are still doing more to help these people than the millions who don’t hire any full-time employees. This is why, economically, the argument makes no sense to me.

        Let’s say you need $20/hour to have a decent standard of living but Wal Mart only pays $10/hour. Therefore, “society” has to pay the equivalent of $10/hour in social services, welfare payments, etc. to make up the difference. This is still better than “society” paying $12/hour to someone who had to take an $8/hour job because Wal Mart wasn’t hiring, or, indeed, $20/hour to take care of someone entirely unemployed, so Wal Mart is still helping, not hurting. And we can’t argue in this case that, if Wal Mart weren’t offering the subpar job, the people would be getting a better job elsewhere, because the original argument is predicated on there not being any better options.

        • Vitor says:

          First of all, there’s a moral hazard argument that could be made: yes, it is better to have to pay $20 to support someone rather than $10, if the latter implies that you’d have to tolerate a market failure and let the company in question keep entrenching itself.

          As for a purely economic argument, the point (which I explicitly made above) is that wal mart’s whole business model is to exploit a market failure. If you forced them to either pay $20 or not hire anyone at all, they will pay the $20, because the job is actually worth that much.

          • onyomi says:

            Firstly, I’m not sure how “workers don’t capture their full marginal revenue product” constitutes a market failure, if that’s what you mean. It just means demand for labor is low, a problem with which Wal Mart is helping, not hurting, by offering jobs.

            Also, I don’t think it is actually true that all Wal Mart jobs are actually worth, to Wal Mart, what they would cost if, for example, $15 minimum wage advocates got their way. I can easily see them firing some greeters and replacing a few more cashiers with machines in such a case. Yes, they can’t avoid hiring some people, but they aren’t currently employing the minimum possible number for continuing their business.

          • Anon. says:

            Wal-Mart has 14.696b in net income, 2.3m employees.

            Assuming 2000 hours worked per employee per year, if ALL profits went to employees (i.e. you wipe out all shareholders) they would each earn an extra $3.25 per hour (minus payroll taxes etc).

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          But they are still doing more to help these people than the millions who don’t hire any full-time employees. This is why, economically, the argument makes no sense to me.

          It’s not an economic argument in the first place, The actual argument takes it for granted that Walmart is not going to shut itself down, so the comparison with a Walmart-free US is meaningless. It’s not that by hiring people Walmart are performning some gratuitous act that they could survive without.

          • onyomi says:

            It is not meaningless to the question of whether Wal Mart is, on net, helping or burdening poverty and social welfare-type programs.

            And, again, Wal Mart surely can’t avoid hiring a certain number of people, but I’m sure they could find ways to make due with fewer if the minimum price of labor went up.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            It is not meaningless to the question of whether Wal Mart is, on ne

            To say that it is good, without saying what it is better than, what the alternative is, is precisely what is meaningless.

          • onyomi says:

            You haven’t, up until now, suggested what the better alternative is that you’re sure would arise in the absence of Wal Mart. You’ve been content to argue that in this world, Wal Mart is burdening the welfare rolls, which is a different claim than “Wal Mart is burdening the welfare rolls relative to a hypothetical Wal Mart which is run more in accordance with my values” or “Wal Mart is burdening the welfare rolls relative to a world in which it doesn’t exist and something better has taken its place.”

            Of course, anything is bad relative to a hypothetical world in which it’s replaced by something better. Doesn’t make sense to therefore say it’s bad in this world, unless it is actually a net harm in this world.

      • I don’t know what “a fair price for their labor” means. If Walmart increases its revenue as a result of hiring another worker by substantially more than that worker costs, it pays them to hire more workers, and continue doing so until it is no longer true.

        That assumes a competitive market for such workers, which is not the same thing as assuming that workers are in a position to refuse to accept a job until they get an offer they like. But although Walmart is large, it’s far from the only employer of low wage/low skilled workers. If such workers are really being paid much less than they are worth to employers, then lots of employers will see that they can increase profits by hiring more such.

        Or in other words, you are not describing conditions that lead to market failure. You are describing a situation where some people get paid less than you think they should, probably because they are not worth much more than that to any employer. The reason P=MV=MC in a competitive market is not that buyers and sellers bargain with each other by threatening not to buy or sell unless they get the terms they want.

        • Skef says:

          It’s weird and question-begging (on both sides) to pump these intuitions through a solely economic analysis.

          Phil is a good carpenter and really likes performing unwanted acts on the physically disabled. He won’t stop voluntarily, and he refuses to work when he is prevented. There are jobless physically disabled people around. Should we supply Phil with people to perform these unwanted acts on? No, even if it reduces overall productivity. And anyway, if we do nothing about it, someone likely will anyway.

          Retail company X wants to hire person Y at a certain wage Z. The underlying intuition is that the overall circumstances can make Z a fair wage or an unfair wage. Those circumstances probably include some economic facts and some non-economic facts. Absent a judicial system backed by force, paying wage Z under these circumstances might result in social push-back like trashed stores or roughed up stockholders — individually counter-productive steps that for good or bad usually limit unfairness.

          Of course people trashing a store are ultimately harming themselves in at least once sense. So are the people who put Phil in prison.

          There are libertarian frameworks that attempt to divide these cases so that those of the second sort can be given a purely economic analysis. I’m most familiar with Nozick’s early account. That view faces various objections, one of which is that it can propagate past unjust distributions, or amplify differences that result from luck. People strongly disagree about whether such an account can be made to work. More economic analysis doesn’t address this question.

          (I’m not necessarily criticizing the responses to Vitor, given that he or she also put things in economic terms. But good grief.)

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Here’s an uneconomic argument against a living wage or minimum wage:

            When I make an agreement to exchange my labor for compensation from another individual, it’s no one else’s business what we agree to. My body, my choice. So, if I want to labor for my hang gliding instructor in exchange for lessons, but no monetary compensation, it is my right to do so and no one else has the right to intervene or use physical force to stop this agreement. Similarly, if I’m a poor person that wants to take a job for $4/hr to gain work experience and a little cash to help pay the bills, no one else has the right to use physical force to stop this agreement.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            When I make an agreement to exchange my labor for compensation from another individual, it’s no one else’s business what we agree to.

            Even if there are externalities?

          • onyomi says:

            And in this case, the externality is: that many fewer dollars have to be paid out by social welfare programs.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            I don’t think you can just blithely assert that. Walmart became such a valuable company to its investors by figuring out how to capture much more of the value of products that are sold for their own use. They managed to out downward pressure on every price, whether it’s prices paid to their own labor, or prices paid to their supply chain. They also took business away from all of the stores which were (now) less efficient and drove thousands of smaller stores out of business.

            Yes, if we simply removed every job at Walmart from the market as it exists now, you would have an immediate spike in social spending, but that’s different than saying their net effect overall was positive.

          • onyomi says:

            @HBC

            That is an entirely different case which no one in this thread has thus far attempted to make.

            I’d say you’re probably wrong, but it would at least be conceivable that, on net, Wal Mart puts more pressure on social welfare programs by crowding out other, better jobs (though if we are considering all such broader implications we also have to consider the effect on society of offering goods cheaper, which leaves people more money to spend on other things and, again, takes pressure off social welfare systems).

            But no one has even made that argument yet. Instead, they seem content to argue flatly that: Wal Mart exists; therefore we take its existence and the fact that it has to hire some people to exist as some kind of a baseline for determining its effect, rather than the counterfactual of its not existing.

            The real question is: if Wal Mart did not exist, would a larger number of jobs or better paying jobs fill the vacuum or would they have come into existence? And would the higher pay that relatively small number of workers makes make up for the fact that a much larger population of Wal Mart customers will now be paying more for many things?

            I’m pretty sure the answer is no (even a big raise for all employees plus a big increase in the number of employees would likely not offset the benefit of offering thousands of products to millions of customers at prices significantly lower than in hypothetical no-Wal Mart World), but it’s a much more complicated question which no one has brought up until this point.

            All that said, it still seems wrong to assert that someone is “hurting” because if they weren’t helping, someone else would be helping more.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            I believe, although I admit I am not giving any links to studies, that there are studies that show what happens as Walmart enters new markets, and they show net job loss, and that the jobs at Walmart are less remunerative.

            Given that as true (admittedly, very much citation needed) I think the only real counterfactual would be the position that there are facts in the market that would make this switch inevitable, even given a higher minimum wage.

            So, I don’t think there is an “in a vacuum argument” here. Walmart enters markets and has a deleterious effect on the job market.

            Offsetting that versus low prices for consumers doesn’t really work, mostly because the benefits are diffuse and don’t only benefit those on social programs, whereas the costs are concentrated. In addition, you have all the effects on the local tax base that have to offset against any local effects of lower prices.

          • onyomi says:

            “Offsetting that versus low prices for consumers doesn’t really work, mostly because the benefits are diffuse and don’t only benefit those on social programs, whereas the costs are concentrated.”

            Why are diffuse benefits less… beneficial than concentrated? And why don’t low Wal Mart prices benefit those on social programs? It doesn’t seem like Wal Mart’s typical clientele is very wealthy and I see a lot of retirement-age customers in there as well.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            In terms of costs of social programs only, and Walmarts effect on those, the benefit is going to show up as a very small amount of downward pressure on inflation, as calculated nationwide. That’s a legitimate offset. But, “I shop at Walmart and I am on SS” doesn’t directly lower any social program cost.

            Whereas the costs of people on various social welfare programs due to Walmarts effect on the local job market does directly raise those costs.

            In addition, at a state by state level, the job effects, I think, are disproportionately distributed, whereas the inflation benefit actually benefits SS costs in other states more.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            I believe […] there are studies that show what happens as Walmart enters new markets, and they show net job loss, and that the jobs at Walmart are less remunerative.

            On the face of it, that claim seems pretty implausible. Can you give any more detail on where you might have heard it or how it might have been measured?

            When somebody sells product to Walmart, they do so because Walmart pays better than their next-best alternative. Similarly when somebody sells labor to Walmart, they do so because Walmart offers them a better job than their next-best alternative. Now, it’s true that “better” is a multi-axis attribute – some jobs are “better” due to job security, chance for promotion, chance to work extra hours, training, commute, and many more – but pay is a pretty big aspect of “better” where jobs are concerned. When Walmart comes to town it has to quickly acquire a large and stable workforce including incentivizing people to leave smaller, less-profitable firms and incentivizing them to stick around as they acquire more firm-specific capital; they do this by offering MORE pay than the locals.

            Let’s see…the first thing I found in a brief search was Do Large Modern Retailers Pay Premium Wages?

            We show that wage rates in the retail sector rise markedly with firm size and with establishment size. […] Also, higher ability workers get promoted to the position of manager, which is associated with higher pay. We conclude that the growth in modern retail, characterized by larger chains of larger establishments with more levels of hierarchy, is raising wage rates relative to traditional mom-and-pop retail stores.

            The full paper’s paywalled, but here’s a summary article: Kathryn Shaw: Big Box Stores Pay Higher Wages Than You Think

            UPDATE: after looking a bit more, I found The effects of Wal-Mart on local labor markets, which makes the point that teasing out an effect is HARD because Walmart openings aren’t random. Walmart quite sensibly opens new stores in areas that are growing. After a lot of fiddly data stuff, they think it does NOT reduce retailer earnings and DOES reduce the expected number of retail jobs relative to what it would have been but not in absolute numbers and probably doesn’t reduce total jobs (because people shift out of retail to other areas). Quote:

            Thus, there is certainly no evidence that Wal-Mart openings reduce retail earnings per worker

            […]

            Our results apply only to the retail sector, and we suspect that there are not aggregate employment effects, at least in the longer run, as labor shifts to other uses

          • onyomi says:

            “But, ‘I shop at Walmart and I am on SS’ doesn’t directly lower any social program cost.”

            Money saved is as good as money earned. The question is: does Wal Mart’s existence add pressure to or alleviate pressure on social welfare programs for the poor, elderly, disabled, etc.? If we’re counting theoretical jobs which might exist without Wal Mart in that equation, I don’t see why we shouldn’t count money saved on food, clothing, and all the other stuff Wal Mart sells cheaper than most competitors.

            Note that I don’t even accept that, absent Wal Mart, other stores would be offering as good (or better) and as many (or more) jobs. But even if they would be offering more and/or better jobs, if that means a world in which food, clothes, etc. are more expensive for Wal Mart’s many poor, elderly, and/or disabled customers, it is very doubtful that that would mean less need for social welfare programs.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Glen Raphael:
            What I am remembering is a study of Walmart openings in relatively rural areas where the Main Street businesses in multiple nearby towns would all go belly-up as Walmart took all their business.

            The basic point you are making, that Walmart can’t just take labor away from their competitors is true. But they don’t take the labor away, they take their customers away. At which point their competitors’ labor goes away by dint of being unemployed.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            And would the higher pay that relatively small number of workers makes make up for the fact that a much larger population of Wal Mart customers will now be paying more for many things?

            Why is that such a bad outcome? If Society wants higher wages, it seems just that Society has to pay more, whether or not people notice the connection. But, in essence, the combination of higher wages and higher prices is what distinguishes a first world economy from a third world one. Is it such a terrible thing to be first world, or to become more first world.?

          • onyomi says:

            “Why is that such a bad outcome?”

            It’s not. If society wants higher quality, more expensive products and higher wages then they can start shopping at higher end stores than Wal Mart. But the revealed preference of a large segment of society is they’d rather have the cheap stuff and own a car, live in a bigger house, etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            That’s a coordination problem, exactly the kind of problem that it usually takes intervention to solve.

          • onyomi says:

            The failure of the public to demand Asian Studies professors as highly as NFL players is a coordination problem too! I demand an intervention!

    • Deiseach says:

      Farmers would be more hierarchical and the forager ways we’re now tending to return to are more egalitarian, as meshes well with the strongly egalitarian ethos of most liberal democracies today.

      Sez who?

      I think this is just the return once again of the notion of the Noble Savage, dressed up in pseudo-anthropological clothing.

      Humans have all kinds of hierarchies. Do you really think forager societies/cultures were all “Bill is every bit as good as Bob”? No distinction between “Sue brings back the most berries, Tom always manages to pick the poisonous fungi”?

      I imagine there was some kind of hierarchy where elders (by virtue of having lived long enough to be that old) got respect for their wisdom and practical knowledge and that translated into having the last word or having their opinion awarded more weight when making decisions.

      I’m very suspicious of “in the Golden Age, we were all peace-loving egalitarian non-violent non-hierarchical matriarchies” because they describe less the reality of the past than a point the speaker wants to make about the society of the day. If we’re getting hip-deep into “today our modern neo-techno urban grazer lifestyle wotsits are a return to the primordial forager Golden Age before the dominance of agriculture and hierarchy”, then I say “phooey”.

      • Tekhno says:

        Especially since hunter gatherers are around today. If you want to say anything in particular about non-agricultural societies, you can say they were incredibly diverse, as modern hunter gatherer communities are, having an array of cultural practices which seem bizarre and have no real analogue in the great civilizations (such as the tribe who hire a man to take their daughters virginity, the exact opposite of what evopsych would predict). Some of them would be very flat, but some of them are going to be Big Man type groups, and all of them are going to have their own unique way of organizing gender structures. Ted Kaczynski (yes!) had a pretty good breakdown of why primitive = egalitarian and matriarchal is wrong.

        The modern world is more interconnected, so it’s going to be less diverse than disconnected tribes that “speciate” rapidly. Modern far-flung societies have been colonized by world spanning Empires to such an extent that their cultures still bare the marks of it (India is British), with so much being Chritianized or Islamized, and the necessities of modern globalization require culture to coordinate with economics to a greater and greater degree. At some point, even Japan will have to obey the cultural mores of the United States/Europe.

        In the “Golden Age”, we were all… very very different.

      • So far as the peace loving part of that, I recommend War Before Civilization.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      only makes sense if you see the employer-employee relationship not as a simple transaction of money for labor, but as a kind of personal, hierarchical social institution in which the employee’s agreement to work creates in the employer an obligation to see he’s taken care of, not just on the job, but in life.

      I disagree, particularly with the “only”. It also makes sense if you believe in implicit contracts and obligations to society, that is to say, if you believe in the things that libertarians characterisitcally don’t believe in. If you own a house, you have an obligation not to create a public nuisance by keeping junk in your front yard, and people will disapprove if you do so. If you are an employer, you have an obligation not to create a social problem by paying low wages. Same reasoning. It’s not really about the farmer/forager distinction , it’s about the way libertarians think versus the way everyone else does.

      • onyomi says:

        “create a social problem by paying low wages”

        But they aren’t creating a problem. They are helping, though maybe not enough on a Copenhagen interpretation of ethics.

        If you want to say libertarians reject Copenhagen ethics and most others accept it, then that may be roughly accurate. But then my original interpretation holds.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          But they aren’t creating a problem. They are helping, though maybe not enough on a Copenhagen interpretation of ethics.

          They are helping compared to not hiring at all, and hurting compared to hiring at higher wages. But why would a company shut itself down out of spite?

          • onyomi says:

            If you donate $1000 to charity you are helping compared to not donating and hurting compared to donating $2000.

            But does it really make sense to say that someone who donates $1000, even though they could have afforded $2000, is “hurting” charity?

          • “But why would a company shut itself down out of spite?”

            Both this and an exchange elsewhere which assumed that if a potential employee didn’t have a practical option of refusing to work until he got what he considered an adequate job offer that was a form of market failure suggest to me a large gap between the way economists see markets and the way some other people see markets.

            The issue isn’t a company shutting itself down out of spite. It’s a company altering its behavior in response to a change in the price of its inputs. If unskilled labor becomes more expensive, you use less of it. If the cost to you of a worker who produces ten units of whatever per hour and one who produces twelve units is the same, due to it being illegal to pay the former what you have to pay to get the latter, you hire the more skilled worker.

            People are used to thinking in terms of small scale face to face transactions where bargaining is important–including threats of refusing to deal “out of spite.” There are parts of the world where many transactions are handled that way, although my impression is that part of the reason is to make shopping into an entertaining game. But that doesn’t represent much of how a large modern economy works.

          • JayT says:

            They most likely won’t shut down the company, but moving or shutting down the local part of it happens all the time.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            But does it really make sense to say that someone who donates $1000, even though they could have afforded $2000, is “hurting” charity?

            Misleading analogy. The charity giver has a realistic option of giving nothing, Walmart doesn;t have a realistic option of shutting down.

            If unskilled labor becomes more expensive, you use less of it.

            Upskilling jobs doesn’t look terribly bad to me either. Isn;’t that part of what an advanced economy is all about?

          • onyomi says:

            “Walmart doesn’t have a realistic option of shutting down.”

            If Wal Mart ceased to be profitable it wouldn’t be that long before it shut down. Of course, the stores and whatnot would be bought up by someone else, who might or, more likely, might not hire as many workers or pay them as well.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If Wal Mart ceased to be profitable it wouldn’t be that long before it shut down. Of course, the stores and whatnot would be bought up by someone else, who might or, more likely, might not hire as many workers or pay them as well.

            Or perhaps the stores would not be bought (because it would no longer be economical to operate them), and would ultimately revert to the taxing authority and stand as eyesores, eventually being vandalized, colonized by the homeless (perhaps including former employees), etc. Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs is a possibility.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheNybbler:
            Walmart lays golden eggs for its owners. In this anology, you need to make the Feds into the Robin of Sicily coming by to say “That’s a nice goose. Pretty eggs. Shame if something were to happen to her.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            @HBC

            You’re picking on the details of the analogy too much. To be more direct: If you change the tax and/or regulatory environment such that Walmart cannot operate a location at a profit, it is perfectly possible that you have also changed it such that _no one_ can operate there at a profit.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        When you hire a contractor to do work for you, do you examine their life situation and pay them an amount appropriate to not create social problems? Or do you pay them an amount that is mutually agreeable to you both, regardless of the contractor’s life situation?

        As to junk in your yard, that is usually accounted for with an explicit contract in an HOA agreement. If you don’t have an explicit agreement on junk in your yard, and you live in the woods, then it might be perfectly acceptable to have junk in your front yard. There could be other gray situations though where there is no HOA agreement but you create a nuisance to others, and something like the Coase theorem can be used to help resolve these conflicts. It could be the case that a person has ‘homesteaded’ the right to keep junk in their yard, and then it’s not clear they have an obligation to remove said junk.

        • Gazeboist says:

          You could also consider the obligation to keep your yard clean (or shovel your sidewalk) as an in-kind tax by your local government, in exchange for which you receive a road to your house, sidewalks in general, a sewage line, and so on.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Seems to me that if the provision of infrastructure can be used to justify requirements like that, they can be used to justify just about anything.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think the provision of sidewalks-in-general probably justifies a requirement that you shovel and otherwise keep clear some reasonable portion of the sidewalk, and “that portion which is in front of or across* your property” strikes me as quite reasonable. I’m less sure about the rest, but I would definitely object to a government-or-equivalent complaining about a mess that is only visible from your private road that you maintain.

            * I think, depending on jurisdiction, private properties sometimes extend to the middle of the street, and sometimes stop at the sidewalk.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            Where I live, local councils do not provision sidewalks. They just send angry-worded letters to homeowners, instructing them to build one or pay a hefty fine. Nevertheless, the law still mandates that you shovel and otherwise keep clear sidewalks in front of your property. And people still see the requirement as quite reasonable.

            This, especially combined with The Nybbler’s argument, suggests that the in-kind tax interpretation does not accurately reflect the legal/ethical principles at work in this situation.

  13. FacelessCraven says:

    Suppose one day ironclad scientific evidence is presented that those who sincerely believe that 2 + 2 = 5 live twice as long as everyone else. This property only applies to 2+2 = 5; no other combination of numbers and operators is known to generate a statistically significant change in the actuarial tables. No cause or explanation of this phenomenon has been found, though the simulation hypothesis is brought up fairly often. It definately isn’t a mistake or a statistical artifact; over the last thirty years the effect has been studied exhaustively by multiple scientific fields, and the effect has proved about as repeatable as that of ingesting large quantities of lead. (Fivers live twice as long after ingesting large quantities of lead, too)

    In this alternate world, is it possible to rationally believe that 2 + 2 = 5?

    Sincerely believing that 2 + 2 = 5 is impractical for us because we perceive no offsetting advantages to compensate for complicating our arithmetic. I think that Mathematics generally is so admirably clean because doing it any other way offers no advantage. Put another way, is Mathematics just the set of mathematical statements from which value can be extracted? In an alternate world where obvious value can be extracted from a contradiction in simple arithmetic, is it more meaningful to say that 2+2=5 is wrong because it causes you to give medical patients an overdose of drugs, rather than 2+2=5 is right because it lets people live twice as long?

    [EDIT] – I disagree with a number of things in this link, but possibly related.

    • An Emphatic Maybe says:

      1. I wonder how the researchers found enough people who sincerely believed 2 + 2 = 5 to generate a convincing study, and how they tested their subjects’ sincerity.

      2. The question “is Mathematics just the set of mathematical statements from which value can be extracted?” is very interesting to me.

      3. Your scenario is ripe for metaphor…

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @An Emphatic Maybe – “2. The question “is Mathematics just the set of mathematical statements from which value can be extracted?” is very interesting to me.”

        To me also. I am embarrassingly bad at math, though, so I’m bracing for a truly epic telling-off.

        “Your scenario is ripe for metaphor…”

        Since it started as one, that is perhaps not surprising. Which ones do you see?

        • An Emphatic Maybe says:

          Which ones do you see?

          I started typing a few out but wasn’t happy with any of them. But I’m sure there’s a good one.

    • Guy says:

      What does it mean to believe that 2 + 2 = 5? That statement doesn’t just imply that if I have two apples and you give me two more I have five apples. It implies that 0 = 1 (subtract two twice), which does a hell of a lot more than “complicate” our arithmetic – it brings the whole edifice crumbling down.

      Alternately, what does it mean for “2 + 2 = 5” to be “right”? Your last sentence seems to conflate “right” in the sense of “true” with “right” in the sense of “moral” or “good”.

      In brief: no, mathematics is not the set of mathematical statements from which value can be extracted. Mathematics is the set of rules we use to derive propositions from axioms, plus interesting sets of axioms and their (logical) consequences as discovered, with interestingness determined pretty much exclusively by mathematicians. Whether value can be extracted from those consequences is, as they say, a question of physics.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Guy – “It implies that 0 = 1 (subtract two twice), which does a hell of a lot more than “complicate” our arithmetic – it brings the whole edifice crumbling down.”

        Working around this was the point of “This property only applies to 2+2 = 5; no other combination of numbers and operators is known to generate a statistically significant change in the actuarial tables.” As in, the effect doesn’t change if you believe 2-2=0 or 1+1+1+1=4 or 2*2=4 or other permutations. There’s just something extremely weird about the specific formula 2+2=5 that makes you live twice as long if you sincerely believe it. If doing so meant people could live twice as long, could that particular formula be worked around sufficiently for us to still be able to do our taxes, take inventory and launch rockets? My guess is yes.

        “Alternately, what does it mean for “2 + 2 = 5” to be “right”? Your last sentence seems to conflate “right” in the sense of “true” with “right” in the sense of “moral” or “good”.”

        Does “true” = “useful”? What does it mean besides “useful”?

        If I have two apples and five friends, and another friend has two apples, we don’t have enough apples for everyone. 2+2!=5, and there is minimal value to extract from claiming it does. It seems to me that on some level, mathematics plausibly breaks down into [equation] = [reliably useful answer], and that “reliably useful” is a lower bar than one might think.

        Parallel lines never intersect, but there apparently is value to be extracted from non-euclidean geometry, so that’s a legitimate part of mathematics. In Fiver world, there is value to extract from 2+2=5. The difference may be that one is mathematical value while the other is practical value in the form of an increased lifespan, at the expense of an inconsistent mathematics.

        As I understand it, Mathematics is so admirably pure because it is entirely optimized for internal consistency, because there is no value to the inconsistent alternatives. In a world where those alternatives contain significant value, does the pure version stay on top? I think it likely that given the Fiver incentive, some group of (un)scrupulous mathematicians could stack enough bullshit to make the question genuinely doubtful for most people. I’m also sure there would be another group arguing that True Mathematics was sufficiently aesthetically valuable to be worth half the lifespan. The question is, which side is “rational”?

        • Guy says:

          As in, the effect doesn’t change if you believe 2-2=0 or other permutations.

          Sure, but do you believe 2+2=5 in a meaningful sense if you don’t also believe that 0=1? That’s the real point of that paragraph – there is no meaningful way to escape the implications of 2+2=5. You can say that particular arrangement of symbols has the epiphenomenal property of Truth, and even believe that, but that belief doesn’t actually mean anything unless it has a consequence on at least other beliefs that you have, especially beliefs that it is clearly in conflict with.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I was going to say that 2+2=5 would be considered “special”, but in Fiver world that’s the literal truth. The discontinuity will be obvious to everyone, but I expect Fivers would argue that it didn’t matter, that 2+2=5 is a weird exception to all the rules of math, and that the proof is the doubled lifespan.

            to quote Bertrand Russell:

            I am persuaded that there is absolutely no limit to the absurdities that can, by government action, come to be generally believed. Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay and better food than falls to the lot of the average man, and I will undertake, within thirty years, to make the majority of the population believe that two and two are three, that water freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State. Of course, even when these beliefs had been generated, people would not put the kettle in the ice-box when they wanted it to boil. That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on in daily life. What would happen would be that any verbal denial of the mystic doctrine would be made illegal, and obstinate heretics would be “frozen” at the stake. No person who did not enthusiastically accept the official doctrine would be allowed to teach or to have any position of power. Only the very highest officials, in their cups, would whisper to each other what rubbish it all is; then they would laugh and drink again. This is hardly a caricature of what happens under some modern governments.

            I think Russell was basically correct in the above, but the problem actually goes deeper than he appreciated. He talks about an externally imposed belief offering only negative utility. The Fiver version has positive utility, possibly overwhelmingly positive on net; I do not think anyone would be laughing about it secretly in their cups. It would not be a “Sunday Truth”. People would genuinely believe it, and they would make whatever deformations necessary to science and society to make believing it as easy as possible. Go into a store and order two coffees plus another two coffees and you’d get five coffees, and the price of a single coffee would be adjusted to compensate. I am pretty sure they are even right to do so; 75 years of extra life is a hell of an incentive.

          • bluto says:

            I may be very wrong but it sounds like Russel is talking about changing the map. It’s impossible to change the territory (though I would imagine that a sufficiently advanced dictator could get everyone not to ever mention that the territory doesn’t actually look like the official map–did any North Koreans question Kim Jong Ill’s golf prowess).

            I can’t tell if your question is could a sufficent carrot change the map (which seems like an obvious yes) or could a sufficient carrot cause a society to just ignore the territory being different from the map (it certainly seems like the right sticks can produce the result given that North Korey has been making the official map the only thing anyone talks about for about half a century).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @bluto – as I understand it, the map is what you think reality is, and the territory is what reality really is, correct?

            in which case, this would be changing the map. My point is that it would really change the map for a lot of people; they would be genuine Fivers, and they would change their maps sufficiently to be able to navigate regardless.

            [EDIT] – “I can’t tell if your question is could a sufficent carrot change the map (which seems like an obvious yes)”

            This. And more specifically, do you think it would be rational for them to do so?

          • Gazeboist says:

            Oh. Ok then. I’m pretty sure Russell is wrong there. Or, maybe he could make it work for a little while, but it’s not sustainable (I don’t happen to think North Korea’s denial of reality is sustainable either; I also suspect that the denial is mostly rhetorical, much like China’s continued adherence to communism).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Gazeboist – I’m told doctors volunteer to go to NK and fix cataracts, giving people their sight back, and that those people then thank the Great Leader for making such a thing possible. Great distortion of the map seems not only possible, but practical.

            In any case, whether it works or not, would you consider people attempting to be genuine Fivers to be acting rationally?

          • That’s the real point of that paragraph – there is no meaningful way to escape the implications of 2+2=5

            Yes, there is. It’s compartmentalized. It must be special.

            2+2=5 because Science and 1+1+1+1=4 because that’s the way Math works.

            Just don’t think too hard about it.

            Most of our dogmatic knowledge more or less derives from “Don’t think too hard about it!” and “I fucking love science” and “Because Mom said so. ”

            I mean, I agree, the whole edifice comes crumbling down, but that’s only if you think too hard about it and try to apply it everywhere.

            This seems to be how most people actually think about the world anyways.

            Think of how many people are confused by, and disagree with .333333 repeating and .6666 repeating adding up to 1. These people are more than capable of balancing a checkbook and reflect probably the majority of Americans.

            Actually, I think at this level, it’s more or less hard-wired into our brains, but believing in objectively incorrect things is something most people have absolutely no problem at all doing, especially when they do not confront it all that often.

          • anon says:

            There’s a good example of changing the map in a meaningful way that almost certainly caused a great deal of confusion. The months of September, October, November, and December have names derived from the Latin for 7, 8, 9, and 10, because they were the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th month of the old Roman calendar. However in the Julian calendar, they became the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th month (but there was no question about their position, no one could argue that September was still the seventh month).

            If fivers simply replace the name of this number of dots to five (….) and invent a new name for this number of dots (…..) (or simply ignores that the number exists like 13 or 4 in some contexts) then presuming the benefits (or costs of the wrong belief) were large enough it would happen as certainly as September can be the ninth month of the year without question.

            However, if I walk into a fiver owned coffee shop and ask for (…..) bags of coffee and can happily give him two bags once, and two bags a few minutes later then leave with the remaining bag for free, then I suspect the reforms will not work, as the life extension benefit is likely to be offset by the poverty induced by never being able to form capital beyond four things.

          • Jiro says:

            I’m pretty sure Russell is wrong there.

            So do communion wafers really turn into the “essence” of flesh?

          • Fahundo says:

            So do communion wafers really turn into the “essence” of flesh?

            I made the mistake of asking a Catholic about this once. The answer only makes sense if you already subscribe to certain specific metaphysical assumptions.

        • JayT says:

          2+2 = 5 could be “right” if you just decide to make the fourth integer look like this: “5”.

          I wouldn’t have any problems forcing myself to do that if it meant a twice as long life!

          • FacelessCraven says:

            could you do it sufficiently that if someone asked you for two coffees plus another two coffees, you would instinctively give them five coffees without a twinge of doubt?

            [EDIT] – and more to the point, would you think poorly of those who could?

          • JayT says:

            I’m sure it would take some doing, but I have consciously changed the way a write certain letters or numbers at different times in my life, so I think it would be largely the same thing.

          • Deiseach says:

            There’s two ways to do this:

            (1) The number after three is now called “five”, so “2+2=5” is perfectly fine. There’s nothing mystic or special about the name, it has no effect on the quantity whether you call it “four”, “five”, “carrot” or “zarglebax”

            That would probably be the way most people would approach it; we’d then need a new name for “five” but that’s no problem, and we could happily then keep counting “six, seven, etc” as in “one, two, three, five, zarglebax, six, seven, eight, nine, ten”.

            “How many fingers am I holding up, children?” I I I I

            “Five, miss!”

            “And how many now?” I I I I I

            “Zarglebax, miss!”

            “Very good!”

            (We’d then have the amusing equation “Five (4) plus zarglebax (5) equals nine (9)”, to go with our “is the answer 1 or 9?” trick equation of previously).

            (2) Really genuinely honestly convincing yourself that 2+2=5 where 5 = I I I I I

            That would be the tough one. I don’t know if it could or would work. Possibly practically it would work where you say “2+2=5” but you keep count that “2+2=4”

    • TMB says:

      I suppose that 2+2 would just become an operation that made no logical sense – could you get around it by avoiding that specific expression and saying instead 2+3 – 1 = 4? Or are we saying that we can no longer do arithmetic?
      Or are we saying that we can do arithmetic in certain circumstances, but it doesn’t really make any sense?

      I actually think on a basic level it is impossible to believe that true is false. That a thing is it’s inverse. So, I guess what would really be happening is avoiding thinking about the subject at all – if somebody told me that thinking about the logical basis of arithmetic halved your lifespan I don’t think I’d have much trouble avoiding it – if someone told me that I simply had to avoid the expression 2+2, I could definitely manage it, but if somebody told me that I actively had to believe that 1 = 0, I don’t think that would be possible.

    • Skef says:

      Much ink has been spilled concerning such questions. See also the question of “doxastic volunteerism”, which concerns whether we (that is, humans in general) could believe it, rationally or not.

    • My guess is that the way it would work out in practice is that a Fiver would see 2+2 and say it equals 5, but if they had to do something practical in a 2+2 situation, they would rephrase it as 1+3.

      If you insisted on trying to straighten out numbers so there wasn’t a speed bump, people would think you were trying to be annoying.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      It seems like you’re conflating things. Distinguish:
      1) Believing that 2+2=5.
      2) Developing some sort of alternate complicated mathematical system which was somehow similar to regular arithmetic but according to which the sequence of symbols ‘2+2=5’ express a truth.

      It would be uncontroversially rational to develop or use the sort of system described in 2) if it would lead to people living twice as long.

      The consensus among philosophers is that it wouldn’t be rational to form the belief that 2+2=5 on the basis of practical considerations, because practical considerations are the wrong kinds of reasons to bear on belief. It might be rational to do some actions which eventually lead you to (irrationally) believe it (undergo hypnosis, perhaps).

  14. Guy says:

    I grew a website! It does not have a lot of content right now.

    In subsequent threads on this blog, I will be retiring my current handle in favor of The Gazeboist, partially to bring my handle in line with the name of my new blog and partially because I would really like to be able to Ctrl-f for my posts here. Please transfer all of your opinions about me, Guy, to The Gazeboist, we are the same person.

    Furthermore, blog-owners among the commentariat: my blog is written in rst and produced by Pelican. I would really like to have comments, and I want to stick with Pelican. Unfortunately:

    1) I want my comments self-hosted. This rules out Disqus, G+, and other similar commenting services.

    2) Isso (a) refuses to use gravatars, (b) requires that I interact with the Node.js ecosystem, and (c) did not install properly on the VM I am hosting my site on, as far as I could tell.

    3) The two existing self-hosted comment plugins for Pelican require that commenters email their comments to the site owner which is hilarious, but also terrible.

    4) WordPress, as far as I know, does not have a stand-alone commenting app. I have also heard Terrible Things from people who have had to develop for sites using wordpress.

    For these reasons, I’ve decided to just build my own comment engine. Ideally it would allow comments in rst and/or markdown as well as html, but that might be more trouble than it’s worth. Anyone have any thoughts/advice? I know this site uses wordpress, but can whoever it is who handles the technical side of things here talk about how they do things, and some alternatives?

    • Anonymous says:

      Doesn’t wordpress have self-hosted comments? Isn’t that what we’re using right now? Or do you mean something that would plug in to pelican? That would be weird.

      If you want gravatar (why???), just patch Isso.

      • Guy says:

        Yes, wordpress has self-hosted comments. It just doesn’t offer them stand-alone, which I what I want (because I could easily glue it to pelican).

        I would patch Isso but I couldn’t make it work.

        Gravatar seems to be the thing people are used to, in terms of easily maintained multi-site identities. It’s also less intrusive than alternatives that I’ve seen (limited to G+, essentially), in that it only requires that you be consistent, not that you be truthful.

        • Anonymous says:

          Why have global graphic identities? Why not just a name? Or why not Isso’s local graphic identities?

          Yeah, (b) and (c) are fatal for Isso, but you bothered to mention (a), which is why I responded to it.

          How strongly do you care about self-hosted comments? What if you use dynamic comments via disqus for 30 days, and then close comments, export to self-hosted static content?

          When you add a dynamic commenting system to static Pelican, how are you going to do it? iframe? In that case, it probably is easy to use wordpress. You just have to (1) edit the theme (or just css?!) to remove everything except the comments and (2) make it so that when you push a post to pelican, it pushes an empty page or post to wordpress. And (2) is something you’re going to have to do anywhere, unless someone has written a Pelican-specific plug-in.

          • Guy says:

            I mentioned (a) because it was something Isso had done to annoy me, not because it was fatal to it. Only (c) was ultimately fatal, but (a) and (b) definitely bugged me.

            I want to use gravatars because I want people who have established global graphic identities to be able to use them, and gravatar seems to be the minimally-complicated way to do that (and doesn’t require that anyone who hasn’t configured it do anything at all). It would be trivial to patch gravatar into something that didn’t use it, but I can’t seem to find any others that work.

            Self-hosting is pretty important to me and I want to be able to self-host everything.

            As to the rest … I really want the solution I wind up with to be both my ultimate solution (not having comments despite the fact that I want them motivates me to work on the problem) and I want it to be something I can give to other people, not an unholy fusion of two different services.

  15. Frederic says:

    Apologies if this has already been posted, but an interesting read on AI ethics for when AI (possibly) becomes a part of everyday life.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      You seem to be missing a link.

    • Agrononaoxymous says:

      Possibly?

      It already is. The goalpost for AI moves every day. In what world would someone not consider a program that can recognize lots of images, count the objects in an image, translate every language in a somewhat understandable fashion, and accurately medically diagnose you, and beat you at most videogames *stupid*

      • Vitor says:

        > and beat you at most videogames

        I agree with the rest of your comment, but that one is dubious. The “AI” in many video games is only even moderately competitive because it cheats, sometimes blatantly (having better stats than you), sometimes more indirectly (interacting with the game in ways a human is not allowed to do, i.e. using some API instead of the visual UI).

  16. Anonymous Colin says:

    Any reading recommendations on the subject of criminology and experimental design for crime policy interventions?

    I have a stats/econ background. I want to know more about how crime policy is (or isn’t) trialled. I know what the word “criminology” means, but that’s about it.

  17. onyomi says:

    Big news story: Gary Johnson fails key “ability to bullshit when he doesn’t know something 99% of those judging him also did not know but will later pretend they did” test. This actually makes me like him more, because he feels intellectually honest in a way major politicians almost never do. And, as Scott Adams has pointed out: president is not a job that anyone is prepared for, and executive experience is probably not as important as general intelligence, judgment, temperament, ability to pick the right advisors, etc.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I think more relevantly he failed the “basic foreign policy knowledge” test. I’ll give him credit for not bullshitting, but “knowing what Aleppo is” is a pretty basic thing. I guess it’s less important if his foreign policy is “no foreign policy” (is it? I don’t know) but it is quite worrying. Does he literally never read the news? I think that’s the best outcome — the other possibility is that he does, but has no long term memory which doesn’t bode well for his general intelligence.

      • An Emphatic Maybe says:

        I don’t plan to vote for Johnson, but if he doesn’t read the news that’s a point in his favor. I don’t know what Aleppo is either, but I’ve seen the word around here and there.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          fI want someone who runs for president to care about where/what Aleppo is, and why it is relevant to the running of the US government.

          Even if you want us completely out of the region, you should at least who you are going to piss off and why.

      • Deiseach says:

        Every time I see “Aleppo”, I automatically think of the quote from Macbeth about “Her husband’s to Aleppo gone”. Does that qualify or disqualify me for the American presidency? (Never mind that I’m disqualified on other grounds).

        I could excuse him not being up on the whole “what the heck is going on right now in Syria?” thing, but he should at least know that Aleppo is a historically important city. Did he not do geography or history in school?

        See now, if he’d studied “Macbeth” in English class, he’d have been spared this embarrassment! See the value of the humanities? 🙂

        • The Nybbler says:

          I read MacBeth, in college no less, I’m considerably younger than Johnson, and I don’t remember the line about Aleppo (or anything else about Aleppo).

          Funny thing: The New York Times article razzing him about it has two corrections.

          One, they claimed the de facto capital of the Islamic State was Aleppo. (it’s Raqqa).

          Two — and this one’s a doozy — “An earlier version of the above correction misidentified the Syrian capital as Aleppo. It is Damascus.”

          Glass houses and all that. (And they weren’t on the spot without reference materials the way Johnson was)

          http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/09/us/politics/gary-johnson-aleppo.html?_r=0

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Funny thing: The New York Times article razzing him about it has two corrections….

            I’m sorry, but that is some seriously funny shit right there.

            Also, anyone else think the overall quality of the NYT is taking a serious dive lately?

          • Brad says:

            It was a hard enough task to put out a high quality comprehensive paper everyday. Trying to do it continuously and in real time is well nigh impossible.

            If the time from the event to when it has to be online is measured in minutes how much editing is possible?

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s been going down hill for a while.

      • John Schilling says:

        but “knowing what Aleppo is” is a pretty basic thing.

        Right, like “knowing what the PPACA and the IPCC are” is a pretty basic thing. Knowing the difference between the G7, the G8, and the G20, between Glass-Steagall and Dodd-Frank. Knowing who Merrick Garland, Philando Castille, and Syed Faroush are. Distinguishing between Yanukovych and Yushchencko. Inherent Resolve, Cast Lead, and Golden Dawn.

        You read the news, so you’d be comfortable betting your career on being able to speak intelligently about any or all of those, five seconds from right now, no Google, and nothing less than 100% as a passing score, right?

        Everybody is going to be ignorant about something that is a “pretty basic thing” to someone else. Typically, politicians are skilled at the art of bluffing their way out of such corners. We can argue whether that’s a good thing or not – I can see reasonable arguments either way. But if you think this is about ignorance, I suspect you’ve been falling for an awful lot of bluffs.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          No, those are all much less basic things (at least for me, from the non-American sources I read). Knowing that Aleppo is a Syrian city is equivalent to knowing Erdoğan is the Turkish president. Distinguishing between Yanukovych and Yushchencko is like knowing his middle name is Tayyip and that he was a semi-professional footballer before becoming mayor of Istanbul (to give two things I just learnt from his wikipedia page).

          I couldn’t talk intelligently about all of those things, but I’m not trying to become President of the United States (yet). If I were, or even if I were trying to get elected into a much less important position, I would learn a lot about current affairs.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            If you hear the word ‘A-lepp-o’ without context, you might not make the quick connection in your brain to the Syrian conflict in real time. Johnson was asked if he was worried about the Nader effect on the race, and after responding to that, the next question was “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?”. There was no foreign policy context or Syrian crisis context in the question or preceding questions, so it makes sense that Johnson might not have immediately understood what the questioner was asking, as he was hearing Aleppo out of context. It’s not clear to me that he doesn’t know Aleppo is a city in Syria, just that he didn’t have immediate recognition upon hearing the word out of context.

            Watch for yourself and decide: https://youtu.be/u7tH9gUaVOE?t=1m37s

          • John Schilling says:

            Distinguishing between Yanukovych and Yushchencko is like knowing [Erdogan’s] middle name is Tayyip and that he was a semi-professional footballer.

            Seriously?

            Viktor Yanukovich is the recent Ukranian president who wanted Ukraine to become a Russian client state. Victor Yushchenko was the immediately preceding Ukranian president who wanted Ukraine to join the European Union.

            Now, I’d consider the proper names to be among the least significant bits of trivia in this discussion, but the same goes for “Aleppo”. The Ukrainian crisis is of similar geopolitical importance to the Syrian, and it is crucial to understanding that crisis that there was a substantial political dispute, with enough supporters on each side to elect a president, between the join-the-EU faction and the join-the-Russian-empire faction.

            This fact you would equate with trivia regarding a Turkish president’s athletic career? If the names matter, if “Aleppo” is a word that any would-be POTUS must know, then so are Yanukovich and Yushchenko.

            those are all much less basic things

            Pretty much everything on my list is of roughly similar importance, I believe. Almost certainly on the list of things a US President will have to hold and defend an informed opinion on. The only question is whether it is reasonable to expect them to offer each of those opinions immediately on demand, or to recognize every name without references or contextual clues.

          • Montfort says:

            John Schilling, yes, seriously. Look at google news – no doubt your own results will differ a little, but to illustrate, I checked the number of results for stories in the last month (Aug. 6 – Sept. 6 for Aleppo, to avoid contaminating it with stories after Johnson’s gaffe):

            Yanukovych: ~3500 (and another 1,000-ish under “Yanukovich”)
            Yuschenko: ~230
            Aleppo: ~4,730,000

            Qualitatively, as well, Aleppo gets lots of hits on big western sources like NYT, USA today, WP, etc, the Ukraine coverage is mostly in smaller papers now.

            Aleppo is not basic because we require candidates to remember all major sites in ongoing conflicts (no one is going to ask “and what would you do about the Sambisa Forest?” [~1300 results]), it’s basic because many people expect candidates to keep up with mainstream news.

    • Irishdude7 says:

      The gotcha moment will be used to relentlessly attack Gary’s foreign policy credibility if he actually becomes a bigger threat to either major candidate. His non-interventionist stance is more important to me than knowing a key city in the conflict in Syria. I thought his response after the interview was on point:

      “In a follow up interview just after the show with Bloomberg News’ Mark Halperin, a frequent guest analyst on “Morning Joe,” Johnson said he was “incredibly frustrated” with himsself but admitted he’d been caught flat-footed.

      “Not remembering or identifying that that’s Aleppo — guilty,” he said. “I understand the significance. Genuinely — believe me, no one is taking this more seriously than me. I feel horrible.”

      He added: “I have to get smarter, and that’s just part of the process.”

      Johnson later issued a statement: “As governor, there were many things I didn’t know off the top of my head. But I succeeded by surrounding myself with the right people, getting to the bottom of important issues, and making principled decisions. It worked. That is what a President must do.”
      http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/08/politics/gary-johnson-aleppo/index.html

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, he also claimed he thought it was acronym, and preceded to talk knowledgeably about the Syrian situation. Assuming he’s telling the truth about the former, it’s the kind of brain fart to which everyone is vulnerable.

        • Deiseach says:

          Would anyone excuse Trump if he said the same thing – “I thought it was an acronym”? Imagine the reaction that would garner!

          If you’re putting yourself out there for the top job, you should demonstrate some grasp of what in my day would have been basic knowledge. It’s like the story I read about Gore Vidal criticising British policy and referring to “M-16”, when someone eventually figured out he meant “MI6“. That kind of mistake makes it look like you have no idea what you’re actually talking about, and thinking “Aleppo must be some kind of acronym” undercuts any “talk(ing) knowledgeably about the Syrian situation” – does he really know anything about it, or is he just reciting a prepared script on the question written up by a handler?

          On the other hand, showing ignorance of “all those foreign places out there” may do his chances a power of good amongst the American electorate, who can say?

          • Our current VP provided more extreme demonstrations of not knowing things one would expect any educated person to know–such as who was president at the time of the stock market crash and when television became available.

            Not knowing what is in which part of the Constitution is a less striking error, but thinking you do know, and making it part of a mistaken argument about the job you are running for …

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            David, I think those are more specific than you may realize. I I doubt I could get closer than the right decade for either, and the only thing I recall on the spot is the crash happened on a Thursday, and the earliest broadcast I am aware of involved Hitler for some reason (which wasn’t nearly the actual first).

            But this isn’t surprising. I expect any reasonably educated person to understand Cantor’s diagonal argument and know the date Edward abdicated.

            It is basically impossible for a reasonably educated person to actually know all the stuff we expect reasonably educated people to know.

          • IrishDude says:

            The question asked was “What would you do about Aleppo”. In the clips I’ve seen, it doesn’t show what the conversation was about prior to the question, so there might have been no context that he was being asked about Syria or even a foreign policy question. Also, the questioner pronounces it kind of weird, and so without context Gary might not have made the connection to what situation was being referred to.

            If that’s the case, it was a bad question and should have been phrased like “With the conflict in Syria, and the crisis going on in Aleppo in particular, how would you handle that as president?” That’s a better framing that creates the right context to understand a foreign city’s name in context.

            He might not be briefed well on some foreign policy particulars, and should ensure he gets advisers to keep him more in the loop on these types of specifics. Still, after the context was established he had a coherent response that the situation is a mess where we’re arming people allied with Islamists, and that the mess was caused by a interventionist policy of regime change. It displayed an awareness of the Syrian conflict and good insight about the unintended consequences of intervention abroad.

          • LHN says:

            Biden didn’t miss two trivia items in a quiz show or fail to answer a question correctly. This one was entirely an own goal. He made the specific claim that “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’”

            So he was unfavorably comparing current leaders to something that a) itself never happened and b) would have required two counterfactuals to have even been possible (FDR being president at the time of the stock market crash[1], and any president making speeches on television at that point in history). All to back up a claim no one asked him to make. (Versus being put on the spot by a question he wasn’t prepared for.)

            There may be a reason we haven’t seen a lot of big Biden speeches in the last eight years.

            [1] At the time, there was a somewhat desperate attempt to point out that Roosevelt was making pioneering use of radio as governor of New York in 1929. But even with maximum generosity, Governor Roosevelt did not in fact go on the radio to talk about the stock market crash in its aftermath.

          • “It is basically impossible for a reasonably educated person to actually know all the stuff we expect reasonably educated people to know.”

            Probably true. But people in general, and politicians in particular, pretend to.

            On the other hand, the fact that FDR came to power after the crash is something one might expect a politician to know. And while it’s not surprising that he didn’t know what the subject of Article I of the Constitution was–probably most people don’t–it’s a little surprising that he publicly pretended to.

            I knew that Aleppo was a city in the Middle East but did not know that it had been the subject of recent news stories having to do with the Syrian civil war.

            On the other hand I have at least a reasonable idea who the Alawites are, arguably more important, which I suspect most people commenting on the conflict don’t have. Very likely including both Clinton and Trump.

          • Chalid says:

            You can’t always interpret a misstatement of fact as ignorance of fact. I don’t think you can conclude from the Biden quote that he’s definitely ignorant of Depression history – it could well be that “after the stock market crash” is just how he carelessly expressed the concept of “early in the Great Depression” while he was trying to make a completely different point.

            As an extreme example, Obama said he’d visited 57 states at one point and only crazy people take that as evidence of actual ignorance (or of something more nefarious).

            (The pedant in me insists on pointing out that there was a major stock market crash in 1937 too.)

            (Obligatory partisan balance edit: yes liberals were unfair to GW Bush in this way.)

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I think Biden thinking FDR was in power during the crash is a fairly reasonable mistake. For a certain definition of “when” (i.e. “after four years of little government action to deal with the after effects of the crash”) his statement is correct. I’m more worried about his lack of constitutional knowledge; although he wasn’t mistaken about something obvious, it was something directly relevant to his job.

            @David Friedman

            Regarding the Alawites: provided Clinton reads her emails, she is aware of them.

          • LHN says:

            . For a certain definition of “when” (i.e. “after four years of little government action to deal with the after effects of the crash”) his statement is correct.

            “And after nearly twenty years, his successor made the first presidential speech on television[1], which is practically like Roosevelt doing it in response to the stock market crash”

            [1] For completeness, Roosevelt opened the World’s Fair on TV in 1939, but did not address the stock market crash at that time.

            The idea that Hoover engaged in “little government action” is also not especially accurate. (Though of course also not attributable to Biden, who evidently thought Roosevelt was already on the job when the market crashed.) Hoover enacted massive public works programs, banking and labor reforms, a moratorium on collecting war debts, nationally coordinated unemployment relief, established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, etc. (And reluctantly signed the Hawley-Smoot tariff, which was counterproductive but of course wasn’t intended to be.) But nothing was going to save the job of the man who’d been in the hot seat when the economy went to hell.

            (As it happens, a couple of weeks ago we were passing through Iowa and stopped at the Hoover Library and Museum. Leaving aside his presidency, he’s a remarkably impressive figure: a globally successful mining engineer who lived on three continents– including China during the Boxer Rebellion– who decided he’d made enough money and threw himself into food relief for Europe in the wake of World War I. Which it turned out he was really good at– enough that Truman called him back after WWII to do the same thing. He then spent the twenties running half the Cabinet, interrupted by coordinating flood relief for one of the biggest disasters of US history, the Mississippi Flood of 1927. If he’d been hit by a meteor in 1928, he’d be remembered as an unquestioned hero of American history.)

          • gbdub says:

            The question asked was “What would you do about Aleppo”. In the clips I’ve seen, it doesn’t show what the conversation was about prior to the question, so there might have been no context that he was being asked about Syria or even a foreign policy question. Also, the questioner pronounces it kind of weird, and so without context Gary might not have made the connection to what situation was being referred to.

            I wanted to signal boost IrishDude’s point here, because I haven’t seen an answer yet and the same thing bothered me. “What would you do about Aleppo”, without context, is pure gotcha, and having a brain fart about it is certainly excusable (hell, look what the NYT did. I myself knew that Aleppo is an important city in the Syrian conflict, and would probably remember that out of context, but my snap thought was that it’s the capital of Syria, which it is not).

            I don’t know, this feels like a rehash of the Sarah Palin “Bush Doctrine” thing, which was again an out-of-the-blue gotcha (in that case of an ambiguous term not in terribly common use). The ability to ace the pop quiz is much less interesting to me than how they’d handle the situation in the real world, which is in-context with a bunch of advisors and presumably at least access to Google. We’re electing the president, not the next Jeopardy champion

          • HeelBearCub says:

            These are valid points.

            But, you flat out know, or should know, that you are very likely to get asked about Syria. It’s like the teacher announced “One of the topics on the quiz will be Syria! Don’t forget to study!” and THEN Johnson flubbed it.

            If he had flubbed on a question like “What do you think about Duterte?” I would be a whole lot more sympathetic.

            Actually, I’ll put out that one of big issues here is that he treated the question as if it WAS a bullshit question. “And what is Aleppo!?” with that uplift basically says “Why the hell should I know what that is.” If he had paused to wait, or said “Aleppo being?” He would have let his brain engage. But that isn’t really the main issue.

          • “after four years of little government action to deal with the after effects of the crash”

            Over the course of Hoover’s presidency, federal spending increased about fifty percent in nominal terms, about a hundred percent in real terms, about two hundred percent as a fraction of GNP.

            Makes Obama and Bush look like fiscal conservatives.

            “Regarding the Alawites: provided Clinton reads her emails, she is aware of them.”

            Aware of the existence of, yes. If she reads and believes her email, she thinks that Alawites are “members of [an] obscure Shiite sect.” Which is about like describing Mormons as members of a Protestant sect, perhaps a little farther off and even less informative.

          • Gazeboist says:

            … Mormons as members of a Protestant sect …

            Well, speaking cladistically…

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ David Friedman
            If she reads and believes her email, she thinks that Alawites are “members of [an] obscure Shiite sect.”

            I think this sentence is missing an ‘only’, or two.

          • I don’t think it is missing an “only.” I did say “and believes.”

            The Alawites currently claim to be Shiites, but that’s more a matter of political convenience than theology. As best I can tell, they are at least as far from conventional Islam, Twelver Shia or Sunni, as the Mormons are from conventional Christianity.

            Most Muslims do not, for example, believe in reincarnation (for men but not for women).

            My old blog post on the subject.

    • Sandy says:

      I don’t think he failed the “ability to bullshit something about foreign policy” test. You have to know something before you can bullshit about it, so he failed the more basic “give some clue that you’re clued-in” test. At the very least, he should know where Aleppo is. From there you can toss in some bullshit like Bernie’s plan to leave all the planning to Muslim leaders who will gleefully use that window to settle old scores or Trump’s plan to untangle his thought process so he can come up with a plan.

      At least Hillary’s “let’s bomb people and compare dicks with Russia” plan has the benefit of continuity.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Knowledge of Syrian cities is probably less important for an isolationist like Johnson than it would be for an interventionist. Still, he is running for president, and anyone who is running for president should goddamn know that Aleppo is a city in Syria. It’s bizarre that you would like him more for lacking knowledge of basic foreign policy issues, this sounds like an unhealthy piece of cognitive dissonance on your part.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        Johnson isn’t an isolationist, he’s a non-interventionist. He thinks free trade is a good thing, he just believes in using the military to protect the nations borders and reducing our military base footprint around the world.

        He should know about Aleppo, and needs better prep from advisers on foreign issues, but it’s not anything that makes him unqualified to run for president.

      • onyomi says:

        The reason I like him more is because my prior is that ALL presidential candidates have some holes in their knowledge, especially of the sort which they can quickly talk about on the spot, which, if known, the press and their opponents could use to embarrass them and make a big deal of how supposedly unqualified they are.

        My point is that the usual politician’s reaction to being put on the spot like that (and, again, my prior is that they all will be, sooner or later) is to throw up some obfuscatory nonsense sooner than admit ignorance.

        Refusal to blandly admit ignorance is one of my pet peeves and is endemic in academia as well as politics, where, as with politics, being seen not to know something “everybody” “should” know can be disastrous. But I believe it is harmful to the goals of academia and contributes also to rampant impostor syndrome and so I try to avoid it insofar as my own pride and fear of looking stupid will allow. Therefore, I respect people who just say “I don’t know what that is? Can you explain?” instead of a bunch of nonsense, which is the usual modus operandi.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Not all knowledge-holes are created equal. Ignorance of a focal point of the civil war in Syria is a much more serious flaw in a presidential candidate than (say) not knowing Mali’s chief export or the identity of the inventor of peanut butter. I am confident that Clinton, at least, is well-informed about the particulars of current events in the middle east.

          If someone behaves in a way which is ignorant but honest, it makes sense for this to raise your esteem for him only if you antecedently thought him to be ignorant or dishonest. But I do not believe you previously believed Johnson to be ignorant or dishonest, in fact, I suspect you previously had a fairly high opinion of him. So finding out that he lacks some critical piece of knowledge should lower your esteem for him, even if you continue to appreciate that he lacks some of the typical vices of others politicians.

          If it helps, I was a big Sanders supporter during the primary, but his apparent lack of knowledge of or interest in foreign affairs made me continually uneasy. I certainly do not think it means Johnson is “unqualified” to be president– I am not sure I have a good grasp on what it means to be qualified for the presidency any more, in this brave new world that Trump has brought us– but it should, rightly, be at least a little damaging for his campaign.

          • IrishDude says:

            It’s unclear whether it will be damaging or not. Among his supporters, they’ll give him a pass. Among people that don’t support him, a very large chunk probably don’t even know him. This incident could get his name in the news more, even if it’s in an unflattering context, which could increase name recognition (no press is bad press?).

            If it gets people to watch the whole clip where he has a coherent response about how an interventionist regime change policy can have unintended consequences that makes foreign situations worse, then they might come away knowing there’s an alternative foreign policy option in the presidential race. Also, if they see his follow-up response showing humility, they might gain high esteem for him as a contrast to Hilary and Trump’s full-bodied ego. Given this, it’s unclear if he will be net damaged by AleppoGate.

          • Wow, is Aleppo really something all educated people should know? I have vaguely heard of the city, but couldn’t have placed it in Syria. I think the importance of knowing the name of this city is close to zero. I certainly don’t want my candidates filling up their brain with such esoterica instead of actual policy issues.

          • bluto says:

            It’s been the lynchpin of the Syrian Civil War for about 4 years, and it’s important because it was the largest city, and it’s old city had been very well preserved for centuries.

            I had heard of it from Crusader Kings, where it’s strategically located on the border of the Byzantine/Abbasid empires.

          • Earthly and bluto seem to think Aleppo needs to be known because of its size and because beaucoup damage has been done to it. I think Johnson needs to have some kind of policy about Syria, Iraq, ISIL, and refugees, as least once he gets into office. Does he need a policy about Aleppo? I don’t think so. I don’t see why he needs to know the name of any city in Syria or Iraq to develop a coherent policy.

          • Knowing geography is important when setting policy, though I’m not sure how fine-grained the knowledge needs to be.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I think failure to name Aleppo isn’t a problem because it suggests Johnson can’t come up with a detailed plan of what to do in Syria, but because it suggests any plan he has is based on reading approximately one source. Anyone who has researched the war in Syria in any depth at all will know what Aleppo is.

          • @sweeny. At least from my point of view it isn’t a defect that Johnson hasn’t researched the was in Syria in detail. I don’t think it is the job of the President of the US to interfere in Syria’s war, and in fact any US interference would probably make the war worse. I think US policy should be to stay out, but help with refugees. I believe Johnson would pretty much agree with me on that, so naturally he hasn’t researched the war in Syria in any depth. Better he should spend more time on other issues. One can only research so many things. Besides, he can have experts help him on these things when he needs them. He should not be spending his time researching Syria’s war.

          • Deiseach says:

            I don’t see why he needs to know the name of any city in Syria or Iraq to develop a coherent policy.

            “And when I become President, the first thing I will do is introduce my environmental control policy for monitoring water quality in those cities with problems about that. You know the ones. Somewhere in the middle of the country – it is the middle, right, not the top or the side? Well, some of them might be near the bottom, I’m not sure. I can’t remember the names. Didn’t recognise some of them when I heard them, either.

            Ah, who cares, who needs to know petty details like that when it comes to having a coherent policy? Also, one of my guys tells me he has a sure-fire solution to that state with the drought problem. Er, there is only one, right? Anyway, I’m going to let him get right on it, wherever it is.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @Mark:

            My knowledge of the war in Syria comes from reading a few newspaper articles, and I still know what Aleppo is. I don’t think the question was particularly tough or unreasonable.

          • My knowledge of the war in Syria comes from reading a few newspaper articles, and I still know what Aleppo is. I don’t think the question was particularly tough or unreasonable.

            I’ve read a few articles about Syria and didn’t know Aleppo before this argument came up. I’m not sure what the difference is here, but I don’t understand why knowing a city’s name matters.

            Deiseich – I don’t see the relevance with comparing policies related to particular cities has with policies that relate to regions, not cities. Are you suggesting that every candidate should have a particular policy for Aleppo itself? I certainly don’t think so.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mark V Anderson:

            You aren’t running for president. If you go to a job interview set up by a recruiter to do QA for user interfaces written in Java using Eclipse, and they ask you “and why do you want to work at (Company) XYZ” and you answer “What’s XYZ?” It’s your own fault for not knowing what company you were interviewing at, even though XYZ isn’t important to you.

          • I don’t think that’s a great example, Heel. Gary Johnson didn’t say “what’s Congress,” he asked “what’s Aleppo” and still demonstrated some knowledge about the overall Syrian situation.

            In my line of business, pharmacy accounting, it’s like a candidate asking “what is sovaldi?” And then still talking in general about pricing disputes in pharmacy, like GER and MAC, and knowing what a bad debt reserve is.

            I don’t think this is an instant DQ or an “oh my god, how stupid” moment.

            Being President does not mean you are an expert on every single issue. In fact, you can’t be an expert, and need to simply learn shit really fast.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Beta Guy:
            Here is the the thing. I’m fairly sure Johnson did “know” what/where Aleppo is. Gary Johnson said later on that day he should have placed it. It was a “temporary loss of synaptic action”. I don’t think that it’s disqualifying.

            But people saying that he shouldn’t have to be able to identify Aleppo are just wrong.

            Your critique of my example has merit, so let me amend. You are interviewing with the board of a company for the CEO position. They have many products, but their new digital watch, iWear, looks like it either needs significant additional investment or needs to be scrapped. This could have a significant impact on next year’s revenue and profit projections. The board has stated they are concerned about this product.

            If in the interview you say “And what is iWear?!” in a condescending tone, you probably made a mistake.

      • Skivverus says:

        A good part of it, I think, is “wait, they’re making this a scandal? If that’s the worst they can get on him, I’ll take ignorance over sleaze/malice any day!”
        Another part of it might also be “dammit, we need some kind of scandal to get this guy some publicity. Maybe this will work.”

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah, I was thinking that at this point, though they’ve been treating him much more seriously than they usually do third-party candidates or libertarians in general, he still suffers from too many people not knowing he’s running.

          Though it’s clear some want to offer this as evidence that Johnson is not a serious, credible candidate for president, the media also doesn’t usually spend a lot of time worrying about the gaffes of unserious, uncredible candidates (the subtext being that he must be a credible candidate or we wouldn’t spend so much time trying to discredit him), so it could conceivably work in his favor, long term if it gets more people knowing who he is and thinking about him.

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      I plan to vote Johnson, and agree with you that his admission of ignorance was admirable on an epistemic level. With that said, I also count the incident as a point against his fitness for president.

      To my mind, the president has several jobs, one of which is projecting strength and confidence even (especially) when he doesn’t have a plan. My conception of the president in this role is as a figurehead who can calm the populace or cow a foreign diplomat. Basically, the president should be able to bluff. The Johnson who failed to bluff about Aleppo is a weaker candidate than the counterfactual Johnson who could.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Relevant: minor British politician Emily Thornberry calls sexism after being asked to name the French foreign minister in an interview (and presumably being unable to do so). Disregarding the gender angle, no-one seems to think the questions on fairly obscure trivia were particularly unfair. Maybe there is significant cultural variation in how many of these kinds of facts politicians are supposed to know (although the implications of not knowing what Aleppo is and who Jean-Marc Ayrault is are different).

      • Deiseach says:

        The thing is, Aleppo and Syria are potential “The US will be called upon to intervene by sending in troops” cases (if the newly-negotiated cease-fire doesn’t hold).

        The US and Russia are working together to bring about peace in Syria. That is very much the kind of situation a presidential candidate is supposed to have an opinion on. That is something your handlers prepare a canned answer for you to trot out when a reporter or interviewer ask you about. And maybe it was because the questioner pronounced it strangely or something, but in that case you say “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, could you repeat it?” and then launch into your “I’m very glad you asked me that, John” canned answer.

        Getting tripped up like that may be an honest mistake, but it makes you look unprepared, ignorant, and as if you are not interested or worse, have no idea what you’ll do if you win the election, move into the Oval Office, then your Secretary of State says to you “Now, Mr President, about Aleppo” and you go “Where? What’s that? The new Pokémon Go specimen?”

        I know I’m being hard on the guy, but if he’s putting himself forward as a serious contender (rather than “At least with Trump running, there’s enough public attention being paid that I can use this chance to get my face recognised and my name known”), then he has to be prepared for the sticky questions. Not every media person is going to stick to “And what’s your policy on your very favourite topic that you’ve studied exhaustively and know to your fingers’ ends, Mr Johnson?”

        • onyomi says:

          I agree (and, in his statement, Johnson agrees) that he should have known what they were talking about, even out of context (though he claims he was just momentarily confused, which can certainly happen, especially if someone changes topics suddenly: if we are currently having a discussion about AI, for example, and someone says “what do you think about MIRI?” I might have an okay answer. But if “what do you think about MIRI?” comes out of the blue, I might say, “oh yes, I love sweet Japanese cooking wine. Tastes great mixed with miso on braised tofu.” This seems supported by him talking knowledgeably about Syria on other occasions.)

          That said, I think, again, the number of things any given presidential candidate “should” know is probably more than any one person can know, and I don’t think having a really detailed knowledge of facts is the most important quality in a president, insofar as anyone is qualified to be president of 300 million people (which I don’t think they are).

  18. Brad (The Other One) says:

    Let’s say God exists. Let’s further say God exists self-sufficiently, needing no other thing to support his existence. Would it then follow that God as described would have no “needs”?

    If this is so, what incentive or reason would be sufficient for such a being to perform any action?

    edit: Or would it be more accurate to say we human beings operate from our nature, where our nature is “satisfy one’s own needs” and thus we seek after our own needs. But perhaps a God with no needs, would operate from a nature which itself would not constitute a need? or to put it more directly, such a God would do things out of his nature but his nature (which a being does not violate by definition) would somehow not constitute a need, or compulsion – or to put it more like this, such a being, since it would have no needs and have nothing in authority above it, which could compel it against its will (for then, that thing would be God), would act according to its nature, freely and without compulsion yet still be without need – and the only way this makes sense without contradiction is if God and his nature are not, as we may think, “separate” (as we often think about human beings and their nature in seeking their needs – we can imagine a human being who does not hunger or thirst, for example) but rather that God and his nature are the same thing, which may be how you get statements like “God is love”.

    Does this, uh, make sense? (Deiseach, halp.)

    also an edit: I found this.

    • DavidS says:

      Interesting post. This has been an issue philosophers/theologians have grapped with. Some have in fact had God not acting as such, and playing a more ‘gravitational’ role whereby the sheer existence of God pulls things into being. There’s definitely a lot of emphasis on God acting freely and explicitly not because of any need in lots of monotheist traditions. In the Bhagavad Gita for instance it’s explicit that everything God (Krishna) does is ‘play’ in that he doesn’t have to do it or have any overarching mission as such).

      In the Christian traditon the Trinity is sometimes important for explaining action/relationship for God. In that God is already ‘in relationship’ before creation.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Would it then follow that God as described would have no “needs”?

      If this is so, what incentive or reason would be sufficient for such a being to perform any action?

      Are you an effective altruist?

      (yes, this question is relevant to yours.)

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        Are you an effective altruist?

        Me, personally?

        Probably not, (as I am very selfish and hypocritical) based on what I see of it on wikipedia, although it might help to define the term means, as you use it.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Without getting into the details of it, then, I think most of us distinguish between the good that morality requires and the good that it merely permits. I am not obligated to do absolutely everything I might possibly do to help others. That’s why we call it “charity”- it’s not required that it be given.

          So God needs nothing- but he can create for the sake of the beings created. Most of those beings would prefer to exist rather than not exist, and by actualizing their existence he gives them what they would not have had otherwise.

    • Deiseach says:

      [All that you say above]

      Yes? More or less, anyway 🙂

      Okay, amateur (very amateur) theology time here!

      God is impassible, is the classical theological position. That is to say, God has no passions and is not moved by such as humans are.

      Therefore, God acts gratuitously and not from necessity; there is no ‘need’ that creation fills, God does not ‘need’ our love or worship.

      The economy of the Trinity is relationship; when we say “God is love”, we do not mean “God loves” or “God is loving” or even “God is loveable”, we mean “God is Love (the abstract made concrete)” – the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is the love of the Son for the Father and the Father for the Son personified, as in the Nicene Creed:

      I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son*

      The Holy Spirit is represented as the dove, the tongues of fire, the mighty rushing wind. To quote from Dante, in the end of the “Paradiso” and his vision of the Trinity:

      In the deep, transparent essence of the lofty Light
      there appeared to me three circles
      having three colours but the same extent,

      and each one seemed reflected by the other
      as rainbow is by rainbow, while the third one seemed fire,
      equally breathed forth by one and by the other.

      Thus the old catechism question-and-answer:

      Q. Why were we made?
      A. God made us to know, love, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.

      We were made out of love, to be loved, and to love. There was no inevitability about creation, no necessity; if Pratchett’s gods (and others in that vein, and it’s a long-running conceit) rely on the worship of humanity for existence – well, that’s only the small gods. God needs nothing from us – not love, not worship, not praise, nothing. It is (or it should be) a free exchange.

      This is also why there was a slight ruffling of feathers over an alternate baptismal formula; instead of the orthodox “I baptise N. in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, some enlightened ones preferred to use “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier” (because inclusive language, doncha know, “Father” and “Son” are so terribly, terribly patriarchal and heteronormative and other nasty icky things).

      Sorry, no can do, not valid, came the response. Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier are in the context of actions performed by the persons of the Trinity but they do not encompass the entirety of Their Being or describe Them as fully in Their Nature as Father, Son and Spirit. God is Father in a way He is not Creator, since creation (as mentioned) is not a necessary part of His nature**.

      *This is where we Don’t Mention The Filioque, one of the sticking points between the Western and Eastern Churches that led to the Great Schism. Eastern Orthodox theology has very well-developed and complicated theologies of Divine Essence and Energies, and I dare not even contemplate sticking my toe in those waters, I have enough to do keeping track of Western Christianity. They were grappling with unique questions dealing with the remnants of the Classical philosophical traditions and how to respond and engage with those (one approach was “Don’t” – “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”) in a way that the Western Church wasn’t and didn’t (more concerned on our side with “Welp, the Empire is finally fallen completely and oh look, here come the Huns for a spot of pillage and rapine”).

      In the interests of reconciliation, some Anglicans have proposed dropping the clause from the Creed, to which I reply “Fight me” 🙂

      **We are all up to speed on “God is spirit, therefore neither male nor female, so using terms like “He” is descriptive in how we have been taught to address God”, correct? This also, however, means that we can’t decide “Okey-dokey, so I like saying “Mother God”, that’s fine so, I’ll just replace all instances of “Father” with “Mother”!”, we all realise as well? Thank you.

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        We were made out of love, to be loved, and to love. There was no inevitability about creation, no necessity; if Pratchett’s gods (and others in that vein, and it’s a long-running conceit) rely on the worship of humanity for existence – well, that’s only the small gods. God needs nothing from us – not love, not worship, not praise, nothing. It is (or it should be) a free exchange.

        I came to the same conclusion, but with one troubling question afterwards: from whence come the damned?

        POSSIBLE ARMINIANIST ANSWER: Free will; they chose their own end, etc. References to Ezekiel 18:23, etc.

        POSSIBLE CALVINIST ANSWER: God is his nature, and so if God’s nature is Love, God is love and acts according to love! and God’s nature is also wrath and so if God’s nature is wrath… (Also, lots of beating the listener over the head with references to Isaiah 43:7)

        • Deiseach says:

          The Eastern Orthodox interesting and provocative view is that the fire of Divine Love, which is bliss to the saved, is the fire of hell to the damned.

          Both experience the same thing, but for the damned it is pain.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @Deiseach

            I’ve heard that theory before and wasn’t fully convinced… but it does, on reflection, remind me of this. and this. and this and this and this and especially this, in particular.

            edit: oh, and it also reminds me of being in proximity to that which is Holy, such as God himself, can destroy sinners, ala the ark of the covenant.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            That article seems to imply that God’s love is something utterly unlike what the English word love refers to. Which sort of fits an incomprehensible deity I suppose, but calls into question why we call it love to begin with.

            Maybe this is a gap in my own experience, but I’ve never felt despair or suffering from being in the presence of someone whose love I didn’t return. If anything, it would seem like the one being tormented is the one whose love is rejected rather than the other way around. Love only burns those who feel it.

            So I guess it’s a question of whose love it is?

            If God’s love refers to the love people must of necessity have for God, then the torment of hell vaguely makes sense. Although it hardly sounds very loving on God’s part: it rings like Unsong’s “xrrc ubcvat fhpxref!” A way to sadistically draw out anguish by stoking a powerful emotion and simultaneously frustrating it.

            If God’s love refers to the love God has for people, then Hell sounds like torment for God himself more than for sinners. Those who reject God likely won’t be pleased to be constantly in his presence, but the experience would doubtlessly be much worse from the perspective of constantly being taunted with those who you love but who refuse to love you back.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Sorry if I’m being dim, but that didn’t really shed any light on the issue for me.

            I love the reference though. ‘A Night at the Roxbury’ is a guilty pleasure of mine.

          • Deiseach says:

            That article seems to imply that God’s love is something utterly unlike what the English word love refers to.

            Love is not a soft, easy thing. Love is a consuming fire. All I can refer you to is the idea of the burning furnace of charity (as instanced in the prayer of the Litany of the Sacred Heart “Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity” and developed here):

            Generally, when the Lord reveals His Heart, He manifests it engulfed in flames: “I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal” (From a letter of St. Margaret Mary written to Fr. Croiset SJ on November 3, 1689. Found in The Letters of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque). To St. Faustina He said, “I am burning in the flames of my mercy and love, which I desire to lavish on souls” (cf. Diary, 50). Why fire? Because Jesus is enflamed with love for humanity. His love is so passionate that it is described in the Song of Songs as “strong as death, relentless as the netherworld” (8:6). His love is a love for the Eternal Father and for man, and it consumes Him. It is this love, impassioned for humanity, that led Him to give Himself to the extreme for the salvation of man. His love is an inextinguishable furnace. Let us remember what was said in Exodus when Moses received the apparition of God in the form of fire in the midst of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was aflame but was not being consumed (3:2). This is the love of Christ: He reveals to us His burning and flaming Heart, but it is a fire that does not cease; on the contrary, its intensity increases the more we are in need of His forgiveness and mercy.

            the iconography of the Sacred Heart :

            The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding. Sometimes the image is shown shining within the bosom of Christ with his wounded hands pointing at the heart. The wounds and crown of thorns allude to the manner of Jesus’ death, while the fire represents the transformative power of divine love.

            and mystic experiences of saints like St Philip Neri (whose imagery includes that of the flaming heart)

            “I cannot bear so much, my God, I cannot bear so much, for see, I am dying of it!”

            St. Philip had an intimate connection with the heart of Our Lord. One night, when he was praying in the catacombs when a globe of light entered his mouth. He felt it go to his heart, which seemed to grow. Doctors would later discover that two of his ribs were broken by his heart’s expansion. He was overcome with ecstasy, completely consumed by the divine love. Finally, he shouted the above phrase, because the love he felt was too much for him to bear. When he got up, he found a swelling over his heart.

            and St Teresa of Avila (as in Bernini’s famous sculpture):

            I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

            And indeed, the late, great Johnny Cash sang it well 🙂

        • Two McMillion says:

          Well, every story needs a villain.

  19. Agrononaoxymous says:

    Well holy shit did I find that a very popular political testing website clearly and obviously moves its results around so it artificially makes you agree less or more with a candidate.

    I used to like the side ISideWith.com , but its algorithm results are more then fishy. The have moved trump from 40 to like 10 percent, without me changing anything.

    • Chalid says:

      Maybe it reflects Trump’s views changing? The man is not exactly consistent.

    • Andrew says:

      Interestingly, it moved me way up on Johnson (I don’t recall what I was before, but he wasn’t it’s top result for me, and now it is with 80%!)

      • JayT says:

        I would assume they add in new comments made by the candidate. Say you are very anti-immigrant. Six months ago they would have said that you were 100% in line with Trump on immigration. However, now he’s that he’s softened his immigration stance it would make sense for you to align with him less now if you didn’t change any of your answers.

        • Agronomous says:

          Please don’t conflate legal immigration with illegal immigration. It’s a cheap rhetorical move that’s unfortunately completely overrun all other discussion forums; I’d rather not see it get a foothold here.

          (Edited to add: Sorry that sounded like I was intentionally accusing you of a cheap rhetorical move; my guess is you’re more a victim of one.)

    • Psmith says:

      Peter Moskos’ In Defense of Flogging is an interesting treatment of this issue. Article.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think it does a better job of demonstrating that long prison sentences are inhumane than that corporal punishment is humane. 10 years in prison is life-ruining; you have to start over from square one when you get out (and with the disadvantage of being a convicted felon).

      Any single session of lashing that neither permanently cripples nor kills you is not nearly as bad; you can still maintain some continuity.

      Of course, there’s also the question of whether we _want_ to ruin the lives of criminals.

    • Jiro says:

      1) People get their jollies out of directly inflicting physical pain, or even in inflicting pain through a chain of command, in a way which they do not from putting people into cells. This leads at a minimum to conflicts of interest.
      2) It is hard to ratchet up a jail punishment past some limit. Physical punishments, because they are brief, are easy to ratchet up by repeating them (with a break for healing). Furthermore, to the extent to which you can ratchet up a jail punishment, doing so inherently involves a lot of time, and therefore by that time, the outrage mob that screams for ever increasing severity of punishment has stopped screaming.
      3) The fact that jail takes a lot of time means that errors can be reversed before the punishment is a done deal. In theory you could fix this by requiring large enough payments to falsely punished people, but implementing that is really hard, especially since there is no lost income to use as a starting point for the payment size.
      4) The fact that it costs the government a lot to punish people is an inherent brake on the severity of punishment. Corporal punishment is too cheap. (And yes, this does apply to fines and confiscation, which can have negative cost to the government, and do indeed go out of control–see civil forfeiture.)

      • “The fact that it costs the government a lot to punish people is an inherent brake on the severity of punishment.”

        For anyone sufficiently interested, I have an old journal article on this subject.

        “The fact that jail takes a lot of time means that errors can be reversed before the punishment is a done deal.”

        But in practice it almost never happens.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        The fact that jail takes a lot of time means that errors can be reversed before the punishment is a done deal

        Not really, since you can never get back the time you already spent incarcerated.

        • Jiro says:

          Not really, since you can never get back the time you already spent incarcerated.

          You can get back part of the time–the part which has not been spent yet.

          Note that I am not asking for any sort of infallibility, like death penalty opponents do. Feel free to argue that the error rate is low enough. Furthermore, I’m not so much talking about reversing random errors as reversing mob rule or media blitzes or other forms of strong, but limited in duration, pressure.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If I had to choose, I’d probably opt for being mistakenly whipped than for being mistakenly incarcerated, even if said incarceration gets cancelled halfway through.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Mr. X

            As would I.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Do you mean if you considered x amount of whipping and y amount of prison equal as a punishment, you would prefer x amount of mistaken whipping to y amount of mistaken prison? Otherwise you’re just saying “I’d prefer a small amount of whipping to a large amount of prison, regardless of whether it was mistaken or not”. I think that is true for everyone (for varying values of small and large).

          • Not Robin Hanson says:

            If the fact that prison is distributed over time is supposed to be an advantage, perhaps you might consider whipping in installments.

            (Epistemic status of sarcasm status: 50%)

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      In general, I support corporal punishment and public humiliation over long-term incarceration when possible. But this seems like a very weak argument in favor of them.

      In particular, the way the author breezes over the question of effectiveness is unsettling. If incarcerating criminals prevents more crimes at a lower cost than other punishments, that is a very important piece of the puzzle. We don’t punish the guilty for their own benefit but for that of the innocent: the well-being of criminals is, at best, a secondary concern. This article reverses that, not seriously considering the suffering inflicted by recidivist criminals on the public but focusing entirely on that of the criminals themselves.

      Beyond that, cost is a serious concern. Right now the exorbitant costs of trials and housing inmates are a huge impediment to justice, resulting in lowered sentences via rampant plea bargaining and a general pressure not to overfill the nation’s already crowded jails. A more streamlined system featuring corporal punishment and a simplified trial process could handle the full volume of crime committed in America, providing more credible deterrence and saving money that could otherwise be used for better policing.

      • Jiro says:

        Right now the exorbitant costs of trials and housing inmates are a huge impediment to justice, resulting in lowered sentences via rampant plea bargaining and a general pressure not to overfill the nation’s already crowded jails.

        This is a feature, not a bug.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Only if you’re a criminal or otherwise expecting to get arrested in the near future. Even then it’s not hard to find examples of plea bargaining and prosecutorial discretion being abused.

          If you’re a shop keeper who wants to see something done about shop-lifters it is most certainly “a bug”.

          • Jiro says:

            Plea bargaining is abused to convict people, not to reduce sentences and keep people out of jails.

          • Anonymous says:

            How do you know it’s not the other way around? You’d need to have a good estimate of the base rate of guilt….

          • Gazeboist says:

            Not just that, you’d need a base rate of guilt among those who take plea bargains. Every time an innocent person takes a plea bargain, a guilty person gets away with whatever the underlying crime was (assuming there was an underlying crime). If we just compare the number of plea bargains taken to the number of guilty people in existence, we don’t gain anything.

          • Jiro says:

            “is used to convict people” means “is used with the intent of convicting particular people”.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s a very comprehensible definition. However, in the comment I replied to, you used the word “abused”. That requires knowing something about the base rate of guilt (among those that take plea bargains, as Gazeboist correctly points out).

          • Jiro says:

            “Abused” here means “is used, in a manner not dependent on actual guilt or innocence, and in a way which bypasses the supposed protections in the legal system”. It does not require knowing the base rate of guilt.

          • Anonymous says:

            With just the “in a manner not dependent on actual guilt or innocence”, that applies to all behavior that every officer in the justice system engages in. An enduring truth for millennia is that we don’t have access to that. That means that when they use their discretion to not prosecute a drug crime and instead direct the accused toward treatment (if such an action is not mandatory), then it would qualify for this portion of your definition of “abused”.

            Concerning “in a way which bypasses the supposed protections in the legal system”, you’re really going to have to unpack that. It seems to me that the protections are still pretty much all there. I am protected from illegal search and seizure when the investigators gather evidence for the case. I’m protected from lack of competent legal advice by being provided a lawyer. I’m protected from being forced to incriminate myself. I’m protected from intentional concealing of the truth by the discovery process. The list goes on and on, but we’ll skip to the one that is relevant. I’m protected from baseless accusations by a single branch of government (or even two branches of government!) by a right to choose to have my case heard in front of a jury of my peers. The fact that I can waive that right is no different than the fact that I can consent to a search of my house without probable cause, fire my lawyer, confess my illegal activities, etc.

            Regardless, I think this is an absolutely terrible definition for the difference between used/abused. At the very least, I think a distinction implies that the prosecutor is doing something wrong, and that requires some teleology and mens rea. The purpose of plea bargaining is to move high probability of guilt cases through the system quickly (remember, there is no such thing as “certainty”) and with some benefit to the defendant. I could imagine particular cases where there is evidence to show that the prosecutor is abusing the process (knowing that the true probability is low… but that’s also why we appoint defense counsel… to know when the true probability is low), but I would even accept a minimal, somewhat disconnected form of mens rea – knowing that, in the aggregate, plea bargains are actually outstripping the base rate of guilt (or, again, at least some attempt at an independent measure of ‘likelihood’). Without even that, I think the accusation of abuse falls flat on its face.

          • John Schilling says:

            With just the “in a manner not dependent on actual guilt or innocence”, that applies to all behavior that every officer in the justice system engages in.

            I think we can steelman that to, “in a manner not dependent on their understanding of actual guilt or innocence”.

          • “The purpose of plea bargaining is to move high probability of guilt cases through the system quickly”

            How do you know? If the probability you will be convicted is .5, the penalty if you are convicted is ten years in prison, and the prosecutor offers you one year, most of it already time served, it may well be in your interest to accept even if you are innocent.

            The overwhelming majority of criminal cases end up with plea bargains. What makes you believe they are all high probability of guilt cases?

            If a case has a high probability of conviction, wouldn’t you expect the bargain offered to be for a penalty only a little below the penalty on conviction? Is that the pattern we observe?

            An interesting old journal article on the parallel between modern plea bargaining and the medieval law of torture.

          • Anonymous says:

            @John

            That leads me right back to mens rea.

            @David

            If the probability you will be convicted is .5

            Combining Bayes with Blackstone (where I=innocent, C=convicted, A=acquited, G=guilty), we have P(I|C) = P(A|G)P(G)/(10P(C)), so if P(C)=0.5, P(I|C) = P(A|G)P(G)/5. A lot will depend on your estimate of the numerator, but a hard upper bound is 1/5. At this upper bound, it seems like your 10:1 bargain is bad for society. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the numerator brings this down by a factor of 2 and makes it advantageous.

            The overwhelming majority of criminal cases end up with plea bargains. What makes you believe they are all high probability of guilt cases?

            Defense attorneys know when a case isn’t high probability. Unless we want to postulate that they routinely give terrible advice…

            If a case has a high probability of conviction, wouldn’t you expect the bargain offered to be for a penalty only a little below the penalty on conviction?

            Not really. There are two factors driving in the other direction. First, prosecutors hate losing cases. They absolutely cannot stomach losses on their record, so they’re loath to press anything that’s not high probability. Second, prosecutors are extremely overworked. If they weren’t overworked at all, then it would barely benefit them to get high probability cases off their caseload – they’d just go to trial. They’d have no reason to offer much. Given the high workload, they have a much larger incentive to get it off their caseload. Coupled with the pressure for perfect records, any small amount of imperfection in a case is going to be given a big bargain.

            If that’s not clear, I’m postulating that for a fixed amount of uncertainty, a higher workload should correlate with larger differences between bargains and posted sentences. Is that a pattern we observe?

            Finally, I should note that I’m the same Anonymous from this thread.

            EDIT: I’d also like to extend the question of whether offering settlements in civil trials is abusive (or akin to torture).

          • “Defense attorneys know when a case isn’t high probability. Unless we want to postulate that they routinely give terrible advice…”

            It isn’t bad advice for the reason I already sketched. Settling for a low penalty instead of litigating with the risk of a high penalty may well be sensible even if you have a good chance of acquittal.

            It’s true that a prosecutor might prefer a plea bargain for two years to a .9 chance of conviction for ten years, given the constraints on the prosecutor’s time. But why would he have to offer that good a bargain to get a deal?

          • Anonymous says:

            It isn’t bad advice for the reason I already sketched. Settling for a low penalty instead of litigating with the risk of a high penalty may well be sensible even if you have a good chance of acquittal.

            It is bad advice if you can get a better deal or get them to drop the case. That depends on knowing the dynamics of the prosecutor’s office.

            It’s true that a prosecutor might prefer a plea bargain for two years to a .9 chance of conviction for ten years, given the constraints on the prosecutor’s time. But why would he have to offer that good a bargain to get a deal?

            Because the existence of competent public defenders makes the market clear. Again, unless we’re postulating that defense attorneys are consistently just getting smoked and giving bad advice for how good of a deal they can get out of prosecutors, then they’re going to press for more in cases that are above the prosecutors’ decision point and settle cases that are below it. Do we have some reason to believe that prosecutors are consistently outperforming defense attorneys in estimating the marginal cost of trial… across many jurisdictions?

          • “Because the existence of competent public defenders makes the market clear.”

            For felonies, the overwhelming majority of defendants have publicly provided attorneys. Some of them may have an ideological commitment to serving their clients, but they have little or no material incentive to do so. A plea bargain saves them time just as it saves the prosecutor time.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, then we have a testable prediction. The plea bargain discount rate should correlate with some ratio of the extent that the prosecutors’ office is overworked to the supply of criminal defense lawyers in the area.

            Now, the question is whether we can find appropriate data. I doubt it is already in the public sphere. My line of work won’t really allow me to commission an original study for this collection… but I’d be willing to donate my free time if you’d like to be the PI. 🙂

          • Anonymous, it seems to me that your argument depends on someone, at some stage of the process, being willing to work on making sure that the evidence against someone is sound.

            What’s been shown in the cases of falsely convicted people is that the system is frequently biased against suspects. Jailhouse confessions, coerced confessed, and bad forensics have been routinely accepted as evidence of guilt.

            Also, police are permitted to lie to suspects about how much evidence they have quite a bit more.

          • Anonymous says:

            your argument depends on someone, at some stage of the process, being willing to work on making sure that the evidence against someone is sound.

            In the most minimal sense, that’s what defense counsel is for.

          • “In the most minimal sense, that’s what defense counsel is for.”

            And why is it in the interest of a lawyer who has been assigned to the case by a judge to do the best job he can of helping the defendant–at the cost (sometimes) of making the judge’s job harder?

            A large majority of felony defendants are indigents with court appointed attorneys or public defenders. Some of the latter may, for ideological or reputational reasons, try to get the best deal they can for their client. Others may not. A plea bargain saves the defense council time as well as the prosecutor.

      • John Schilling says:

        A more streamlined system featuring corporal punishment and a simplified trial process could handle the full volume of crime committed in America

        OK, that’s another pet peeve of mine in discussions like this – the one where you bury the bit about getting rid of some of that pesky “due process” stuff and pretend this is about using corporal punishment to ELIMINATE MASS INCARCERATION!

        If you’ve actually got a way to simplify and expedite criminal trials while still fully protecting the rights of the accused, that’s the part you need to be shouting from the rooftops, because that’s hugely valuable even if we only apply it to the people we are planning to throw in jail.

        But if you’re burying it in a discussion of corporal punishment, I’m inclined to believe that you don’t really have such a plan, or at least not one you’re inclined to explain and defend. In which case, hell no. If your proposed corporal punishment has the same deterrent effect on criminals as a prison sentence, then it likely has the same adverse effect on the innocent – and less window for reversal. So you’re going to be stuck with the same cumbersome legal protections for the accused.

        If this is just the fantasy where we know who the bad guys are and can’t we just beat them up already?, then no, it’s an enjoyable fantasy but we can’t really do that and this probably isn’t the place to talk about it.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          If this is just the fantasy where we know who the bad guys are and can’t we just beat them up already?, then no, it’s an enjoyable fantasy but we can’t really do that and this probably isn’t the place to talk about it.

          I disagree, if anything this is an ideal place to talk about it. It’s all about understanding how to develop intelligent priors from base rates: in other words, basic Bayesian reasoning.

          Every police department in the country, probably every one in the world, has their own recognized group of ‘usual suspects.’ Career criminals aren’t exactly tough to identify, especially given that in many communities being one is a point of pride. Deliberately focusing policing on that criminal class and going after them relentlessly on the crimes which are most likely to yield convictions means the city can impose a high cost on being a habitual offender.

          You can go too far in that direction, arguably Davao City did, but you don’t really need to. Aggressive policing here by the NYPD, starting under Giuliani, achieved a similar transformation despite being much less heavy-handed. Even now our crime rates are much more reasonable than in most of the country largely due to Commissioner Bratton’s legacy.

          Those innovations show the weakpoints in the current criminal justice system. Post-Warren procedural and evidentiary rules, outside of drug crimes, generally make obtaining a conviction in court too risky and expensive for prosecuting them to be worthwhile. Returning to a system lacking those new rules could provide the sort of “speedy and public trial” required by the Sixth Amendment.

          • John Schilling says:

            Every police department in the country, probably every one in the world, has their own recognized group of ‘usual suspects.’ Career criminals aren’t exactly tough to identify, especially given that in many communities being one is a point of pride. Deliberately focusing policing on that criminal class and going after them relentlessly on the crimes which are most likely to yield convictions means the city can impose a high cost on being a habitual offender.

            When you talk about “most likely to yield convictions”, are you still talking about the “simplified trial process” you mentioned a couple of posts back? Because that’s the part I’m taking issue with here.

            And I really don’t know how to interpret what you are saying other than that you expect due process of law, as incorporated in the current non-simplified trial process, should not apply to “the usual suspects” and “the criminal class”. The police should be able to just run Those Sorts Of People past some quick tribunal and beat them up before any namby-pamby civil libertarians can complain about it.

            Those innovations show the weakpoints in the current criminal justice system. Post-Warren procedural and evidentiary rules, outside of drug crimes, generally make obtaining a conviction in court too risky and expensive for prosecuting them to be worthwhile. Returning to a system lacking those new rules could provide the sort of “speedy and public trial” required by the Sixth Amendment.

            I seem to recall hearing stories about the local police and prosecutors convicting people hereabouts for rape, murder, and other non-drug crimes. Maybe things are different where you live.

            But it is now clear. You are unambiguously calling for an end to due process as it is currently understood, for members of the criminal class that you want the police to beat up.

            No.

    • Agrononaoxymous says:

      I believe that corporal punishment and other forms of negative reinforcement can be more humane then other forms. We got rid of it in the school system, and we replaced it with ritalin. In the long run is it better or worse? Well, one can *look* inhumane, and there’s lots of money involved in another, so the answer dosen’t matter.

      Its the results at the end that matter I believe. I’m pretty sure sending people to prison just ensures that they end up permanently in the prison system or selling drugs since they may not get legal jobs the rest of their life.

      • DavidS says:

        I’m interested by the “got rid of it in the school system, and we replaced it with ritalin” claim. Is this really a case of one replacing the other? Or just coinciding ‘fashions’. I went to a school that had neither (possibly very small amounts of early ritalin?)

        • Agrononaoxymous says:

          A psychiatrist posted this piece on the effectiveness of the drugs. While the study that prompted the blog post is positive, he posted 7 other studies and summaries of studies. Its quite contradictory if these meds increase GPA or objective measures of knowledge but they reduce disruptive behavior in the classroom more noticeably and consistently.

          AKA, we may have replaced spanking with ritalin to make kids sit down for 7 hours a day.

          I mean, I guess these pills would probably be more effective if kids were taught under some korean cram-school style. But forcing kids to learn quickly and efficiently instead of watching movies and coloring half the day is inhumane, I guess.

          *and as an aside, I dislike the way us westerners negatively view these as route memorization. All education is is memorization (hard drive storage) and processing and pruning….and yes its more nuanced then that.

          • Franz_Panzer says:

            But why did you replace it with Ritalin?

            Corporal punishment was banned in (I presume) all of Europe too, but it was not replaced with Ritalin or other drugs.

          • Agrononaoxymous says:

            I have read two explanations for it so far

            1. Is of course, the larger financial incentives in this countries medical system then socialistic countries leading to more day by day medical corruption.

            2. The factors that have lead to the zero tolerance policies make there larger criticisms of some ways to control behavior more critiqued then in other countries.

    • John Schilling says:

      I want to never ever hear this subject discussed again with anything like “10 years in prison” on one side of the scale.

      You want to talk about whether a caning is more or less humane than thirty days in the county jail, fine. Also throw in fines and community service, which make it less than a slam-dunk for caning.

      Or if you want to talk about ten years in prison, put torture and mutilation on the other end of the scale. Because a dozen strokes or forty lashes or any other such thing, will not serve as a replacement for ten years in prison. It will not be seen as an effective deterrent for the sort of crimes we presently set ten-year prison sentences for – and with the criminal no longer being isolated from society until he(*) can cool down or age out, you’re critically dependent on deterrence. There’s not much opportunity for rehabilitation in a single caning. We can maybe tolerate “Every time he shoplifts we give him a paddling until he learns better”, but “Every time he rapes someone…”, that really needs to be just the one time. The public demand for justice and/or vengeance, will not be so readily satisfied.

      So, yeah, robbers and maybe even just thieves get their right hand amputated. Rapists get something else amputated. That could work. People might accept it, it would probably pose an adequate deterrent, and we can discuss whether it is more or less humane than ten years in prison. Are you up for it?

      * I’m not even going to get into the problems that are going to come up when the prisoner isn’t a “he”. Really, they come up even with male prisoners, but most people including the recipients will be strongly conditioned to ignore or deny them.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Are you up for it?

        This might be the typical mind fallacy speaking, but I think most people would go for it if it was a viable option rather than an intellectual stop sign.

        Many of us already half-jokingly suggest that prison rape can serve as an additional punishment for serious offenders (see Office Space’s “pound-me-in-the-ass prison”). Others openly advocate that certain categories like sex offenders should be chemically castrated as a condition of release. Roughly half of Americans support torture of suspected terrorists, which while not exactly equivalent is a similar calculus of risk of attack against suffering. Support for the death penalty is remarkably high as well: even with what were, until then, falling crime rates in 2015 more than half of Americans still wanted murderers to face capital punishment.

        It seems a lot more likely that elite distaste, rather than any squeamishness on the part of the general public, is what causes us to employ prison more than other forms of punishment.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Seriously, prison rape isn’t an additional punishment for serious offenders (with the possible exception of kiddy-diddlers, since other criminals are oh so moral about that).

          It’s a way for the government to keep the non-criminal classes in line, just as in Office Space. John “ScaryName” Smith isn’t worrying about prison rape as he’s sentenced to his third term for aggravated assault. Aaron “The Dweeb” Black is, when he’s sentenced for plugging his computer into the wrong network.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Or if you want to talk about ten years in prison, put torture and mutilation on the other end of the scale.

        So is cutting off a few fingers not mutilation enough for you?

      • Two McMillion says:

        This is why there isn’t any solution to mass incarceration that doesn’t ultimately boil down to, “punish criminals less”.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        I have actually talked to people that have spent 30 days in the country jail, paid fines, done community service, and been on probation–my high school cohort got in a lot of trouble–and they unanimously report a preference for canning. Getting canned sucks but those other things fuck up your life for years, in ways that are hard to appreciate. Small sample size is small, but maybe the case is stronger than you suppose?

        Long incarceration is for rapists and murderers. The problem is we have ridiculous sentences for other things.

        • John Schilling says:

          Well, we’re not just interested in the convict’s side here – whatever they prefer, we ought to be at least suspicious of. But yes, I agree that there is a strong (but not slam-dunk obvious) case for caning at the low end and that we’re probably stuck with lengthy incarceration for the serious felonies.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well, we’re not just interested in the convict’s side here – whatever they prefer, we ought to be at least suspicious of.

            True, although it does help rebut the “But corporal punishment is inhumane” argument that’s frequently deployed on this topic.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            What he said.

            But the real key is the “hard to appreciate.” The problem with incarceration is that it doesn’t suck. Like, for a bunch of the people I know that have been there, on a day to day basis jail is better than their life was on the outside. The problem is when they are let go again, not only does their standard of living take a dive, but the hard to appreciate consequences of having been in jail make it even worse than it was before. The actual punishment doesn’t start until after you have finished the punishment.

            This is a terrible way of doing deterrence.

            Like, I don’t think the general public appreciates the consequences, at all, so it is really God damn stupid to expect the impulsive people to be deterred by the consequences that the people making the rules don’t even understand.

            Plus, when the public didn’t understand the severity of the punishment, it is hard for them to make an informed decision about whether punishment fits the crime. I think that the fact jail itself doesn’t suck so much has lead to a general tenancy to demand tougher penalties; penalties that don’t actually fit the crime.

    • SUT says:

      The best way to understand imprisonment as the socially approved method of punishment is as a legacy from much different times. Here are several ways in which prison as a Schelling point could have been useful for preserving convicted’s-rights:

      – Historically, a mouth to feed is a larger relative burden on the community’s budget. So forcing the convict to be a drain on scarce resources makes the community ask themselves if it’s really worth it to keep the guy locked up?
      – Giving the state the power to ceremonial violence tends towards a slippery slope: famous examples are the Taliban’s woman-stoning and thief-hand-cutting-off. Or take the example of lethal injection vs. lynching. The former is so boring and sterile, the latter is downright theatric.

      What we did with the imprisonment concept is find one form of punishment that can be adapted to all possible crimes (from “one night in county” all the way to life without parole) and also find a form that resist the bloodthirst and barabarism that surface when an outrageous criminal acts betrays society.

      Unfortunately, we’ve now created a secondary punishment system of vigilante justice *inside* the prisons which kind of renders the whole sterile punishment thing irrelevant. But that’s a whole other debate…

  20. Two McMillion says:

    Identity politics question:

    I assume that most Hispanic people in the US are not illegal immigrants. However, it seems like most of them get really upset whenever anyone suggests that we do anything like punishing illegal immigrants or making it harder for more of them to come in. This surprises me. A priori, neither of those things sounds particularly bad to me. Naturally, I expect someone who is an illegal immigrant to be opposed to the idea that they be deported or sent to jail, but opposition to harsher punishments for illegal immigrants seems to far exceed the 10-15% of Hispanic people who are here illegally.

    When I talk to white people about immigration, I see the expected partisan lines forming: liberal-types think more immigration is always great, conservative types not so much. But when I talk to Hispanic conservatives, I find that far more of them then I expect seem to think things like deporting more immigrants or building a border wall are bad ideas, even though this seems like it contradicts other conservative principles.

    Why is this?

    • An Emphatic Maybe says:

      Dang, 10-15% are here illegally?! That’s a HUGE number. Are you sure that’s right?

      • ReluctantEngineer says:

        There are an estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants in the US, and around 55 million Hispanic people in the US. Wikipedia suggests that around 70% of illegal immigrants are Hispanic, so the 10-15% number looks reasonable.

        • An Emphatic Maybe says:

          That means out of all the generations and generations of families who moved here legally from Hispanic countries over the years, there’s still as many illegal immigrants (presumably having arrived within the last 20 years or so?) as 15% of all their living descendants! That’s insane!

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            I’m not sure there that the “generations and generations of families who moved here from Hispanic countries over the years” actually amount to very many people — Hispanic immigration to the U.S. seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon (according to my second link, around a third of the Hispanic population is foreign-born).

          • ivvenalis says:

            In 1970 (~2 generations ago), the Hispanic population of the United States was 9.1 million out of 205.1 million (4.4%). In other words, the narrative you’ve absorbed about “all the generations and generations of families who moved here legally from Hispanic countries over the years” is false and that absurdly high rate of illegal migration is true.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        It looks like the illegal Hispanic population is almost 10 million, out of a total Hispanic population of 55 million. His estimate appears slightly low to reasonable.

    • Deiseach says:

      But when I talk to Hispanic conservatives, I find that far more of them then I expect seem to think things like deporting more immigrants or building a border wall are bad ideas, even though this seems like it contradicts other conservative principles.

      Why is this?

      Because when you think of “illegal immigrant”, you think of faceless statistic. They think of their grandfather or uncle or cousin who slipped over the border, worked back-breaking manual labour with no rights and in poor conditions, and sent the money earned home to his family to raise them.

      So that they got an education and didn’t have to slip over the border and work back-breaking manual labour with no rights and in poor conditions, but could come in legally and get a “clean indoor job with no heavy lifting” (to quote a Victoria Wood routine).

      That’s my paternal grandfather, who worked half the year on building sites in England and sent money home to his family. Not an illegal, but working the same kind of manual jobs to give the ones at home more opportunity. A lot of immigrant nations have the same customs of sending money home; the immigrant Irish in Britain and the USA regularly sent home money that went to the support of the family members left behind, whether their own spouse and children, their younger siblings, or aged parents.

      Heck, it’s even mentioned in the chorus of a maudlin (is there any other kind, sez you) ballad, about “send her all (the money you can spare) you can”!

      Goodbye, Johnny dear, when you’re far away,
      Don’t forget your dear old mother far across the sea;
      Write a letter now and then and send her all you can,
      And don’t forget where e’er you roam that you’re an Irishman.

      • Jiro says:

        Actually, I was under the impression that there are at least a noticeable number of Hispanics who don’t like illegal immigration (if you waited on line the correct way, you probably won’t like people who cut ahead in the line), but don’t like talking about it with white people for the obvious reasons.

    • Alejandro says:

      1) Many Hispanic people who are not illegal immigrants may have friends or relatives who are in illegal or semi-legal status. Remember that most people in this situation have not slipped through the border, but have come legally and have overestayed their visa, or are working in a job that their visa doesn’t allow them to, or have some analogous irregular situation. They might see these as minor transgressions that it would be unjust to punish with deportation or prision.

      2) Among those Hispanics who have no friends in rule-violating situations, many are legal immigrants or have friends and family who are are. They probably percieve that most people who push for deportations and a wall are mostly not doing it out abstract respect for the rule of law, but out of dislike for Hispanic immigration. This makes it obviously difficult to join a coalition led by them.

    • cassander says:

      In my experience, the most vociferous anti-illegal immigrant people I know are legal immigrants. Granted, my experience is limited and in no way representative, but they seem extremely annoyed by people they view as queue jumpers.

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        In my experience, the most vociferous anti-illegal immigrant people I know are legal immigrants. Granted, my experience is limited and in no way representative, but they seem extremely annoyed by people they view as queue jumpers.

        My mother is a legal immigrant and I have noted the same attitude described above; she is a hardline republican and dislikes illegal immigration.

        Likewise, I know a very nice man at work who reported the following story to me: He, along with his wife, scrimped and saved and went without to buy a small house and improve on it over several decades, operating within their means so as to ensure they could responsibly pay for it. Then, they (many years later) had a neighbor who brought a larger house (expensive beyond the neighbor’s and his/her spouse’s means) and then received some sort of government aid that enabled them to retain it when they proved unable to keep up with government aid. I”m not the guy or his neighbor; I have no idea what program he’s referring to; take this paragraph above with a grain of salt – but do take seriously my observations that people dislike other people “getting away with” indiscretions with they didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t.

        (sorta related: I also hate it when I open with defensive 1-base play in starcraft, expecting to be rushed, and instead find my opponent opened fast expansion.)

        • Thomas Sowell, in Ethnic America, mentions a somewhat parallel situation with legal immigration in the past. You have an established immigrant population that is successful and accepted–Sephardic Jews, Lace Curtain Irish. You then have mass immigration of poor and uneducated people who are, in some sense, of the same ethnicity.

          The immigrants pull down the reputation of the ethnicity, which hurts the established group. But, at the same time, the established group identifies with the new migrants (probably more in the Jewish than the Irish case) and wishes them well. I suspect the same may be happening in the Hispanic attitude to illegal Hispanic immigrants.

    • brad says:

      When I talk to white people about immigration, I see the expected partisan lines forming: liberal-types think more immigration is always great, conservative types not so much.

      This doesn’t match my experience. I see a range of views with a fair bit of nuance. Maybe you should be talking to more thoughtful people.

    • Anonymous says:

      The surveys I’ve seen say that Hispanic citizens have about the same opinion as other citizens, but shifted 10 points: 10 points in favor of Democrats and 10 points in favor of immigration. Maybe your sample is not representative.

    • gardenofaleph says:

      The Hispanic immigrants I know, and I know a ton because I live in Miami and I’m born of two myself, have split into two:

      1. Legal Immigrants who are now successful and conservative->Trump supporters, mostly. This includes Cubans, Argentinians, and Venezuelans I know. A couple think Trump is mostly an idiot but despise Hillary and Obamacare (esp the doctors, which are a lot of them) so they’ll go for Trump.

      2. Formerly Illegal (have gotten green cards through sham marriages or other legal trickery), currently illegal, and lower class Hispanics–> Hillary. Also, anyone who was a liberal before this election is also going for Hillary.

      Basically, for all the talk of massive Hispanic turnout that will destroy Trump, I haven’t seen a massive political shift. No Hispanic Republicans that I know are gonna switch to Hillary. Maybe a couple might stay home instead of going for Trump, but I doubt it.

      All progressives I know are gonna vote for Hillary– I haven’t met any Bernie or Bust folks in real life, and I’m friends/acquaintances with some peeps who were pretty hardcore for Bernie, campaigned for him, etc.

      I’ve heard far more discussion/pillorying of Trump among college-age white people (AKA my demographic) than among Hispanics, honestly. I even had a nice conversation in Spanish with a retired Hispanic military guy who was my Uber driver who said he thought Trump was funny so he was voting for him. This guy had also read the Bell Curve, so maybe he wasn’t a typical Hispanic Uber driver. I get some interesting people as my Uber drivers.

      • Gazeboist says:

        I understand Floridan Hispanics (who are mostly from Cuba) to be quite different from other Hispanics in America (who mostly are not). (If I’m wrong in this, someone please correct me)

        • Sandy says:

          Older Cubans are more likely to be Republican because they fled Castro’s socialism. Younger Cubans are more likely than their parents to be Democrats because Castro is ancient history as far as they’re concerned and they’ve assimilated into the rootless anomie of the American mainstream.

          Also Cubans get preferential treatment for immigration because of those old Cold War policies, while other Hispanics don’t, which is the cause of some discord.

    • Rick Sanchez says:

      I think this blog itself may have a relevant musing:

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/05/12/weak-men-are-superweapons/

  21. An Emphatic Maybe says:

    I’ve got a comment and a question (really a set of derivative questions).

    I. Comment: the Phenomenon

    Consider the phenomenon where there is some controversial issue, with sides A and B arguing against each other. Then something official happens in favor of side A. Afterward, it is increasingly difficult to argue in favor of side B and still be seen as respectable. As a result, B’s supporters abandon position B in order to be seen as respectable.

    For example, up until Loving v. Virginia, respectable people could publicly debate interracial marriage. In the years since, it has become increasingly difficult to argue against interracial marriage without people automatically assuming you’re a far right nutjob Klansman or something. There could still be rational, non-malicious arguments against interracial marriage, but most rational non-malicious people wouldn’t want to be caught dead making them.

    II. Question: a Particular Implication

    The phenomenon above has many implications on stuff that’s gone down in the past few years, but the one I’m thinking about today is the presidential election. Supporting Donald Trump is an edgier thing to do than was supporting Republican nominees in past elections. In some circles it’s downright controversial.

    If Trump is defeated in November, could the above phenomenon happen to his ideological supporters (people who are voting for Trump because they want greater restrictions on immigration, a border wall, pulling out of NATO, etc.? I realize that supporting these kinds of things is already something that would make you unpopular on, say, a college campus or in a newsroom, but if Trump loses could it get one put in the “untouchables” category with earnest fascists and holocaust deniers?

    • cassander says:

      >Supporting Donald Trump is an edgier thing to do than was supporting Republican nominees in past elections. In some circles it’s downright controversial.

      Is it? Or are the edges just located in different places? I doubt that anyone who wandered onto a college campus wearing a Romney Tshirt in 2012 was treated any better than one who wanders on today wearing a trump shirt, but I definitely don’t doubt who is wearing the shirt has changed.

      • An Emphatic Maybe says:

        No, I think a Romney shirt would elicit a far milder response.

        • Vaniver says:

          People have been mining twitter for “Romney is Hitler” tweets; it seems to me like the volume has changed significantly (which does count as a milder response) but I think it is worth realizing that the tail is there, and the tail is what will stand out to people on the other side of it.

      • dndnrsn says:

        A Romney shirt would definitely be better. In grad school (not in the US) there were a few Romney supporters, quite vocal. Some of them taking it more seriously than others – some of them basically seemed to reason “wouldn’t it be hilarious if we were Republicans? I mean, how crazy is that, future corporate lawyers becoming right-wing!” Nobody gave them anything more than some mild ribbing.

        I don’t think a Trump shirt would get only mild ribbing. I don’t remember anyone I knew making comments about Romney being a fascist or whatever, whereas condemnations of Trump are incredibly common.

  22. Deiseach says:

    Re-reading a Ray Bradbury story from 1953 (“The Murderer”) and could he foresee our connected, linked-in, always available and contactable 24/7 whether at home, work or on the road, Internet of Things future or what?

    Three phones rang. A duplicate wrist radio in his desk drawer buzzed like a wounded grasshopper. The intercom flashed a pink light and click-clicked. Three phones rang. The drawer buzzed. Music blew in through the open door. The psychiatrist, humming quietly, fitted the new wrist radio to his wrist, flipped the intercom, talked a moment, picked up one telephone, talked, picked up another telephone, talked, picked up the third telephone, talked, touched the wrist-radio button, talked calmly and quietly, his face cool and serene, in the middle of the music and the lights flashing, the two phones ringing again, and his hands moving, and his wrist radio buzzing, and the intercoms talking, and voices speaking from the ceiling. And he went on quietly this way through the remainder of a cool, air-conditioned, and long afternoon, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio…

  23. Tekhno says:

    Why are there no political doctrines that are absolutely against freedom as a concept?

    Everyone except the most radical anarchists wants some restriction of certain abilities, but it seems no one in history has ever expounded a political ideology that dispenses with the abstraction altogether, despite many doing so with the abstraction of equality. Every ideology which is seen as totalitarian and critical of liberal conceptions of freedom, nonetheless has attempted to redefine it. Marxists came out against “bourgeois freedom”, only because they thought it was a lie, and not a true conception of freedom, where autonomy in choice is guaranteed by material factors. Fascists attacked the liberal conception of freedom as well, with Mussolini saying that men were tired of it, but elsewhere he also attempted to redefine freedom so that Fascism was its guarantor rather than its enemy:

    “In our state the individual is not deprived of freedom. In fact, he has greater liberty than an isolated man, because the state protects him and he is part of the State. Isolated man is without defence.”

    But why? For sheer reasons of historical continuity and pacification probably. The thing is, I don’t perceive that the concept of freedom is at all necessary to guarantee certain capacities to a people. If someone wants to be assured that they can buy and sell property, they do not need an abstract universal concept to be so. What they need is a concrete commitment to use force specifically for those ends.

    In this way, it is entirely conceivable to not just attack equality but freedom on the same grounds, replacing both with power, capacity, ability etc. Yet, no political movement in history has done so. Some have walked up to the brink, but they all shrank back, every one of them, Marxist, Fascist and all.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Maybe a desire for freedom is just so inherent to the human psyche that no ideology which openly seeks to do away with it altogether would be able to get enough supporters for us to hear about.

    • Psmith says:

      Legalism? Confucianism?

      (I don’t know for sure, but they seem like good bets.).

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Seconding Legalism.

        The Book of Lord Shang is hilarious because it makes Shang Yang come off as an adolescent edgelord.

        If in a country there are the following ten evils: rites, music, odes, history, virtue, moral culture, filial piety, brotherly duty, integrity and sophistry, the ruler cannot make the people fight and dismemberment is inevitable; and this brings extinction in its train. If the country has not these ten things and the ruler can make the people fight, he will be so prosperous that he will attain supremacy. A country where the virtuous govern the wicked, will suffer from disorder, so that it will be dismembered; but a country where the wicked govern the virtuous, will be orderly, so that it will become strong. A country which is administered by the aid of odes, history, rites, music, filial piety, brotherly duty, virtue and moral culture, will, as soon as the enemy approaches, be dismembered; if he does not approach, the country will be poor. But if a country is administered without these eight , the enemy dares not approach, and even if he should, he would certainly be driven off when it mobilizes its army and attacks, it will capture its objective, and having captured it, will be able to hold it; when it holds its army in reserve, and makes no attack, it will be rich. A country that loves force is said to attack with what is difficult; a country that loves words is said to attack with what is easy. A country that attacks with what is difficult will gain ten points for every one point that it undertakes, whereas a country that attacks with what is easy will lose a hundred men for every ten that it marches out.

        That’s just a taste. This is a book with chapter titles like “Elimination of Strength” and “Weakening the People.” Shang Yang does not beat around the bush.

      • caethan says:

        天生萬物以養人
        人無一善以報天
        殺殺殺殺殺殺殺

        (Zhang Xianzhong, apocryphal)

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Is it a bad thing that I immediately recognized the poem just by the bottom row, speaking no Chinese whatsoever?

          Kill kill kill kill kill kill kill

          It’s one of those stories you hope is a myth because the alternative is too disturbing.

          • LHN says:

            Wikipedia claims that the first two lines are real, but the last an apocryphal interpolation. (A 17th century stele found in 1934 has it with the last line as “The spirits and gods are knowing, so reflect on this and examine yourselves.”)

            I knew the lines (in translation) from Barry Hughart’s excellent Chinese fantasy Bridge of Birds, but didn’t know they had a historical antecedent. (Though I’m not surprised.)

          • Agronomous says:

            告訴我為什麼!
            我不喜歡星期一。

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            And I started jumping up and down yelling 殺殺殺殺殺殺殺 and the shrink started jumping up and down with me and we was both jumping up and down yelling 殺殺殺殺殺殺殺 and the sergeant come in, pinned a medal on me, and said Kid, you’re our boy.

    • Sandy says:

      Freedom as a societal good is the foundation of Western political philosophy. It probably has something to do with the Christian roots of Western politics — Christianity began in defiance of a repressive state. After so many centuries of such influence, it seems impossible to defy that foundation.

    • JayT says:

      Wouldn’t a true monarchy fit this description?

      • Sandy says:

        What’s a true monarchy? Catherine of Russia was the head of an absolutist autocracy; she was also one of the great Enlightenment monarchs and expanded the freedoms of her subjects.

        • JayT says:

          I probably should have said “absolute monarchy”. I’m talking about a system where the monarch has full control over their people. Something like the Pharaohs.

          • I’ve seen it claimed that the Inca was something close to that. It would be interesting to see if the attitude towards freedom was different in a population that had had no contact with Eurasian culture for many thousands of years.

    • Agrononaoxymous says:

      Its been tried before and the kings keep getting assassinated.

    • John Schilling says:

      Freedom, in the post-Enlightenment era at least, is a powerful applause light for almost everyone.

      Freedom is also an extremely malleable concept which can be stretched across several independent dimensions – individual vs. collective freedom, positive vs. negative rights, economic vs. political vs. social, etc.

      So any ideology that doesn’t tailor a definition of “real freedom” which encompasses its core principles and excludes its main enemies, is an ideology championed by idiots who will probably leave dozens of ideological superweapons lying around unused and so never rise to the level of being noticed by outsiders.

    • Aegeus says:

      If someone wants to be assured that they can buy and sell property, they do not need an abstract universal concept to be so. What they need is a concrete commitment to use force specifically for those ends.

      How exactly do you tell your citizens “You are free to buy and sell property as you need” without using the word “free”?

      Unless you’re dictating literally every action your citizens take (and we haven’t invented mind control chips yet, so you aren’t), your citizens will have something they’re free to choose. And people generally like freedom, so you should play that up, even if the only thing they’re free to choose is whether they praise the Dear Leader three times a day or four times a day.

      • Tekhno says:

        Being free to do certain things isn’t the same as the overarching concept of freedom, in the same way that wearing the same hat as somebody else isn’t the same as the overarching concept of equality.

        If you say that you are free to do a particular thing then the emphasis is on that specific thing as being positive, whereas if you say that you are in favor of freedom, you are displaying an open ended attitude towards all of life, which is positive in itself, or is supposed to be.

        “You are free to buy and sell property as you need” is completely open ended. Exchanging it for “The government will protect and define your property rights so that you can operate effectively as an individual for your material benefit and that of society, and the government will also lay down a small set of rules by which you may exchange said property rights, for the same purpose”, allows the assurance that property exists, may be bought and sold, but avoids invoking this sort of boundless abstraction. People like open endedness, however, even though it results in weird purity spirals.

        The rejection of freedom needn’t imply totalitarianism (though it necessarily implies authority). You could have a radically minarchist society in which our political rhetoric to justify it involves enshrining a limited set of rights and duties so as to fulfill consequentialist goals, rather than utilizing a wishy washy tendency like freedom as a primary animating value. Or you could if humans didn’t like that wishy washy stuff.

        • Aegeus says:

          I’m not seeing any difference in practice, only in how you frame it. “Operate effectively as an individual for your material benefit and that of society” is just an extremely clunky, robotic way of describing what every other society calls “freedom within reasonable limits.”

          I don’t think framing it on consequentialist grounds helps. Consequentialism is just another way of saying “Good things happen when you do this,” and the “good things” in this case are various forms of “People are free to do the things they want to the extent it doesn’t harm others.” Which most people would shorten to “freedom.”

          So even if you avoided ever using the word “freedom” in your country’s constitution, I’m pretty sure the very first citizen to immigrate to Tekhno-land would say “I like this place because it’s a free country.”

        • Tekhno says:

          Framing is everything in politics. If people believe that a nation is based on “freedom” in the abstract, rather than a particular set of good material things, then over time people may conclude that the abstract principle isn’t being fulfilled enough. This is what I mean by abstract principles invoking purity spirals.

          Abstract principles are always “lies” in that a country can never be 100% free, never be 100% equal, never be 100% pure. If you say that freedom is the highest good, but then people look around and see that the government is taxing people, then they will spot the contradiction and take your professed principle to its logical conclusion (anarcho-capitalism). If you say that equality is the highest good, but then people look around and see all sorts of various inequalities, they will call your bluff (communism/socialism, and social justice). There is probably a similar purity spiral to do with nationalism.

          In reality, the government must take away some freedoms to provide others, rendering the idea of a flat abstract concept of freedom impossible. This is true for equality too, since there needs to be some unequal hierarchy to administer the supposed equality.

          We can also ask “freedom from what”, and “equal in what way” and get totally different answers, and that is because both things are feel good buzzwords that don’t tell you anything about what is actually going on.

          If you tell people that your country is based on freedom, then you are setting yourself up to fail, because you can’t maximize something so abstract, but then the people will notice, and ask why you aren’t maximizing it, and if you do attempt to maximize it, well… that ends in the destruction of your society as the collision of a perfect principle with an imperfect reality subtracts the remainder in human lives. Thankfully, different abstract principles are somewhat at a stalemate, but I think this process is the cause of many of our problems today.

          The principles of a nation should always be concrete, not abstract. That’s a very difficult thing to achieve, but achieving it might banish a lot of ghosts from the minds of future generations.

  24. jeff says:

    Another case of unintended side effects of legislation that was (probably) intended to help.

    http://www.sightline.org/2016/09/06/how-seattle-killed-micro-housing/

    • Urstoff says:

      What would a city without any zoning laws at all look like? Somewhat related, what major US city has the least strenuous zoning laws?

      I imagine zoning serves some purpose over and above social engineering, such as focusing where to build utilities, etc., but I wonder what a completely un-zoned modern city would look like.

  25. Anon. says:

    GiveDirectly’s investigations have shown that people who refuse the cash are skeptical. They find it “hard to believe that a new organization like GiveDirectly would give roughly a year’s salary in cash, unconditionally,” Le writes. “As a result, many people have created their own narratives to explain the cash, including rumors that the money is associated with cults or devil worship.”

    https://amp.businessinsider.com/givedirectly-basic-income-experiment-unexpected-trouble-2016-9

    • Jiro says:

      Basic income has to be reliable to be of any use.. If you know you always have it available, you could quit your job to learn a skill, then get a better job using the skill. If the basic income is a pilot program that can end at any time, you can’t take the risk.

      It also has to be universal. Some of the effect would be the effect on employers–for instance, people would be more willing to leave an employer with bad pay or working conditions if they know that basic income is available, and employers would respond by raising the pay or improving the working conditions. Employers will not respond this way if the number of people with the basic income is small, since the worker receiving the basic income is competing against another worker who does not and the employer could hire that other person.

      (Reading this article, it looks like it’s pretty good for “universal”. “Reliable” maybe not so.)

  26. Deiseach says:

    Well, the divil mend it.

    I had to look these up because I could not believe they were real but no, apparently mirror spiders do indeed exist in real life.

    (a) Evolution, why do you make it so hard to believe in you? I’m supposed to take it on faith that things like this “just happen” at random? No no no, a creator deity as the cause of things like this is much less believeable, right?

    (b) If we are looking for evidence we are living in a simulated universe, this might be it. Some sneaky designer is just having a laugh.

    • That’s amazing. I keep a casual list of natural things which look designed: malachite (though I grant it needs to be polished to look artificial) and polka dot stingrays (I was first exposed to fawn brown stingrays with blue-violet spots, they look weirder but less elegant). I’m adding the mirror spider.

    • Loquat says:

      Are you familiar with Peacock Spiders and their mating dances? I particularly recommend the Sparklemuffin Spider at 3:02, which looks for all the world like it’s wearing one of those stripy winter hats with a pompom on top, and I’m not even going to try to describe its dance.

      • Deiseach says:

        You can see why biologists go really heavy on the materialist atheism scale and why they look wistfully at disciplines like physics and maths.

        When you’re trying to do Real Proper Science and you have to deal with things like booty-shaking spiders, what else can you do? If you took the damn thing at face value you’d have to believe “Someone or something made this” and then where would you be? 🙂

        Honestly, these are spiders. How big are their brains? What is the point? Dancing and singing keeps you from being eaten, but why does that work on the females in the first place? The females are bigger, they can easily overpower any male and eat it if they’re hungry, so even as a distraction technique it would seem to work only as “keep the female uncertain what I am long enough so I can run away” rather than “hey baby, check out these moves!”

        I also want to see the PUA/Redpill guys appeal to nature re: alpha males with this species; yeah, guys, tell me again how you gotta show a chick who’s boss by displaying your dominance because women are designed via evolution to like surrendering to the stronger dominant masculine man who can overpower them? 😀

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          I also want to see the PUA/Redpill guys appeal to nature re: alpha males with this species; yeah, guys, tell me again how you gotta show a chick who’s boss by displaying your dominance because women are designed via evolution to like surrendering to the stronger dominant masculine man who can overpower them? ?

          Humans are not arachnids.

    • Gazeboist says:

      The tumblr commonly called “go home, evolution, you’re drunk”.

      Unfortunately it is currently advertising a book, but there is good stuff in the archives.

      • Deiseach says:

        That blog is fun, and what they say about bats is true – look at Honduran tent bats.

        These could not be cuter and more designed to make you go “awww” if they had been created for Pokémon. Tiny white balls of fluff that all cuddle up together under a giant leaf they turn into a ‘tent’ for shelter.

        This is not random natural process, this is fourteen-year-old girl scribbling in her unicorn-sticker sketching pad stuff 🙂

        • John Schilling says:

          This is not random natural process, this is fourteen-year-old girl scribbling in her unicorn-sticker sketching pad stuff

          Hmm. We’ve had George Burns, Morgan Freeman, and Alanis Morissette. Now you’ve got me wondering who we should get to play Her the next time Hollywood wants the Divine presence in some flick…

  27. Deiseach says:

    Apocalyptic cult that worships cats (allegedly).

    Look, this is the kind of weirdness that ends up in my RSS feeds, I’m going to share the love with you lot.

  28. TMB says:

    I’m given to understand that a number of commenters on this thread are engaged in intellectual work of one sort or another. I have a question for you – how is an intellectual discovery made in your field?

    I’ve never made any significant intellectual discoveries, but I’ve had the experience of realising that some relation might exist between certain facts or ideas. This can be by means of inspiration – I suddenly realise that one thing could be considered to be equivalent to another, or that some causal relation appears to exist between two things. Alternatively, I can realise things by means of thinking procedurally – following some process and finding the result (linking initial conditions to output).

    How does increased intelligence help us to make discoveries?

    My intuition is that either of these things could be fairly easily automated as long as the language in which (intellectual) discoveries were described was standardised. (I’m guessing that the second sort of algorithmic thinking is what computers already do, but they are not so good at the first. Is there any reason why automatic intuition should be difficult? Is the problem definitions? (Relations between base elements?) )

    • Bone Man with Shiny Hat says:

      Why AM and Eurisko Appear to Work (by Doug Lenat and John Seely Brown) talks about an early (1976) system that Lenat wrote that everybody was excited about because it appeared to (re-)make a bunch of mathematical discoveries (AM = Automated Mathematician). It did not have legs.

    • Gazeboist says:

      In more mathematical disciplines, some results are easier to arrive at in one way than in others, but the different methods are often hard (or at least non-trivial) to learn. Richard Feynman describes this in his autobiography as “having a different tool in your toolbox” – in his case, he knew a particular calculus procedure that other physicists mostly didn’t and so was able to reach a novel (well, nearly novel) result. Intelligence helps by increasing the size of your toolbox, so it’s more likely that you have a method that will get you to something new. Also, some part of what people call intelligence is probably “ability to notice non-intuitive consequences” (I think this is what people usually mean by “insight”?), which not everyone has in great measure.

      Iterating through consequences is probably easy to automate, but I don’t believe we’ve had great success automating the development of totally new methods of doing things or getting results, or noticing that a particular method might get you something interesting.

  29. An Emphatic Maybe says:

    Can anyone recommend a place to find a thorough–and preferably civil–debunking of lots of Holocaust denial/revisionist arguments? (Ideally a place where I can learn both the denialist/revisionist arguments and their counterarguments.)

    • Anatoly says:

      The canonical place used to be http://www.nizkor.org/. I haven’t visited for 15 years or so, and looking at their What’s New page, they added little material after 2002 or so. A reasonable place to start is the pamphlet.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Accepting rebutters as authorities on their opponents is worse than remaining ignorant. Just don’t bother.

      • An Emphatic Maybe says:

        Wouldn’t it be nice if people could come together without getting all emotional to conglomerate all the best data/arguments on this?

        • Jiro says:

          No, it wouldn’t be nice. Holocaust denial is generally done in bad faith, and saying “you’re lying about your relatives being murdered” is an inherently emotional subject.

          • An Emphatic Maybe says:

            My relatives were murdered in the Holocaust and I’m not emotional about it. That probably makes me a mutant freak to some degree, but I don’t think it’s THAT uncommon.

            Bad faith arguments aren’t inherently wrong, they just flag the arguer as requiring some emotional defusing. If the defusing can’t be done, there may still be truth in his argument, it’s just a matter of what kind of abuse you’re willing to put up with to find it. Since this is basically always taking place on the internet using written words, my tolerance is relatively high.

          • I haven’t looked into Holocaust denial, but I thought there were variants which claimed the Holocaust was smaller and/or less intentional than most people claim rather than that it didn’t happen at all.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:

            There are some who claim that a few hundred thousand or low millions died due entirely to neglect – no intentional killing. Doesn’t explain mass shootings east of Poland, though, and in general there’s plenty of evidence of intentional killing being done in camps.

          • dndnrsn, my limited contact with that sort of idea included the implication that the neglect wasn’t especially culpable.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:

            If they were factually right, that would be an odd understanding of culpability. Putting people behind wire, not feeding them enough, forcing them to work, and crowding them in unsanitary conditions is what happened to Red Army POWs captured en masse in 1941-42 – millions died – and it’s generally agreed that this is a moral stain on Germany and the army, and it was dealt with by war crimes trials after the war.

            If anything, the range German crimes during the war isn’t known well enough.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @dndnrsn:

            I’ve seen people claim that most of the neglect killings came towards the end of the war, when Germany’s logistics system was breaking down and it was physically impossible to feed all the prisoners. Possibly Nancy was referring to a similar idea.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            It is true that there was a big spike in deaths in the late war, for various reasons. The Germans made some pretty ugly decisions – brutal forced marches in the snow of concentration camp inmates. Food was definitely in crisis mode, but camp prisoners, along with the conscripted labour from the East, were generally not fed enough for the work they were doing. Some had it much harder than others though. However, this was already after the vast majority of the intentional killing had been done. The revisionist position claims that the intentional killing was a later invention.

            Plus, there were significant deaths by neglect earlier in the war – especially of Soviet POWs – sometimes they would just fence in crowds of them, provide no shelter, and maybe toss a bit of food in. And, to some extent the extermination of Jews in Poland began because local authorities were getting increasingly worried about disease outbreaks in overcrowded ghettos where people weren’t getting enough food, and saw killing as a way to relieve the pressure.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’d be nice, but when you have crap like “There were no death camps in Germany, therefore the Holocaust was a lie”, it’s clear there’s no point in responding to them. I think that’s about as far as I got into looking into the revisionists before I dismissed them as dirtbags leading fools.

          It’s true there were no death camps within the accepted boundaries of Germany. They were in occupied Poland. It’s also absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether the Holocaust happened, and obviously so. There’s no point in discussing the issue with anyone who makes arguments like that.

          • An Emphatic Maybe says:

            See, to me that’s an interesting fact I didn’t know before you wrote it.

            When I see “There were no death camps in Germany, therefore the Holocaust was a lie”, I want to know how a sane person came to that conclusion. I know there are sane Holocaust deniers, or sane people who deny key bits of Holocaust history. I want to know why. I want to know how far they’d go in an argument with someone debunking their claims before breaking down and just saying some version of “Look, I hate Jews, just leave me alone so I can go do that.” I’m guessing a substantial portion of them wouldn’t, and of THOSE, I want to know how many actually have the better facts, or at least a better knowledge of where facts are missing.

            Come to think of it, I’m interested in criticisms of evolution for the same reason.

          • Anonymous says:

            On the one hand, lottery of fascinations, but on the other this project seems like a colossal waste of time to me.

            Is this some kind of “look how open minded I am” thing?

          • dndnrsn says:

            What Holocaust deniers/revisionists have is a whole bunch of irrelevant quibbles.

            Some of it is stuff like the “no death camps in Germany” thing – probably some old source claimed there were death camps in Germany, for instance, or someone described a concentration camp with limited murder facilities (which did exist in Germany) as a death camp mistakenly, or something like that.

            Similarly, there were word-of-mouth rumours about death camps that got picked up and reported as fact either during or after the war – I think one was that people were being murdered in chambers where they were suffocated with steam.

            Some deniers/revisionists will pick up on stuff like this and basically say “if you can’t trust them on these details, what can you trust them on?”

            Likewise, they’ll take the adjusting downwards of originally inflated death counts (the Soviets were prone to giving really high estimates for how many people had died in the camps they were encountering as they pushed the Germans west) to indicate malfeasance.

          • An Emphatic Maybe says:

            @Anonymous:

            My interest in the unpopular sides of essentially one-sided issues grows out of my belief that rational, intelligent people can disagree on all kinds of things. I sense that this is not a common belief.

            I want to know why rational intelligent people arrive at unpopular conclusions. Yes, a lot of the time you dig down and start to realize (or confirm your suspicion) that it’s because there’s a kernel of irrationality or unintelligence there, but if there isn’t I’d want to know before dismissing someone, because two other possibilities remain: there is a disagreement about values, or that person has better information.

        • Deiseach says:

          Wouldn’t it be nice if people could come together without getting all emotional to conglomerate all the best data/arguments on this?

          That attitude probably works better for something like The Great Hunger rather than the Holocaust.

          The Famine was a natural disaster aggravated by the political and economic philosophies of the government which was administering what was treated de facto as a colony even if de jure it was part of the main kingdom. It was not deliberate genocide, despite what desperate survivors and generations of mythology dressed up as history-teaching professed.

          It’s very hard to be unemotional about it, though. Even if it wasn’t intentionally made worse, there certainly was an attitude in certain quarters that anything that killed off the excess, unproductive populace was beneficial and shouldn’t be interfered with. Couple that with “compassion fatigue” (‘you mean the Irish are still dying of hunger? But we just gave last year!’) and racial attitudes as influenced by half-digested Darwinism, and you get things like Charles Kingsley’s letter to his wife in 1860 about a visit to Ireland:

          ‘But I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don’t believe they are our fault, I believe that there are not only more of them than of old, but that they are happier, better, more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.’ (Quoted in C. K. Innes, Through The Looking Glass: African and Irish Nationalist Writing, p.12; cited by Margaret Greene, UG Diss, UU 2007.)

          The Holocaust is completely different because it didn’t just happen, or wasn’t something like “hereditary disease is killing off a large number of Jewish people and the medical establishment decides not to waste resources on researching cures”, it was made to happen. Group A decides to kill off as quickly as possible Group B (before moving on to Groups C and D) and uses the best resources of science and technology of its time to do this in the most efficient manner – it’s hard not to be emotional over “this is despicable and unhuman”.

      • Jiro says:

        Accepting rebutters as authorities on their opponents is worse than remaining ignorant. Just don’t bother.

        Why? Why can’t rebutters be authorities on their opponents?

        (I can think of some reasons why, but they don’t seem to apply here, and you haven’t bothered to say what they are.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I should narrow the claim to mainstream rebutters of the fringe.

          Sure, they could know about their opponents, but they don’t, in general, and in the specific case of holocaust denial. Mainly it’s an empirical claim.

          But you want a reason? Flip the question: what reason do they have to learn anything about their opponents? That very trust eliminates any such reason. Emphatic told you what he wants: a fairytale. The market for fairytales is much bigger than the market for engagement. Maybe there are good rebutters, but they are swamped by bad rebutters and impossible to find.

      • Exactly. That’s why I bailed out of the conversation.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Anatoly is right that Nizkor is a good source for rebuttals of all the classic Holocaust denier arguments.

      If you don’t already have an OK background in the history and historiography of the Holocaust that would be a better place to start, because denier arguments and rebuttals tend to focus on the small picture (eg, what was the purpose of a certain building on a certain Auschwitz sub-camp) and ignore the big picture (they have no real alternate explanation for where several million people went, leaving no trace).

      Caveat: Holocaust denial is one of the ideas that I have a very hard time taking seriously enough to even engage with. The chances of a conspiracy so vast and so effective are far less than the chances of the historical events in question having taken place. By the arguments Holocaust deniers use, you could deny pretty much any historical or current event.

      • An Emphatic Maybe says:

        I’m hoping that by looking into it a bit I could learn “here are the parts where Holocaust history is least clear/where if someone is making an argument about these parts in particular then he shouldn’t be dismissed as quickly” kinda stuff.

        Otherwise it’s easy to hear “This guy’s a Holocaust denier, don’t listen to him” and not know whether it’s a fair dismissal.

        • dndnrsn says:

          OK. That’s a fair point.

          There are legitimate areas of historical controversy. The big one is probably when the process of mass murder was decided on: was it incremental and improvised in 1941-1942 based on the unfolding of the war in the East, or was it that the implementation of something decided on earlier? Whether there would have been one order at one point in time from Hitler or not is argued over – we have no paper record, and while it is inconceivable Hitler didn’t know what was going on, it is unclear how the decisions were arrived at. None of the people arguing think of themselves as “revisionists” or anything like that.

          There are cases where to someone whose exposure to the Holocaust is very “popular” (eg, Schindler’s List plus something they were taught in grade school about Anne Frank, maybe) will react to actual historical scholarship like it’s denial. For instance, arguments about the # of dead. Or, they’ll likely have a very “Auschwitz-centric” understanding of the Holocaust: due to the fact that it was a complex with labour camps and mass-murder facilities, far more people survived Auschwitz than survived Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Chelmno (most people don’t know the difference between a concentration camp and an extermination camp, and don’t know that there were dual use camps, etc) or survived mass shootings in the East (more Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen than died at Auschwitz). And they’ll react to information about any of this like Auschwitz is being denied, or something.

        • Jiro says:

          It’s like saying you want to find out “here’s the parts where flat earthers are least wrong”. All the parts are wrong, except for the parts where they misunderstood or misanalogized something.

          Yes, there are legitimate areas of controversy. Yes, there are cases where popular understanding is bad enough that the truth sounds like denial. But there are legitimate areas of controversy that have to do with the shape of the Earth too, and there are truthful things about the shape of the Earth that can be taken as denial (try telling your grandmother that you can always map a coordinate system onto another one where the Earth is flat). But Holocaust deniers aren’t people who happen to randomly be wrong on a historical question. Their denial is motivated.

          • dndnrsn says:

            This is pretty much it.

            There are unpopular ideas that are actually right. There are unpopular ideas that aren’t right, but have some useful stuff there. There are unpopular ideas that are justifiably unpopular because there’s nothing useful there. Holocaust denial is this third one. It’s bunk.

          • I don’t know a whole lot about the Holocaust or the deniers, but such arguments as dndnrsn’s make me suspicious. All I’ve ever heard my entire life is that the Holocaust was a terrible thing and deniers are evil with no facts whatsoever. I am skeptical that there is absolutely nothing there.

            When I was a boy in the ’60’s, I remember my questions as to whether God exists were met mostly with “Everyone else believes in God; who are you to know more than them.” Then I found out this was totally mistaken, and there are lots of people who didn’t believe; it was just that these questions never reached the ears of a suburban boy in the ’60’s. As I got older, I have often found that when I hear someone say something to the effect of “There is nothing at all to such and such idea or belief, it isn’t worth your time to even look.” More often than not, if I did look, I usually found there was something of importance there, and the person who told me not to look was just stupid or actively trying to hide something that they didn’t want me to find.

            I am not attacking you with this post dndnrsn; I am just explaining my reaction to this kind of comment. And I am trying to reconcile my usual skepticism of any such blanket belief with my knowledge that SSC is full of smart folks who aren’t trying to hide the truth. I have not spent the time to look into the Holocaust, partly because it is unquestionable that some very bad things occurred. The questions are around the edges, such as how many died, how much was purposeful genocide, and how much of it was simply the side effects of war. So my point is that I have much sympathy for Empathic’s quest, and my hope is that some day he can report back with his findings, or better yet, write an objective book about the Holocaust, giving us the real scoop, and the evidence for it, without the emotional underpinnings that make me suspicious.

          • Jiro says:

            All I’ve ever heard my entire life is that the Holocaust was a terrible thing and deniers are evil with no facts whatsoever. I am skeptical that there is absolutely nothing there.

            Do you also think the same about flat-earthers or homeopaths?

            without the emotional underpinnings that make me suspicious.

            This is Internet-Aspergers (no offense to people with actual Aspergers) of the type that leads people to say “Oh, you think my mother is a whore? Well, I know a lot about her life, and there’s no signs of prostitution, but I haven’t accounted for every second, so may be logically possible that my mother is a whore. Let me go ask her.”

            Don’t be one of those. (Scott has sometimes fallen victim to this himself.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Mark V. Anderson:

            I don’t mean to say “Holocaust denial is bunk” in the sense of “don’t even worry your little head about it”. Do some research. But if you have a decent background in the history of the Holocaust and the surrounding world events (there was a war on, or so I’ve been told) you will react like someone with a little knowledge of chemistry or biology or medicine will to researching, as Jiro gives as an example, homeopathy.

            It is, in a logical sense, possible that contemporary history is all lies on a factual, material level*, and an enormous historical crime was invented for malicious political purposes, just as it is possible that modern chemistry is a sham and the fact that mixing things that produce symptoms then diluting and shaking them will make them cure illnesses that cause those symptoms has been suppressed. But these scenarios are vastly, vastly less likely than the canonical version you’ll get taught in university.

            I guess my reaction to this is different from how I generally react to things I disagree with because it’s so settled. This isn’t something where no evidence is available, or something really hard to measure or quantify.

            I don’t think it’s a matter of emotion, either. Thanks to my education I regard history perhaps excessively dispassionately. It’s more that the Holocaust deniers are basically the history department’s version of free energy or perpetual motion or whatever.

            *the sorts of “modern history is all lies” people who get liked or tolerated locally usually think the lies are in the interpretation, don’t they?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Mark V Andersen

            Yes, there’s something to holocaust denial. It’s malice. Not all the deniers; some are simply attracted to conspiracy theories, some have been fooled by the other groups. But the groups pushing it are lying and know they’re lying.

          • My impression is that I met one who was a hard-core anarchist who didn’t want to believe one government was much worse than another.

          • Maybe I am just being irrational, because it is true I have little interest in many other areas that few believe in, such as UFO’s, perpetual energy, etc. But I think the difference is that so many people use the Holocaust as a just so story to accent their various beliefs, and it is one those areas where any denial of any of the details of the story will get one crucified by public opinion.

            I don’t really know a whole lot about this subject, but that’s why I am happy to see someone else who wants to make an objective study. Yes, it is clear that there were camps where prisoners were gassed, so I certainly won’t accept a full denier narrative, but many of the details I do question.

          • Jiro says:

            But I think the difference is that so many people use the Holocaust as a just so story to accent their various beliefs, and it is one those areas where any denial of any of the details of the story will get one crucified by public opinion.

            That’s because there’s so much evidence for it that pretty much all denials except those related to Internet-Asperger’s are going to be malicious. So of course they get treated as malicious.

            If you go around telling people “your mother is a whore”, you’ll also get crucified, even if you claim that you merely have honest doubts about their mother’s source of income.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Mark V Anderson:

            I would give UFO aficionados far, far more time of day than Holocaust deniers. I would give a higher probability of accuracy to the statement “intelligent alien life exists, has mastered interstellar travel, and has visited earth” than to Holocaust denial arguments. The former is a case where there are few reliable facts, while the latter is a case where the reliable facts are overwhelmingly on one side of the issue.

          • I don’t think we are going to get any further on this discussion.

            But out of curiosity I went to Amazon to see if I could find a book that would explain the facts in one objective package. I did not see one. Instead, they were mostly journalistic type treatments that basically relayed one person’s experiences. If the facts for the Holocaust are so clear, I would think there would be some definitive books that laid out the facts in a scholarly fashion, giving numbers killed, how they were killed, the political mechanism within Nazi Germany to cause these events, etc. Are there such books?

          • Jiro says:

            Are there books which explain why your mother isn’t a whore? Or, if you object that nobody would write a book about your mother, are there books which explain why the Pope isn’t a whore? Or to bring it a little closer to not being an analogy at all, are there books which explain why Jews don’t really drink the blood of Christian babies, complete with scholarly references that someone researched in detail the level of baby-eating in medieval Jewish towns?

          • Montfort says:

            Mark V Anderson, the scope of holocaust historiography (warning: direct link to large pdf) has expanded enough and gotten into enough detail that books are often a little bit more narrowly tailored. However, a classic single volume is (or at least was) The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War, by Gilbert.

            ETA: Jiro, there are in fact a large number of books about the Holocaust. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. I find it plausible that the scholarly holocaust books are hard to find among the massive amount of fiction and memoirs dealing with it, as the latter genres are much more popular.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Mark V Anderson:

            There are a lot of books like that. The Holocaust is one of those topics that ordinary people actually care about, so it’s one of the scholarly fields where you get popular-targeted or popular-friendly books that are the real deal, along with academics who can write.

            The numbers killed and where they were killed would be covered by any good general history of the Holocaust. I know Gilbert has been mentioned.

            The issue of the political mechanism by which the process was set into motion and sustained is the big historical controversy right now. I would recommend Kershaw’s Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution which is a collection of essays he’s written over the years. It’s “light” reading insofar as academic work on the murder of several million people is capable of being “light”.

          • Thanks Montfort, dndnrsn. I really was looking for books on this, not trying to argue more. I will look at the books you two recommended,

    • CatCube says:

      I can’t speak directly to Holocaust denial, but I warn you as someone who tried to do this with 9/11 Trutherism (specifically, about claims that the towers were controlled demolition) that you’re likely to be disappointed. All the claims I looked at turned out to be some combination of completely misunderstanding basic principles, picking at little slices of evidence individually with no understanding of how they fit larger narratives, reading single sentences of papers out of context, and outright dishonesty.

      Maybe you’ll have better luck on your project, but I suspect it’ll be just as frustrating.

      • The Nybbler says:

        My favorite 9/11 Truther claim is the one about the spire (really an antenna tower) turning to dust. Which it certainly appears to do in some videos. Aside from the obvious complaint “If it was a demolition, why would they rig explosives all over the antenna spire anyway?”, there’s another problem. The Truther claim is the spire was never found.

        Oopsie:

        http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2011/09/01/7548090-new-911-exhibit-at-the-newseum-marks-10th-anniversary-of-the-attack

        • CatCube says:

          Yeah, the “freefall” claims, “covering the ground with dirt” at the Pentagon, the “round missile hole” thing.

          There were two that were the most frustrating for me. One was finding out that a physics professor (can’t remember the name) was making “truther” claims. I was hoping that his at least would be reasonable problems, but they were just a mishmash of the same stupid nonsense you’d get from Rosie O’Donnell. The other one was when somebody started talking about research about the rate of heat evolution showing that temperatures couldn’t have been as high as stated in the NIST NCSTAR report. Then when I asked for the references for these tests, they just stopped talking. I eventually managed to figure out that the small-scale tests done by NIST were mangled in the “conspiracy website telephone” game these people were playing.

    • cassander says:

      A few facts for discussion.

      1) There were a LOT of ways to die if you were caught between Hitler and Stalin

      2) The post war russian approach to counting casualties was, broadly speaking, to count all the bodies they found between Moscow and Berlin who wasn’t either an ethnic german or wearing a german uniform then say “They were killed by the Germans”

      3) This included people that they knew that they had killed, most famously, the Katyn Massacre victims, who were listed as soviet war dead at least through the end of the Soviet Era.

      4) Just about all the death factories in the holocaust were located in regions “liberated” by the USSR.

      Given these four facts, we should not be surprised at all if the Russians might have added some bodies to the piles to inflate the german totals and reduce their own. They might even have forcibly relocated some people from camps and said they were dead? The holocaust total would still be in the millions, of course, but I’ve never seen a thorough examination of this particular question.

      • Montfort says:

        Just off the cuff, if it were a large factor in the death total, I would have expected something about it to have come out after the Soviet archives were opened. Though maybe the archives are less complete, less open, or less studied than I think.

      • dndnrsn says:

        @Cassander/Montfort: Estimates of deaths at particular camps have been argued over by historians though. And the Soviet estimates could be high. For instance. Respectable scholars generally date the number of dead between 5.1 and 6 million, which is a sizable but not massive range.

        In any case, a lot of the numbers can be supported based on German documents.

      • cassander says:

        @Montfort

        I’m not sure they would, necessarily. For example, lots of partisans got rounded up and shot in the last stages of the war. All it takes is some commissar writing up a report that says “we found X glorious socialist revolutionary partisans shot by the germans” instead of “we shot X counter-revolutionary wreckers” and the truth of the event is forever obscured. Survival in Stalin’s USSR depended on knowing which way the ideological winds were blowing and knowing which report should be written.

        @dndnrsn

        You’re quite right. What I would want to see is a comprehensive comparison between the number of people the germans think they shipped to camps or had einsatzgruppen take credit for and the numbers the soviets claimed to have found dead in their occupation zones.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Cassander:

          I haven’t read a comprehensive comparison looking at the history of Soviet death estimates etc, which would be interesting, but a bit of poking around and it’s relatively easy to look at it camp by camp. It looks like they were prone to overstating deaths by a large margin, sometimes coming up with numbers 4+x larger than later historians have concluded (which they come to from a variety of means, including some scholars who work mostly from German documents). But this takes the form of just an exaggeration of numbers – rather than, let’s say, the Germans having killed x people and the Soviets sneaking in an extra y bodies, and saying the Germans killed x+y.

          The information is probably better for the camps than for the mass shootings. I think the mass shooting numbers are usually taken entirely from German sources – the units reported their killing up the chain of command, and while the Germans during WWII were not the stereotypes of Teutonic efficiency some expect, they did have a rather stereotypical preoccupation with keeping organized records. Any inflation there would be guys angling for promotions saying their men had killed more than they did. While the Soviets publicized the camps they found, I don’t think they publicized the existence of mass shootings to the same degree, besides pinning Katyn on the Germans.

          And while the Soviets did go after non-Communist partisans and resistance fighters, they seem to have been pretty happy doing it in the open.