Open Thread 64.5

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

1. 80,000 Hours is offering their new book on finding a high-impact career for free to interested parties.

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551 Responses to Open Thread 64.5

  1. Brad says:

    Thomas Schelling has died.

  2. ZZBrown15 says:

    “Trump cabinet will be at least 10% minority [confidence: 90%], at least 20% minority [confidence: 70%], at least 30% minority [30%]. Here I’m defining “minority” to include nonwhites, Latinos, and LGBT people, though not women. Note that by this definition America as a whole is about 35% minority and Congress is about 15% minority.”

    It depends exactly how you define “cabinet” (for example, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers is a Cabinet-level official, but is technically not a Cabinet member). But under any reasonable definition, it looks like Trump’s Cabinet, as currently nominated, will be about 13% minority. And maybe we should assign negative points for Steve Bannon.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      A little disappointed Scott never put up the official betting post. < 20% minority was free money.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      I’m pretty sure it should be just the Cabinet proper, in which case I think Trump needs to go 2 for 3 on minorities to Interior, Ag, and VA.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Trump needs to go 2/3 on minority appointments to Interior, Ag, and VA to reach the 20% minority threshold, right? Too bad Scott didn’t put the bet page up beforehand, because that seemed like the most mis-calibrated offer.

  3. JasonGross says:

    Has anyone done a meta-analysis on researcher-affiliation effects in the physical sciences? I was re-reading the control group is out of control and realized that the effect there might be the same as the effect described in the following paragraph of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (about the atomic revolution):

    As all this went on, one other typical and very important change occurred. Here and there the very numerical data of chemistry began to shift. When Dalton first searched the chemical literature for data to support his physical theory, he found some records of reactions that fitted, but he can scarcely have avoided finding others that did not. Proust’s own measurements on the two oxides of copper yielded, for example, an oxygen weight-ratio of 1.47:1 rather than the 2:1 demanded by the atomic theory; and Proust is just the man who might have been expected to achieve the Daltonian ratio.26 He was, that is, a fine experimentalist, and his view of the relation between mixtures and compounds was very close to Dalton’s. But it is hard to make nature fit a paradigm. That is why the puzzles of normal science are so challenging and also why measurements undertaken without a paradigm so seldom lead to any conclusions at all. Chemists could not, therefore, simply accept Dalton’s theory on the evidence, for much of that was still negative. Instead, even after accepting the theory, they had still to beat nature into line, a process which, in the event, took almost another generation. When it was done, even the percentage composition of well-known compounds was different. The data themselves had changed. That is the last of the senses in which we may want to say that after a revolution scientists work in a different world.

    (I’m now imagining what a call for double-blind randomized controlled trials in chemistry would look like.)

  4. This thought is inspired from the school choice thread.

    It might be slightly conspiratorial thinking, but I wonder if it has some legitimacy. I feel that to a degree, worrying about the quality of education in multiple subjects is…a game. A game people pretend to play that masks that school is suspiciously as long as the adult working day, when it never needed to be in the first place( for lots of clear social reasons)

    In a lot of subjects, math,writing, geology, linguistics, spanish…those subjects are very very amenable to efficient styles of learning. Namely, this style where the most important and clearest parts of a subject are put onto a computer, linked with a few supplementary texts, add some khan academy links, and then toss some flash card programs into the subject, with a bayesian-updated difficulty list of problems that also track what style of problems one is good at(gives different optimal learning paths for students with different cognitive profiles)

    I think what happens when we do a very efficient style of learning, in multiple subjects this happens. For fields in algebra/geometry, English reading comprehension what happens is an ELO score becomes created when the learning is done efficiently, and there becomes little excuse to further pursue the subject.

    This is inspired by how quickly people can improve when a subject is well done, put into its basics on a computer program, vs having a 1000 page textbook taught over the course of the year…as an example, the AP cram books vs the giant books. Both seem just as effective to learn the raw material, but one is 8 times as long as the other and is designed to be taught over a period of 2 years, when the other can cram the same(or nearly the same) tested competency over two months.

    How is educational quality not a bit of a faux game?

    (Note, this does not apply(as easily) to subjects where the devil is in the details and people need to slip in things past the censor with commentary)

    • rlms says:

      If you think you have a brilliant new teaching method, I suggest you open up a private school and get rich. Disregarding how your method actually is at teaching, I think it might have problems with how much students enjoy it (which is also an important factor if you don’t want them rioting). Although if you think it would also work for college courses you could try it for them too (where those factors should be less relevant since students should be more self-motivated).

      • Incurian says:

        I wonder if there are many barriers to entry for this sort of thing.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Disregarding how your method actually is at teaching, I think it might have problems with how much students enjoy it (which is also an important factor if you don’t want them rioting).

        Yeah I don’t think that is a big issue. A lot of kids hate school, maybe a majority, and I haven’t seen the rioting.

        I think Bears has some good ideas, and they remain good ideas even if he doesn’t try to use them to become rich. I certainly would like to see them tried.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Well, maybe the college courses are already more optimized towards the style Bears argue for. Not the “done with Bayesian-buzz-word-computer programs”, but the contents of the curriculum. For example, in my experience even a half-semester course might cover more than what we did in entire year of high school.

        • rlms says:

          Yes, certainly college courses are more intense than high school ones. Presumably that is because college students are more intellectually developed and experienced with learning than high school students, and because we expect college students to do well to put in more time than in high school.

          Edit: Plus the most obvious point that college students are selected from the pool of high school students largely based on intelligence/capacity to succeed in a school environment, and so you would expect them to be better than generic high school students at tasks (like college) that require those things.

  5. Who else thinks this Russian Hacking scandal is stupid?

    Nobody in the media actually knows exactly what happened, and anyone sophisticated enough to get the DNC files from a foreign area is clever enough to hide their trace.

    And as far as I can tell, the Russians hack into everything we have as policy, and vice-versa.(if you want to play a game of he-she did it first).

    There’s too many unknowns in this story for me to care about, but I feel like a lot of news sources really want people to read a lot into it as this political malfeasance over being angry at Trumps victory.

    • dwietzsche says:

      Everyone knew Wikileaks was trying to alter the election outcome, because that’s what they were obviously doing. The email dumps were timed to achieve maximum electoral effect. Of course, measuring that is totally impossible, so who knows how important it was to the outcome. But journalists often behave as if they are reporting automatons who have no choice but to write the stories that come to them. To the extent that they are aware in advance that they are being manipulated by foreign actors to achieve specific political ends, they might want to seriously revise their commitment to the view that they have no moral obligations other than to print what’s newsworthy. I don’t know whether it tipped the election. But the whisper campaign against Hillary Clinton was wildly successful, and there are many Americans who know for sure there was something in those emails, even if they can’t tell you what it was.

    • qwints says:

      It’s clear that the DNC e-mails were used in the same way opposition research is used every election, to try and manipulate news coverage to benefit one candidate and harm the other. It’s also clear that the DNC e-mails were obtained illicitly. It’s widely claimed that they were given to wikileaks by the Russian state.

      The scandal isn’t the hacking – you’re right that every major country is trying to hack every other major country. The scandal is using the hacked material to influence another country’s election, especially if if it was done in such a way that the winning candidate owes the state actor. It would be the same sort of scandal if it were just a payment of cash. Intelligence agencies have done this in smaller countries countless times, but it would be a new level of control if Russia really did cooperate with Trump to get him elected.

      • John Schilling says:

        …but it would be a new level of control if Russia really did cooperate with Trump to get him elected

        Is there any reason to believe that this happened?

        The claim is that the FSB and/or GRU hacked the DNC’s email, and sent the juiciest tidbits to Wikileaks. The Russians don’t need Trump’s help to decide that hacking the DNC’s email might support their interests, to actually hack the DNC’s email, to recognize in their findings which bits might hurt Hillary, or to forward any of this to Wikileaks. I don’t see how they even substantially benefit from Trump’s assistance. To the extent that there was an attempt to influence the election, it seems to have been a unilateral favor by the Russians to Trump, involving only third parties and requiring no cooperation with Trump.

        It’s possible that the Russians sat on all of this until they had a chance to talk with The Donald and say “we will do you this favor only if you agree to do us a favor in the future”, and if we can prove that we can and should impeach Trump. But there’s no evidence of it, and it would have been a dangerous and foolish move for both of them. Russia’s interests were served as best they could reasonably expect, as soon as Hillary came under a cloud with the leaked emails.

        • rmtodd says:

          As I understand it, the Podesta emails were not “hacked” in the sense that someone remotely exploited a security hole in the software running on the DNC’s server. Rather, someone just sent one of those phishing emails (“you need to unlock your account now! please type your login and password into this form”) and waited until Podesta obligingly typed in his login credentials into the form on whatever site the phishing email linked to. This is, to put it bluntly, not the sort of attack that requires the Extreme Hacking Expertise that the NSA or its Russian equivalent is presumed to have. This is the sort of attack that could be accomplished by any sufficiently-motivated 15 year old kid in his basement.

          In general, a lot of the talk in the media about these sort of hacking incidents (not just the Democrats’ and Hillary’s emails, but things like the alleged North Korean hack into Sony’s computers a couple years ago) seems to assume that the hackees had such excellent security that only a nation-state level hacker could penetrate it, and thus the Russians/North Koreans/etc could have done it. This strikes me, as a layperson with an interest in computer security issues, as being too optimistic about how good people’s security is, and too dismissive of how good the various random non-state-employed hackers are.

          • Jaskologist says:

            They reset his password to a variant of “password.” Manually brute forcing it at the right time would have sufficed to hack it.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think the connection to Russia is based on the sophistication of the hack. Rather I believe there is evidence that the specific spear-phishing email/website setup has been used many times over the course of many months. If you look at the pattern of the targets and what was done subsequent to the compromises, they point pretty clearly to someone with whose interests are aligned with that of the Russian government.

            Of course it is possible that some fat guy in NJ, or China or a faction in the CIA, was playing a long game and deliberately created a misleading pattern so when they finally hit the target they were actually interested in there was this misleading fingerprint. It is also possible that all those other prior attack were someone or someones whose interests are aligned with the Russian government, but the DNC hack was someone that knew about the prior hacks and deliberately emulated the fingerprint. But neither of those possibilities are as likely as that it was the same person or group all along.

            That said, “interests are aligned with the Russian government” doesn’t necessarily mean “Putin signed off” and as far as I know there’s no evidence in the open on that question one way or the other.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            Also, it is not given that everyone who has interests aligned with Russian government is Russian government; it could have been a pro-Trump Russian patriot.

            Unless CIA has more information than they are telling us.

      • Hetzer says:

        Let’s say that Russia really was involved in this, and that the CIA is telling the truth, that they “know the individuals involved” and can’t declassify the material that would prove they are right, even though publicly accusing Russia of responsibility would in itself reveal plenty about what they know. And let’s say the Obama administration suddenly decided to do an about-face on their established practice of ruthlessly pursuing whistle blowers, hackers, and leakers to the fullest extent of the law, and decided not to bother arresting anyone in their jurisdiction, or attempting extraditions in foreign nations, or issuing INTERPOL arrest warrants, or pursuing further sanctions and restrictions against the individuals and/or nation-states responsible if they were beyond the administration’s legal reach. Let’s assume that all of this is somehow sane behavior in the face of an attempt by a foreign power to destablize a US election, that there is some reason for them to hold back in such a critical situation.

        Why are the Russians the bad guys? If they were the bad guys, they would have sat on the information they had about Clinton and co. and used it to blackmail her to get her to lift sanctions, to stay out of Syria against her wishes, etc. Instead, they gave the American electorate valuable, authentic (Hillary even claimed ownership of the leaked/hacked/whatever emails during the debates by referring to them as “stolen”) information to consider before they voted, and kept us from giving a compromised candidate access to classified intel.

        The way the mainstream media talks about this, you might think that the Soviet Union won the cold war.


        I do think there was some self-interest on the part of Wikileaks, considering that Hillary talked about using a drone strike on the Ecuadorian embassy to take out Assange (imagine, for a moment, the Queen taking her morning tea as the smell of dust and smoke kicked up by a Hellfire missile strike a few blocks away wafts in through an open window, sirens wailing in the distance, building to a crescendo. Can you say “international incident”?). And then there was also that guy who tried to scale the wall of the embassy. What if Hillary sent one of Bill’s goons from his Arkansas governor days to “convince” Assange to commit suicide by shooting himself in the back of the head three times with pistols of two different calibers?

        • Spookykou says:

          If they were the bad guys, they would have sat on the information they had about Clinton and co. and used it to blackmail her to get her to lift sanctions, to stay out of Syria against her wishes, etc.

          This seems a strange idea, is there anything in the Wikileaks that would actually be effective blackmail against a hypothetical president H.Clinton?

          Instead, they gave the American electorate valuable, authentic (Hillary even claimed ownership of the leaked/hacked/whatever emails during the debates by referring to them as “stolen”) information to consider before they voted, and kept us from giving a compromised candidate access to classified intel.

          Would you care to speculate on why Russia would do this?

          • Deiseach says:

            Anyone care to speculate that had it been Trump’s campaign the Russians hacked and leaked emails, they would now be hailed as saviours of democracy by preventing this terrible neo-Nazi employing racist sexist from coming anywhere near the presidency?

            By the same people who are demanding the CIA’s report be taken as the reason Something Must Be Done?

            I am not saying the Russians – if it was them – were right to hack the DNC and Hillary’s campaign, but it’s rather strange to see the reversal everyone is engaging in – when it was the FBI talking about emails, then Tweedledum said they should shut up and had no business interfering in an election and Tweedledee said they were doing their duty, now it’s Tweedledum urging everyone to listen to the CIA and Tweedledee saying it has nothing to do with the election.

          • Iain says:

            When the FBI was talking about Clinton’s emails, it was two weeks before the election, it had a dramatic impact on the polls, and it turned out that there was nothing there. Democrats did not claim that the FBI should not be investigating the emails; they were simply angry that Comey broke decades of precedent to make a public announcement of an ongoing investigation at a critical point in the election.

            The election is over. It is no longer possible to interfere with it. This is the point at which the public investigation should be taking place; the fact that some Republicans are trying to block the investigation is concerning.

            The CIA cooperated with the norm of electoral non-interference. The FBI defected. The parallel is not nearly as strong as you seem to think.

          • gbdub says:

            One of the plausible-sounding theories for Comey’s late letter was that he was heading off an unauthorized leak of the information that would have been even more damaging (or at least less measured).

            And that’s what we have here: an anonymous leak of what the CIA has allegedly concluded (although there is supposedly some disagreement even within the CIA with regard to how much the RNC was hacked).

            We’ve seen none of the evidence either way on the hacking, but the “Russia was definitely pushing Trump” case seems particularly weak. It relies on a couple dubious-without-evidence assumptions: that the RNC was hacked to the same degree that the DNC was, that the RNC hack produced similarly damaging information, and that the only reason for not leaking that information would be to deliberately promote Trump.

            The damage from the Podesta/DNC emails was basically “showing how the sausage was made” – confirming suspicions of those inclined to believe that the DNC colluded to suppress Sanders, and that they were too cozy with the press (and apparently some fodder for really out there pizza place conspiracies).

            Would an RNC hack have produced similar information? If anything, the RNC was colluding to suppress Trump – but Trump won anyway. Who were the disgruntled people that would fail to vote based on that?

            “Putin will love Trump” itself seems like projection from people who think “Putin is bad, Trump is bad, therefore they like each other”. It’s not like Clinton successfully prevented much of Putin’s agenda – if anything she’s a known quantity (and one of her first acts wrt Russia was to unilaterally give up a Polish-based missile shield for apparently nothing in return).

            Russia’s strategy could be merely to promote chaos and discredit the US election system – Jill Stein’s recount apparently got a lot of play on RT, which would support the chaos theory. Undercutting the frontrunner makes sense for this strategy even if you don’t necessarily prefer the underdog.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            they were simply angry that Comey broke decades of precedent to make a public announcement of an ongoing investigation at a critical point in the election.

            For there to be a precedent, how much history is there of major presidential candidates being under FBI investigation?

          • Iain says:

            For there to be a precedent, how much history is there of major presidential candidates being under FBI investigation?

            See here:

            Justice traditionally bends over backward to avoid taking any action that might be seen by the public as influencing an election, often declining to even take private steps that might become public in the 60 days leading up to an election. For an example, in one case of which I am aware, the FBI opened an investigation into a high-ranking public official shortly before an election but delayed sending any subpoenas until after the election for fear that they might leak and unfairly tarnish the official. Indeed, that investigation ultimately concluded with no charges.

            See also.

          • Spookykou says:

            Based on the narrative leading up to the election, if the Russians interfered in the election to favor Hilary I doubt anyone on the left would think that their influence mattered much, because the left assumed Hilary would win easily up until the last moment. I imagine the more general ‘Don’t interfere in other countries democratic elections’ would still be the predominate Liberal response in this counterfactual.

            I would certainly be worried about the implications of Russia trying to influence an election in my country, regardless of the out outcome.

          • John Schilling says:

            The election is over. It is no longer possible to interfere with it.

            The election occurs next week. People are still trying to interfere with it.

            Regardless of the election results, the President isn’t inaugurated until next month, and people are trying to interfere with that too.

            These things aren’t going to happen. With p>0.95, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President on January 20. But the fact that attempts to change the outcome of the election are doomed to fail, doesn’t mean they aren’t interference. And, whether they change the outcome or not, if they reduce the perceived legitimacy of the next president then they are not inconsequential interferences.

            So, yeah, I’d kind of prefer the CIA spend the next month or so building the strongest case they are willing to take to the public, rather than this sort of half-assed innuendo-by-leak strategy. At least Comey was willing to put his name on his actions.

        • Wait wait wait..what?

          Source for

          “I do think there was some self-interest on the part of Wikileaks, considering that Hillary talked about using a drone strike on the Ecuadorian embassy to take out Assange”

          That’s uh…something.

          I can’t say its surprising…but eh.

          • Deiseach says:

            Wait, what????

            Please tell me this is more fake news, because if we are seriously talking about the Secretary of State suggesting (even if only as a joke) bombing an embassy to kill a non-US citizen without trial – tell me again why you wanted her to be the one to get the nuclear codes and not Trump because she was oh so much more a safe pair of hands?

            It has to be fake, right? Because Assange was at the Ecudorian embassy in London, and the US couldn’t just fly in a drone to the UK and take out the guy by firing a missile at him, ha ha ha – I mean, they would at least need the permission of the UK government to do this and they surely never believe they’d get it, ha ha ha – please tell me Hillary didn’t really think that the US could just get the UK to roll over and give permission for this to happen in London? That has to be crazy talk!

            This is more of that implausible story-telling we’ve been discussing on the main thread, correct?

          • Matt M says:

            First of all, the only cited source documenting that Hillary Clinton had ever suggested (even in jest) that a drone strike could take out Julian Assange was “sources at the State Department,” a vague and anonymous reference that does not yield to verification.

            As opposed to “sources at the CIA” which is obviously 100% verifiable and factual and anyone who would question that is a dangerous traitor.

          • Deiseach says:

            I could stretch it to seeing it as her version of a joke – what are we going to do about this guy? Can’t we just drone him? Ha ha but seriously, guys. what are we going to do?

            It’s the same conundrum Scott posed in the main thread: do we think the “sources” are lying or not, or that the person re-telling the story is lying?

            If genuine yet anonymous “sources”, they have little reason to make this kind of story up. A third party, on the other hand, could have good reason to invent a discreditable story that will be believed and passed around faster than a refutation can catch up with it.

          • Iain says:

            As opposed to “sources at the CIA” which is obviously 100% verifiable and factual and anyone who would question that is a dangerous traitor.

            We have no evidence other than True Pundit’s word of honour that anybody at the State Department said anything of the sort.

            On the other hand, the CIA has produced a briefing that numerous members of Congress have commented on in public. The CIA could be wrong, but short of a massive conspiracy theory it is indisputable that CIA sources have claimed that Russia is behind the hacks.

            If the only source for the Russia claim was one guy posting on Daily Kos about how his friends at the CIA told him that it was definitely Russia, you’d have a point.

          • DrBeat says:

            “The CIA might be wrong”?

            The CIA cannot distinguish things that are true from things it wants to be true. It never could, and it never will. The CIA’s claims have no information value, they mean only “We want this to be true.”

          • Iain says:

            Excellent point. My counterargument:

            The CIA DrBeat cannot distinguish things that are true from things it wants to be true. It never could, and it never will. The CIA DrBeat’s claims have no information value, they mean only “We want this to be true.”

          • DrBeat says:

            Yes, because there’s a well-sourced history of me being unable to discern my desires from reality in ways that constantly harm my interests, as well as many high-profile examples of me being unable to discern my desires from reality, one of which was being held up as proof I cannot be trusted and should not be trusted by all of the people who turned around and started professing their belief in me the moment I said something they wanted to hear. I’ve been getting my double agents killed, funneling buckets of money to operatives who don’t even produce the evil results I want, and hopelessly riddled with enemy double agents ever since my inception, because my inability to discern my desires from reality leaves me incapable of discerning when something I do isn’t working.

            No, wait, that’s not true of me at all, but it is true of the CIA!

          • Iain says:

            DrBeat has been repeatedly wrong in the past, and has produced reports posts that lacked important detail and could be twisted to bad ends by unsavory actors. Ergo, every word out of DrBeat’s mouth is a lie, and nothing DrBeat says can be trusted.

            This is fun!

            Please recall that the entire point of this thread was: “Were the allegations that Clinton threatened to launch a drone strike against an embassy in London made up?”, to which the answer clearly remains “Well, duh.” I have no idea how the credibility of the CIA has any bearing on any of this, except as a distraction.

          • DrBeat says:

            On the other hand, the CIA has produced a briefing that numerous members of Congress have commented on in public. The CIA could be wrong, but short of a massive conspiracy theory it is indisputable that CIA sources have claimed that Russia is behind the hacks.

            Those words, which came out of you, they are your words, yours. They were in response to someone questioning the veracity of the CIA’s claims. Then you — your words, coming out of you and nobody else — claimed that someone was saying the CIA had not made a claim, instead of the CIA not being trustworthy. You expected us to assign weight to a proposition based on the fact the CIA made a claim about it. I was reminding you not to assign any weight to a proposition based on the fact that the CIA made a claim about it.

            Also your “reversal” of my statement is nothing like what I said about the CIA, unless you are operating purely on emotional-reasoning “He said Bad things about the CIA, so if I say Bad things about him, then I have shown he is just the same!” It makes no sense. The claim that an organization has been unable to tell its desires apart from reality from the beginning and the claim that someone does things that can be used to bad ends by unsavory actors are nothing alike. One of them is directly and comprehensively relevant to the question of “should we trust the assessment of this organization?” and one of them is totally irrelevant.

          • Iain says:

            No. Those words were in response to somebody who was trying to equivocate between A) a random website attributing made-up claims to “State Department officials” to make Hillary Clinton look bad and B) the official position of the CIA, as presented to Senate committees. As I explicitly say in the quote that you seem to think is a smoking gun: you don’t even have to be confident the CIA is right to be able to distinguish between the credibility of those two claims.

            Bringing up the CIA in the first place was a non sequitur. The fact that you have attempted to turn this into a referendum on the CIA is just piling absurdities on top of each other.

            You seem to be very angry that I do not share your rabid loathing of the CIA. If you would care to make an actual case instead of foaming at the mouth with vague insinuations, feel free to do so. Bear in mind that your burden in this argument is not just to show that the CIA is frequently wrong, which I am happy to concede is the case, but that they are so invariably wrong that I should give them less credence than made-up internet nonsense. Have fun!

          • John Schilling says:

            I could stretch it to seeing it as her version of a joke – what are we going to do about this guy? Can’t we just drone him? Ha ha but seriously, guys. what are we going to do?

            Who will rid me of this turbulent geek? Paging colonels de Morville, de Tracy, FitzUrse and le Breton, USAF…

      • cassander says:

        If the pentagon papers had been given the New York Times by a Russian spy instead of by Daniel Ellsberg, would you have condemned their publication? Unless you’re claiming that there was active cooperation between the russians and the trump campaign (i don’t think you are), I can’t condemn the publication of actual documents.

        • Spookykou says:

          I did not get the impression that qwints was condemning the publication of the actual documents?

          In any case, I would always want to know if any publicly leaked classified information was leaked by a foreign power or not, that seems like important information to have if you can.

        • qwints says:

          Even if there was coordination, I wouldn’t condemn the publication of the documents by the press. It’s the Russians handing it to the press that’s the issue.

      • Deiseach says:

        The scandal is using the hacked material to influence another country’s election, especially if if it was done in such a way that the winning candidate owes the state actor.

        Sure. Unfortunately, every country in the world watches its allies’ and rivals’ elections and has an opinion on “We would prefer if candidate A got in and candidate B did not”, and sometimes they do things to let that opinion be known.

        Were Obama’s remarks about the referendum interference or not? Was it doing Cameron a favour, and if so, what did the US hope to get in return? If it was a calculation that “We prefer the Tories remain the party in power as they are aligned with our interests”, was that excusable?

        The Russians could well have calculated that they would prefer Anyone But Hillary and decided to embarrass her campaign, without needing to be in cahoots with Trump or agreeing an explicit quid pro quo.

    • Matt M says:

      Something that annoys me about this is that there seems to be two separate allegations.

      1) Russians hacked the DNC and selectively published the worst of it in order to deliberately harm HRC and help “influence” the election in a pro-Trump direction.

      2) Russians hacked the voting machines and literally rigged the election for Trump.

      Any halfway respectable media outlet isn’t reporting #2, that’s being reserved for the crazy people on Twitter. But I feel like the media is sort of treating the whole thing with a wink and a nod and is saying things like “russians hacked the election” in a careful enough way such that they certainly aren’t discouraging anyone who believes #2.

      I would guess that the amount of American who believed Russia hacked voting machines at least doubles the amount that believe Pizzagate, yet that is being presented as a clear and imminent danger to public safety and the reason we need to ban all non-official news media sites, while the Russian hacking thing is being implicitly encouraged if not explicitly endorsed by the very same people.

      • Spookykou says:

        This is the impression I got, although the only news I get is about 30 minutes of NPR in the car to and from work each day. I think in particular, this morning, the news that Obama is ordering a wider spread investigation immediately followed the claim that we didn’t have any proof at this time of tampering with the voting machines, it struck me as intentional, but I might be conspiratorially minded.

  6. lumenis says:

    Hey folks, is there any consensus out there in the EA/rationalist community about what the most effective use of charitable giving for protecting the environment is?

    There’s quite a range of strategies among environmentally focused organizations. I’d love to know if there’s good analysis comparing the expected value of e.g. carbon offset projects vs. investing in making solar cheaper. My terminal value here is to reduce climate-related existential risk.


  7. So, here is a critically important statement in cultural changes that I think has been a bit too glossed over.

    This is an interview with president Trump in the year 1990 by playboy. The real important portion is right here.

    Reporter–But if the grass ever did look greener, which political party do you think you’d be more comfortable with?

    Trump–Well, if I ever ran for office, I’d do better as a Democrat than as a Republican—and that’s not because I’d be more liberal, because I’m conservative. But the working guy would elect me. He likes me. When I walk down the street, those cabbies start yelling out their windows.

    So what happened during the past 26 years? Why has the democratic party totally lost the white working man? Why did the guy who was capable enough of reading the crowds to win the presidency, why did 26 years ago he thought he should run as a Democrat, but now he won on the republican ticket?

    Here is Bill Meyers explination?

    Your guys thoughts?

    • Note–I don’t believe that its intelligent for a political party to be openly hostile towards a major religion.

      But did anything really change? It seems some votes swung from Obama to Trump, simply with the guys marketing.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Immigration #1, Islam #2. Or maybe Islam #3, with “crooked Hillary” being #2. I don’t think political correctness was a major factor to the white working man, not directly. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think your average midwestern working man has to worry too much about getting fired for “mansplaining” or using the wrong pronouns.

      Political correctness has probably had an indirect effect in that it has convinced the Democrats that they can and should ignore the problems of the white working man, leaving them open to someone telling them they had a solution. And it had an effect when the contempt it engenders leaked out (mostly that “deplorables” remark). But still… immigration. For coastal white professionals and college students who voted for Trump, PC was probably a major factor. But they’re not the ones who won the election for him.

      (incidentally, in that last link, Ana Marie Cox uses that saying “to a white person equality feels like oppression”. There’s another old saying, Ms. Cox… “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”)

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think your average midwestern working man has to worry too much about getting fired for “mansplaining” or using the wrong pronouns.

        Maybe not, although I’ve read a couple of interviews with working-class voters who essentially said “We’re losing our jobs here, and all the politicians care about is transgender bathrooms?! Screw them!” So it might have had an effect in terms of making the political elite look out-of-touch, even if there was no fear of it personally affecting working-class voters.

        • It had no chance of personally affecting me and I have nothing against transsexuals, but the whole thing felt to me like bullying. The message I read was “In order to take an act that lets us feel virtuous and makes things a little easier for a very small minority that we are currently paying attention to, we will force the rest of the country to violate a strongly held norm, thus demonstrating that we are the ones in power and you can just lump it.”

          I suspect that a lot of other people read the same meaning into it, and wouldn’t be surprised if that gave Trump his margin of victory. The risks of hubris.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It might have given Trump North Carolina, where that issue was in the forefront.

          • Matt M says:


            Given that the governor most associated with it lost, that seems unlikely… Trump probably won NC in spite of that, not because of it.

          • Deiseach says:

            I admit, I feel an irresistable urge to snark upon reading this Religion News Service coverage of the Evangelicals in Trump’s Cabinet:

            Pruitt is a member of First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., where he has served as a deacon. First Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which has opposed marriage equality, reproductive rights for women and LGBTQ rights, including bathroom access for transgender people.

            The fiends! Denying access to all public lavatories whatsoever to transgender people! They are forcing them to urinate in the streets and fields like animals? A term like “bathroom access” is ambiguous, to say the least, unless you have made your mind up on one side of the story being on the right side of history.

            Though the story seems to lump all the potential picks into the one basket of Evangelical or at least conservative Christian, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that they come from different denominations which will have different views (we’ve got everything there from a Seventh-Day Adventist to a Greek Orthodox believer) which maybe might perhaps have a tiny bit of influence on their views?

            And I am shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn the absolute worst about Steve Bannon. Anti-Semitic? Small potatoes! Alt-right white supremacist? Who cares? No, he’s – I can hardly bring myself to type the dreadful truth – (probably lapsed) Irish Catholic!

            Oh, the shame! The ignominy! And not just one but two, though to be fair, with a name like “Mike Flynn” I would have expected the Irish Catholic background 🙂

    • Bill Meyers (Moyers?) and Bill Maher are two very different folks.

    • Deiseach says:

      So what happened during the past 26 years? Why has the democratic party totally lost the white working man?

      I think there was a shift in the leadership and those who run the party, the kinds of people in the Democratic National Committee and other party governing bodies both nationally and in states. There was a shift away from the old-school ‘Mayor Daley’ type of politician, the guys tied in to the unions, for various reasons, cleaning up corruption part of it. College-educated bright young men, women, minorities – there was an element there of genuine diversity but also an eye to the main chance – if women are getting their little heads riled up about feminism, tell ’em we’re the party of feminism! and so on.

      Reagan Democrats then taking a lot of the white working/lower middle class support to the rivals, this only encouraged the party big-wigs to replenish numbers by appealing to the minority voters. Traditional manufacturing industry going into decline meant a decline in the influence of the unions and so further turning away from the interests of working class (teachers’ unions being the exception here, and probably the exemplar of the shift from manual work to knowledge work).

      But all this is just speculation on my part and I have no actual knowledge to back up if it’s plausible or not.

      But all this is only

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      As noted, immigration is probably the culprit here. Europe makes this slightly easier to figure, because anti-immigration parties are actually a thing here, and center-left parties lose voters to exactly those anti-immigration ones.

      • Aapje says:

        The anti-immigration parties also tend to be anti-EU and more recently, have become more pro-welfare state.

        IMHO, the core is dissatisfaction with neoliberal globalism (or whatever you want to call it). Immigration is the main source of anger and probably the scapegoat for other issues that impact people, but which are too complex to grasp (for most people).

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          I’m not sure the globalism you refer to is the main issue, or else our VVD would have been losing just as many voters as other parties would. It is very much in favor of many more neoliberal points.

          • Aapje says:

            There is a decent contingent of people who do benefit from these policies and they obviously are happy to vote for such parties. However, the VVD actually polls at half the number of votes compared to the last election, while the PVV/Wilders polls at twice the number of votes. The other main coalition party (PvdA) lost 3/4 of its votes.

            So the government parties are set to lose a huge amount compared to the last elections, suggesting strong dissatisfaction with the chosen course, by many of the people who support liberal (in the EU sense) and social-democrat ideals.

            My claim is not that all citizens hate this, just the ones who lose out because of it.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Are you guys talking Netherlands politics? Fine if you are, just curious.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes (elections are coming up next year).

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I know who’s losing out in America. I feel like I have a sense of what brexit supporters are like and where they’re from. What about the PVV?

            Until very recently casual news coverage and internet conversations had me under the impression that Wilders and Co. were a completely out-of-touch, zero mainstream support lunatic fringe. It sounds like that picture was at the very least incomplete, if not outright wrong.

            What kind of people are likely PVV constituents?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            The PVV isn’t a fringe party so much as they skew very far to the kind of right wing Front National or UKIP or the FPO or any other such party does. They are projected to get about 20% of seats in parliament, which is why you can’t really call them fringe; at 20%, your views are definetly with enough support that fringe isn’t a very good word to describe you.

            The PVV’s constituency is exactly what you’d expect from Trump or Brexit: aged (ex) middle class people who are angry about immigration or leftist elites not representing their interests very well. The Dutch economy never relied on manufacturing very much, so job loss isn’t quite as strong a factor as it is elsewhere, but a revulsion of whatever culture immigrants might bring is a very strong reason people vote for the PVV.

            As Aapje and I noted, most people voting PVV seem to have walked away from the center-left party we have, as well as the Christian democrats. Some of them walked away from our center-right party also, but they are still polling fairly well, and I think it just as likely that it’s the generic effect of the party in power not polling well when a new election comes up.

            One thing to interest me is that the PVV polls better in places which see less immigration; the trend is very linear. You could argue this has to do with immigrants (obviously) not voting for them very often, but the trend holds even for natives. This would suggest that either living with some immigrant sorts makes one see it’s not the biggest disaster, or that living away from them makes one rely on distorted media views too much. Either way, it’s something I’d like to see researched better.

            Also, about them having no mainstream support.. Things are weird that way. I’m seeing a pattern where a lot of countries appear to have this thing in the media where the most viewed/read source of news is skewed to the right, with all other things being leftist instead. I’m not sure why this is, but the pattern holds true here also. There is, at least, plenty of coverage agreeing with the PVV’s viewpoint for people who want to consume such media.

          • Aapje says:


            You have to keep in mind that in the Dutch coalition system, you always have to negotiate to get into the government. Just like with other negotiation scenario’s, this encourages extreme demands, beyond what one is willing to accept. Because there are more than two parties, it’s often important to ‘own’ certain topics, which also encourages extreme positions (like advocating for good healthcare, while intentionally ignoring cost controls, as addressing those weakens their position as ‘the good healthcare party’). Extreme demands also give free advertising, as this gives you lots of media attention.

            The PVV uses these tactics very aggressively and for a topic where doing that puts them near the extremist right. This makes them very disliked by globalists, who tend to greatly dislike favoring citizens over non-citizens, favoring their own culture over other cultures, nationalism, etc. The PVV also strongly focuses on voters who are less educated, by making more simplistic arguments. This obviously is considered beyond the pale by most people who tend to get into positions of power (who are usually the well-educated)

            However, survey data shows that only 10% of PVV voters actually believe in the proposals by the PVV. The vast majority think that the party is way too extremist, but mean to drag the entire political scene more towards favoring integration over multi-culturalism, harder punishment, reducing the power of the EU, an end to the dismantling of the welfare state, etc.

            So most PVV voters are more anti-establishment than pro-Wilders. This is also evident in the fact that the (potential) PVV voters are most likely to be swing voters with strong doubts for whom they should vote. PVV voters are also way more likely to prefer their party to not govern.

            Anyway, I would say that the PVV voters are somewhat successful in their aim, as I see a lot of soul-searching by others and more room made for diverse opinions. Recently I even read a defense of ‘majority culture’ in my left-wing newspaper.

            However, at the moment the culture war is still heating up, with the recent introduction of an ‘anti-racist’ party (DENK), which seems to aim to be a mirror image of the PVV.

          • Mark says:

            @Stefan – the following report covers the English version of that phenomena:


            p.33 “White flight” isn’t the reason why areas with low levels of immigration oppose immigration more strongly –

            in England, ethnic majority opposition to immigration is greater in wards with a lower share of immigrants than in more diverse wards: 82 per cent of white British people in locales with less than 2 per cent immigrants favour reduced immigration against just 60–63 per cent in places with more than 10 per cent immigrants.26 This holds almost as much for the white British working class as for white British as a whole. One interpretation of this counterintuitive pattern is that white British who dislike immigrants have self-selected themselves out of diverse wards leaving only tolerant folk behind. Later we shall see this ‘white flight’ explanation does not accord with the facts: anti-immigrant whites are in fact no more likely than pro-immigrant whites to leave diverse areas.

            But transience might be the key –

            Yet there is another possibility: whites in diverse wards are more tolerant because inner-city areas are transient and young, and this rather than contact is what counts. Transience lowers whites’ attachment to their English ethnicity, reducing their antipathy to ethnic change. And whites in diverse wards tend to be more transient and younger than those in whiter wards, and diverse wards have much higher population turnover than whiter wards.

            I thought this bit was interesting, too:

            the existence of a memory of recent conquest of aboriginal peoples, oppression of blacks and a history of immigration makes it somewhat easier for North American progressives to shape the political culture of ‘New World’ societies on questions of immigration than is true in Europe.

            I think the following is pretty laughable though:

            The history of Britain as an island in which successive waves of invaders – Celts, Anglo- Saxons, Scandinavians – overwhelmed the original inhabitants, with their Basque-related language, offers cosmopolitans some leverage.

            Just makes me wary of further waves of conquest…

          • Aapje says:

            @Stefan Drinic

            The Dutch economy never relied on manufacturing very much, so job loss isn’t quite as strong a factor as it is elsewhere

            The PVV is very strong in the province of Limburg, which was hardest hit by manufacturing job losses (and closing the mines). So I would argue that it is one factor.

            I would also argue that a decade of stagnant wages, while parts of the welfare state were dismantled, increasing costs for people, is a major factor. The sense that the country is going in the wrong direction seems a major motivator for PVV voters, rather than that they really hate their current life.

            I would argue that it is not irrational to vote based on predictions for the future, just like it is not irrational to vote for a green party because you fear global climate change.

            One thing to interest me is that the PVV polls better in places which see less immigration; the trend is very linear.

            There are most likely three reasons for this:
            – A substantial number of people fled the big cities when immigrants came to live there in large numbers, bringing a new culture with them, that gave a lot of friction with the natives (for example, quite a few early Muslim migrants used to slaughter animals on their balcony for “Sacrifice Feast”). These people fled to places that are lily white, where loads of them vote for the PVV. You can’t attribute this to them not have experience with immigrants, although many probably have an outdated view.
            – A lot of people in lily white communities feel ignored and believe that old & new migrants get preferential treatment. I believe that in some ways they are correct, for instance, there is a large shortage of housing and new immigrants from Syria get a house relatively quickly, while it is very hard for substantial groups of natives to find a house that they can afford and that is reasonably to their liking.
            – Those people may not live with migrants, but still visit those areas now and then. For a while, I would pass through immigrant-heavy Rotterdam-south now and then and it truly looked like a very sad, alien place. I fully understand why Rotterdam is a PVV hotspot, as those voters surely fear their neighborhoods becoming like that.

            PS. I would argue that a lot of PVVers feel betrayed by the left, but many of them still are economically left-wing.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Ehhh. Not quite.

            Manufacturing is something I noted as being less relevant than in the US, not completely irrelevant. There is much less rhetoric about it than there is elsewhere.

            White flight, also, doesn’t happen as much as you might think it does. I do agree that there is some perception about immigrants receiving preferential treatment, though especially before the Syrians came over, that was heavily overblown. I have spoken with people about this a number of times, and there were some people who had assumed immigrants received free apartments and food subsidies, neither of which was a thing. Syrians do get housing by now, so I suppose these concerns are retroactively true, but then we have EU law to comply with. You may or may not think that’s a good thing, you may or may not want to take that up with the EU, but I do think the rule of law ought to be followed, and the way we are handling our Syrians seems to be very good so far. This is in contrast with the EU, which seems to be full of spineless cowards unable to come up with any solution, but that’s a whole different can of worms.

            And Rotterdam Zuid is sad? Alien? Jesus, man. All of Rotterdam is sad ever since the city burned down. Rotterdam Zuid is where I buy good food on the cheap, and it looks exactly the way any place with mostly poor people does. That the poor people happen to be nonwhite doesn’t factor into that.

          • “the original inhabitants, with their Basque-related language”


            Is there actually good evidence for that?

            On the idea that immigrants to Holland get free apartments, Orwell describes similar beliefs in England during WWII with regard to, I think, Polish immigrants.

          • Mark says:

            @David Friedman

            I think they are talking about this:

          • John Schilling says:

            You may or may not think that’s a good thing, you may or may not want to take that up with the EU, but I do think the rule of law ought to be followed…

            As do I, but the essence of politics is that the laws which are the rule we ought to follow can actually be changed, and this is the process by which we change them.

            If there are a significant number of people in the Netherlands who are peeved about Syrian immigrants getting free(ish) apartments while they have to pay rent out of their hard-earned wages, there will be an understandable political movement to change that rule or law. If it’s an EU law and Dutch voters aren’t numerous enough to change it, well, first comes Brexit, then Nexit.

          • Aapje says:


            On the idea that immigrants to Holland get free apartments, Orwell describes similar beliefs in England during WWII with regard to, I think, Polish immigrants.

            I never said free apartments though (such a statement betrays a complete lack of understanding of the Dutch housing market). The way the Dutch system works is that you have three types of housing:
            – Rent-controlled housing
            – Free market rentals
            – Subsidized home ownership

            These are strongly linked to income/wealth. The poorest people live in rent-controlled housing, the richest buy a house and the people who fall in between are screwed (not rich enough to buy a house, but renting is actually more expensive for them than the monthly costs if they could get a mortgage). For refugees, only rent-controlled housing is relevant, because they almost invariably live off welfare or have a low income job when they get refugee status.

            There is an increasing shortage of rent-controlled housing due to various reasons. Local governments are legally required to reserve a certain number of rent-controlled houses for refugees, based on the number of inhabitants, but independent of the actual amount of rent-controlled houses available. In some places, this means that large percentages of rent-controlled housed go to refugees.

            The result is that the people who are on the waiting list for rent-controlled housing have to wait even longer. The average wait time is 8 years, with the maximum being 21 years. In Amsterdam it is 14-17 years.

            Now, imagine divorcing or wanting to leave your parents’ house and then having to wait for these periods before you can move on with your life. This really, really, really makes people upset.

            Of course, refugees cannot not to be blamed for the various policy choices that resulted in shortages of rent-controlled housing, but it is not unfair when people ask that the refugees are not exempted from the consequences, burdening native born citizens even more.

    • dwietzsche says:

      Any explanation for Trump’s decision to run Republican should probably contain an account of how he ended up becoming the most famous Birther, which is really what set him up to run for the Republican Party. I don’t think, whatever the explanation for that is, it really has a lot to do with Trump’s sophisticated concerns for the working man. But anything’s possible.

  8. moridinamael says:

    Slate Star Codex was namedropped in moderately famous person Sam Harris’ podcast. Specifically, the post that Scott asked people to not share too widely was referenced.

    It was episode 56.

    • Mitch Lindgren says:

      I’d like for Scott to be a guest on Sam’s podcast. I bet Sam would be up for it, though I doubt Scott would.

  9. nimim.k.m. says:

    I’ve been told “cooking is just simple chemistry”, but when I tried to look more into it, most of the stuff I found was along the lines of “Just follow the recipes with precision” and “eggs are magic when temperature rises” or random scattered collection of advice ( a la LifeHacker). However, this was one of the better search results: Very informative! The only downside is that it’s mostly about cakes and baking.

    Anything else, especially about meat / main courses?

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      In my experience, about all the chemistry you need when doing cooking (as opposed to baking, which requires measurably more chemistry to avoid failed experiments) can be discovered by reading any of Alton Brown’s cookbooks. Particularly the Knowledge Concentrate sections.

    • Polycarp says:

      Try On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee. Chapter 3 is “Meat”. I have found this book helpful when I wanted to understand what was going on with certain reactions such as carmelization, or browning, or the thickening of a roux.

    • Anon. says:

      The Myhrvold books take a science-based approach.

    • sohois says:

      Guess I’ll throw out yet another recommendation for The Food Lab, book here:
      And Blog here:

      More pertinently, Cooking really isn’t simple chemistry, if one supposes that simple chemistry is high school stuff with bunsen burners and simple formulae. Cooking is quite a bit more advanced in terms of what reactions are going on. but the real reason why you can’t just follow recipes carefully is because the tools that you are using are nowhere near precise enough.

      Temperature matters a lot but ovens can be wildly miscalibrated, with actual cooking temperatures 25 degrees off from what you have set it at. Pans can distribute heat in very different ways depending on their quality. Most small measurement solutions – whether using tablespoons/teaspoons or a scale – are also very inaccurate, and that’s assuming a recipe even gives you a spoon or weight measurement instead of just saying ‘a dash’ or ‘a pinch’.

      Some kitchens around the world do have the ability to cook with near exact chemical precision, but these places tend to be the best restaurants in the world – see El Bulli, The Fat Duck, etc. This approach to cooking is known as molecular gastronomy if you would like to investigate further

      • Iain says:

        Strong second for the Food Lab.

      • andrewflicker says:

        I highly recommend anyone serious about cooking at least does a few tests with their oven, because you’re absolutely right about inconsistencies there. I’d recommend using a digital thermometer to test active temperatures, as well as using the “toast test” to look for cold spots. (google it)

        • In my experience, the exact temperature of the oven isn’t crucial for most things. It’s just that the cooler it is the longer it takes.

          For baking bread–I just did a loaf of sourdough bread and a pan of cinnamon buns–I use the kind of thermometer that’s a probe on the end of a cable, with the rest of the thermometer outside the oven. When the internal temperature of the bread is about 200°F the bread is done.

          For chocolate chip cookies, I judge when they are done by color.

          In either case, time is only a rough approximation.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I make a lot of pizzas in the oven with a pizza stone. Temperature being off by +20 would mean a burnt crust. -20 would be safer, probably. But more importantly I wanted to stress the “uneven temperature” piece, hence the toast-test. It’s easy to do bad bread or cakes because the left side of your oven is 10 degrees different than your right.

  10. onyomi says:

    Is there a name for “ass covering on the part of people giving out information results in less knowledge and more risky behavior”?

    Examples: If you consult some official source about questions like:

    “When is a cold or flu most contagious?”

    “Can I get AIDS from oral sex?”

    “Can I get pregnant if the man doesn’t use a condom but ejaculates outside of my body?”

    “Will eating raw eggs in cookie dough make me sick?”

    “What temperature should I cook my steak to?”

    You will get answers like:

    “A cold or flu is contagious from one day before symptoms start until three to four days after symptoms disappear; you should pretty much treat your SO like a leper for two weeks if you don’t want to catch their cold.”

    “Yes, you can get AIDS and other STDs from oral sex and should wear some kind of ridiculous latex thing on your mouth if having oral sex with someone you don’t know really well.”

    “Yes, putting a penis anywhere near a vagina at any time can definitely result in pregnancy.”

    “Yes, you can get salmonella from eating raw cookie dough and you can die from salmonella.”

    “Only heavily burned meats are strictly safe for human consumption. Also, why are you even going near those raw oysters???”

    While technically true in a “cover my ass” way, I find these sorts of answers to be less than useful. They are almost anti-useful. Because recommending a crazy, unreasonable level of caution at some point amounts to recommending no caution at all. What we all really want to know are answers like “if you used fresh eggs and are not immune compromised your chances of getting sick from raw cookie dough are negligible, and even if you do, you will probably, at worst, experience a few days of vomiting and diarrhea unless you are an infant, extremely old, or infirm.”

    But it’s so hard to find answers like that! This is one of my pet peeves.

    • The_Other_Brad says:

      Not sure what to call the practice in general, but it sounds a lot like the Jewish theological idea of “building a fence around the Torah”

      • dndnrsn says:

        Building a fence around the Torah doesn’t have the same backfire effect, though. The classic example (or at least the example I encountered first) is the milk-meat prohibition, which is based on the explicit prohibition of cooking a baby goat in its mother’s milk. I doubt any observant Jews throw up their hands and say “I can’t avoid cheeseburgers, so I might as well boil kids in their mothers’ milk”.

      • JulieK says:

        Yes, but the Jewish idea involves acknowledging what you’re doing, not trying to pretend that the extra precautions are no different from the original prohibition.

        Jewish tradition also says that God told Adam, “Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge.” Adam then told Eve, “Don’t eat from, or touch, the tree; if you do you will die.” The serpent pushed Eve against the tree, and told her “Look, nothing happened when you touched it, so go ahead and eat.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      This study goes into one version of it but doesn’t give it a snappy name:

      If there isn’t one, I’d like to propose the “Proposition 65 backfire effect” or “Backfire 65”, after the California law requiring labelling everything as causing cancer.

      • onyomi says:

        I propose “Adam’s Error“?

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        Leprecaun’s Ribbon.

        • onyomi says:

          That makes sense. I had forgotten that story.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            My google-fu isn’t turning anything up, either of you have a link to that story/fable?

          • onyomi says:

            I believe the story is that a guy catches a leprechaun and makes him promise to show him where his treasure is buried. He ties a ribbon around a weed growing near the spot indicated and makes the leprechaun promise not to remove the ribbon while he goes to get a shovel. Upon his return, he finds that the leprechaun has tied a ribbon around every weed in the area, effectively rendering the original reminder useless.

          • rlms says:

            I believe it is this:
            “Once there was a farmer who caught a leprechaun. The leprechaun had to show him where it had hidden it’s pot of gold. When the farmer found out that the leprechaun had buried the gold underneath a particular ragwort plant on his farm, he tied a red ribbon around the plant and made the leprechaun promise not to remove it. Then he let the creature go and went to get a shovel.

            To his dismay, when he returned, he found that every single ragwort plant on the farm had been tied around with red ribbon! So the farmer never got the treasure, and the leprechaun had the last laugh!”

            Googled “leprechaun ribbon story” and most of the first few results contained it (that version is from the57thsnowflake).

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but it is pretty ridiculous. If I were allergic to nuts, I’d definitely be annoyed by all these “We cannot 100% guarantee that our products don’t contain traces of nuts” warnings you get on pretty much everything.

    • Eltargrim says:

      This definitely causes some problems in chemistry. One of the most useful things you can do when encountering a new chemical is examine the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), as it will contain a lot of important hazard information.

      On the other hand, look at some of the Personal Protective equipment it recommends for plain old sodium chloride:

      Personal Protection:
      Splash goggles. Lab coat. Dust respirator. Be sure to use an approved/certified respirator or equivalent. Gloves

      Now, with some experience you’d know that the respirator isn’t going to be broadly necessary; only for large quantities of fine powder with poor ventilation will salt powder start to be dangerous. But I find it tends to contribute to the cultural lack of respect for safety in academic chemistry labs.

      An abundance of caution is generally a good thing, but there is absolutely such a thing as an overabundance of caution. I wish I had a name for this other than naive paranoia, but that’s what it is. Adam’s Error sounds good to me, lacking a previously established name.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        I saw a safety data sheet that said a face mask had to be worn while using….a gluestick. Supermarket gluestick. A student took some photos of himself in lab coat, face mask and gloves, holding the gluestick with callipers at arm’s length whilst sticking something in his lab logbook.

    • Jiro says:

      If answering those questions without ass-covering were acceptable, that would create bad incentives whose harm would be worse than the benefit from getting more accurate answers.

  11. AnthonyC says:

    I was reading some blog comments about the relative merits of Trump v. Clinton v. Sanders etc. Because of course I was. A lot of it circled around the “if you vote for a lesser evil you’re still voting for evil” concept. This is an idea I’ve long had an aversion to. I didn’t always -back in high school I wouldn’t even take the “evil” path in video games and would feel guilty if I had to.

    For whatever reason this time it made me think of this lesswrong post about how utilities can’t be directly compared, only ratios of differences between utilities. I read it years ago but never really though about it much. I am thinking about how that means real moral calculus doesn’t have an objective zero point, like voltages. Also, that the Fallacy of Gray isn’t just about failing to distinguish shades of gray, but in thinking there are defined maxima at White and Black that we can appeal to. It certainly feels like people arguing over whether Clinton would have been a “good” president often have different thresholds for bestowing that term, rather than discussing anything substantive.

    Anyway, has anyone had any success in having productive conversations in situations like this (where one or both participants at least walked away having learned something new)? Not specifically about the election, but about lots of other things like “Thomas Jefferson was horrible because he owned slaves so why should I care what he said about ethics?” too. Specifically for when I find myself in such situations talking to people who don’t already have an aspiring rationalist outlook/haven’t read the Sequences/etc.

    • caethan says:

      I was persuaded by the following argument to stop voting for (major-party) Presidents:

      1) Compromising with evil dulls your moral sense and is thus evil in itself, making it easier for you to do evil later. This was persuasive to me because I could see it happening in myself as a result of my voting. E.g., I voted for Bush in 2000. Because of my vote, I felt that I had to defend my decision. Because of the things that the Bush Administration was doing, that meant defending the indefensible, which corrupted my sense of good and evil.

      2) Compromise with evil can still be the correct decision if it directly causes a much larger good. If by voting for this President who plans to do some evil, I can prevent this other President from doing some much greater evil, then that is morally justified.

      3) My vote is in fact completely negligible in effecting any change in the Presidential election. This one’s a gimme.

      4) Therefore, the negative effect on me of voting for a (lesser) evil President completely dominates any positive effect from this President versus that President, and I should not vote for an evil President. (In 2012 I voted for the third-party American Solidarity candidate.)

      This logic doesn’t hold if you can have an non-negligible impact on the election (like if you’re a campaign manager – or even worker, maybe – or if you’re thinking about a smaller-scale election than President). And the persuasiveness of point #1 certainly varies – I found it personally compelling from my own experience, but it may well not be generalizable.

      • John Nerst says:

        The whole idea of “compromising with evil” assumes there is such a thing as evil. When you get to that point you’re kind of past democracy already, since it requires that we accept the fundamental legitimacy of the opposition well enough to vote instead of fight.

  12. Tekhno says:

    You are trapped in almost infinitely large structure with millions of other people. There is plenty of room for all of you, but you are trapped. The floor alternates between a hard and a soft substance, but even where it is yielding, it does not break. The pearly white walls which surround both labyrinths of tight corridors and vast city sized rooms are completely unbreakable. There is no way out. There is no grass, and there are no trees, and not a single animal in existence save for the human society trapped within. An absolutely perfect prison.

    There is no sun, but there is day and night. Light comes from unbreakable panels in the ceiling during the day, and during night the walls glow with a soft fluorescence, reminiscent of moonlight.

    The landscape is not completely featureless. In several of the city sized rooms there are unbreakable digital displays on the wall. The displays have a touch screen that can be pressed, and food and drink can be selected. Below many of the displays there will be a dispenser that dispenses food on a plate and tray with cutlery, which can be placed back into the dispenser after use, where after it will disappear into the workings of the machine. There is also a water faucet nearby, and many walls have sinks built into them. There are rooms with toilets, sinks, and doors that lock, but as with everything, they are completely unbreakable as well as uncloggable.

    The touch screens can also list the entire available stock of food and drink for the facility. Bring this number up, and you can see it count down by one meal after you select it. There is a finite number of meals, but it’s a very large number, so don’t worry too much, though it is funny to have that number there, counting down.

    Not all of the display and dispenser arrays are to do with food. Some of them dispense clothes, entertainment devices, medical equipment, and tools and parts for larger machines, but all of them can, with a touch, display the exact stock of items in question, and all of them show the stock depleting in bright red block letters.

    You are going to die, obviously, but what’s changed? When people die here they don’t lie and rot. Instead there are pits in certain rooms covered by a trapdoor that opens via a display panel, and these pits allow bodies to fall onto a flume that ends in an array of ceaseless grinders, presumably to be processed elsewhere.

    The numbers keep counting down. Do you call for restraint or do you live it up? Does it matter? Do you live frugally today so your civilization lasts longer, or do you live extravagantly and bring it to an end quicker? As a thought leader of this imprisoned society, what do you choose?

    • dwietzsche says:

      As thought leader, you say many wise things, but they do not matter because thought leaders have no value in humanity prison. Some genius figures out how to clog the toilets anyway. Other more aspirational geniuses figure out how to break into the supposedly human proof vaults in order to secure the food supply for themselves, partly justified on the grounds that this is the only way they can prevent “the others” from eating all the food prematurely. A system of laws based on oligarchic control of the food supply emerges, but is highly unstable as it is impossible to enforce a monopoly on violence. People get into petty disputes over which places are “theirs” and figure out how to use the freely available cutlery to do grievous harm to each other. Conflicts about food and territory escalate into meaningless wars that are Very Important to the people who wage them and always explained in terms of blonds vs brunettes or east vs west or some other arbitrary crap that doesn’t matter. Despite profligate waste and unbridled levels of extravagance conducted by aspiring food monopolists, everyone dies before the food supply runs out.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I make a rudimentary lathe out of cafeteria trays and cord made from the clothing.

      Seeing the mechanical genius of the ape descended life forms, the overlord aliens release us all into the singularity.

      More to the point, you want to accept as a premise that everyone will die, no exceptions, on a time frame (presumably) much shorter than “sun fries the earth” or “heat death of the universe”. And presumably you also want us to accept that we cannot make any meaningful change to the environment we are in.

      That seems to me to be a boring problem. But that could just be me.

  13. Deiseach says:

    Asking for a friend family member – any opinions on an anti-depressant mixture called Californian Rocket Fuel? I thought they were pulling my leg but no, it’s a real nickname. They have extremely resistant depression and their psychiatrist put them on this. Reading the Wikipedia page for side-effects has me going “Er, what?” but I’m no doctor, what do I know?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It’s a silly name, and I’m not totally convinced the combination is more than the sum of its parts, but they’re both good antidepressants and it’s not a bad idea.

      I still think people should just use MAOIs earlier instead of trying all of these fancy newfangled augmentation strategies, but that’s a matter of taste and it’s a decent choice.

      • Deiseach says:

        They’ve been on anti-depressants for years (the usual “try this; well, try upping the dose; well, up it some more; okay, try this instead” progression) and they are already on the venlafaxine, so their psychiatrist just stuck the mirtazapine in now as well – they’ve been having bad insomnia and resurgence of the bad depression.

        I’m presuming the rationale behind combining the mirtazapine is something more than “Yerra feck it, try the oul’ Californian Rocket Fuel!” but as I said, what do I know?

        So they’re not likely to drop dead or turn orange with purple spots or run off to Mexico? Good to know 🙂

  14. Tibor says:

    Loosely continuing a thread from the previous OT – I mentioned that while I have no problem with things like “Hamlet but all actors are black” per se, ironically the PC push towards these things for ideological rather than artistic reasons made me more hostile towards such depictions. However, only in cases where I suspect that the authors had an ideological axe to grind.

    For example, it is a big deal now to have strong emancipated heroines. I was just rewatching some old Futurama episodes – one of the main characters, Leela, is depicted as by far the most level headed and competent part of the crew. She is also a skilled fighter and everything. The main male character is a complete loser and a slob. And here’s the thing – since the show comes from the early 2000’s, I have no suspicion whatsoever that the authors are trying to spoonfeed me with some ideology and hammer down political points. I wonder if I would see it the same way if it were made in 2016. I guess the point is that I don’t get the feeling that the female character is somehow untouchable and making fun of her a taboo. Or perhaps even better – it doesn’t feel like it is done the way it is to fill some unspoken PC quota. What irritates me is not a “black Hamlet” but my perception that someone is trying to manipulate me. It does not matter that I perhaps don’t object to the political goal of the manipulator (in broad sense at least), it just feels like someone is condescending to me and that is one of the easiest buttons of mine to push.

    Now, while this perception might be correct sometimes, I suspect that it more often is not – therefore I am trying to disregard it most of the time. Still, it is my knee-jerk reaction. If it is not just a weird quirk of mine but a more common attitude, then trying to promote positive “PC” role models might at the end make people on average more prejudist, sexist or racist. I don’t think that the answer to that is to go back to the 50s stereotypes but to make sure that we are not dealing with untouchables. It makes better stories too – I tried reading David’s fantasy-without-magic fiction and while I liked the general story idea, I was really annoyed with the main characters all being flawless, whereas the supposedly elite armies of the Empire were always crushed horribly. That was boring and made the characters hard to relate to, because they were too perfect to be really human (I don’t think David made them that way for ideological reasons, but rather because he seems to like upbeat stories where the good guys just keep winning).

    A great example is The Book of Mormon – I mean the musical. It makes fun of Mormons from the beginning till the end (and there is a lot of material in their religion to make fun of) but ironically, it ends up making them seem likable (the musical also makes a point about religion in general in that it can be false and even absurdly false but still help people at times). What also helped is that the LDS church reacted in a humorous way – buying advertising space in the booklets for the musical and posting ads like “The book is always better!”. This feels like the right way to do it. The very wrong way is exemplified by another church, namely the Catholic one. The Church reacted really horribly to the Life of Brian, even though the Monty Pythons were much more gentle with Christians than Parker and Stone were with the Mormons and it ended up damaging the Church’s reputation (at least among non-Catholics). If the PC people reacted with the wit and humour of the LDS (I’d never think Mormons, of all people, have a sense of humour) whenever they feel like there are not enough “diverse” protagonists in films, they’d win the hearts and minds of many more people. But most of what you see are vitriolic comments, just like the Catholic church, or something passive-aggressive disguised as a not very funny humour. I should mention that I do acknowledge that this kind of aggressive “catholic” PC is probably a small group of people. Unfortunately, they are very loud and so they can appear bigger than they really are, which gives them a disproportional influence. I’m also not trying to hold other people accountable for what they do.

    I hope this sounds at least a bit coherent and also that it does not come out as some kind of tribe signaling or an attack. The reason I am writing this is that I suspect there are more people with the same gut reaction as me and also many people who don’t understand the reaction and instead assume that the people who act like that are simply “evil misogynist racists” (a bit of an exaggeration here). Since I think most of these people are not the humourless PC fanatics, I think it is worth making an effort to try to make the seemingly racist or whatnot reactions more understandable for them (and now I worry that this sounds a bit condescending, so please tell me if what I’m saying is simply obvious to everyone).

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      That’s okay, it does make sense to everyone. You’re just a horrible racist.

      (Couldn’t resist. Sorry.)

      That said, it does make sense; there is a certain amount of actions which make the performer feel good, but actively harm their cause: compare anything PETA ever does, many forms of terrorism, violent protests, or really anything we’d call toxoplasma here. It does happen, and I really hope you’ll be able to bring yourself to suppress that reflex you’re developing. I know people who have developed the exact opposite reflex, and I can see that bothering them just as much; politicisation really does just ruin everything.

      • Tibor says:

        No need to apologize when you’re funny 🙂

        Well, since I am aware of that, I think I am. But I observe people who do not suppress the same reflex – I supported this upcoming computer game (Kingdom Come:Deliverance) on Kickstarter some time back and I also briefly visited the game’s discussion forum. There was a gay guy who suggested that it could be interesting to have a side-quest (it is an RPG without magic set in 15th century Bohemia, a few decades before the Hussite war, just before the war for the succession of the Bohemian throne between Sigismund and his brother Wenceslaus) where the player discovers that two NPCs are secretly (obviously, given the time period) gay and has to react to that. I thought it was an interesting idea, but there were a lot of people who started telling the guy that he should not push this PC agenda on others (I don’t remember the details). My impression was that they were really not particularly anti-gay (nothing like “God hates fags” anyway), but that they completely misread the intentions of the guy who suggested the idea. Now, at the same time there was possibly a troll who wrote how racist the game is for not having any “people of colour” in the game (set in 15th century Bohemia in more or less the countryside…he argued that since there is a painting from the middle ages which depits the Queen of Sheba as a black woman, there were obviously black people everywhere in Europe in the middle ages) and that it is misogynic since the protagonist can only be male (actually, you cannot choose the protagonist at all, it is a specific character tailored for the story) and that they only added a playable female character (who you also cannot choose but who you play as in parts of the game and who saves the main guy at the beginning of the game when their village is plundered by the incoming army) as a bonus for collecting more money on Kickstarter.

        So, these people were “triggered” by that troll (either that or someone very delusional) and then reacted badly to someone else who shared some very superficial characteristics with the troll but was a reasonable person otherwise.

        You’re right with the toxoplasmosa (I assume you are referring to Scott’s old article), it is pretty much the same thing. The question is how to approach it. I guess the first thing is to learn to differentiate between trolls (or idiots who might as well be trolls) and other people who might at a first glance look similar. Another thing is to signal that you are not one of the idiots by showing that you don’t take yourself overly seriously.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Yeah, looks like we agree.

          The question is how to approach it.

          As for that.. Well. It boils down to the one question of how much you really care about what other people think of you.

          Last year, the Mad Max remake won many awards and was seen by millions of people worldwide. It also marketed itself as a ‘feminist’ action movie, somehow. Cue some complaints from MRA types.. But how hard is it really to ignore either thing and just watch the movie?

          It can be annoying, of course. Maybe Black Hamlet is a terrific actor, and the play is heartwrenching, but you’re kinda annoyed at the so-called progress you’re now apparently a part of. Maybe you enjoy Wagner’s operas a lot, even if he held some less than fashionable ideas. How much are you willing to decouple a work of art’s quality from its message and creator?

          I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, so I may have an easier time turning myself away from tribal matters like so, I really don’t know. But for a sheer personal level, ignoring the people telling you how you’re having fun wrong always seems like the best approach.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Did Mad Max market itself as feminist?

            Or did feminists just react to a cool protagonist who was female and a story line that had the plucky band of outsiders solving the worlds problems as also made up of females?

            The thing I remember was a bunch of MRA types mad that they had been “tricked” into seeing a feminist movie, which couldn’t have happened if it was specifically marketed as such.

          • Tibor says:

            Well, there’s a difference between an author holding some views and an author rubbing your nose in those views. An extreme example – I’d be fine with having a painting from Hitler if it were good, or a novel from Mao. But I am quite sure I would not enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels (I haven’t actually read them, just some summaries).

            Also, I don’t want to overstate my case, art can be a bit political. But it should do it with a light touch and not be too preachy and fundamentalist about it. I’m not sure where the line is. But when the political overtakes the artistic, it’s definitely been crossed. Of course, one can argue about when that happens.

            I don’t know about Mad Max, I generally don’t watch remakes, I don’t see any point in that. On an unrelated note, I never understood the mostly American practice of taking a British sitcom and recasting it with American actors using the exact same story and from 95% the exact same lines…I mean you guys speak English and even if the original is not in English, hiring a bunch of voice actors is much cheaper than re-filming the show from scratch.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Did Mad Max market itself as feminist?

            Yes. Not screamingly so, mind you, but some people involved in the production process called it so.

            Well, there’s a difference between an author holding some views and an author rubbing your nose in those views.

            Yeah, true. Fortunately, getting your nose rubbed in such views tends to also affect a work’s quality. You mentioned Ayn Rand, and sure enough, there are very few people who read her works for their literary status anymore. Everyone who reads Atlas Shrugged today does it because of some interest in Objectivism they might have.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Did Mad Max market itself as feminist?

            In terms of pre-release interviews and articles both online and in print media, absolutely. Preening and signalling about how they’d brought Eve Ensler (the Vagina Monologues) in specifically to make the script more feminist, etc.

            Mass market TV ads and the like, not that I’m aware of. If the MRA types were reading Time Magazine, Variety, or any of the SF/F blogs I read to get genre news, maybe they wouldn’t have been surprised?

            On the wider subject, I’m either a conservative-leaning libertarian, or a libertarian-leaning conservative Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan. If I couldn’t decouple the virtue signalling and messaging from the enjoyable stories, I would’ve had to read nothing but a small stable of mostly-Baen authors for the past 15 years or so.

            If you lock yourself into being unable to appreciate art that isn’t “on message” to your particular ideological values, you’re hurting yourself.

          • Spookykou says:


            Anecdata, when I first watched Fury Road I thought it was a decent action film and was very confused about why it seemed so popular, when I asked one of my friends I was told that it was so popular because it was a feminist action film.

            I might be particularly dense or insensitive to this stuff, but I wonder to what extent ‘Fury Road is a feminist film’ was just spread around a lot after the fact, or how many MRA types actually left the theater thinking ‘I was tricked!’.


            Fury Road is not really a remake of the original Mad Max.

            Edit: Seems I was slow writing this, I guess people knew it was feminist before it came out.

          • onyomi says:

            I wasn’t paying close attention, but I had no expectation of seeing a “feminist film” when I went into the theater to see Fury Road. MRA types do their cause a disservice by complaining about Fury Road, which definitely doesn’t hit one over the head with any sort of ideological message, and also happens to be the best action film of the past decade.

            There’s a huge difference between “we used an all-female cast in this movie to make some kind of political statement unrelated to the plot and themes of the movie” (haven’t seen the new Ghostbusters, but some seem to have complained it was like this) and “we included a strong female lead and several tough female characters because it made perfect sense in terms of the world, themes, and story we wanted to tell.”

            In a classic example of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” thinking, the Cohen Brothers got into a little bit of trouble for saying basically this.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            In the spirit of fairness, when you guys say “some MRA types”, you’re not talking about the not-very-MRA-at-all Return of Kings, right?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Yeah, it wasn’t marketed very strongly as being feminist. You’d have to go look at the right places to find it, and even then the influence seems to have been limited to a couple of interviews with prominent feminists here and there, as well as an atypical male/female ratio, I suppose.

            The reason I chose to talk about Mad Max is mostly to note that ignoring a work’s politics can be very easy to do when it doesn’t interfere with its further appeal. When the politics begin to mess with pacing, characterisation, plotlines, whatever the hell else, the work becomes bad for those reasons. Essentially, I argue that a work’s politics really shouldn’t factor into your enjoyment at all, and that ignoring it will make your personal life a lot easier.


            In the spirit of fairness, when you guys say “some MRA types”, you’re not talking about the not-very-MRA-at-all Return of Kings, right?

            I don’t even know. Does it matter? It’s their problem, not yours. If they want to miss out on a good movie, it’s no skin off your back.

          • Spookykou says:

            When I say ‘MRA types’ I am just parroting HBC and assume it means some sort of anti-feminist group because I don’t actually know what MRA stands for.

            Edit: TIL

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Oh, MRA stands for Men’s Right’s Activists. I recall seeing a thing or two last year, but my memory isn’t that positive, and in the end, who walks out on good movies is unimportant anyway.

          • onyomi says:

            It stands for “Men’s Rights Activists.” My understanding is that Whatever Happened to Anonymous is asking us not to conflate e. g. people fighting for equal custody rights for fathers with e. g. people who aesthetically want a return to Mad Men gender norms. As to that, fair enough.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I don’t even know. Does it matter?

            Inasmuch people here want to have their views represented fairly, and not be associated with groups they didn’t choose to be associated with, I’d say it does matter.

            I mean, I’m no MRA, but there are commenters (well, one commenter that I know of) that identify as such, and they’re usually not happy about being lumped with redpillers and PUAs.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Oh, that’s fair. The affiliation of such people doesn’t even really matter to me; walking out on that movie because of any politics is stupid no matter who you are.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I agree in the general case, but would you stay to watch all the damn thing if you were somehow tricked into a showing of Birth of a Nation?

          • ChetC3 says:

            If “Fury Road” was marketed as a feminist movie, that was a case of truth in advertising. The movie’s feminist themes are even less subtle than the Christian ones in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Fury Road was marketed as a feminist movie, and then an anti-MRA movie after Return of Kings chomped on the (IMO) obvious bait.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Maybe? Maybe not? Whether or not I stay around to watch that movie still doesn’t affect others.

          • Aapje says:

            My view on what happened was:

            1. The studio did try to draw in extra people by portraying the movie as feminist, but being sensible people, they knew that the primary market for action movies is not feminists. So this wasn’t their main marketing strategy.

            2. A guy on Return of Kings (very traditionalist and anti-MRA site) wrote a review stating that Mad Max is bad for being feminist propaganda.

            3. Quite a few (pro-)feminist websites saw this as a good example for their narrative that MRAs are bad people, so they reported things like “Men’s Rights Activists Don’t Want You To See ‘Mad Max'”

            4. Actual MRAs got upset over being lumped in with the people from Return of Kings and over being treated as a collective with a single opinion. As far as their actual opinions of the movie, I’ve seen anything from ‘pro-MRA’ to ‘feminist propaganda’ to ‘who cares, it’s just a movie.’

            If anything, the main takeaway from this story is that MRAs are very strongly stereotyped as an extreme outgroup who are defined by extreme outliers (so extreme that they don’t even consider themselves part of the movement). This is weakmanning on steroids.

            This is similar to how a lot of people in Russia equate gay people with pedophiles. I don’t see how you can blame gay people in Russia for being stereotyped like that.

          • Jiro says:

            The studio did try to draw in extra people by portraying the movie as feminist, but being sensible people, they knew that the primary market for action movies is not feminists. So this wasn’t their main marketing strategy.

            It also used to be possible for politicians to say different things to different audiences without the Internet reporting on this in 15 minutes.

            If you’re going to make and emphasize claim X to one audience, expect all other audiences to treat it as you making and empahasizing the claim too, including audiences to whom it’s a turnoff. After all, when speaking to the first audience, you’re claiming that it really honestly is your true belief and that all the emphasis is true too.

            If your marketing strategy consists of telling different audiences different things, your marketing strategy consists of lying. This type of lying is, of course, a traditional part of marketing strategies, but it’s still lying, and if you get caught doing it because modern technlogy lets what you say to one audience spread to another audience, that’s your own damn fault and I have no sympathy for you.

          • Aapje says:

            True, but I see no proof that this was a major turn off for MRAs. The MensRights group on Reddit did pick up on the feminist marketing, but there was no call for a boycott. There were a few people who said that they were not going to see it, but they got downvoted, while a post stating ‘Sorry. Still seeing it.’ got upvoted a decent amount.

            The idea that MRAs would organize a boycott seems like projection anyway, since MRAs tend to be very opposed to ‘no platforming’ and other suppression of speech. I can’t recall any example where MRAs tried to silence anyone, while I can easily give examples where SJ people tried to do so.

            In general, most writing in the media about MRAs seems to be done by feminists who first idealize the feminist movement and then assume that MRAs must advocate the opposite of that ideal. They then tend to pick examples which fit this narrative, regardless of whether they actually call themselves MRAs, let alone people who are representative of mainstream MRAs.

            Reality is that there are a lot of MRAs who advocate egalitarianism and who believe that mainstream Social Justice advocates theories/methods which will not achieve this.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            I checked out /r/MensRights at the time and everybody loved the film.

            Top four links when you google “mensrights reddit fury road” are:

            MRA ‘hate’ of Mad Max Fury Road seems to be clever guerrilla marketing

            I had read a few stories like this one leading up the the Mad Max release. I thought something smelled fishy, and I wanted to see the movie one way or the other. After seeing it, I thought it was awesome, and nice to see two leads, a man and a woman, kicking ass equally hard. There is no misandry here. No sexism at all. What is portrayed is a shitty world that sucks for everyone. True, the main bad guy is a guy and he does keep a harem of gorgeous ladies for breeding purposes, but minor spoiler alert, he gets what is coming to him in the end.
            To me it is more interesting to think where this ‘controversy’ about misandry came from. All I can think of is this is a brilliant guerrilla marketing campaign to drum up controversy and therefore interest in the movie. So first of all, MRA’ers don’t get sucked into fights on this without seeing the movie. Second, see the movie. It is really great.

            I saw Mad Max Fury Road and I loved it! A commentary on why loss of perspective is dangerous

            I know there has been some recent incorrect rumors that the MR movement was protesting Mad Max for it’s reinforcement of gender role stereotypes. I fully expected to go into this movie and see just how idiotic that those claims were.
            However, I found myself catching glimpses of possible gender stereotyping and thought that that original claim that the film reinforces systematic oppression might have some merit to it. But as a giant car adorned with amplifiers, spikes, skulls and an electric guitar playing psycho spouting towers of flames out the top of his guitar rushed by on the screen a thought occurred to me, and I laughed out loud to myself. Mad Max is a fictional work; with parody and a pessimistic view of humanities’ baser instincts. It isn’t supposed to be viewed as some deep commentary on the nature of human existence it’s an action flick and I already knew that going into it. It’s a balls to the wall action packed, old school flick with plenty of raunchy humor, gore, and sex appeal to satiate even the most discerning action movie fans. Ironically I found myself becoming too obsessed with issues of race, and gender to enjoy the tear inducing glory of carnage, twisted metal and adrenaline pumping rock music. After all Mad Max is not based in reality and it’s not correlative to anything more than the fact that cars go fast and that the desert is hot. (I really do recommend you see it if you’ve not already done; it has earned my movie of the year)

            Why Mad Max: Fury Road is a good MRM film (spoilers)

            So I really didn’t want to watch this movie through some kind of gender debate prism, but I had to go and read the news that some idiot on the dumb fuck website Return of Kings wrote about Mad Max as a feminist propaganda piece.
            Well actually you can argue the opposite.
            The dystopian world of the warlord Joe seems like a patriarchy, but it’s really a meritocracy. 99% of all the fighters are men, but Furiosa, a woman, rose to a very high rank based purely on the fact she’s a bad-ass. Maybe a lot of the women in this society chose to be lazy and pampered instead. Furiosa broke through this barrier.
            Despite the “girl power” thing about Furiosa rescuing Joe’s harem, ultimately they still needed male sensibilities to complete their team. Max fills the role perfectly.
            For most of the movie the harem itself were just girls without any real skills or talents besides looking good. But that doesn’t mean they were less important than anyone else. No over the top attempts to prove themselves in a man’s world. They just were.
            Max was MGTOW. In the salt flats scene, he even says “No, I’m going my own way” instead of following Furiosa. Then, at the very end of the movie, he again shows he’s MGTOW.
            Besides the grandmothers with the sniper rifles who were skeptical of men, there wasn’t much indication of male hatred. Rather Joe’s army was a giant cult, and when one of the War Boys was separated from the rest of the cult, he quickly becomes a good lad able to think for himself again. When Furiosa (or however you spell her name) unites the city at the end, we see it’s pretty much men and women reuniting on equal terms.

            Mad Max: Fury Road, Feminism and Disinformation

            So yeah. They liked it. Misinformation is misinformative. As usual. People just love to bash any group that is at all associated with men whenever some pick up artist says something.

    • John Nerst says:

      It’s absolutely not just you. I feel similarly and I’m very conflicted about it. On the surface these changes in popular culture are a very positive thing, but I’m still bothered by the feeling of manipulation you describe. Even more perhaps, by the feeling of being lectured at by someone who insists that your protestations that you don’t need lecturing is a sign that you do need the lecturing – why would you mind being lectured at if you agreed?

      My gut reaction is something like “Yeah I don’t mind this at all, I think it’s good, but I’m so fed up with the constant complaining that just hearing the word ‘diversity’ or seeing examples of what appears to be a deliberate (important distinction) implementation of the underlying philosophy just makes me think of nagging, which triggers annoyance”.

      It’s not entirely unlike “domestic nagging”. I may not actually mind taking out the trash, but if my spouse keeps nagging me about it all the time I might eventually develop an aversion to it. Of course, this isn’t about being asked to do something, so its not entirely like it either.

      To a certain extent I’ve been pushed away from this ideal by people pushing for it in obnoxious ways. That happens in other contexts as well, though. Maybe people who don’t have contrarian impulses have difficulty understanding those who do.

    • dndnrsn says:


      I guess the point is that I don’t get the feeling that the female character is somehow untouchable and making fun of her a taboo.

      You don’t get that feeling because Leela isn’t untouchable and the show frequently makes fun of her. She’s more competent than the rest of the main cast, but she’s not universally competent, she makes mistakes, she makes errors of judgment, she’s not perfect. Her flaws are often connected to her strengths – she’s too competent for her position at a low-rent delivery company where everyone else is incompetent, and as a result she’s an uptight perfectionist. She’s a complete character who fits into the core dynamic of the series.

      Characters who exist solely for some kind of “real world” reason tend not to be very interesting characters.

      • Tibor says:

        Yeah I guess that’s right. Actually, I like well-written female protagonists, since there are really not that many of them – most of the time the protagonist is a guy. That’s probably since most writers are men and so it is easier for them to write from a man’s perspective and also most of the formulaic and stereotypical characters are male (of course, those are usually not well-written). So then non-token female protagonists tend to be more interesting characters. And they can even be swinging a sword in plate armour – for example that female knight in the Game of Thrones series is an interesting character (I think she’s called Brienne or something like that, but it’s been some time since the last season so I forgot most names 🙂 ) and you (well I) never get a feeling that they had a female knight just to show that “women are as good as men in everything” or something like that (she is also obviously not there for teenage boy fantasies neither…although there are plenty of minor characters on that show who are and that is also mildly annoying – if I want to watch porn, I watch actual porn :-)) ).

        • Loquat says:

          Brienne seems to be George R. R. Martin’s answer to all the sexy warrior women who fight sexily that tend to show up in genre fiction – if basically everyone’s constrained by physical reality and fighting with medieval weaponry, and also more or less following the social standards of medieval England, what kind of woman manages to become a knight anyway and how do others treat her? So she’s unusually big and strong, considered unnatural and ridiculous by most other people, and tremendously loyal to the few who take her seriously.

          And then we go to Dorne and it’s all sexy women fighting sexily again, but with any luck they’ll be sidelined as the show nears its end.

      • Aapje says:

        @dndnrsn & Tibor

        Leela is also not stick-thin, which makes her physical prowess a lot more believable. I have a big issue with action movies casting thin models who defeat big men with ease (‘because women can do just what men can do, duh!’), which is simply denial of the fact that mass is a major factor in fights. This is not just about women, of course. When Yoda became a twirling sword-fighter, it was just as incongruent.

        Brienne is indeed a good example of avoiding this trap (because the book mandates her appearance, so the studio couldn’t mess it up).

        And I agree with both of you that the token characters are often too perfect, out of fear of saying anything bad about the group they represent. That is the problem with including them as representatives, rather than unique individuals, character choices become (interpreted as) social commentary about the entire group, rather than just what makes an interesting character.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, action films are usually full of nonsense and I don’t think that the motivation here is to show that “women are just as good as men” (I think that almost nobody thinks that a 50kg woman can punch as hard as a 90kg man or even that women are – on average – just as strong as men). Action films are not usually much about the story, they are about “eye-candy” and choreography (well, Asian action movies are about choreography, western ones usually suck in this). They cast slim models because they think a large part of the male audience will enjoy them more than more realistic looking female fighters with some actual muscles.

          As for Yoda, you can always make up some “Force makes him stronger” bullshit 🙂

          • The original Mr. X says:

            As for Yoda, you can always make up some “Force makes him stronger” bullshit ?

            Being an eight-hundred-year-old space wizard does change the equation somewhat, I agree.

          • LHN says:

            I have a big issue with action movies casting thin models who defeat big men with ease (‘because women can do just what men can do, duh!’), which is simply denial of the fact that mass is a major factor in fights. This is not just about women, of course. When Yoda became a twirling sword-fighter, it was just as incongruent.

            It’s also pretty routine for male action heroes to defeat larger and/or more numerous opponents, for amateurs with pistols to beat trained troops with automatic weapons, for the heroes in street clothes to be wounded less than the goons in body armor, etc. Realism tends not to be the primary driver of combat outcomes in adventure stories where the protagonist gets into repeated combat.

          • Aapje says:


            I disagree. It’s pretty clear to me that there is a major push by Hollywood studios to change the role that women play in action movies, by replacing the traditional damsel with a female ass kicker. Yet they don’t want to compromise on the ‘eye candy,’ creating a mess.

            Although to be honest, there are two (ex-)MMA women who got action roles (including in one of the last Fast & Furious movies), although they can’t act very well, which just replaces the problem of incongruent fight scenes with incongruent acting scenes.

            As for Yoda, you can always make up some “Force makes him stronger” bullshit

            I think that movies have to stick with realistic physics to a large extent, to not trigger feelings of disbelief. Silly movie theories don’t change human programming. The old movies were much better by making Yoda powerful, but in a way that doesn’t depend on physical prowess (just like they were better in all ways, before George Lucas started believing that the movies were good because of him, rather than because he often didn’t get his way).


            That is true and I also often object to stuff that goes to far in that direction, unless the movies embrace the artifice (which some Asian action movies have been known to do well and in those cases, I also don’t have a problem with petite women beating dozens of men).

            Anyway, perhaps the conclusion is just that I’m hard to please.

          • LHN says:

            I think it depends a lot on the presentation. A world in which magical powers or or bionics or special training is presented across the board as a great equalizer? (Star Wars, wuxia, costumed heroes– if Robin can beat up bad guys three times his size with acrobatics and the appropriate deployment of a Batarang, obviously so can Batgirl.) No problem. A world in which a plucky ragtag band can beat armies because they’re clever and have right on their side? Ditto.

            On the other hand, a presentation that’s heavy on the realism, with wounds being painful and disabling and a knock on the head a serious matter rather than something to shake off in the next scene, where the race is to the swift and the battle to the strong and the best way to avoid dying in battle is not to be in it? I’m more inclined to see realistic treatment of strength and other combat realities, both across and within sexes. But that’s a relative minority of popular fiction.

          • ” Realism tends not to be the primary driver of combat outcomes in adventure stories where the protagonist gets into repeated combat.”

            Fiction too. In one of the Saint books, the author, via the protagonist, jokes about it. “You can’t kill me–didn’t you know that the protagonist always wins?” (Not a literal quote–I read it a long time ago).

          • Tibor says:

            Possibly the reason why Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books are so popular – he’s (more than) willing to kill of main characters which makes one worry about them more.

          • Aapje says:


            It definitively greatly reduces my investment in a lot of Hollywood action scenes that the outcomes is generally clear (obvious good guy wins, obvious bad guy loses).

        • dndnrsn says:


          Waif-Fu is one of several common combat tropes, as LHN points out.

          I do think that movies and TV cause people to underestimate the amount that a size and strength difference can matter, regardless of gender. Combat sports don’t just stop at separating men from women – they usually have a weight class change every 10 or 20 pounds.

        • carvenvisage says:

          mass is a major factor in fights

          less so than sports like boxing or mma would imply where padding makes strikes more reliant on sheer momentum, and where eye gouging, small joint manipulation and other potentially maiming, non momentum based, attacks are banned. (which also make wrestling, where mass is most relevant, much more dangerous for the stronger party)

          And if the characters are superhuman this becomes further less applicable as clearly the characters are not just operating off of flesh and blood.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I generally find that my tolerance for “black Hamlet”-type casting varies depending on how historical the show’s supposed to be. As an example, in the BBC show Merlin the actress playing Guinevere was black, which I didn’t mind at all: the show was ostensibly set in Britain, but it was a magical, fantasy, Never Never Land Britain, so it was easy for me to just shrug and go “Well, I guess in this version of Britain there are black people for whatever reason, might as well just roll with it.” On the other hand, I was quite annoyed when the Beeb cast a black woman to play Queen Margaret in The Hollow Crown, because that was clearly set in a specific historical time period (England during the Wars of the Roses) and Margaret was a well-known specific historical figure, so portraying her as black felt kind of jarring to me.

      • shakeddown says:

        Also helped there that the actress playing Guinevere was a cheerful/friendly/sporty girl, the sort of person who doesn’t make you feel judged.

      • LHN says:

        I think there’s a place for productions that cast actors to look like the characters, but I’ve also seen plenty of race-blind casting that worked. The first production of Hamlet I saw was at a college theater company in the early 80s that did casting that way (necessarily– the school was in Detroit), and it stopped mattering that the Ghost was black and Hamlet white pretty quickly.

        On the other hand, my parents (who had season tickets) remember being jarred a bit when, at a different play, they learned two-thirds of the way through that the character played by a black actor was actually supposed to be black, since it hadn’t come up in dialog before then.

        It’s not as if most productions are particularly chary about other physical characteristics. Showtime’s “The Tudors” not only didn’t make Henry VIII redheaded, but they didn’t bother to make him fat in his later years. Likewise, I’d be bothered more by “Supergirl”‘s James Olsen if any live-action production ever had made him the redhead he iconically is.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Showtime’s “The Tudors” not only didn’t make Henry VIII redheaded, but they didn’t bother to make him fat in his later years.

          He’s also Irish. The nerve!

    • shakeddown says:

      Amen to this.
      Another example: I was slightly irritated by casting Idris Elba as a Norse god in Thor (where it felt like he didn’t fit the part, and was just put there to “subvert expectations” or something), but I approve of him as the (white in the book) Roland in the upcoming dark tower movie, since that just seems like a good character/actor match*.

      *If the movie turns out to be terrible, I will retroactively rescind this approval.

      • Tibor says:

        On the other hand, having a black actress play Freya in Erik the Viking works really well somehow. I guess that it is since everyone else there is pale and blond and the black woman feels otherworldly in the frozen north, so you immediately think she’s got to be a supernatural being (the film as a whole is mediocre, but that is neither here nor there).

        However, I actually agree with the PC crowd that casting Matt Damon in that Chinese blockbuster about the Great Wall is a bit weird. Granted that he plays a mercenary from England (why didn’t they cast an English actor???!!!!%#)(#$() 🙂 ), it feels like they have him there for brand reasons only. That’s not quite as annoying as political reasons, but it still is stupid (based on the trailer the movie as a whole seems extremely formulaic and dull, so it’s just as well).

    • JulieK says:

      I think there’s a difference between “We changed the race of the character” (Apparently Hermione Granger is black now?) and “Please overlook that the race of the performer doesn’t match the race of the character.” (I think Hamilton falls in this category.) This column gives further examples from opera- a medium in which the performer’s voice matters more than her appearance.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Pratchett wrote a Discworld book about opera that talks about that, too. Or rather, how it has changed with times, at least in Ankh-Morpork — previously middle-aged fat lady could sing in a part of beautiful teenage girl if she had a magnificent voice, but now it’s the century of Fruitbat…

        • Winter Shaker says:

          The book was Maskerade, if I remember rightly … though the character’s specific complaint was (roughly – years since I read it) that in opera, a fat 50 year old woman could play a thin 17 year old girl, but a fat 17 year old girl couldn’t play a thin 17 year old girl.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Apparently Hermione Granger is black now?

        That was a textbook example of how not to do this. If you want to make a version where she’s black, great, have fun. I’m sure it’ll be lovely. But, after the media whipped up imaginary internet outrage over the idea, J. K. Rowling came out to claim that the character had always been black, which is flatly contradicted by the actual text of the book and by Rowling’s own sketch of the character. If Rowling wants to change that, then go ahead! But don’t claim that it was that way all along and anyone who notices otherwise is a racist. This is exactly the sort of thing that sets off people’s memetic immune systems.

        • rlms says:

          My opinion is that Rowling’s statement was trolling.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Isn’t it more likely that Rowling was just expressing support for the casting choice?

            Unless we are talking about some different statement, the only one I saw was that Rowling said she had never specified the character as white, not that Granger was always black.

            The salient visible feature of Hermoine was always her unkempt hair, IIRC. People have pointed to a few lines in a few books that point to her being white, but it’s never specified expressly, I don’t believe.

          • rlms says:

            She could’ve been doing both. I also don’t recall any statement of Rowling that Hermione was black, but I assumed there was one. But even saying “well, I never said she wasn’t black” is a bit trollish (in that it is likely to provoke arguments), as well as supporting the casting choice. In comparison, if she’d instead written several paragraphs on how the original race of the character was not a central feature of her, and as such it didn’t matter what race the actress playing her was, that would’ve also expressed support, but not been trollish.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I remember someone on SSC posting a quote from Prisoner of Azkaban about “Hermione’s pale face”, which certainly suggests she’s white.

            More generally, though, things are generally assumed to follow the norm unless there’s a specific reason to think otherwise. E.g., if a character’s height isn’t specified, it’s generally reasonable to assume that they’re normal-sized, and if there are no real clues given as to how intelligent they are, it’s generally reasonable to assume that they’re of average intelligence. Now Britain in the ’90s was ninety-something percent white, so it’s reasonable to assume that any character in a book set in ’90s Britain is white unless we’re given some reason to think otherwise. In the case of Hermione, we weren’t given any such reason, which is why I, personally, find “Well, I never said she *wasn’t* black” to be about as silly as I’d find “Well, I never said she *wasn’t* nine feet tall”.

          • Aapje says:

            That might have been me, saying that.

            Anyway, there is also the issue that when Rowling signed off on the movies, it effectively extended the canon. Whenever canon is retconned, people tend to get upset.

            I agree that rlms that much of the criticism was about the silliness of Rowling’s statement. If she had said something more reasonable, I think that there would have far less of a fuss.

          • shakeddown says:

            it’s reasonable to assume that any character in a book set in ’90s Britain is white unless we’re given some reason to think otherwise.

            Another point in favour of this is that a couple of characters (Dean Thomas IIRC) were specified as black several times, so it would be weird if you did that for minor characters but not a protagonist.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Another point in favour of this is that a couple of characters (Dean Thomas IIRC) were specified as black several times, so it would be weird if you did that for minor characters but not a protagonist.

            I think Kingsley Shacklebolt is described as black as well.

          • JulieK says:

            I think it’s fine to cast a black actress as Hermione, but I refuse to believe that was Rowling’s original intention- if so, why didn’t she say so when they made the first movie?

          • Iain says:

            JK Rowling has never said that Hermione was always black. She only said that the text as written was ambiguous, and that she strongly approved of the particular black actress chosen to play Hermione:

            And Rowling stands behind the casting. “Noma was chosen because she was the best actress for the job,” she said. “When [director] John [Tiffany] told me he’d cast her, I said, ‘Oh, that’s fabulous’ because I’d seen her in a workshop and she was fabulous.”

            Hermione Granger is a fictional character. Why does it matter if her race changes between two portrayals?

          • Aapje says:


            Virtue signalling?

            I think it would have come across a lot better if she had admitted that she envisioned Hermione as white, but that she doesn’t really care how she is portrayed (or something like that).

            It just seems that this is the truth and really nothing to be ashamed of.

          • Spookykou says:

            I mostly agree with Iain here, I just don’t have any sort of emotional response to any of this stuff.

            However it is not clear to me how ‘liberal’ this not caring position is.

            ‘[blank] is a fictional character. Why does it matter if her race changes between two portrayals?’

            Seems like a fairly liberal response to a black Hermione Granger?

            ‘[blank] is a fictional character. Why does it matter if her race changes between two portrayals?’

            Seems like a decidedly less liberal response to a white Kamala Khan?

          • LHN says:

            Spookykou: Or to pick a recent example, a white Aang in the “Last Airbender” movie.

            (ETA – Well, “recent”. Apparently six and a half years passed without my quite noticing.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s because of how often each happens, the central examples of them and the reasoning behind them.

          • Iain says:

            Yeah. The concern about Aang becoming white is less about changing race, and more about the lack of good roles for non-white actors. If there’s already a lack of roles for Asian men, it certainly doesn’t help when canonically Asian characters are cast as white. The same concern doesn’t exist for black Hermione.

          • LHN says:

            I don’t disagree. In a closer to perfect world, I’d tend to favor race-blind casting in most cases, but in practice Hollywood has a demonstrated historical tendency to cast white as white and nonwhite as negotiable (with, e.g., Mickey Rooney, John Wayne, and Werner Oland famously cast in prominent Asian roles), which makes a “race-blind” search that happened on a white actor at least more suspect than the reverse. But now we’re analyzing at a more complex level than “[X] is a fictional character. Why does it matter if [his or her] race changes between two portrayals?”

            Especially in the case of Avatar, a secondary world in which “Asian” doesn’t have any directly applicable meaning (no one is actually from Asia, or descended from anyone who is), and so just what the filmmakers should be looking for probably needs to be spelled out.

            (Authorial intent is obviously that Air Nomads look like Tibetans, Water Tribe like Inuit, etc., but does that mean casting only those ethnicities? Or is it legit for an actor of e.g., Chinese or Japanese or Mongolian descent to play Aang? More generally, how practical is it to maintain the clear visible distinctions between the various nations of the world of Avatar with live action casting?)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Hermione Granger is a fictional character. Why does it matter if her race changes between two portrayals?

            It doesn’t. It is, however, very annoying when an author tries to retcon one of her characters as black and then goes on to imply that if you didn’t think of said character as black, that’s because you’re a nasty old racist.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            author tries to retcon one of her characters as black and then goes on to imply that if you didn’t think of said character as black, that’s because you’re a nasty old racist.

            Source? Because I haven’t seen anything even hinting at that.

            And if you can’t source that to Rowling, you might think about why you perceive it this way.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Source? Because I haven’t seen anything even hinting at that.
            And if you can’t source that to Rowling, you might think about why you perceive it this way.

            She rather unconvincingly implied that Hermione’s race had been left ambiguous in the books, and when fans pointed out lines in the books which explicitly describe Hermione as white, she called them racists in her interviews.

          • Spookykou says:

            I just googled ‘black hermione’ and this was the first result, I didn’t read past the first sentence though.

            J.K. Rowling has decried critics of the casting of a black actress as Hermione as “a bunch of racists.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s hard to tell from that article exactly what is meant. I feel confident that “a bunch of racists” did say things to Rowling on twitter, which is all that the sentences say definitively.

            @The original Mr. X:
            As to the suggestion that Rowling retconned Hermoine, or that Rowling is objecting to the idea to anyone who thought of Hermoine as white, it’s not there.

            But I decided not to get too agitated about it and simply state quite firmly that Hermione can be a black woman with my absolute blessing and enthusiasm.

            Clearly Rowling isn’t saying she always was black or anything like that. I think it takes a very uncharitable reading to read it as any other way than “it’s not particularly material to Hermoine’s character or story whether she is black or white”.

            Rowling’s universe is obsessed with magical and non-magical, and species. If Rowling is trying to make any point about race relations in the book, she does it that way (and remember this YA fantasy, not Ta-Nehisi Coates).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Rowling said in a tweet:

            Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione

            So yes, this does read to me as if Rowling’s trying to claim that Hermione’s race was left up-in-the-air in the original books, which simply isn’t true. (And as others have pointed out, Hermione is described as turning white with fear on occasions.)

            I think it takes a very uncharitable reading to read it as any other way than “it’s not particularly material to Hermoine’s character or story whether she is black or white”.

            If Rowling had simply said that it doesn’t matter which colour the actress playing Hermione is, I would agree. It’s this silly “Ah, but I never specifically said she *wasn’t* black!” game I object to.

          • rlms says:

            Seems to me like her trolling was very successful.

    • “I don’t think David made them that way for ideological reasons, but rather because he seems to like upbeat stories where the good guys just keep winning”

      Apropos more of the thread than the comment, I hope you noticed that of the three characters most competent at combat, two were women. Again for artistic rather than ideological reasons.

      You are probably correct that I made things too easy for the good guys. In part, I don’t like killing characters I like, and the only exceptions in that book happen before the story starts so are only implied in the text.

      Where I tried harder to balance things was in the portrayal of the three societies, each of which has strengths and weaknesses. Things go well for the good guys for reasons that are in part luck. As the Emperor puts it in the (partly written, possibly never to be finished) sequel, discussing the relevant history: “The barbarians lost three of the four kingdoms because we had the good luck to have Konstantin the Great wearing the gold. They’ve held on to the fourth because, by our bad luck, the best general in the world is a Northvales farmer.”

      • Tibor says:

        I don’t think you have to necessarily kill your characters off, not the main ones anyway. But Harald should lose some battles (obviously, he cannot afford to lose too much, but he can afford to retreat a couple of times…and since he is such a great general he should be able to do that with minimal losses). The Empire’s armies should be a menace and they should show that they are competent, not just highly disciplined. For example perhaps their organization and drill in engineering skills are so good that in the part of the book where the heroes are trying to delay the offensive by sabotaging the bridge-building on the Empire’s side (if I recall correctly), they should not be able to delay them for very long. Then they can manage to cut them off and defeat them anyway (perhaps by cleverly disrupting their supply lines or something). It makes the victories more valuable of the heroes have to struggle to achieve them and have partial setbacks. Also it is nice to have the main characters have an ace up their sleeve by which they turn the tides in a battle but they should not be able to do it every single time.

        • carvenvisage says:

          [protagonist] should lose some battles


          (I do like your other suggestion, though)

          • Tibor says:

            Well, it makes the protagonist struggle a bit. The more the protagonist has to struggle, the more is the final victory worth it, it shows that it wasn’t easy. A story where the lead has a magical wand that automatically defeats everyone and everything would be quite boring.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “The First Law of Fanfiction states that every change which strengthens the protagonists requires a corresponding worsening of their challenges. Or in plainer language: You can’t make Frodo a Jedi without giving Sauron the Death Star.”

          • Aapje says:

            This is why Superman sucks (he is too capable) and as a result, everything always revolves around his one weakness (kryptonite).

          • LHN says:

            @Aapje I’m not sure any of my favorite Superman stories can be said to revolve around Kryptonite. (Gold K shows up in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”, but only at the denoument. IIRC, it doesn’t appear in Superman: Last Son of Krypton at all. He’s immune to it in All-Star Superman. …)

            I’d certainly have to give it some thought to find one where it’s pivotal, though I’d guess there are some.

            The character in any case became a pop culture phenomenon, selling a million copies a month and branching into film and radio, before kryptonite was ever used in a story. (Originally to give radio voice actor Bud Collyer a vacation.) Jerry Siegel wrote a story with the very similar “K-metal” in IIRC 1943, but it never saw print.

          • For a qualified defense of my story, the protagonist doesn’t lose any battles but he is losing a one against many fight and badly injured when some more or less allies show up and interrupt the process. It takes him months to recover.

            And his ally’s castle, defended by the other leading general of the alliance, is taken and the garrison captured.

            And …

            So although I agree that I should have made it harder, I didn’t make it as easy as the discussion suggests.

            The most unambiguous fault of the book is my inability to make different characters sound different, a skill I still haven’t learned.

          • Aapje says:


            I can’t say that my knowledge of Superman is anywhere near exhaustive (it’s mostly knowledge of movies and TV series), so you may be right.

          • Tibor says:

            @DavidFriedman: I did not finish the book (I got to the battle where they use the mirrors for signaling to the hidden allies, IRRC), so maybe some of the harder parts come later. You’re right that everyone (including the narrator) sounds almost the same, which makes the book hard to read. Also, the extremely concise way of talking is an interesting gimmick if one character or a group of characters speak that way, but it gets tiresome if everyone does, especially the narration should be a bit more “flowery”. It was also the main reason I stopped reading.

            I want to check out your other novel sometime. Your story ideas are definitely interesting, I guess it just takes a lot of practice to get the style right – based on some reviews online, it looks like your second book is better in this respect.

    • gbdub says:

      There are a few things that bug me in the push toward representational diversity in art.

      1) The idea that kids need a person that looks like them to be a role model. On the one hand, I can understand the sentiment, and that it’s problematic if say the only black characters depicted are criminals, all the women are submissive housewives, etc.

      But on the other hand – don’t we want to push back against this assumption at least a little? Why shouldn’t a black kid have Luke Skywalker as his hero, or a girl look up to Superman? Do we really want to push the idea that you’re only allowed to emulate people who look just like you?

      2) On the flip side, we punish white kids who emulate minority heroes. E.g. Disney had a Halloween costume out for Maui from Moana which featured fake tattoo sleeves. Cue the outcry over racist appropriation. Or the kid who innocently wears brown makeup to be MLK. I understand the sensitivity over blackface, but it seems to have gone overboard and lost the original intent – there is a huge difference between minstrel shows and a kid trying to dress up like their hero. Do we really want to send the message that it’s wrong to want to be like a heroic figure who happens to be a minority?

      3) You get “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Again Moana is illustrative – Disney got criticized for all their princesses being lily-white, but when they make a movie featuring a young Polynesian heroine, they get criticized for cultural appropriation (and oddly, racist fat shaming for making Dwayne Johnson’s character too cartoonishly massive). So on the one hand, you have to have non-white characters, but on the other, you’re not supposed to depict non-white characters.

      Anyway I do understand feeling offput by tokenism, race/gender swap gimmicks, and othewise ham-fisted diversity (despite really enjoying a good yarn with diverse characters). Recently I had a similar reaction to Ancillary Justice, a sci-fi novel in which the main character belongs to a race that uses a non-gendered language (so the book only uses she/her pronouns). If the author had explained it once and then just rolled with it I’d have been fine, that’s kind of neat and I like sci-fi books that dump you into an unfamiliar culture, but she instead beats you over the head with it, setting up somewhat convoluted scenarios for the main character’s lack of familiarity with gender to create awkward conversations with gendered species and repeatedly having the main character’s internal monologue go “gee, I don’t know what to call that one isn’t that neat and interesting?”.

      It doesn’t really add anything to the story past the initial gee-whiz, and the suspension of disbelief is difficult – we’re supposed to believe a millenia-old AI can command thousands of minds at once and grasp countless languages and advanced technologies in an extremely complex galaxy-spanning society, but can’t keep track of whether the ones with testicles are called “him” or “her”?

      (I’ve only gotten through book one so far, so feel free to let me know if the lack of gender ends up making a big difference in the story that redeems it as a plot device, please just spare me the details)

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        As earlier, the best position is very clear: fuck those people.

        Go watch Moana, have fun. Turn Hermione black, make a good play. Call Mad Max feminist, make an awesome action movie. And as an audience member, pretend the politics doesn’t exist and judge it on its own merits.

        To go off your own examples, Moana is a fun movie. It having a polynesian princess as a character presumably doesn’t detract from it being fun; similarly, Dwayne Johnson playing someone cartoonishly massive would be method acting.

        Ancillary Justice could be a good book, but apparently, it spends a lot of time talking about gendered pronouns. Politics aside, I can see that break suspension of disbelief and mess with the pacing. Better if that were less of a thing and the book focused on other matters.

        Don’t let it bother you until people are coming after you, specifically. You are free to consume whatever art you wish. If the book or movie or play you’re enjoying is too political, it’ll affect the quality, which is where the problem lies. The politics themselves are easy enough to ignore.

        • LHN says:

          Ancillary Justice doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about pronouns. It has a central nonhuman character who doesn’t really get gender, whose native language doesn’t do gendered pronouns, and whose native culture strongly deemphasizes gender relative to other human cultures. (It’s also an aggressive empire that engages in systematic atrocity, so it’s not “if only we didn’t get all hung up on binary gender we’d be an awesome utopia”.) It’s a lot less didactic than, say, Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. (Which is justly a classic, but is more heavyhanded.)

          I understand the author is in fact very into identity politics, but I haven’t gone out of my way to read her outside of her fiction. Ancillary Justice itself is a cracking good SF novel in a space opera background seen through the eyes of a character who, in John W. Campbell’s expression, thinks as well as a human but not like a human. (The sequels aren’t, IMHO, quite up to its standard, but I enjoyed the trilogy overall.)

          • Urstoff says:

            Right, the pronoun stuff in Ancillary Justice is just there as a feature of the world; it’s not even really necessary to the story. I found the book itself is largely meh, though.

          • gbdub says:

            To be clear, I actually liked the book overall. And I was fine with the pronouns themselves so long as they were a natural part of the story (which they mostly fade into after Breq gets to a Radch locale in the latter part of the book – as Urstoff says, a natural part of the world). But in the first half+ of the book, it seems like Leckie goes out of her way every few pages to go “have I reminded you lately that the Radch don’t have gender and are confused by the silly concept?”

            It was mostly the redundancy that did it for me. Like, I get it, gendered language is awkward for Breq and she worries what to call people. I got it in the first conversation you described and the 10 conversations after that. For someone who doesn’t apparently care about gender, Breq spends an awful lot of time musing and worrying about it.

            Because of that, and because it was wholly unnecessary to the story (literally nothing would change if Breq’s language were gendered), it felt like being whacked with An Important Message repeatedly, which was a distraction. Especially since I thought Leckie was otherwise pretty good at “show, don’t tell” in the book.

      • rlms says:

        I broadly agree about Ancillary Justice in that the gender thing did seem to add much to the story (I didn’t find it particularly distracting though). Have you read Too Like The Lightning? That did ambiguous gender pronouns better in my opinion.

        • gbdub says:

          I have not, but thank you for the recommendation.

        • I liked Ancillary Justice, wasn’t particularly bothered by the gender issue.

          My favorite example of an SF author doing something that could be seen as pushing a modern politically correct idea but not feeling that way at all is in Cherryh’s Chanur books. It works because it grows naturally out of a society based on the mating pattern of lions. Also because, once it becomes explicit that the difference between male and female Hanni isn’t that only the males have berserker rages (risky on board a spaceship) but that the males are trained to use those rages, the females to suppress them, you suddenly remember all the occasions when the (female) protagonist got “hunter vision” and fought it down.

          Cherryh at her best is very good.

    • StellaAthena says:

      One thing I want to point out is that manipulating you is probably secondary to most things like an all-black Hamlet (or hell, Hamilton). It’s to manipulate society. If you think that there is a strong anti-X bias in films for something, the way to fix that is to produce films with more X than you otherwise would. It’s easy to get a room of people to agree that black actors should get a number of leading rolls roughly proportional to the number of black people in the US. It’s much harder to actually make that happen. And the way you make that happen is by artificially elevating black actors until society adapts. This seems to be the correct way to change society to me.

      So yes they want you to see more black actors, but that has little to do with you except insofar as you are a part of the societial culture they are trying to change.

      • Tibor says:

        I don’t think that works really well. You have roughly three groups of people – those who actually object to having more black actors for some reason, the people like me who are annoyed exactly because they see it as being artificial (while being completely on board as long as the film doesn’t scream “we have a black cast to have a black cast”) and then people who like the “affirmative action in films” or are fine with it. What this is doing is pushing the people from the second group towards the first and making the first group more hostile.

        So you can still have more black protagonists (for example) but concentrate less on having them black than on having good characters.

        Personally, I’m not sure why you should want to have 12% of actors (in the US) to be black, that sounds quite silly to me exactly because it is so artificial. I am not saying it should be less, it might as well be more (it might already be more? I don’t really know) but it should not be done for the reason of having a “proportional” number of black actors. Also, I agree with someone above that it is fundamentally wrong to focus on race so much. Can’t a white audience member identify with a black character or the other way around? Instead of making people kind of indifferent to race (which I suppose is the idea), this convinces them that race is the most important thing in the world. That’s not very fortunate, IMO.

        • Aapje says:

          Can’t a white audience member identify with a black character or the other way around?

          I’ve heard people state that they have trouble empathizing with a character of a different skin color or gender, which I cannot relate to at all.

          But perhaps one explanation for the strong feelings in the pro “affirmative action in films” crowd is that they tend to believe that all black people/women/etc are like this. If so, it makes sense for to get really upset, because if (let’s say) 10% of movies have a black main character, they would believe that the other 90% cannot be enjoyed by black people.

          • Tibor says:

            Wouldn’t men, by that logic, be unable to enjoy films with female protagonists and the other way around? Women are more different from men than whites are from blacks. Not that I deny that there are probably some people like that, it just doesn’t strike me as a common attitude. But yeah, if you believe that everyone is like that (or every member of the “minority”…which is actually weirdly racist), then it becomes a much bigger deal.

          • Mark says:

            I can’t think of any movies that I really love that have a main female character.

            Aliens, maybe?

            Many of my favourite films have absolutely no women in them (Master and Commander/ the Shawshank Redemption come to mind. Zulu gets a lot better once the women leave.)

            But, yeah, even I can enjoy movies with female leads. I quite liked Under the Skin and Jupiter Ascending, recently.

          • hyperboloid says:


            I think part of the problem is that female characters are often very poorly written, at least in part on account of the average screen writer being a man with, let’s be honest, a below average familiarity with the opposite sex.

            But come on, no love for Silence of the Lambs?

            I quite liked Under the Skin and Jupiter Ascending, recently.

            ……You are objectively wrong.

          • Aapje says:


            I’ve heard some men say that, yes.

            Rereading my comment, I see that it might be interpreted as claiming that all “affirmative action in films” proponents lack this ability to empathize with protagonists who are not like them, which was not what I meant. I rather meant to say that some portion of them do and that the people who feel like that, probably gravitate towards the social justice movement, if only because the goals of that movement are to their personal benefit.

          • Mark says:


            ……You are objectively wrong.

            Granted, it was no John Carter, but, then again, what is?

          • Iain says:

            It’s overly reductive to say that people who want to see themselves represented in film can’t empathize with people who are different from them. Mark likes some movies with female leads, but likes movies with male leads more. The only difference between Mark and people who would like to see more black / female leads is the degree to which Hollywood’s current output satisfies their preferences.

          • Tibor says:

            Recently, I really liked The Arrival, which has a female lead character (a language professor who tries to figure out the alien language). Alien(s) is great (at least the first two films, the second one is even an action film), the first Terminator also has a female lead character (Arnie is the bad guy in that one) and is a good movie. But one story with a female lead character that I especially hold dear is The Longest Journey (an adventure game from 1999 I think with a great story, definitely by computer game standards) and its main character April Ryan. Now, it may have to do something with the fact that when I played it back then at the age of 10, I fell in love with April :-)) (she was portrayed as quite a normal looking girl by the way) But the character was definitely far better written than the vast majority of computer game characters.

          • Spookykou says:

            In games with character creators, I tend to make characters that are similar to me, and appreciate when the options allow me to make such a character. It makes it easier for me to mentally insert myself into the narrative, especially into interactions between the other characters in the game and my created character.

            I am not aware of any preference of mine for leads in movies or TV shows to be like me though.

            My favorite anime tend to be slice of life, adaptations of 4 panel manga, that often have no male characters at all. (Although that I think has more to do with my opinion on Japanese plot writing than anything else)

            I am not sure if any of this is what is intended by ‘identify with’ though, since I think at least some of the idea is supposed to deal with role models or something? I have never really understood the need for role models as I have always felt confident that I could do anything I really wanted to do, assuming I put in the work, I am unfortunately very lazy.

          • Tibor says:

            @Spookykou: Interesting, I approach computer game characters very differently. Essentially I try to create an interesting character with a backstory and everything, I don’t put any value on it being similar to me (when it is an RPG with some replayability, I tend to choose a female character for one playthrough and a male for another). Then I roleplay the character instead of the character “roleplaying” me.

      • Deiseach says:

        One thing I want to point out is that manipulating you is probably secondary to most things like an all-black Hamlet

        I have no idea if it’s ever been done, and I’d quite like to see it tried: an all-black Othello except that of course Othello is played by a white actor. Don’t mess with the play, leave the lines as they are. I think it would really bring home to us how isolated in his adopted society Othello is and give us the same dissonance the original audience had when they saw the title character being played (or rather, being represented as) a black man. That’s the kind of innovation I could accept, not “We’re having Swan Lake be danced by all men just because” or the like.

        What we’ve got nowadays is “only a black actor can play Othello because otherwise that’s blackface and that is bad”, which is fine as far as it goes, but does continue to limit casting to “based on skin colour”. Why not a black Hamlet, as long as the point is not “we’re casting a black Hamlet!” but “this guy is gonna be the great Hamlet of this generation of actors”.

    • caethan says:

      Mormons have experience being on the losing side of culture (and real) wars. The PC folks don’t. The Catholics do, of course, but I suspect their institutional memory of it is fading. Same reason why the LDS church generally avoids taking federal money, and why they’re willing to compromise on, e.g., gay rights. There was explicitly a feeling of “Let’s do what we need to do so that we don’t end up with another federal Army on our necks.”

      • Tibor says:

        So are you saying that the LDS reacted to the musical in such a nice and funny way out of fear? I’d rather say they understand PR better than the Catholic church.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s plausible that a better understanding of PR is due to a better understanding that they need PR. Compared to the Catholic Church, which sometimes seems to have a hard time remembering they don’t have the power they used to.

    • Matt M says:

      “I guess the point is that I don’t get the feeling that the female character is somehow untouchable and making fun of her a taboo.”

      I’ve always felt like this was a huge component of the success of Tyler Perry’s empire. That he’s basically the only person out there willing to depict black people in situations where they are treated like normal people and where pointing out and making fun of various stereotypes related to them is considered okay.

      Despite the howling from various official sources of opinion, the average regular black person WANTS to be able to laugh at themselves, and at exaggerated stereotypes that remind them of their friends and family, etc. They don’t want to be treated with kid gloves and turned into symbols of perfection in every media representation of them.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Matt M:
        Tyler Perry might be the first of this kind you have been exposed to, but entertainment by black people for black people has a much longer history than that.

        The howling is usually about a predominantly white entertainment executive structure using black actors in only specific roles to make entertainment that is aimed at white people.

        Tyler Perry’s movies are trope fests, but they include lots of tropes, and all of the tropes are filled by black people. Whereas in many other instances, the range of tropes that a black actor was allowed to be cast for was dominated by very specific, expected, roles.

        • Matt M says:

          “Tyler Perry might be the first of this kind you have been exposed to, but entertainment by black people for black people has a much longer history than that.”

          Oh this is almost certainly true. The only reason *I* ever came in contact with Tyler Perry was by serving in a military unit that was majority-black. And maybe I saw a 60 minutes thing about him once. My guess is there are plenty of white people out there who have no idea who he is (and would be absolutely shocked to hear how much money he makes)

          “The howling is usually about a predominantly white entertainment executive structure using black actors in only specific roles to make entertainment that is aimed at white people.”

          To be clear – I was referring to howling at Tyler Perry specifically, by both black and white PC activists – who insist that his use of stereotypes is harmful and wicked and is somehow playing directly into the hands of the KKK. As if black people have some moral obligation to avoid consuming entertainment they enjoy solely because it might indirectly embolden racist stereotyping by people who already hate them.

  15. J. Mensch says:

    The Atlantic ran a piece about casinos preying on pathological gamblers for the bulk of their profits, and destroying their lives in the process — It mainly focuses on the small-bet electronic machines that people spend hours at, and discusses recent advances in how the machines operate that manipulate people’s responses to rewards.

    I’ve always been under the impression that the government permits gambling because banning it leads to a more troublesome black market, like the mafia-run lotteries in New York. But it seems hard to imagine a black market for this particular form, given how anti-social it is, how low the stakes are, how you need a designated location to play at. Assuming most states aren’t run around libertarian principles about what sort of businesses should be allowed, why haven’t these things just been banned?

    • chariava says:

      I think since they bring in quite a bit of revenue through taxes for the state. Similarly to how the lottery is sold as a way to make money for schools and a harmless game, but in reality ends up being a “tax” on poor people. States become dependent upon these revenues and can’t imagine losing them even if they hurt a segment of their population.

    • Tibor says:

      (note that I do have a libertarian bias 🙂 )

      Well, my first thought is that for the gambling addicts, one kind of gambling is probably easily substituted by a different kind. So if you ban this, they will hop on to something else. Instead of slot machines, they’d play blackjack or whatever. Then if you keep banning those things, you end up exactly with the scenario where you have people gamble illegally in mafia-run “establishments”, which can probably get far more dangerous (plus they are financing not the people who perhaps prey on their addiction but who will use the money to buy a yacht or whatnot instead of people who will use that money to expand their criminal organizations). I don’t think that a heroin addict has a much more meaningful choice than someone who’s “deciding” to give away his wallet to a mugger and the same thing probably applies to obsessive gamblers. However, I think that the solution should not be to ban those activities but to try to help those addicts individually. At least with drugs, decriminalization and individual support clearly works a lot better (and cheaper) than the “war on drugs”. It might be true of gambling as well.

      • J. Mensch says:

        I guess what struck me about the gambling piece was that these companies were actively determining who was must vulnerable, and sending them special offers/vouchers/etc. Which made me think that if gambling wasn’t a respectable business, with access to marketing and free from stigma, these people would be less likely to become addicted.

        Maybe one option is something that’s currently applied to the cigarette industry in many countries: while it’s legal to sell the product, it’s illegal to advertise.

        • Tibor says:

          I don’t know. Is the gambling industry really free of stigma in the US? The legal rules seem to be more liberal in the Czech republic than in the US (on average), but if you said that you have a casino and especially a gambling parlor with slot machines, you’d be seen as quite low on the social ladder. Sort of like if you said you are a pawnbroker or something like that.

          • S_J says:

            There’s a category of gambling in the U.S. that is done by various tribal governments of the indigenous peoples.

            It’s allowed under the interesting factoid that the tribal governments are technically separate nations from the United States, and operate under their own legal system.

            When the tribal leaders figured out that this meant they could run casinos without getting in trouble with the State or Federal Law, they often figured out a way to do so.

            I don’t know how this affects the stigma (or lack thereof) related to gambling and casinos.

          • gbdub says:

            It’s weird in the U.S. On the one hand, going to Vegas to try your luck is still considered reasonably glamorous. On the other, little old ladies dumping their social security into slot machines a quarter at a time while a washed-up old rock band plays in the auditorium at a smoky Indian casino is also a common stereotype, and not a high class one.

            Then, betting on sports is common and neither high nor low class. Office pools are de rigeur, as is the occasional poker night (even where both are technically illegal). Just about everyone grabs a lotto ticket when the PowerBall gets really high.

            Honestly it’s most like alcohol – it’s classy or at least not low class to dabble or to be a connoisseur, but it’s definitely low class to be an addict.

          • Tibor says:

            @gbdub: I think the sports betting or poker are not seen as low-class here either. It is probably specifically the slot machines. I guess the point is that only real losers tend to play the slots. The stereotypical slots player has very little education, is unemployed and possibly an alcoholic, definitely a smoker and almost exclusively male. For some reason you don’t have old ladies do it here, typical old ladies would probably not participate in any kind of gambling whatsoever. I guess it is cultural. What old ladies (and gentlemen) do is that they buy a lot of overpriced garbage from various dubious sellers, although I gather that this is also a case in the US. They are trying to making this more difficult legally, but I think that this is really a problem that the children of those old people have a moral responsibility to deal with and that that would have other positives as well. I wonder how susceptible Asian old people are to these schemes – at least in Singapore I had the feeling that the children look after their old parents much more than people do in Europe…that might be also partly why they have such a high life expectancy.

            Btw, I found it really strange to learn that in Finland you sometimes have slot machines in supermarkets (at the entry), where the old ladies try their luck. This would actually be illegal in the Czech republic. I think (not 100% sure) you need a special license for having a place with slot machines and you definitely have to make sure that nobody under 18 has access to them (people under 18 are not allowed in casinos either).

      • TheContinentalOp says:

        In the case of my ex-wife, it was certainly true that one kind of gambling could be substituted for another. She was initially hooked by online casinos. This was prior to the passage of the UIGE Act. She also would travel to real casinos in two neighboring states, and tried her hand at sports betting with bookmakers. The last one terrified me as I had visions of leg-breakers visiting the house attempting to collect on her debts.

      • caethan says:

        In Missouri, to help combat pathologic gambling, the state set up a voluntary registry. If you thought you had a problem and wanted help staying away from the casinos, you could put yourself on this list and have yourself banned for life from all Missouri gambling establishments.

        The casinos took this as a threat and got the law changed. They didn’t just remove the registry so problem gamblers could come lose their money again. No, they changed the enforcement rules so that casinos weren’t obligated to check IDs when patrons entered, thus allowing the problem gamblers to come in and lose their money. However, they did keep the ID requirement in when patrons tried to cash out. So if a problem gambler happens to win some money, they’ll get caught and thrown out, forfeiting their winnings in the process.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          NOTE: I’ve worked at a MO casino since 2012, starting as a player’s club clerk (customer service desk guy who deals with guest issues and questions and issues player’s cards) and am currently a supervisor. This may affect my analysis. That said, I am still basically bottom-level, front line employee, not management. I base my analysis on my work experience at a casino and my understanding of the applicable laws and regulations.

          2nd EDIT pursuant to the note, since it’s probably smart: My own personal opinion, not speaking in any official capacity for my employer, etc, etc etc.

          That said, I think that’s a fairly uncharitable reading of events and includes some factual errors, not to mention that it elides that “Got the law changed” in this case means “Got a proposition on the ballot in the 2008 election that passed 56-43″.

          -As far as I can tell from reading the RSMO, CRS, and MICS and looking for their revision history online, guests were never checked against the DAP list at entry (Source, compare the 2008 and 2014 versions). The big changes were:

          1) Making it no longer mandatory to sign up for a player’s card at the customer service desk in order to gamble (that is one of the places where the DAP check occurs).

          2) Removing the $500-per-two-hours loss limit. Prior to the passage of the proposition, anyone who lost $500 in one “excursion” (MO has weird laws because they evolved for riverboats) was barred from further play until the next “excursion”.

          The places and manners for checking for DAPs never changed, and in fact are not restricted to “cashing out and winning”. That is entirely false. A DAP check is required not just when getting a player’s card or processing a jackpot (where you have to get all sorts of information and check ID anyway so it can be reported to the state and federal governments for tax purposes), but also engaging in pretty much any transaction at the cashier other than a pure cash transaction (source: MICS Chapter Q). In fact, cashing out TITO vouchers from a slot machine does not require a DAP check, so it’s not even true to say “Stop you from cashing out”.

          As far as I can tell, 2 passed pretty much purely on the argument that it made MO casinos very uncompetitive with those in other states and it was a loss of potential revenue from both increased gambling tourism to St. Louis and other areas and tax revenue.

          As for reasons for 1 other than “The casinos really wanted to be able to milk problem gamblers and circumvent the DAP program”, one that occurs off the top of my head is that People don’t like giving ID and personal information, and even a short 2-3 minute transaction setting up the account is friction that deters a certain percentage of potential customers. Regardless of any questions over problem gamblers/gambling addicts, a casino is going to want to make the transactions as smooth and fast as possible.

          What I’d like to do is look at the Missouri Gaming Commission meetings from 2008, but unfortunately the transcripts online only go back to 2009. I’m going to look at the 2009 meetings tonight to see if there’s anything in there relevant.

          In any case, I’m sure that casinos are trying to maximize their revenue and that there are trade-offs between “Maximizing Revenue and minimizing transaction complexity and time for guests” and “Minimizing the chance of allowing a DAP to sneak onto the gaming floor”. But there are reasons to want to shift that balance one way or the other besides “Casinos are fixated on predatory exploitation of problem gamblers”.

          That’s about as credible as claims that liquor stores are overwhelmingly fixated on predatory exploitation of alcoholics. There just aren’t enough of them to make for a sustainable business model.

          EDIT: Ok, so, still reading, but there’s some discussion of the rules change and its impacts in the January 2009 meeting of the Missouri Gaming Commission. It seems to be mostly one property, but what they’re saying tracks with my own perceptions going in. Search for St. Jo or “loss limit” if you don’t want to read the whole thing. I’d still like to see the Nov/Dec 2008 minutes, but as I said they don’t seem to be online.

  16. J. Mensch says:

    I recently came across a short quote along the lines of “If scientists were dumping toxins into the water supply the government would be up in arms about this. But we’ve seen that certain memes have a similar negative impact on society, and the internet is enormously easy way to spread them” and I’m pretty sure it’s from here but now I can’t find it. Ring any bells for anyone?

      • J. Mensch says:

        Thank you!

        The point is – imagine a country full of bioweapon labs, where people toil day and night to invent new infectious agents. The existence of these labs, and their right to throw whatever they develop in the water supply is protected by law. And the country is also linked by the world’s most perfect mass transit system that every single person uses every day, so that any new pathogen can spread to the entire country instantaneously. You’d expect things to start going bad for that city pretty quickly.

        Well, we have about a zillion think tanks researching new and better forms of propaganda. And we have constitutionally protected freedom of speech. And we have the Internet. So we’re pretty much screwed.

  17. Levantine says:

    In psychology literature, from years ago, I have come across an anecdotal observation:
    During riots and protests of young people, physical aggression most often comes from the individuals that are most tame and quiet in their everyday lives. And the opposite is allegedly true: the individuals that make inflammatory speeches against authorities are very likely to restrict their rebellion to words, and to smoothly come to terms with the authorities.

    Now I can’t locate any source of these claims. Can anyone help me?

    And I wonder: have these observations been followed with actual studies?

    • Mammon says:

      I can’t answer either of your questions, but my experiences with the extreme-left lead me to believe the opposite. (Could be a cultural thing, I’m not American.)

  18. Polycarp says:

    Can anyone help me find an old SSC post? It had to do (as I remember it) with ten (or so) questions that remain unanswered, or issues that remain open, about climate change or global warming. If I remember it correctly, it was written from the standpoint of someone who accepts both that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means, ceteris paribus, warming and that human beings are to some substantial degree contributing to whatever warming is going on. My futile search for this post leads me to doubt that it ever existed. But before I give up, I thought I would try asking the commentariat. Anyone? Anyone? Thanks.

  19. Alex Zavoluk says:

    In case anyone still cares about the Thin Air post, some friends I have been doing some more discussion and research.

    One friend put the graphs from the IJO paper on imgur:

    2 things jumped out to me: the obesity rate drops off faster as you get higher, and BMI has a pretty consistent average as you get higher.

    Air pressure drops off faster the lower you are, the reverse of the obesity rate, and in fact the relationship between air pressure and obesity rate is highly nonlinear (I get that one as an image file, not an imgur link, so I can’t post it here); basically all the effect occurs between 65% and 75% of sea level. If there’s an air pressure/obesity link at higher pressures, I don’t think it’s significant in these data.

    In addition, as I mentioned, average BMI is flat with elevation–since obesity goes down, this means the variance must go down, which is exactly what we observe. To me, rather than any evidence of low air pressure causing weight loss, this is evidence of a strong selection and/or behavioral effect that they are not able to control for some reason. There are just very few obese people at very high elevations, rather than a consistent decrease in weight as elevation increases.

    The last thing I realized was that very few people live at these elevations. Like I mentioned, pretty much all the obesity rate decrease occurs below 75% pressure, around 2.5km. Looking at , we see only a handful of states with any towns above that elevation, none of them have that many above 2500m, and none of these towns are very large. On top of that, a lot of them are ski resorts, meaning their population is probably disproportionately white/educated/upper middle class and/or hippies.

    So yeah, I’m leaning towards the “selection and/or behavior” option.

  20. James Miller says:

    Does anyone have experience with the British college system where you only go to school for three years? If college is mostly about signaling this would seem superior to the American four year degree.

    • Rowan says:

      I’m a student in that system, but I have tremendous executive dysfunction and am in my fifth year of a three-year course, probably not what you’re looking for.

    • Mark says:

      I think that British further/higher education tends to be more focused on a few particular subjects than that of other countries.

      When I did my A-levels (16-18) you only had to study three subjects of your choice, and at university just the one.
      In the UK, I don’t think that a university degree (with the exception of a top degree, from a top university, in a top subject) signals very much any more, except, perhaps, that you are conventionally ambitious.

      [A number of large companies now have programs for people who have finished their a-levels that are similar to their graduate programs]

      • DavidS says:

        Have sort of responded to you below on a few things… on the A level programmes, I think that’s a really good move. But I think it’s fairly recent so hard to say how it will work out in terms of prestige (especially what happens if someone wants to move to another organisation following being on that grad scheme)?

        University still feels ‘safer’, though I wonder if for that very reason the schemes that start pre-degree will take driven non-safe people and get a good rep!

      • I think that British further/higher education tends to be more focused on a few particular subjects than that of other countries.

        That’s another way of potentially making US education less useless.

    • DavidS says:

      Graduate of that system here (and have since had jobs with links to sector)

      As has already been said, tends to be more focused than US. Most people just study a course – English, Maths, History etc. – rather than majors and minors. This follows specialising in 3-4 subjects between 16-18.

      I think we also have less of the ‘you need a Master’s for this job’ as well.

      Disagree with Mark on the need for a top subject at a top uni in a top subject: I know from personal and friends’ direct experience that having only one of those things on its own (the second) can open many, many doors. Not reliably, but a significant proportion of people will weigh it very highly. And that’s just based on people unguarded enough to make it obvious it’s what’s driving their decision. Also quite a few grad schemes require a certain class of degree a ‘2.1 or better’, which I guess is the top two thirds or maybe three quarters depending on subject/uni: there’s very little granularity in grading and most people get 2.1s

      In terms of whether having a degree signals anything: as in the US it’s becoming mainstream, and around 50%. So signal doesn’t feel strong but then in lots of jobs/circles everyone just assumes everyone else has a degree. I suspect if you’re used to that sort of world it feels like NOT having a degree is a strong signal.

    • rlms says:

      I only have a few months experience so far, but the major differences I can see is that British degrees almost always focus on one subject (occasionally two or more) and are a lot cheaper. Even after recent increases, tuition only comes to $11k per year, and the government loans you take to pay for tuition and living expenses don’t require fast repayment and are written off after 25 years anyway.

      In terms of signalling value, a degree from an arbitrary university isn’t necessarily that valuable; if you look at the statistics for incomes 6 months after graduation, some universities’ graduates actually earn less than the national average. But a degree from a top 30ish university is usually profitable, for whatever reason (signalling or value). Relatedly, in some subjects it is very common for people to do a fourth year and get a masters, which I feel is probably usually mostly about signalling.

  21. hlynkacg says:

    In the spirit of Scott’s what universal human experiences are you missing, I would like to pose a question to the audience. What does “hate” mean.

    There was a thread in the subreddit recently where someone described “Hate” as an “extra intense version of anger”, and that simply did not compute for me. As there is distinct emotion/mental state that I until this moment I would have described as “hate” but it is nothing like an “intense version of anger”. In fact I’m not even sure how to articulate the emotion in question except as “Hate”.

    A sense of something being both so repellant and so attractive, that the only sane response is to kill it with fire. At the risk of being clichéd the feeling is much closer to closer to euphoria or limerence than anger.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      A relevant book.

      I agree that hate and anger are not the same emotion.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I’ll have to add it to the list. 😉

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I do seriously think that hate is very much related to rivalry. Whether it is for the affection of a potential mate, or simply the general outgroup, hate is what we reserve for those who we feel may either threaten us if they best us, or benefit us greatly if we best them.

    • dwietzsche says:

      Sometimes I think having kids might help people with the finer distinctions of emotions like these. You probably can’t hate your kids (I’m sure there are exceptions) but anger towards them is very natural. There’s definitely an ingroup/outgroup dynamic. Anger is something we expect to be able to justify to members in our community. Hate is for those who we do not expect will honor our justifications.

      A similar problem I have had is figuring out the difference between horror and terror. I have experienced terror on many occasions, but horror is extremely rare for me. Like, if a bear started chasing me, I would be terrified. But bears exist and are scary and being afraid of them is useful. But horror is something like waking up and discovering you are a cockroach-has something more to do with expectations about how the world should be getting shattered. There are probably better ways of categorizing and distinguishing these things though.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Excellent point on both counts.

        Anger, (for me at least) is something transitory, hate is something much more fundamental. As you say, bears exist, and being afraid of them is useful. But horror is something else. Ditto “anger” and “hate”.

        The interesting thing (to me) is that hate “feels good” and the feeling maps well well to numerous literary references, but not to the “conventional wisdom”. So the question becomes “If not ‘hate’ what is this emotion that I am experiencing?” and “do others experience it?”

        • DavidS says:

          Anger can feel really good/euphoric to me, more than hate. Agreed they’re different.

          I think horror is bound up with a sense of wrongness/disgust, whereas terror is more mundane? Or another way of looking at it: horror is to terror as the sublime is to the beautiful.

          • dwietzsche says:

            It makes me wonder how disconnected disgust and a certain kind of metaphysical revulsion really are. We normally imagine disgust responses to be partly inculcated, and largely about gross stuff-basically just a way of understanding why potty training is important. Whereas Kafka style horror is an intellectual thing. But there may not be much separation between those things.

        • carvenvisage says:

          I don’t recognise the thing about hate feeling good or euphoric at all. Maybe the feeling you describe may be a combination of hate and, like, ‘fighter’s megalomania’.

          I can probably explain what I mean by ‘fighter’s megalomania’ if it isn’t clear, but it seems a difficult thing to unwrap, so I’m not going to attempt it in this comment, in case it’s clear enough.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s not that “hate” is euphoric it’s that the feel or “flavor” of it is much closer to the feeling of euphoria than it is to anger or rage.

            Where “anger” is a pit in the stomach that might make me vomit (if I don’t snap first) “hate” is butterflies. Where “anger” is rapid and erratic “hate” is hard and steady. Less flame-thrower and more a bow under tension.

      • Anatoly says:

        >You probably can’t hate your kids

        You can hate a bully who’s picking on your child at school, and you can’t do much about it. Even knowing it’s weird and inappropriate for an adult to hate a child fiercely, you still do it.

        I suggest that “hate” has much to do with “can’t do much about it”.

      • Wander says:

        I think you have something mixed up. “Horror” is fear of something real: you’re horrified while running from a bear. “Terror” is fear of the anticipation of something: you’re terrified of noises in the dark. I’ve also seen it generalised into fear of the known vs unknown.

        • Spookykou says:

          I understand the terms the same way dwietzsche uses them. I think the best example I can think of is that I always hear ‘Existential Horror’ and never ‘Existential Terror’, which is mostly why I think of those two terms in that way. It seems like Horror is used to describe what is supposed to be scary about an H.P. Lovecraft story. This is of course made confusing by the fact that the horror movie genre seems to mostly be what I would describe as terror. I am not sure why one influences my definitions and the other does not.

          In any case, I think it is hard for me to experience this sense of existential dread because I mostly think of myself as a sack of meat in a deterministic(ish) universe. I imagine you have to first think you are significant for your staggering insignificance to horrify you.

        • carvenvisage says:

          @wander I also understand the terms the same way dwietzsche uses them.


          There are other kinds of existential horror than insignificance ones though.

    • shakeddown says:

      This reminds me of the discussion we had in unsong a couple of weeks ago, where it’s much easier to hate Dylan (a manipulative asshole who screws people over and makes excuses for how it’s not really him that’s responsible) than to hate Thamiel (the actual devil, who tortures everyone forever).

      edit: Also interesting is that a lot of people really like Dylan, which matches your attraction/repulsion duality.

      • Aapje says:

        Come on, Bob Dylan is not that bad a person…

        Wait, am I missing something here? 😛

        • shakeddown says:

          Referring to this chapter.

          TLDR (rot13’d for unsong spoilers):

          Qlyna’f na nanepuvfg greebevfg jub zheqrerq sbhe crbcyr gura senzrq uvf byq pbyyrtr sevraq Znex sbe vg. Va guvf puncgre, ur oernxf vagb Znex’f cevfba gb nfx sbe uvf uryc. Jura Znex ernfbanoyl erfcbaqf jvgu “jul fubhyq V uryc lbh, lbh’er gur fba bs n ovgpu gung tbg zr fghpx urer”, Qlyna tbrf vagb na rkcynangvba bs ubj “vg’f abg ernyyl zr, vg’f gur jbeyq gung fperjrq lbh bire”, vaibyivat n pbzcyrgryl znqr-hc fbo fgbel nobhg uvzfrys. Gura ur ynhtuf nobhg vg.

    • cassander says:

      For me, it’s when the thought of them dying in a fire makes me happy. I’m not angry at them, at least not anymore, I just want them to suffer.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I’ve always thought of it as a combination of an intense disgust/repulsion reaction combined with a feeling that the object of the emotion MUST be destroyed. And not just physically destroyed, wiped from history. Unmade. Never Been.

      The following self-analysis involves spilling my guts more than usual. As with many such spilled guts, it may be rather unpleasant, but I am trying to be rigorously honest here.

      I’ve had flashes (a fraction of a section to a few seconds) of hatred for islamist extremists over the past 15 years, the most recent being in 2014 when ISIS captured Tal Afar and trapped a bunch of refugees in the Sinjar Mountains, then moved on the rest of Nineveh province. That’s the area where I spent most of my time in Iraq (based in Tal Afar, spent time in Tal Afar, Sinjar, Bi’aj, and Mosul), and watching those reports and reading the news stories, I was actually recognizing specific locations.

      For about five seconds there, I wanted to destroy them. Not just them. Everything they ever valued. See all of Islam, and all associated culture, language, history, and life purged from the world so thoroughly that a 1,000 years later the remnants of mosque would be as inscrutably mysterious as the heads on easter fucking island and any scraps of surviving scripture would have no more meaning than Minoan Linear A.

      Utterly disproportional. Utterly, -Transcendantly- irrational. I have friends and even some ex-lovers who are muslim. I was so transported in large part because I give a shit ABOUT the people in those places, who would themselves have to go if anything like what I felt in that moment was actually to be pursued. But none of that changed what I FELT in that one blazing moment.

      Now, if you handed me a gun and left me alone with a random muslim at the moment, would I have done anything? No. That may sound odd given what I just said, but part of the reaction was also an almost…again, transcendant clarity. I was aware of the irrationality of that part of myself even as I was experiencing both the emotion and the associated physiological effects. So I was very much in control of myself. If anything, I tend to feel -more- in control. Cold, sharp, pared away.

      Because that’s the other part of it for me. When I had that flash, or when I’m reading a really good book and something awful is happening (e.g. climax of A Game Of Thrones), I always get a big adrenaline dump.

      Make of that what you will. Hatred-As-Temporary-feeling-of-Psychopathy?

      • hlynkacg says:

        I can relate, and I think that “Cold, sharp, pared away” feeling is integral to the “hate” experience, and for me at least it is the exact opposite of how anger feels.

    • The_Other_Brad says:

      >What does “hate” mean.

      Misery seeking company.

      • hlynkacg says:

        In that case I think it’s fair to describe much of human existence as “hate”, which raises the follow on question of why is “hate” seen as a negative?

    • StellaAthena says:

      I would recommend reading some of the philosophy Martha Nusbaum who has written at length about anger, forgiveness, resentment, and related emotions

    • carvenvisage says:

      (I didn’t read any replies before making this one)

      They are definitely different, but hate’s object definitely doesn’t have to be attractive: if I had children and someone wanted to kill them, I would hate them (I hope). Hate is the attitude that a thing must be annihilated.

      Anger I think is more along the lines that something has happened which cannot be allowed to pass, or that something cannot be allowed to go on. It’s the feeling that the voice saying ‘I don’t like this’, or ‘this isn’t right’, which a person normally keeps in check, is right, and will do a better job running things than normal you.


      Though, anything which demands the absolute death penalty hate represents is liable to be worthy of anger as well -it’s just that the hate may swamp out or screen off anger. If anger at a person means feeling they can’t be allowed to go on doing what they’re doing, hate means feeling they can’t be allowed to go on, period, -they have to end. In that sense hate is further along in a continuum with anger, but not in a straight line.


      Also, really intense anger already has a name: ‘rage’. I’m not sure exactly what the less intense version of hate is, if there is one, but maybe something like hostility or malice.

      Hate is naturally tied to a target. Anger can be but isn’t strongly naturally tied to one.


      Out of curiosity do the following match other people’s associations with the words?

      anger: confront, warm/hot, righteous, expanding

      hate – destroy, cold/hard, evil, directed


      I think ‘evil’ is the most iffy of those. In fact, it’s not accurate, but there is something like that to it, and I can’t think of a better word to illustrate it: if destroying something is your terminal goal, there are a lot of things you might do, that you would never do otherwise, most obviously including killing with fire and blunt force, -but it’s not just that. If someone had made credible threats against your children you might not care about killing them in a public place next to some lovely old lady.

      To put it another way, an absolute commitment to something’s annihilation implies acceptance of collateral damage. (Because we hated the Nazis we were able to firebomb dresden?)

      Or to put it yet another way, an absolute commitment to something’s annihilation entails an acceptance of, even an indifference to, the destruction of one’s moral honour in the process -not that killing someone who deserves to be annihilated would damn you, but that if killing something is an absolute priority, then there are things which could come up where you would at a minimum trust to moral luck if it meant a chance to destroy the thing. (Of course hate is a feeling, not a Geass, so a person doesn’t necessarilly try to kill things that they hate at all, but neither does someone always gregariously give things away when they feel generous.)

      Or to put it yet another way, hating something means feeling about a thing’s destruction the way ‘clippy’ feels about paperclip creation.


      Though maybe hate doesn’t have to entail a (effectively?) terminal value.

      Actually no I think it does, -and that is the difference between it and malice or hostility: By comparison, you could describe rage as anger which has gathered critical mass and become a (-n effectively) terminal value, and I think it would be accurate.

  22. rlms says:

    IQ tests and hiring:
    Previously on this blog and comments section, people have claimed that college degrees are mostly pretty much useless in terms of education provided, and that they mainly function as signals for intelligence necessitated by the fact that companies aren’t allowed to use IQ tests directly. But a few weeks ago I did an IQ test as part of the application process for a software internship, so presumably they are legal here (either because indirect discrimination causing disparate impact is legal with “good business impact”, or for other reasons). Yet 30-40% of British 18 year olds still apply to universities, and IQ tests don’t seem to be that popular. So what’s going on?

    • Spookykou says:

      I think a college degree has a certain status attached to it, in social and professional environments. I have been told(unofficially) that I should get a degree if I want to be eligible for promotions at my work. I certainly feel a little bit better about myself if it is true that “college degrees are mostly pretty much useless in terms of education provided”. Maybe the signaling is more about the ability to actually finish college? Being able to spend four years showing up, doing some amount of work, etc?

      • skef says:

        I agree. On the assumption that the primary role of college is signaling, it’s signalling about ability and willingness to do some of the things you’re called on to do in college. At the most basic level, ability and willingness to follow instructions and produce something when you don’t want to on the merits. Also, deferring to authority figures in the relevant contexts.

        IQ isn’t much of an indicator of willingness to work. Also, the idea of training bright young individuals to do particular things has fallen out of favor, because the labor market is so fluid that companies figure you’ll move somewhere else, or immediately demand a high salary, once you’re trained. Hence the pressure for colleges to do what would have been considered more like vocational training 30 years ago.

        • dwietzsche says:

          This may somewhat overstate the justification for college degrees in job settings. It happens to be a norm, for obvious reasons, for people to use their degrees in their resumes as part of the evidence of their hirability. In situations where hirers are glutted with resumes, it just becomes another way of sorting the pile. There has been some work done showing that this can become a problem later, because there’s a ratchet effect, where employers who raise their hiring standards mainly just to deal with loose labor markets refuse to lower them when labor markets tighten. But the “standard” here is largely a bureaucratic one. None of the stuff I’ve read from human resources types looking to hire people suggests that they really care about what degrees supposedly demonstrate about degree holders.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            it’s a nash equilibrium: a bonus you have no reason not to take, except that it’s expensive and wastes your life, but then you beat everyone else that didn’t. of course, if everyone does it they’re worse off, but that’s a nash equilibrium for you.

          • dwietzsche says:

            I assume some of it is just lazy heuristics. Presumably people who have really difficult recruitment tasks also have more elaborate vetting mechanisms than looking at resumes.

    • Wander says:

      Out of curiosity, what sort of IQ test was it? All the ones I’ve seen in job applications have tended to be pattern-matching ones, where they ask for the next in a sequence.

      • rlms says:

        A combination of arithmetic, sequence continuation, geometric pattern-matching (which of these doesn’t have the quality shared by the others) and verbal “x is to y as z is to …”.

    • cassander says:

      A nearly pure signalling model of college is compatible with companies not just using IQ tests. A college education costs, what, at least 200k? Say it imparts merely 10k of value, the rest is signalling. Then it would still benefit companies to hire college grads over mere high IQ testers, though a massive net loss to society as whole.

      • rlms says:

        “A college education costs, what, at least 200k?”
        Yes, that could possibly be a relevant difference. For UK students, a university education probably costs at most $100k, and possibly as little as $30k if you can find free accommodation (living with your parents etc.).

        • cassander says:

          What students pay and the cost are not the same. In my alma mater, for example, they do financial planning on the basis that tuition covers professors’ salaries, everything else is paid for out of the endowment and donations. Granted, those salaries are the biggest part of the budget, I assume well over a a majority, but the rest isn’t nothing.

    • Adrian says:

      people have claimed that college degrees are mostly pretty much useless in terms of education provided

      I’ve seen this opinion very often on some US-centric forums, and it baffles me. I studied computer science at a German university (Bachelor + Master), and it taught me a lot of theoretical and practical skills. Aside from the specialized knowledge, it improved my logical thinking (we had a lot of hard math courses), presentation skills, technical writing, and general approach to solving vague problems. There’s no way I could have learned that all on my own merely be reading stuff on the Internet.

      Now obviously that’s just one subject at one university, but I find it hard to imagine that other German universities are so much different, or that other STEM subjects at my university are so much different. Does that mean that my experience is more or less unique? Are US colleges really that much worse in general?

      • Iain says:

        I am Canadian and work in the tech industry. Some of the people I work with have degrees in CS. Some of them have degrees in EE. You can frequently tell the difference. The claim that college is entirely about signaling is over-blown.

      • This topic always gets into a loop with one side saying that all college is useless, and the other saying that STEM degrees are clearly useful.

        • AnonEEmous says:

          and me the third side stating that college is divided into a bipartite system: useful degrees directly related to a type of job, and degrees good only for useless signaling and partying for 4 years

      • StellaAthena says:

        I’m going to stand up for the non-STEM degrees as valuable too. In my model, a college degree gives you three things:
        1) general knowledge and skills that everyone gets (a lot of this is “living on your own and being responsible” stuff)
        2) knowledge and skills that people in several programs get. A philosophy, gender studies, and history degree will all make you a better writer and a better critical analyst. A physics, chemistry, and mathematics degree will all teach you calculus, differential equations, basic science, and nowadays often how to code.
        3) degree specific knowledge and skills. This is mostly knowledge I think, as most skills are cross-disciplinary. Theorems of mathematics, the content of Critique of Pure Reason, and why Athens lost the Pelopenisian War are all examples of this.

        The thing that is most important for most jobs is 2. If you want to join a consulting firm and write policy proposal papers, you need practice with critical thinking, writing, and maybe some numerical reasoning. You’ll get this from each of philosophy, ender studies, and psychology. You probably won’t get this from physics. I really don’t think it matters much if you study gender studies vs philosphy vs psychology if you want to go work for Booz Allen Hamilton or Deloitte. So why not go study what makes you happy.

        Unless your job description and degree are more or less the same label, 3 isn’t going to come into play. But that’s okay, because you’ll learn a new 3 hat does apply to your job in your first two years working there.

        When people bash college degrees, I get the impression what they mean is that 2 can be gained through other means. Which is true. You can learn to be a good writer without going to college. You can learn to code without going to college. But college is a highly normalized and pretty good way to do that IMO.

        • shakeddown says:

          My impression of Gender Studies is that it’s not so much critical thinking as Confirmation bias: The college degree. I suspect this will vary by major – Experimental Physics would be very good for critical skills, Gender studies would be terrible, with a lot of variation inbetween.

          Writing skills are important and are probably taught better. The person who’s actually convinced me most of the value of a non-STEM degree is Scott himself – the sheer number of things he knows about history and philosophy (not to mention his writing skills) dwarfs any of the STEM people I know, and I’m pretty sure a lot of it is due to learning it (or at least the basis) in college.

          • StellaAthena says:

            How much exposure do you have to academic gender studies in the last 5 years though? For 90% of the population that answer is going to be “zero” so I tend to be skeptical of that claim (which I hear all the time), especially because it doesn’t accord with my experience knowing several gender studies majors in college (just graduated in the spring).

            Experimental physics seems like it would be terrible for critical reading and writing. Most physicists I know can’t analyze literature or write for shit. I would hazard to put philosophy at the top of that hierarchy, with low confidence.

            I can’t recall much philosophy Scott has said that I’ve found particular insightful, though I would love to read whatever comes to mind.

          • Virbie says:


            I can’t imagine the field changes drastically enough that the _fundamental skills_ it teaches are likely to change every five years. I can’t think of any field that would be like that; if so, that’s probably the most damning thing about it that’s been said in this thread.

            As far as critical thinking skills go, I think you two are talking about slightly different things. The reason a lot of unrelated areas love math majors (law schools, med schools, etc) is not because they expect them to be doing linear algebra in the courtroom or the OR, but precisely because of the critical thinking skills that a good math degree imparts (and/or requires). I think this is the kind of thing that shakeddown is talking about, and you’re talking about something a lot more specific when you mention critical analysis. Part of the confusion is probably because your comment conflates “critical analysis” (in the narrow sense of a specific type of textual analysis) with the broader term “critical thinking skills”.

        • “A philosophy, gender studies, and history degree will all make you a better writer and a better critical analyst.”

          I’m going mostly by second hand reports, but the view in my law school seems to be that a large number of the students, all of whom have an undergraduate degree in something, still do not know how to write. We have a program to teach them.

          • Jordan D. says:

            In fairness, though, legal (and academic legal) writing is very different from any other kind of writing they’re likely to have picked up. It’s well-known that the purpose of 1L is to make people think like a lawyer, and the purpose of Legal Writing 1 & 2 is to get people to draft like one. I don’t think that has to mean that they were bad at thinking and writing prior to that- they were just going about it in ways which weren’t best-suited to the purpose of legal work.

            (Now I would agree that a lot of college graduates are really bad writers, but can you conclude anything from that without comparing them with the writers who didn’t go through undergrad?)

          • StellaAthena says:

            “A philosophy, gender studies, and history degree will all make you a better writer and a better critical analyst.”

            I’m going mostly by second hand reports, but the view in my law school seems to be that a large number of the students, all of whom have an undergraduate degree in something, still do not know how to write. We have a program to teach them.

            I think this comment is super important. Murakami writes wonderful prose, but I’m sure he’d write embarrassingly bad mathematics. The mathematician and computer scientist Laszlo Babai is well regarded for his engaging writing style, but he’d likely struggle to write compelling poetry. Walt Whitman is an excellent poet, but I’m sure that his legal writing leaves a lot to be desired. And so on and so on. Different types of writing are incredibly different, and success at a kind of writing one hasn’t been trained in seems like a bad metric.

            Yes it’s totally possible to leave college a bad writer. However, a better question is how much does the average person in major X improve in their writing ability. Comparing against similar people who don’t go to college is a good way to do this comparison, but you can also do reliable inter- and intra-departmental comparisons of graduates (ranked by percentile) and the same students at intake (also ranked by percentile). I would guess that the people who leave a physics program a strong writer also entered college strong writers. I think that you’re going to see the most improvement among humanities majors.

            I am definitely biased by my experiences. I entered college a terrible writer (notably receiving the lowest score on my SAT essay that you can get while actually writing a full essay. It’s graded on a scale of 1-6 by two graders and I got a cumulative score of 4. You get a 2 for turning in paper with your name on it, and a 4 for finishing an essay on topic) and was a mathematics major. My mathematics writing improved significantly in my first year in college, but my skill as an essayist didn’t (I received I think C+, B-, C+ in my first year humanities courses). My second year I spent some of my electives on writing intensive sociology and political philosophy, and over the course of that year my writing improved significantly. Third year I became a philosophy major and graduated with a 3.6 in philosophy, far better than I could have guessed based on getting a C+ average in freshman humanities. If you restrict to the writing intensive classes this goes up, as my only grades lower than a B+ in philosophy were B’s in a philosophy formal logic course and in a writing-light, participation-heavy course that I had mediocre attendance in for health reasons.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          A philosophy, gender studies, and history degree will all make you a better writer and a better critical analyst.

          I’ll push back – a little – on this. I agree that writing and critical thinking are skills worth having in any society where people have to interact a lot, and make a lot of decisions that affect others. I also agree with college theoretically being a good place to get writing and critical thinking. What I don’t see is how philosophy, gender studies, and history necessarily produce this, in a way that STEM degrees could not. There’s nothing stopping a STEM curriculum from requiring students to write good documentation of their products. Good documentation means good communication means knowing your audience, and your audience isn’t always STEM. Same goes for designing the interfaces to technology, or deciding what the next important scientific problem is, and the demands these put on critical thinking.

          That said, I’m flat against just tossing out the entire liberal arts side and arguing college should be just STEM with some liberal arts and trade schools around the fringe. History, for one thing, strikes me as fun, and I even found elements of philosophy that I saw as applicable to real technical problems (formal modeling). In my view, philosophy done right is largely a study of logic, and consequently a sort of ur-STEM. (Granted, the people I know who are into gender studies gave me a strong impression that those studies were a hindrance, not an aid, to critical thinking.)

          History comes across to me like a large swell of existence proofs. If you start a land war in Asia, you might win (Genghis Khan). You can build multi-story permanent structures with simple machines (Pyramids). People can reason themselves into killing other people, systematically, over tribe membership (genocides). History is the study of the possible. The catch is that it’s harder to recognize patterns without also picking up some anti-patterns by mistake, so I see people with history credentials making arguments that aren’t supportable in the long run, which threatens the field’s credibility as a source for critical thinking.

          Literature is the other great field I see. Two primary benefits.

          One is the study of the story, which for reasons I imagine are biological, is probably the earliest form of human information transmission, and in some ways I think the most effective. Consider how easy some of us pick up even scientific or technical concepts if told in the form of “this happens, then that happens, then these other things happen”. Contrast with those times in math where it was presented to you as dry, timeless truths with no story behind it – you’re given a bundle of axioms about Hausdorff space without any story of “if you thought of them this way, then you’d run into this problem”. Contrast with that story you might have heard about Gauss adding the integers from 1 to 100 before his teacher left the room, and how that aids you in remembering the formula. For these reasons, I think of stories as enormously valuable, and therefore studying their structure and features (arcs, motifs, salient details) is valuable.

          The second is what I refer to as trope recognition. Literature introduced us to a galaxy of concepts richer than we would get with vocabulary alone, often allowing us to trade huge amounts of information with mere phrases. If I tell you that remodeling project is your white whale, it implies pages of claims about it, in just two words. Literature provides oceans of supplies of these: twelve labors, caged bird, Frankenstein’s monster, lend me your ears, subdue the enemy without fighting, humbug, the belly is an ungrateful wretch, precious bodily fluids, thou shalt not murder, comfortably numb, unladen swallow… a good literature curriculum, in my view, covers as many of these as possible.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            History has the major issue that it’s impossible to isolate and manipulate just one variable. So it is very susceptible to coming up with a narrative that ‘explains’ historical knowledge, but which is merely one of many narratives that do so. Then history becomes more of a Rorschach test: the biases of the historian determine which narrative they choose. Add in other issues like cherry picking the historical evidence (which is pretty much unavoidable, as too much happens to take it all into account) and well…

            A lot of other soft sciences suffer from similar problems. It’s especially problematic that many have a culture where big theories with poor evidence get a lot more respect than small theories with strong evidence. Then you get such horribleness as Judith Butler’s writing on gender performances, which refers to Freudian theories and other speculative theories. It’s speculation built on speculation built on speculation, etc.

            I would argue that this divide is most clear in economics, where this split runs through the field, which econometrics on one side and macroeconomics on the other.

          • John Nerst says:

            About “critical thinking”: I think there is a bit of equivocation going on here.

            On the one hand it can mean STEM-y things like “looking for logical flaws and making hard-nosed and nitpicky critiques of things”.

            On the other hand it can mean something like “thinking that’s useful for criticising (particular) aspects of Western Society”.

            Subjects that include words like “critical” or “criticism” seem to often be of the second variety.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s nothing stopping a STEM curriculum from requiring students to write good documentation of their products.

            Sure there is. Make your sieve too fine and you won’t get enough people through it. STEM curricula are already considered “harder” than other majors as it is, and most STEM people don’t have a particular aptitude for writing.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What I don’t see is how philosophy, gender studies, and history necessarily produce this, in a way that STEM degrees could not. There’s nothing stopping a STEM curriculum from requiring students to write good documentation of their products. Good documentation means good communication means knowing your audience, and your audience isn’t always STEM. Same goes for designing the interfaces to technology, or deciding what the next important scientific problem is, and the demands these put on critical thinking.

            Well, one problem is that you’d have to teach less actual science to make time for teaching people how to write.

          • At a slight tangent.

            When I read “The Two Cultures” by Snow, probably as an undergraduate, what struck me was that, among people I knew, the STEM types (not then a current term) tended to be also interested in music, reading, and the like. I’m not sure if Snow was describing a culture different in that respect, if I was observing an atypical bubble (I was at Harvard), or some other explanation.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Aapje wrote: History has the major issue that it’s impossible to isolate and manipulate just one variable. So it is very susceptible to coming up with a narrative that ‘explains’ historical knowledge, but which is merely one of many narratives that do so.

            Bingo. I meant to mention this, but ended up glossing over it when I said it’s “harder to recognize patterns without also picking up some anti-patterns by mistake”. And economics appears to expose this concern even more visibly.

            @John Nerst: when you put it that way, you might be right. I always thought critical thinking meant looking for logical flaws and avoiding one’s own. Is that everyone’s definition? Or are some people using something else?

            @Nybbler, Mr.X: I think I extrapolated a bit, and assumed that any argument that non-STEM degree is valuable, could be extended to one that non-STEM courses are valuable enough to justify requiring them as a component of any STEM degree. This latter argument has indeed been made elsewhere. I could even defend it a bit myself. Terence Tao himself is of no value to the rest of us unless he can explain what he thinks.

            @DavidFriedman: The STEMmers I’ve met over the years included high school students in rural Texas, college students and faculty from Austin, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, New England, and elsewhere, my father’s coworkers in Austin, and now a lot of mostly-programmers all over the world. Eric Raymond’s description of reading habits, other interests, and education in the Jargon File is still consistent with what I’ve seen, and the Shakespeare connection looks stronger, as a result of the SCA bridge and interest in medieval warfare. (Video games also appear to play a role here.)

            Btw, StellaAthena: I would be interested to hear your experience with your colleagues in gender studies. In what way did they strike you as something better than majors in confirmation bias? What’s the noble take on the degree? I can see it being worthwhile insofar as it exposes one to good ideas one wouldn’t otherwise see – it’s been my experience that people who study it tend not to share such ideas, but rather appear angry all the time, but that might just be my own confirmation bias. (And/or selection – I might not notice them when they’re just being interesting.)

          • StellaAthena says:

            I have something i want to reply to this subthread, I just want to think through it a little more.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @Stella. I am not at all convinced that college degrees confer much of any analytic skills or writing skills on a student. One often hears that a college degree teaches one how to think. That is demonstrably not true, based on the very poor thought process of so many college graduates. What is often does is teach the student how a particular field of study thinks. Thus a history student will learn what historians consider to be evidence or proof of historical events, and how to gather evidence. Hopefully STEM students will learn something of scientific method, and how to do experiments. A social scientist will learn how to use statistics (although it seems much of this doesn’t stick, based on studies we’ve all seen). In some cases this type of thinking makes the student less analytical, as they are stuck in their field’s manner of thinking instead of using their own brains. People only learn how to think when they have the confidence and desire to think for themselves. I have heard of few colleges that do this; quite the reverse I think.

          I took several writing classes in college — I learned nothing from them. I became a better writer once I started writing as a professional, and from hobby writing, such as in zines, Internet, etc. Perhaps four years of constant writing in college would improve a student’s writing a little bit.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Clearly I disagree, though I have no profitable way to argue as I have no data and everything I can say can be dismissed as “that’s your experience,” and quite reasonably as my University I’d very atypical of universities in general. I regularly find myself making mistakes because I assume my experience generalizes when it does not, so I’m trying to be cognizant of that more often.

            As I mentioned elsewhere, I greatly improved as a writer in college, So we are cutterently 1-1 on anedotes. If you have any data about writing and reasoning skills not increasing, I would love to read through that.

          • Iain says:

            One often hears that a college degree teaches one how to think. That is demonstrably not true, based on the very poor thought process of so many college graduates.

            It can simultaneously be true that a college degree improves your critical thinking, and that some people have poor critical thinking even after receiving the benefit of a college education.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            As I mentioned elsewhere, I greatly improved as a writer in college, So we are cutterently 1-1 on anedotes. If you have any data about writing and reasoning skills not increasing, I would love to read through that.

            No we’re in a stalemate. I also have nothing but anecdotes. As I wrote my previous post, I was lamenting to myself that I have nothing but my own impressions. We could both use some real data, although I’m not sure what this would be, since it is somewhat inherently a subjective area. I would appreciate it if someone could come up with evidence either way. I think I do remember someone who discussed a study of reasoning skills of college students at various points in their studies. I think it was mostly in agreement with my thinking, but even so I was pretty skeptical, because it is real hard to judge reasoning skills.

          • StellaAthena says:

            I would be interested in seeing students given the GRE, the LSAT, the SAT, and asked to write 10 pages on the topic and style of their choice before and after college. It wouldn’t be great, but it would be a relatively straightforward way to get a hint of measuring something.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Even for the years when I was a screwup, I learned something from my university education, and when I got things together, I learned a lot. More than I would have if I’d just been reading on my own, and there are some things it is hard to teach to yourself.

      The socializing aspect of university is actually valuable. In some fields, it is extremely valuable. Outside of direct socializing, the social value of having a degree is significant.

      Beyond this, a university education is a safe way of showing “this person is at least minimally competent”. So, signalling. But signalling has a purpose!

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I am one of those who think that college is mostly signalling. Not all signalling; I’m not sure that anyone believes that. And yes, if it were legal to take IQ tests in the US, that might take away some of the need for companies to use college degrees as filters to determine who they interview. This is especially true for the jobs that now require college degrees that did not require them only 10-20 years ago. But it is true that companies get caught up in fads, and a college education as the definition of an educated person is one of those now. Also, I have heard of some companies in the US that still give IQ type tests (Google I think for one), and I think that litigation just hasn’t caught up with them yet. That could also be the case in Britain, although my impression is that the UK isn’t as litigation happy as the US.

      My own experience is part of why I believe in the signalling theory. I have a four year accounting degree. I had about a year of classes that were useful to me in my career. The other three years of classes were filler, added because I was getting a professional degree so it had to be a four year degree. I could have done the job just as well with one year of my real studies. I do have a different, contradictory experience. I have a master’s degree in Tax, which would have taken about a year if I had gone full time. Almost every one of my courses were useful in my job (I was working in the field at the time, so I knew what was useful). In this case, a master’s was only supposed to be a year, so they didn’t need to add filler courses.

      I hear from some folks that STEM degrees aren’t like my accounting degree — they consist of four years of applicable courses. I suppose that is possible, although I have also heard from many in the computer science field that college degrees are worthless in that field. Also, I have sometimes worked with people right out of college with Engineering degrees. It seemed to me that the graduates had little practical knowledge of engineering and had to learn real life engineering much like I had to learn real life accounting when I got my first job. This is suggestive that what they learned wasn’t what they needed. It may be that there is so much to learn in engineering that they had to spend all four years learning the basics, so they couldn’t learn real life engineering too. I am skeptical. But this is also anecdotal.

      There is also the issue that many more people get college degrees now. At least in the US, and I think everywhere in the developed world. These degrees can’t help but become somewhat diluted because the intellectual quality of the students must be lower. I went to college in the ’70’s, and I think there was a lot of filler then. I think much more now.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Also, I have heard of some companies in the US that still give IQ type tests (Google I think for one), and I think that litigation just hasn’t caught up with them yet.

        I remember an IQ-type test when I was hired at IBM in 1992, but I was already hired by the time I took it; I don’t know what it was for, perhaps placement, perhaps bureaucratic inertia.

        Google doesn’t use IQ tests for engineers, they use a series of coding and design questions, as do many other tech companies (some put in more conventional “tell us about your background and answer trick questions like ‘what is your greatest weakness'” interviews as well)

        I suppose that is possible, although I have also heard from many in the computer science field that college degrees are worthless in that field.

        When I took my CS degree, the lower-level courses were basically weed-out courses, and the higher-level courses were the ones relevant to the field; there were also some relevant math courses in the program. But it’s a university degree and had (and has) general and distributed education requirements; I took a few humanities courses and a whole lot of physics and math as well as CS.

        Some of what was in the CS courses was directly relevant; some of what wasn’t in the CS courses but was needed for them was relevant — I did not take any programming language courses, for instance. And of course there’s a lot more you end up learning on the job, though likely less than in (non-software) engineering. A motivated and intelligent student could learn all the CS stuff on their own; they certainly don’t need four years of classes. If someone were to make an intensive program for CS targeted towards bright high school graduates who already know a programming language, it would likely produce graduates as good at the CS stuff as a university. The trick would be getting HR departments to accept it.

      • Chalid says:

        And yes, if it were legal to take IQ tests in the US,

        Practically every job interview I’ve ever been in has been in large part a thinly disguised IQ test. So I’m skeptical that whatever law exists on this is what’s making companies look for college degrees.

      • Brad says:

        It isn’t illegal to give an IQ test. The company or industry just needs to do a validation study. It would collectively be a lot cheaper to do a bunch of validation than the collective costs of college.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          It isn’t illegal to give an IQ test. The company or industry just needs to do a validation study. It would collectively be a lot cheaper to do a bunch of validation than the collective costs of college.

          Yes you are correct. A validation is “all” that is needed. But that sounds a lot simpler than it is. This validation test has to be done by a professional (that is right in the Civil Rights law), and the court has to agree that it is correct. The seminal case of this subject is “Griggs vs Duke,” on which I just finished reading a book. Duke had done validation tests, but the court ruled they weren’t good enough. It is true that the tests they did were half-assed retrospective tests, but it still instills much uncertainty amongst employers as to whether their tests will pass muster in a court of law. And the validation tests must be valid for the particular job hired for. How many jobs are out there these days held by more than one person? When I look around my corporate environment, every job I see is slightly different from the job done by each person in the next cubicle. And I think validation means that these skills are used for that particular job, not just that IQ is positively correlated with better results on the job. So all this means that IQ tests are too expensive and uncertain to be used in almost all cases, at least if the corporation is at all concerned they might be sued someday by a unsuccessful applicant.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think you need to show how the skills the test tests lead to successful performance on the job, just that success on the test has a demonstrable relationship to successful performance of the job.

            Yes, the validation studies would be expensive, but again the comparison is percents of gdp (direct costs of higher education) plus the enormous opportunity costs.

          • Chalid says:

            But the “brainteaser” interview is extremely common in some industries, and they generally aren’t validated in any way in my experience.

            When I was interviewing candidates in my first job at a well-known mega-bank, the instructions from my manager were explicitly to figure out if the person was smart by asking them brainteasers and math questions. And certainly no one validated the ones I came up with.

            And this is common knowledge. If you look at a well-known interview prep book and use Amazon’s “look inside” feature you can see the second chapter is devoted to questions like “ants on a square” or “burning ropes” – Amazon lets you read a bunch of them and you can confirm that there’s no direct connection to any real job.

          • Matt M says:

            “And this is common knowledge. If you look at a well-known interview prep book and use Amazon’s “look inside” feature you can see the second chapter is devoted to questions like “ants on a square” or “burning ropes” – Amazon lets you read a bunch of them and you can confirm that there’s no direct connection to any real job.”

            Gonna push back on this a bit. My relevant experience is that I recently got my MBA and went through many many “case interviews” with consulting firms that have lots of these types of questions.

            The purpose of the brain teaser question is not for you to do a bunch of weird math in your head and spit out a correct number – but to walk the interviewer through your thought process as to exactly how you would solve that type of problem. A more simple version of the questions asked in the book you link would be something like “how many umbrellas are sold in Tokyo in a year?”

            Your actual answer probably only has to be accurate within an order of magnitude – what they’re really testing is your thought process. You need to walk them through by saying aloud things like “I don’t know a lot about Japan, so I’ll estimate the population of the country to be 1/3rd of the U.S. or 100 million. I know that Japan is densely populated and Tokyo is a very big city, so I’ll assume that 25% of the population lives there, which would be 25 million. If we figure that it rains on average one in every four days….” Something like this is typically called a “market sizing” question and general market sizing exercises are something you will absolutely do on the job very frequently in consulting, I-banking, PE, etc.

            Even in say, internal finance, where you won’t need to market size specifically, they still want to know how you attack a problem and what your logical approach is.

            While annoying, these questions aren’t any LESS relevant than things like “tell me about a time you showed leadership” imho.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M
            I think those are a different kind of question. Order-of-magnitude questions starting with “How many…” or “Estimate…” are called Fermi problems (after the physicist Enrico Fermi). The classic one is “how many piano tuners are there in Chicago?”. They might be relevant to consulting/banking jobs, but they are also used in other kinds of interview where they are arguably less relevant. To me they seem more like a specific learnable skill, rather than a general test of intelligence.

            The kind of question Chalid is referring to is different. They tend to be riddles where the relevant skills are general riddling ability and reading a book of common interview riddles (and possibly pretending you haven’t read that book and actually are working out the answers rather than just remembering them). A parody of these kinds of questions “You have two pieces of rope, each of which burns unevenly. One of them is being used by some frogs to climb out of a manhole. Every day each frog climbs up two inches, and every night it falls down one inch. One frog is carrying a cube made of 10×10 smaller cubes, and the large cube has the outside painted. That frog is wearing a white hat, and all the other frogs have black hats. Each frog can only see the hat colour of the frogs in front of it. Why is the manhole cover round?”

          • Chalid says:

            rlms is correct. This isn’t the consulting interview. My experience of it is from quant finance but I’ve seen people talk about it at some tech firms too.

            I’ve been in a lot of interviews (on both sides) and the point is absolutely to see if you can get the right answer. If you get it with no hints, you get a strong pass. If you get it with some weird terrible inefficient method or with a few hints, you get a weak pass. If you need a whole bunch of hand-holding to get through, then you fail.

            There is a single well-defined *right* way to solve something like the mutilated chessboard problem and an interviewer who asks that question is looking to see if you are able to figure it out.

            There’s a guy at my current workplace who literally “interviews” people by handing them a sheet of paper with some problems on it. He says “I’ll be back in 30 minutes to discuss your answers” and leaves.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Brain Teaser interviews. It sounds like most of these are done verbally and are not paper and pencil tests. That is much easier to get away with because it leaves little objective evidence. When I was interviewing for an accountant position 15 years ago, the HR department nixed my Excel test where I asked them to do various processes to prove their facility with Excel. When I told HR that I needed to know their Excel skills, I was told to just ask them. They also got mad at me when I made notes on resumes. Subjective evidence is okay, objective is not. If it comes down to a lawsuit, the employer’s lawyers have a much better chance of spinning things their way if there is little of that pesky objective evidence. An IQ test is pretty objective; questions that an interviewer may or may not ask is not. IF you do have a paper and pencil test but toss them at the end of the interviewing process, you are probably okay.

          • Chalid says:

            One bank I applied to, which was not exactly a household name but has over $25B market cap, gave as the first part of its application process a written exam which included brainteasers. This was given in a giant room to a few hundred people. My memory is fuzzy but I’m pretty sure that this was one of the questions. So there was little attempt at plausible deniability there.

            So I suspect that your legal department is just overly paranoid and out of control.

    • IrishDude says:

      Other commenters have discussed how college signals things besides IQ, such as showing up on time, obeying authority, and turning in work, which I think answers your question directly. For more info if you’re interested, Bryan Caplan is working on a book called the Case Against Education that will discuss signalling in depth. Here a couple blog posts of his you might find of interest:

      The second link breaks out Bryan’s estimate of the effect of education on income based on three factors: human capital (10%), ability bias (50%), and signalling (40%).

  23. sliceoftime says:

    Scott, would love to hear your analysis on the recent spate of news on Russian involvement in the “fake news” business as well as influencing the election. I worry about the resurgence of McCarthyism fueled in part (or largely) by people being unhappy about the election outcome. It also seems that a reluctance to dismiss the significance of one’s own government playing the same game (Skepticism is simply “Whataboutism” or more easily the work of traitors) ironically creates very receptive targets for fake news or any propaganda and each opposing side is able to easily organize their respective troops in line to perpetuate the eternal spy versus spy game. In another lateral thought, you are boorish and unsophisticated if your xenophobia centers around being fearful of immigrants and globalization stealing your jobs but if you have the more refined and intellectually superior xenophobic fear of Russians undermining your democracy, that is valid and justified.

    • Wander says:

      Personally, I think the distinction between “Russians with ‘government links'” and “The Russian government” has been blurred with extreme prejudice in this case.
      And you’re also totally right about one’s own government playing this game, considering that the US has had influence in literally dozens of foreign elections. Hell, they’re involved in a regime change in Syria right now.

    • Spookykou says:

      I don’t think there is much to worry about in terms of McCarthyism, at least not as I understood it. We don’t have the same problem with half our academic population being Russian nationals back in college.

    • onyomi says:

      Scott Adams had a good post on “fake news” recently: Which is more harmful? An outright lie easily dismissed by a quick Google, or:

      1. True stories told out of context to intentionally mislead.

      2. Biased reporting that the media doesn’t realize is biased.

      3. Giving a spotlight to people who are lying.

      4. Misleading by putting emphasis on some things and not others.

      5. True stories too complicated for the public to understand.

      6. True reports of sources that happen to be lying but we don’t know it.

      7. Having boths sides represented when one side is clearly lying or wrong.

      8. Simplification to the point of misleading.

      9. Showing clear disdain for the opinions on one side but not the other.

      Personally, the sudden spate of complaints about “fake news” strike me as nothing but a prelude to attacks on freedom of speech under the guise of “protecting the people from misleading, malicious information.” “Control left,” indeed.

      Hey, do you know why the PRC engages in censorship and forces you to hand over your state-issued ID just to use an internet cafe? Why it’s to protect their citizens from malicious and misleading information, of course!

      • dwietzsche says:

        I don’t think a person can credibly fold the problems with the chain mail alternate universe (which has apparently blossomed into a start up industry for aspiring stay at home immigrants) into the standard epistemological problems everyone has to deal with to make sense of conventional reporting and pretend it’s just a natural part of the landscape. It has its own rules and its particular function, is in effect its own special kind of folklore, and the way that it works is just not the same as how the rest of the news works.

      • beleester says:

        Looking at the Pizzagate kerfluffle, a lot of people will happily believe outright lies that can be dismissed with a quick Google. I don’t think you can ignore its impact that easily.

        • The_Other_Brad says:

          a lot of people will happily believe outright lies that can be dismissed with a quick Google

          You mean like this? You’re making the mistake of assuming conspiracy theorists consider these sources “authoritative” or trust-worthy in the same way non-conspiracy-theorists do. For you, that link is probably proof pizzagate isn’t real, but it just functions as a signal to the conspiracy theorist that Snopes is not to be trusted as a source of information.

          • Spookykou says:

            While I agree that conspiracy theorists are very resistant to evidence contrary to their views, I think that only highlights the unique problem of ‘fake news’ compared to the normal failings of the news.

        • onyomi says:

          It seems like very few took “Pizzagate” seriously for very long, which indicates to me that the “debunkers” are already doing their job. Sure, there are a few people who will believe anything, but I don’t think they significantly influence much of anything, including the recent election outcome.

          The reason the left, especially, is complaining about “fake news” right now is because conspiracy theorists are more often right wing than left wing. This isn’t because of “fake news”; it’s because of the nature of being right wing or conservative: right wing and conservative in the US today tends to imply: skeptical of the government and what it promises and tells you, skeptical of the opinions of academics and “experts,” and skeptical of utopians, technocrats, globalists, and other central planners.

          When you have a group with those traits, they are going to be more susceptible to deception which plays upon those specific fears, i. e. stories about sinister cabals plotting elaborate schemes in smoke-filled rooms (note that sinister cabals DO sometimes scheme in smoke-filled rooms; it’s just that Red Tribe is more likely to overestimate how common or impactful such things are).

          But liberals/left wing/Blue tribe, etc. have their own vulnerabilities: ways in which they are more vulnerable to deception than conservatives/Red Tribe. More easily misled by the latest study, more likely to take government claims at face value and give it the benefit of the doubt, less likely to see how politicians are acting according to a “public choice” logic rather than “the common good,” etc.

          For the left wing to claim that conspiracy theory type news is uniquely harmful is to beg the question: they already know that mistrust of the government and experts and authority and central plans is a bigger problem than the reverse; therefore, misleading stories which encourage it are a bigger problem than the reverse.

          • Spookykou says:

            Does ‘pizzagate’ refer to the story that Hillary supported child trafficking out of a pizza restaurant or the event where a man discharged his rifle in said pizza restaurant and claimed he was there to investigate the child trafficking story?

            Edit: I only heard of ‘pizzagate’ in reference to the shooting(shot? it was just one shot I think) and I was not sure if there was a scandal before that event or not. Googling it, it seems that there was, but all of the top results seem to be in line with Mr. X’s experience, left wing media reporting on how horrible it is. Although that might just be a google top results bias towards left wing media outlets?

          • beleester says:

            @Spookykou – the conspiracy theory came first. It was on Reddit for quite a while before the gunman incident. But I suppose it didn’t hit the mainstream media until he took it into the real world.

            (It’s no longer on Reddit, after the incident, the subreddit got banned for inciting witch-hunts, and moved to Voat. Naturally, they took it as proof that the admins were in on the conspiracy.)

            @Onyomi: Someone took it seriously enough to visit the pizza place with a gun and fire shots. That’s above-average for a conspiracy theory.

            I’m not bringing up Pizzagate because I’m worried about abstract mistrust in government, and frankly, I’m a little insulted you think that’s my angle. I’m bringing it up because it had vivid, demonstrable harm and got a pretty wide audience on the parts of the Internet I frequent. If people here regularly worry about Tumblr hate mobs, then my personal boogeyman is the Reddit witch hunt.

            Sure, there are a few people who will believe anything, but I don’t think they significantly influence much of anything, including the recent election outcome.

            The left is making a fuss over fake news because we’re suspecting that the “few people who will believe anything” aren’t as few as we thought. We’re worried that spreading blatant lies will become a common tactic rather than something for the lunatic fringe.

            For example, Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security adviser, has retweeted similar conspiracy theories, like the Bill Clinton “pedo island” story. When the fringe starts holding office, it’s time to worry.

          • roystgnr says:

            Bill Clinton did travel to “pedo island”, as reported by one of the island’s owner’s victims and by Newsweek. That owner is Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire who was convicted and spent a year imprisoned for soliciting sex from a minor. Clinton was also a passenger for dozens of flights on Epstein’s private jumbo jet, nicknamed the “Lolita Express”.

            Epstein hosted lots of other guests, and had other entertainment, so one presumes they weren’t all there for the child prostitution. (Trump was another suspicious guest, for that matter – IIRC this island is where his rape accuser claimed that that crime was committed) I certainly haven’t seen enough evidence to convict Clinton or Trump beyond a shadow of a doubt, and even if Omega demanded that I place a bet at 50/50 odds I would have to guess “not a child rapist” for each of them. But that being said, don’t you think “fringe” “conspiracy theories” is a bit inaccurately insulting? It seems that, as a matter of inductive reasoning, when a man infamous for lying about his sexual indiscretions takes dozens of trips on the “Lolita Express” at the invitation of a man who was later convicted of soliciting child prostitutes and widely accused of pimping them, one might be forgiven for wondering whether that passenger wasn’t just there for the airline food.

          • The Nybbler says:


            Trump never went to Epstein’s island (though the Clintons did); the accusations from “Jane Doe” were that Trump raped her at Epstein’s Manhattan home.

          • carvenvisage says:

            I’m not bringing up Pizzagate because I’m worried about abstract mistrust in government, and frankly, I’m a little insulted you think that’s my angle.

            Where did Onyomi say that this was your angle?

          • beleester says:

            @carvenvisage: This part:

            they already know that mistrust of the government and experts and authority and central plans is a bigger problem than the reverse; therefore, misleading stories which encourage it are a bigger problem than the reverse.

            Implying that I’m worried about fake news because I’m worried they will make people mistrust the government, rather than because I’m worried about the number of people in this country who can be convinced of utterly batshit things.

            Mistrust of the government is perhaps a prerequisite for believing these conspiracy theories, but that’s not saying much.

          • carvenvisage says:

            If your initial comment in this thread had identified you as a left winger then taking statements about (trends in) your group as a statement about you would still be ridiculous, but your original post doesn’t even identify you as such. I was hoping I had missed something but this is beyond ridiculous.

          • beleester says:

            Attacks on a group are offensive to members of that group. You don’t have to target someone as an individual to hurt them.

            If someone made a post saying that black people were all criminals, and someone complained that that was offensive to him, would you make the same defense, that it’s okay because he hadn’t stated that he was black first?

          • carvenvisage says:

            You know I don’t imagine you would need to be black to be angered by a statement like that. At least, I wouldn’t.

            And I think responding to such blatant and very-likely malicious provocation by gently taking offense… ‘as a black person’, would be just about the weakest thing you could do. ‘Yes, well done, you have hurt my feelings, as you clearly intended to’.


            And gently taking offense via a group as a public action is WAY more iffy when that group is as vast as ‘the left wing’, as comparitively strong, and -unlike having dark skin, where membership is voluntary/volitional.

            The idea of comparing your plight here as someone who heard someone speculating about vulnerabilities in left wing leanings and trends in its vast flows, speaking in generalities, while at the same time acknowledging the right wing had its own mirror version of the problem and ennumerating it, and decided to accuse that person of believing


            initially posted because you (that is, you, personally, not ‘the left wing’,) (unless that’s a ‘royal’ you?) were ‘worried about abstract mistrust in government’

            Quote here. Matter of public record:

            I’m not bringing up Pizzagate because I’m worried about abstract mistrust in government, and frankly, I’m a little insulted you think that’s my angle

            emphasis added

            which resembles nothing onyomi said

            with a black person listening to someone say all black people are criminals, is just….


            I just hope this isn’t something you do regularly.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          How big a thing actually is pizzagate? I follow a few right-wing blogs, and I can remember seeing one, maybe two, passing references in the commboxes. That’s it. In fact, I’d say I’ve heard far more about pizzagate from left-wingers using it as evidence that the right is full of idiots and conspiracy theorists than I have from actual right-wingers.

          • Brad says:

            The shoe’s on the other food, eh?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Well, the Voat subverse for it has ~8700 subscribers. How many of those are there to watch the crazy and how many believe but aren’t subscribing because it would allow THEM to know is of course unknowable.

  24. Wander says:

    Are there any scifi stories in a similar vein to Julia Ecklar’s “Pushing the Speed of Light”? Something about spacemen basically being cut off from society due to relativistic effects.
    On a similar note, does anyone have any good recommendations of the sort of folk music that Ecklar is mimicking? I feel like it’s American working-class folk but I’m not too sure, cause I’ve only been exposed to Irish folk.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Are there any scifi stories in a similar vein to Julia Ecklar’s “Pushing the Speed of Light”? Something about spacemen basically being cut off from society due to relativistic effects.

      Lem’s Return from the Stars. (It’s outstanding, by the way.)

    • doubleunplussed says:

      You might enjoy “Diaspora” by Greg Egan.

      It involves some characters being very far from home, partly due to relativity and partly due to other physics.

    • Mary says:

      “The Pusher” by Vernon Vinge. Great story.

    • cassander says:

      The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman.

      • Incurian says:

        Seconded. Just finished it and it’s really great.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Anti-seconded. All of my friends recommended it and I disliked it enough to not bother reading the sequel.

        • gbdub says:

          If by sequel you mean “Forever Peace”, that’s a totally different novel – your feelings toward one may or may not correlate.

          • LHN says:

            There’s a later direct sequel, Forever Free. I haven’t read it, and so can’t comment on its quality, though the reviews were at best mixed IIRC.

    • LHN says:

      Poul Anderson’s Kith stories, and Heinlein’s Time For The Stars.

    • Unsaintly says:

      The music genre is called Filk, it’s a sort of sci-fi folk offshoot. A lot of it is on youtube, so you can go there and check it out. Leslie Fish has a lot of similar music, and so does Bill Roper. The latter’s album Grim Roper has a song Space is Dark that also deals with the pain of relativity, as well as One Last Battle which is about someone away for years in a space war.

      Other good space Filk music (not a comprehensive list):
      Dawson’s Christian
      The Wrong Side of the Sky
      One Way To Go
      Pilot’s Eyes
      Hero’s Lullaby
      Hero’s Song (these two are VERY different, just happen to have a similar name. Lullaby is sad, Song is adventury)
      Space Hero (Again, very different from the last two. This is a recruitment parody)
      Banned From Argo
      Toast For Unknown Heroes

      • And for the Kipling fans here, Leslie Fish also has done musical versions of a good deal of Kipling poetry.

        • LHN says:

          Many of which are quite good. (Though her adaptation of “Female of the Species” does, for understandable reasons, neatly snip out the antisuffragist thrust of the original poem.)

        • cassander says:

          I have to see this

          • Michael Longcor has also set a fair number of Kipling poems (and at least one GKC poem, but very truncated) to music. Both he and Leslie make minor changes, some I think by accident, some to please their audience.

          • cassander says:

            If you like Kipling, you should read what Orwell said about Kipling. Orwell obviously loathed Kipling’s politics, and that adds an interesting layer to his literary analysis. On a purely literary level he was almost in awe of kipling’s talent, but profoundly annoyed by a few of his stylistic quirks, particularly what he saw as kipling’s overemphasis on playing up the accents of his subjects. Honestly I think he’s right.


          • Randy M says:

            Speaking of Kipling, I read my daughters Riki-tiki-tavi the other night. It is quite a break from the “let’s all get along, we’re all the same underneath” ethos of many children’s books these days, as the slightly anthropomorphic Mongoose uses the Cobra’s eggs as hostages before brutally slaughtering her.

          • “If you like Kipling, you should read what Orwell said about Kipling.”

            I have, since I also like Orwell. It’s perceptive in some ways, wrong in others. Orwell does not seem to know of the existence of Kim or even Captains Courageous–he refers to “his solitary novel, The Light that Failed.” And parts of the argument depend on Orwell’s belief that he understands the economic basis of imperialism, that “We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies.”

            There is no evidence that Orwell has read some of Kipling’s best poetry that does not fit the picture he is painting, such as “The Mary Gloster.” I doubt Orwell would describe Browning’s monologs as good bad poetry, but Kipling wrote what may be the best poem in that genre.

            I find it irritating that Orwell, like a number of other interesting people, is not around to be argued with.

      • roystgnr says:

        Thank you for these! Since I’m having to look them up to listen anyways, I’ll save others the trouble:

        Dawson’s Christian

        The Wrong Side of the Sky

        One Way To Go

        Pilot’s Eyes

        Hero’s Lullaby

        Hero’s Song

        Space Hero

        Banned from Argo

        Toast for Unknown Heroes

        I’m a big science fiction fan and I like a lot of musical genres, but I’m sad to say I didn’t enjoy most of these songs (nor most of what I found when I searched through space filk on my own years ago).

        “Hero’s Song” was good, and “Banned from Argo” and “Space Hero” were amusing. I did really love Hero’s Lullaby, but maybe that’s the exception that proves the rule? “Space Hero” and “Banned from Argo” are “In Space!” versions of traditional themes, and with Hero’s Lullaby you could do a quick ‘s/world/field/g’ and it wouldn’t be space filk anymore.

        My favorite here was Toast for Unknown Heroes. It reminds me a bit of my past “space filk” favorite, which wasn’t on the list: “Fire in the Sky”.

        Maybe there’s an “engineering filk” subgenre, overlapping “space filk”, that I ought to be looking for? I did greatly enjoy Leslie Fish’s musical version of “Hymn to Breaking Strain”.

        • You might like Michael Longcor’s “Privateer.”

          “Hymn to Breaking Strain” is one of my favorite Kipling poems. I like to offer it as evidence that he was a modern poet in a sense in which most are not, since he used features of the modern world as material for his poetry.

          • LHN says:

            “The King”, which does likewise, is one of my favorites. And as it predicted, the “unromantic”, then actually modern elements (trains and steamships) have since become very much the stuff of romance in retrospect.

          • Jordan D. says:

            LHN – I think that’s a profound observation. It always amazes me to see how quickly the nuisances of the old romantic world become objects of romance when they themselves are replaced. Even things like Model Ts, jalopies, hippy concerts, people hanging washing out the windows- it seems like it becomes easy to fixate on a thing as a lost, beautiful symbol of bygone age when it grows obsolete.

            Predictions for things from my era which become romantic symbols within my lifetime- taxicabs, non-self-driving cars, cameras with film. Maybe someday we’ll see a world in which hip poets write laments about the lost days standing in line at the DMV.

          • Aapje says:

            My observation is that around the age of 50, people become way more nostalgic about their youth. So there is basically a moving window where 30-40 years after something leaves our culture, it becomes romantic.

          • LHN says:

            I think film is already undergoing the process. (Which suggests it may not always take 30-40 years.) I think taxis are a great call, and would bet that there’ll eventually be nostalgic taxi experiences the way that many cities have horse-drawn carriages now.

            (Even if the “driver” is eventually sitting at the front of an autocar, and just there to be colorful and call male passengers “mac”.)

          • Aapje says:

            After thinking about it a bit, it may just be necessary for it to have been popular 30-40 years ago and gone today. People adapt to new situations rather quickly and things can become ‘quaint’ very rapidly, after being ‘normal’ not too long ago.

        • LHN says:

          Some filk, like “Banned from Argo” (along with similar SF/fantasy turns on traditional folk like “That Real Old Time Religion” and “Starship Unity”/”Johnny Be Fair”) is really designed as a social experience, with a bunch of different people contributing original
          (or at least new to the listener) verses while everyone comes in on the chorus. That doesn’t necessarily translate well to a recording.

          (It also sometimes wears out its welcome, at least for a while, when everyone’s heard pretty much all the verses.)

    • herbert herberson says:

      Alastair Reynolds’s House of Suns

    • Unsaintly says:

      Also, there’s an anime/manga called Voices of a Distant Star that may fit your framework. Two high school friends split ways, with one going off into space as part of a great war. The space friend’s messages get slower and slower as she travels further and further away, and messages are bound by the speed of light and the growing distance. She remains the same age due to relativistic effects, and he grows up with only brief messages to connect them.

    • StellaAthena says:

      The sequels to Ender’s Game have very limited FTL communication and the lack of FTL com in most circumstances is important. Hell, this is the case in the first book too, you just don’t see it until the last 30 pages.

  25. Rusty says:

    Brexit is often spoken about as the UK turning its back on the world. That may turn out to be true but if you have time (it is rather long) its worth hearing what one of the best known Brexiteers has to say – Boris Johnson the UK foreign secretary. He was giving a speech at Chatham House the other day. As ever with Johnson there are some very good lines. I particularly enjoyed his stealing from Tolstoy about happy and unhappy families. He suggests that the populist movements are like unhappy families – each different in their own way. Johnson is someone people talk about a lot so if you have the time it is worth hearing what he has to say rather than what other people say he says.

  26. Sniffnoy says:

    So… NY megameetup is still location TBD, I gather?

  27. Sfoil says:

    RIP Quora, which has experienced its Eternal September. I used to post on it semi-frequently, and now every time I log in it’s Facebook-tier loaded questions with virtue-signaling responses competing for upboats, obviously unqualified people giving irrelevant opinions, and even my own narrow field of expertise is increasingly choked with dumb questions (“Could an Abrams tank win against 100 Panzer IVs?” -> “As someone with over 300 hours in War Thunder, I…”).

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Oh, was it ever better than that? Huh, I guess I should’ve given it a chance earlier. I never created an account after taking one look, thinking of Yahoo Answers, shuddering, and moving on.

    • chariava says:

      I used to also post and use the website. Over the past few years and especially over the past year, my feed which I tried my best curate to avoid low quality content began started looking like the frontpage of Buzzfeed. I’ve given up using it like that and instead just use the site to watch the answers of a few of my more favorite writers.

  28. shakeddown says:

    One argument I’ve seen a lot against both Bush and Obama is that they gathered up too much authority in the executive branch, and that even if you liked them, someone bad could come along and misuse it.
    This seems unreasonable. If a president is capable of gathering an authority to himself, he already had that authority. A bad president in a counter factual universe where Bush/Obama didn’t do that would just have to take one more step. You could argue that they helped gradually erode cultural norms, but those seem like flimsy defences against a potential dictator.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Your argument assumes that, if B and O hadn’t increased executive authority, later presidents would have had the same opportunities to do so. But they used temporary situations (national insecurity in Bush’s case, legislative gridlock in Obama’s) to justify permanent increases in executive authority.

      • Controls Freak says:

        They used temporary situations to justify eroding norms to the public. The legal justifications are different. Presumably, a tyrant cares much less about selling the public on his usurpations of power.

        • DavidS says:

          Seems like an odd assumption. Tyrants very often rely on support from at least large sections of the public, at least while establishing their power base.

    • AnonEEmous says:

      but it would take them time to do so. Like, 16 years’ worth, possibly

    • John Schilling says:

      If a president is capable of gathering an authority to himself, he already had that authority

      I disagree with this statement. Path dependence matters. Whether or not a president can “gather an authority to himself” depends on whether other people, e.g. congress or the bureaucracy, will act to stop him. Whether other people will act to stop a president’s gathering of authority, is empirically observed to depend on A: the expected object-level result, B: the level of trust in the president, and perhaps most importantly C: precedent.

      A trusted president might be unable to “gather an authority” on one day, but able the next because his proposed use of that authority is seen as having a better object-level outcome. Having done so, precedent now works in his favor – and in favor of the next, less trustworthy president.

      • shakeddown says:

        This is a reasonable objection. But the system should still not rely on presidents’ willingness to forgo available power in order to stop executive overreach. The responsibility of preventing presidents from gaining too much power is on Congress and the Court.

        • John Schilling says:

          As is so often the case, what should be, isn’t. What are you going to do about it?

          Me, I’m going to start with voting for presidents who II expect will refrain from claiming excessive or extralegal power even when they could get away with it, even when it is in a temporarily-good cause. And I’m going to call out the ones that don’t, and the people that vote for them. Possibly when I hear your plan I’ll decide it is better.

    • dwietzsche says:

      I’ve never been able to figure what the right amount of power is for the executive branch. But people who object to increased executive authority I think are obliged to at least acknowledge that presidents are in a political bind that makes it hazardous to voluntarily relinquish power they have accumulated. And this may be a civics lesson problem (i.e. completely intractable), but people really expect the president to accomplish things like preventing terrorists attack anywhere in the US, and some would even go so far as to implicate the president for failing to prevent terrorist attacks overseas (people were blaming Obama for the recent attack in Nice, for instance, which is pretty amazing). And presidents apparently are solely accountable for things like the stock market and the unemployment rate. As long as presidents are held to an unreasonable degree of accountability, they will be politically obliged to hold an unreasonable amount of power.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Legal precedent is powerful and important. Once a power has been ruled constitutional for the president/government to have, it’s very difficult to roll that back.

    • JayT says:

      In addition to the other comments I think there is a bit of a “boiling a frog” situation here. If a despot came in and went against 240 years of precedence and started throwing executive orders around willy nilly, he would meet with a lot of resistance. If the previous few presidents slowly ramped up the powers of the office, it could theoretically make it easier for the despot to make orders that would have seemed ridiculous 20 years earlier.

    • shakeddown says:

      A bunch of people have posted variations of the boiling a frog/taking advantage of the opportunities argument, which are good points I hadn’t considered enough.

      I do, however, stand by the claim that restricting Executive power is the role of the other branches of government, not the president.

      • LHN says:

        George Washington stepping down after two terms arguably restrained the executive for 144 years before someone successfully challenged it. After that challenge, Congress and the states did step in with a constitutional amendment. But it seems unlikely such an amendment would have happened if Washington had accepted as his due reelection to the Presidency for as long as he lived (which he would certainly have been granted), or if earlier presidents had not exercised similar restraint before it was clearly established as a strong expectation.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I think it’s fair to say that the legal responsibility of restricting Executive power rests in the other two branches. It’s sort of baked into our system.

        However, if the president is invested in the principles upon which the system was founded, and believes in them, it follows that he should consider preserving those principles to be one of his ethical responsibilities too, and a rather important one.

        It might be political suicide for a president (at least, a Republican or a Democrat) to announce:

        “I could do this thing under the norms for executive powers established by such and so precedents…but I won’t, because I believe that the long-term goal of preserving the balance of powers between the branches is more important than any one short-term political goal. You must accomplish this without me.”

        And his own party might well try to impeach the treacherous bastard. But I’d sure as hell want him to stay in office.

    • Deiseach says:

      They both expanded the role and power of the president as a way of circumventing Congress, and the after-effects of that are that it creates the precedent for a successor to do the same, it makes the public and the bureaucracy accustomed to the president doing such a thing, which in turn means that a greater power grab is not as alarming and it encourages partisan thinking along the lines (which I did see in articles looking forward to the Glorious Reign of Empress Hillary I) that she wouldn’t have to bother with reaching across the aisles to work with Republicans and persuade them to engage in bi-partisanship, she could simply use executive orders to get her policies adopted by fiat.

      It’s a bad way of going on, even if “But I’m a good guy and I’m using it for a good end and I only do it once, maybe twice!” There’s a reason the set of checks and balances on executive power were set up in the American system the way they were, and it’s Chesterton’s Fence all over again: until you can demonstrate you know why the restriction on simply doing things by presidential fiat is a good idea, you don’t get to do away with it.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      One of the funny things here is how much people banged on Obama, and I mean over and over, for not using the power of the executive.

      Let’s take a few examples. Obama did not dictate anything like the exact form of the ACA, but took a hands off “let it go through the committee process”.

      On the subject of gay service members, Obama did not simply sign an executive order allowing service, but started a process which eventually led to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” which was done essentially at the behest of the Pentagon.

      Even DAPA and DACA, which some were very mad at as an overreach, were simply using authority specifically granted by congress to enforce immigration law. It’s in the statute explicitly, IIRC.

      Obama has been a very, very process oriented precedent. It’s really unfortunate that his election was met by complete non-cooperation from the opposition in Congress. McConnell and others knew this could be used to create the appearance of controversy where none may actually exist.

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s really unfortunate that his election was met by complete non-cooperation from the opposition in Congress.

        Naturally we would have seen a Democrat congress be completely in tune with a Republican president and willing to follow his lead?

        I think opposition for the sake of it is useless and can be actively harmful, but if we have a system where party A says it stands for different things than party B and vice versa, we have to expect that party B is not going to agree to all the policies based on party A principles without at least some kicking.

        And I think Obama may have managed to spin a few things as “See, the opposition has totally tied my hands on this!” (I’m thinking of the “shutting-down government” which, so far as I could see, meant ‘sorry, national parks and monuments are not open to the public’ but other things went on pretty much as usual) and gave the appearance of things being worse than they were.

        He’s a clever politician, he knows how to play the game and made the other side look bad when they hand him the chance on a plate.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The idea that the controversy around the ACA was merely manufactured is questionable, to say the least.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Did I say that? I do not believe I did.

          But the passage of the ACA isn’t an example of executive overreach. Nor is it an example of Republicans having no say or opportunity to influence the legislation. The basic premise of the ACA was long pushed by Republican think-tanks, and Republicans could have absolutely extracted changes to the legislation for even one vote.

          And more broadly the, the narrative that Obama was doing thing by executive fiat (see the Glenn Beck style controversy about “Czars” for instance) was mugging for the cameras. Obama has been an extraordinarily process driven president who really badly wanted to reestablish governing norms.

  29. Sandy says:

    The New York Times did a story about how the Kremlin apparently plants child pornography on the computers of Putin’s critics to ruin them, and our caliph (I want to call a new election, by the way) warns us of the “moral panic about child pornography”.

    • Sfoil says:

      The only thing surprising about Russian intelligence services doing this would be if they were the only ones.

      Also, while I’m anti-kiddie porn, I think “moral panic” is a perfectly apt descriptor for the way it’s treated.

    • rlms says:

      The owner of that twitter account is an interesting fellow.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I thought we had already determined that Scott is the rightful caliph.

    • nyccine says:

      The important point is the one in the Twitter feed:
      “Reminder that NYT is making the case for pedophiles using the defence “Russians spies put it there.”

      • Montfort says:

        Imagine, for a moment, that the NYT is perfectly correct and this is the big new thing the FSB likes to do. Are you suggesting this news story should not be run?

        Besides, to be accurate, the NYT is offering a defense to people who might plausibly be major targets of the Russian regime, not Jack in Oklahoma.

        • phil says:

          Put your tinfoil Turing hat on

          Are they providing a defense for the goings on at a particular pizza establishment?

          • Montfort says:

            I thought the tinfoilers thought they were actually trafficking children?

          • phil says:

            And the NYTs giving them a cover would be pretty upsetting if you were tinfoiled enough to think that

          • Montfort says:

            My point is, it would give a cover story for child porn (sort of). But to cover for trafficking NYT would have to make up a story about how the FSB plants actual children to frame targets.

        • James Miller says:

          Jack in Oklahoma might now start attacking Putin on Twitter and Facebook, which in a very unfair Bayesian sense should cause us to be a bit suspicious of people who suddenly start criticizing Putin.

          • StellaAthena says:

            The key word is “more.” We should be more suspicious. If you plug in some tentative numbers, you find out that the answer is “very slightly more” under reasonable assumptions: P(attacking Putin) is moderate, P(child porn) is small, and the two are independent events. Unless your prior on this particular person puts P(attacks putin) and P(child porn) pretty close together, the differential will be small. And for a randomly selected American I would image an order of magnitude difference would be reasonable, if not more. I think it’s safe to say that maybe 30% of Americans would tweet angry about Putin in the current political circumstances (or, the circumstances as they are minus the FSB kiddy porn thing), but P(child porn) < 0.01

      • dwietzsche says:

        If Russian spies are actually putting kiddie porn on computers to target their political enemies, then that becomes a defense for pedophiles because that’s what Russian spies are doing, not because that’s what the NYT is reporting. It would be crazy to assert that the NYT invented the idea of Russian kiddie porn hacks to give random pedophiles a free legal defense.

        • Deiseach says:

          If Russian spies are actually putting kiddie porn on computers to target their political enemies, then that becomes a defense for pedophiles because that’s what Russian spies are doing, not because that’s what the NYT is reporting.

          It only becomes a convincing defence if you can argue that you are politically important enough for the Russians to hack your computer and plant stuff on it. Anthony Weiner might possibly try it (“The Russians hacked my wife’s computer because she was in the State Department and planted those sexts to a 15 year old!”) but Joe Nobody won’t get away with it.

          However, Joe Nobody or his lawyer might figure it’s worth a desperate shot (“my client’s computer could have been hacked by persons unknown and these images planted; see the New York Times story proving that hacking and framing can be done!”) because what the hell, it’s not like they can make the case worse and anything to muddy the waters and raise doubts in the mind of a jury is worth it.

        • James Miller says:

          Yes, but jury members who remember reading about this in the NYT will be much more likely to accept the Russian hackers did it defense.

          • Deiseach says:

            Not even the Russian hackers, more “Gosh, I read that story in the paper about how hackers are planting fake child porn on people’s computers, and it was a reliable newspaper too, so it could be true about Mr Nobody!”

          • dwietzsche says:

            I don’t really know anything about jury members and what it is reasonable to expect them to know or not know. If you assume juries are composed of a certain kind of idiot with a long term memory and no reasoning skills, then maybe this is some kind of problem. But it’s not clear what the remedy should be, unless you think the New York Times should refuse to report on Russian hacking operations out of concern for idiot jurors. I mean, I guess a person could worry about that, but it still seems kind of odd.

          • Jordan D. says:

            In my (limited) experience, the jury will only really consider the ‘Russian plot’ defense if the defendant raises it. If he has an attorney who is raising it, that probably means he actually does have plausible ties to Russia and a reason Putin might want to frame him. In that case, maybe it’s for the best that the jurors don’t dismiss the theory out of hand?

            (If he doesn’t have an attorney and is ranting about Russian agents setting him up while the government is laying out its evidence, the jury will probably assume he’s both crazy and guilty anyway.)

    • Deiseach says:

      If you remember the Satanic child abuse panics of the 80s and 90s, then “moral panic” is exactly the word to describe it.

      I don’t think child pornography is in any way acceptable, but it’s a great tool to use to discredit someone if you do want to do so.

    • Virbie says:

      > “moral panic about child pornography”

      Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, wrote a couple of interesting articles on the legal landscape surrounding child pornography.

      His first one is provocatively titled 3 Reasons Child Porn Must Be Legalized in the Coming Decade. I didn’t have nearly as as much familiarity with child porn possession laws but the similarities to the historical legal and societal reactions to recreational drugs makes “moral panic” sound just about dead-on to me.

      To be clear, there’s a pretty stark difference between the two in that the entire supply chain of many recreational drugs can in theory harm no one but the user, but the focus on “THAT THING IS SO BAD THIS IS THE ONLY POSSIBLE POLICY NO DISCUSSION NEEDED” with no attempt at harm reduction (even for the child victims of sexual abuse) is almost exactly the same in the case of both CP and drug policy.

      His follow-up article is pretty good too:

  30. Bakkot says:

    It’s two days late, but:

    Happy smallpox eradication day.

  31. AnonEEmous says:

    here is my question to the readers of this thread

    can anyone come up with a reason for why private prisons are better than the alternative


    are Sweden’s prison systems, the ones with lots of rehabilitation services and good treatment and such, actually good? should we implement them here?

    • StellaAthena says:

      I imagine one might say either a) “because small government is better” or b) “because the free market drives down costs. The prison system is extremely expensive, and privatizing prisons will reduce how much the country as a whole spends on incarceration.” The issue isn’t a lack of arguments for. The issue is that I’m not sure there’s ever been a private prison company that I would consider morally good (or even morally neutral).

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      can anyone come up with a reason for why private prisons are better than the alternative

      It’d seem logical to see what places have applied private prisons and what reasons they gave for implementing them. From what I recall, they’re said to be cheaper and faster to roll out in case of a prison population surplus than public ones.

      • Deiseach says:

        Are they cheaper? That seems to be a yes-and-no argument: one side says yes, another says no.

        The problem appears to be the need for “guaranteed 90% occupancy rate” to make them profitable to run. If you have plenty of crime to fill your prisons, that’s … probably not socially great.

        There’s also the chance that the state that has private prisons will feel the need to make full use of them (I think most of these contracts have penalty or compensatory clauses that if the prison isn’t 90% full, the state paying for it will make up the shortfall in forecast revenue) so instead of suspended sentences and other non-incarceration methods of dealing with sentencing, judges will be encouraged to sentence everyone to prison time even for minor offences.

        And of course, to maximise returns, cost-cutting is going to be part of it; so no rehabilitation programmes or education or anything that is going to cost more to run than can be charged for/justified to the taxpayers. People are already prepared to be in a punitive frame of mind when it comes to jail and tabloids love running stories about criminals living in luxury or ‘jail is like a holiday camp’, so there’s also a likelihood the public mood will be “make the prison as horrible as possible, punish them, that’s what they’re there for!”

        It’s not just an American debate, the same is happening in the UK:

        The last Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, talked regularly about how much cheaper private prisons are. This appears to be a commonly held view, with most commentators attributing it to a range of reasons:

        – Most private prisons are new builds and do not require the same level of upkeep as antiquated Victorian jails.
        – They are designed to be efficient and to be operated by fewer staff.
        – They are often very large indeed (the new “Titan” prison being built in Wrexham will house 2,000 prisoners), bringing economies of scale.
        – Private operators have more modern working practices and/or less generous wage levels.

        On 29 October 2015, the MoJ published the latest costs per place and costs per prisoner for 2014-15 in the NOMS Annual Report and Accounts (management information addendum).

        The MoJ makes it clear that public sector & private sector costs are not directly comparable because of “differences in accounting treatment and scope of service”. In practice, this is because of two main factors:

        – Public Finance Initiative (PFI – new build privately run) prisons include a charge for interest on capital
        – Most private sector prisons include healthcare costs in their charges

        …As you can see the annual cost of keeping an average of 84,238 people in prison in 2014/15 was £2.8 billion.

        The cost per prison place was £3,182 (8.9%) dearer in the private sector.

        The cost per prisoner was £373 (1%) more in the private sector.

        Once you factor in healthcare costs, it’s probably fair to say that private sector prisons are slightly cheaper, although nowhere near as much as politicians would have us believe.

    • scherzando says:

      Somewhat related, though the author emphasizes that he finds the question of privatization more or less orthogonal to his topic: This article (by Sasha Volokh, brother of Eugene), which lays out some arguments for (and against) a system of “prison vouchers”.

    • cassander says:

      >can anyone come up with a reason for why private prisons are better than the alternative

      the concentrated power of a single state prison guard union is much a much worse risk for all the things anti-private prison advocates worry about than the more diffuse power of prison companies.

      • IrishDude says:

        Some evidence to be concerned about incentives of public law enforcement/prison guard unions: “ROUGHLY HALF OF the money raised to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, terrified that they might lose the revenue streams to which they have become so deeply addicted.”

        • rlms says:

          Why would that incentive be any different for private prisons? If anything, it would be worse. For public prisons, while the guards don’t want to lose enough prisoners that they lose their jobs, the people actually funding the prisons may be happy to have fewer prisoners if that saves them money. For private prisons, the incentive for the guards is the same, but additionally the owners of prisons have an incentive to increase prisoner numbers if they make per-prisoner profit.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It’s very arguably worse in a public prison scenario, because the organization that owns the public prison is the same organization authorized to criminalize various behaviors.

            A private prison has no such recourse. The best it can do is lobby for more criminalization. Obviously, it can’t do that openly, since it would be seen as clearly self-serving, so they would have to lobby privately, donating to some group calling for prison sentences on this or that. Possible, but I’m guessing probably more expensive than for some motivated state senator.

          • CatCube says:

            One consideration is that a guards’ union in a public prison might have more power than a private corporation owing a prison.

            As HRC just discovered, money is useful in politics only insofar as it can be used to mobilize voters. A strong union has historically been very, very effective at mobilizing a large voting bloc, well in excess of its nominal financial resources.

            Granted, the power of unions is much less than it was in the past, where extremely large groups could be counted on to vote exactly as the union bosses told them.

          • Montfort says:

            It’s very arguably worse in a public prison scenario, because the organization that owns the public prison is the same organization authorized to criminalize various behaviors.

            A private prison has no such recourse. The best it can do is lobby for more criminalization.

            The “owners” of government prisons who profit from the existence of prisons (guards, wardens) do not actually possess more power over the criminalization of behavior than a regular citizen. The “owners” of government prisons who do have that power, e.g. Congress, would actually benefit from reducing incarceration (ceteris paribus) because they’d have more budget left to do whatever it is they want.

          • rlms says:

            @Paul Brinkley
            But why would the organisation (i.e. the government) that owns public prisons want to put more people in them? Given a fixed budget, they probably want to do the opposite.

            That is certainly possible, equally it is possible that private corporations are in general very powerful at getting the government to do specific things that the majority of citizens are indifferent about, and that guards’ unions’ influence is irrelevant in comparison to that of corporations. I don’t think either of us know which is the case.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Given how many politicians see value in being seen as “tough on crime”, I’m led to believe that benefit is real to some extent – that spending at least some of their budget on putting people in jail and keeping them there is what they want.

            I think most people don’t see prisons brimming with prisoners to be the best sign of being tough on crime; rather, they see the best signal as there being no crime. So the prison issue is, in the limit, something of a mug’s game – no politician is going to get the fame he craves from showing off pictures of Florence ADX.

            On the other hand, there is an extent to which we see society not being up to snuff, and we blame it on this or that bad thing – drugs, sexual abuse, gangs, corruption, etc. – and we want to see someone punished for it. So every so often, the public needs to see someone go to the clink, and the consequent assurance that Life’s Gonna Be Better Now.

            An enterprising state official seeing an unhappy electorate can almost always find an axe to pick up and grind. There will be people with just enough outrage to be willing to peel off some of their hard-earned dollars to buy a little relief.

          • IrishDude says:


            I think both public and private prisons have similar self-interested incentives. I don’t know if one is worse than the other on the incentive to lobby for more criminals. If you have evidence of private prisons lobbying for tough sentencing or more crimes that would be helpful, but the link I provided is at least one data point on public union lobbying.

            Private prisons do have better incentives on being cost effective as they have to compete against other providers. So, as with other market processes, you get lower cost and better quality. Gary Johnson used private prisons in New Mexico and claims the cost was $56/prisoner per day compared to $76 for the state prisons.

          • rlms says:

            As far as I can tell, the two large private prison companies (CCA and Geo) spend a lot of money on lobbying, but don’t specify where it is going. CCA claims not to lobby on criminal laws or sentencing policies (i.e. they claim all their lobbying is just to promote the use of private prisons). However, they have donated to politicians and organisations in favour harsher laws, specifically to do with detaining more illegal immigrants. See here for more.

            Regarding private prisons being of a better quality: see here. In August, the federal government said it would stop using private prisons, because “they simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security”.

          • IrishDude says:


            As I said, I expect public and private prisons to have similar incentives, but lobbying for a few politicians with views that align with yours is much weaker and more indirect lobbying, IMO, than directly spending money against legalizing marijuana which has a much more direct effect on the prison population. Anyways, even without more evidence I’m fine considering public and private prisons equal opportunity lobbyists on trying to fill their beds.

            As to quality, you cite one study on federal prisons, which is a small proportion of private prisons. Even that study doesn’t account for demographic differences in the comparison, such as private federal prisons primarily housing non-U.S. citizens compared to only 12% non-U.S. citizens in the public federal prisons. Without controlling for demographics, you aren’t making apple-to-apple comparisons between private and public. The study authors note this caveat, while the political DOJ wasn’t careful in noting this when they made their decision.

            A more extensive literature review of 17 studies comparing public and private prisons in the states and in the U.K. have 15 showing private prisons with quality as good or better than public prisons:

            This study shows private prisons costing 10 to 15% less than public prisons with similar or better quality in the private prisons:

            BTW, even if the private federal prisons weren’t up to snuff on an apples-to-apples basis, which we don’t know, the cool thing about markets is you can end your contract with the poor performers and put out a new bid with your desired quality benchmarks as a contract requirement. You’re not stuck with a crappy product.

            EDIT: A relevant quote from the federal prison study: “We were unable to compare the overall costs of incarceration between BOP institutions and contract prisons in part because of the different nature of the inmate populations and programs offered in those facilities.”
            So, they couldn’t compare costs because of population differences (I don’t think the cost comparison would have been favorable to public prisons), but still felt comfortable comparing quality issues.

    • sohois says:

      Good is somewhat vague. What is the aim of the prison system? What should be the aim?

      In Sweden, the aim would appear to be a simple reduction of recidivism. To that extent, it appears to work very well and countries that wanted to achieve the same could adopt similar prison systems.

      However, some might suggest other aims for prisons. It could be argued that ‘notorious’ prisons act as a deterrent, reducing crime rates since potential criminals really want to avoid the punishment. Given that the same argument is used for the death penalty and it does not appear to work, I would guess that the argument does not hold up here either, but one still might want to study it in more detail.

      Aside from social goals, there might also be some moral aim, some sense of inflicting a harsh punishment on criminals to balance out the damage they inflicted to their victims. Anyone that’s been on the internet could probably note that english language commentators appear to have extreme bloodlust and a desire to punish certain criminals. Despite how inconsistent this appears to be, I’m not sure one could simply step in and say that their desire is wrong.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I would think a decrease in recidivism would be favored by everyone. Do you have cites on this?

        • rlms says:

          In isolation it would be favoured, but there could be a trade-off between decreasing recidivism and decreasing initial instances of crime (e.g. by prisons being nasty and acting as a deterrent).

        • sohois says:

          This article from the Guardian claims a recidivism rate of around 40% for Sweden

          With reoffending rates at about 40% – less than half of those in the UK and most other European countries

          I don’t know what time period that rate is for, but in the US recidivism is at 67% within 3 years and 76% in 5 years (source:

  32. TheContinentalOp says:

    People continue to make the argument that because of the Electoral College’s bias towards small states, Trump won the election, but that simply isn’t the case.

    The bias towards small states stems from giving every state two votes for each of its senators. If you take those two votes away and have the Electoral College based on just population, then Trump would end up with 246 electoral votes (306 less 60 for the thirty states he carried). Clinton would have 190 (232 less 42 for the twenty states plus DC that she won).

    Trump won the election because of the winner-take-all method of allocation in place in most states. With just a combined 75,000 more votes than Clinton he picked up 46 EVs in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, while Hillary had a 4+ million vote margin to win California’s 55 EVs.

    That is not to say the small state bias can’t come into play.

    In 2000 without the 2 additional EVs awarded to each state, Gore would have defeated Bush 224-211.

    • Good analysis.

      Another part of the effect of the Electoral College is to weigh states’ votes by population instead of voter turnout. A state with a low voter turnout (e.g. any Southern state before the Voting Rights Act) still automatically gets credit for its population.

      My sense is that, today, there is much less variation among states in votes-per-capita than there once was. But there is still some difference.

      A switch to a popular vote system would give high-turnout states (Connecticut? Iowa? Utah?) more influence, and low-turnout states (Texas? Arizona?) less influence.

      • Mary says:

        It would also affect turn-out.

        As Trump observed when they said he would have lost in a popular count, he would have campaigned differently were it popular count.

        • dwietzsche says:

          I don’t think the case is very strong that Trump could have won the contest without the electoral college. To believe that you really have to throw out all the demographic fundamentals and imagine a groundswell of support for the man whose materialization would have bordered on the miraculous. Clinton’s own electoral strategy (the one where she inexplicably abandoned the midwest and campaigned in urban strongholds and places like Texas and Arizona) would also have been much less stupid.

          But it is definitely true that without a popular vote system we don’t really know how states would go, and there is enough uncertainty there that at least an asterisk for the hypothetical is warranted. One wonders whether blue states stay blue and red states stay red partly out of a kind of EC inertia imposed by everyone’s preexisting beliefs regarding the political possibilities.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t think the case is very strong that Trump could have won the contest without the electoral college. To believe that you really have to throw out all the demographic fundamentals and imagine a groundswell of support for the man whose materialization would have bordered on the miraculous.

            This would be much more convincing if the same sort of thing hadn’t been said about a Trump victory in the actual election.

          • shakeddown says:

            I don’t think more effective campaigning is enough to tip the election by a three-million vote margin, even if we assume Trump would’ve campaigned ideally and Clinton wouldn’t have. As it was, Trump won the key states by just several thousand votes – enough to blame campaigning on, but several orders of magnitude less than the popular vote margin.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t know if it would have been enough to get Trump the popular vote, but I suspect there were a lot of Republicans that stayed home in California this year. There was no chance Trump would win the state, and down ballot there wasn’t much for Republicans to get excited about. The senate race was between two Democrats, and most of the propositions were fairly bipartisan.

            In general, I think that the Republican turnout in states like California, New York, and Illinois (and Democrats in places like Texas) is lower than it would be in other states because there is so little incentive to vote. I don’t think anyone can really know how different things would be if the electoral college went away.

          • dwietzsche says:

            Can’t prove a hypothetical, but Trump did not beat Clinton by landslides even in states that he campaigned in and she didn’t. This is not an election that is properly understood as being won by Trump. Better to understand it as being lost by Clinton. The main determining factor was Clinton’s stupid EC strategy, which was based on what really appears to be an overly optimistic estimate of Dem turnout in key states she lost. And it’s worth point out here that she was expecting to win in those states with paper thin margins, which is just crazy given the natural uncertainties of elections. In hindsight, Trump may have had a strategic advantage because his perceived path to victory was very narrow which constrained his choices, while Clinton was under the impression that she could afford to try to flip a few red states. Given her political priorities, there may be some reason to think she had more in mind than just bluing the country up-I think she was trying to find an alternate EC solution on the map that would help entrench her political faction in the Dem party. One way to put the knife in the back of Sanders coalition would be to avoid dependence on electoral votes in midwestern states where they don’t exactly look on free trade with fondness.

          • shakeddown says:

            Yeah, but the best way to predict it would probably be to assume a normal distribution around the result under EC rules*, and I don’t see any way that has an STD large enough to give Trump more than 20% of winning at most. (Which is still a possible win for him, but unlikely).

            * There might be a better way to do this if we had a good model and a lot of data, but if there’s one thing this election has taught us, it’s to stick to the numbers we have instead of social theorizing.

          • Deiseach says:

            Clinton’s own electoral strategy (the one where she inexplicably abandoned the midwest and campaigned in urban strongholds and places like Texas and Arizona) would also have been much less stupid.

            But if you go by popular vote, then the strategy is “forget the places with one main street and a dog, concentrate on the big population centres” which is exactly what Hillary did – go for the big urban centres with diverse populations instead of the majority-white (and so presumed Republican) small towns.

            I think her campaign was poorly run (I dug up that article about Bill trying to convince her to go on the stump in Dogpatch and her ignoring it until too late in the campaign when finally she and Obama did a blitz of Michigan etc) and I do think part of it was the much-hyped “we haz the technology, we haz the geeks and nerds to plan our strategy” vote-winning machine certain online sites were salivating over, which probably did advise her based on slicing up the demographics to “forget the small towns and rural states, go for X Y and Z”:

            Analytics will win votes this year. Science, as it did in 2012, is playing an important role for mass voter persuasion in the U.S. presidential race. It’s a numbers game: Predictive analytics targets campaign activities, strengthening a campaign’s army of volunteers by driving its activities more optimally.

            Of which presidential candidate do I speak? We have every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is leveraging predictive analytics—as Obama’s did in 2012. Donald Trump’s campaign appears to lag in such efforts.

            Hillary for America is leveraging data science in a very particular way. The undertaking predicts each individual voter’s response to campaign contact in order to drive millions of decisions as to which voter receives a knock on the door or a phone call. It’s an innovative, data-driven process that has changed the game for political campaigns.

            …Indeed, the Trump campaign is “spurning the kind of sophisticated data operation that was a centerpiece of Barack Obama’s winning White House runs.” There’s speculation this could not only hurt his chances in the election, but also deny the RNC — generally thought to already be behind the DNC in data and analytics — valuable data collection for future campaigns.

            I know hindsight is 20-20 but in regard to the boasting about how “Trump is spending little or nothing on this element and that element of the campaign as compared with Hillary” – yes, well, looks like “standing on the street corners in New Hampshire” is what you still need to do, even in the modern era of Big Data 🙂

            The politics: One of New Hampshire’s time-honored traditions around elections is “visibility” – i.e., standing on high-traffic street corners in freezing weather, preferably a blizzard, to wave a poster in support of a candidate. I’ve done it myself, standing in front of polling places for hours on Election Day, greeting voters frequently by name, and hoping to persuade them to change their minds.

            Guess, what? It doesn’t work. According to campaign data, relative to other volunteer activities, visibility has very little impact on whether people actually vote.

            Though I do think there is a pertinent point there about using analytics and that in the wake of Trump’s victory, maybe the Republicans will be more comfortable with the Big Data gap and might even ignore trying to catch up, which I think would be an equal mistake. Metrics and data analysis are important, I think Hillary’s team forgot the one big obvious thing when trying to emulate the Obama campaign success: Obama was going for “first black president” which is historic, in an American context, in a way that “first female president” is not going to be (especially for a white woman who is perceived to be a part of the establishment for decades by this point, so there is no shock of novelty about her running for political office). Voters, and particular segments of the voters, were motivated to get out and vote for Obama in a way they plainly were not for Hillary.

          • dwietzsche says:

            I wouldn’t want to poo-poo “data driven analytics” too much, since obviously there is a lot of potential there in the right hands. But at the end of the day people still have to make the right decisions about where to deploy time and resources, and no analytical framework can eliminate basic uncertainties in the data. Which is another way of saying that there’s no avoiding some gambling, and when gambling to win there are ways to mitigate risk that are extremely important when one is playing with an advantage, which I think it’s safe to say Clinton had. But she didn’t. I think this is the most surprising thing about the campaign. Everything about Hillary’s political strategy looks like it’s drenched in concerns about how to avoid political risk. Except in her actual EC strategy, where she played a very unnecessarily incautious game. I don’t know enough about the internal workings of her campaign to know for sure why she would do this, but operating from the view that she wasn’t completely stupid, there had to be a reason to behave so uncharacteristically.

          • Deiseach says:

            I don’t know enough about the internal workings of her campaign to know for sure why she would do this, but operating from the view that she wasn’t completely stupid, there had to be a reason to behave so uncharacteristically.

            I have no idea. I’m beginning to think precisely because she was running against Trump, maybe she felt she had to crush him. Because simply beating him would not be enough, as it would be against another opponent; he was the ‘joke candidate’ for so long that winning by anything other than a landslide would take the gloss off her victory. People would be saying “yeah, but she only beat Trump 70%-30%, if she couldn’t wipe out a clown like him, how good is she really?”

            I think her campaign wanted Trump to do well early on to weaken the Republicans, but when he actually got the nomination it was “Well crap, now what do we do, we were all prepared to take on Jeb!” and that there wasn’t really a clear direction where to go, and add in that if she did feel she had to beat Trump even in Republican-leaning states in order to legitimise her victory, taking chances to win in red states may have seemed like a good idea?

          • dwietzsche says:

            Yeah. I really hope after some of this blows over we get some interviews and find out what happened. Like, I read an article where apparently the justification for not touching Michigan until the last minute was because they were trying to play some kind of mind game with Trump. Which, I just can’t even comprehend why they would think playing mind games with Trump was useful. And I refuse to accept the view that losing Michigan by 10k votes or so was a risk they could have only known in hindsight. It was a swing state. They should have build up resources there. Period.

          • @ JayT

            I don’t know if it would have been enough to get Trump the popular vote, but I suspect there were a lot of Republicans that stayed home in California this year.

            A person for whom it is optional whether or not to vote in a presidential election is not likely to have a strong, stable partisan identity.

            Among those who are interested enough in politics to take part in primaries and off-year elections, nearly all will cast ballots in a presidential election.

          • On the one hand, I agree with the view that a popular vote system could reshape presidential elections in ways that are not necessarily positive.

            On the other hand, however, many of the replies above take for granted that presidential campaigns, during the last weeks before the general election, can shape the results just by showing up in different places or something.

            That assumption, though it seems commonsensical, is completely false.

            I explained this at greater length in an earlier thread.

            Let’s say you whispered in Hillary Clinton’s ear, a month before the election, “you’re going to lose Michigan by only 10,000 votes,” and she believed you.

            There is almost nothing she could have done to change that, short of reshaping her whole appeal.

            It is just not true that showing up on the corner with a “VOTE FOR HILLARY” sign wins you any votes in a presidential race.

            It is just not true that holding a rally in a specific city wins you a significant number of extra votes for president in that city or state.

            If you’re running for some little-noticed office like community college trustee, there are a lot of loose votes lying around. It doesn’t cost much to pick them up. The cost per marginal vote might be just a few cents. A campaign’s differential effort in one area versus another will show up in the election results.

            In a presidential campaign, there is so much information flying around, so much conversation and argument, so much media, so much commentary, that it saturates people’s attention.

            By October, or even September, the actual campaigns have little influence. Their cost per marginal vote is just about infinite. The course of events is not under their control.

            The mistakes that left Hillary Clinton in a position to lose Michigan (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania) were made months before the election.

            Yes, the Clinton campaign was in many ways incompetent, squandered advantages, wasted money, etc., etc. But the die was cast by the end of the party conventions. Switching to a dramatically better team at that point would not have made a difference.

            Donald Trump’s win, despite lacking a serious campaign organization (by traditional standards), shows how little this stuff really matters in a presidential general election.

          • shakeddown says:

            True, but Comey’s letter was probably what made the difference – if you account for the shift it caused, had the election happened a week earlier, it would probably have been a narrow Clinton win over instead of a narrow Clinton loss.

          • dwietzsche says:

            I guess I don’t agree with your assessment that the die is cast for elections months out. You may have very good reasons for believing that, but US national elections are just not great sources to start with as a base for making general empirical claims (you get only get one every four years, you can’t redo them, there’s no reproducibility or manipulability), and general empirical claims about human behavior are particularly problematic. There’s no rule that says people who were partisan fatalists two weeks ago can’t all become enamoured of deciding who to vote for based on coin flips two weeks from now. And we’re talking about phenomena that are altered in measurable ways by things like whose name gets to be on the top of the ticket. It just seems like there’s gotta be a lot always up in the air here.

            If I look at the picture of this specific election, what do I see? An upstart candidate who polls relatively consistently below his opponent and who has an uphill battle to win an election, and who, when he’s being coherent, actually does specifically call out people in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, saying on national television he’ll get them jobs. We also see him campaign hard in those states while the media makes fun of him for it. On the flip side, we see Clinton completely flop on economic policy (she practically ceded the field to Trump) and then inexplicably abandon basic efforts to shore up her position in those states. And then we see them flip from blue to red.

            Now, it could be reading too much into events, and obviously total empirical verification is not really a possibility. But this is a pretty good, self-consistent account of what happened starting from relatively inconspicuous premises based on what everyone thought they knew about the election going into it and what they learned coming out of it. If the campaign behavior of Clinton and Trump was irrelevant to the outcome, then at a minimum it’s a bit of a coincidence that they nevertheless behaved in ways that support an account of events where their individual campaign strategies seemed to matter.

          • I guess I don’t agree with your assessment that the die is cast for elections months out.

            No, that’s not what I said, and not at all true. Rather, in a presidential race, the direct influence of the candidates and their campaign organizations is largely exhausted by a couple months out.

            It is impossible to predict the weather for more than about ten days out, because some slight effect here or there will have ramifications that get enormously magnified as days pass. A political campaign is subject to the same kind of effect.

            You may have very good reasons for believing that, but US national elections are just not great sources to start with as a base for making general empirical claims (you get only get one every four years, you can’t redo them, there’s no reproducibility or manipulability),

            You’re forgetting that the United States has an estimated 500,000 elected positions. They vary from almost-unnoticed offices like township park commissioner or intermediate court judges, to extremely visible ones, like governor, U.S. Congress, mayor, etc. Across literally millions of political campaigns in the past generation, here have been many opportunities for deliberate and natural experiments, and you can find them in the literature.

            Yes, the presidential race is the ultimate in public interest and visibility, but it’s part of the same continuum as U.S. senator and governor and city council and constable. Many politicos have experience working in and observing campaigns at various points along that scale. I myself have been doing this stuff for more than forty years.

            general empirical claims about human behavior are particularly problematic

            Individuals are unpredictable, sure, but large groups of people tend to behave in extremely predictable ways.

            There’s no rule that says people who were partisan fatalists two weeks ago can’t all become enamoured of deciding who to vote for based on coin flips two weeks from now.

            Not my points at all. Obviously I was unclear.

            And we’re talking about phenomena that are altered in measurable ways by things like whose name gets to be on the top of the ticket.

            Are you talking about ballot order? Sure, let’s talk about ballot order, which absolutely can have an impact. The more obscure the office, the more difference ballot order makes. I have never heard of it mattering at the level of governor or president. When people know for sure who they’re voting for, they’re not deterred by mere typography.

            It just seems like there’s gotta be a lot always up in the air here.

            Up in the air, in the sense that the outcome is uncertain? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that presidential candidates have a lot of power to shape the results in the last weeks before the election.

            If I look at the picture of this specific election, what do I see? An upstart candidate who polls relatively consistently below his opponent and who has an uphill battle to win an election, and who, when he’s being coherent, actually does specifically call out people in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, saying on national television he’ll get them jobs.

            So if Hillary Clinton had said the exact same thing, it would have neutralized that advantage? Obviously not. And the things Trump said about jobs were consistent throughout the campaign, whether or not he mentioned specific localities.

            Candidates at that level, late in the game, do not have a direct pipeline to the voters. Some things a candidate says will be completely unnoticed, others will be taken up and become hugely important, whether the candidate wants that or not. The environment is just saturated with political information, and (short of doing something wildly dramatic and potentially self-destructive) breaking through all that is pretty much impossible.

            We also see him campaign hard in those states while the media makes fun of him for it. On the flip side, we see Clinton completely flop on economic policy (she practically ceded the field to Trump) and then inexplicably abandon basic efforts to shore up her position in those states. And then we see them flip from blue to red.

            Again, by mid-September, there was very little either candidate could do to steer the course of events. There is no “shoring up” a specific state that a presidential candidate can reasonably do. The desperate attempt to go campaign in Michigan only showed desperation; it didn’t change the results. The voters in Michigan get essentially the same information as voters in South Carolina or California.

            If the campaign behavior of Clinton and Trump was irrelevant to the outcome

            The candidates had their self-presentations and their strategies. That was a starting point, and of course that made a difference. But once the campaign was well along, they had no control over what the media and the public did with that information.

            I mean, you can say, “No, I didn’t REALLY mean that the coal companies should all go out of business,” or “No, I don’t REALLY accept the support of David Duke.” Indeed, arguably, you have to deny these things, to avoid even deeper damage. But by the time the original notions have hardened into conventional wisdom, you’re spitting into a hurricane to try to change them.

      • mobile says:

        It’s not just voter turnout. The population of a state, for Congressional and electoral college apportionment, depends on the census. The census includes children and aliens, so another way the electoral college differs from a popular vote is to give more representation to states with lower ratios of eligible voters to population. Say, states with high birth rates and high incidence of immigration. The census fails to count some people for various reasons — homeless populations, people trying to live off the grid or keep a low profile — though these are not likely voters in a popular vote contest, either.

      • mobile says:

        And don’t forget slow-growing vs. fast-growing states. The electoral college disadvantages the latter. Montana (3EV) will surpass Rhode Island (4EV) in population soon, but Rhode Island will have more electoral votes (and representation in Congress) until 2024.

        • Montana (3EV) will surpass Rhode Island (4EV) in population soon, but Rhode Island will have more electoral votes (and representation in Congress) until 2024.

          No, just until January 3, 2023, when the members of Congress elected in 2022 take office.

          However, the president elected in 2020, when all states will still have the same electoral votes as today, will serve until January 20, 2025.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Just for completeness, there is a second way in which the EC favors small states. The Senate favors them by giving out seats per state, but the House also favors them to a smaller extent through of granularity. A small state gets a vote regardless of how small. But this didn’t matter in this election. Trump won states containing 56% of the population, just as he won states with 56% of seats in the House. Also, the votes you took away that didn’t make a difference, the EC votes that correspond to the Senate, he won 59%=60/102 of those, not very different.

  33. doubleunplussed says:

    I’m an Australian working in the US, with tentative plans to move back to Australia and buy a house. I’m wondering what I should do with my savings. My time horizon in 5-7 years to save for the house deposit. Should I send it to Australia and leave it an ING savings account (3% interest currently)? One of the lower risk index funds? Or leave it in the US in a Vanguard index fund and send it home when I become an Australian tax resident again?

    If the money is in Australia then I pay non-resident tax rates on gains, so downside there. But having it in Australian dollars seems like it would give me peace of mind, since Australian dollars are what I’m going to end up needing. I assume this reasoning only applies for the case of the savings account, and perhaps partly applies for the index funds that include bonds – otherwise investments should track exchange rates, right?

    Basically how much to I take into account exchange rate fluctuations as a risk? They’ve swung quite a bit in the last few years.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Generally speaking a five year time frame suggests that you do avoid exposing yourself to large risks. On any time frame, a diverse portfolio is suggested.

      Both of those might argue for reducing your exposure to the variability in Australian currency.

      But consider when the Australian currency would spike vs. the rest of the world (a strong local economy relative to others). That is the scenario where you are most likely to want to move back. Whereas the scenario where you can’t find a job is a scenario where you are less likely to move back.

      Would you buy a house outside Australia if you couldn’t move back in the time frame you want? What about if you meet someone here? Or get an awesome job?

      So a mixed portfolio concentrated on bonds, bond funds or other short term investments might be the most flexible, depending on how sure you are that you will move back.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        Right, I know diversify and bonds, but my question is more along the lines of: Australian bonds or US bonds? Because surely the value of bonds is only low volatility when denominated in the specific currency they’re issued for. Otherwise their volatility will be increased by that of the exchange rate. Or am I missing something here? The only reason I would not want to buy Australian bonds is because I will be taxed more highly on the gains (32.5% compared to 15% in the US) since I am not a tax resident of Australia.

        I’m in academia and suspect my employability is not strongly affected by the business cycle, and I’m partnered already. My job is great, but it’s temporary and I wouldn’t want to stay if it were permanent, I’m just here to develop my career so I can land a better (or equally good) job in some place that is not the US. I don’t particularly like living in the US and so am quite sure that I will leave, the only reason I say moving back to Australia is a tentative plan is that I (and my partner) might go somewhere else.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, if you really don’t think the interest rate has a correlation with your employability (I’m actually not sure if that is true, but let’s assume it), then you are comparing your certain loss in taxes to the possibility of loss in currency.

          Rock Lobster makes a good point that that probably argues for staying in US currency. And consulting a CFP probably makes sense (for lots of reasons).

          But, I still think that 5 year time frame rule argues for investing AUS bonds because otherwise what you are doing is making a large bet that AUS currency won’t move unfavorably relative to US currency. If your target is an Australian denominated house, better to have your assets intended to purchase that house in Australian dollars.

          Actually, I think Rock Lobster is suggesting that your best bet might be to buy a futures contract for the necessary amount of AUS-US currency exchange as long as the price of that future contract is less than your expected tax loss. That actually makes a great deal of sense, assuming this option is available.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            you are comparing your certain loss in taxes to the possibility of loss in currency.

            Exactly! Since my horizon is short, I was wondering whether paying more tax in order to decrease volatility might be a good idea.

            I’ll consider a CFP and read up on what Rock Lobster is saying about futures contracts, since I don’t understand them at all. It sounds like if I understand them everything will be clearer.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            Right, so I think there are two main parts here:

            1. The relevant tax rates are needed to determine which currency/jurisdiction is best to invest in. The available interest rates all have to be adjusted by a factor of (1-t) to make apples to apples comparisons. From there you can also factor in the expected depreciation (which in this case is about 0.6% depreciation of the AUD against the USD).

            2. The exchange rate risk element, i.e. the risk that exchange rates can move unexpectedly against you. The exchange rate effect will be neutral in expectation, but of course there’s still risk. That risk can be hedged, but I’m really not sure which, if any, are the best options for a retail investor to currency hedge. Futures, options, and ETFs are all options that come to mind.

          • decadence says:

            A futures contract doesn’t cost anything except a couple of dollars in fixed fees. On CME, each contract is for AUD 100,000, and you have to maintain at least $1,800 of margin on top of your profits or losses. AUD 100,000 might be a bit high for many people, but that’s actually a relatively small size for a currency contract.

            If you decide to buy bonds, make sure you buy short-term bonds, since long-term bonds can drop a lot in value from rising interest rates.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          If you don’t mind my asking, what don’t you like about the US? Is it particular to the region you’re currently in, or the country as a whole, because while my overseas time has been limited and most of it was in uniform, I can attest from personal experience that lifestyles and culture have a pretty wild variance range between different spots in the US.

          Then again, I’m -from- the US, and it’s possible that what to me are vast differences are not so noticeable from an external POV. Thus my curiousity.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            Any answer to this question is just system 2 trying to introspect what my system 1 is thinking, so should be taken with a grain of salt. Having said that, here’s a list:

            – There is high social and economic inequality. I feel a slave owner every time I order food or coffee from someone obviously much poorer than me. Retreating to classier eating places just feels like I’ve given up and have accepted that some people are winners and some are losers and I’ve decided to hang out with the winners. This feels bad too.

            – It is a low trust and highly policed society. You have a person with a gun checking your bag or your ID or whatever in way too many contexts. Legal penalties for crimes are utterly disproportionate and inconsistently enforced. Downthread someone informed me of some obligation I have to report foreign assets. This is totally fair enough, except that the fine is $10k if you don’t even know about it. I have lived in the US and filled out a tax return before, and read in fine detail all the tax documents, and yet never knew of this requirement. I didn’t have over the reporting threshold at the time, but as qwints pointed out, the penalty for not knowing is draconian. The penalty for not knowing ought to be “they send you a letter and you only get fined if you don’t comply within a short time period”.

            – Speaking of the bureaucracy, its insane. In Australia, I last completed a tax return on my mobile phone, on the first day that it was possible to complete a tax return, in five minutes, simply by clicking next a few times and confirming that all the pre-filled information was correct. Whereas in the US, since I was nonresident last time I was here, I could not use most free tax software. If I understand correctly, the IRS has not made their own electronic filing software because lobbyists (presumably with financial interests in commercial filing software) have convinced the government to make it illegal for them to do so. This is insanity. And then you actually fill out the forms and it’s like – you want me to do your arithmetic for you? The instructions actually tell you to calculate percentages and round to this many digits, and subtract this number from that number – what the actual fuck. No. The forms should be you just providing information, the calculations should happen in a computer at the IRS.

            – Speaking of tax, the tax rates aren’t even that low, and yet US citizens seem to derive far less benefit from government services than in Australia.


            – It’s highly partisan, and religion (or lack thereof) and politics are far more present in day to day life than I am comfortable with. People walk on eggshells because they don’t want to offend each other over their religions and beliefs. We just don’t care as much in Australia. I actually had someone ask permission to wish me a merry goddamned christmas, because they were not sure if I was religious or not. In Australia christmas is just secular. We don’t need a different version of it for each religion, it’s just Christmas. I’m pretty sure Jewish people celebrate hanukkah in Australia, but I have never heard it mentioned in Australia because we don’t feel the need to pretend to be inclusive by listing every possible holiday whenever we are talking about holidays. Employment forms you might find yourself filling out are obsessed with your race.

            – Consumerism. Everything is a product and people are way too susceptible to marketing. It’s really something. Where I’m from if a new product appears overnight with a huge and imposing advertising campaign, it’s almost as if that makes people a bit suspicious. Like, if it’s so good, why do you need to advertise so aggressively? And if a product is discovered via word of mouth, that’s a great endorsement. I almost get the feeling that in the US, if a product doesn’t have backing from a big company, *that* makes people suspicious of it. It ought to be the other way around!

            – Poor government regulation. The university campus I work on is unsustainably flash. The students don’t really have that much money. The universities have managed to extort them out of money they haven’t earned yet and can’t predict whether they even will earn. The government shouldn’t have allowed it to happen. Like they shouldn’t have allowed the subprime mortgage crisis to happen, like they shouldn’t have allowed the current healthcare system to happen. I know Obama tried to fix it, but the fact that he wasn’t able to speaks again to the hyper partisanship. It ought to be a fucking bipartisan issue, but extreme tribalism and a “fuck you I got mine” attitude means it can’t be.

            – Coins have stupid denominations, and pennies exist.

            – Banks charge fees to send people money, what the hell. In Australia it’s free, and the central bank has recently told the banks that they have to get their shit together and make interbank transfers instant as well as free, or else.

            – And because of this shittiness people use fucking cheques!

            – People are fat and unhealthy. I don’t blame them explicitly, I’m not a big fan of “personal responsibility” arguments. High fructose corn syrup should be banned, and the working poor should be legally entitled to have some goddamned time off so they’re not so stressed all the time and can take care of themselves.

            – Tipping.

            – Tax not being included in prices.

            – Not using the metric system.

            – Poor pedestrian and cyclist access in many areas.

            – Advertising prescription drugs to consumers? Why the fuck is this allowed?

            – Winter is cold where I am.

            – Driving is dangerous and the roads where I am are poorly designed. Freeway onramps and offramps are too short, leading to large velocity differences between lanes that are trying to merge, it’s super dangerous. There are constant accidents. I’ve looked at the stats and it’s much worse than in Australia. The road rules don’t help. An unenforced speed limit means there are a wider range of speeds on the road, this is less safe than a higher average speed but with everyone at the same speed. So there are constantly emergency vehicles, and they always have their sirens on. Why? It just freaks people out and makes them not drive unpredictably! Where I’m from they only put their sirens on if people are actually in the way or they need to run a red light or something.

            – Four way stop signs? So inefficient!

            – Stupid voting systems, corrupt governments.

            – Obnoxious home owners associations telling you to do unreasonable things (I’m renting but they still try to tell us where we can and can’t put our rubbish bins, like we’re going to drag them through the house just so you don’t have to look at them out the front, fuck off).

            – If you want normal food that’s not overly processed, you have to make it part of your fucking IDENTITY. And spend *more* money. Where I’m from the markets area cheaper than the grocery stores for fresh fruit and veg. I’m sure that’s the case for some markets around here too, but when I saw “fresh food market” on a map and went somewhere hoping for some cheap veg, I found a fucking political statement of a store that charged through the arse so you could feel like a good earth loving hippie and superior to all those others who don’t eat organic whatever the fuck. I just wanted to buy normal shit, possibly fresher, without the middleman markup, and I found that that too had become a consumer product.

            So there are lots of things, but I’m just letting my system 1 rant. It’s entirely possible that not liking the US is based on only some of these things, or on some other thing entirely, and that all these other things only annoyed me in light of the fact that I was already annoyed.

            Edit: I feel a little bad criticising a whole country in a harsh-sounding way, so here are some caveats and things I like about it:

            – I visited the bay area and hung out with rationalists and it was goddamned lovely. It helped that the eucalyptus trees smelled like home.

            – Science and tech are pretty great here in the states. That’s why I’m here.

            – The Grand Canyon is pretty grand.

            – I haven’t seen a lot of the country, so I obviously can’t generalise too much. Although some of the things I was talking about above certainly do generalise because they’re about the federal government. I think I would probably fit in a lot better in the bay area, but again that would amplify feelings of retreating into the walled garden of the “haves”, and make me even more aware of the shitty conditions of the “have-nots”. You’d think retreating to Australia would make me feel similarly, but firstly the “haves” in Australia don’t have as much as in the US, and secondly system 1 doesn’t feel as bad about things it isn’t participating in.

            – I have a deep respect for the democratic project undertaken by the founders of the US. They were on the right track about almost everything IMHO.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Wow! Is Australia really minus all these defects? Some of these items I consider features not bugs because I don’t want my government telling me what to do, but lots of the stuff doubleunplussed mentions I agree suck, such as:
            -complicated taxes
            -highly partisan
            -eggshells part (this is the social justice issue I think)
            -not metric
            -four way stops

            OF course most of these aren’t that big a deal, in day to life, such as pennies and metric and stop signs, but complicated government, partisanship, eggshells are a big deal. Is the US really more policed than other places? Don’t other countries have equivalent TSA? IF not, that by itself might be worth moving for.

            Okay, other Australians or those who have lived there. IS he right? Maybe we should all move there. I know this was a rant, but it sure made me think.

            And other countries too. Is the US a pain to live in?

          • shakeddown says:

            I’m impressed, those are the exact same comparisons I’d make with Israel, except for:
            – the thing about your bags getting checked: I’m still not completely used to how rarely I get my bags checked here. OTOH, the TSA is so obnoxious whenever I fly that it’s practically enough to make up for it.

            – public transit: America has nonexistant public transit, and it makes hiking a hassle (since it’s really hard to find good start/endpoint for a hike that I can get a bus to). It also has buses as a poor people thing, which helps make them poor quality and something people avoid.

            – more crime, but less terrorism. Also a country that’s long-range sustainable – In Israel, I always worry what if it’ll still be there in twenty or fifty years, and what we’ll do with the whole Palestinian thing.

            – no conscription. This may indirectly contribute to partisanship, but not putting everyone who gets out of high school in a miserable environment for three years is pretty nice.

            – Income inequality aside, America is a lot richer. You don’t see it in a lot of ways because money mostly gets spent badly, but there are some pretty cool ways you do see it, like people (in my socioeconomic level, at least) having really nice and huge houses, and being able to fly places for vacations a lot.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            No, Australia is certainly not sans all the bad things – it is completely sans some of them, a lot better on others, and only slightly better on others (others I just felt like bitching about – Australia hasn’t banned high fructose corn syrup – though it’s not used in much, so not really an issue). Some are debatably good things as you note. I understand that when a government is incompetent and corrupt, it makes people become anti-government in general. I would say that Australia has had a better experience with government than the US has. It definitely seems like Americans have good reasons to not want to cede more power to the government.

            It’s much less partisan in Australia, and whilst the social justice stuff is headed in the same direction as the US, it is unlikely to ever be mainstream politics (unless society truly forms a consensus on it) because of the way our electoral system works. Specifically, voting is compulsory, which means parties have to cater to centrists rather than campaign to get people who already agree with them to show up. This obviously reduces extremism.

            Things certainly have been a little more partisan lately, but nothing compared to the US, and I think the worst it can get is less worse than the US system is capable of.

            Things that are 100% better in Australia:

            – Metric
            – No pennies
            – No required tipping (you *can*, but it’s not expected or factored into a waiter’s pay)
            – No four way stop signs, roundabouts instead (I think you call them traffic circles).
            – No cheques
            – Tax included in prices
            – Government and taxes are much simpler, there are simply fewer moving parts. Maybe it is historical – we have fewer states after all. States don’t collect income tax, they get most of their income from a nationally uniform sales tax that is divided up among the states by a nonpartisan org.
            – No gerrymandering, there is a truly independent electoral authority setting the boundaries.
            – Preferential voting. No spoiler effect in elections, you can truly vote for who you want.
            – We still have corporate donations to political parties, but it’s not quite as bad because parties also get funding based on how many votes they get (and small parties are able to get funding this way because people can feel free to actually vote for them because of preferential voting).

            The electoral system is one of the things I’m most proud of in Australia. One of the other things I’m quite proud of is the compulsory retirement saving system, “Superannuation”. This is where all employers have to pay 9% of your gross pay into a retirement fund that you can’t access until retirement. I know that similar things exist in the US, but I like that it’s compulsory for all employers in AU.

            We do have plenty of bag checks at airports, and things became more aggressive when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister (and renamed immigration to “BORDER FORCE”). But it’s not as intrusive as the TSA (you don’t have to take your shoes off or do full body scans for domestic flights). But no bag checks or metal detectors at like, museums, which is something I noticed visiting DC Smithsonian museums.

            But my rant was more of a “US annoys me” one than an “Australia is great” one. On most metrics that Australia beats the US on, New Zealand and say, Germany do better still. I’m quite fond of Germany, and if it had weather like Australia I think it would win hands down!

            Oh and Australians are pretty fat and unhealthy too. They’ve got nothing on the US, but they’re up there.

          • onyomi says:


            I agree with many of your complaints, but:

            The English system is better for daily life (0 to 100 is better for describing weather than -15 to 35)

            Tipping makes the service better than it otherwise would be and makes sense (you are the one paying the waiter more than the restaurant; in a sense, he works for you, and you should pay him accordingly). Places where there is no tipping, in my experience, have bad service compared to the US (Japan being sort of an exception, but service is just way better in everything there, mostly for cultural reasons, I believe).

            I’m not sure what the problem with cheques is. They don’t seem any harder to me than doing a bank transfer, even a free one. Though maybe this is because the US makes bank transfers more difficult than they need to be.

            The US may be economically unequal and low trust compared to Australia, but not compared to most of the world. This may, to some extent, be an unavoidable result of our large, diverse population. I can’t think of a more equal, higher trust place which is not also a lot smaller, population-wise, and more homogeneous (Singapore seems high trust, but still has much starker wealth inequalities).

            Yes, pennies are stupid. Yes, sales tax should be included in the price. Yes (and this is a pet peeve of mine) there are not enough pedestrian and cyclist-friendly spaces and car ownership is more unavoidable than it should be. Yes, we tend to be fat and inactive (related to the previous).

            Yes, our government feels unusually incompetent for a first world nation, and like we get little for our tax dollar. I blame a. being “the world’s policeman” and b. again, our size: people have to run on big coalition platforms designed to win 51% of a huge population of voters, not platforms that actually make sense. If the US split into several smaller nations or had more real federalism, I think you would see more smart, efficient policies.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:


            First, thanks for replying honestly. I’m not going to debate or critique your response since as you said it’s largely analysis of emotional response. I posted something along the same lines downthread, so I understand that. Instead, I’ll say:

            1) Yeah, it sounds like you definitely wouldn’t care for pretty much anywhere in Middle America and the Great Lakes, the South (except maybe specific bits of Florida), or New England. If you get a chance to experience the culture of the Southwest/Mountain West while you’re here, I recommend it, though some of the global issues you note will probably persist. I think there are places where they may not be as noticeable, without retreating all the way to the upscale neighborhoods of major urban centers.

            I’m thinking of cities like Boulder and Fort Collins in Colorado (though I’ve heard they’ve urbanized/upscaled a lot since I was last there in 2007-8), Flagstaff in Arizona, Santa Fe in New Mexico, and maybe Olympia in Washington if you don’t mind a wetter, cooler climate in general (but with milder winters too). I can personally attest to enjoying the CO and WA examples, and am hoping to someday make it back West -somewhere-.

            2) Like others, I agree with several of your criticisms (especially on the superiority of preference voting and some of the tax structure stuff, though I’m a Condorcet fanboy rather than an IRV partisan). Unfortunately I’m starting to believe that some of them (eggshells, polarization, bad regulation) are the function of getting too big for our ethos. I sometimes think that certain state designs, like individual-centric democratic societies with lots of civil liberties, or totalitarian dictatorships, or feudalism, etc have maximum sustainable sizes beyond which their systems break down, and that the US exceeded ours some time ago. And that means either getting smaller again, or seeing that ethos necessarily changed to make us more like, say, Russia, China, or whatever the EU might look like when it gets around to really absorbing and demolishing the national-level governments (if it makes it that far before the backlash breaks it up).

            In any case, I hope you can take maximum advantage of the not-shitty parts of the US while you’re here!

          • Aapje says:


            The English system is better for daily life (0 to 100 is better for describing weather than -15 to 35)

            It seems a lot more convenient when 0 is freezing, so I easily know when my car might freeze up, the roads may be frozen, etc. Fahrenheit completely wastes the ability to give the round numbers some objective meaning. Fahrenheit does have a larger granularity, but I rarely care whether it is 20 degrees celcius or 20.5.

            I’m not sure what the problem with cheques is

            You have to actually go to a bank and get the money. Online banking is much better.

            The US may be economically unequal and low trust compared to Australia, but not compared to most of the world.

            The proper comparison is ‘the West,’ IMO. Being better than Somalia is not an achievement.

            Yes, our government feels unusually incompetent for a first world nation, and like we get little for our tax dollar. I blame

            I also think that a major factor is that Americans don’t expect more from their government. Having low standards often becomes a self-fulfilling expectation.

          • I understand that when a government is incompetent and corrupt, it makes people become anti-government in general.

            Well..not really. In a lot of places, the default reaction to X being broken is to fix X.

            It’s a Us peculiarity to default to individualism. If the police are broken, get a gun if the education system is broken, homeschool, and so on.

            Which relates to think like why buses are a “poor person thing”. That’s what happens when everyone who can afford an individualistic solution takes it.

            And that relates to things like charter schools and vouchers. The argument is that if you allow/encourage the better off to exit public education, then it gets worse and worse and ends up a “poor person thing”.

            I also think that a major factor is that Americans don’t expect more from their government. Having low standards often becomes a self-fulfilling expectation.

            That too. Compare how the gun lobby think poor quality policing is an inevitable fact of life.

            Advertising prescription drugs to consumers? Why the fuck is this allowed?

            To be fair, medicate aren’t allowed to negotiate drug prices, so it is consitently insane.

          • onyomi says:


            The proper comparison is ‘the West,’ IMO. Being better than Somalia is not an achievement.

            But I’m not sure the proper comparison is the West.

            In terms of the size and diversity of our population the US is more similar to the BRICs. Compared to those nations, we have low inequality and high social trust. If you think of the EU as one or two nations, it becomes more analogous to the US, but it’s (still) not run like one nation.

            It would be more like the US if we had more real federalism. Within European nations most administrative units are less powerful than US states, but US states have a lot less autonomy today than individual European nations, many of which have no more population than a US state; to my mind, when evaluating the efficacy of our bureaucracy, the appropriate comparison is not between Australia and the United States, but between Australia and a hypothetically independent Texas or Florida.

            Americans don’t expect more from their government. Having low standards often becomes a self-fulfilling expectation.

            One of the big forgotten promises of the first Obama campaign was that we could expect more from our government–more efficiency, more transparency, better infrastructure (still waiting for the high speed rail Biden promised eight years ago). “Republicans said government doesn’t work and set out to prove it” they quipped. People had very high expectations. They were mostly not met.

            Even if one concedes that Obama could have done a lot more if not hobbled by GOP obstruction, financial crisis, etc., it still seems to support my contention that the sheer size and diversity of the US polity makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to run it efficiently and rationally, regardless of peoples’ expectations.

          • JulieK says:

            And that relates to things like charter schools and vouchers. The argument is that if you allow/encourage the better off to exit public education, then it gets worse and worse and ends up a “poor person thing”.

            Public schools in big cities are already a “poor person thing,” with the better-off families sending their kids to private school or moving to the suburbs. Vouchers allow poor people to do what rich people are already doing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s a Us peculiarity to default to individualism. If the police are broken, get a gun if the education system is broken, homeschool, and so on.

            If my neighborhood is crime ridden and the police are ineffective, basic choices are

            1) Increase my personal security (alarms, dogs, guns)

            2) Leave

            3) Fix the police

            Only I know how, or can find out how, to do #1 and #2. #3? Forget it. I wouldn’t know where to start. I can sign on with Group A which has a solution which looks suspiciously like funneling a lot of my money to the same ineffective cops. Or Group B which wants to merge the current police organization into another police organization run by friends of Group B. Or Group C, the “responsible” ones, who make a lot of noise about how they’ll fix the system but it’ll be a long and hard road taking years (and a lot of money for Group C), in which time I might get robbed several (more) times.

            Same idea with education. One group will take the money and give it to the same ineffective teachers and administrators. Another will buy computers and build new buildings but not change the quality of the instruction. And the third will promise to solve the problems in a time frame which doesn’t help me.

            So, yeah, there’s a preference for individualism. Because it might actually do something about the problem at hand.

          • Aapje says:


            If you want to argue that the US is more like a 2nd world nation, while the EU is more 1st world, then the logical conclusion seems to adopt more EU policies/systems.

            As for Obama ‘just’ fixing government, that is not something that you can just do in 4 or 8 years. It takes generations. It’s like the many governments that promise to fix corruption. It’s something that you can improve on, but not something you just fix.

          • onyomi says:

            If you want to argue that the US is more like a 2nd world nation, while the EU is more 1st world, then the logical conclusion seems to adopt more EU policies/systems.

            Yes, I’m in favor of the United States breaking into several independent nations, like the EU.

            As for Obama ‘just’ fixing government, that is not something that you can just do in 4 or 8 years. It takes generations.

            But did the Obama admin even move us in that direction? Is the US system even a little more rational, efficient, and transparent now than eight years ago? Note that I’m not claiming the Obama admin was uniquely bad; I think most US presidents have left the US system worse than when they started.

          • Iain says:

            The Obama administration actually did a bunch of quiet work in that direction. Take a look at, for example.

          • Cheese says:

            “I would say that Australia has had a better experience with government than the US has.”

            This is probably it in a nutshell really. You could read some of doubleunplussed’s posts and think ‘wow, Australia has less onerous laws, less intrusive government and problems with regulation’. Well, no, actually in many respects we have a more far-reaching government with far less checks and balances. Some of our laws with respect to personal freedoms and police powers are pretty cooked. No bill of rights, no explicit freedom of speech. We’re a higher taxing society (although you probably see the results of your dollars in terms of social support/healthcare/public transport a bit more).

            It’s just there seems to be a culture whereby there is less intrusion of it on to daily life, it is more streamlined. Less militaristic is perhaps the phrase. Less individualistic? I think that’s probably it. I think it’s really a cultural thing. People are actually probably less friendly on the whole but are probably more inclined to live and let live.

            Personally I couldn’t live in the US, your bread is too sweet. Trying to find bread that isn’t sweetened is an arduous task.

          • Aapje says:


            I think that culture also plays a major role in this. If you take a Dutch or German person to more relaxed culture, they can enjoy it if it is temporary (like a holiday). But if they have to live there, they tend to get seriously upset about the lack of clear rules, how long everything takes, how the government in these places doesn’t do many things that they take for granted at home, etc.

            All these things that have costs, also have benefits. You cannot have a perfect system, you have to pick your poison.

            Well, no, actually in many respects we have a more far-reaching government with far less checks and balances.

            My perception is that America promises a lot more on this front, but doesn’t actually deliver (much) more.

            Sure, you have stronger freedom of speech, but it is easier to fire someone for saying the wrong thing. So I might actually have more freedom as an employee in my country than in the US, in practical terms.

            Theoretically, property rights are stronger in the US, yet it seems easier for the US police to confiscate your things without any good oversight.

            PS. American bread is indeed horrible, we baked our own when I was there last.

          • Vouchers allow poor people to do what rich people are already doing.

            N0, they allow less rich people to do what rich people do. The very poor are still left out.

            If my neighborhood is crime ridden and the police are ineffective, basic choices are

            1) Increase my personal security (alarms, dogs, guns)

            2) Leave

            3) Fix the police

            Only I know how, or can find out how, to do #1 and #2. #3? Forget it. I wouldn’t know where to start

            The problem has been solved, so it is solveable.
            You seem to be saying that USians aren’t good at co-ordination which kind of reinforces my point.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The problem [of lousy police] has been solved, so it is solveable.

            Not by me, however. The fact that some other people under some other conditions have solved it does not mean I can under the conditions which exist at the moment.

            You seem to be saying that USians aren’t good at co-ordination which kind of reinforces my point.

            Or that those who benefit from lousy cops (or whatever the problem is) ARE good at co-ordination. The much hated National Maximum Speed Limit stayed in effect for twenty years because insurance companies are good at co-ordination.

    • Rock Lobster says:

      I’d like to seek out an “official” answer to your question, because I work in finance and this kind of financial planning stuff is a hobby of mine, and I find myself not having the perfect answer for you. Also I’m not in the office right now so I don’t have my Bloomberg terminal and am relying on free services for data.

      With all that out of the way, there’s a principle in economics called “interest rate parity.” It basically says that if there are two different currencies, A and B, it’s not possible to profit by switching between currencies to take advantage of whichever country’s assets have higher interest rates and then converting back, because the exchange rate path will have movements baked in (at least on a forward-looking basis) that will negate your attempts to do so.

      For example, if you had US$1000, invested it in a 5-yr US Treasury note at 1.89% (ignore reinvestment risk of the coupons), and then at maturity you converted your US$1119 into AUD at the current 5-year future exchange rate of 0.7214 USD/AUD, you’d have AU$1551. Alternatively if you converted your US$1000 into AUD at the current spot rate of 0.7448, and invested that in a 5-yr Australian Treasury note yielding 2.32%, you’d have AU$1541. In other words, approximately the same.

      So theoretically it doesn’t matter. However, the main thing missing from that analysis is taxes. I saw you wrote in a downstream comment that as a non-resident of Australia you’d be taxed at 32.5% on AUD-denominated interest, whereas on USD-denominated interest you’d only be taxed at 15% (is that your current income tax bracket? Normally interest in the US is taxed as ordinary income). So that would suggest to me that you have a serious tax advantage investing in USD and only later converting into AUD. Given the existence of interest rate parity, a systematic tax advantage in one currency would be the most important thing to consider. When I repeat the above analysis using tax-adjusted interest rates, you do about 10-11% better by investing in USD and converting to AUD later.

      Having said all this, I think this might be worth a visit to a CFP, because I really don’t know what I might be missing from your tax situation. In the meantime, I encourage you to get all your ducks in a row with the following information:

      -The tax rate you’d pay on USD-denominated interest (this is ordinarily your ordinary income tax rate),
      -The tax rate you’d pay on USD-denominated stock dividends (this will typically be 15% if you’re not trading much),
      -The tax rate you’d pay on AUD-denominated interest,
      -The tax rate you’d pay on AUD-denominated stock dividends,
      -The yields on different debt products you can invest in in each currency. Looks like in USD, for example, you can get 1.05% on a savings account, 1.20% on a 12-month CD, and 1.85% on a 5-year CD (source: GS Bank). You mentioned you could get 3% in an Australian savings account, which seems pretty good.
      -The returns you would expect to get on stocks in the US and Australia (some quick research suggests Australian stocks have historically returned about 9-10%, so about similar in nominal terms to the US stock market).
      -The AUDUSD futures curve. This will tell you what exchange rate you could “lock in” and also what the market is expecting as an exchange rate path. Right now the AUD is priced to fall about 0.6% against the dollar each year for five years.

      With all of that information, calculating which is your ex ante best option is pretty straightforward. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Excel, but that would be the tool to use here. Perhaps I can email a spreadsheet to our host who can pass it along to you?

      This turned out rather longer than I expected, haha. Hope this is helpful for you.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Rock Lobster:
        That says it doesn’t make a difference whether he a) buys a futures contract for AUS and invests in US bonds, or b) just buys AUS bonds immediately.

        But you haven’t included the price of that futures contract in your back of the envelope analysis, right?

        Actually, I think maybe you are suggesting that the best bet might be to buy a futures contract for the necessary amount of AUS-US currency exchange as long as the price of that future contract is less than the expected tax loss? That actually seems to make a great deal of sense, assuming this option is available.

        • Rock Lobster says:


          Yes, the futures contract was something I was suggesting doubleunplussed explore, with the caveat that I don’t know how practical that is for a retail investor, and it might not be worth the hassle even if it saves some money, strictly speaking. However, it looks from doubleunplussed’s below comment that his relevant USD interest tax rate is 25%, not 15%, which narrows the USD advantage considerably.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        Thank you very much for the detailed information!

        I’m in the 25% federal tax bracket—I mentioned a 15% tax rate since I figured the capital gains and dividends rate was what I was after. But since bond interest is taxed as ordinary income (I didn’t previously realise this), my tax rate on the gains from a fund heavy on bonds would be on the high end of the 15 % to 25 % range, so I suppose that’s what I will be comparing to the 32.5 % nonresident Australian tax rate. Anyway it should all come out in the calculations if I feed in all the right numbers as you have indicated.

        My sticking point was this: I understand that the market ought to make various paths to the same result roughly equally profitable (otherwise someone would close the gap via arbitrage), but I was also considering volatility. The average yield (sans tax) of putting USD in a low-volatility investment and then exchanging to AUD upon selling ought to be about the same as exchanging and then investing AUD – but the volatility of the latter ought to be higher, right? Because whichever “low volatility” US investment I’m using is only low volatility when measured in USD. If its volatility in USD were hypothetically exactly zero, then when measured in AUD its volatility would be exactly equal to that of the exchange rate.

        I would think that this would apply for bonds and bank deposits, since they are nominal assets, but not to stocks which ought to change in value to reflect changes in the exchange rate. But perhaps I’m missing something here. In fact, from what you’ve said, it sounds like if I read about and understand what the AUD/USD futures curve represents, that ought to answer my question.

        If you’d like to send me anything, I can be reached at my username at gmail. But so long as I understand the relevant details I will be able to run calculations myself, I have enough of a background in the required maths and software.

        Sounds like my next step is to read up on what currency exchange futures curves are!

        Thanks again.

        • Rock Lobster says:

          Sure thing, happy to help.

          For your purposes, the futures curve is a way to buy insurance against exchange rate volatility at different time horizons.

          The 25% tax rate in the US would diminish the tax advantage considerably. If those really are the correct tax rates, it sounds like you’d be better off converting your savings to AUD and sending it back to Australia to invest.

          I also completely forgot to include that interest on US Treasurys is exempt from state and local taxes, but corporate bonds, bank CDs, etc. are not. The Australian gov’t may have a similar exemption on their bonds but I don’t know. The investment-grade US corporate bond index is yielding ~3% right now. I’m not sure about AUD-denominated corporates, but I can find out at work.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I never buy bonds. I know it is supposed to be part of a diversified portfolio, but I think that is a myth. If you are a corporation perhaps and have millions of dollars in your portfolio perhaps, but not for individuals. I don’t have cites on me now, but when I’ve looked at the numbers, bonds always perform worse than stocks, and the ups and downs are pretty correlated with stocks, so why buy them?

          I diversify by buying blue chip stocks, small cap stocks, international stocks, value stocks.

      • Chalid says:

        @Rock Lobster

        WDYT of an Australian REIT ETF or similar? Real estate price risk is just as big a risk for him as currency risk, most likely. A REIT index would help neutralize that risk, and if it were in ETF form I think it would be reasonably tax efficient. (But this is way outside my area of expertise.)

        • Rock Lobster says:

          I hadn’t really considered that. I know a good deal about REITs because I used to cover them, but I was only familiar with Australian REITs insofar as they issued USD paper. It looks like Vanguard has an A-REIT ETF, VAP.

          Anyway, a few things to consider with that are:

          -doubleunplussed said that his time horizon is only 5-7 years, so he may not want to be involved in stocks.
          -REITs are particularly exposed to interest rate risk, i.e. their share price moves around a lot in response to changes in interest rates.
          -You’d have to consider taxes. In the US REIT dividends are taxed as ordinary income. I don’t know how they’re taxed in Australia, or if doubleunplussed’s non-resident status changes that.
          -The REITs will generally be invested in commercial properties and multi-family apartment buildings, so the correlation with single-family home prices may not be very high.

          So in a nutshell, it doesn’t seem like a very good fit for doubleunplussed’s needs, but if there’s a tax advantage it could be. This is why I think consulting a financial advisor or tax accountant would help. Taxes are probably the most important consideration in this whole discussion, and I just don’t know how doubleunplussed’s residency and immigration status affect all his relevant tax rates.

          • Brad says:

            I’m surprised there are so few / no products in the city-specific residential REIT market. Leaving aside the Oz issue, the OP’s investment objective is pretty common one and there aren’t a whole lot of good answers out there.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            Well, speaking for the US, supposedly when Robert Shiller was originally working on what would become the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, he envisioned a future where homeowners would use derivatives on the index to hedge against local housing market weakness. It didn’t take off, probably due to complexity for retail investors.

            Going in the other direction, I’m not aware of any way for retail investors to “invest in” one of the city-specific Case-Shiller sub-indices. There are property derivatives and such but I believe those only make sense for large or institutional investors.

    • qwints says:

      Make sure you consider FBAR implications. You’ve probably already thought about it, but the penalties for not knowing about it are draconian.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        I had never heard of this, so thank you. Glad to have found out about it in time!

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          FBAR is a return for US citizens or corporations to declare foreign bank accounts or financial accounts over 10,000 USD. I don’t think they need to be filed by foreign nationals. Maybe US residents. I am not positive, so look at it, but I think not applicable.

          Edit: Yes I think I was right. See this.

          • qwints says:

            US persons are required to file. US persons means citizens and residents. Here’s the IRS pub on the residency test:


          • doubleunplussed says:

            I’m a tax resident but I’m not a resident in the immigration sense (not a greencard holder) and I was leaning toward the definition of US person as relating to the immigration sense.

            Relatedly I contacted Vanguard Australia to ask if I was allowed to invest with them, since they cannot offer their products to US persons. They said so long as I receive their prospectus and fill out the forms whilst physically in Australia I’m in the clear despite being a US tax resident. So according to them, me being a tax resident of the US doesn’t make me a US person. But maybe being physically located in the US does, I’m not sure.

            But I admit I’m very unsure still and need to seek clarification on FBAR regardless.

          • qwints says:

            Bottom line – if you meet the substantial presence test and have income and assets, you need to talk to a tax professional who handles foreign national returns, preferably someone who routinely handles returns for Australians living in the US full time (avoid storefront places like H&R Block). Things have different meanings in different contexts, and country-specific treaties override the general rules.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I’m a tax resident but I’m not a resident in the immigration sense (not a greencard holder) and I was leaning toward the definition of US person as relating to the immigration sense.

            Do you file a 1040NR tax return? If so, then you are a non-resident. If you file a regular 1040 you are a US resident.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            I am certain of my tax residency, I am a tax resident and will be filling out a 1040. However it’s not clear to me that tax residency is the type of residency that is relevant to the situation. I will have to seek expert or professional advice.

    • Deiseach says:

      Would you be allowed send a lump sum of [size to put down deposit] out of the USA when you eventually want to buy your house? I wonder about that and maybe finding out if you could just send [however much] back to Australia would help you make up your mind. I have no idea what the rule is, but it would be hard lines if, after five years’ saving, you got told “Sorry, no transactions in that size allowed to take that much currency out of the country”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        You can take any amount of money out of the United States (even in actual currency, though I wouldn’t recommend that). However, there’s paperwork that needs to be filled out (regulations which are supposedly anti-money-laundering) once transactions get to be a certain size. I believe for wire transfers it’s the bank who fills these out; you only need to fill them out if you’re literally leaving the country with currency.

  34. HeelBearCub says:

    In the links post, Robinson attacks the analysis of this particular quote:

    There are places for wind but if you go to various places in California, wind is killing all of the eagles… You know if you shoot an eagle, if you kill an eagle, they want to put you in jail for five years. And yet the windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles. … They’re killing them by the hundreds.

    Both Robinson and the Post seem to dispense with and ignore the phrase “wind is killing all of the eagles”.

    I don’t think you can ignore that phrase in the analysis. It’s precisely the kind of emotionally loaded phrase that smuggles in a connotation that isn’t supported by the bare words. Yes, the sentence structure allows one to claim that the phrase only applies to only in certain places in California, but that isn’t the emotional valence of the phrase. This valence is further amplified by specifically referring to eagles (the national symbolic bird).

    I don’t think you can dispense with analysis of connotation in determining whether someone is telling falsehood.

    Robinson also conflates “biased punditry” and “fake news” as if the two are the same thing. He does this over and over. Much of what he attacks as fake news in the mainstream media is actually opinion. There is a reason that “official” journalism has tried to hold a line on a difference between news and opinion.

    • AnonEEmous says:

      i think that’s precisely why politifact needs to stop

      “analysis of connotation” is purely opinionated. how do you fact check the type of way people are feeling? Should they say “it’s not true” because some eagles are technically still alive? OK, so it’s hyperbole – is it too much? What if the windmills are killing all of the eagles in the area?


      “The annual, nationwide Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey indicates that the State’s winter population appears to be at least stable, although varying from year to year, exceeding 1,000 birds some winters.”

      if 113 are dying a year, then “all the eagles in the area are dying” actually sounds entirely plausible ;p

      double edit: and apparently this is because bald eagles migrate to California in the winter.

      • Whitedeath says:

        I think politifact does good analysis it’s just that their rating system is shit.

        • AnonEEmous says:

          i think they just need to lay off the subjective stuff, but that too is true

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          Sometimes their analysis is pretty clearly biased, like giving Trump and Sanders opposite ratings for essentially the same claim (very high unemployment among African-Americans). The closest thing anyone’s been able to give me to a justification is Sanders’ campaign providing a citation specifying what they meant afterwards, but it’s pretty clear they were making basically the same claim.

          The other problem is the choice of quotes to evaluate. You can choose any selection of quotes from almost any politician to get basically the result you want. Their choice is clearly not random.

      • Deiseach says:

        I certainly think you need to be clear on “wind is killing all the eagles”. Does that mean “wind turbines are killing ALL the eagles”, “the eagles in a certain area”, or “a certain amount of birds – including eagles – fly into the blades every year”?

        It’s a very emotive phrase, as everyone points out, and it’s not really much help in balancing “renewable energy sources” versus “effect on the environment including the fauna”. Maybe, to be very blunt, a few dead eagles are worth the generation of enough power to keep the lights on for the town. Or maybe wind generation is not providing useful amounts of electricity plus it’s killing endangered species. But “will nobody think of the children?” style appeals add nothing useful to help make a decision.

    • On the other hand, “but if you go to various places in California, wind is killing all of the eagles” is most naturally read as “all of the eagles in those places.”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @David Friedman:
        I already acknowledged that.

        Consider the sentence “If you go to certain places in my city, all of the nesting birds were killed by cats”.

        That sentence is undoubtably technically true. But given that it might, to my knowledge, only be true for my house, I have implied something false and given it an emotional valence.

        Now cats might indeed (probably are) deleterious to bird populations, but the sentence above doesn’t tell much about whether I should regard cats as a danger to the overall bird population. But any bird-watcher will be stirred to anger against cats by it.

        This is precisely the kind of argumentation that people take certain environmentalists to task for. While it may be satisfying to see it turned against them, I’m not exactly sure that it is in service to truth.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          In haste….

          Call it a strucural fnord, maybe?

          Sticklng to the object level. I’m not impressed by any such claim of fact without comparing it to the number of eagles and other birds killed by oil spills etc (much less by air pollution).

      • Deiseach says:

        Even on that reading, is it really true that ALL of the eagles in that particular place are being killed; the majority of them; a lot of them; how big is the original population and what is it now? Is it really true “we started with ten eagles and now we have none left” or what?

    • carvenvisage says:

      That’s definitely not a neutral way of putting it, and as well as what you mentioned it’s literally outright false (it isn’t actually killing ‘all’ of the eagles), but isn’t there an expectation that public rhetoric is going to be exaggerated and framed as favorably as possible without losing respectability?

      Of course I’m not saying you shouldn’t criticise it: that’s how the favorable framing threshold is lowered to a more sane and functional level, but given current standards and expectations, I think the idea of ‘detecting falsehood’ is misleading: of course it’s somewhat false, in the normal manner of the field. The question is whether it’s particularly false.

      Compare responding to

      1. “why do you want this job” without belabouring the importance of making money, to pay rent and eat, and save or have nice things

      2. “do I look okay” without “define OK”.

      I think this case is clearly more like those than what is normally understood by ‘falsehood’.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Your individual social interaction examples don’t really fall in the same category. Also, because they are statements about internal feelings or perceptions, they are are much harder to disprove.

        As to whether political actors turn garadations into binaries in order to be more persuasive, yes. They do so frequently. But commonly politicians are regarded as liars precisely because of this tendency to favor the more persuasive argument over the the more precise, factual one.

        • carvenvisage says:

          Your individual social interaction examples don’t really fall in the same category.

          No they all fall into this category-

          (things which are) of course somewhat false, in the normal manner of the field

          If anything 1. is a lot more dishonest, because it goes in a completely different direction than an honest response, whereas choosing eagle for your bird and saying ‘all’ is exageration and framing on a fundamentally good point.

          But commonly politicians are regarded as liars precisely because of this tendency to favor the more persuasive argument over the the more precise, factual one.

          Exagerating good points is really not why politicians are regarded as dishonest. It’s normal. Choosing precise factual arguments over more persuasive ones is a sign of being unusually literal minded.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I don’t think you can dispense with analysis of connotation in determining whether someone is telling falsehood.

      Yup. Another example of this is the claim “Trump mocked a disabled person”. The connotation is that he mocked the person for being disabled, mocking the disability of that person. Which is arguably false. However, it is true that (a) Trump was mocking somebody for equivocating, and (b) that person had a disability. So the statement is true by one reading and false by another, making it very hard to debunk and easy to confirmation-bias yourself into believing whichever suits your priors.

      Evidence used to argue against the connotation includes:
      (a) Trump does similar impressions all the time meaning by it only “When I talk like this I’m pretending to be somebody other than me saying something dumb”. There’s video of him doing it for Ted Cruz and for an army general, neither of whom are (so far as we know) disabled.
      (b) Trump’s “impression” seems to have been the precise OPPOSITE of the mannerisms of the reporter in question. Video of the reporter reveals that he doesn’t stammer and doesn’t wave his hands around. The nature of the disability is such that the reporter can’t wave his hands around; the fact that a careful single-frame screencap can get them in the same pose does not make one performance an impression of the other. And the disability doesn’t cause the reporter to stammer – his speech is unusually clear and calm and emotionless. So if it was meant as an impression of how that reporter acts it was a really bad impression.
      (c) Although it turns out Trump had met this reporter before, it was decades earlier and he’s met hundreds (thousands?) of reporters since; his claim not to remember the guy by name seems plausible.
      (d) Trump firmly denies it was an impression of a disability. (and sure, if a normal politician said “Gosh no, I certainly wasn’t doing [offensive thing]!” that’d be expected, but this is Trump; he’s practically famous for biting bullets of similar character.)

      If the claim were parsed as “Trump mocked a reporter’s disability”, there’s reason to rule that unproven or false. But phrasing it as “Trump mocked a disabled person” makes the charge much more sticky.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Whether or not he was mocking the reporters specific disability, he is clearly doing an imitation of disability. The fact that he likes mock people by pretending they have disabled mannerisms doesn’t speak well of him regardless.

        Compare calling someone a “retard”, which doesn’t actually imply a specific diagnosis of retarded development.

        Additionally, the video evidence is substantially different when he does is mocking others and when he mocks the reporter.

  35. Egregious Philbin says:

    This has been affecting me for three years now, and I’m somewhat ashamed about it: I have an eating disorder — bulimia. I’m unsure how to maintain proactive behaviors against overeating and extreme purging. My whole family has had disordered eating difficulties. I have MDD and eating is surely a way to gain pleasure when everything oft-enjoyable is slashed by anhedonia.

    I a) wonder if anyone out there has faced similar b) ask the commentariat for any suggestions. Thank you in advance.

    (Male, btw. IMO it’s probably under-reported in males. And…my first comment here!)

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I have a family member who struggled with bulemia, alcoholism and depression.

      She did 6 months inpatient and outpatient at an eating disorder clinic in (I think) Ft. Lauderdale. This successfully treated her bulemia (although the alcoholism and depression took much longer to address). She was living in NYC at the time, and finding a reputable program with good results took work.

      Their approach seemed to be a regimented “here is what you will eat today” approach with monitoring. The diet was nutritionally sound and planned for her by a dietician. I don’t know whether that approach is possible with self-treatment. She was very angry and resistant during the whole thing, but she is also the one who checked herself in to treatment to begin with. He fact that you want treatment is likely a big positive.

      Obviously there was counseling, medication and 12-step type programs as well. Given that her underlying emotional problems continued, I’m guessing that the core to solving the bulemia depended more on using planned diet and monitoring to break the binge-purge cycle. But I am no expert.

    • thelastmillennial says:

      Also a male with this issue for multiple years. On a very intense daily basis (it’s basically a compulsion, and I have comorbid OCD). It’s been very bad for my health. I’m in an extremely dark place right now, as my insurance won’t fund a decent treatment option. I feel like I’m helpless to stop this behavior and without help, and have many fantasies of my death. I’ve come close to it in the past. I have terrified dreams and a great deal of daily pain. Wow, I didn’t mean to phrase it so harshly, but it’s the truth.

      Luckily my teeth haven’t seriously eroded, because I make sure to rinse with water or an alkali right after purging, as well as avoiding brushing or eating chafing foods for about an hour afterward. Make sure you do this, and get on an antacid if you have acid reflux problems. I don’t know how often you purge, but absolutely tell your doctor and get bloodwork to make sure you’re not low on potassium, as purging can drain it to dangerous levels.

      Another way to at least minimize the damage is to try and not purge with a relatively empty stomach, because the emptier your stomach the more acidic and destructive it is. If you have to keep some food down, it’s worth it to not do it again.

      Personally, my bulimia came in a very common pattern where it follows anorexia. Essentially, I’d been malnourished for so long that I developed food fixation, such as starvation survivors exhibit, and would make myself purge in order to get more of it. The binge/purge cycle crystallized into an addiction. Now the pain and worry I get from it is obscenely greater than the pleasure, but it’s a compulsive habit.

    • carvenvisage says:

      A suggestion/idea.

      Are there things you get out of the experience of purging that you don’t get elsewhere? If so might it be effective to identify and organise healthier ways to get that same experience?

      (or drives/discharging them rather than experiences/getting them)


      For example, I imagine that purging is quite an intense experience, and it’s one where you force your body to do something despite its protestations. If these two things happened to be a part of your purging (so to speak), then other things which are painful and intense and you have to force your body to do, would include-

      1. really intense exercise/sporting activity or

      2. consumption of really hot chilli peppers (,

      Of course these may not be relevant to your case. Hopefully they illustrate the idea, which is, to rephrase it: identifying driving forces or felt rewards associated with your purging, and finding healthy(er) outlets/alternatives for them. (either as a supplement to or instead of eliminating/reducing/reshaping those forces and/or resisting/overpowering them and building and strengthening a habit of resisting/overpowering them.)


      Anyway, good luck to you.

  36. Last time I tried to post (the first post under this newly-registered username), it never showed up… am I being spam-filtered?

    • Eltargrim says:

      I see this post. It could be that you’ve run astray with a link or banned string in your previous post.