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OT70: Cyclopen Architecture

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756 Responses to OT70: Cyclopen Architecture

  1. Dr Dealgood says:

    What do people here think about Nassim Taleb?

    [Semi-rant follows]

    I haven’t read any of his books, but recently I’ve read a few excerpts of his “Incerto” (is this a French thing, giving the collection of your writings a pretentious name?). What I’ve seen so far seems like a combination of two things:

    The first element, and the valuable one in my view, is forcefully pointing out when the emperor has no clothes. Those who don’t have any incentive to get results will not take risks to get results. Those who can’t judge results will rely on credentials despite the fact that, past a certain point, how well-credentialed someone is trades off against how good they are at getting results. Most are ignorant of both statistics and the phenomena they are observing, and as such frequently abuse statistical tools to describe phenomena.

    The second element is to follow that up by immediately falling into the traps he describes in the first element. He doesn’t himself have any “skin in the game” in most of the fields he criticizes; he shows an over-reliance on heuristics to judge performance which are little better than those of the credentialism he despises; he displays shocking ignorance of topics I am familiar with (mostly genetics), as a result analyzing situations with tools unsuited to the nature of the phenomenon he’s examining.

    It’s very frustrating for me to read, because the good ideas he has are rapidly buried under the BS he heaps over them. He’ll even do this in the same paragraph: an accurate paraphrase his essay on IYIs is “You’re too intellectually pretentious and not focused enough on matters of substance, and you probably haven’t even read [long list of obscure French literati]”

    • dndnrsn says:

      The IYI essay reads like an intellectual version of some PUA tactics – like it was intended to get the result of people thinking “I’m not like those dummies he’s criticizing! I agree with him, and therefore, am smart!”

      (“Are you as shallow as all the girls in this bar?”)

      • Deiseach says:

        “Are you as shallow as all the girls in this bar?”

        Possible rejoinders that spring to mind:

        “Yes, which is why I’m telling you to betake yourself off in a timely manner”.

        “You can’t afford the amount of alcohol it would take to get me drunk enough to find out”.

        “No, I’m not going to sleep with you. Now clear off, you’re wasting my valuable drinking time”.

        “I don’t know, how shallow would I need to be to find you interesting?”

        (Honestly, that crap works? I do not understand the world).

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          (Honestly, that crap works? I do not understand the world).

          One important thing to keep in mind is that tone doesn’t come through well in text.

          A lot of openers and routines are meant to be delivered as playful banter (“cocky and funny”). You’re not marching up to someone and belting out questions and accusations like a drill sergeant. It’s supposed to come off as casually sizing her up.

          • Randy M says:

            Plus, there may well be girls in bar that aren’t there just to drink and start out slightly more receptive than Deiseach would.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m no PUA, but as I understand it, one technique is trying to put the target on the defensive by subtly insulting them and forcing themselves to “qualify” themselves to you – “no I’m not shallow! I’m going to prove I’m not shallow!”

          The correct response to someone trying to get you to qualify yourself is supposed to be a witty rejoinder, as demonstrated here. 2 and 4 are definitely the best.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ah well, I’m not up on modern (or any) dating techniques; round here the favoured line is “Have yeh any road frontage?”

            As in the comments section on “how to tell if an Irish guy likes you”:

            Have ya road frontage?

            Ha my mate always gets that road frontage one , I told her not to tell men she comes from a big farm and has no brothers.

            Of course, it works for women looking for men as well 🙂

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            So having road frontage is similar to having huge… tracts of land?

          • Deiseach says:

            So having road frontage is similar to having huge… tracts of land?

            If you have a decent few acres that abut onto a main road, you are in a position to be coining it – selling the land for sites for development/building. If it comes with planning permission, you’re on the pig’s back! 😉

            (Look, rural Irish people don’t do romance. Blame the Famine, you might as well).

        • Aftagley says:

          Not PUA, but I read enough of their stuff (I find it an interesting, albeit bizarre, subculture).

          The net result of this kind of approach to do any kind of crazy mental magic or make her feel like she needs to earn your affection it’s just a way to strike up playful banter very quickly, and stand out from the crowds of guys who’s idea of an opener is to go up and mumble “can I buy you a drink.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            My pet theory is that, contrary to the explanations the PUAs have where it’s some sort of Jedi mind trick that only works on the female psyche, it instead works more like: playful insults are something you do with friends, and so some % of people will react to playful insults by committing a logical fallacy – “if you playfully insult your friends, and this person is playfully insulting people, they must be my friend”.

            EDIT: as Creutzer points out, the “only” made it not a logical fallacy, and leaving it in was the result of editing the post halfway through. Edited. Thanks for the catch.

          • Creutzer says:

            I feel compelled to point out that given your premise that you “only playfully insult your friends”, the inference your describe is not, in fact, a logical fallacy. As a matter of logic, the argument is perfectly valid.

          • random832 says:

            The fallacy is in mistaking a norm for a syllogism.

          • Deiseach says:

            it instead works more like: playful insults are something you do with friends, and so some % of people will react to playful insults by committing a logical fallacy – “if you playfully insult your friends, and this person is playfully insulting people, they must be my friend”.

            With regard to playful insults, C.S. Lewis covers this in “The Four Loves” when speaking of Affection. People who mistake rudeness for “only joking” (bolding mine):

            Affection is an affair of old clothes, and easy, of the unguarded moment, of liberties which would be ill-bred if we took them with strangers.

            …’We can say anything to one another.’ The truth behind this is that Affection at its best wishes neither to wound nor to humiliate nor to domineer. You may address the wife of your bosom as ‘Pig!’ when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own. You may roar down the story which your father is telling once too often. You may tease and hoax and banter. You can say ‘Shut up. I want to read.’ You can do anything in the right tone and at the right moment –the tone and moment which are not intended to, and will not, hurt. The better the Affection the more unerringly it knows which these are (every love has its art of love). But the domestic Rudesby means something quite different when he claims liberty to say ‘anything’. Having a very imperfect sort of Affection himself, or perhaps at that moment none, he arrogates to himself the beautiful liberties which only the fullest Affection has a right to or knows how to manage. He then uses them spitefully in obedience to his resentments; or ruthlessly in obedience to his egoism; or at best stupidly, lacking the art. And all the time he may have a clear conscience. He knows that Affection takes liberties. He is taking liberties. Therefore (he concludes) he is being affectionate. Resent anything and he will say that the defect of love is on your side. He is hurt. He has been misunderstood.

            The stranger who comes up to you with “Hey, are you as shallow as the rest of these dumb bunnies?” is not being playful nor is he your friend; he is being an ill-bred boor. Which is why I am very surprised this technique works at all with even a small proportion of people, but then again rudeness has been valorised as “honesty” and “authenticity” in much of modern society, and “authenticity” has been lauded to the skies as the primary virtue, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised some people fall for this.

          • Deiseach says:

            it’s just a way to strike up playful banter very quickly

            And were I to respond in kind “Is your dick as small as your wit?”, the man would not be at all hurt, insulted or offended but would take it as more playful banter?

            Banter is one thing, insulting (in the case of “as shallow as all the girls in this bar”) every woman present and especially the woman you are trying to pull is not banter or playful, it’s spite disguised as ‘cool’.

          • shakeddown says:

            “Is your dick as small as all the other guys in this bar” isn’t too bad – it wouldn’t work on me because it doesn’t match my personal style, but probably would work on enough guys that you could land someone if you try it a few times.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Is your dick as small as all the other guys in this bar” …probably would work on enough guys that you could land someone if you try it a few times.

            This whole thread is making me want to thank the universe, God, the Tridev, evolution and my messed-up paternal lineal genetics for making me aro/ace.

            I think I need those wincing-face emojis to adequately express my feelings on learning this.

          • @Deiseach:

            It’s not as though being romantically inclined requires you to be romantic with everyone. You get to select.

        • Anatoly says:

          >(Honestly, that crap works? I do not understand the world).

          It works as a preselection technique, the same way Nigerian scam emails still say they’re from Nigeria instead of basing the made-up narrative in a different country.

          • Deiseach says:

            I can see it working for women so they know not to waste their time with this bozo, but I can’t see what the men get out of it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The PUAs maintain that it works, the skeptics suggest that there are other explanations. Ultimately it might be a “stone soup” thing. If you convince guys who are shy and unconfident around women to get in better shape and dress better, then give them a script that they are assured will work – thus making them act more confident… The script could be “women love hearing about dinosaurs” and the guy who now looks better confidently goes up to women and starts talking about the diplodocus, of course he will experience more success with women than if he never approaches women at all. Then PUA sites write about “tight dino game.”

    • J Mann says:

      1) I read the Black Swan and listened to at least one Econtalk interview back in the day.

      1) Looking for a steelman response to Nassim Taleb led me to Falkenblog, which was a delight while operational. Eric Falkenstein’s responses to Taleb are essentially the steelman response and well worth reading.

      2) Generally, Taleb’s arrogance and condescension makes him a difficult read for someone applying critical faculties, but as you say, he has some good insights and is worth reading.

      3) The intro to the Black Swan, where Taleb talks about the fall of Beiruit, was maybe the most eye-opening part of the whole book for me. It was very striking how his family assumed things would revert towards their past experience right up until the end, and would be a useful reading assignment to pair the Hume’s Problem of Induction.

    • Urstoff says:

      His books are one idea repeated over and over again (we’re bad at probability judgments), and he’s kind of a crazy narcissist.

    • suntzuanime says:

      He’s an asshole with one idea, too high an opinion of himself, and zero intellectual charity. I’m hungry for insight, but not that hungry.

  2. Jaskologist says:

    Depending on your perspective, you may find this list of 10 Jewish cemeteries vandalized in the past 8 years oddly comforting.

    There were 2 at the start of 2008.

    • JulieK says:

      I would be more worried that the increased media attention will inspire copycats.

      • roystgnr says:

        Inspire copycats and normalize hatred. When the media insinuates that 60 million voters hate Jews, the correct response is “that’s insane”, the intended response is “that sounds correct; grr I hate those voters”, but the unintended response may include a little bit of “that sounds correct; looks like my antisemitism is way more popular than I thought!” (or even a lot of “huh, I guess antisemitism isn’t as bad as I thought”, if Scott’s wild speculation about cognitive dissonance is correct).

    • J Mann says:

      Building on that, it’s a pet peeve of mine that most journalists don’t do any work to put the background rate into context. Most of the 10 incidents are “gravestones overturned” – a Google search indicates that gravestone tipping is a general act of vandalism that occurs in other cemeteries as well, but I don’t have any idea what the per capita rate is. Searching for “gravestones overturned” has 3-4 times the hits as “gravestones overturned -jewish” but some of that might be that the Jewish cemetery vandalism gets more hits.

      This is an issue with black church fires – they’re obviously a serious issue, but it would be nice to know the average number of church fires to see how much of a problem we have.

      • Aapje says:

        Suicides in big companies are also a good examples of this. A big fuss was made about the number of suicides by Foxconn employees, but they employ almost a million people and the actual suicide rate was lower than the Chinese average. It just looked very high because few Western people can conceive of a business employing so many people and thus having a high background rate effect.

        • Aftagley says:

          I’m not entirely sure you can usefully compare the Foxconn employee suicide rate to anything more general given that you’d expect the suicide rate of Foxconn employees to already be lower than the national average.

          I mean, look at suicide indicators in China: One of the largest factors for suicide is unemployment, by definition everyone at Foxconn is employed. Another large factor in China is age (there’s a tradition of elderly folks committing suicide instead of facing long-term medical or financial distress. Almost all the Foxconn employees were in the teens and 20s. People in rural Chinese areas kill themselves at higher rates than in urban areas, Foxconn factories are all in urban environments. All of these factors (and I’m sure a few others I left out) drag the national suicide rates up in ways that don’t give us any meaningful information about Foxconn.

          You’re selecting a group that should have a lower suicide rate than the rest of the country and then using the fact that they have a lower suicide rate as proof that there isn’t a problem, whereas the people who blame Foxconn think that while the suicide rate may be lower than the national average, it could be even lower if Foxconn practiced better labor standards.

          • lvlln says:

            Aftagley:

            You’re selecting a group that should have a lower suicide rate than the rest of the country and then using the fact that they have a lower suicide rate as proof that there isn’t a problem, whereas the people who blame Foxconn think that while the suicide rate may be lower than the national average, it could be even lower if Foxconn practiced better labor standards.

            It’s a very good point that comparing Foxconn employees to China’s population in general instead of an equivalent sub-population of China in terms of age/employment/other demographics is fallacious and likely to lead to a false conclusion, in the direction of underselling the Foxconn employees’ suicide rate.

            But I don’t think characterizing the central criticism of Foxconn as “while the suicide rate may be lower than the national average, it could be even lower if Foxconn practiced better labor standards” is accurate. And if it is, I don’t think that’s what Aapje was calling out in his post. Rather, the relevant argument is the one that doesn’t even compare the Foxconn rate to any base rate – whether controlled for demographics or not – and then darkly hint that their employees committing suicide is the responsibility of Foxconn’s practices. The point is that without comparing the rate with the base rate – which must be controlled for demographics, as you pointed out – it’s just as possible that Foxconn should be lauded for preventing suicides rather than held responsible for pushing people into suicide. There’s just no way to tell without making that comparison, and that comparison just doesn’t seem to be present in a lot of the criticisms of Foxconn.

            One could also argue that the base rate doesn’t matter, and that Foxconn should hold themselves to a standard completely divorced from that, but that argument has plenty of problems as well, of course.

          • J Mann says:

            That’s a good point, but knowing that Foxconn’s rate is lower than the national average is more useful than not knowing it.

            I agree that comparing to the rate of employed Chinese of similar age would be even better, though.

          • Aftagley says:

            @lvlln

            I agree; I can’t really speak for everyone on one side of an argument.

            @J Mann
            Yep, not saying the information isn’t valuable, just that you can’t really draw any meaningful conclusions from it.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This is an issue with black church fires – they’re obviously a serious issue, but it would be nice to know the average number of church fires to see how much of a problem we have.

        They’re not even obviously a serious issue. When Dylann Roof committed his murders, there were lists of black church fires being passed around, to prove the narrative of racism in America. Only some digging revealed several due to accidental or natural causes, some arson by members of the congregation, and an unsatisfying number with cause unknown. None shown to be due to racists burning them down. Of course pointing this out got you branded a racist church-burner.

    • Deiseach says:

      In this context (and I certainly don’t mean to belittle the fact that threats are being made) and with regard to Trump being cursed by luck; from the sub-reddit, about an online publication calling itself The Intercept.

      A couple of days ago, they ran an article with the headline “Trump Can’t Accept That His Allies Are Targeting Jews — So He Blames His Opponents”.

      They have since changed it to “Trump Suggests Anti-Semitic Acts Might Be Faked To Make His Movement “Look Bad””.

      Why? Because:

      We have changed the headline of this news story to better reflect its content. Since its publication, former Intercept reporter Juan Thompson was arrested and charged with making bomb threats against the Jewish Community Centers and the Anti-Defamation League.

      Statement on L’Affaire Thompson by The Intercept:

      We were horrified to learn this morning that Juan Thompson, a former employee of The Intercept, has been arrested in connection with bomb threats against the ADL and multiple Jewish Community Centers in addition to cyberstalking. These actions are heinous and should be fully investigated and prosecuted. We have no information about the charges against Thompson other than what is included in the criminal complaint. Thompson worked for The Intercept from November 2014 to January 2016, when he was fired after we discovered that he had fabricated sources and quotes in his articles.

      • Nornagest says:

        Well, that certainly sheds some light on why the Intercept was coming out with all the worst anti-Trump stories.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The guy had been fired by the Intercept for making stuff up in stories, and it looks like he was trying to frame his ex-girlfriend, not Trump.

        • Deiseach says:

          The larger point is that Trump was correct that some of the alleged crimes were false. That it was a “we’re so diverse and giving voices to POC shut up and listen when Black people criticise White racism” hire of theirs, whom they subsequently had to can when he pulled this same crap – making up quotes, pretending he’d met and interviewed people when he hadn’t, and creating false email accounts (he even created a Gmail account in the name of Betsy Reed, Editor-in-Chief of The Intercept) – just makes it even more delicious.

          So what was that part about “you can’t accept it’s your allies doing this”, again? Presumably when Mr Thompson was on staff he would have been considered an ally – or they would have considered themselves allies – of all the Good Stuff: the anti-racism, the anti-capitalism, antifa, etc. (I discount calling him a Socialist as I think his ‘socialism’ was more a manipulator jumping on a hip bandwagon for notice and praise).

          The guy is a real work of art, no mistaking; he even lied on his Twitter about the breakup (the application for an arrest warrant says the ex-girlfriend dumped him but he was boasting that he got renewed in his wokeness and dumped her for being a racist and anti-Semite and white etc.)

          But the more serious point is this: plenty of media commentary and online sentiment is working itself up into a hysteria about Nazis and stormtroopers and God knows what else. When it comes down to it, what are most cases of the hate crimes and street violence? Fake stories like the college students claiming Trump-supporting men pulled off their hijabs, guys like this using the cover of genuine threats to wreak petty revenge, drunk college students vandalising with graffiti a nondenominational chapel, a university story that I can’t find any follow-up on* and which makes me think it was another fake/false flag job, and the window-smashing, trashfire-setting Black Bloc disruptions using left-wing protest marches as cover. And brave “Nazi punchers” pepper-spraying a woman wearing a pink parody hat and then running away.

          As I’ve said before, it’s not the guys in the MAGA hats pulling this crap.

          *Googling it finds a small number of immediate reports dated November 2016, claims that it’s being investigated by the cops, and then nothing further. The New School itself had Sweet Fanny Adams about it in their 2016 Year in Review. That does make me suspect some of the ladies involved may have let their artistic reactions run away with them in the immediate aftermath of the election results and, er, um, well. I love this particular comment (I’m imagining the tape-recordings bit):

          This is unacceptable.

          Find them. Fine them. Expel them. Mandate they attend a year of sensitivity training including but not limited to tape recordings (or face-to-face if appropriate) of their victims’ thoughts and reactions -pain, angst, fear, anger- on the experience. Add 1 year of community service serving underprivileged communities. OR find them and send them to jail for hate crimes.

          So if it was an “inside job”, did the persons responsible get all this punishment or was it swept under the carpet?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The thing about the New School swastikas is they were written with dry-erase marker on a door intended to be written on with dry-erase marker. So if the cops decided they didn’t want to deal with it, they’d just say “no crime here”; it’s not vandalism, and while you could make a case for intimidation or some other similar thing, it would be easy not to.

            Here is a case of some probably actual neo-Nazi vandalism. Or at least well-researched /pol/acks, as it had a reference to an obscure bit of Nazi bureaucracy. Only it appears to have nothing to do with either Trump or Jews… it was a Unitarian Universalist church attacked. (come to think of it, probably not /pol/acks… they’d have known that the lulzy symbol for driving Unitarians out is the question mark)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Deiseach:

            This guy was responsible for at most 8% of the threats. My point was that he wasn’t even trying to discredit Trump. He was trying to frame his ex (or, by some accounts, trying to frame her for framing him? It doesn’t seem like this guy was all there…). If he’d been trying to frame Trump, I think he would have gone about it differently.

            It is shitty that people forget about this sort of thing. Nobody wants to admit that their side is not all sweetness and light and the enemies aren’t all baddies. But it’s not unique to any one group.

            @The Nybbler:

            Seems odd for either actual neo-Nazis, or hoaxers, to make a reference to an obscure bit of Nazi bureaucracy. Maybe historians have it in for the UUs?

  3. Tibor says:

    What do you think of Sebastian Kurz (the article is in German)? I don’t know so much about him except that he is probably the only politician whom I’ve heard to express sensible ideas about how to deal with the refugees coming to Europe from the middle east and Africa* and now he’s proposing sensible things about the EU.**

    I can’t say how much he’s just saying stuff people want to hear but he seems quite reasonable, he does not sound like Wilders, Le Pen, Orbán or anybody like that but he also seems to be more pragmatic and down to earth and realistic than other “mainstream” European politicians (well, Orbán is mainstream in Hungary I guess, since he’s the PM and Wilders might theoretically be one in the Netherlands very soon, although he probably won’t find enough coalition partners even though he is likely to win the elections). Maybe I am missing something about him. If not, then it is just a shame that he’s the exterior minister of Austria and not of France or Germany (given their relative political weight).

    *Building Frontex centers in those places to sort out people between those who get asylum and those who don’t instead of having them pay a lot of money and undertake life-threatening risks to come to Europe and then deciding what to do about them when they do – which does not work as a deterrent since almost all who manage to come are also allowed to stay and get welfare, indirectly supports organized crime, costs lives and at the end of the day does not really help those who are the most desperate, since those cannot afford to pay the smugglers in the first place)

    ** Essentially it seems to be an attempt to stop and reverse the bureaucratic bloating of that institution. If it is possible, then it is probably preferable to dissolving it and hoping to start anew, since unfortunately most of its opponents are not liberals but nationalists who prefer isolationist policies. And keeping “business as usual” will very likely lead to the nationalist dissolving the EU, removing even its positives such as zero internal tariffs and free internal movement of labour.

    • Aapje says:

      Building Frontex centers in those places to sort out people between those who get asylum and those who don’t instead of having them pay a lot of money and undertake life-threatening risks to come to Europe

      The issue is that very few people actually want 90% of Syria to get refuge in Europe, so they secretly do want a high barrier before people can apply for asylum. It’s just very unfortunate that the barrier kills people.

      I prefer to be honest, however, this actually entails giving up virtue signalling that a lot of people care about (way more than are actually willing to follow through on this). If you have the Frontex centers in Africa and millions of people apply who actually come from war-ravaged countries and such, you can no longer pretend that you are following international treaties if you don’t let them in. So at that point the hollow virtue signalling can no longer be maintained.

      In itself, Kurz’ plan is basically the same as mine, also with camps outside of the EU and a fixed number of refugees allowed in. It is also politically unfeasible, because a combination of virtue signalling and yet not following through is politically best, as it appeases most people (despite being stupid).

      • Tibor says:

        Well, you can allow a certain number of refugees to come to Europe and then use a fixed amount of money to provide shelter, basic healthcare etc. in refugee camps close to where the people come from. As long as those people have to be taken care of by the government, it is more efficient to pay for something in Africa than to pay for the same services in Europe, in particular in Germany. 1 Euro buys a lot more in the middle east than in Europe, probably even if you also have to pay for security measures, plus it cheaper to get there when you actually are from the Middle east. You also have much fewer problems with European neonazis trying to burn asylum accommodation (there have been over 1 thousand attacks on refugees in Germany last year, although probably not all of them were arson or something equally serious) as well as terrorists and islamists among the refugees.

        I agree that the current official EU politics is mostly virtue signaling and what makes me very annoyed is that people who put themselves on a moral high ground are actually preventing helping more people at a lower cost just to make themselves look good. Well, maybe I’m too harsh, I think that most of them probably don’t think about it this way, most people are not that cynical. But it makes very little difference in terms of outcomes. While I don’t agree with the solutions favoured by Orbán and others like him, at least they are honest about what they want.

        Incidentally, this might be while I generally get more annoyed about people on the left I disagree with than about people on the right I disagree with. The conservatives might be in favour of things I really don’t like but they rarely make a pretense of actually wanting something noble. When the (modern) left does that, they often wrap it in a lot of virtue signaling. This might also be why I found Sanders more likable as a person than Clinton, despite him (IMO) having more harmful political ideas – he seems to be quite honest about what he wants. For example his support of the welfare state and opposition to free immigration are consistent and I guess even feasible to some extent, even though they are the opposite of my opinions. He also has the guts to call himself a socialist in the US.

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Sarah Monette/Kathleen Addison (author of the The Goblin Emperor has written a slew of reviews of books about serial killers.

    I especially liked the most recent one which is by a serial killer– it includes a good metaphor of constantly being thrown back onto one’s basic mistake as being like a labyrinth, and also has walloping Colin Wilson for being surprised that a serial killer is actually a psychopath.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks – really interesting reviews – I can’t help but think that we’d all be better off if the names of serial killers were deleted from history, though.

      I feel uneasy about people being famous for (the ethical equivalent of) eating a turd sandwich.

  5. Mark says:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/GetMotivated/comments/5wslso/image_sherlock_on_suicide/

    I’m surprised by the extremely negative reaction to the sentiment of this quote, in the comments.
    I find, ‘life sucks but you have a duty not to make it worse’, pretty inspiring. It makes me imagine myself as some kind of black-robed virtuous vulcan monk.

    A redditor writes:

    This is probably one of the worst motivational images I’ve ever seen. The idea “you shouldn’t kill yourself because it will make other people feel bad, fuck your feelings.” sounds like a perspective that would drive people to commit suicide… Ultimately I think you have to look inside and find a reason for life to be worth living, not just something you endure because it’ll make your mom sad if you die.

    I think that living to make other people feel happy is absolutely the best thing you’re likely to find inside yourself.
    Though to be fair, I also enjoy lots of other things too, and spend more time on my individual interests than other people, so maybe I’m talking out of my hat.

    I agree that cracking into an ethical diatribe doesn’t seem like the best approach for helping someone who is at immediate risk of suicide, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a bad sentiment for the more generally miserable.

    • Creutzer says:

      The argument does not acknowledge that the suicidal person’s suffering could possibly outweigh someone else’s. What reaction do you expect when you tell someone to just suck it up because other people’s feelings are more important?

      Of course, everybody agrees that making other people happy is nice. But that bit of motivation is not so universally applicable: few people are actually happy that you’re alive. I’d venture to guess that for many suicidal people, that number is actually 0. This is not to say that nobody would be (temporarily) sad if they died, but that isn’t the same as their continued life making somebody happy. Sparing someone some sadness doesn’t feel equivalent to making them happy, and doesn’t feel like much of a reason to live. In any case, however, this argument isn’t repulsive in the same way, so that’s what you want to bring up.

      • Mark says:

        Perhaps I’m interpreting the message to have a different tone to most people – my sense wasn’t that it was saying “suck it up, other people are more important than you” as in – “you are so worthless you are just here to make us feel better” it was more – “no matter how bad you feel, you have a duty to something – your family, the community, humanity, good taste, the universe – don’t turn your back on that duty.”
        And, I think that’s where most people do derive their real, deep sense of satisfaction in life, from.

        But yeah, I take your point.

        • Well... says:

          It’s duty to others that gives one’s life meaning and value. (Not just other people: God especially! But if you don’t believe in God, then ‘other people’ will do.)

          I think that is uplifting, and I would even say that this would be a good thing to tell a suicidal person (who most likely feels worthless, irrelevant, and/or isolated).

    • Acedia says:

      I’m surprised by the extremely negative reaction to the sentiment of this quote

      At its core (despite your commendable attempt to reframe it into something that sounds uplifting) the sentiment is an attempt to shame a suicidal person into living. That hardly ever works, because suicidal people usually have an excess of shame already. They need less of it, not more.

      • Mark says:

        Yeah, makes sense.
        But part of me feels that even where all of their other shameful feelings are misdirected and unhelpful, one of the things we shouldn’t be trying to normalise is attempted suicide.
        If someone is suffering and feels ashamed of themselves, we need to make them feel less ashamed of themselves – I think we can still say “You have a duty to live. We need you.” though.

        But yeah, thanks for your comment, gave me something to think about.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Isn’t it precisely because they have an excess of shame that we should expect it to be effective? Basically you’re telling them “you can’t escape your shame even by killing yourself”, at which point why bother killing yourself?

        • Deiseach says:

          Basically you’re telling them “you can’t escape your shame even by killing yourself”, at which point why bother killing yourself?

          Speaking from no other knowledge than the inside of my head, because when the anchors that stop me from doing it were dropping away, it’s “I’ll be dead. I won’t be feeling anything anymore. Whatever problems or mess I leave behind, I won’t have to deal with them. It’s tough on whoever is left behind, but I can’t care anymore, I don’t feel anything anymore, that which used to prick my conscience is now blunt”.

          Shaming or playing on “but people will miss you/you’ll make them feel bad” is not going to work because everything is blunted and lacking and nothing matters. That’s the thing: nothing matters. It’s all pointless. Every whole thing in the entire universe is ultimately meaningless because it came out of nowhere for no reason, it is all going to end some day, and in the span of cosmological time whether the world ends in a billion years or tomorrow is really not that big of a difference, how much less then does it make a difference or matter if I kill myself tomorrow rather than live another twenty to thirty years and die of natural causes?

          • On this general thread … . There’s a Millay poem about why one shouldn’t commit suicide along related lines.

            Here is the end of it:

            Child,” my father’s voice replied,
            “All things thy fancy hath desired of me
            Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee
            Within my house a spacious chamber, where
            Are delicate things to handle and to wear,
            And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song?
            My minstrels shall attend thee all day long.
            Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand
            Open as fields to thee on every hand.
            And all thy days this word shall hold the same:
            No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name.
            But as for tasks—” he smiled, and shook his head;
            “Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by,” he said.

          • J Mann says:

            Philosophically, if nothing matters and people you like would be sad if you died, why not live?

            In my experience, a lot of people contemplating suicide are depressed and will feel differently later. If I can delay them by pointing out some of the consequences of their choice, I’ll do it.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Well, if nothing matters and it’s all pointless, at least it doesn’t hurt to shame them further.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Probably the main reason people are annoyed is that “your life is not your own” has a lot of implications beyond just not committing suicide.

      We all have responsibilities and people we care about but we’re not (or shouldn’t be) enslaved by them. A healthy adult relationship is interdependent, not mutually dependent: two people who can stand on their own choosing to stand together, and being stronger for it. If you don’t own your own life then you can’t share it with anyone else.

      I agree that cracking into an ethical diatribe doesn’t seem like the best approach for helping someone who is at immediate risk of suicide, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a bad sentiment for the more generally miserable.

      I’m speaking from a sample size of one, but generally depression and suicidal feelings aren’t rooted in anything rational. Trying to engage with it intellectually seems to be a mistake: the most effective thing, for me at least, is to constantly be reminded that those thoughts are a symptom of illness and not genuine.

      This seems like the exact opposite. The quote says, to me, something like this:

      “Yes, depressed person, you’re right. Your life does suck and it really isn’t worth living. But don’t even think about committing suicide, even though it would help you btw, because you have no control over your own life.”

      It’s validating the, almost certainly false, feeling that the sufferer would be better off dead. Moreover, by casting suicide as selfish it seems to almost recommend it.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The problem with living your life to make other people happy is that it places you at the mercy of other people deciding whether or not they are happy with you, which is ripe for abuse.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Why, it’s almost as though people– even suicidal people– aren’t all the same.

      I have seen people say that they didn’t commit suicide because of the people it would hurt. This doesn’t mean that this motivation can be amplified from the outside, especially by someone who doesn’t already have a strong personal connection to the suicidal person.

    • shakeddown says:

      To quote Scott,

      you don’t have to be a Randian to think it’s morally abominable to require someone in pain to continue living solely to please other people

      I think a lot of people who’re really miserable would react to this by saying “not only am I miserable, you still want me to work for you?” I would, when I’m miserable.

      This wouldn’t apply if the person saying this was someone you actually trust and care about (presumably Watson in the Sherlock case), but for depressed and miserable people, there’s often no one (or almost no one) like that – just a lot of people who expect you to care about them because you fullfill the social conventions of being friends.

    • J Mann says:

      FWIW, I recently spent some time talking to a close family member who was in emotional crisis and contemplating suicide, and I played this card without restraint. In my opinion, she wasn’t making decisions using a process she’d later agree with.

      I basically said “I want to talk to you for as long as you’ll listen, and I’ll do anything I can to help, but I don’t know how much time we have, so I’m going to lay things out quickly. We love you, and we’ll do anything we can to help. I’m pretty sure that things will get much better for you, and I think you should wait and see. If you’re planning on making a sudden decision, know that your pets, your sister, and your parents would all be devastated, so think carefully, and take your time.”

  6. Acedia says:

    Does anyone here know Grognor (ex-LWer) in real life and know if he’s alright? He’s had a rough time lately and was talking about dying a lot on his twitter feed, and now he hasn’t posted anything in 4 days. I tried to reach out back when he first started talking about suicide, but he (understandably since we’d never interacted before, I just like to read his writing) didn’t respond.

  7. the verbiage ecstatic says:

    Just had an idea for a new game / AI challenge, and an SSC comment thread is the best place I can think of to share it…

    I’m calling the game “Oracle”. It’s a for-AI-play-only game (ie, the role of human competitors is to write AIs to play it, humans can’t play it themselves). It needs to be based on an underlying strategy game, one where competitors have incomplete information, and each move leaks information to the other player(s). I’m thinking Stratego might be a good candidate, since it is a pretty straightforward example of this genre, and since there’s already been some work doing AI development for it.

    Anyway, the twist is, in Oracle, each AI player can consult the Oracle up to some finite number (let’s say 100, maybe) of times per game. The way consulting the Oracle works is that player A proposes a hypothetical move, and then player B’s next turn is evaluated as if player A had made that move. Player B’s hypothetical response is then returned to player A, which player A can use as input to decide its actual move. If Player B’s code, in the Oracle’s simulation, chooses to consult the Oracle as well, a sub-simulation is created. Because each player has a finite amount of Oracle consultations per game, this can’t regress infinitely… eventually the simulations will unwind and return to player A’s actual move.

    Players can use anywhere from 0 to their total remaining consultations per move (ie, trying different hypothetical moves, or even trying the same one multiple times to see if the opponent is behaving deterministically or probabilistically). They can use them all up at the beginning of the game, save them all for the end game, or spread them out over the course of the game. Players can see the count of their opponents’ Oracle consultations as of the beginning of their opponents’ previous move. In other words, players don’t know for sure whether they are running inside a simulation or not (at least until their opponent uses up all their remaining consultations).

    Obviously, it would take a fair amount of work to implement the “referee” program that conducts matches, and there are plenty of wrinkles to iron out about how exactly one writes an AI player such that the referee can easily run it and so that games finish in a sane amount of time on modern hardware. (And some security considerations to make sure the referee doesn’t leak side-channel information about whether this is a simulation run or an actual run to the player). There’s also some basic parameters to nail down: is Stratego the right game for this? Is 100 the right order of magnitude of Oracle consultations to allow?

    Once that’s settled, there’s probably a fair amount of work to come up with what I’d consider a bare-minimum-competence player, which is one that could take advantage of Oracle consultations to reliably beat a straightforward port of any existing non-Oracle Stratego AI.

    If we worked all that out, though, I think this game would be SUPER fascinating. For one, it turns the simulation hypothesis from a philosophical thought experiment into a concrete, game theory scenario that you can start proving things about, doing experiments on, etc. For another, it opens up what I think might be very interesting AI research avenues… it incentivizes creating AIs that can “understand” other AIs via running their code, which might lead in interesting directions (AIs developing a theory of mind?)

    So, yeah. Thoughts?

    • the verbiage ecstatic says:

      Thinking about this more, I should clarify that the Oracle returns information about the opponents’ decisions but not about the outcomes of those decisions. So if I ask what happens if I advance my piece X forward one square, and the answer is that my opponent attacks it with piece Y, I don’t get told whether X or Y wins, just that my opponent attacks it. Conversely, if I ask the Oracle what happens if I attack Y with X on my turn, the simulation of my opponent does get told the outcome since if that was my actual move, they would know the outcome. But the simulated instance of my opponent that learns that gets destroyed after the Oracle completes, so their actual self doesn’t learn that information.

      Even just thinking about this as a thought experiment is giving me interesting insights into the simulation hypothesis. For instance: backwards bluffing. If I think there’s a 99% chance I’m in a simulation (say, because it’s nearing end-game and the opponent still has all of their simulations left), and the opponent makes a move that I suspect is advantageous for them, I should move in a way that signals they made a mistake (ie, attacking their higher ranked piece with my lower ranked piece), so that if it is a simulation, they are less likely to actually make that move. Whereas if I am pretty sure that this is not a simulation, I should instead make the best move, or a bluff that sends misleading information into the future instead of into the past.

      • the verbiage ecstatic says:

        Too late to edit it out, but scratch “Conversely, if I ask the Oracle what happens if I attack Y with X on my turn, the simulation of my opponent does get told the outcome since if that was my actual move, they would know the outcome. But the simulated instance of my opponent that learns that gets destroyed after the Oracle completes, so their actual self doesn’t learn that information”…. that doesn’t really make sense. I think there would just need to be a restriction that you can’t ask the Oracle what happens if you an attack an opponent (since the opponent’s next move wouldn’t make sense without knowing the outcome of the attack, and using the Oracle to find out hidden game information isn’t the point of this — that’s too overpowered / less interesting).

        • beleester says:

          If you ask, you’re not told the result of the attack, only what their next move will be. This doesn’t leak information unless the answer is a move that would be impossible otherwise (moving a piece that you tried to capture). I don’t think that’s too broken, especially since the opposing player has the option of simply not moving a piece that was just attacked.

    • beleester says:

      If each player consults the Oracle once a turn (reasonable, Stratego games are probably less than 200 turns), then the sequence goes like this: A1 simulates B1. B1 simulates A2. A2 simulates B2… repeat until A100 simulates B100, and running the B100 simulation requires no further calls. So an oracle call on the first turn requires 200 AI calls. On B’s turn, 199 AI calls. Etc, etc. So using all the oracle calls in this manner over the course of a game requires sum(1,200) = 20,100 AI calls (not counting the initial call to actually take your turn). In general, the number of AI calls would be O(n^2) where n is the number of oracle consultations each player gets.

      If the AIs get a second per simulated turn (quite a fast pace!), then you’d need about 5.5 hours to play Oracle. Could be worse, but it’s not great.

      (I think it might get worse if you do multiple oracle consultations on each turn, but that’s more math than I want to do right now.)

      Thinking further, I realized it’s impossible to run multiple perfect simulations in a turn, because an accurate simulation must include the fact that you just used up one sim. For example, suppose A has 2 sims left, and does the following: A1 simulates B1. B1 simulates A2. A2 simulates B2. B1 is informed that A had 2 sims left at the start of their turn. B2 is taking place next turn, when A will have 1 sim left, so B2 is informed of that fact.

      A does the simulation again with a different move. As before, B1 is informed that A had 2 sims left at the start of their turn. B2 is taking place next turn. But now, A will have 0 sims available next turn, so B2 is informed of that instead.

      This means that the first simulation is no longer accurate. A will have 0 sims left next turn instead of 1 as the simulation assumed, which means that B2 might make a different move knowing that A has no more consults left, which could change the entire chain of simulations depending on it and make the final answer different. If you make more than one simulation in a turn, only the last one is guaranteed to be accurate.

      (This is a very cool and headache-inducing concept. I want to see it made, even though I don’t have the foggiest idea what a good strategy would be.)

      • the verbiage ecstatic says:

        Yeah, 5.5 hours is a long time, but on the plus side, the output of a 5.5 hour match isn’t just a sequence of moves, it’s a whole strategy tree (assuming we let the human observers see the results of each simulation as well as the actual moves). So you do get some bang for your buck in terms of learning from each match…

        That’s a great point re: it being impossible to have multiple perfect simulations per turn because of changing simulation counts. I think we could work around it by letting you tell the Oracle how many sims you intend to run this turn, in addition to telling the Oracle what move you want to make. So if you want to run 2 simulations, both simulations can run with “2” as the number. It wouldn’t even necessarily need to be be binding — if you’re willing to sacrifice the accuracy of a prior simulation because you learn new information that makes you change your mind about how many you want to run, that’s your tradeoff to make.

    • beleester says:

      Pondering this more, I don’t think Stratego is a good choice of game. It’s complicated enough for AIs even before you add in Oracle shenanigans. But on the other hand, I feel like you do need some sort of hidden information, or the Oracle simply becomes a way to prune your strategy tree faster.

      Maybe Poker? It’s had a considerable amount of AI research done, and using the Oracle to know if your opponent will call a bluff or fold would be an extremely powerful ability. But that might be too powerful – if you know your opponent will fold, then you immediately know what your next move will be.

  8. scherzando says:

    Maybe this isn’t as noteworthy as I think, but there’s now a New York Times article that links to SSC. The article is on controversy over a London art gallery show focused on the alt-right; the link (halfway through, on the words “reactionary philosophy”) is to “Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”.

    I am torn between thinking, “Oh cool, another major publication linking to Scott” and “Oh great, more things that will cause the general public to associate SSC with the far right”.

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh great, more things that will cause the general public to associate SSC with the far right”.

      I’m more concerned about does Scott really want to be associated with the New York Times? 🙂

  9. One Name May Hide Another says:

    I’m always looking for new recommendations, so what are/were some of your favorite children’s books to read to kids 2 to 4 years old? There are so many, I know, so please don’t feel the pressure to list or rank them rigorously: just give me some of your favorites off the top of your head.

    Here are some both I and my son love:

    Choo Choo, The Little House, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. My son didn’t seem to have a great attention span at 2, but he sat through me reading all of these, mesmerized. Apparently, Virginia Lee Burton – after writing her first unsuccessful children’s book – started testing all of her subsequent ones page-by-page on her boys.

    Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (all of them, but Waiting Is Not Easy is probably my favorite, while my son likes Should I Share My Ice Cream the most). Nice, big text and vocabulary that is simple enough for children who are starting to read by themselves.

    The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. So clever. There’s also a great animated movie based on the book, available for no additional fee to Amazon Prime members.

    The Berenstain Bears books: The Messy Room, The Truth, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies by Stan & Jan Berenstain. Just watch out, if you’re not Christian, there was a newer series of Berenstain Bears books written by Stan & Jan’s son, Mike, that were religious in nature.

    A House is a House for Me and The Eensy Weensy Spider by Mary Ann Hoberman. Brilliant and fun poetry for children.

    Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk.

    Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton. Visually gorgeous, cleverly made.

    • Randy M says:

      For enjoyment of reading I’ll recommend Bill Peet books like The Caboose who Got Loose. They’re not intended to be “learn to read books” which are painful for an adult to re-read; he uses varied word length and a pleasing cadence & rhyme that makes reading it pleasurable. Similar to, and perhaps superior to, the famous Dr. Suess.

      Just watch out, if you’re not Christian, there was a newer series of Berenstain Bears books written by Stan & Jan’s son, Mike, that were religious in nature.

      Generally these have titles like “The BB go to Sunday School” or “The BB and the Golden Rule” so they’re not really trying to sneak them past you.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        For enjoyment of reading I’ll recommend Bill Peet books

        Will be ordering some tonight. Thank you! Oh, and I agree the learn-to-read-books are painful. We limit those to one a day, and I make my son read them to me.

        Generally these have titles like “The BB go to Sunday School” or “The BB and the Golden Rule” so they’re not really trying to sneak them past you.

        Apparently, they do sneak up on some people. Not that they end up minding all that much:

        Ultimately, bedtime stories serve twin purposes. To children, they’re entertainment; to parents, a soporific. “Show Some Respect” stayed in regular bedtime-reading rotation in our household, my discomfort with its Christian themes outweighed by its uncanny ability to speed the progress from bath to bed to blissful (parental) immersion in “Catastrophe.” My son, though, could not have cared less that the Berenstain Bears were quoting from the Bible, any more than he would have noticed references to the Quran or “The Communist Manifesto.” He was just glad that the Bears had found a place to have their picnic – and that they always would.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        For enjoyment of reading I’ll recommend Bill Peet books

        Will be ordering some tonight. Thank you! Oh, and I agree that the learn-to-read-books are painful. We limit those to one a day, and I make my son read them to me.

        Generally these have titles like “The BB go to Sunday School” or “The BB and the Golden Rule” so they’re not really trying to sneak them past you.

        Interestingly, they do seem to sneak up on some people, like Saul Austerlitz, who wrote a fun article about it for the NYTimes. (The article is called “How the Berenstain Bears Found Salvation,” but I cannot link to it because of Scott’s spam filter.) Not that Mr Austerlitz ended up minding it in the end:

        Ultimately, bedtime stories serve twin purposes. To children, they’re entertainment; to parents, a soporific. “Show Some Respect” stayed in regular bedtime-reading rotation in our household, my discomfort with its Christian themes outweighed by its uncanny ability to speed the progress from bath to bed to blissful (parental) immersion in “Catastrophe.” My son, though, could not have cared less that the Berenstain Bears were quoting from the Bible, any more than he would have noticed references to the Quran or “The Communist Manifesto.” He was just glad that the Bears had found a place to have their picnic – and that they always would.

        • Randy M says:

          Speaking of finding a picnic spot, the really old BB books (back when Brother was just called Small Bear) are pretty funny, though Papa usually comes off rather insufferable and buffoonish. That’s one nice thing about “Messy Room”–the father actually comes up with sensible solutions and is shown to be skilled.

          • One Name May Hide Another says:

            Papa usually comes off rather insufferable and buffoonish

            They do make fun of Papa a lot, don’t they? Now that I think of it, I believe that’s one of the reasons I enjoy these books so much. I troll my husband by making sure to read the Bears to my son when my husband is nearby and can hear us. When Papa spoils the cubs by getting them too much stuff, for example, my husband chimes in with “Oh no, not this Papa, not happening.” We all have a lot of fun with it.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Here’re some I still remember fondly from my childhood. Some of them might be hard to find; I know my parents frequented secondhand stores to get titles from their own childhood:

      * Goodnight Moon

      * Make Way for Ducklings

      * The Bears of Hemlock Mountain

      * The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. His books have wonderful whimsical drawings; these’re the two that also had good enough stories (IMO) that I still remember them.

      * The original Curious George books by Margaret and H. A. Ray. Accept no substitutes, especially not the TV series novelizations that told stories a lot worse and let George get away without any consequences for his mischief.

      * Choo Choo the Runaway Engine

      * The Little Engine That Could

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        We haven’t read The Bears of Hemlock Mountain: ordering it right away. And also The Little Engine That Could. We’ve seen the cartoon, so I’m sure we’ll love the book. Thank you!

        Dr. Seuss. His books have wonderful whimsical drawings

        So some people actually like them? I do love the language, but find the illustrations just weird. =) I recently ordered The Lorax, though, so I’m going to have to ask my son what he thinks of the drawings.

        The original Curious George books by Margaret and H. A. Ray. Accept no substitutes

        Ah! I knew I was missing something! We could never get into Curious George, but it might be because we only have the newer books. Ordering one of the original ones right away to see if we do better with it.

    • Soy Lecithin says:

      If you like stories with a moral try Millions of Cats.

    • Well... says:

      I try to only read my kids books that I enjoy reading as well:

      Ferdinand. I read it in a Spanish/Mexican accent to my 3 year-old. Unlike other books I read in an accent, this one she tolerates without rebuking me for it.

      – Basically any rhyming Dr. Seuss book. My favorites are the tongue twister ones, but they’re all great.

      Where the Wild Things Are and the little 4-pack with Pierre, Chicken Soup With Rice, etc. by Maurice Sandek. (Sendak? I refuse to look it up!)

      Caps for Sale

      Calvin and Hobbes . Any of them. My daughter loved this since she was 2, and I think it’s mostly because the artwork is so strong. She barely followed along as I pointed at and read each panel and occasionally explained or asked her questions about what was going on in them, but she was nevertheless entranced by it.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        Ferdinand. I read it in a Spanish/Mexican accent to my 3 year-old. Unlike other books I read in an accent, this one she tolerates without rebuking me for it.

        Haven’t read it & will be getting it. Thanks! Not sure if I’ll be able to pull off a Spanish/Mexican accent, though. =)

        the little 4-pack with Pierre, Chicken Soup With Rice

        Wait, there are four of them? We just re-read Pierre & Chicken Soup With Rice today, right before I posted this topic! OK, getting the other 2. My son will be excited.

        Caps for Sale

        Ordering.

        Calvin and Hobbes

        This will be an interesting experiment. Thanks!

    • smocc says:

      There are the books that are fun for me to read, and the books that my son loves, and then a smaller intersection of those two sets.

      Pretty much anything by Mo Willems is brilliant. I love the Pigeon series, especially Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

      When he was a little younger we liked Sandra Boynton’s books (Barnyard Dance, < etc.). They have cute illustrations, jokes that are good for kids, and are easy and fun to read out loud.

      I really love Brian Floca. His books are beautifully illustrated, pretty well written, educational, and about subjects my son loves (spaceships, cars, boats, trains, working vehicles). The best part is that some of them even have something akin to a citations page in the back with historical details for the interested adult.

      The Napping House is an old favorite in my family. Again, fun to read aloud and illustrations with lots of little details to notice.

      My wife likes Go, Dog. Go! and I like Fox in Socks and One Fish, Two Fish…. Sometimes Seuss really bothers me (I disliked the Cat in the Hat even as a child), but the rhymes and rhythm are fun.

      Somehow my son got really into the Bone series of graphic novels by Jeff Smith. They’re not exactly age appropriate, and when we read them I mostly paraphrase and let him look at the pictures. He loves the rat creatures for some reason, and also the concept of fighting with swords. We are slowly buying all of them, though we will save the later ones in the series for when he’s older because they are more intense.

      Construction by Sally Sutton. It’s about construction and it’s got good meter. I’m noticing a pattern.

      Poinsettia and The Friendly Beasts by Tomie dePaola. Maybe too Christian for some, but sweet and with nice pictures anyway.

      • Evan Þ says:

        If he still likes rats fighting with swords when he’s several years older, I’d recommend Redwall. The first five or six books in the series are excellent; the later ones get somewhat repetitive, but younger kids probably won’t mind that so much.

        • Randy M says:

          My six year old sat through all of the Legend of Luke (over the course of about a month) after I popped it open to read her to sleep one night. I was surprised since Redwall didn’t really hit it off with her older sister at about that age.
          This one also really like the Story of the World, nonfiction history books.

          • One Name May Hide Another says:

            At what age did you start Story of the World? Heard great things about it, but thinking my son won’t be up for it until he’s at least 4 or 5.

          • Randy M says:

            Well I think my oldest was 6 or 7, but our second born two years younger appreciated them by the end when she was 5 or so.

          • One Name May Hide Another says:

            Thanks!

          • Evan Þ says:

            Ah yes, Story of the World. If it’s the same one I’m thinking of (by Susan Wise Bauer?), I found it when I was too old to really get into it, but there’s one line that still makes me grin: at the start of the section on WWII and the Nazis, she says “They really should have called themselves the Nasty Party…”

      • Well... says:

        +1 for Go Dog Go

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        Pretty much anything by Mo Willems is brilliant.

        Couldn’t agree more.

        Brian Floca

        I bought Locomotive some time ago, and just loved it. It didn’t hold my son’s attention, though. I might try it again soon.

        The Napping House

        Looks gorgeous. Only why does the paperback have to be twice as expensive as the hardcover! (I have a thing for paperbacks: we live in a smallish apartment.) Anyway, too pretty to pass up: ordering!

        Construction by Sally Sutton

        Looks great. And they have it in paperback, too!

    • dndnrsn says:

      I remember my mother reading Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells to me. It’s 3 books in a boxed set, about rabbit-children who have a bad day and are transported to a sort of nice, calm fantasy land.

      Probably a bit more complex, don’t know about a 4-year old, but one series of children’s books I remember that hasn’t been mentioned is the Hank the Cowdog series by John Erickson. They are about a self-important cowdog who is fond of self-congratulatory narration.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells

        Looks interesting: will be getting it. Thank you!

        Hank the Cowdog series by John Erickson. They are about a self-important cowdog who is fond of self-congratulatory narration.

        Probably a bit too advanced for us at this stage, but they sound adorable. =)

        • dndnrsn says:

          I can’t remember the age I was when they were reading material. My brother is a few years younger than me, so I think they were read aloud to the car by my mother on car trips. I would guess … uh, probably about right for a 6 year old? I have a hard time sorting things that happened in my childhood by when they happened unless there were clear outside markers.

          • One Name May Hide Another says:

            they were read aloud to the car by my mother on car trips

            I wonder if we’ll be able to pull that off when my kids are a bit older, or if they’ll just demand their iPads. =)

            I have a hard time sorting things that happened in my childhood by when they happened unless there were clear outside markers.

            So true. I do have memories of my dad reading to us, but also have no idea at all how old we were then.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It helped that my father likes having something read aloud when he’s driving, and that the books are apparently entertaining enough for adults. As far as I can remember they’re a sort of a parody of a police procedural/detective story, where the detective is a buffoon in a way that is fairly obvious to everyone except the detective.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      I loved Winnie the Pooh starting around 3-4. I like to read those and many of the Just So Stories, today.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        I loved Winnie the Pooh starting around 3-4.

        Just ordered it a few days ago! Can’t wait to dive in.

      • caethan says:

        My 2-year-old can now sing Cottleston Pie when she’s thinking about something. “Brain fluffy, daddy!” It’s incomparably adorable.

    • Aapje says:

      The Very Hungry Caterpillar

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I don’t have a good sense of age-appropriateness, but if two year olds can get something out of Calvin and Hobbes, I presume four year olds can get something out of The Little Prince, or Alice in Wonderland, which are deep enough to revisit at any age.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        Ahhh, The Little Prince. I haven’t thought of it ever since 8th grade when it was required reading in my school. I think I will try it with my son sometime in the next year. Thanks for reminding me of it!

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Not a parent, but I recently visited a friend who is, and she showed me Oh No, George!, a book that has an important message about self-restraint.

      Also, I am glad that someone has mashed together Lovecraft and Seuss to create The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers, now available in print, based on the series originally posted on Deviant Art here.The poetry doesn’t always scan very well, but if I ever have children, I hope it’s still available 🙂

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        someone has mashed together Lovecraft and Seuss to create The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers

        This looks unreal. The language looks too difficult for us at this stage, and – honestly – I’d have to read it first to see if it’s age-appropriate, but I’m considering getting it right away for fear it might go out of print in the future. From the text:

        The most merciful thing
        in the world, I believe,
        is humanity’s failure
        to fully conceive
        of the cosmical horrors
        we’ve yet to reveal,
        and which up until now
        I have tried to conceal.

        And yes. I love Chris Haughton. His Little Owl Lost is one of my favorites. It has this funny squirrel character who tries to help but is utterly useless, and yet gladly accepts a reward at the end. The books are very simple, too, so they’re great for kids even younger than 2. And the author’s website has great materials for children’ art projects.

      • LHN says:

        There’s also Ken Hite’s kids’ books: Where The Deep Ones Are, Antarctic Express, and Cliffourd the Big Red God.

        https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=mini+mythos

    • IrishDude says:

      Thanks for asking the question and sharing your favorites. I just bought quite a few new books for my 2 1/2 year old based on everyone’s suggestions (and added Gruffalo, one of his favorite books, to my queue on Amazon Prime)

      Some of my son’s favorites are There’s Something in the Attic, Rawr!, Digger Dozer Dumper, and Llama Llama Red Pajama.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        My pleasure! I’m really happy so many people joined in with suggestions. And thank you for your recommendations. There’s Something in the Attic looks a tad too spooky for me, but I’ll be picking up the other three! Speaking of spooky, do have a look at the first 2 or 3 minutes of Gruffalo before showing it to your kid. Mine ended up OK with it, but the movie is very atmospheric, with Helena Bonham Carter doing the narration and all.

        • IrishDude says:

          Thanks for the heads up. Speaking of Julia Donaldson, another favorite of my son’s that has a really nice lyrical flow to it is Room on the Broom. It was also turned into a 1/2 hour TV special that’s stayed on my DVR since it came on TV and been watched numerous times.

          • One Name May Hide Another says:

            Room on the Broom

            Saved. Looks like a great read for Halloween. Thanks!

    • Brad says:

      I don’t have kids of my own, but in reading stories to my friends’ and brothers’ kids in that age range, it seems they enjoy the sounds and cadences the words make as much or more than the story itself. That, I think, is one of the secrets to Dr. Seuss’ popularity. For similar reasons Shel Silverstein is a big hit. One of my personal favorites, and one of the few I remember from way back when, is Tikki Tikki Tembo (N.B. it is considered by some to be offensive).

      • roystgnr says:

        Not just the sounds, but the *familiarity*. All my kids went through “want to read the same few books over and over and over again” phases, very slowly adding and removing books in the rotation, and only when able to read fluently themselves were they usually happy reading a book once and then moving on to something new.

        This means that trying to pick lots of books your kids will love may include some wasted effort, but trying to avoid picking books that you yourself will hate is incredibly important. Don’t think “what will my child think reading this for the first time”, think “what will I think reading this for the twentieth time”.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        Shel Silverstein

        I liked The Giving Tree but my son ran away when I tried reading it to him. Just ordered The Missing Piece to see if we do better with it.

        Tikki Tikki Tembo (N.B. it is considered by some to be offensive)

        Googled and read about the controversy. Pretty interesting.

      • shakeddown says:

        Shel Silverstein always made me incredibly depressed as a kid (and still does, a little bit). Whether you think depressing books are good or bad for kids depends on your more general parental values.

      • Brad says:

        For Shel Silverstein I was thinking of his books of poetry — especially Where the Sidewalk Ends. I never read or had read to me the The Giving Tree, at least as far as I remember.

    • Matt C says:

      A couple I don’t see already:

      The early Little Bear books by Else H Minarik are very good. (There’s some written and published much later than the first set that don’t have the charm of the early ones.)

      We got a lot out of Russell Hoban’s Frances books, too.

    • J Mann says:

      Bubble Trouble – my kids are too old for me to read it to them, but I may pick it back up. It’s a delight to read aloud.

      • Aapje says:

        Later today:

        J Mann tucks his 40 year old son into bed and starts reading Frog and Toad.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        Bubble Trouble

        Just looked through the first few pages on Amazon. Looks adorable, can’t wait to read it. Thanks!

        • J Mann says:

          It is simply the most fun I’ve ever had reading prose aloud.

          Prospero’s closing speech in The Tempest is close second.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Everything by Dr. Seuss (today is his birthday!) is highly recommended, except the one with that frickin’ tongue-twisting fox.

      Are You My Mother? is a harrowing tale.

      Goodnight, Moon is a classic for a reason, and a chance for me to link you all to Goodnight Dune.

      My additional recommendation, which is maybe a year or so above the range you mention is The Velveteen Rabbit. Nothing else I have read so perfectly captures that sense of longing for Heaven*. I almost think C.S. Lewis secretly wrote it.

      * Still looking for a word to properly describe this sensation. I think German’s sehnsucht comes closest.

      • Some of Dr. Seuss’s books, in addition to being good for reading to children, are well designed for teaching children to read. Including that subversive work Hop on Pop.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        Are You My Mother? is a harrowing tale.

        Haha. We’re fans. My son insisted on us acting out the story numerous times, in all its harrowing detail.

        Goodnight Dune

        A joke wasted on me, because I have never read Dune. Showed it to my husband, hoping he’ll appreciate it, but then – unfortunately – since reading to our kids is usually my job, he’d never read Goodnight Moon.

        The Velveteen Rabbit. Nothing else I have read so perfectly captures that sense of longing for Heaven*. I almost think C.S. Lewis secretly wrote it.

        Thank you for the recommendation.

    • Mark says:

      Trouble for Trumpets.

      You’ll need to spend about $500 if you want to get a copy, though.

      • One Name May Hide Another says:

        It’s out of print? According to my Chrome library extension, they do have a copy in our local library. We’ll try to pick it up on our next trip. Thanks!

    • caethan says:

      Jamberry is a popular one in our household, particularly since berries are my daughter’s favorite food.

      All the Graeme Base illustrated books: The Eleventh Hour, Animalia, The Legend of the Golden Snail, etc. Beautiful illustrations and good stories.

      The Beatrix Potter books are interesting – once you’re older, they seem honestly a bit morbid, but my daughter quite likes them. I try to avoid the one where the baby bunnies get kidnapped by a badger, though.

      Lately we’ve been reading a graphic novel adaptation of The Hobbit, further abridged by Daddy. She liked the fight with the spiders a lot, the dragon was exciting, and was genuinely moved at the end when Thorin died. “Bilbo crying, Bilbo sad.”

      Horace and the Purple Crayon is a good classic.

  10. Mark says:

    You know how they say that most people only have enough savings to last them a few weeks? That is really weird.

    To me, saving is a form of consumption – it gives me more pleasure to look at my lovely numbers than I’d ever get from a pair of expensive jeans, or whatever.
    Also, I think unspent money has value in the sense that I could use it to smite my enemies – you can potentially hold lots of people at bay with one bullet in your gun.

    So, why don’t people save more? Bad taste?

    • Brad says:

      “Bad taste?”

      That’s a fantastic way of looking at it. Too many people with your tastes go right past that to profound moral failing.

      • Randy M says:

        I’ll be one of them, to an extent. Wanting to save but not doing so because immediate gratification is too hard to overcome is a moral failing, although banal rather than profound. Not wanting to save because you expect someone else to pay your way in emergencies is a moral failing (if you aren’t a dependent).

        Of course, that’s not the sum of the people without saving (and I consider paying debt to be a form of savings here, and debt for investment can be reasonable at times). People can be trapped by rising expenses or falling opportunities into financial situations that they can barely afford, but not afford or have opportunity to improve.

        Basically I consider it a moral obligation to avoid becoming a burden if you can, through common foresight, avoid doing so.

        • Brad says:

          I do think there’s something to your argument, but I think people that enjoy savings for its own sake are not in a good position to make it or to judge the trade-offs properly.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not sure that describes me, but regardless and in all seriousness, can you point out something I should learn for my own sake, or some modulation of tone or exception to consider to strengthen the argument in case I have cause to make it in the future? I reject the strong form of “People who are good at X shouldn’t advocate for X” but sure, there’s perspectives one is apt to overlook.

            (this comment edited within the first 5 minutes)

          • Brad says:

            I’m not really sure what you are asking, but what I was saying wasn’t that people that people that are good at X shouldn’t advocate for X. Rather that people that enjoy X, where most people don’t, shouldn’t go around advocating that people do X — especially when that advocating takes the form of moral exhortation. In part because it is kind of obnoxious, in part because they won’t be especially effective at it, and in part because they aren’t objective on the subject.

            X could be saving money, it could dieting, it could be quitting smoking, it could be exercising, it could be abstaining from sex, whatever.

            I can’t really think of any way to make such a person a more effective advocate, except maybe just lying about it.

          • Randy M says:

            Rather that people that enjoy X, where most people don’t, shouldn’t go around advocating that people do X

            People who are good at something and people who enjoy it are often the same, but you’re right, I changed that a bit, sorry.

            Basically you are saying if (generic) you don’t struggle with a vice, you shouldn’t warn against it. I can’t really agree with this. Just because my brakes are working, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t point out the steep grade on the hillside road makes driving fast there dangerous.

            The penitent might have a more persuasive testimony, but they don’t have any greater moral authority; either the advice/rule is useful/true or it is not. The wise can learn from other’s mistakes, even third hand.

            That said, I’m not really much of a “go around and preach at people” kind of guy–semi-anonymous debates online withstanding.

          • gbdub says:

            Yeah I’m with Randy here. Don’t assume that the virtue you enjoy will be equally easy for everyone else – that’s sound advice.

            But if saving is a virtue, it’s still a virtue even if it’s hard, and it’s still good to encourage others to at least make the attempt.

          • Jiro says:

            Basically you are saying if (generic) you don’t struggle with a vice, you shouldn’t warn against it. I can’t really agree with this.

            Most real-world decisions are based on tradeoffs. If you are less harmed by your recommended morality than other people, you’re in a poor position to tell other people what kind of tradeoff is good.

            Of course, you can rationalize away the problem by saying “There is no tradeoff.” Generally, this doesn’t actually mean you think there is no tradeoff, just that you think your personal tradeoff is the only one which is right.

            (This is also why it is unconvincing when rich people buy carbon credits.)

          • Randy M says:

            If you are less harmed by your recommended morality than other people, you’re in a poor position to tell other people what kind of tradeoff is good.

            Poor position as in, less likely to persuade, sure. Poor position as in, saying anything less true, nah.

            Your argument relies on ‘savers’ underestimating the utility that ‘spenders’ get out of spending. Maybe, but so what?

            Do you think that really enjoying having a new car despite the payments exceeding your discretionary income somehow argues against either the wisdom of not borrowing to cover recurring expenses or the morality of not relying on others to cover your foreseeable emergency expenses?

            You are arguing in favor of the utility monster.

            Generally, this doesn’t actually mean you think there is no tradeoff, just that you think your personal tradeoff is the only one which is right.

            There are things I think are right or wise. I try to make those things my things, not vice versa. One’s views on right and wrong may be swayed by natural inclinations, as you and Brad point out; but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t wise and virtuous actions that can be discovered and taught, even by foolish and un-virtuous people like myself.

          • Jiro says:

            You are arguing in favor of the utility monster.

            Only if someone purports to tell the utility monster what the correct thing to do is by the utility monster’s standards.

          • Brad says:

            Do you think that really enjoying having a new car despite the payments exceeding your discretionary income somehow argues against either the wisdom of not borrowing to cover recurring expenses or the morality of not relying on others to cover your foreseeable emergency expenses?

            How much needs to be saved to cover foreseeable emergency expenses? This an actual concrete question that comes up all the time. IME people that take joy in savings — which tend to dominate the forums where these discussions take place — allow their enthusiasm for the frugality hobby to influence their answers. That’s bad enough on its own, but when it is coupled with “and if you disagree with me then you are immoral” it’s intolerable.

            Am I technically engaging in a logical fallacy — maybe. But outside the context of formal syllogisms sometimes the characteristics of the speaker do matter, at least heuristically.

          • Randy M says:

            Only if someone purports to tell the utility monster what the correct thing to do is by the utility monster’s standards.

            But what if I really really enjoy telling people they’re wrong? How can you say it isn’t worth it from my point of view? =P

            How much needs to be saved to cover foreseeable emergency expenses? This an actual concrete question that comes up all the time.

            This is very fair! And–I don’t know! It depends on a lot of things, and so I’m not likely to make a judgement on any particular person I don’t know well (or even then). But I will argue in favor of the heuristic that it’s good and proper to have income less than expenditures. As Dickens penned,

            Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

            That’s good sense regardless of how much I, you, or Charles Dickens enjoy spending the extra ten pence per year.

          • Salem says:

            Twelve pence.

          • Randy M says:

            Twelve pence in a shilling, huh? Well, what do you know. I’m sure someone saw some logic in that at some point.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Twelve pence in a shilling, huh? Well, what do you know. I’m sure someone saw some logic in that at some point.

            Hypothesis: in the Harry Potter universe, the ‘wizards’ are just ordinary human beings, it’s just that their insanely complex currency system forces them to become so good at maths that they outclass muggle society pretty much as an aftereffect 🙂

          • JulieK says:

            The ancient Romans. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C2%A3sd
            Why, you’ve never wished that dollars could be evenly divided by 3?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Randy:

            Twelve pence in a shilling, huh? Well, what do you know. I’m sure someone saw some logic in that at some point.

            Twelve has more factors than 10, so it’s easier to subdivide a base 12 currency into smaller units than a base 10 currency.

            @ Winter Shaker:

            Hypothesis: in the Harry Potter universe, the ‘wizards’ are just ordinary human beings, it’s just that their insanely complex currency system forces them to become so good at maths that they outclass muggle society pretty much as an aftereffect 🙂

            Wizarding currency, on the other hand, is made up of prime numbers (29 knuts to a sickle, 17 sickles to a galleon), which is a completely stupid way of doing things.

          • Randy M says:

            Twelve has more factors than 10, so it’s easier to subdivide a base 12 currency into smaller units than a base 10 currency.

            True, twelve is a neat number due to the number of common factors it has, but I find I more often add up a collection of change to see how many dollars it is, and it is easier to divide by ten or a hundred than by twelve. Maybe the difference is that a shilling is more valuable than a dollar, so it makes more sense to be able to divide it evenly than it does a dollar (lately)? How many things can you get at “3 for a dollar”?

          • Jaskologist says:

            There’s been a lot of inflation since these units were initially set up. I imagine dollars were split up a lot more in the past.

          • random832 says:

            Wizarding currency, on the other hand, is made up of prime numbers (29 knuts to a sickle, 17 sickles to a galleon), which is a completely stupid way of doing things.

            My theory is that these rates actually float with the relative values of the metals they’re made from.

          • Deiseach says:

            Twelve pence in a shilling, huh?

            Dickens is saying that an expenditure of sixpence under your annual income leaves you happy, because you have that spare tanner to sock away as savings; an expenditure of sixpence over your income leaves you miserable because you are constantly in debt and that debt accumulates.

            So you don’t have either ten or twelve pence extra to spend, but sixpence extra 🙂

            As for “twelve pennies to the shilling” – let me stroll down memory land about Old Money:

            Four farthings in a penny – that’s two farthings = 1 half penny, and naturally there are two half pennies to the penny.

            Three pennies in a thrupenny bit (three pence – here’s the Irish coin of that denomination).

            Six pennies in a sixpence (that’s two thrupenny bits in a tanner).

            Two sixpences or twelve pence in a shilling.

            A florin is two shillings.

            Two shillings and sixpence is half a crown (again, Irish coin with the LSD written denominational value – 2s is ‘two shillings’, 6d is ‘six pence’).

            A crown is five bob (five shillings). That’s pretty much the coinage, from there we get into paper money.

            Ten shillings is half a pound, so twenty shillings or two hundred and forty pence to the pound. (I got a ten bob note for my First Communion money and thought I was rich. Then I blew it all on books).

            Twenty-one shillings to a guinea (and that’s back to a coin again).

            Imagine the fun when we changed to decimal currency 🙂 Now a shilling was worth five new pence, a half crown was ten pence, and the new fifty pence piece replaced the ten bob note. Also breaking with sterling, so the púnt replaced the pound. And now we have the euro, so that’s three different coinages/currencies in my life-time.

            I used to be able to add up money in the LSD notation but it’s been literally decades since I did it so I wouldn’t be too sure of it now.

            Why are Irish coins all animals? That’s what you get when you let a poet design the currency; W.B. Yeats was chairman of the committee to design the new coinage post-Independence (he went into politics and sat in our Upper House, the Senate) and he prevailed upon them to adopt the model of Grecian coins:

            W.B. Yeats chaired the committee and he publicly declared “As the most famous and beautiful coins are the coins of the Greek Colonies, especially of those in Sicily, we decided to send photographs of some of these, and one coin of Carthage, to our selected artists, and to ask them, as far as possible, to take them as a model. But the Greek coins have two advantages that ours could not have, one side need not balance the other, and the other could be stamped in high relief, whereas ours must pitch and spin to please the gambler, and pack into rolls to please the banker.”

            …After much internal debate and deliberation, Yeats declared that they “decided upon birds and beasts, the artist, the experience of centuries has shown, might achieve a masterpiece, and might, or so it seemed to us, please those that would look longer at each coin than anybody else, artists and children. Besides, what better symbols could we find for this horse riding, salmon fishing, cattle raising country?“

          • Brad says:

            But I will argue in favor of the heuristic that it’s good and proper to have income less than expenditures. As Dickens penned,

            It is except when it isn’t. Like the year you buy a house, or go to college, or when you are retired, or many other circumstances.

            Rules of thumb can be useful for many people that can’t or won’t understand the underlying principles, but reifying a rule of thumb into a moral rule is rarely appropriate.

          • Randy M says:

            It is except when it isn’t. Like the year you buy a house, or go to college

            I addressed that in the first post I made in response to you; I didn’t think it necessary to bring in the exceptions with every subsequent response.

            or when you are retired

            Balancing income and expenses might not be applicable then, but monitoring expenses are all the more appropriate when retired, unless one has a surfeit of savings already.

            Rules of thumb can be useful for many people that can’t or won’t understand the underlying principles, but reifying a rule of thumb into a moral rule is rarely appropriate

            Right, rules of thumb are not moral principles, but habits of behavior that make abiding the principles easier. In this case, again going back to my original post in the sub-thread, the principle is

            Basically I consider it a moral obligation to avoid becoming a burden if you can, through common foresight, avoid doing so.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Randy:

            True, twelve is a neat number due to the number of common factors it has, but I find I more often add up a collection of change to see how many dollars it is, and it is easier to divide by ten or a hundred than by twelve.

            This might be partly because we’re used to base-10 currency and simply don’t get much practice dividing by 12. Back in the good old days English schoolchildren used to learn all their times tables up to the 12th number (and some of the more old-fashioned teachers still made us do so when I was at school in the ’90s), and if you’d had this sort of thing drilled into you from the time you were at primary school you probably wouldn’t have much of a problem.

          • Nornagest says:

            I learned my times tables up to 12×12 at an American school in the Nineties, and not a particularly old-school one. Has that gone the way of New Math?

          • Randy M says:

            Since we count in base 10 and use decimal notation for currency, it is comparably much easier to divide by ten than twelve, regardless of having learned to divide by twelve at one point. I can literally divide any number by ten or a hundred in a fraction of a second, because the numerals don’t change.

          • Brad says:

            @Randy M

            Right, rules of thumb are not moral principles, but habits of behavior that make abiding the principles easier. In this case, again going back to my original post in the sub-thread, the principle is

            Basically I consider it a moral obligation to avoid becoming a burden if you can, through common foresight, avoid doing so.

            I’ve acknowledged that is a reasonable moral principle already.

            What you refuse to acknowledge is that people with certain proclivities (i.e. those that take joy in saving) *tend* to be bad at applying that general principle in a reasonable way to other people’s concrete circumstances. Therefore they ought to be very careful about drawing moral conclusions about other people in this area.

            You have acknowledged that such people tend to be less persuasive, which was my other point.

          • Randy M says:

            Brad–Sure, you have a point–that’s why people should talk about things.

    • cassander says:

      Why save in a world with cheap and easy access to unsecured lines of credit? I don’t mean retirement savings now, that’s a different ball of wax, but if I know that in an emergency I can max out my credit cards, I don’t need to save in the way that someone did 50 years ago, because I don’t face anywhere like the sort of ruin they did if money came up short.

    • suntzuanime says:

      It perplexed me why people don’t save, until I considered why I procrastinate. Somehow I don’t compulsively spend, but someone might just as easily look at me and say “why don’t you just do your work?” You don’t do your work because you don’t absolutely have to yet, you spend money because you have it. People can have bad control systems.

    • SUT says:

      – A plausible excuse for not “adulting”: I literally have no money to do that responsible thing.

      – Peer solidarity: You’re trying to make it to the end of the month with $23 to your name? Me too! Too bad we dropped $400 at the bar last night, LOL.

      – Makes you more “zen”: you need boots, a jacket, and phone to live in [a city with public transportation]. Anything else is a luxury and open to negotiation based on the circumstances.

    • gbdub says:

      Lack of saving can seemingly come either from a lack of pessimism, or too much of it.

      You’ve got your standard spendthrift on one end – “everything’s great for me, always will be! Live for today, treat yourself!”

      On the other hand you’ve got the poor guy already in the hole – “why bother trying to save this month, it’s just going to get taken away by some crap next month, might as well enjoy it while I can”.

      Ultimately saving is a luxury good, a way to buy security. Some people can’t afford security, and some people just don’t value it.

      • gbdub says:

        Oh and there’s another fun one. In the US if you’re getting SSI payments for disability, you are literally not allowed to save: if you have too much in your savings account, you lose your disability payments. Great way to encourage self-sufficiency, that.

        • John Schilling says:

          It might be taken as encouraging creativity in the pursuit of self-sufficiency. Do the SSI enforcers keep track of how much easily-pawned bling people buy?

    • Cadie says:

      Sometimes it comes down to the fact that you can’t maintain a low enough level of spending that would allow for saving long enough to actually do it. If your earnings vary from, say, $1000 to $1500 a month, and you need $1300 to live sustainably, you won’t be saving much if any. You can survive on $1000 in the short term, so people are all like “but why don’t you save when you make more?” Because you can only live on the lower amount briefly, and only by putting off every need that isn’t incredibly urgent. You pay rent and basic mandatory bills and now you’re broke, so you don’t eat enough and don’t replace anything that’s wearing out. When you DO make more money, you have to do all that backlogged replacing/repairing and try to gain back some of the weight you lost.

      This is a common problem.

      • Jiro says:

        If that was true, then you would have to be *exactly* balanced such that one additional $1000 month would permanently harm you in a way you can’t recover from during later fluctuations. Otherwise, you could pretend that the $1500 month is a $1000 month, save $500, and recover from the $1000 month.

        • shakeddown says:

          There are expenses you can delay, but not indefinitely. For example, if your car needs fixing you may be able to wait a month or two, but more than that and you can’t get to work.

        • beleester says:

          But now you’ve got another $1000 month to recover from! He’s saying that living on $1000 requires you to defer important purchases, which means that you’re not really saving money, just pushing it back to a more convenient month.

          And it might even be worse, because problems tend to worsen when not fixed. If it costs $500 to repair your car’s transmission in the first month, and leaving it unfixed will mean it breaks down completely and costs $1000 to replace, it’s better to spend the money now than to save it for next month.

          • Jiro says:

            What you’re doing is explaining why it is necessary to recover from a $1000 month, and why recovery from one is hard. But that isn’t nearly a strong enough explanation to answer my objection.

            Is recovery from an extra $1000 month, given normal fluctuations, impossible or at least unlikely? If you get another $1000 month, will you be so worse off that trying to recover from it will leave you endlessly struggling to do so, and you’ll never actually manage to get back to equilibrium ever again?

            If the answer is that you will be so much worse off that you can’t recover, then you’re *exactly* balanced. If the answer is that you can recover, you are able to save by voluntarily giving yourself an extra $1000 month and recovering.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s not a matter of exact balance. “Saving” money over and above the difference between the sustainable number ($1300) and actual income is futile. If you get a $1000 month, you’re essentially incurring a debt of at least $300 and probably more. So if you get a $1500 month and “save” $500, you’ve got an extra $500 cash in the bank, but also an at least $300 debt. This is as pointless as borrowing money to put it in the bank.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s equivalent to saying you can never recover from a $1000 month–a $1000 month will leave you permanently in debt in a way that you will not be able to pay off later.

          • Cadie says:

            No, it’s not that bad… and the numbers aren’t exact, anyway. Those were examples. What I”m saying is that when you have really bad times, you can only get through them temporarily at that level, and when you have money above your minimum long-term survival income, you have to spend it all to recover from when you had to defer expenses. And if you can, you’d better “save” a little by buying necessities in bulk (like toilet paper, cheap tinned tuna, etc.) because next month you might not be able to afford any.

            You’re also underestimating the psychological toll of poverty, of never being able to have even slightly nice things. This isn’t depriving yourself of away-vacations and downgrading from a 4-bedroom house to a 3-bedroom. This is depriving yourself of clothes that fit because the 50-cent jeans you found at a garage sale were a size too big and you only had $1, washing the same plastic spoon for two weeks because you can’t buy more, and washing your hair with bar soap because it’s cheaper than shampoo. This really sucks, it’s depressing even if you’re not actually clinically depressed, and when you have that extra $15, you’re going to spend it on a plain coffee mug and shampoo and a nicer, better-fitting pair of second-hand jeans even if they’re $5. Saving that $15 for a rainy day and trapping yourself in the same barely-surviving existence is not practical.

            I just dug myself out of that pit (it was hard) and can now save $50-$75 a month while getting that little treat like a mug or a bottle of low end nail polish, and I’m happy about that. But I remember how awful it was not to be able to do that, and believe me, it’s not worth “saving” a tiny amount when that means you can’t have anything that isn’t a survival need or minimum hygiene need.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            If you get a $1000 month, you’re essentially incurring a debt of at least $300 and probably more. So if you get a $1500 month and “save” $500, you’ve got an extra $500 cash in the bank, but also an at least $300 debt. This is as pointless as borrowing money to put it in the bank.

            That depends entirely on your rates of interest. If you borrow money at 3% interest, and can invest it at 8%, then this is not pointless.

            And at the micro level, small investments can pay off big. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck and can only shop at McDonalds, then being able to invest $200 in a rice cooker, several bags of rice and beans, and a few bottles of multivitamins, and can get more than $200 dollars worth of McDonalds meals out of it, then you’ve dropped your target number. Now it’s easier to find another improvement and drop your number lower, and so on.

          • Jiro says:

            What I”m saying is that when you have really bad times, you can only get through them temporarily at that level, and when you have money above your minimum long-term survival income, you have to spend it all to recover from when you had to defer expenses.

            If what you describe is true, then the bad months produce extra deferred expenses that are exactly made up for by the good months. In that case, adding an additional bad month, on top of the ones you would normally have, would you leave you permanently behind, because the “normal” percentage of bad months is made up for by the “normal” percentage of good ones, but an additional bad month beyond the normal percentage can’t be made up for at all.

            In other words, the only way for this not to be mathematically impossible is for you to be exactly balanced between good months and bad months.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Jiro

            The accounting error you see is discretionary comfort spending that the person can’t normally engage in. I assume Cadie’s main point is simply ‘poor people often trade against the future and sometimes when you think they could save more they really can’t’ and not ‘it is literally impossible to save any money if you are in this situation ever, forever.’

          • Jiro says:

            The accounting error you see is discretionary comfort spending that the person can’t normally engage in.

            If you admit that, you admit that they can save. Forego the discretionary comfort spending for an extra month, just like they forwent it anyway during the bad months.

            I assume Cadie’s main point is simply ‘poor people often trade against the future and sometimes when you think they could save more they really can’t’

            In the scenario you describe, it’s not that they can’t save, it’s that they won’t save.

            Also, imagine the scenario where the person suddenly gets a gift of $500. If they are balanced between good months and bad months, that should permanently increase their savings in the same way that having an extra bad month should permanently decrease it. Of course they will use it on discretionary spending instead and not be able to save it. (You might be tempted to say they will use it to pay off deferred expenses, but remember, they are exactly balanced between good months and deferred expenses already without the $500, so that is not possible.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            Jiro, there’s also the possibility that they are slightly _below_ their sustainable income overall, and are sliding slowly into ruin.

          • Spookykou says:

            If you admit that, you admit that they can save. Forego the discretionary comfort spending for an extra month, just like they forwent it anyway during the bad months

            In the scenario you describe, it’s not that they can’t save, it’s that they won’t save.

            So.

            I assume Cadie’s main point is simply ‘poor people often trade against the future and sometimes when you think they could save more they really can’t’ and not ‘it is literally impossible to save any money if you are in this situation ever, forever.’

            I didn’t know I needed to ‘admit that’ I just assumed that as a default.

            I specified ‘literally impossible’ in the comparison, it was therefor not my intention for ‘can’t’, to be interpreted as also meaning ‘literally impossible’, sorry if that was confusing. I think that any spending beyond the minimum to sustain life is ‘discretionary’ and so saving is always possible if they are not at the life/death threshold.

            It seems self evident to me that any explanation for why people don’t save more, that does not expressly say ‘They would literally die if they did’ is an explanation that probably does not account for the counter argument ‘well they could save more without dying’.

            It just doesn’t seem like a useful critique, and I am having trouble understanding why you are harping on it.

            The only thing I can think of is that your real complaint is that in Cadie’s first post ” live sustainably” actually meant “Live(to some standard of comfort above zero discretionary spending) sustainably”.

          • Jiro says:

            I understand that “they can’t save” doesn’t mean “they would literally die if they save”. But I have a harder time reading it to mean “they would have less discretionary spending if they save”. While the word “can’t” doesn’t have to literally mean “cannot, at all,” it at least means something like “will lose their house, starve, can’t pay doctor bills, can’t buy clothes, or similar things.” Not having discretionary spending doesn’t fall under “can’t”.

            Furthermore, I am not suggesting they reduce their discretionary spending to zero, just that they reduce it by some amount such that they are no longer exactly balanced between good months and deferred expenses.

            What probably happens is that if the good months ever slightly outbalance the deferred expenses, the discretionary spending expands until it eats up the difference and leaves them exactly balanced again. If that’s the case, their lack of savings is due to choice.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      I thought I was the only one! I wonder how well a financial literacy course that pushed this point of view would do: “remember kids, the point of money is to keep it in the bank[*]. Then every once in a while you can look at your bank statement and think ‘wow, that is a big number'”

      [*] Intro financial literacy course.

      • The Nybbler says:

        You need to target that course only towards the kids inclined to be spendthrifts. Those inclined to be miserly will be harmed by that course; they should instead be taught that the point of money is to trade it for useful goods and services.

  11. JPNunez says:

    PhD candidate saying there are stereotypical faces for given names

    http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/look-like-name.aspx

    Since it says that the random chance had a 20% or 25% chance of getting it right, gotta assume they are asking to choose from 4 or 5 options so the effect must be very slight.

    • SUT says:

      Looks like the effect was more than slight:

      …participants were significantly better (25 to 40 percent accurate) at matching the name to the face than random chance (20 or 25 percent accurate depending on the experiment)…

      I find these kind of folk wisdom confirmation studies hugely interesting. Although for the life of me, I can’t figure out what the pure economic value of them is. The recent development of easily available digital datasets and image processing algo’s which can act as an unbiased expert seem like a big tipping point to make these studies possible.

      I’d suggest these social-science-y studies with classic experiment design aided by novel data science techniques are the new liberal arts degree: the thing everyone had to do to prove they were properly educated in the old days was write an analysis of a classic poem, or if you were STEM-inclined, a classic philosopher. Now, this is a good template: programming takes the place of the rigorous activity like learning Greek or Latin was previously. Then you must balancing creativity with critical thinking by researching a novel question, but keeping your write-up traditional.

  12. Anyone think Rag and Bone Man will make neck beards cool? [Runs away]

  13. nimim.k.m. says:

    SpaceX announces private moon mission (orbit / pass, no landing), planned date is in 2018. The astronauts will be tourists, who are not “from Hollywood”.

    Make America Go to Moon Again?

    • gbdub says:

      So they’re going to take a rocket that was supposed to fly in 2012, but hasn’t flown yet, a capsule that hasn’t flown yet, and a core vehicle that’s blown up twice in the last two years, shove two people in it for a week and hurl them 400,000 miles away, all in less than 20 months?

      Well it’s bold I’ll give it that.

      • beleester says:

        Apollo went from the Saturn V’s first flight (Apollo 4, Nov 1967) to orbiting the moon (Apollo 8, Dec 1968) in about a year, so it’s certainly possible. It’s a pretty fast pace, though.

        • gbdub says:

          How’s your Tesla 3 driving?

          Over the past few years I have grown increasingly impressed by SpaceX’s technical competency and increasingly incredulous at Elon Musk’s bluster. Only the most hardened fanboys can take his schedules at face value any more.

          Is this maybe theoretically possible if everything goes perfectly according to plan? Sure. But it never does.

          Yeah NASA did it in the 60s, but that was a monumental effort widely recognized as one of the greatest (and most fortunate) engineering feats in human history, with a larger organization almost exclusively working toward that as a goal. SpaceX has to do it on the cheap while clearing out their backlog of customers who already paid for their rides.

          NASA isn’t even fully confident they can certify the Dragon 2 for humans by the end of 2018, let alone fly it to the station at least once, modify it to support a weeklong trip, and integrate it with the as-yet unflown Heavy.

          • hlynkacg says:

            his maybe theoretically possible if everything goes perfectly according to plan? Sure. But it never does.

            I think you’re overstating things, the first Falcon Heavy flight article has already been built and possibly would have already flown if the AMOS-6 explosion and subsequent investigation hadn’t pushed everything back 6 – 12 months, ditto Dragon 2.

            NASA isn’t even fully confident they can certify the Dragon 2 for humans by the end of 2018

            That’s only for flying NASA astronauts to the ISS. There’s nothing stopping SpaceX from flying their own people, or some other country’s astronauts, without NASA’s certification. Besides NASA’s “man rating” requirements are a hold over from the days when we were still strapping people to ICBMs and are widely considered a joke.

          • gbdub says:

            the first Falcon Heavy flight article has already been built and possibly would have already flown if the AMOS-6 explosion and subsequent investigation hadn’t pushed everything back 6 – 12 months, ditto Dragon 2.

            But the AMOS-6 explosion did happen. Hopefully nothing that catastrophic happens again, but schedules inevitably slip to the right, even when they aren’t as aggressive as Musk’s pronouncements. Heavy was supposed to fly in 2012. I really do think this is finally the year, but then again SpaceX has been saying that for awhile. SpaceX has a deep backlog of paying customers relying on them to get business critical assets to orbit (i.e. Iridium). At some point they’re going to get fed up if they get slipped to make room for Elon’s Wild Ride.

            That’s only for flying NASA astronauts to the ISS.

            I believe Musk explicitly stated the round the Moon trip wouldn’t happen until after the first ISS flight. In any case, NASA (who is funding Dragon 2) is going to be rightfully pissed if SpaceX is dumping resources into this mission while missing milestones on CCDEV.

            Besides NASA’s “man rating” requirements are a hold over from the days when we were still strapping people to ICBMs and are widely considered a joke.

            By whom?

          • hlynkacg says:

            But the AMOS-6 explosion did happen.

            So? You yourself said that “schedules inevitably slip” and yet Falcon Heavy is are still a lot closer to flying on their original launch dates than SLS/Orion is.

            They were supposed to have their first manned flight in 2015 and NASA hasn’t even finished building the test stand, much less the launch pad and first flight article. If you think SLS is going to fly before 2019 I got some real-estate I want to sell you.

            Dragon 2 is actually ahead of shecdual.

            By whom?

            Depending on how you phrase the question? I would guess somewhere between 10% & 60% of the aerospace industry. Strict compliance with NASA safety standards would require us to acknowledge that simply driving from Houston to KSC would present an unacceptable risk to astronauts lives. Meanwhile there are a lot of engineers (myself included) who would say that, a “safety cert” from an agency that would declare the Space Shuttle or Soyuz “Safe” (especially in light of Roscosmos’ on-going QA issues) isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

            Keep in mind that this is the same agency that’s talking about putting people on the first SLS flight.

          • gbdub says:

            There’s a big difference between NASA being bureaucratic and political, and them being a “joke”. Sure, they may be places where the requirements seem over-restrictive. But a lot of them make a lot of sense (e.g. requiring redundant fault-tolerant avionics). And it’s worth keeping in mind how much of NASA’s flaws are crammed down from above (it’s not called the Senate Launch System for nothing). All that said the SLS really is a technically impressive system, and I wish it success, even if the concept is flawed. Physically impressive too – have you seen the tanks at Michoud or the booster static fires in Utah?

            SpaceX just torched a rocket (that would have had live astronauts aboard) yet their initial reaction was that a) no way we could have screwed up, lets send people over to the ULA hangar to look for snipers and b) eh, it’ll be fine, the abort system would have saved them. There’s a “joke” NASA rule (load astronauts after fuel) that might have saved a bunch of them in that case.

            They’ve lost as many Falcons as we ever did Shuttles (and Soyuz) in many fewer flights. So maybe they could do with a bit of bureaucratic oversight.

            A lot of engineers are allergic to things like “process”, “documentation”, and “quality assurance”. I get it, they’re the dull part of the job and they don’t feel value added a lot of the time. But there’s certainly a right amount. NASA has too much, SpaceX seems to have too little.

            EDIT: counting Progress failures, I gave too much credit to Soyuz. Still, Falcon 9’s 2 total losses and 1 partial failure in 30 launches do not compare favorably on a percentage basis. STS had two failures and one abort-to-orbit in 135 flights.

            Anyway I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing that NASA is flawed but defending it against people who call “clueless” the agency that’s even recently given us Curiosity, Dawn, Cassini, New Horizons, and the program that paid for half of Falcon 9 and Dragon in the first place.

          • John Schilling says:

            a) no way we could have screwed up, lets send people over to the ULA hangar to look for snipers

            This is a gross mischaracterization of SpaceX’s actual response, which never denied the possibility of their having screwed up and actively acknowledged screwing up as the evidence came in that they had done so. They looked into everything, including the possibility of snipers, and including dozens of other things whose mere names would make your eyes glaze over. The rest is selection bias in the reporting chain.

          • gbdub says:

            You’re right, I took that too far and I know better. Mea culpa.

            Still, if we’re going to talk about things a significant percentage of engineers find “laughable”, the degree of credibility the sniper theory seemed to be getting in the first few days is up there (much of it from the press, yes, but SpaceX didn’t seem to be going out of its way to discourage that).

            But I retract that part of my statement – I’m much more interested in the rest of it.

      • hlynkacg says:

        While I agree that Musk’s time estimates ought to be taken with a grain of salt (I’m pretty sure he thinks in Mars time so just multiply everything by 1.88) I find it annoying when people imply that NASA could do any better. If we assume that SpaceX is aiming for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 the Dragon/Falcon program is arguably further along than the Apollo/Saturn program was at this same date in 67. At the very least it has suffered fewer failures and killed fewer people.

        • bean says:

          (I’m pretty sure he thinks in Mars time so just multiply everything by 1.88)

          That’s brilliant. My usual metric is to multiply by 2, which isn’t far off from this.

          Yeah. This may happen in 2019. I really doubt they’ll make it next year.

      • John Schilling says:

        Well it’s bold I’ll give it that.

        What man has done, man can aspire to do.

        • gbdub says:

          Has man ever built and flown a spacecraft to the original schedule? I think that might violate causality and cause the universe to explode.

          • cassander says:

            Apollo?

          • gbdub says:

            We ultimately met the “end of the decade” target set by Kennedy, but I’m pretty sure a CSM redesign due to three dead astronauts was not on the original program plan.

            (They had plenty of more mundane delays too. Ultimately the first manned flight was about 2 years later than originally planned, with no planned gap between the last Gemini and first Apollo)

          • cassander says:

            @gbdub

            Right, but every project has some room for unexpected delay. It’s never enough, but there’s always some, and I can’t imagine the apollo timeline laid out by, say 63 had an eagle one touchdown much earlier than the actual one. Of course, apollo shouldn’t be regarded as typical of anything.

          • gbdub says:

            Every project should have room for delay – that was my point!

            Musk consistently promises results on schedules that simply can’t be met without perfect execution and a lot of luck.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Musk consistently promises results on schedules that simply can’t be met without perfect execution and a lot of luck.

            My problem is that you’re acting like he’s unique in this regard.

            I find myself in this awkward position where while I agree that Musk’s statements are often unrealistic I still feel the need to defend SpaceX Boeing et from the delusional idiots who think NASA has a clue what they are doing. NASA is a political organization first and fore most.

          • gbdub says:

            So I’m a delusional idiot now? I am well aware of NASA’s issues – I’ve delivered and flown spacecraft for them.

            Musk is not unique in having over-optimistic schedules. He IS unique in the magnitude of his over-optimism, the degree to which he publicizes his over-optimism and insists it makes him the smartest guy in the industry, and the degree to which he gets fawned over by tech press and a legion of fanboys.

          • John Schilling says:

            He IS unique in the magnitude of his over-optimism,

            The last time we looked into that here, many open threads ago, I think we concluded that the magnitude of SpaceX’s cost and schedule overruns was about par for the contemporary aerospace industry, rather than in any way “unique”.

            And I’m not sure whether his hype is more or less divorced from reality than NASA’s, though that’s harder to quantify. But NASA did once upon a time say that they were going to launch men in a capsule that would circle the moon and return to Earth and then did so, slightly ahead of schedule. So, yeah, what man has done…

          • hlynkacg says:

            So I’m a delusional idiot now?

            No, and I’m sorry. Your argument pattern matched to a common failure mode.

            He IS unique in the magnitude of his over-optimism

            He isn’t though that’s the point. In fact he’s been roughly on par if not slightly under-optimistic compared to others in the industry. SpaceX just draws more attention because no one else is publicizing their engineering tests on Facebook.

  14. skef says:

    So the Trump proposal of the day is boosting military spending by around 10% and “paying for it” with cuts of the same sum from other programs.

    I suspect the focus on this idea will be on the dearth of non-discretionary spending to take from, but what’s striking about it to me is how back-room brain-dead politics winds as the touted feature of a plan.

    The federal government does a bunch of different things that every year it doesn’t entirely pay for, so it also issues a bunch of debt. Various reasons can be offered for and against those things. What meta-reason might be offered to explain that the goodness of reasons for increased military spending just happens to match up with not-so-good reasons for spending on other priorities? Some people and organizations have to make such decisions because they can’t borrow, or borrowing would be a bad idea for some reason. But not borrowing is not even remotely on the table here. If everything is just fungible, why not reduce the other spending by a bit more, so we can issue a bit less debt?

    I understand that the answer is sometimes “this is just a political reality at the moment”, but in that case why isn’t that aspect of the plan something best mumbled and griped about? Instead it’s “Look at our plan! We’re gonna to do this completely idiotic thing!”

    • cassander says:

      given an expanding economy, you can afford to issue a bunch more debt every year without it being a burden. the amount you can issue, however is not infinite, and the US has been rapidly using up its wiggle room in recent years. The national budget is not a household budget, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to live beyond your means.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      I never foresaw budget neutrality joining the swelling ranks of Suddenly Bad Things.

    • I suspect that budget neutrality is, to some degree, a political Schelling point.

      • skef says:

        But then the whole trick is in what plausibly constitutes “some degree”.

        It seems an unavoidable aspect of this announcement that adding 10% to the military budget is a big change, and not “business as usual”. Is removing 10% from other budgets* somehow not a big change? If what the State department does is ultimately just silliness, why not cut 40%? If what the money the State department gets is just ultimately a matter of politics, why think that the politicians on the “other side” will be OK with a 10% cut so that military spending can increase? If the number is just “a starting point for negotiation”, why make it the same number? Wouldn’t “we’re going to increase defense spending by 10% and cut other spending by 20% because we don’t need that stuff” be a much stronger starting point, even if you’re going to end up at 5% with the latter?

        Budget neutrality is bean-counting. It doesn’t escape being brain-dead in the context of grand gestures. If the upcoming fight is going to be at all public, why structure it so that the first counter-argument is “How can we afford to cut 10% from X” and the response is “Uh … budget neutrality!”

        * Military and non-military discretionary spending being about even.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think it’s just a politicial twofer.

      Trump: “I’m going to do this thing that my people like and your people don’t like”

      Opponents: “Aha, GOTCHA, Mr. Trump! Wouldn’t that be FISCALLY IRRESPONSIBLE?”

      Trump: “Of course not, I’m just going to balance it out by stopping doing the things that your people like and my people don’t like”.

    • Deiseach says:

      Given that America’s military is being asked to do more and more in “world’s policeman/only remaining superpower/global peacekeeper” roles, and this doesn’t appear to be slowing down or decreasing in the near future, and that current manpower and matériel is over-stretched (I’m not an expert, just going on what I’m reading here and there, open to correction by the knowledgable), I did actually think that Trump’s proposal is not completely dumb or nuts, it’s necessary.

      But as you say, how to pay for it is the big question.

      • Brad says:

        I don’t think it is true that they are being asked to do more and more and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down the in the future.

        Troops in Afghanistan + Iraq peaked in 2008 are are down to small fractions of that today. At least as far as I know there is no similar sized conflicts on the horizon, much less two.

        • Randy M says:

          And even if the military’s role was expected to increase, ideally the argument for more money would include some figures.

        • CatCube says:

          The military as an institution may not be doing more tasks, but the task/Soldier ratio is probably not changing much, since we just finished a huge drawdown.

      • hlynkacg says:

        From my own experience, and talking to those who are still active. The issue isn’t that the US Military is being asked to do more, so much as we’ve been burning through men and equipment without replenishing our losses. Quality training is expensive and word is that a lot of the younger guys haven’t been getting it due to lack of funding and equipment. Less training means troops are less prepared for contingencies, which leads to more mishaps, which further deplete the ranks.

        I haven’t seen it in the mainstream news yet but there’s actually a bit of a scandal brewing right now because, after several fatal mishaps, something like 60% of the Navy and USMC’s combat aircraft had to be grounded for maintenance and safety-of-flight issues.

      • Cypren says:

        Based on the SIPRI military expenditure data, in constant 2014 dollars, we are currently at about the same level of military spending (~$590b) as in 1988 (during the Cold War), both well above the 1998 peacetime nadir ($398b) and well below the 2010 peak ($757b during the Iraq withdrawal + Afghanistan “surge”).

        Most people who argue for an increase in defense spending seem to be comparing us to the Cold War readiness level of the armed forces, during which inflation-adjusted spending was about at its current level but we were maintaining a significantly larger combat force (especially in actively-deployed naval ships). This seems to strongly indicate one (or more) of three things:

        1.) Current defense spending is misprioritized (maybe too much on fancy new gadgets, too little on basic force projection?)

        2.) Defense spending is suffering from cost disease similar to healthcare and education, where ever-higher levels of money are required to produce the same results.

        3.) Changing world conditions (perhaps the emergence of both China and Russia as significant threats, as opposed to a bipolar world with only the Soviet Union as a significant competitor?) have massively increased the amount of resources that need to be put into defense in order to stay competitive.

        I am by no means an expert on defense policy and can’t really offer a guess as to how much any of these explanations really fit, but just looking at the raw numbers, “we need to spend more on defense” rings as hollow to me as “we need to spend more on education”. I want to understand how much value we’re going to get from the money before endorsing spending more of it, and am extremely skeptical of anyone advocating the idea that “more spending is just better”.

        • gbdub says:

          Part of the issue is that the wars burned up a ton of men and materiel, that now need to be replaced. The Navy and Marines have 53 percent of their aircraft unfit for service. We’ve been delaying / canceling much needed replacements for e.g. the Bradley. Much of our nuclear force (Ohio class subs, Minuteman III) are nearing the end of their (already extended) service lives, and need to be replaced.

          Basically, the long wars have decayed our capabilities. Yeah, we spent similar amounts in the Cold War, but we weren’t using up our gear as much. And yeah, there’s probably some cost disease involved too.

        • shakeddown says:

          I’d be very surprised if cost disease didn’t affect the military, since it shares with healthcare and education the property of being something important that doesn’t have a single clearly achievable goal, at which you can throw arbitrary amounts of money. (Ideally, the military can at least figure out how to use the money to improve, in ways the other two haven’t).

          • Incurian says:

            See: F-35.

            I’m sorry if this starts a flame war, but it is not a good program. (Won’t be responding to objections because I don’t want to feed the fire)

          • cassander says:

            @Incurian says:

            >I’m sorry if this starts a flame war, but it is not a good program. (Won’t be responding to objections because I don’t want to feed the fire)

            All large procurement programs are bad programs. Pointing that out doesn’t really prove anything.

          • skef says:

            See: F-35.

            STOVL is not a module.

          • John Schilling says:

            (Won’t be responding to objections because I don’t want to feed the fire)

            Too late.

            I mean, I agree that there are problems with the F-35 and I share your disinclination to discuss the matter in detail today, but you just lobbed a bottle of kerosene into the fire and ran off saying “I won’t be sticking around because I don’t want to feed the fire”.

            That’s classic trolling.

          • Incurian says:

            Hmm. Good point, I should not have said anything. I apologize.

          • Cypren says:

            Incidentally, my father was a senior Naval officer (retired O-6) who went to work for Lockheed afterwards. Among other things, he worked on the F-35 program; his primary complaint about the cost and delays was that Lockheed was given very little choice in the sourcing of components for the plane. The procurement and assembly decisions were extremely political and mandated by Congressmen trying to funnel pork to their districts. As a result, when a supplier fell behind schedule or failed to deliver quality parts, they weren’t able to credibly threaten to replace them or source the parts elsewhere. This led to many shoddy jobs, as one might expect, and Lockheed has been taking a lot of heat for the project as the primary contractor that’s probably undeserved.

            My father hasn’t hestitated to criticize Lockheed for screw-ups that are legitimately its own fault, so I tend to believe him when he says that the major fault here lies at the foot of the politicized procurement process rather than anything that Lockheed had control over.

        • cassander says:

          > in constant 2014 dollars, we are currently at about the same level of military spending (~$590b) as in 1988

          So in 88, we were spending about 6% of GDP. Today it’s less than 4. Granted, the military was also a lot larger than that, but inflation adjusted dollars can give a somewhat misleading picture.

          >1.) Current defense spending is misprioritized (maybe too much on fancy new gadgets, too little on basic force projection?)

          Ask any defense expert if the US military is wasting money on some stupid procurement, and they will say yes. The trouble is each one will give you a different stupid procurement than the last one.

          >2.) Defense spending is suffering from cost disease similar to healthcare and education, where ever-higher levels of money are required to produce the same results.

          It unquestionably does. Pay for soldiers is the single largest expense in the budget, and its share goes up every year.

          >3.) Changing world conditions (perhaps the emergence of both China and Russia as significant threats, as opposed to a bipolar world with only the Soviet Union as a significant competitor?) have massively increased the amount of resources that need to be put into defense in order to stay competitive.

          This is part of it, but it’s more accurate to say that you have a bit of a hangover from the “procurement holiday” of the 90s. Most current US military equipment was bought in the 80s, and is hitting the end of its life and needs replacing.

          • Joeleee says:

            It unquestionably does. Pay for soldiers is the single largest expense in the budget, and its share goes up every year.

            This surprises me. Is the per soldier pay going up, the number of soldiers going up, or both? My gut feel would have been that we’re getting less soldiers as we get more tech (i.e. drones etc.) but I admit to being woefully ignorant on the subject.

          • CatCube says:

            The number of Soldiers is going down. We’re currently at the smallest Army since 1939.

          • cassander says:

            Pay is going up, particularly medical coverage for soldiers (tri-care is an abomination everyone knows is a problem and no one wants to deal with). The number, as catcube says, is declining a somewhat, at least for uniformed soldiers. the army of civilians and contractors grows every year.

  15. Controls Freak says:

    I just discovered a nifty result that was counterintuitive at first (even if it’s algebraically simple). I was thinking about the efficiency of my healthcare/insurance products. Through my employer, I have purchases across a few different products (medical/dental/HSA). I was looking at two different measures of efficiency, considering just my personal contribution for one and the total of my contribution and my employer’s contribution for the other. I was building the efficiency of each product individually and then also constructing an overall efficiency including all of the products together.

    At one point, I added a less efficient product into the mix. Obviously, my individual efficiency went down… but curiously, the efficiency including the employer contribution went up! To express it mathematically, consider benefits B1, B2 for products with costs C1, C2. Since I was including the employer contribution separately, it wasn’t tied to a particular product (clearly, you can eliminate the effect if you do so). Call the employer contribution E.

    I had B1/C1 > B2/C2, which obviously implies (B1+B2)/(C1+C2) B1/(C1+E). The condition for this to occur is that E must be greater than B1*C2/B2 – C1.

    So, besides thinking about this in terms of, “You should tie employer contribution to a particular product (because in my case it actually is),” I realized that we could think about this mathematical situation in terms of things like fixed costs. If fixed costs eat into the profitability of a line of business, it can make adding a less-profitable (in terms of variable costs) line of business actually increase the overall profitability.

    This was the moment I had flashbacks to discussions on prescription drugs. If we now think in terms of markets rather than distinct products, the numbers still hold. If it costs 9 dollars to bring a drug to any market, then it’s not going to happen if the only market that exists will bring in only 11 dollars of revenue on an additional 10 dollars of variable costs. However, if there’s a second market, bringing you 20 dollars of revenue on 10 dollars of variable costs, there’s just enough to overcome the fixed costs and cause you to bring your product to the market. However, if you only bring it to the one market, the fixed costs eat into your total profitability (20 dollars revenue on 19 dollars cost; ~5.3%). In this case, not only is it merely profitable to also enter the second market, but it actually increases your total profitability (31 dollars revenue on 29 dollars cost; ~6.9%).

    I had known before about most of the two-market situation, but I had always mentally categorized entering the second market as, “Sure, you’ll make money, but you’re decreasing overall efficiency, because the second market is less profitable.” It’s kind of interesting to note that that’s not necessarily true. Does anyone know if this is well-known enough to have a name?

    • Mark says:

      “this implies (B1+B2)/(C1+C2) B1/(C1+E)”

      I think you’ve missed the greater than symbol here

      I don’t really understand how health insurance works, so what is going on with E – can this really be treated as a fixed cost?

      If you’re able to bring your product to *all* markets for 9 dollars, then that works. I guess that the higher your fixed costs, the more important total revenue is to determining profitability.

      • Controls Freak says:

        I think you’ve missed the greater than symbol here

        Actually, an entire section disappeared. I think it got sucked in as a non-existant HTML tag. I meant that (B1+B2)/(C1+C2) is less than B1/C1, but that (B1+B2)/(C1+C2+E) is greater than B1/(C1+E).

        what is going on with E – can this really be treated as a fixed cost?

        It’s actually the amount that my employer contributes specifically for my major medical insurance, so it should be tied to that particular product. I wasn’t really thinking about it as a fixed cost at the time; that interpretation of the algebra came later. I was just thinking in terms of “my” expenses and then adding in the employer contribution later for giggles.

        I suppose there is a sense in which I could consider it “fixed”. There is pretty much no scenario where it makes sense for me to get insurance anywhere other than through my employer… and the employer contributes approximately the same amount regardless of which plan I pick.

        the higher your fixed costs, the more important total revenue is to determining profitability

        This is a good way of saying it.

    • andrewflicker says:

      In my business, we refer to new/additional sales as being “accretive to margin rate” if the profit it generates increases the rate of total-company profitability. Usually this happens because our fixed costs didn’t increase, so the profit calc for the new sales is something simple like “Revenue – COGS – AcquireCost= Profit”, instead of the usual calc which would be that minus labor/fringe/warehousing/adjustments/etc/etc/etc/.

  16. Thegnskald says:

    Those not on the Left, on arguing economics:

    There is a fundamental issue with the state of affairs of the modern world. Look at the amount of work you do, and look at the reward you get for it. If it doesn’t seem terribly disproportionate, you aren’t paying attention to the rest of the world – the fact that you’re able to read this puts you in a worldwide elite on a scale you cannot comprehend. Watch a documentary on the growth of cacao – the people who grow and harvest the beans could not afford to buy the chocolate bars they are turned into. Likewise for many other situations in developing nations – sweat shops being the prototypical example.

    By and large, most explanations I’ve seen offered sound like reiterations of trickle-down economics, in a Gnomic Corporation sort of way. The “best” arguments tend to be defenses along the lines of “But sweatshops offer some of the highest wages available to the poorest of the poor” – which is to say, they focus on defending the practice, but ignore the situations which provoke the practice being defensible in the first place.

    I know you -notice- the guilt in the Left, but I do not think you understand the reason for it, and so you attack it as an emotional failing rather than explore the reasoning behind it. Well, here is the reason: It is very difficult not to conclude that the lifestyles in the West are a direct result of a sometimes-subtle, sometimes quite blunt imperialism, ultimately backed by the threat of US soldiers rolling in and killing people who try to change things. If you’re of an even vaguely Marxist mind, it isn’t even a question; the history of US involvement in Marxist attempts at reform is quite bloody.

    Again, look at the amount of value the average worker in the US produces, and look at the amount of resources we consume. Does it seem commensurate?

    • multiheaded says:

      *gets popcorn*

    • John Schilling says:

      the fact that you’re able to read this puts you in a worldwide elite on a scale you cannot comprehend

      I’m not on the left, and I fully comprehend that I am part of the global elite. I just don’t see anything wrong with that. I can read things like this, because I help build things like this. Seems fair to me.

      Again, look at the amount of value the average worker in the US produces, and look at the amount of resources we consume. Does it seem commensurate?

      Yes, actually it does. But if you’re feeling guilty on this front, might I ask what it is that you produce?

    • shakeddown says:

      Being on the left, I’m inclined to disagree (except that US cold war interventions did tend to turn out pretty bad, and also we should probably sell less weapons to African warlords).

      In the big-picture sense, while inequality within countries has gone up over the last fifty years, total inequality has dropped – because inequality between first- and third-world countries has gone down, drastically. Third-world poverty seems to be decreasing as fast as we can reasonably hope, so switching to doing something drastically different about it is more likely to be harmful than to help.

      Regarding sweatshops – the people who argue for them are mostly just replying to the people who argue against them, which make the mistake you mentioned of focusing on them instead of the circumstances leading to them.

      Why do you assume that modern third-world poverty is the result of imperialism? It seems more natural to assume that some countries just got on the technological development wagon a century or so late (which is unsurprising: It took thousands of years for anyone to get on them and globalization is fairly recent), so they’re still just catching up.

      • multiheaded says:

        Why do you assume that modern third-world poverty is the result of imperialism? It seems more natural to assume that some countries just got on the technological development wagon a century or so late.

        But some countries, like Japan, could do rapid catch-up development. While most others were kept underdeveloped and drained of resources by imperialism. That’s, like, what basically every leftist agrees upon

        • cassander says:

          the trouble with that argument is that it’s circular. Why is the west rich? imperialism! how did it get rich? imperialism! Left out is any analysis, or even mention, of why it was the west that was capable of imperializing places and not the other way around. Imperialism was a consequence of western strength, by definition, it can’t be a cause of it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Seriously. I’ve heard numerous leftists bash Guns Germs and Steel because Diamond’s thesis assigns no blame to people for wiping out other cultures.
            “The culture of the lower Yellow River developed advantage X because of Y, and assimilated weaker cultures to extinction over centuries. The Bantu got iron, expanded through the rain forest, and wiped out hunter-gatherers. Western Europe got guns and compasses and navigated to previously unknown cultures they could overpower. Que sera, sera.
            It’s kind of funny, because technological determinism is kind of Marxist.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Imperialism was at first a consequence of Western *military* supremacy, which need not (and indeed, quite often did not) translate to greater wealth. Of course, once it got going it was to a degree self-sustaining; wealthy empires have an easier time mounting imperial expeditions to keep their upper classes happy, and said empires (all empires, really, although Marxists tend to focus on the naval kind so common in Marx’s era) got wealthy by exploiting the provinces in ways they could never exploit the metropole.

          • cassander says:

            @birdboy2000 says:
            February 28, 2017 at 9:24 pm ~new~

            >Imperialism was at first a consequence of Western *military* supremacy, which need not (and indeed, quite often did not) translate to greater wealth. Of course, once it got going it was to a degree self-sustaining; wealthy empires have an easier time mounting imperial expeditions to keep their upper classes happy, and said empires (all empires, really, although Marxists tend to focus on the naval kind so common in Marx’s era) got wealthy by exploiting the provinces in ways they could never exploit the metropole.

            You can maybe make this work for the spanish acquisition of the the new world. The trouble is that spain was the imperial power that modernized LEAST, and it doesn’t describe how anyone else acquired an empire. The Dutch had the largest merchant fleet in the world, and were richest the people in europe, before they got a single colony anywhere, and the colonies they got they mostly stole not from natives, but the portuguese. The british lost most of their empire in a ruinously expensive war, and then went on to conquer an even bigger one. The french lose even more of their empire than the brits, lots of it to the brits, and still become a colonial power, repeatedly, in increasingly marginal locations. Germany never gets any colonies at all prior to 1870, still manages to industrialize. imperialism fueling itself doesn’t map to actual history.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            Could you please avoid copying and pasting:
            ~ n e w

            It makes this marker for actual new posts less useful, as anyone who is searching for it has to see the particular post over and over again until the thread dies.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Imperialism was at first a consequence of Western *military* supremacy, which need not (and indeed, quite often did not) translate to greater wealth.

            Nonsense. Military supremacy is heavily supported by economic success. You need to pay and feed your troops. As the old adage goes, amateurs think about tactics, professionals think about logistics.

            Especially when you consider transoceanic empires. It has always been crazy expensive to throw troops in meaningful numbers to the other side of the planet. And keep them supplied.

            Not to mention the technological/industrial base that is required to produce the weapons and kit and transport that drives military supremacy in the first place.

            Also (this is conjecture), the political centralization needed to put together large military forces tends to require economic success. Otherwise you get revolts and provinces that think they could do better on their own.

            (It’s possible that Unless You Are The Mongols applies, but I dunno)

          • cassander says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I didn’t realize it worked that way, thanks for the heads up.

          • Jaskologist says:

            While we’re on the subject, the blockquote tag is also your friend.

        • Nornagest says:

          Japan in the mid-1800s was more underdeveloped than its neighbors — basically medieval in technological terms. And it’s never been an especially resource-rich country.

          But what it did have in the late Edo period, and its neighbors didn’t, was a level of centralized power that’s anything but medieval; almost comparable to 20th-century police states. I think we might need to point to that centralization to explain the political will spurring rapid adaptation to 19th- and later 20th-century Western norms, although it was actually mismanaged quite badly early on — which is one of the things that led to the Boshin War and the transition from the Edo to the Meiji Periods.

        • While most others were kept underdeveloped and drained of resources by imperialism.

          China under Mao was about as unsubject to imperialism as one can get, yet it stayed poor while Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, all trading heavily with the developed world, got rich.

          • multiheaded says:

            Bull. Fucking. Shit.

            China beat democratic capitalist India or Pakistan handily during that time. And the East Asian countries you list used hardline developmentalist policies, export discipline, etc – not the “free trade” you fetishize.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Cultural and genetic confounders — Singapore and Taiwan are Han, India and Pakistan are not.

            Are you a big fan of Maoist China, multiheaded?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @multiheaded, thanks to the “license Raj,” you can hardly count India as capitalist during that time.

          • cassander says:

            @Evan Þ

            Not just the license raj, they openly declared themselves a socialist state. Indira literally wrote it into the constitution.

          • multiheaded says:

            From beyond a veil of ignorance I’d probably somewhat prefer Mao’s China to Gandhi’s India, true.

            “But it wasn’t TRUE capitalism!” is hilariously self-unaware bullshit.

            Anyway, what the hell is the point you’re making here? Surely you agree that India was far more free-market, pro-private-property, etc than China at the time.

          • cassander says:

            @multiheaded says:

            >From beyond a veil of ignorance I’d probably somewhat prefer Mao’s China to Gandhi’s India, true.

            Then you must not be one of the tens of millions who starved to death in the greatest famine in history so that Mao could export steel.

            >“But it wasn’t TRUE capitalism!” is hilariously self-unaware bullshit.

            It isn’t no-true scottsmaning to say that people who openly proclaimed themselves socialists, complete with 5 year plans, are not, in fact, any sort of capitalist

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “From beyond a veil of ignorance I’d probably somewhat prefer Mao’s China to Gandhi’s India, true.”

            That’s crazy, just by basic math.

            But let me ask you a 30,000 feet question — what’s the closest practical instantiation of a society with a structure you are broadly on board with. Would it be somewhere in the Norse countries?

          • multiheaded says:

            Mao’s China was pretty fucking bad. India was even worse; more people died of malnutrition there even in the 1960s – and it continues today.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Why do you assume that modern third-world poverty is the result of imperialism?

        I don’t. I observe merely that it is an easy conclusion to reach, particularly given the often particularly sorry state of affairs in the more recent ex-colonies, and the atrocities committed in many of them.

        The true explanation is considerably more complex than “some countries just got on the technological development wagon a century or so late”, as can be demonstrated by countries such as Argentina, once regarded as rising South American rival to the United States.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          One super interesting question about colonialism is why are British Empire colonies so much better off now compared to e.g. Belgian or French colonies?

          • dndnrsn says:

            What do you count as a “British colony” – can we consider Zimbabwe and South Africa British colonies? What about colonies that changed hands between different colonial powers?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            p-hacking.

            Seriously, maybe they have done better, but they have not done “so much better.”

            PS – most sources say that DRC has a higher life expectancy than Nigeria. Do you believe that?

          • Iain says:

            I was once on a train from Johannesburg to Capetown, and had an interesting conversation with several of my neighbours on the train, including one man from the DRC and another from Cameroon. There was a general consensus that if you had to be colonized, it was best to be colonized by the British, worst to be colonized by the Belgians, and the French were somewhere in the middle. The distinction they made, if I remember correctly, is that the British built their colonies to live in, whereas the Belgians built their colonies to extract wealth. I have no idea whether this is true, but the locals seemed to find it compelling.

          • Brad says:

            In a significant fraction of the British Empire colonies the original inhabitants are all but gone and the countries are dominated by decedents of the colonizers and later immigrants.

            A fair comparison would exclude places like Canada and Australia and focus on places like the countries of the Indian sub-continent and the African colonies.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Iain, geography is a big confounder, as a map will tell you. Indeed, it is probably true that the British chose their colonies to live in. They chose places whites could live, namely South Africa and highland East Africa.

            Brad, yes, of course, we’re talking about Africa. I don’t think that there is enough diversity of colonization to talk about India or Indochina.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The top 10 African countries based on governance (“The latest IIAG comprises over 100 indicators, grouped into four broad categories: Safety & Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development.”):

            (I’ve tried to sort them by colonizing power before independence but it’s a bit messier than that)

            1 Mauritius – Dutch>French>British.
            2 Botswana – British.
            3 Cape Verde – Portuguese.
            4 Seychelles – French>British.
            5 South Africa – Dutch/Boer>British-ish.
            6 Namibia – German>South African.
            7 Ghana – Various>British.
            8 Tunisia – Ottoman>French.
            9 Lesotho – Dutch/Boer>British-ish.
            10 Senegal – French.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Possibly differences in how they were governed, maybe more investment when they were colonies (not sure if this was the case, but sounds like a plausible explanation). Plus in a lot of cases the British left their colonies without being kicked out in a years-long guerrilla war, which would also help.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Here is a graph of 2010 DGP and life expectancy, colored by colonizer.

          • Nornagest says:

            All I’m getting from this is that the Belgians suck.

    • keranih says:

      Watch a documentary on the growth of cacao – the people who grow and harvest the beans could not afford to buy the chocolate bars they are turned into.

      I’m not sure of the accuracy of the assertion that you make here – that the workers who extract raw materials can never afford the surplus luxury goods that the raw materials are made into – but hey, I’ll accept the premise. Mostly because I am a skilled and highly educated person working voluntarily in the field of my choice and I can’t afford the end product of what I contribute towards producing.

      And the reason why I can’t afford it is because I have many other people who are also working in cooperation with me to organize our efforts into an end result. Much like a coco bar isn’t just a chunk of compressed cocoa beans, but is an end result of a whole system.

      Finally – jeez, man, next you’ll be insisting that the only people who can have nice paintings are the ones who can paint the canvas themselves.

    • Civilis says:

      The civil institutions that determine how well a society does have to come from somewhere. While it is possible to impose those externally, in general that is frowned on as ‘imperialism’ and is generally out of favor. If we’re not willing to commit the sin of Imperialism to fight the effects of Imperialsm, we need to let those values develop relatively independently in the developing world. We can certainly encourage attempts to develop human rights (especially property rights), respect for liberty, and honest government, but we can’t force them.

      Likewise, I can certainly encourage my fellow Americans to develop respect for education, sound financial management, and hard work. Certainly, my life is better than that of someone working in construction, sanitation, fast food, or retail, and my lifestyle would not be possible without them. The guy that sweeps the floor of the Ferrari dealership probably can’t afford a Ferrari (I can’t either).

      The only way we can measure the value of something is what someone else is willing to give us for it. This works for Ferrari showroom janitors and cacao harvesters. People are willing to trade things for clean floors and for cacao seeds. I would love to pull the life of a cacao harvester up to the standard of an American farmer, but until he gets a society that works as well as ours, it’s not going to happen, and I see no way to do that quickly short of force, and there’s that Imperialism again.

      If you’re of an even vaguely Marxist mind, it isn’t even a question; the history of US involvement in Marxist attempts at reform is quite bloody.

      Marxist attempts at reform tend to be quite bloody whether or not the US is involved.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Marxist attempts at reform tend to be quite bloody whether or not the US is involved.

        All attempts at reform at such a scale tend to be quite bloody; by the time enough resentment has built up to enable reform, it tends to be too much to readily contain, or to resolve with the sorts of reform which are actually possible.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It is very difficult not to conclude that the lifestyles in the West are a direct result of a sometimes-subtle, sometimes quite blunt imperialism, ultimately backed by the threat of US soldiers rolling in and killing people who try to change things.

      I find it easy to not conclude this. You’ve provided no evidence for this conclusion, and even an argument against it.

      Funny you should mention cacao and Marxism, though. Venezuela is an exporter of high quality cacao. How did their lot improve under Chavez?

      (Meanwhile, Puerto Rico, dirt poor by US standards, has its coffee plantations go idle for lack of labor)

      • Thegnskald says:

        I find it easy to not conclude this. You’ve provided no evidence for this conclusion, and even an argument against it.

        This is because I don’t believe it. I wrote about the failure in the way many people argue with Leftists, arising in large part from the lack of understanding of Left-wing positions.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m not really interested in the economic back-and-forth, but kind of curious about what sort of socialism you’re working from.

      Where would you, personally, draw the line of oppressor versus oppressed? You imply that the main conflict is between first world labor aristocracy and third world labor, without mentioning capital or international labor at all. If I’m reading you right, nearly all Westerners end up on the same side of your class struggle line: like a sort of inverted fascism.

      That’s always been the most interesting question about Revolutionary Leftism. Nobody divvies the classes up exactly the same way.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Where would you, personally, draw the line of oppressor versus oppressed?

        I’d say it’s not nearly so simple. Society is naturally oppressive; we oppress one another. We are all oppressor; we are all oppressed.

        Indeed, I think the upper classes are the most heavily oppressed, as the acceptance of this oppression is one of the key mechanisms by which the upper classes distinguish themselves from the lower classes. Dressing a particular way, consuming a particular way, working particular jobs, marrying particular people, holding particular beliefs, spending your youth in particular ways. The lives of the upper tiers of our society are constricted in ways the lower tiers are not; improving your social class is, to a significant extent, mostly a matter of giving up freedoms. Each tier of society is more oppressed than the level beneath, accepting a greater degree of loss of personal autonomy in exchange for a greater degree of power over others – in capitalism, this power largely takes the form of wealth, but not entirely.

        The least reward is offered for the greatest losses in absolute freedom, however, making the deal the worst for the lower classes. More, many of the choices are irreversible, and many are made by parents on behalf of their children. Worst of all, this least reward is nearly mandatory, by the terms of a society which has made self-determination impossible.

        Mind, reality is quite monstrous in itself, and were all of society stripped away, we would instead by oppressed by the need to grow food, to prepare for winter, to attend to the needs of survival. I do not particularly find arguments that this makes such oppression, such mandatory stripping away of our freedoms, acceptable, however, any more than I would find an argument that starvation is the natural state of man to be a reason to accept starvation.

        • Aapje says:

          You basically inverted the SJ hierarchy. I can’t agree with you, though, because you ignore that the social norms (which you equate to oppression) don’t harm people equally. If I’m highly intelligent and capable, a strongly meritocratic system benefits me and/or harms me less than a person without the skills that our system considers to have merit. The upper tiers in society have a lot more power to shape the social norms and hard norms (laws) to their benefit. Combined with their greater tool kits (wealth, intelligence, strong networks, etc), the upper classes have two major advantages:
          – More control over the norms
          – More ability to ‘play’ with the norms

          In fact, I would say that the people who give up most freedom are not so much the higher classes, but those at the top of their class. If you are poorly educated and want to not sink or even move up, you might need to work 2 jobs, where you do need to show up on time for those jobs and look acceptable. Similarly, if you want to become a CEO, you have to work long hours and really tailor your life to be acceptable to the CEO subculture. But it’s much easier to just coast along in the middle/upper class if you skills, but prefer to use them to shape your own life, rather than use them to seek to maximize your status.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Indeed, I think the upper classes are the most heavily oppressed […]

          This doesn’t sound like a very materialist take on things.

          There is a definition of freedom under which the guy sleeping under an overpass drinking rotgut is freer than the guy with a penthouse apartment drinking kale smoothies. But that definition doesn’t line up with anyone’s actual desires: the former desperately wants to live like the latter, while the latter desperately fears having to live like the former.

          Mind, reality is quite monstrous in itself, and were all of society stripped away, we would instead by oppressed by the need to grow food, to prepare for winter, to attend to the needs of survival. I do not particularly find arguments that this makes such oppression, such mandatory stripping away of our freedoms, acceptable, however, any more than I would find an argument that starvation is the natural state of man to be a reason to accept starvation.

          You can’t be oppressed by reality, because reality is not a moral actor. Nature is neither good nor bad: it simply exists. It’s only our reactions to nature which have a moral character.

          I think more Stoicism (in the sense of the philosophy of the Stoics, not a “stiff upper lip”) would help elucidate this distinction. I particularly recommend Marcus Aurelius. He makes his arguments first through the Stoic understanding of providence, and then demonstrates that their conclusions still hold under the assumptions of Atomism (materialism).

        • JulieK says:

          The lives of the upper tiers of our society are constricted in ways the lower tiers are not; improving your social class is, to a significant extent, mostly a matter of giving up freedoms.

          I think upper-class people generally have a larger safety margin in their lives- e.g. less fear that they will lose their job if they are out sick too many days, or that a budget crisis will result in utilities being turned off for non-payment.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          My impression is that the middle classes have the most constraints on impulsive behavior, which I’m not sure is the same thing as being oppressed.

          Middle class people have something to lose without having as much of a safety net as very rich people.

    • hlynkacg says:

      So I am not an an-cap or libertarian because I think Hobbes was right about the nature of man.

      So what if lifestyles in the West are a direct result of imperialism? What conclusion am I supposed to draw from that? In order to say whether the value that the average worker in the US produces is commensurate with the resources they consume you have to first figure out what that value is.

    • cassander says:

      >ook at the amount of work you do, and look at the reward you get for it. If it doesn’t seem terribly disproportionate, you aren’t paying attention to the rest of the world

      the amount of work you do is irrelevant. what matters is the value you produce for others. THis is the great glory of capitalism, it rewards serving others.

      > sweat shops being the prototypical example.

      the average sweatshop doubles the prevailing wage of the economy it’s in, which is why people line up around the blocks to work at them. the alternative to them is not utopia, but even more grinding poverty, at least according to noted right wing extremist Paul Krugman.

      >, but ignore the situations which provoke the practice being defensible in the first place.

      You act as if the natural state is wealth and poverty needs to be explained. it isn’t and it doesn’t. Poverty is the norm, it’s affluence that needs to be explained. to quote someone more eloquent than I,

      Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

      This is known as “bad luck.”

      See, for example, Rhodesia, the Great Leap Forward, the Holodomor.

      >It is very difficult not to conclude that the lifestyles in the West are a direct result of a sometimes-subtle, sometimes quite blunt imperialism,

      Not very difficult, but also not very accurate. You’ll note that western companies moving into a country invariably results in an IMPROVEMENT of living standards in that country, not a reduction. if the west was leeching wealth from the world, the opposite would be the case.

      > If you’re of an even vaguely Marxist mind, it isn’t even a question; the history of US involvement in Marxist attempts at reform is quite bloody

      It’s a couple orders of magnitude less bloody than the maxists’ own attempts at reform.

      >Again, look at the amount of value the average worker in the US produces, and look at the amount of resources we consume. Does it seem commensurate?

      Resources do not fall from the sky like manna from heaven. They are produced. Oil in the ground is worthless, it takes putting it in a barrel to get 50 bucks for it. the US PRODUCES precisely the share of resources it consumes.

      • Spookykou says:

        the average sweatshop doubles the prevailing wage of the economy it’s in, which is why people line up around the blocks to work at them. the alternative to them is not utopia, but even more grinding poverty

        I can’t remember where I saw it, but I remember recently coming across a write up on sweatshops in third world countries and how they tended to be the least desirable jobs, which people only took when desperate/other lines of work had fallen through. This would still make sweatshops valuable as a sort of safety net.

        In any case I was wondering if anyone could confirm which of these two accounts is more accurate, are sweatshop jobs seen as highly desirable by the people working them, or are they more of a Walmart greeter kind of thing?

        • cassander says:

          I imagine there’s a great deal of variation based on how one defines sweatshop. This has been my go-to source on the question for some time.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          Sweatshops don’t exist in a vacuum, yes; they typically come hand in hand with shooting labor organizers, left-wing politicians, and anyone else who wants to change the situation from one of brutal exploitation to something approaching equality.

          Being better than unemployment and desperate poverty doesn’t make them better than, say, government investment in co-operatives, or redistributing the property of local (and foreign) elites to the masses.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Being better than unemployment and desperate poverty doesn’t make them better than, say, government investment in co-operatives, or redistributing the property of local (and foreign) elites to the masses.

            No, but their track record sure does.

    • It is very difficult not to conclude that the lifestyles in the West are a direct result of a sometimes-subtle, sometimes quite blunt imperialism, ultimately backed by the threat of US soldiers rolling in and killing people who try to change things.

      I would have said that it is very difficult to maintain that conclusion after looking at the facts. The most important poor country the U.S. trades with is China. Back when it was economically mostly autarchic, it was desperately poor. One result of Mao’s death was that China opened up to the world market. From then to 2010 (I don’t have more current figures), its per capita real income increased twenty fold.

      The only Latin American country I can think of from which I personally get a noticeable benefit is Chile which, being in the southern hemisphere, sells us fruit when it is out of season here. Chile is also, I believe, the richest country in Latin America. That aside, the major U.S. trade partners are not poor third world countries, they are rich developed countries.

      Fill out your argument. What is the mechanism by which U.S. consumers get their high standard of living at the expense of poor people abroad?

      • rlms says:

        “Fill out your argument. What is the mechanism by which U.S. consumers get their high standard of living at the expense of poor people abroad?”
        Toy example of an economy with two countries, Richistan and Pooria, and two goods, widgets (mainly consumed in Richistan) and apples (consumed by everyone, more apples means higher quality of life). Widgets Inc (a Richistani company) pays Poorians 1 apple/widget to produce widgets, which makes their employees richer than they would be as subsistence farmers (their only other choice). Nevertheless, they could only get Richistanis to do the same work by paying 100 apples/widget. So Richistani widget consumers are benefiting from cheap widgets at the expense of Poorians.

        Regarding Chile, it is the richest country by GDP/capita PPP adjusted (although Uruguay and Argentina are close) and is beaten by Uruguay if no adjustment is done. Venezuela is not one of the richer Latin American countries, but the difference between Venezuela and Bolivia, Guyana and Paraguay is much greater than the difference between Chile and Argentina (and about equal to the difference between Chile and Venezuela)).

        • Incurian says:

          Widgets Inc (a Richistani company) pays Poorians 1 apple/widget to produce widgets, which makes their employees richer than they would be as subsistence farmers (their only other choice).

          So Richistani widget consumers are benefiting from cheap widgets at the expense of Poorians.

          I think these are mutually exclusive.

          • rlms says:

            The fact that Poorian widget makers are paid less than Richistani ones would be is what enables Richistanis to get cheap widgets. If there is a fixed pot of resources that could be divided in more just way (Poorians are paid more apples, Richistanis have to pay more for widgets) but is instead divided disproportionately, then someone is benefiting at someone else’s expense.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I see what you mean, but it’s a pretty non-standard definition of ‘at someone else’s expense’, which usually carries the sense of actually making them poorer than they would have been absent your actions, rather than merely not making them as rich as they hypothetically could be if you divided resources exactly equally.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            What you are missing is that Richistan has built up a society where the level of productivity is so high that Richistanis can get away with demanding 100 apples for the time that they would need to make one widget in the way that Poorians make them.

            In reality, if Poorians would refuse to make those widgets, it’s actually very unlikely that Richistanis would make them for 100 apples/widget. Most likely, they would automate the process so it would cost 2-5 apples/widget, because far fewer man-hours would be needed to create one widget.

            Your assumption that Poorians and Richistanis would have similar productivity when producing the widgets already shows that you fundamentally misunderstand the dynamic between rich and poor countries.

            As productivity is not the same, there isn’t actually a fixed pot of resources. If there was, the average person of 100 years ago would earn the same as the average person today. They don’t, because productivity increased. So if Richistan disappears, Poorians won’t suddenly get 100 apples/widget, because they don’t have the overall productivity to be able to pay 100 apples for a widget.

            People in poor countries don’t have a right to a share of my productivity any more that the people in 1917 had a right to a 2017 salary. And if productivity goes up greatly between now and 2117 (robots?), the average incomes will be higher in the future and I don’t get to benefit from that today. I am not wronged because of this!

            Of course, you can make a strong moral argument that we should help the people in other countries become more productive (although I would always argue that they are primarily responsible), but the absence of aid is not ‘benefiting at someone else’s expense.’

            PS. You can make a decent argument that it is unfair that we have trade and travel barriers which limit the ability of (people in) poor nations to compete. However, this is a highly complex topic that deserves more nuance than just calling it ‘benefiting at someone else’s expense.’

          • rlms says:

            @Winter Shaker
            I don’t think it’s that non-standard. For another example, suppose you are drowning, and I offer to save you (at no cost to myself) in exchange for your eternal servitude. I think it’s reasonable to describe that as me profiting at your expense.

            @Aapje
            “In reality, if Poorians would refuse to make those widgets, it’s actually very unlikely that Richistanis would make them for 100 apples/widget. Most likely, they would automate the process so it would cost 2-5 apples/widget”
            I don’t think that is always, or even mostly true. It only applies in situations where Richistanis could automate the work, but where doing so in Pooria would not be profitable. That certainly isn’t the case in e.g. farming, where we do see Richistanis producing the “widgets” for vastly more than the Poorians, due to government subsidies.

            “People in poor countries don’t have a right to a share of my productivity any more that the people in 1917 had a right to a 2017 salary.”
            But we’re talking about productivity on a societal level. If Poorians *don’t* deserve a share of Richistani productivity, what makes you think that a random Richistani (who probably hasn’t singlehandedly created a productive society) *does*?

          • Spookykou says:

            It seems to me that the vast majority of wealth is a byproduct of interacting systems, or society, I imagine that most people(John Schilling excepted) do not ‘earn’ anything close to the wealth they take home through the work they do in any sort of objective meaning of those words. I certainly do not earn the wealth that I take home from the ‘work’ I do. Little more than an accident of birth has me living in Richistani, and there are countless Poorians who are, better, more deserving people than I am, by any metric you would care to use save the only metric that matters, location of birth.

            That being said, i’m something of a consequentialist and I mostly think Capitalism works very very well for producing a society like Richistani, that in turn produces enormous amounts of wealth. I worry that alternative’s to Capitalism will ultimately produce so much less wealth that people are on net worse than they would be with Capitalism+redistribution. So I just want as much redistribution as we can reasonably get away with without strangling the goose that lays the golden eggs.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Western farmers are usually way more productive than second and third world farmers. So the second and third world farmers need to accept a rather low income to be competitive. The more unproductive Western farmers, like the Japanese rice farmers and the French, are due to a preference for having small domestic farms, which is a separate societal preference that foreign farmers obviously cannot satisfy.

            Of course, we can consider that a stupid preference, but that doesn’t make it go away.

            As for why we have in-societal solidarity far more than global solidarity, this is about the ingroup vs the outgroup, nationalism, the way we have organised governments/democracy (nationally), etc, etc. For example, national democracy means that as a country, there is collective agency. I don’t have a similar agency over Zimbabwe and as such, it makes sense to regard them more as ‘the other’ with regards to agency.

            IMHO, this topic is extremely under-explored in current societal discourse (including among the elite), which leads to a lack of understanding of how current structures actually work to enable Western society to function and why certain boundaries are pretty much inevitable unless these structures are replaced. I rarely see radicals from the left give any reasonable suggestions, while at least some libertarians do try. While I’m not convinced by their ideas, at least there is an attempt at human-workable structures that are non-nationalist.

          • Aapje says:

            @Spookykou

            Sure, but ultimately redistribution also requires that those who share have a feeling that their contribution isn’t just wasted. This in turn generally requires that the people who receive are either fundamentally incapable or if not, step up to the plate and give it their best. This is far from a given and IMHO it is quite a bit harder to effectively give to people with a different culture and a different government.

          • Incurian says:

            I imagine that most people(John Schilling excepted) do not ‘earn’ anything close to the wealth they take home through the work they do in any sort of objective meaning of those words.

            Then why don’t those people work for themselves and convert their labor into wealth with greater efficiency?

            Edit: Sorry if that came off as condescending or taunting, not intentional.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Incurian — I’m pretty sure that’s trying to imply the opposite of that, i.e. that people here are capturing huge rents as a result of working within a Western economy, rather than that huge rents are being captured from them.

            I disagree, of course, but it’s a fairly common position.

          • Spookykou says:

            Nornagest has correctly parsed my gibberish.

          • Incurian says:

            I’m actually just more confused now, but I’m willing to drop it.

          • Aapje says:

            Obviously the salaries of not very productive sectors like teaching and sales are hugely boosted by the productivity in other sectors, but just like the value of a currency is averaged over everyone who used it (so the euro is underpriced for Germany and overpriced for Greece), salaries are somewhat averaged as well. Not in the least because the cost of living is higher in richer countries. A Pakistani builder couldn’t afford a house in my country, with his Pakistani salary.

    • Incurian says:

      It is very difficult not to conclude that the lifestyles in the West are a direct result of a sometimes-subtle, sometimes quite blunt imperialism, ultimately backed by the threat of US soldiers rolling in and killing people who try to change things. If you’re of an even vaguely Marxist mind, it isn’t even a question; the history of US involvement in Marxist attempts at reform is quite bloody.

      The third world is poor because the US doesn’t let them be marxist enough?

      EDIT: Assuming I understood the argument correctly, how common is this position on “the left?”

      • random832 says:

        I get the impression that the argument is that the US doesn’t allow any kind of meaningful reform, and that the evidence for that is most visible to people who view marxism as a legitimate kind of reform (whereas someone who sees it as soviet influence will have to look harder for examples not tainted by that)

      • shakeddown says:

        Rare enough that I don’t think I’ve run into someone who holds it IRL, despite living in a liberal bubble.

      • cassander says:

        Depends on which version. “the US evilly prevented entirely peaceful reform that would have been beneficial in the name/service of savage capitalism” is certainly very common. “the world needs more Stalins” not so much.

        • Brad says:

          Would you put people that condemn the US’s role in overthrowing Allende and Mosaddegh into that former category? If so, I don’t think it is a quite fair representation.

          • cassander says:

            Well, the US had little to no role in Allende’s overthrow. The US tried to get rid of him, but failed. Pinochet’s coup happened months later, with a different set of people, after both the supreme court and the Chilean congress declared the Allende unconstitutional and called on the military to oust him. Decades of investigation haven’t found the slightest bit of evidence that the US was involved with Pinochet. Granted, we weren’t opposed, and he knew that, but we weren’t involved.

            Second, Pinochet’s reforms were as much a success as Allende’s were a failure. Allende put Chile into a tailspin, under Pinochet’s reforms it became the richest country in Latin america.

            Third, the shah’s regime certainly didn’t lack for reform. We don’t know what mossadegh would have looked like, but it’s hard to imagine a popular iranian regime giving women the right to vote and sending them to school, or removing the secular power of the Ayatollahs.

            So to answer your question, I think quite a lot of people would include Allende and Mossadegh in that first category, but I think they’re very wrong on the facts in doing so.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Cassander

            I can’t work out if you’re being serious not. Are you actually claiming the US didn’t play a significant role in the removal of Allende?

          • cassander says:

            @Art Vandelay

            >I can’t work out if you’re being serious not. Are you actually claiming the US didn’t play a significant role in the removal of Allende?

            I’m saying that, yes, because it’s true. The US had zero direct involvement with Pinochet. We were involved with an earlier coup plot, but all it managed to achieve was getting this guy killed. The most you can claim is that the US didn’t oppose the coup.

          • rlms says:

            It’s possibly wise to look at evidence other than what the CIA said at the time. They could potentially have incentives to be less than totally truthful.

          • cassander says:

            @rlms says:

            It’s possibly wise to look at evidence other than what the CIA said at the time. They could potentially have incentives to be less than totally truthful.

            First, the US government is nothing if not extensively documented. It’s hard to imagine that a coupe could be arranged with nothing going down on paper. Even the accidental coup against Ngo Diem generated paperwork.

            Second, what incentive would the CIA have to cover things up in 73? They launched an actual (and well documented) coup just a couple years before and didn’t try to hide it then, despite the failure. By 73, millions of dollars had been spent, and nothing had been achieved. If anything, what you should be expecting is people trying to take credit for pulling something off something they had little, if anything, to deal with, not denying credit for a achieving a long sought goal.

            Third, when talking about what the CIA did or didn’t do, what evidence do you claim is relevant that isn’t internal CIA documents? The only other people who would have known about it were the coup actors themselves, and I’m pretty sure none of them has said that they were actually taking marching orders from the CIA.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @cassander

            We’re using the word role in different ways. I’m not arguing that the US were in direct contact with Pinochet but I don’t think this is a necessary condition for us to say they played a significant role.

            You’re right that the US government is well documented. You can read the Senate’s own report on Covert Action in Chile 1963-1973 which details how the US tried to bring Allende down through various means: economic pressure both overt and covert, trying to isolate Chile diplomatically, supporting political opposition, and generally trying to foment unrest to cause Allende’s overthrow, letting it be known in the military that they would be supportive of a coup, and even–as you point out–going as far as directly backing a coup.

            I don’t know about you but I reckon when the most powerful nation on earth does that to a country, the chances of a coup taking place in said country go WAY up.

            Whether or not the US directly backed the coup that was eventually successful, it seems perfectly reasonable to argue that they played a significant role in making the coup possible.

            What’s really at stake here will become clearer if we go back to your initial characterisation of many on the left:

            the US evilly prevented entirely peaceful reform that would have been beneficial in the name/service of savage capitalism

            To begin, let’s separate the idea of whether the US prevented reform from the notion of evil. You seem to be making the claim that the US didn’t stop reform, that Allende signed his own death warrant with failed policies that led to instability and eventually a successful coup. The US didn’t stop beneficial reform, the reform had a negative effect on the economy–because this is what socialist reform does–and the socialist system failed–because socialist systems are not viable. Am I understanding you correctly?

            When we look at the broader context of US involvement it becomes clear that the graph you link to can’t possibly demonstrate that socialism is bad for GDP. Perhaps the dip on the graph is caused by socialism, but it could just as well be caused by the the mightiest nation on earth exerting it’s strength to undermine Chile’s elected government and economy.

            Arguments like yours are popular these days: history has shown that socialism just doesn’t work and that capitalism is the best system. History has not shown this at all because the viability of socialism has been severely undermined by the activities of the US. The US has been particularly effective at stamping out the more democratic and peaceful forms of socialism while the more authoritarian variants generally fare better in resisting the projection of US power.

            I don’t think the question is whether the US has used it’s dominant position to make socialism considerably less viable than it would be otherwise, I think it’s self-evidently clear that this is the case. The question for me is whether it was justified in doing so. Personally I don’t think it was, but I can’t completely discount the possibility that heading towards the left is inevitably The Road to Serfdom, or (far more likely in my opinion) that the dominant position of the USSR would have pushed any socialist country towards it’s highly-flawed Communist model.

          • cassander says:

            @Art Vandelay

            You’re right that the US government is well documented. You can read the Senate’s own report on Covert Action in Chile 1963-1973 which details how the US tried to bring Allende down through various means: economic pressure both overt and covert, trying to isolate Chile diplomatically, supporting political opposition, and generally trying to foment unrest to cause Allende’s overthrow, letting it be known in the military that they would be supportive of a coup, and even–as you point out–going as far as directly backing a coup.

            Tried, and failed.

            >I don’t know about you but I reckon when the most powerful nation on earth does that to a country, the chances of a coup taking place in said country go WAY up.

            Doesn’t seem to have worked on cuba….

            >it seems perfectly reasonable to argue that they played a significant role in making the coup possible.

            only in the sense that the big bang also made the coup possible. There were cries in Argentina for the military to oust allende before the US even got involved. Not everything that happens in the world is about america.

            >To begin, let’s separate the idea of whether the US prevented reform from the notion of evil. You seem to be making the claim that the US didn’t stop reform, that Allende signed his own death warrant with failed policies that led to instability and eventually a successful coup. The US didn’t stop beneficial reform, the reform had a negative effect on the economy–because this is what socialist reform does–and the socialist system failed–because socialist systems are not viable. Am I understanding you correctly?

            That’s pretty fair.

            >When we look at the broader context of US involvement it becomes clear that the graph you link to can’t possibly demonstrate that socialism is bad for GDP. Perhaps the dip on the graph is caused by socialism, but it could just as well be caused by the the mightiest nation on earth exerting it’s strength to undermine Chile’s elected government and economy.

            The extent to which the US actually did that is, at best, uneven. the US forgave hundreds of millions in loan debt while allende was in office, and the IMF gave them more loans, which it could not have done in the face of stiff american resistance. Yes, nixon talked about making argentina squeal, but nixon talked about a lot of things. The claim that allende’s policies led to a breakdown of the economy and massive strikes is not exactly an extraordinary one. The country WAS paralyzed by strikes and that almost certainly affected the economy more than vague american economic meddling.

            > History has not shown this at all because the viability of socialism has been severely undermined by the activities of the US.

            Socialism has failed in plenty of places where there was no US interaction or involvement whatsoever. And it takes a certain sort of chutzpah to argue that socialism would have worked fine if only they had more involvement with capitalist America.

            >The US has been particularly effective at stamping out the more democratic and peaceful forms of socialism while the more authoritarian variants generally fare better in resisting the projection of US power.

            That is not an argument I have ever seen made. I have seen arguments of the “preventing peaceful change makes violent change inevitable” sort, but not this particular one. I’m not even sure it’s empirically correct, the US certainly didn’t work to stamp out the non-aligned movement or social democracy in europe.

            >I don’t think the question is whether the US has used it’s dominant position to make socialism considerably less viable than it would be otherwise, I think it’s self-evidently clear that this is the case.

            that’s clear in certain occasions. It’s also self evidently clear that the USSR used its position to made socialism more viable in other places. And if you want to say “well the USSR could help as much” my response is, of course not, socialism doesn’t work very well.

            The question for me is whether it was justified in doing so. Personally I don’t think it was, but I can’t completely discount the possibility that heading towards the left is inevitably The Road to Serfdom, or (far more likely in my opinion) that the dominant position of the USSR would have pushed any socialist country towards it’s highly-flawed Communist model.

            Justified or not strikes me as an unanswerable, and ultimately unimportant, question. What matters is the results produced.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Cassander

            I’m rather baffled by your opinion on the coup. As I understand it, the debate is generally between the view that the Allende government was brought down through a mixture of internal and external (i.e. US meddling) factors or whether US meddling was the primary factor. The former position was taken by the Senate Church Committee in the report I cited above: “The demise of the brief Allende experiment in 1970-73 came as the cumulative result of many factors-external and internal.” (32). Many historians and commentators tend towards the latter view, either by emphasising the role played by the activities the US has admitted to or by asserting evidence for more direct involvement. I didn’t realise anyone actually took the position that the US’s extensive actions against the Allende government played no part.

            What’s the basis for your opinion that the Church Committee was wrong in believing that Allende’s overthrow can’t be explained purely on the basis of factors internal to Chile? It seems almost certain to me that they would play down the US’s role rather than exaggerate it.

          • cassander says:

            @Art Vandelay says:

            >What’s the basis for your opinion that the Church Committee was wrong in believing that Allende’s overthrow can’t be explained purely on the basis of factors internal to Chile? It seems almost certain to me that they would play down the US’s role rather than exaggerate it.

            The sort of bland, bureaucratic, boilerplate you quote is basically unfalsifiable. But I look a the situation in the country, I look at the history of US covert action. The CIA is not a crack team of ninja assassins, their record in covert action is generally not good. The story “socialism went failed to work again in a country with a quasi-praetorian guard military” is a hell of a lot more plausible than “the CIA proved to be geniuses destabilizing a country through non-coup methods for just about the only time in their entire history.” The CIA did not cause world copper prices to fall. The CIA did not cause Allende’s land reform to alienate his political allies. The CIA was not why Allende’s attempts to raise wages caused massive inflation. the CIA did not cause the chamber of deputies to vote for the military to remove Allende almost 2:1, or the supreme court to unanimously condemn him. The CIA didn’t cause mass strikes or hundreds of thousands of people to march on the capital in protest of the hyperinflation.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The CIA didn’t cause mass strikes or hundreds of thousands of people to march on the capital in protest of the hyperinflation.

            That is the one thing the CIA does claim to have done.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Cassander

            But they did give millions of dollars to the opposition, much of which almost certainly filtered down to the strikers which is what made it possible to sustain the strike as long as they did. They did play an active role in the killing of René Schneider, the commander-in-chief who almost certainly would have blocked any coup attempt. They did fund large-scale propaganda campaigns against the government. They did let it be known throughout the army that they would be supportive of a coup. The US did tighten the flow of aid and loans into Chile. These are just the things that they have admitted to. Nobody said the CIA are ninjas, perhaps in your imagination I made that argument.

            Maybe you live in an alternate universe where the most powerful nation on earth putting a lot of effort into destabilising a country in order to induce a coup has no effect on the likelihood of a coup taking place but it’s not the one I live in.

          • cassander says:

            @Art Vandelay says:

            >Maybe you live in an alternate universe where the most powerful nation on earth putting a lot of effort into destabilising a country in order to induce a coup has no effect on the likelihood of a coup taking place but it’s not the one I live in.

            No, I live in this universe, which is the one where such failures are not uncommon, for example, in Cuba, Maoist China, North Vietnam, Iran post-79, North Korea, and the Sandinistas, just to name a few. The reach of American covert action has almost always exceeded its grasp. Even in the 50s, the supposed golden age, the coups were comedies of errors and near run things. The ability of the CIA to dictate the fate of nations has always been minimal, the idea that 8 million dollars was enough to buy chile hard to credit, especially at the same time as the US was lending allende’s government almost half a billion a year in loans, credits, and debt forgiveness.

    • Salem says:

      It is very difficult not to conclude that the lifestyles in the West are a direct result of a sometimes-subtle, sometimes quite blunt imperialism, ultimately backed by the threat of US soldiers rolling in and killing people who try to change things.

      My family comes from Iraq. Iraq is a poor country, and has certainly suffered under western imperialism.

      But.

      You know what was much worse for Iraq than western imperialism? Not having Western imperialism. The idea that Western wealth is based on exploitation of the Third World is a fantasy. The Third World isn’t poor because some greedy Westerner stole our stuff, it’s poor because we don’t, and never have, created enough value. Prior to WW1, when it wasn’t being “exploited” by the West, Iraq was far poorer than today, almost unbelievably so – quite literally a medieval country.

      Even the sources of value Third World countries do produce are frequently down to the West. “Natural resources” are rarely natural. The reason that Iraqi oil (or Congolese rubber, or Nigerien uranium, or …) have value is because of Western scientists and entrepreneurs have discovered valuable uses for them. My grandmother grew up on what is now a huge oil field. In her mother’s time, that was virtually useless – the local women used to collect the surface oil for lamps. It took the internal combustion engine, modern drilling techniques, etc, to make that “natural” resource valuable.

      The way to get rich is to produce things of value. Sweatshops are far from ideal, because they don’t produce much value, but they’re much better than subsistence farming, which is why subsistence farmers queue round the block to get one of those sweet sweet sweatshop jobs. The “situations which make the practice defensible in the first place” are the fact that there are still millions of desperately poor subsistence farmers in the world. That’s not the fault of the West, it’s been true since the dawn of agriculture. The beginning of economics was Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” He had no need to explain poverty – that’s the default.

      • Cypren says:

        Only by being raised in luxurious wealth and societal abundance, completely insulated from actual struggle for survival, can one come to the conclusion that wealth and abundance are the natural and proper state of man and that poverty is the result of intentional action, rather than the reverse.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      the fact that you’re able to read this puts you in a worldwide elite on a scale you cannot comprehend

      This seems like an exaggeration. Approximately 5/6 of the world is literate. If you’re referring to internet access, at least 40% have that. And while I doubt that many illiterates use the Internet, if we naively assume it’s distributed evenly, you still get more than 1/3 of the world able to read things online. Not great equality, but far from some incomprehensibly elite privilege.

      • Cadie says:

        “Worldwide elite on a scale you cannot comprehend?” The median worldwide wage is just under $10,000 and the mean is about $18,000. So an annual salary of $15,000-$20,000, which covers some readers’ salaries, puts you close to the worldwide average and 1.5-2x the median. That’s obviously better than what the majority of people are getting, but calling it worldwide elite an extreme exaggeration. That’s like saying an average nurse practitioner for instance is American elite on an incomprehensible scale, and…. no. They’re upper middle class and making a nice salary. It’s good but nothing jaw-dropping.

      • John Schilling says:

        I would say that being literate in English, sufficiently well-read to hang out in a rationalist-adjacent space without feeling or being treated as an unwanted outsider, with reliable and convenient internet access and with enough leisure time and/or job flexibility to facilitate recreational blogging, puts one in the low-end “worldwide elite”. Top 10%, maybe literal “one percenter” but I’d have to do the math on that (and being able to do math like that for fun is probably another one-percenter sort of thing, but a different once percent).

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      Pardon my arrogance expanding on the Heinlein quote Cassander offered:

      Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man…

      But this is it. This is pretty much how we who are not on the Left often feel about it.

      Poverty, enslavement, war, and early death are the default condition of mankind throughout history with very few exceptions.

      When people talk about the “Fixed-Pie Fallacy”, they usually mean the idea that the amount of wealth currently in the world will not tend to expand in the future. But it is fallacious in retrospect as well. You talk about WEIRD wealth as if it has always existed rather than having been intentionally created; like the goods and services and security I enjoy were once spread evenly around the globe until my people came and stole them and concentrated the wealth in our own greedy Capitalist / Imperialist hands.

      This is not the case. Poverty, enslavement, war, early death; that is what nature says you get, therefor that is all anyone “deserves”. In so far as a person enjoys any level of material comfort, freedom, security, and longevity, that person is fortunate; they are enjoying the fruits of the labors of their ancestors who over the generations clawed their way out of the pit of natural human misery by building up the physical, social, technological, and human capital required to live a better life.

      Those workers in sweatshops are just grasping the first, lowest rung of the ladder that Western capitalism has built out of the eternal Hobbes/Malthus bottomless pit of despair. Granted, things aren’t so great at the bottom of the ladder (not now, and not when my own great-great-grandparents were doing their time in the mills) but it’s better than the pit, and things can get far better from there. With the accumulation of various forms of capital, those people and the societies they belong to will hopefully become wealthier and more pleasant places to live and work. I very much hope they do, would that everyone could enjoy comfort and leisure as I do.

      But if those people and societies don’t rise, don’t accumulate capital for whatever reason, it is not a loss; poverty, enslavement, war, and early death are all anyone is entitled to and all their pre-colonial ancestors would have reasonably expected.

      • rlms says:

        So if I enslave you and remove your material comforts, freedom, security and longevity, you are just getting what you deserve?

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I think that’s a fairly uncharitable reading. As far as I can tell, ‘deserve’ should be specifically contrasted with ‘can reasonably expect’. As in, our ancestors that suffered under poverty etc had not done anything bad so as to deserve them as punishment, they were simply unlucky to live in a world where that was the default state of almost everyone alive. If you come along and take away my nice things just because you can, you have not inflicted on me anything that I deserve (for normal everyday understandings of ‘deserve’), but you have reset my experience to being closer in those respects to most of humanity over history.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          @ rlms:

          Not “what I deserve” in the moral sense.

          It’s more that I can’t rationally expect to be forever and in all cases secure from that sort of thing. Poverty, slavery, war, and early death being the default, I ought to keep this in mind and measure my current state against it. If I come to believe that Wealth, freedom, security, and longevity are my normal, stable condition, then I am deluding myself and courting disaster.

          If I subsequently project this delusional “abundance mindset” on the rest of the world, then I wind up with the impression that Thegnskald expresses elsewhere in this thread which presumably motivated the OP:

          Where would you, personally, draw the line of oppressor versus oppressed?

          I’d say it’s not nearly so simple. Society is naturally oppressive; we oppress one another. We are all oppressor; we are all oppressed.

          You see? If a person’s expected amount of wealth, etc is zero, then I would see society and my ancestors as having granted me an enormous boon that I am able to live as I do. But if I believe that an abundance of all good things with no encumbrance of freedom is the natural state of man, then my own life’s disappointments as well as the suffering of poor people in the developing world are a phenomenon that requires an explanation.

          Apparently, were it not for evil society and especially Western imperialism, all people would live in uninterrupted abundance and freedom.

          He goes on describing every limit and every duty which is undertaken to build up wealth, freedom, and security as a harm that has been inflicted on the individual:

          Indeed, I think the upper classes are the most heavily oppressed, as the acceptance of this oppression is one of the key mechanisms by which the upper classes distinguish themselves from the lower classes. Dressing a particular way, consuming a particular way, working particular jobs, marrying particular people, holding particular beliefs, spending your youth in particular ways. The lives of the upper tiers of our society are constricted in ways the lower tiers are not; improving your social class is, to a significant extent, mostly a matter of giving up freedoms

          The conventional, and I believe correct, interpretation of these conditions in the upper classes and the upwardly mobile is that this self-discipline and sacrifice for the future is exactly that which makes wealth. freedom, etc. possible in the first place in a world that is very much bent towards misery.

  17. shakeddown says:

    Something this made me think about: Is there any way to educate people to be more agentic? Are there intervensions that help with it?

    My personal anecdote: The first two years of my PhD, I didn’t manage to get any research done. This was partly because I was in a field that my thinking style is unsuited for, but also in large part because I was non-agentic over it (my most shameful moment is asking my adviser what some definition meant because I hadn’t understood him, only to have him ask “have you checked wikipedia?”).
    Then I took a couple of months off to re-learn how to program, which turned out to be a pretty great way of training myself to be agentic. It had a lot of trivial inconveniences which can actually be made to go away with a moderate amount of effort (can’t figure out what the heck a compiler is. Okay now I get it, but the one I downloaded isn’t working. Third compiler finally works, and suddenly I can write C programs and run them). And then when I got back to math after this, I’d suddenly gained the ability to deal with minor inconveniences and get actual work done.

    • skef says:

      When considering this question, at what age/point of development are you thinking of when this education would happen?

      If it’s during childhood, it seems like a good answer is: “Don’t helicopter-parent.”

      For “remedial” education, an effective approach is to create a social environment in which students are expected to do things, and then not give them the “tools” to do it. That seems to have been the (probably unintentional) approach of my alma mater, and while the experience generally unpleasant and I’m not sure I would do it again given the choice, it is effective.

      • shakeddown says:

        Both, ideally. Mine happened in grad school, which makes me optimistic that it’s something that can be affected past childhood.

        In retrospect, my adviser/department was a lot like your alma mater. It probably helped me develop, but it took me a couple of years, so there’s probably room for improvement if we can get it right.

        I think youth movements that leave a lot of room for self-organization and initiative – hiking groups (boy scouts in America?), theatre groups, and the like, if they’re done right, are probably great for this.

    • keranih says:

      I think Scott identifies a real problem, but also overstates its prevalence. There are severely incapable and under motivated people in our society. Some have severe damage of one sort or another that keeps them from being self-regulating independent adults, and those people legit need minders.

      I think it’s far more frequent for the person to be at least marginally capable, but without cause to put forth the effort to work at the top of their competency. In our charitable society, they don’t thrive, but they don’t starve, either. And it’s no more fair for me to be generally self sufficiently competent than it is for, oh, Emily Blunt to be pretty and talented in ways that I am not.

      Ability to exert agency is on a spectrum. So long as we don’t allow people to starve when they can’t take care of themselves, we will be accepting some lack of agency. Where to draw the line between “on your own head be the consequences” and “you are now issued a minder to make decisions for you” is something reasonable people of good heart can seriously disagree.

      • shakeddown says:

        Still, it seems like mild improvements in agency are a good thing. Assuming (very hypothetically) that we had a low-cost intervention – say, an hour a week in seventh grade – that could noticeably raise it, it might be some good low-hanging fruit to actually improve education.
        This blog has made me generally skeptical that these kind of school interventions can be helpful, but this is an issue that doesn’t get explored much and might legitimately have low-hanging fruit that could be useful.

        • keranih says:

          I agree that if such a low cost intervention existed, and it served to, oh, decrease the number of absolute inagent people by oh, 10%, then that would be worth working on.

          This is an issue that doesn’t get explored much and might legitimately have low-hanging fruit that could be useful.

          Emmm. I think it gets explored maybe more than one thinks. We’ve talked on this blog before about Hawaii’s HOPE program. One of the articles I read about the program (a year or so back, sorry, no citation) included a passage about the experiences of a social services staffer who was trying to help a family get back on their feet.

          The family was on rent assistance, but the assistance was contingent on the tenant paying their portion of the rent. The family had failed to do so for several months running. The social worker had, after several warnings, gotten the head of the household in for (yet another) budget counseling session. After going over several discretionary excess expenses and money that had just “gone missing” the staffer pointed at this one reoccurring expenses. “What’s this?”
          “Oh, that’s the cable bill. You remember, when we first talked about the budget, if I can afford it, I could have cable. So I got cable.”
          “You have a cable bill that is almost as much as your rent.”
          “Well, you know, it has those programs on it, for the baby. Educational.”
          “And you pay your cable on time every month.”
          “Well, yeah, if I don’t pay on time, they cut me off. I’m not *stupid*.”

          It is, of course, impossible for the staffer to apply that kind of pressure to the family regarding the rent of the house, and the family knows it. They’re not stupid.

          Inagency has a number of causes. Different causes need different cures. And people being what they are, we don’t have good tests to sort out the truely broken from the unmotivated. And we are (to our credit) unwilling to use the tests we do have.

          • skef says:

            I don’t understand your second point here. The OP proposes that the degree of agency is under-explored. You argue it isn’t, providing an example of a parent’s reasoning. But the parent is choosing to pay for cable on time over rent. That doesn’t seem to be a case of reduced agency, even if it is a sub-optimal outcome in some other sense.

            Or shorter: acting on your impulses when it isn’t in your interest is a meta-cognitive error, but one of too much agency rather than too little.

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            I think that some of the low hanging fruit in my country is to teach proper budgeting. A big part of agency is understanding how actions lead to outcomes, especially when it comes to financial decisions. A remarkable number of people (even well-educated) seem to just wing it, which is very risky given the existence of debt traps.

          • keranih says:

            Skef –

            My apologies for being unclear. My point is in the difficulty in figuring out the degree of lack of agency. We would assume that someone who could not over a period of several months to budget properly for rent lacked agency/self regulation. However, as shown in the (completely uncited) example above, the household head was perfectly able to exhibit agency when it mattered to them. And in this case, it mattered because of well regulated negative re-enforcement.

            We don’t have the manpower (nor a quick fix, which would be really nice to have, and I would like a pony and a plastic rocket while we’re at it) to provide the monitoring and correction needed to force assumption of agency. Part of the reason we don’t do that is because we’d be called monsters if we did.

            Depending on the circumstances, I think sometimes we *would* be monsters.

            @ Aapje –

            I agree that budgeting is an important skill, but unless coupled with the low time preference characteristic, it does little good to teach someone how to do something that they can’t do.

            (Speaking in generalities, here. I hope you are more right on the margins.)

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            I agree, but it seems like a quick win to improve the decisions of people who do have that ability.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Conventional schooling generally doesn’t teach anything which would affect practical decisions that the student will make. (I’ve seen people talk about school courses about financial management, but I think it’s rare.) That isn’t quite fair– apparently some places have good (or goodish)sex education.

            This absence is so pervasive that I think it needs to be explained. Some of it might be fear of blowback if the parents disagree with the advice. Some of it might be a status performance (we’re above the dreary details of life, we just teach abstract knowledge). I’m open to other theories, but I really think this is something that’s going on.

          • Randy M says:

            My High School did have a brief optional course on things like balancing your check-book. That’s the only example I can remember; I took the course to because it rounded out the credit hours when taking drivers ed (another example) during summer school.
            Health classes include sections on smoking, drugs, nutrition, exercise, sex ed, etc. Reading, writing, and math is useful everyday, at least the fundamentals if not the interpretation of Shakespeare.
            I think the issue is that there aren’t enough “life skills” to fill 12 years of classes, so what is there is spread pretty thin. Also the curriculum isn’t updated as often as our culture changes the past few decades. And they expect (not unreasonably) that by teaching the three R’s, one can then go on to balance accounts or fill in a government form. I really don’t think there’s much parental opposition to teaching how to run personal finances, and I doubt it would be heeded overly if so–after all, schools do still have those sex ed classes.

            As to how to teach discipline and self-control, I think it is tried, a bit, but it is hard to envision an effective curriculum for it.

          • Brad says:

            I work for a textbook company and we include financial literacy materials in our civics and economics books. But after talking to some teachers and just reflecting on the issue, I don’t think it is possible to make these lessons stick.

            I was watching the college tournament on jeopardy the other day and none of the three very bright kids knew what vesting was in the context of retirement benefits. As trivia goes it was not a terribly obscure question, but it is a topic that probably had never come up in their lives.

            Until you yourself have an overdraft that costs you $35 you don’t have it is hard to really grasp in your gut the importance of budgeting.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve been thinking that schools could teach how to recognize common scams. I think this would be more exciting than routine maintenance.

            http://www.metafilter.com/165345/A-pink-fluffy-reverse-funnel

          • Aapje says:

            Why not let the school run a pyramid scheme? Educational and we have more funding for education 😛

          • Nornagest says:

            Not a pyramid scheme as such, but those fundraisers where some outside company gets schools to pressure their students to sell magazine subscriptions or something in exchange for cheap toys (for the kids) and a cut of the profits (for the school) are awfully damn close to the same business model.

          • Randy M says:

            Calling the toys cheap, ime, is quite the understatement. Generally it was a ball of fuzz with eyes glued on as the reward for most drones students, with some lavish rewards for a few raffle winners or big earners.

            It’d be interesting to know whether the experience made participants more or less likely to fall into such schemes later in life.

          • Nornagest says:

            I sold candy bars at a 50-cent markup and pocketed the difference, which probably says something about me.

          • Randy M says:

            It says you should be in sales. Those things weren’t worth $1.50.

    • Spookykou says:

      I am almost exactly the ‘worst case’ scenario that he describes there, in that I find it almost impossible to do anything, although I can’t articulate why I have such a hard time doing things to other people/my psychiatrists, and unlike Scott, the few times I have talked about this it seemed to genuinely confuse my doctor(maybe this is just a problem with my inability to articulate the problem though?)

      I am very curious if anyone has any advice on how I can better explain this problem to my future doctors/things that would help me lead a more normal life?

      I normally rely on an anecdote, where in I was trading in my phone , and the phone company sent me a pre-printed label/envelope to send my old phone in with, I put the phone in the envelope and put the label on the envelope and watched it sit on my desk for two months until the phone company billed me 600 dollars. I imagine I might end up homeless without the support of my family, I am not sure.

      More recently, I abruptly stopped taking Venlafaxine(I luckily? didn’t suffer any withdrawal symptoms) because I couldn’t work up the motivation to go get my prescription from the pharmacy that automatically refills it, texts me to come get it, and is at most a 1 minute drive, 5 minutes walking from my house.

      • skef says:

        It seems as if some psychological propensities are a matter of degree, with different people having different “set points” and more extreme set points amounting to a psychological problem (because of the social or physical world we live in). So it seems like some extreme traits could be clearly described in terms of the other extreme, especially in cases where the latter is well-known. But in practice, I’ve found that an application of “opposite” seems to already require too much understanding to be of much help.

        What I take you as describing is an unusually low (and life-interfering) level of basic motivation which is not obviously related to mood. You’re not sitting and imagining following-through and feeling an active disllike so much as not tending to get started. To me this sounds like a set-point on the other end from OCD. But if you say “opposite of OCD” most people will think something like opposite of clean/neat and arrive at hoarding or whatever, even if on reflection they could see that the answer is kinda dumb.

        According to the dime-store understanding of neurotransmitters, which has all the problems that our host and The Last Psychiatrist have discussed (and more), yours would be a dopaminergic issue. There is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence that the standard recreational stimulants (e.g. methamphetamine) easily overcome this specific problem. They also have … drawbacks.

        • Spookykou says:

          You describe the problem very well as I understand it, so the obvious follow up is, how do I get methamphetamines? /s

          When I talk to doctors I always describe this problem, and my depression(which I think is probably related), and they always seem to ignore this problem and just give me anti-depressants, which I have had little success with. Maybe I should seek out a new doctor and only bring up the low basic motivation problem. I am not sure if this counts as/I could get a diagnosis as ADD or something similar, based on my symptoms.

          • skef says:

            so the obvious follow up is, how do I get methamphetamines?

            You ask a local twelve-year-old to buy them for you at the playground, of course. Don’t you watch TV?

          • shakeddown says:

            Have you tried modafinil? For me it’s either massivly helped or did nothing for my motivation level, depending on the situation.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            My understanding is that the differences between methamphetamine and regular d-amphetamine are very minor and illicit methamphetamine is more popular simply because garage chemists have no reason to undertake the extra demethylation step.

          • skef says:

            Continuing with the dime-store pharmacology, you could try nudging them into the drug that is both considered an anti-depressant and diddles with dopamine, which is Wellbutrin. The thing is, for drugs used in common psychiatric cases, substantial changes in motivation not related to mood are probably considered side effects to be avoided. Wellbutrin doesn’t tend to make people “high” in that way. Still, it might be worth a try.

            (A risk with just talking about the motivation problem is that a doctor might pick you out as a seeker. Lots of doctors have been burned many times over and are quick on that draw.)

          • skef says:

            @Bosch

            Yes, but any amphetamine is going to raise eyebrows in this situation, and not for invalid reasons. The hard-core stimulants do “work for” some people, but not for as many people as are taking them. There are lots of prescription junky messes out there.

            (Meth, for that matter, isn’t Schedule-I in the U.S., although it is a triple-prescription deal. The increased (decreased?) scheduling could just be due to reputation, as is likely with heroin, but out in the world meth has a solid reputation for being a bit more fun.)

          • Spookykou says:

            The legality of Modafinil has kept me away but I am interesting in trying it.

          • Protagoras says:

            @skef, Unfortunately, drugs are really complicated, and while wellbutrin “diddles with dopamine,” as you say, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will provide the same beneficial effects as amphetamines. My own experience with wellbutrin was, in the doctor’s words, “paradoxical” (it did things quite different from, almost opposite to, what it was supposed to do), and while it apparently works for some people, just in the circle of people I know who are willing to talk about their medication there are several others who have reported bad experiences with the drug.

          • Vermillion says:

            It’s worked for me, but regardless it sounds like Spooky you really need to change your medication to something else, or at least to supplement it, whether it’s with modafinil, or wellbutrin, or ritalin, this demotivation seems to me like it is very much negatively impacting your life.

          • skef says:

            @Protagoras

            That’s pretty much what I said, isn’t it?

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            @Spooky:
            I have an N=1 experience with Wellbutrin (generic bupropion now, cheap).

            I had already been on Lexapro (brand-name, then generic escitalopram) for six years or so; the Lexapro helped immensely with my mood—downward spirals didn’t get started as easily, and anxiety lessened—but I still wasn’t really doing stuff.

            Wellbutrin surprised me with how quickly it took effect: within a week or so, I felt like I had more energy to spend. My previous low-energy state was not like a physical feeling, but more like a mental one. The way I describe it is that I used to have a broken gas gage, with the needle stuck on Empty, so my brain was always looking for ways to put things off or cut corners. Then the Wellbutrin fixed the gage, and I found myself thinking about something, “I should put that away,” and then actually putting it away.

            (Note that, on starting Wellbutrin, my Lexapro dose went from 30 mg/day to 10 mg/day; this reduced or eliminated the libido loss from the Lexapro.)

            I haven’t noticed any change in the Wellbutrin’s effect over the last several years; I feel sorry for people who reported experiencing it and then losing it.

            Six months after starting Wellbutrin, I tried Adderall, which turns out to be a mix of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. This turned me into a gigantic asshole who had to remember to eat, so I have more sympathy for people with impulse-control issues now. My theory is that the Wellbutrin was already doing everything that could be done for motivation and the feeling of energy, so all I was getting from the Adderall was side-effects. This may also have been when I got really good at Tetris.

            At least for depression, some psychiatric meds seem to randomly work for some people and others for other people, for no good reason. You probably need to keep trying different ones until you find one (or a pair) that works for you. (The fact that persistent effort is needed on the part of someone who already has depression is my least-favorite of life’s many ironies.)

            Scott has a big post titled Things That Sometimes Help If You Have Depression, which I highly recommend reading. In fact, I should go re-read it now…

    • skef says:

      Given @Spookykou’s useful and pertinent addition to this conversation, I think it’s worth picking it a bit apart from what @shakedown describes. The former seems to amount to an issue of motivation for following through on what already has some status as a plan. The latter is more about what you might call “epistemic agency”, or motivation for planning, and especially the more intensive kinds of planning that amount to learning. Think of the guy (from a commercial? A gif?) who tries to repair his own faucet, turns the water back on, turns the tap and water sprays out*. I think of people who lack epistemic agency as seeing almost everything in the world like that — generally thinking that every task has some matching professional, who they aren’t.

      That’s why I mentioned “helicopter parenting”. As a wide-spread phenomenon this seems pretty recent, maybe over the past three or four decades. And it doesn’t seem particularly tied to class. To avoid it a person needs some sense of “hey, you can do things” and then “hey, you can find out how to do things” and then “hey, you can generally find out how to find out how to do just about anything people do, and in the process make a pretty good judgment about whether that would be worth it for you.” Getting this sense used to happen more naturally because for a while there were a bunch of standard hobbies, like working on cars, that served as a straightforward model for a bunch of other stuff. Now we often don’t ask much of anything from kids that isn’t “structured to be learned”, partly because there’s no time given all the stuff that is.

      So this is one problem that seems easier to address than most. Fix your own plumbing sometimes with your kid! (If you’re worried about that guy, stick to unpressurized pipes.) Push tinkering hobbies on them, even if you’re just being mercenary about their futures. Etc.

      * And it is a guy, right? And his wife is I-told-you-so-ing him about not having called a plumber?

      I hate culture.

      • Incurian says:

        Push tinkering hobbies on them, even if you’re just being mercenary about their futures. Etc.

        I think this is a good idea in theory, and possibly in practice for most people, but my dad tried this with me and I just was not interested in learning.

        Some unsolicited self disclosure: I do have the sense that I can teach myself practical skills, and occasionally have done so successfully, but in general I’d just rather hire someone else to do it. Maybe this is a different kind of personality flaw.

        • shakeddown says:

          Would it have helped if you had different available hobbies? If your dad had tried, say, mechanic skills, programming, theatre production, hiking, etc., do you think you’d have found a couple that you stuck with, from which you could then extrapolate?

          • Incurian says:

            He did lots of different stuff (thinking back on it, is impressive how much stuff he’s good at), but none of it could compete with video games or books.

      • Cypren says:

        I’ve always thought the biggest problem of “helicopter parenting” is the reduced risk tolerance. People require negative reinforcement in order to to learn behaviors; @keranih has a good anecdote up above about paying a cable bill over rent that illustrates this rather well, I think: failure to pay the cable bill results in immediate negative consequences, while failure to pay rent has a number of buffers built into the process that can be negotiated to forestall or eliminate consequences.

        Modern society has become so obsessed with eliminating any risk or negative consequences for children that we no longer allow them to learn from failure. Instead, they grow up always believing that there’s an authority to appeal to, that they can avoid or forestall or be bailed out of whatever negative things happen to them. The more “compassion” we try to show to people, the less likely they are to learn from it.

        The most disciplined, admirable person I know personally is a strong example of the countervailing philosophy of self-reliance. He grew up in a divorced household with a mother who was a young beauty whose entire philosophy on life was that she could trade her looks for rich gifts from men; she never learned to support herself doing anything, had no ambitions to do so and cruised from one boyfriend or husband to another, always looking for a handout. She completely neglected her two children along the way but used the state’s strongly female-biased family court laws to keep full custody of them, using them as bargaining chips against their wealthy father to extract support payments (which she then spent entirely on herself).

        As a result, my friend was forced to grow up quickly. He had to learn to do household chores like laundry and cooking when he was about 6 years old, or he didn’t have clean clothes to wear or food to eat. He applied himself towards school and took every opportunity to spend time there after classes specifically to avoid having to go home.

        In short, by the time he was 12 years old, he was more of an adult than nearly any college graduate in our society.

        I do not believe this is normal. I think most kids in his situation would have been lost and confused, permanently damaged by the neglect rather than strengthened by it; my friend credits having the example of his father to look up to (on the occasions he got to see him), even if his mother was a disaster. But I also look at the outcome and wonder how many kids would benefit from more hardship in their life than we currently allow them to have. Dumping a child in the world and saying, “fend for yourself or starve” is cruel. But keeping them infantilized until they’re in their 20s, then turning them out unprepared into the world and saying “okay, NOW fend for yourself or starve!” seems just as terrible.

        • shakeddown says:

          This is a situation that has an effective healthy middle. Bob Belcher springs to mind as a good (tv) example of a dad who’s supportive and involved while still letting his children fend for themselves to a healthy degree. (I’d say my dad was also pretty good along this axis, so this isn’t an unrealistic TV portrayal).

  18. Deiseach says:

    And I see my boys are determined to make crying fools out of FiveThirtyEight’s football prediction stattos.

    FiveThirtyEight for tonight’s match (currently nearing the end of the first half):

    To win – Liverpool 64%, Leicester 15%

    Draw – 24%

    Actual results at half-time:

    Leicester 2 – Liverpool 0

    Let’s see what happens in the second half after Klopp has a quiet, fatherly word with the team 🙂

    EDIT: Twenty minutes into the second half, Leicester make it 3-0! Sorry, FiveThirtyEight, looks like you’ll be refining your data after tonight’s result 😀

    • John Schilling says:

      I feel compelled to point out that, twenty minutes into the second half, the Atlanta Falcons were winning our Superbowl 28-9 over the Patriots.

      Leicester 2016. Brexit. The Chicago Cubs. Donald Trump. Superbowl LI. This is not the year to claim victory even one minute before the final score is posted.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, it’s Liverpool. You know the Damon Runyon quote “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet”? And to that you can add “And Liverpool will start off great, falter mid-season, seem to be recovering with a few flattering-to-deceive performances, then end getting beaten by teams they should be able to kick off the pitch” 🙂

        Ouch. Re-reading the metrics FiveThirtyEight use to analyse and forecast, and they drop this little gem on me:

        Non-shot expected goals is an estimate of how many goals a team could have scored given their nonshooting actions in and around their opponent’s penalty area.

        So what did they say for last night’s match? How many “non-shot expected goals” should Liverpool have had? 3.1 to Leicester’s 1.2.

        Yeah, rub it in: that’s how the game should have gone, it should have been Leicester on the wrong side of a 3-1 defeat. It didn’t and they weren’t, though!

        • Cypren says:

          I’m a bit curious what your thoughts as a Liverpool fan are on their new CEO. It was quite a surprise to those of us in the video game industry to have one of our own taking over a football club.

          • Deiseach says:

            Short answer? I ignore any and all news about new management. I know nothing, I am from Barcelona 🙂

            Slightly longer answer, having Googled who the new guy is: I’m not sure. He says all the right things, but you know, they all do. He’s going to be focussed on the business side which makes me – uneasy? I mean, I understand why – Liverpool are not United, they don’t have that huge market, they are not winning things (not consistently in Europe, not Premier League winners, not cup winners) and you need lots and lots of dosh to compete at a high level, so someone to count the pennies and make more money makes sense.

            But… it’s about the game, or should be. Will the new CEO leave the football side of things (and the manager) alone, or will there be interference as to who to buy/sell and how to play and what to do?

            And seeing as how Liverpool are in a transitional stage and the team are nowhere near settled yet (Sadio Mané’s absence at the African Cup of Nations showed that), pressure from above on the manager to get results fast to win things to capitalise on winning is not helpful.

            On the other hand, maybe we do need pressure from above etc.

            In conclusion: I dunno. I hope it’ll end well but who knows? Especially as he’s coming from Electronic Arts 🙂

    • shakeddown says:

      Sorry, FiveThirtyEight, looks like you’ll be refining your data after tonight’s result

      Can I just mention how much I appreciate this approach (as opposed to the people who say “ha, shows how totally useless 538 always is!”)

    • Aftagley says:

      Interesting post… but he lost me here:

      And I acknowledge that this explicitly throws to the wolves American citizens who live in rural areas and need protection from things that their neighbors either don’t care about or actively endorse. Perhaps we can fund their relocation to higher-density areas.


      If your policy in any way relies on relocating the under protected I feel like it’s got some kinks that need to be worked out.

      If your policy in any way relies on creating a body of politically displaced refugees, it’s got some kinks that need to be worked out.

      • John Schilling says:

        So you agree with Trump et al that plans involving moving Syrian refugees to the United States or Europe need to be rethought?

        Some kinks to work out, yes, but a dogmatic adherence to the policy that everybody needs to be able to live happily ever after wherever it is they happen to have been born is almost certainly going to have suboptimal outcomes.

        • Aftagley says:

          Great catch, I did not say that correctly. Making an edit to the post above to remove the poor phrasing.

      • Garrett says:

        Isn’t that what we do with international refugees?

    • cassander says:

      What if we just let states and localities set their own laws, rather than trying to come up with a single formula that accounts for every possible variation?

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Pfft, that’s crazy talk. And good luck getting it into the Constitution!

      • beleester says:

        Several possible reasons: The law might require a power delegated to the federal government. It might be too expensive to implement without federal funding. It might be a law to fix a problem that the states failed to solve for some reason (desegregation being the canonical example). It might be desirable to have consistency in the laws (say, to reduce the cost of doing business across state lines, or just so that travelers don’t have to carry a legal textbook to avoid getting in trouble).

        These reasons also work for states passing laws that affect cities.

        • cassander says:

          >The law might require a power delegated to the federal government.

          those are few and far between.

          >It might be too expensive to implement without federal funding.

          laws don’t get magically cheaper to implement when the federal government provides funds. At best, that shifts costs, and it usually raises them.

          >It might be a law to fix a problem that the states failed to solve for some reason (desegregation being the canonical example).

          “failed to solve” is not exactly an objective measure.

          >It might be desirable to have consistency in the laws (say, to reduce the cost of doing business across state lines, or just so that travelers don’t have to carry a legal textbook to avoid getting in trouble).

          A complex formula doesn’t achieve consistency in the way you seem to want. It doesn’t eliminate the problem of the rules being different in different places. Looking up the population density of every county you drive through is no less work than looking up the relevant law.

          • beleester says:

            laws don’t get magically cheaper to implement when the federal government provides funds. At best, that shifts costs, and it usually raises them.

            If it’s unaffordable by a state government, it doesn’t matter if it’s more expensive for the federal government, that’s the only place you can get it done at all.

            (You can try doing it with “block grants”, where the federal government simply gives a pile of money to the states and says “You figure out how to implement this,” but those make it harder to ensure the money actually goes where it’s needed, and they’re sometimes used as stealth budget cuts – make something a block grant, allocate less money on the grounds that states will be more efficient, act surprised when the new program fails.)

            “failed to solve” is not exactly an objective measure.

            And? Pretty much everything in the legal system is a subjective preference, they’re just subjective preferences that lots of people share. Not getting murdered is a near-universal preference. Not having segregation was less universal, but still worth passing a law over.

            A complex formula doesn’t achieve consistency in the way you seem to want. It doesn’t eliminate the problem of the rules being different in different places.

            But it makes the rules different in the same way. Instead of having a different law for each state, you can simply ask “Are we compliant with the laws for states with >X people? Yes? Good.”

          • cassander says:

            >If it’s unaffordable by a state government, it doesn’t matter if it’s more expensive for the federal government, that’s the only place you can get it done at all.

            the states and the feds draw on exactly the same pool of money, tax payers. There might be things that are cheaper or better if done at a federal level (in theory, at least, not usually in practice), there are things that you don’t want individual states doing (like national defense), but there’s nothing the there is nothing the feds can afford that the feds can afford that the states can’t each afford individually, by definition. this is especially true of regulation, which usually imposes few direct costs on the state.

            >make something a block grant, allocate less money on the grounds that states will be more efficient, act surprised when the new program fails.

            you act like this is a thing that gets done a lot. It isn’t.

            >Not getting murdered is a near-universal preference.

            and yet, we survive in a world without a general federal law against murder.

            >Not having segregation was less universal, but still worth passing a law over.

            And if all we’d done was ban segregation, I’d be on board.

            >But it makes the rules different in the same way. Instead of having a different law for each state, you can simply ask “Are we compliant with the laws for states with >X people? Yes? Good

            Varying in the same way is only valuable if you have a simple formula. Any simple formula is unlikely to accurately capture all the differences between regions, which means that it’s going to lead to a long series pages of law, court rulings, etc. So, instead of needing a gun lawyer to know gun lawyer to explain the dozens of pages of law, court rulings, etc. in a given place, you need…..a table of population density and then a gun lawyer to explain how that interacts with the dozens of pages of law, court rulings, etc. You haven’t saved anyone any trouble, you’ve just nationalized the issue, which makes compromise more difficult and experimentation impossible.

  19. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The discussion of a national ID for the US reminded me of Revelations 13:16-17: “16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave,5 qto be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

    Since I don’t believe in prophecy, I was wondering if I should think of this as early science fiction, but I think it fits better into the somewhat overlapping category of satirizing a current government.

    • Ronan Nobblewit says:

      I can’t tell if you know about (and are referencing) or do not know about the fundamentalist Christians in the US who oppose any and all national identification specifically because a national ID would constitute the Mark of the Beast.

  20. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The answer about wallets turned into somewhat about me and clothes, so it’s a separate comment.

    I take transexuals at their word, but I’m bewildered at anyone who feels a strong desire to wear female clothing. This would apply equally to tranvestites. I’m not as weirded out by women who feel a strong desire to wear female clothing, I suppse because I think of them as more or less stuck with it. The desire to wear high heels is a mystery to me, and likewise the cultural failure to do as much to ornament and vary flat shoes.

    At the same time, I’m not strongly opposed to female clothing for myself as long as its comfortable. I surprised a friend by being willing to wear a skirt. It’s not so much that I strongly want pants, they’re just an easy default for me.

    Although…. I resent the modern trend towards men’s and women’s t-shirts. I would like to just be able to buy a t-shirt which isn’t gender-marked, the way I used to. This isn’t about the physical characteristics of the shirt, just the labeling.

    In a conversation with a friend, the subject of clothing that wasn’t used for gender signaling came up. He asked what that would look like, and I realized I had no idea. My assumption is that people would still have fun with their clothes, not that there would be a unisex uniform. I suppose they could and probably would use clothing for cultural and status signalling.

    And Then There Were None by Eric Frank Russell has a little bit of anarchic clothing. I thought it was in a conveniently quotable section,but it’s actually distributed through chapter two.

    Anyway, the story is a classic about what a non-authoritarian society could look like, and I recommend it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I resent the modern trend towards men’s and women’s t-shirts.

      Your bog-standard T-shirt isn’t really a men’s specific cut (it’s just straight), but it does usually use men’s sizing. If these are starting to be called “men’s” more often, it’s probably because of the freakout over places which sell or give away T-shirts but don’t have women’s specific T-shirts. The response to that of “It’s a unisex T-shirt, it comes in XXS to XXL” generally doesn’t go over too well.

      There are men’s specific T-shirts, sometimes billed as “fitted”

    • Deiseach says:

      What exactly do you mean by men’s and women’s T-shirts? Because men and women are built differently, so there are ways the item of clothing is cut to fit. Even if it looks “plain straight down” there probably are slight differences.

      What drives me mad about women’s clothing is the sizing – not alone is it inconsistent, some brands even use their own sizing so you can’t depend on “size 14 in this shop is the same as size 14 in that shop” and “size 12 in this brand but you’ll need a size 14 for that brand and a size M is plenty big in the other brand”.

      • bean says:

        The solution is obvious. Get ANSI to set sizing standards. Or whatever the European equivalent is. Even if brands don’t comply, it should be possible to measure their clothes and figure out their ANSI sizings, which can be put in an app.

        • Deiseach says:

          I wish somebody would. It’s really frustrating trying to work out “If I usually take size A and this garment is measured in cm does that mean it works out to a M or L and if so, is that an equivalent of A for this brand?”

          • Brad says:

            As I understand it, US women’s dress sizes started out that way — based on a government project to measure some large numbers of women during the depression. But in the decades since vanity sizing has all but ruined the standardization effort.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “What exactly do you mean by men’s and women’s T-shirts?”

        What I mean is that, at least in this matter, I prefer being in the unmarked state.

    • gbdub says:

      Honestly I usually see t-shirts described as “women’s” and “unisex” (although the sizing on the latter is usually men’s size).

      I guess I don’t get your confusion? Your points against women’s clothing seem to come from their impracticality (on that I agree), but I don’t think “practicality” is a major consideration for transvestites.

      I thought it fairly obvious that women’s clothing is designed to emphasize (visible) sexuality in a way that men’s clothing does not. If anything women have more options, at least now – practical clothes for women exist, sexy clothes for men don’t (at least not to the degree women have available).

    • keranih says:

      I’m bewildered at anyone who feels a strong desire to wear female clothing.

      I totally get it. In well-tailored dresses, with reasonable heels and a pushup bra (plus, you know, actually combing my hair) I can get a hell of a lot more attention (+ cooperation/agreement/obedience) than I can in my usual more practical clothes. I could certainly see how that rush could be addictive, and I’m glad that that skill – like the internet – came along well after my early twenties, when I would have had no idea how to use it properly/safely.

      (I’m not as good *now*, because old & out of shape, but clothes can still produce a marked change in my effectiveness.)

      Of course, putting time into developing that skill set would have taken away from doing a bunch of other more interesting things.

      In a conversation with a friend, the subject of clothing that wasn’t used for gender signaling came up. He asked what that would look like, and I realized I had no idea.

      One of the…precepts? of the clothing of religious orders, +/- Amish/Memmonite/etc sects is that the clothing be ‘plain’ and not used for signaling of any sort.

      I think that – generally subconsciously – the sort of fun that people want to have with their clothes is the sort that leads to taking one’s clothes off.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      The desire to wear high heels is a mystery to me

      I have heard it suggested that there is some sort of combination of ‘forces you to stick your chest and backside out, creating the illusion of bigger breasts and backside/less belly’, ‘creates the illusion of a longer leg-length to torso-length ratio’ ‘does something to the curve of the leg muscles’ and even ‘creates an aura of vulnerability by making you visibly less able to walk fast’ that add up to a general boost in perceived sexiness and in getting men’s attention/cooperation, though whether someone finds that worth the hassle of wearing them is a different matter.

      In any case, I don’t know if anyone has run a clinical trial of taking photos of a large sample of women in a) flat shoes, b) high heels and c) platforms that are as high as the high heels but don’t change the angle of the foot, and getting participants to rate them for perceived attractiveness without being able to see the footwear, so as to separate out the height effects from the posture effects.

      • keranih says:

        They’ve actually done studies on rump curves, and it’s more interesting than I thought. See Lumbar curvature standard of attractiveness.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I am not a normal human being. The part I don’t understand is wearing something that makes your feet hurt in order to be more attractive.

        If I’d meant “I don’t understand why women in high heels are generally found to be more attractive”, I would have said so.

        As a side issue, high heels aren’t just about being more attractive, they seem to have a fascination of their own. That’s why there are so many variations.

        • Spookykou says:

          The part I don’t understand is wearing something that makes your feet hurt in order to be more attractive.

          Is this true for all levels of discomfort and attractiveness?

          If so the problem is just that you place ‘no value’ on being attractive or absolute value on minimizing discomfort.

          Otherwise, people have different values that they place on comfort/attractiveness. For a decent set of people the relative value of being more attractive is worth more than the relative discomfort of heels.

          The only other thing I can think of that you might be missing, people also perceive stimuli differently. Our host has repeatedly complained about shirt tags and similar, where as I am almost completely oblivious to my shirts being scratchy/having tags. I have no reason to believe that all people experience the same level of discomfort from heels, maybe the discomfort is particularly bad in your case.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        In any case, I don’t know if anyone has run a clinical trial of taking photos of a large sample of women in a) flat shoes, b) high heels and c) platforms that are as high as the high heels but don’t change the angle of the foot, and getting participants to rate them for perceived attractiveness without being able to see the footwear, so as to separate out the height effects from the posture effects.

        Shoot them from their ankles up? What is this, the Ed Sullivan show?
        I definitely think it’s about making your legs more attractive, as I’ve never heard of men being attracted to platform shoes. Also, don’t many men prefer bare feet? Shouldn’t you compare flat shoes, high heels, a woman walking normally and a woman walking on the balls of her feet?

        • shakeddown says:

          Some men are are feet, but that seems like a very specific thing (actually, weirdly specific, in how some guys are way into it and others not at all). I get way too attracted to heeled boots, but feet do nothing for me.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, attraction to feet is definitely not universal.
            Boots with stable heels of ~2 inches are my preferred footwear. To show how different standards are for men and women, you men can get Western boots with such, and they’re called “riding heels” as opposed to “walking heels”. Because Heaven forbid a man walk in 2″ heels with a large surface area!

          • Aapje says:

            I presume that name is more because those boots were traditionally worn by military men, but women’s boots were not known for being worn by Amazons.

      • Cadie says:

        I like high heeled shoes for two main reasons. First, I have a very wide natural angle at the ankle – when I let my foot go limp, the line from my leg down my foot is almost straight. So they’re actually a better fit for my foot/ankle shape than flats and I find flats less comfortable than a shoe with a mid-height heel. The recommended height for people like me is still 2″ or something, not the 4″+ I prefer, but at least I have an excuse to skip flats! Heels don’t hurt me at all unless they’re the wrong size or not broken in, and almost any shoe is going to be uncomfortable if it’s brand-new or the wrong size. I can wear my boots all day (four inch heels on them, though admittedly it’s a wide heel and not stiletto style so the heel is more stable). Second, they make me look taller, which I enjoy, and that’s why I go for the higher shoes. The attention boosts and stuff are only bonuses.

  21. Alejandro says:

    PSA for Worm fans, of which I believe there are more than a few here. If you are interested in reliving the story through new eyes, there are two detailed reaction liveblogs by new readers that started recently:

    https://krixwell-liveblogs.tumblr.com

    http://www.journeysintowebcomics.com/tagged/worm-liveblog/chrono

  22. keranih says:

    A question regarding the utility of taboos – and of questioning taboos –

    In the recent comments regarding the “bathroom laws controversy”, the (American?) taboo of “men in women’s loo” came up, and was, to my surprise, rejected by a portion of the commentariant. (In hindsight, I should not have been surprised, because that’s how SSC rolls.)

    What I found more interesting was my own reaction of “Ok, that’s a taboo, and not rational, but ya know, don’t care. It’s my taboo, I likes it, and I’d rather it stayed, thanks, whether or not further reflection shows it to be useful or not.” And all this in general without particular heat at those who didn’t share the taboo.

    To me, this was anecdata showing how deep some of the non-rational decisions go. I’m not dedicated to defending the taboo in argument, because I don’t care what the other arguments are. Not “I hate the idea that there are other arguments” but “so there are other arguments, why does this matter?”

    I wonder if part of my apathy is due to a conviction that this taboo isn’t the least bit threatened. I wonder if my sense of society is off, and if this taboo is more generally threatened, if I would be less apathetic.

    Secondly, offline/IRL, I recently attended a lecture by a spokesman for an organic group, who was explaining some of their farming methods and livestock health practices. I am on the deeply dubious side of the organic debate but came away from this talk with a warm feeling toward the presenter and the group he represented. And then, talking with someone afterwards, realized that this guy never once used the phrase “factory farm” even though he did talk about confinement operations and even used CAFOs. It had been so long since I’d interacted with anyone who promoted organic systems without falling back on demonizing modern ag that I didn’t quite know what to make of it. (Aside from being sure to get the guy’s card.)

    All of this – plus the post Scott just had on science and religiosity – has me thinking more about the utility of taboos and dogma. I am in general against them – my religion has rather few of them, imo, despite its age, and my personal faith has never been without questioning – but I am coming around to the idea that the concept is like so many other things since the invention of fire, bricks, and money: it’s a tool, and it’s how we use it that leads to good or bad effects, not the tool itself.

    • Aftagley says:

      I sort of disagree. To me, taboos are only “good” in the absolute most basic of situations where they are preventing an action that has a negative outcome that occurs with some degree of certainty. It’s society’s way of absolutely nuking a bad idea so that it never can affect us.

      For example: most cultures have some kind of Taboo against eating excrement; eating excrement exposes you to parasites and sickness and gives you almost no benefit, hence: good taboo.

      An example I would call a bad taboo is the one you bring up, bathrooms. Regardless of your opinion of the topic, you’ve got to admit that it fails the two part test described above; the negative event the taboo seeks to prevent, men pretending to be trans so they can creep on women, has, to my knowledge, never actually happened in any of the multiple places where this has been common practice for years. Even allowing for a few edge cases I haven’t heard of, this negative event hasn’t happened with such frequency that (to me) it requires a taboo.

      The problem with developing taboos is what you point out: they prevent one from analyzing the evidence to determine if the taboo is factually derived and still relevant. I just don’t think we have enough of these clear-cut situations where taboos are appropriate for their upsides to outweigh the inherent downsides of using them as a tool.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        You are incorrect about why the taboo exists, I think. Or, at least, the primary reason it exists.

        The taboo exists for the same reason makeup and deodorant exists. Examine whether it is common for people to be nervous about and avoid defecating in close proximity to someone they have just had their first sexual encounter with.

        I’d happily update if someone can come up with good citations otherwise.

        • Aftagley says:

          I don’t follow.

          Perfume and deodorant exist so that you can smell pleasant, which is preferable to the alternative. Awkwardness felt while defecating near a new lover is an example of our cultural taboo against excrement. I don’t see how any of these connect back to the original idea of why the taboos exist. ‘m genuinely curious about your perspective, would you mind unpacking it a bit for me?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The taboo against excrement (and to a lesser extent urine) is not strong enough to confine defecating to single person restrooms, but it is strong enough to confine it to single sex restrooms.

            Makeup, perfume and deodorant exist primarily as means of increasing attractiveness to the opposite sex.

            Keeping restrooms sex segregated prevents intermingling of sexes at a time when they are least attractive. If it was merely to avoid being vulnerable to men who are “creeps” we would not see discomfort and avoidance of restroom use in proximity to someone you have had or will have sex with.

            Of course, primary causes don’t eliminate the possibility of secondary effects which amplify the taboo. But I think kerinah’s strong desire to not even consider arguments for single sex facilities probably stems from a desire for general modesty which is ultimately tied (at a societal level) into attractiveness.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ HBC

            Anecdotal, but that certainly matches my own experience.

          • Iain says:

            This theory implies that gay bars should have especially modest bathrooms, which I do not believe to be the case.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Iain:
            I don’t think that follows, for a large number of reasons, one of which involves needing to needing to have lowered the relevant taboo anyway.

            Probably even more relevant, however, is how enforced secrecy tends to distort behavior.

            Even at a bar that is frequented mostly by heterosexuals, if you want to get down, you will go to the only place that has a space that is not in view of the management.

            So, perhaps most relevant is whether, on balance, the facilities will be used for their intended purpose by the two lovers in each others presence.

          • Tibor says:

            As for me, I try to avoid going to the toilet together with someone. Even though the stalls are separated, I still don’t feel comfortable about someone else being there at the other stall. What I do in that situation is that I plug in my ears with my fingers, which gives me an illusion of being alone. To a lesser degree I have the same issue with urinals. When someone is there just at the urinal (which means he’s going to be there only shortly), I usually just sit on the toilet before he leaves. I have quite a small flat in Germany and the bathroom (my toilet is actually in the bathroom) is not quite soundproof. I am not very comfortable being on the toilet while my girlfriend is in the other room. I definitely would not want women to come to men’s public toilets. A good “unisex” solution would be to make separate rooms for each single toilet. I don’t need the urinals, necessarily, I don’t have that at home anyway and so I usually just sit down even when I’m only peeing. Another advantage would be a more efficient use of toilets – women’s public toilets are always crowded and men’s are always free. On the other hand, it would probably end up being more costly to build an adequate number of toilets that way. Sometimes, there is only a single toilet at a gas station or something and then it is of course done that way (ARAL gas stations are like that in Germany…you also have to ask the cashier for the toilet key).

            I am also a single child. I don’t know if that is relevant to my toilet squeamishness, but it could be.

            On the other hand, if you look at public toilets from the antiquity, Greece or Rome, they are really true to their name. Apparently, it did not use to be an issue for people even to be seen defecating by others, so one could say it is just a matter of habit.

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        > the negative event the taboo seeks to prevent, men pretending to be trans so they can creep on women, has, to my knowledge, never actually happened in any of the multiple places where this has been common practice for years.

        That may be the reason presented currently, but I doubt it’s the reason separate bathrooms were conceived. I’m not going to look up the history of bathroom separation while at work, but I am reasonably confident separation by sex predates trans* issues even being well known.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Meh. Aftagley is incorrectly stating the thesis, because the taboo in question is actually cis (and hetero) sex segregation. If that doesn’t exist then (theoretically) creepers get to creep in the uni-sex bathrooms.

          In reality, I’m guessing creeping probably gets less interesting to the creeper.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Amnesty International says that separate bathrooms are essential for refugees to reduce sexual assault.

          While I’m using them as an appeal to authority, I should add they also say that transpeople should use the bathroom of their choice.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Have you read The Secret of our Success? They go in depth on how certain customs can be beneficial without anyone understanding why.

  23. Aftagley says:

    Question for those in mental health professions:I’ve seen multiple news articles recently about psychologists and psychiatrists diagnosing Trump with various mental illnesses. This practice has drawn criticism from people who say it violates “the Goldwater Rule” which holds that it’s unethical (and maybe impossible) to diagnose those whom someone hasn’t had firsthand experience with.

    Here’s my question: Do you really need that firsthand experience in all cases? I’m not trying to make this politically charged, so lets consider a hypothetical person who has had a comparable level of public exposure to trump. This person has been obsessively covered by the news for the last two years, has given a stream of consciousness to us through Twitter and has a lifetime in the public eye.

    To me, it seems weird that a psychologist would feel confident diagnosing after a few half-hour sessions but not after hours and hours of public statements, but I am a complete novice in this field.

    Is there any point at which you would feel confident making a diagnosis of this hypothetical person? and if not, what kind of information would you be missing that holds you back from making this diagnosis?

    • I think the real point of the Goldwater rule is not that it’s objectively impossible to say something useful about someone who you haven’t met but that, in practice, it’s too easy to claim a politician you disagree with is crazy, as lots of people did in the case of Goldwater. One result is to lower public respect for the profession, which may be the reason the rule exists.

  24. Tibor says:

    This is a great article on Die Welt which compares the US and European (German in particular) immigration and asylum policies. Their “Faktencheck” (the category under which the article is published) is generally really good journalism. You have the feeling they actually do their work instead of just repackaging stuff from twitter.

    Unfortunately it is all in German and I don’t know if Google translate gives you anything useful…you can try. If not, here’s a short summary (but it is my interpretation of course):

    On the paper, US and EU immigration policies are in fact fairly similar. As a matter of fact, there are even policies which are commonplace in Europe and which which would be considered radically anti-immigration and Trumpist in the US. For example, in pretty much all European countries, illegal immigrants are always supposed to be deported. The only exceptions are temporary and based either on health or the fact that the deportees would be in danger in their home country. At the same time in the US only those illegal immigrants who commit crimes are usually deported and supposedly in the last year(s) of Obama’s presidency it was only those who committed serious crimes. As for building walls and fences, Spain has a high wall in its exclave in Cueta (northern Africa, borders with Morocco), Hungary has build a fence around its borders, there is an Austrian-lead initiative which secured a part of a possible route for refugees/immigrants in the Balkans (also by building a fence and patrolling it). Most of EU borders simply cannot be guarder by such measures because they consist of coastline.

    In practice, the (now talking about Germany in particular) policy is much more lenient towards refugees (or better – people who register themselves as such), whereas it remains strict towards “normal” immigrants. There seems to be a discrepancy between law and practice in the US as well except that this is targeted not to refugees but to “normal” immigrants. In this sense, the US is in fact more open than the EU.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      US immigration policy is incoherent. It’s the net sum of many forces, rather than an intended outcome.

      Just as a small example, think about the combined forces on the right and the left who would oppose a compulsory national identity card. But a unified compulsory system is what is required to actually prevent employment of those who are illegal.

      • thenoblepie says:

        Isn’t the SSN basically the functional equivalent of that?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          If someone tells you their SSN, do you have a good sense whether it is legitimate or not? Does an SSN automatically convey the name and likeness of the person providing it?

          Are SSNs normally used to establish identity in the regular course of your day? Do you need to provide them when cashing a check or boarding a plane?

          To boot, eVerify still isn’t even mandatory, and the paper process takes a while.

        • Brad says:

          As a follow up to and in agreement with HBC, compare the social security card to the permanent resident document (“green card”):
          https://photovalet.com/data/comps/GNU/GNUD01_001.jpg

          https://www.secureidnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/green_card_lasercard.jpg

          One of these is designed not to be faked and the other isn’t.

          The passport card could easily be adapted to serve as a national ID. I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Passport_Card

          • keranih says:

            I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be.

            Emmm. This is a problem.

            Not because I don’t agree that at this point it’s better for the nation that we have a national id card, but because I can think of three or four reasons right off that I think have strong justification for not doing that, and an additional six or seven that I’ve heard other people float which – while not convincing to me – were strong for them.

            (Reasons against that I support – because I suspect that is the next question:

            1) While it serves the purposes of the government to have everyone registered and sorted, it does not follow from this that it serves the purposes of the people to have everyone registered and sorted. We should resist the automatic coupling of ‘state interests’ and ‘human interests’.

            2) A collective unified database of this sort is only as useful as it is vulnerable to hacking/corruption/theft. A secure system would be difficult to correct errors; a flexible system would be breakable.

            3) Establishing a system where basic human interactions need be in accordance with a technological structure is bothersome enough when it’s just subject to wear-and-tear errors is bad enough. However, there are a minority of people who can not meet the requirements to be entered into this sort of system. I have yet to see anyone come up with a feasible work around for this which does not include “well, we wait long enough, all those “legacy” people will be dead, and we can press on.”

            Again, I think at this point a national ID and requiring papers to go from state to state is inevitable. But there are decent reasons to not do this.

          • random832 says:

            2) A collective unified database of this sort is only as useful as it is vulnerable to hacking/corruption/theft. A secure system would be difficult to correct errors; a flexible system would be breakable.

            I think there are a couple of threat models you’re mixing together here. Are you concerned with the privacy of the data or the prospect of false data being inserted to provide people with false identities?

            3) Establishing a system where basic human interactions need be in accordance with a technological structure is bothersome enough when it’s just subject to wear-and-tear errors is bad enough. However, there are a minority of people who can not meet the requirements to be entered into this sort of system.

            The same applies in principle to the driver’s license databases and voter registration, and social security numbers. We’re apparently already fine denying those people the right to vote and/or get a legitimate job. Making it ‘mandatory’ would provide an extra push to try to get those people sorted out when it might otherwise take too much energy (for both them and those helping them).

          • Brad says:

            @keranih
            Thanks for including those reasons. That would indeed have been the followup.

            First I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that we force people under threat of affirmative penalty to get a national ID. I’m well aware that would trigger something atavistic in parts of the American psyche and have no wish to court that.

            What I am suggesting is that the patchwork of state and federal identification documents that most, but not all, people already need to have in order to participate fully in society be replaced by a single federal document.

            Second, as to your third point regarding people that cannot for various reasons qualify, it is for them in particular I think a federal program can be most beneficial (this also ties into the what does it benefit the people in your first point).

            States vary widely in the geographic density of application facilities for their IDs. They also have widely varying rules about how special circumstances can be dealt with — and some of them make it all but impossible for those in such circumstances to obtain IDs.

            The federal government meanwhile has in infrastructure in place designed specifically for regular near universal contact with the American public in the form of the postal system. Passport acceptance facilities include almost all post offices and a network of private locations that contract with the state department. In addition to this fairly extensive network, I would add some sort of process for homebound or remote residents to apply directly with their mail carriers. Which, again, leverages assets the federal government already has in place.

            Likewise, in terms of special situations, the state department has bypass procedures that do not involve going before a judge, both for those without any other form of identification and for those without a birth certificate. It may be that some state has better procedures, though I know mine doesn’t, but it is certainly better than the worse states.

            The one remaining access issue is cost — the passport card does not have a fee waiver program associated with it. But if it were transformed into a national ID it would not be difficult to put one into place (the USCIS has such fee waiver process in place which could serve as a template.)

            As to database concerns, I don’t quite see the big advantage to hackers in getting photographs and perhaps other biometrics over and above what they could presently get from the social security database. But perhaps that’s a failure of imagination on my part.

            Finally, I would note that even if there are trade offs, if there is a large overlap between the people that want to require IDs to vote and are very concerned about unauthorized people working that also most strongly object to a national ID, then I think the onus is on them to propose equally effective alternatives or rank the two concerns with respect to each other.

          • BBA says:

            A couple of years ago I had to get a new Social Security card, for the one scenario in a blue moon where just the information on the card isn’t enough. The new ones are substantially harder to fake, since they now have the color-changing ink from dollar bills which isn’t available to the general public.

            Of course they haven’t gone back and cancelled all the old cards, so the value of this is limited. And there’s no proof that the person holding the card is the person whose name is on the card, so your point more-or-less stands. Given that SS cards are issued to infants and last an entire lifetime, I’m not sure how you could make them more secure.

          • Re national ID cards, I recommend Seeing Like a State. It’s largely about how states alter the societies they rule to make them easier to rule. I don’t remember if ID cards are discussed in particular, but they fit the pattern being discussed. Critically.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            In the context of a society where people already have to flash around their drivers’ licenses and tell everyone their social security number constantly, what are the additional negative consequences of an ID card?

            I know there’s an atavistic opposition to it on the right, but I’ve never quite understood it other than a context of “not gonna make it easy for them darn revenooers.” This goes back to long before modern computer hacking, too, so it’s not a security issue either.

            Is the fear that a national ID card would open the door to its use in more contexts? But again, if you have to show your driver’s license and recite your SSN already to do almost anything, it really feels like that ship has sailed. So we might at least make the staterooms comfortable.

          • keranih says:

            random832-

            Are you concerned with the privacy of the data or the prospect of false data being inserted to provide people with false identities?

            Embrace, as they say, the healing power of “and.” (And it’s just not limited to that. Imagine having a virus that selectively wipes the data of your target from both the main system and its backups.

            The same applies in principle to the driver’s license databases and voter registration, and social security numbers.

            I am assured by many people that the problem of getting these people’s ids sorted out are insurmountable by ordinary mortals. Even I can see that for a nontrivial section of society, keeping a recent address on file is quite difficult.

            Brad –

            Glad to oblige.

            Re: the good old postal system and how it will make things better than if everyone goes to their local DMV: I do not share your optimism. In particular, I do not think it likely that the post offices have that much deeper a penetration into the far flung rural reaches of the nation than the DMVs, nor that mobile forces will go out, house to house, to take pictures and collect documents.

            Also – the issue with fees is, imo, greatly exaggerated. It’s not so much that it costs money to have the agency issue the id as it costs money (+/- coordination and organization) for the individual to collect the necessary records (birth certificate, etc) to justify issuing this validated ID. Without the validation, the ID is worthless as a security/verification measure.

            Whether or not the tax payer pays for Mary Jefferson to get her passport card or not, Mary Jefferson still needs to have her hands on her birth certificate.

            if there is a large overlap between the people that want to require IDs to vote and are very concerned about unauthorized people working that also most strongly object to a national ID, then I think the onus is on them to propose equally effective alternatives or rank the two concerns with respect to each other.

            I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the following would be acceptable:

            A state/gubmint funded ID, replaced every five years. Address to be updated (on file, not on the document) annually. Once issued, the holder of this document can board a plane, enter/re-enter the country, drive a car on public roads, buy sudafed, vote, enter a military base or a government building, register for public utilities, buy a firearm from a dealer, sign for medical care, and sign legal documents – no other questions asked. Lose it more often than every five years, you pay a replacement fee.

            That’s the state of my compromise.

            David Fredman –

            Seeing Like A State was exactly what I was thinking of.

          • Brad says:

            @keranih
            I find your counter proposal a little puzzling because after paring away the folksy rhetoric it doesn’t sound much different then what I proposed and you objected to.

            I mean haggling over whether or not someone is going to have to pay if they lose their card seems to be way down in the weeds.

            As I said a little puzzled, but also happy to take yes for an answer.

            Re: birth certificate
            The state department allows for affidavits in lieu of passports for those that can’t get one. That’s what I was alluding to.

          • keranih says:

            Brad –

            I was evidently not clear enough – I’m not objecting to national IDs so much as I am objecting to the idea that there are no reasons for not using passport cards as a substitute (or for having a national ID at all.) There are, as I’ve pointed out, a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t go down that road.

            I mean haggling over whether or not someone is going to have to pay if they lose their card seems to be way down in the weeds.

            Don’t have your card? Can’t vote, can’t drive, can’t get hired on to a new job – or, not until you get a new card. And the cards take 3-8 weeks to produce, and yeah, you gotta pay for it.

            This is going to be cast as a huge burden and civil rights violation/poll tax. Also people are going to scream if I can walk into any gun shop and buy a firearm just by showing my national id.

            If you have no objections, then cool, we-as-a-nation might be closer to finding a middle ground than I thought.

          • Brad says:

            @keranih
            I don’t want to overstate the level of agreement–I don’t see why it needs to take 3-8 weeks seemingly just as a punishment–but I thought no national ID was a sacred values type thing where no compromise was possible. So the fact that we are even in the same ballpark is more positive than I would have expected.

          • Cypren says:

            My natural inclinations run very strongly against allowing a national ID card, as it’s a critical weapon for would-be tyrants to exclude political opponents from society. (Case in point: examine what China is doing right now with its “social trust scoring” tied to national ID, something which is more Orwellian and horrifying than almost anything Orwell could have imagined.)

            What we have right now is a disorganized mess of overlapping ID systems with lax enforcement. The same loopholes that allow illegal immigrants to live under the radar also provide a nice layer of insulation to prevent the government from squeezing dissidents and politically disfavored people completely out of society by simply flagging or deleting their ID profiles and tying them up in endless “mishaps”.

            We haven’t had a government that’s tried to do anything like that yet, but there’s a strong argument that the reasons are practical rather than a deeply ingrained culture that would never countenance such repression. We are, after all, the same country that rounded up our citizens of Japanese descent and threw them in prison camps as soon as push came to shove; believing that the government (and its citizens!) would refrain from using similar tools against Muslims, militia members or any other minority disfavored by the political majority seems idealistic and naive.

            As an engineer, the inefficiency of the current system drives me crazy and I’m usually thinking, “a national system would make this so much cleaner and simpler”. But then I go back and look at history and suddenly am very glad for inefficiency and chaos compared to the possible alternatives.

      • keranih says:

        I agree with HBC on the incoherency. I think it helps if one recognizes that the European model has basically stayed the same (all other people stay out!) throughout their history, while the USA’s migrant history and blending of cultures led to a long period of “What the hey, let them in, we’ll find something they can do” punctuated by periods of “omg wtf did we just do get it out get it out get it out”.

        Most significantly, because we do at least pay lip service to applying laws with humanity and discretion, hard lines like “Do you have proof you came in legally? No? Okay, out you go, don’t care what your justification is” are not really viewed favorably by most folks when you drill down. In *theory* there’s a big push for “throw the law breakers out” but that’s like the big push for “throw the bums outta congress” – it’s everyone else’s bums we’re talking about, not our own neighbors. (Generally.)

        The problem is that there are people actively looking to circumvent the spirit of the law, through perfectly decent factual loopholes, and you have the same tribal/political response as one has to people who use loopholes in environmental laws, only the reaction is reversed.

        Humans, I tell you.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, in Europe, if you come illegally you are a law breaker by definition and the law clearly states that you are supposed to leave the country and if you cannot afford it you are supposed to be deported, save for the exceptions I mentioned. This is true in all European countries AFAIK. In practice the way you will be treated probably depends on a) how you immigrate and b) where you are from. Of course, if you’re from the EU itself, you cannot be in other EU countries illegally. But generally, I’d suspect that the officials are going to be more benevolent if you come from a poor country in the middle east or Africa than in other cases (of course, in other cases you’re very unlikely to get the asylum status unless you “lose” your passport and pretend to be from those aforementioned countries, I’m not sure how they actually make sure you’re really from where you say you are if you don’t have it, it probably varies). A colleague from Mexico worked here at a university, he had a contract and everything that he could show them but he forgot to renew his working visa before coming home for Christmas. They detained him at the airport in Germany and even though he showed them the (valid) contract and the visa just expired, he had to go back to Mexico and get it prolonged at the German embassy in Mexico city (for which he had to wait about a month). They did pay for his flight ticket back to Mexico though (the captain was given all his legal documents by the police and instructed to only give it back to him in Mexico…which he almost forgot, so the guy had to look for the crew when they landed :-)) ).

          • keranih says:

            Well, yeah, the law in the USA says the same thing.

            But we don’t enforce it like that.

            They detained him at the airport in Germany and even though he showed them the (valid) contract and the visa just expired, he had to go back to Mexico and get it prolonged at the German embassy in Mexico city (for which he had to wait about a month). They did pay for his flight ticket back to Mexico though

            In this case, who “they”?

          • Aapje says:

            But generally, I’d suspect that the officials are going to be more benevolent if you come from a poor country in the middle east or Africa than in other cases

            This doesn’t seem to be the case in my country. The difference between deported and not deported seems to boil down to the willingness of the country of origin to take the migrants back. Quite a few countries are unwilling.

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: Yeah, that’s another thing. I think that German officials sometimes tend to be quite unwilling to actually deport asylum seekers in the first place though, particularly in some parts of Germany (more in Berlin or NRW than in Bavaria). But the Netherlands are a bit different – Wilders is likely to get the most votes in the upcoming election, which would not happen in Germany (it could perhaps happen in Eastern Germany save for Berlin or possibly in Bavaria).

            @keranih: They are the German government, well the German police specifically in the first they.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @kerinah:

          Do you have proof you came in legally? No? Okay, out you go, don’t care what your justification is

          Note there is a hidden, implicit assumption in that statement. It assumes that this line of reasoning can’t be (incorrectly) applied to citizens.

          In other words, the only way that the this can be applied in anything approaching a just manner, is if the government has the responsibility (and the authority and funding) to properly ensure that every citizen is reliably known to the government.

          So, it isn’t merely lip service and concerns about people’s fundamental humanity, but there are very legitimate principals of justice at stake. The burden of proof is on the government to prove their case, not the other way around.

          • random832 says:

            This is also where policies like deporting anyone arrested/accused of a crime gets a visceral reaction of “this is an injustice”, even though in principle they could even be deported if that had not happened – because it brings alleged criminality in as a factor for sorting who gets deported from who’s not (possibly in an attempt to go for “why are you defending these people, they’re criminals”) without actually satisfying any burden of proof. You don’t get to say “these are bad hombres”, “they’re not sending their best”, etc, if you’re not going to actually put anyone on trial.

          • keranih says:

            Note there is a hidden, implicit assumption in that statement. It assumes that this line of reasoning can’t be (incorrectly) applied to citizens.

            Emmm. Not entirely sure I agree with your interpretation. I mean, yes, there is the possibility of the law being wrongly applied, that’s why we have the system of appeal and re-appeal and dragging every court case out for ages and ages. For all laws, not just this one.

            I think that sense is part of the reason that “throw them all out” is rather common at the group level and not at the particular level.

            I am also willing to acknowledge the possibility that swift court action against illegal immigrants opens us up to the slippery slope of using swift and unjust action against legal immigrants/citizens. However, I think that this is a red herring used to distract from the fact that the illegal immigrants being deported are in fact lawbreakers who are not entitled to remain in the country.

            To be fair, this issue and abortion are the only places where I think that the left side of the political spectrum reliably wants a smaller, drownable government. Which shows that we’re all not quite as pure of intent as we claim to be.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:

            Emmm. Not entirely sure I agree with your interpretation. I mean, yes, there is the possibility of the law being wrongly applied, that’s why we have the system of appeal and re-appeal and dragging every court case out for ages and ages. For all laws, not just this one.

            This is an entirely different question than who has the burden of proof. You said the burden was on the individual to prove that they were citizens. This is tantamount to presuming everyone to be guilty of non-citizenship, until proven innocent.

            You seem to have precisely the opposite inclination about the national ID. One stated objection is that it would be too easy to remove someone from the files, thereby rendering them invisible or illegal. I don’t understand your intuitions here. They seem at cross-purposes.

          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –

            If I understand you correctly, you want the burden of proof to be on the government in matters of citizenship – ie, to assume that a person is innocent of the charge of being in the country illegally, until proven otherwise. That in a country where if you’re born here, you’re a citizen, and if you go through the right process, you’re a citizen, and you want the US government, staffed by a group of ordinary mortals, to routinely prove the negative that this person is not here legally.

            Is this correct?

          • skef says:

            @keranih

            Isn’t that arrangement somewhat inescapable? Suppose it is the individual’s responsibility, and the individual fails. Then what? Does the person just go to some prison forever, at the country’s expense?

            The normal next step would be deportation, but (I presume) to deport someone you need to send them to a) a particular country that b) agrees to take them. That agreement would normally stem from proof that the individual is their citizen. So now you’re back to the government establishing the person’s citizenship.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:
            I’m talking about normal principles of jurisprudence. Innocent until proven guilty.

            Think about the most inconvenient case for what you are proposing. Some government official gets it in their head that “this kid needs to go” and then you get deported because you can’t prove you were born at home 8 years ago (your parents, work visa holders, now having died in a car crash).

          • keranih says:

            HBC –

            Please don’t move the goalposts by shifting to the heart-tugging orphans of poor dead immigrants who just wanted a good life for their kids. Orphans are never not going to be edge cases.

            I’m talking the impossibility of proving a negative, and the undue and impossible burden you’re putting on the nation when you take this line of reasoning. Using this narrative, you continue the idea that the crime is not crossing (or staying) illegally, but in being caught grossly doing so.

            You’re not wanting this to just be done in edge cases, you’re wanting this to be done for people arrested multiple times for violent crimes.

            Skef –

            Yes, it is an issue that other countries are so dysfunctional that they won’t repatriate their own. But that’s not the fault of the USA, that’s the fault of the other country/the other country’s people (collectively.)

            (And here I’m imagining the USA being slapped with a fine by some global court for being “an attractive nuisance” by being rich and opportunity-filled.)

            The person who came in illegally should, I agree, be returned to their own place, because it’s our never-no-mind what they do there. However, imagine your (not stupid) immigrant who says “Oh, me, I’m not Brazillian, I’m Japanese. You have to send me back to Japan.” Japan (as it would) takes one look and says, “Nope, not onna ours.” Iit is unreasonable on a practical level for the USA to then say, “Oh, well, guess we can’t ship you back, you can go free,” if only because it encourages more and more people to try the same trick.

            And then we’re back to the same negative re-enforcement that I talked about a couple threads down.

            I’m not talking about horrific inhumane treatment here – I’m just talking about what every other nation does with illegal immigrants.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            However, imagine your (not stupid) immigrant who says “Oh, me, I’m not Brazillian, I’m Japanese. You have to send me back to Japan.” Japan (as it would) takes one look and says, “Nope, not onna ours.”

            This reminds me of a story I’ve heard about Italy. According to a friend’s dad, the Italians used to deport illegal immigrants to any Italian land border of the immigrant’s choice. Backpackers would exploit this by turning up at a police station at one end of Italy (having snuck into the country trivially, because Italy), handing themselves in, and asking to be deported via the other end of Italy. They could apparently repeat this trick later on without being refused entry because, again, Italy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            handing themselves in, and asking to be deported via the other end of Italy.

            Now I’m imagining some especially clever Italian police chief smiling evilly… and granting the miscreants a tourist visa instead.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:

            Now you have managed to irritate me quite a bit.

            Please don’t move the goalposts by shifting to the heart-tugging orphans of poor dead immigrants who just wanted a good life for their kids.

            I’m not shifting the goalposts. I did exactly what I said I did, which is give you an example of the most inconvenient case.

            I’m talking the impossibility of proving a negative, and the undue and impossible burden you’re putting on the nation

            No, I am talking about regular old jurisprudence. Specifically that: “Regardless of whether the removal proceeding involves an alien’s deportation or admissibility, the U.S. government, and specifically the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), must first establish by “clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence” that you, as the person in question, are in fact an alien.”

            This is not impossible, it’s done as a matter of course.

            You’re not wanting this to just be done in edge cases, you’re wanting this to be done for people arrested multiple times for violent crimes.

            I’m wanting it done for everyone the government wishes to deport. Who is shifting the goalposts?

            I’m not talking about horrific inhumane treatment here – I’m just talking about what every other nation does with illegal immigrants.

            And other nations have a reliable way of easily establishing who is a citizen. The responsibility for this is borne by the government and properly funded. This goes back to my original point.

          • random832 says:

            You’re not wanting this to just be done in edge cases, you’re wanting this to be done for people arrested multiple times for violent crimes.

            US Citizens arrested any number of times for violent crimes have a right to, at the end of their prison term for those crimes, be released into the US rather than deported to the country their parents are from. So imagine the orphan’s grown up and murdered someone, if it makes you feel better.

          • skef says:

            Yes, it is an issue that other countries are so dysfunctional that they won’t repatriate their own. But that’s not the fault of the USA, that’s the fault of the other country/the other country’s people (collectively.)

            Isn’t that a one-sided way of putting things? I would think that if and when a country requests to deport a person to the U.S. that the government probably places the burden of proof on them (possibly offering what cooperation is required by treaty or some more if the person seems particularly like one of our goofuses). It certainly wouldn’t just trust the other country’s determination (or the person’s claim), nor would it feel obligated to start up a big investigation.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            @keranih:

            I’m talking the impossibility of proving a negative….

            ≖_≖
            I saw that.
            ب_ب

      • Tibor says:

        Hmm, Switzerland does not have a national ID either. It does not seem to lead to a high number of illegal immigrants in the country though. True, it is not quite the same as with the US which has a border with Mexico which is almost twice as long as the Swiss border in total (and much more if you approximate it with straighter lines) and Switzerland does not have a border with any developing countries. It could be that immigrants to Switzerland have some sort of a compulsory ID and only the citizens don’t. It is easier to tell who is Swiss than who is a US citizen. Getting Swiss citizenship is quite difficult (essentially you have to have lived in the country for at least 12 years and prove that you have become culturally “Swiss” enough, which is judged on an individual basis by a local council in your town or part of your town), so unless you speak the local language perfectly, you are very likely not a Swiss citizen. This is particularly the case in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The problem with Swiss German is that it is really no single language, but rather a collection of similar dialects with no formal spelling rules. This is why the Swiss version of standard German is usually used in writing (and always when it is something official). However, nobody actually speaks standard German there, save for the immigrants (there are a lot of Germans who live in Switzerland).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Tibor:
          It appears however, that they do have a voluntary national ID card with establishes citizenship (that the vast majority carry as it is frequently required). If this (or a valid work visa) is required for employment, it amounts to something similar. Even if it simply substitutes for a lengthy process to establish citizenship (if you don’t have the ID), it amounts to something similar.

          Switzerland also seems like something of a special case, as it has traditionally been quite isolated by its terrain. I’m not sure if that is a fair point though.

        • random832 says:

          (essentially you have to have lived in the country for at least 12 years and prove that you have become culturally “Swiss” enough, which is judged on an individual basis by a local council in your town or part of your town)

          Or be Michele Bachmann. Regardless of the fact that I think it was an overblown non-story, it does provide an existence proof of a different path to citizenship. (It turns out, to be fair, that particular path is “be a woman who has been married to a Swiss man before 1992”)

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        @HeelBearCub:

        US immigration policy is incoherent. It’s the net sum of many forces, rather than an intended outcome.

        It’s more coherent than our broadband policy, which is the net farce of many sums.

  25. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’m looking for a wallet, and it occurs to me that asking what features people like might be helpful, since apparently I’m willing to tolerate a irritating wallet rather than replace it before it wears out.

    The irritating wallet is wearing out, so it’s time. The irritating feature is a change pocket with a zipper that doesn’t close all the way– not a manufacturing defect. The intent seems to be to allow more room for coins. It might make sense for a wallet which is carried horizontally in a purse, but there’s a reasonable chance that change will fall out if it’s carried in a pocket or handled without thinking about which way to hold it.

    Other than that, it’s a good wallet– I don’t remember the brand, though.

    It’s got a snap closure, which seems like it should be faster than a zipper and more secure than a wallet that just folds. On the other hand, wallets that just fold seem to be more typical for men, and maybe that’s actually good enough.

    Features that I want to replicate from the current wallet: room for change, bills, and cards. I’m willing to have a bulky wallet. The maximum dimension (folded) shouldn’t be much over 5″. A lot of women’s wallets seem to be more like 7″, which I think is a little much for carrying in a pocket.

    I’d like to keep the price under $35. I don’t care about leather vs. not leather, but I do want durability.

    It’s quite possible that there are features I would really like if I knew they existed so I’m interested in anything about wallets that people like.

    A lot of wallets these days have RFID and sometimes other shielding. Should I care?

    • Well... says:

      – Do you always want to be carrying shrapnel, er, change?
      – Do you keep a lot of stuff in your wallet besides money and cards? (e.g. receipts, coupons, survival kit, etc.)
      – Do you plan to carry the wallet in your pocket or in a purse?

      I would suggest paring down the contents of your wallet as much as possible and then getting a small, slim wallet made of durable leather. But that’s just me.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Yes, I carry change. I do let receipts accumulate, but the only thing that isn’t money or cards (and I do carry some business cards) in my wallet is foam earplugs, which take up very little room when smushed.

        I keep my wallet in my pocket. I wear sweat pants, so there’s some room.

        Survival kit? In a wallet? What would that include?

        • Well... says:

          In the survivalist community, the contents that ought to be included in a survival kit is a big topic of debate. For more, read Backwoodsman magazine. I love it, and I’m not a survivalist or, alas, a backwoodsman.

        • keranih says:

          Survival kit? In a wallet? What would that include?

          Two razor blades, two fishhooks with six foot of fine line, three strike anywhere matches, a mirror, a space blanket, three twenties, two tens, three fives, three ones and eight quarters.

          It won’t let you solve *every* problem, but knowing that you’ve got that in your (relatively fat) wallet should give you enough of a clear head to solve the rest of them.

          (Ideally you’d also have a face-hand watch on your wrist and a whistle on your key chain.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think that’ll get you arrested in many places and it’s a felony several times over trying to get on an airplane (the razor blades and the strike-anywhere matches)

    • beleester says:

      Folded wallets without snaps are just fine – it’s not like they can unfold in your pocket. Maybe it’s different for women who carry them in a purse?

      My wallet doesn’t have a change pocket, but I wish it did, because keeping loose change in my pocket is annoying. Still, cash is less common than it used to be, so it’s not a huge deal.

      The other feature I’ve found really helpful is having lots of room for cards. I’ve accumulated a bunch of them – credit card, debit card, library card, work ID card, insurance card, grocery rewards card… when I go looking for a new wallet, that’ll be my main criterion.

      The least useful feature in my current wallet is a bunch of clear plastic things in the middle for IDs. Given that the only ID I carry is a drivers license, and given that I almost always have to take it out of the plastic when I need to show it to someone, it’s not that useful. Even when I also carried a student ID, it wasn’t that important.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Contra Aajpe, I mildly avoid RFID blocking in my wallet. The only RFID-enabled card I carry is my credit card, and security in credit-card RFID is more a matter of policy than technology. In my opinion, the risk and consequence of having my credit card RFID skimmed is less than the frequent inconvenience of having to pull my card out to pay.

      When I look for a wallet, I look for minimal size, one or two ID windows, and the ability to store a few bills, but not change. I’ve recently picked up a wallet with a magnetic money clip, and so far I’m fairly satisfied with the concept. However, it’s now doubly important that I don’t bring my wallet into my lab, so hopefully I can remember that.

      I don’t find the need to lug around a bunch of cards, because almost all of my cards either can use my phone number as an alternative, or have their own phone app.

    • Garrett says:

      The one thing that I go with my previous wallet was a plastic holder for one set of cards. I put my driver’s license in it under the idea that instead of having to take it out it could be read through the plastic. It turns out that just about anybody who wants to see your license wants to handle it, either to inspect for forgery, or to scan in through some machine. So I wouldn’t count on that working.

      On the flip side, having my grocery store loyalty/tracking card in it is useful as I don’t need to pull it out when I go to buy stuff. Almost nobody cares if it’s legit or not as long as the barcode scans.

      At the same time, I always need to find a wallet which will hold at least a dozen cards. Getting that in a nice form-factor is hard to do at the $35 level.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I use my phone number instead of my loyalty card because every card I can not carry is a great improvement in my life.

    • My one complaint about my current wallet is that all the pockets for cards go all the way down, which means that the ones in front are fine but if I put a card in the ones in back it goes too far down.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The solution to that is supposed to be rather easy – the pockets in back were supposed to be made from sections of material as large as those in front, so they don’t come down as far in back.

        My solution to wallets is apparently very rare: I have no wallet at all. I dispensed with it years ago. I keep a total of about five cards – credit, license, Metro pass card, and random short-term gift cards – and one or more paper bills wrapped around them. This proves to be enough to hold them together. Whole thing fits into my front trousers pocket, and is very slim. I can slip business cards in there easily. I practically never have use for change, since practically everything goes on the card. I’d probably carry a small change bag if I spent more time in settings where change was frequent.

        • andrewflicker says:

          I’ve done this, except the lot of it pinned by a simple money clip, a few times when wearing slim-fitting pants.

  26. Alkatyn says:

    General life and careers question. I enjoy my current job and have been doing it for a while, but am beginning to feel more frustrated with minor annoyances in it than I did before, and am finding myself thinking more and more about what my long term career plans should be. For context I’m in my late twenties working in a skilled role, in a small company.

    How do you know when it is time to look for a new job? And how do you decide what sort of roles to look for. I’m past the stage in my career where it makes sense to apply for everything and see who takes me, but as my current role is fairly specialized there isnt an obvious next step upwards.

    • Viliam says:

      Do you have a general life plan; i.e. where do you see yourself in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years? Are you saving some money at a passively managed index fund? Think long-term, because there is a chance that just like now you are frustrated with one specific job, a few decades later you may be frustrated with jobs in general, and yet have no other option. Happened to me, and I wish someone would warm me and give me some actionable advice at least a decade ago, such as: read about the early retirement and use at least 10% of your income to buy Vanguard funds.

      For a better advice, more information would be needed. Do you know your current market price? If you don’t know, do you have a plan to find out what it is? You might be wasting thousands of dollars each year — capture those extra money, and put them in the index funds; you will thank me a few years later when you retire while other people in your age will be stuck in jobs that suck.

      But maybe your current problem is not the money per se, but not having an opportunity to grow, either in skills, or in company position. Small companies usually have very few high-status roles, and they are already taken and unlikely to be vacated; you could have godlike skills and still remain in the low-status position where you probably currently are. But maybe you have a tiny portfolio of product, so you keep doing the same things over and over again, while 90% of what you learned at school is never used, you keep slowly forgetting it, and the rest of the world is moving forward without you.

      One possible step would be to contact a job agency (or five of them), describe what you do, and tell them to find you a job that pays double of what you are paid now. (Don’t tell them it’s double; just say that you would take a new job if they offered you a salary X; don’t explain where the X comes from.) Worst case, they will find nothing, and you lost a few minutes of your time; maybe hours if they will ask you for an interview. Best case, your salary will double; and if you can put the extra 100% into index funds, in about 15 years you can retire.

      Do you have contacts to people who do the same or similar or complementary jobs, outside of your current company? If yes, talk to them about this. If no, then you definitely should find such contacts. Is there a conference for them? An online forum?

      Not sure what country or city you are from; maybe it would make sense to move.

      • Mr. Breakfast says:

        Why the obsession with index funds? Is it a law of nature that asset inflation must continue forever?

        • Nornagest says:

          Index funds are relatively idiotproof investment vehicles with low fees. They are not perfect, but they won’t eat up your margins like an actively managed plan will, and they’re a lot harder to screw up than self-directed investing.

          The thing that worries me about them isn’t asset inflation, it’s Goodhart’s law. The more people there are dumping money into index funds, the less well we can expect them to work as indices, and the Boglehead concept is quite popular right now.

          • IrishDude says:

            The more people there are dumping money into index funds, the less well we can expect them to work as indices, and the Boglehead concept is quite popular right now.

            To the extent too many people dumping money in index funds lowers their return relative to actively managed funds, wouldn’t this induce money moving into actively managed funds to create an equilibrium?

          • Nornagest says:

            Eventually, but the transition could be enormously destructive. The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, as they say.

          • IrishDude says:

            Eventually, but the transition period could be enormously destructive.

            Can you fill in the details of the destructive scenario you think possible?

          • shakeddown says:

            I’ve heard robo-investors like wealthfront get around index fund fees by just directly buying a bit of stock from each company on the index fund list. Could you get around this problem just by changing or expanding the list?

          • Nornagest says:

            A price bubble in the funds making up the most popular indices is probably the most likely way for this to go wrong, though this is more likely for some funds than others; the S&P 500 for example covers a market cap of nearly twenty trillion, while Vanguard (the firm most commonly associated with the index-heavy strategy) only has about 1.7 trillion under its management.

            There may be other scenarios that I don’t have the financial sophistication to point to; I’m just an amateur in this field.

          • massivefocusedinaction says:

            The major risk is that unlike an owner of one stock, essentially everyone owning a fund (active and passive), outsources their oversight function to Institutional Shareholder Services and most of the rest of the job to the selection committee at Standard and Poors (mostly passive, but active funds are commonly closet indexing. Which means most of the owners aren’t really watching management and management can spend the investment on empire building projects rather than high return projects (and returning capital).

            The whole point of a finance system in a market economy is to allocate capital to promising projects, with the virtuous feedback loop of people who are good at this get more capital to allocate, and people who are bad at this get less, but when ISS is the only one deciding governance, and the selection committee of the indexes, you don’t have a market economy anymore, you have a secret command economy and all the inefficiency that entails.

            In practical terms, returns drop and capital isn’t allocated well (so economic growth gets very stagnant). Worse, you have all trappings of a functioning market, so it’s quite hard to spot the actual successes and problems in the economy.

          • IrishDude says:

            @massivefocusedinaction

            This link says 70% of assets in mutual/exchange traded funds are in actively managed funds. I wonder what the ‘tipping point’ would be for horribly inefficient allocation of capital. 50% in active funds, 30%, 10%?

            It seems to me that there are too many wealthy investors/institutions who, upon seeing misallocation of capital, would use their vast resources to sell-off from the overfunded ‘bad’ companies and put large investments in the underfunded ‘good’ companies, thus righting the economic ship. Is that overly optimistic? I’m curious for self-interested reasons, given that a large portion of my net-worth is in index funds.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            @ IrishDude:

            This link says 70% of assets in mutual/exchange traded funds are in actively managed funds.

            One thing that I think makes a big difference in the US is the role of employers in defining a limited menu of investments that employees can make using their’ 401k retirement accounts. These ccounts have pretty much replaced pensions for non-union post-Baby Boom workers.

            There seem to be either regulatory restrictions or liability issues effecting what sort of funds an employer will offer in a 401k such that employees are generally offered a handful of mutual funds only. If they are stock funds, they usually end up being “Managed” funds, but ones which are extremely broad and over-diversified, since the main concern of those choosing what goes on the menu is risk aversion.

            I think over-diversified managed funds end up being forced to behave somewhat like index funds just with higher management fees.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Mr. Breakfast

            So some portion, perhaps a large portion, of that 70% in active funds is passive-fund like. I’m still curious what the minimum amount of money being allocated by ‘smart’ active investors is needed, below which you get really bad allocation of capital. Misallocation of capital is a huge opportunity for smart and wealthy investors, by either investing in or shorting stocks, such that it’s hard for me to see a misallocation of capital sticking around too long.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t see why some of you are suggesting that this is a step function where the sitaution will get into a bad place and stay there.

            It looks to me a lot more continuous. As passive becomes a larger and larger percentage of the market, opportunities for active investors become better and better — both in what is similar to front running required purchases and sales as part of tracking process and in terms of finding mispriced assets. This in turn will attract more money to active managers.

            Certainly I expect some overshooting and sub-optimal capital allocation and price discovery but I don’t see any reason to think it will be large enough or last long enough to be catastrophic.

          • massivefocusedinaction says:

            Regarding the 70% and closet indexing, the issue is similar to football coaches and going for it on 4th down.

            The conventional wisdom says do one thing, and almost no one can survive the response when they flout the conventional wisdom and aren’t immediately correct, even when they’re ultimately right. As a quick example, look at the clients of funds that were correct about the housing bubble as noted by Michael Lewis.

            As an example of too many passive investors, the experience of very active investors in Japan, has a long history of poor performance.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            @ IrishDude:

            I’m still curious what the minimum amount of money being allocated by ‘smart’ active investors is needed, below which you get really bad allocation of capital.

            My instinct is that there are very few fundamentally good investments and that with things like 401ks and pension funds structured so as to force massively more money into the stock market than the value of the underlying companies would ever attract otherwise, you just have across-the-board inflation long term of stock prices which dampens down the marginal benefit of any insight about the allocation of capital between companies.

            If loose monetary policy and forced investment cause the whole index to rise 10% every year, how much is it worth to do research to support a smart bet that MIGHT improve on this slightly or might decline?

            I think the allocation of capital is probably worse than anyone thinks.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Mr. Breakfast —

            That’s your prerogative, but it is a highly unusual view.

            Which means the answer to your original question is “because most people don’t think market-wide asset inflation is happening, or, if it is, that it’s happening in terms of a market cycle rather than some kind of impending apocalypse” — but I have the feeling you knew that.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            @ Nornagest:

            I have a hard time believing that this is not more broadly understood as asset inflation; if P/E ratios keep increasing decade by decade, what could that be but a sign that it takes more dollars of capital to secure one dollar of sustained residual income?

            Just because I think the stock market is driven by asset inflation doesn’t mean that it’s a bad investment, just that there is a house-of-cards aspect to it that would seem to indicate the need for some diversification outside of the sort of highly fungible paper assets that institutional investors retirement accounts favor.

            I mean, given the belief that it is asset inflation we are seeing, one really OUGHT to put a goodly portion of their money in stocks. There could very well be a financial “event horizon” some day; a point after which it will no longer be practical for an individual to parlay the consumption-scale income from work into investment income. From then on, “Consumption Dollars” would relate to “Investment Dollars” as Papiermarks to Reichsmarks. If this is the case, then surely you should grab any part of the departing train of wealth that you can and hang on for dear life.

            But you shouldn’t see this as sound investments in companies; you are staking a claim to an increasingly slow-growing stream of real profits and betting that social momentum and political force will carry us over into full feudalism without any further shake ups in power structure. That seems likely, but not at all certain.

          • Brad says:

            I have a hard time believing that this is not more broadly understood as asset inflation; if P/E ratios keep increasing decade by decade, what could that be but a sign that it takes more dollars of capital to secure one dollar of sustained residual income?

            https://staticseekingalpha.a.ssl.fastly.net/uploads/2014/5/20/saupload_SP_20500_20PE_20Ratio_20vs_20Long_20Term_20Average.png

            The data doesn’t seem to support such a strong conclusion.

          • Mr. Breakfast says:

            Thank you, Brad, I find that surprising and will reexamine my thoughts about asset inflation.

          • Salem says:

            I have a hard time believing that this is not more broadly understood as asset inflation; if P/E ratios keep increasing decade by decade, what could that be but a sign that it takes more dollars of capital to secure one dollar of sustained residual income?

            There has been a secular, sustained, worldwide decline in real interest rates. If that didn’t cause P/E ratios to change, there’d be a larger problem.

            Why has there been a decline in real interest rates? At least in part, it’s because the world in general, and economic policy in particular, is so much better. Previously, with the risk of the government expropriating you, or trade barriers being thrown up, or corrupt politicians siphoning off your profits, an investment had to be more profitable more quickly to be worth making. Hence the P/E ratio would be low. It’s a good thing that’s changed.

        • John Schilling says:

          With or without inflation, compound interest is too good to pass up. But losing your life’s savings or emergency fund because you decided you could be the next Warren Buffet is no good either. Index funds are generally believed to represent the highest rate of “interest” possible while keeping the risk at levels of “short of the fiscal apocalypse that sends us all back to gold coins and barter, you can’t lose too much”, while requiring no investing skill.

          I think there may be more risk to index funds than this simplistic model suggests, and certainly an emergency fund needs a highly liquid component. But for most purposes, index funds do represent a happy medium of decent returns with minimal risk and are likely preferable to mattresses full of cash or passbook savings accounts (if you can even find those any more)

        • skef says:

          @Mr. Breadfast’s question is better than people are giving it credit for.

          Stock market philosophies are gradually shifting towards two points. One is index mutual fund or ETF, which is long term and only sensitive to “fundamentals” to the extent that the index itself is managed. The other is short-term investing such as that done by hedge funds.

          If these were the only two points, then the entirety of why you would expect stock prices to rise would be because of momentum investment of the first sort: The market is for stocks over the longer term would be dominated by index fund buyers. Perhaps stocks have always just been a pyramid scheme, but there are at least reasons you can use now to argue that they aren’t, and a sudden realization that those reasons are gone would be a disaster for those in the market.

          A very normal view is that stocks go up in part because it’s in the interest of the companies that issue them that they go up. The flip-side of the two strategy system is that it’s not obvious a company’s long-term planning would have any effect on that price, so why even bother with the long term if there are no incentives? That leaves things like stock incentives as driving the whole system. For that to work, it has to be true that companies won’t predictably issue their key employees more stock when prices dip for “retention”. If they do, then short-term hedge-fund-driven fluctuations are all those employees need to predictably extract wealth from the market, with a sell rule registered a their broker. My sense is that such retention grants are now routine.

          To put this more simply, the premise of buying stocks is some connection between a company’s improving performance and the stock’s price. Hedge funds at best care about changes in performance, not improvements in it. Investors in index funds have been taught not to care (with the strategy being invented in a context where lots of other people did). If performance-agnostic strategies become dominant, it seems to me that the overall system will just be running on fumes, and then sometime after it won’t be.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Viliam gave good general advice, so I won’t repeat the usual pieces. But I did want to mention, as someone else with fairly specialized roles in his background : A lot of people and organizations value people with unorthodox skillsets or backgrounds for the task, so long as they can plausibly be translated into effective techniques or ideas. Presented well, it can help you stand out from the crowd. A lot of times as a mature corp, you’re looking for people that can inject new ways of thinking or working.

  27. Anatoly says:

    I like the metaphor of buttonhole books – the ones you really want all your friends and acquaintances to read, and urge them repeatedly (as if you were holding them by a buttonhole, going on and on about it).

    Would you mind telling me what your buttonhole books are?

    Mine are all fiction, for better or for worse. Thinking of books I’ve really wanted everybody I know to have read, I’m coming up with: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, Iain M. Banks’ series of Culture novels, Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai, and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun cycle.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      Anna Karenina, especially for young adults/graduates.

    • Would you mind telling me what your buttonhole books are?

      Here are a few that come immediately to mind:
      * Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983)
      * Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011)
      * Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992)
      * Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1963)

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
      Lolita (and Pale Fire) by Vladimir Nabokov

      Some less well-known (for the hipsters):

      The Restless Supermarket by Ivan Vladislavic
      Short stories by Donald Barthelme (I don’t know how they’re collected)

    • keranih says:

      Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

      Also Barbara Hambly’s Traveling with the Dead, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Memory (only in that case I’m actually trying to stuff an entire space opera series into their pockets, and even people who like books are a bit put off by that) Kage Baker’s Graveyard Game and Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog.

      If they look like they have a short attention span/not so much time, I just use Octavia Bulter’s “The Evening, the Morning, and the Night.”

      • Well... says:

        I love “Heart of Darkness”. I don’t know why, but from my first reading I found myself memorizing lines from it, and now when I look at my thinning hair in the mirror each day I think about God patting me on the head.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I loved To Say Nothing of the Dog! It struck me as like Pratchett, but with time travel. Also created in me the desire to read Three Men and a Boat.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I recommend Three Men in a Boat.

        • Anaxagoras says:

          Actual Pratchett with time travel is also good — Night Watch is maybe his best book, although it’s enhanced by having read others to understand the time the protagonist is coming from.

      • Anatoly says:

        I love To Say Nothing of the Dog!

        Is Graveyard Game readable as a standalone novel or only after the previous ones in the series?

        • keranih says:

          It was my first introduction to the series, and for me it worked beautifully.

          (Warning – I did not like the rest of the series so much, which turned out to be more of a romance between two characters instead of a buddy adventure between two other characters. But the series as a whole was greater than its parts.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        Domesday Book by Willis is really, really good.

    • Wander says:

      While I’m shamefully under-read, I’d consider David Lindsays’s A Voyage to Arcturus and Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others anthology as the ones that left me walking away the most excited about them. Not because of their depth and complexity exactly, but rather because they take a really bizarre approach to ideas that influenced my perception of things.

      There’s also an extremely short, pocket-sized book called How to Lie With Statistics that gives a great overview that, while everyone here would be familiar with, is extremely relevant to day to day life.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        Lindsay’s type of thing influenced me … first and greatly. George MacDonald’s Lilith, Charles Williams, Lewis’s The Dark Tower, Pilgrim’s Regress, etc. I couldn’t get into Voyage to Arcturus.

        This is the first I’ve heard of Chiang. Did they take the same really bizarre approach to ideas?

    • 2181425 says:

      The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

    • Well... says:

      None of these are obscure, but not many of the people I know have read them:

      Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and for bonus points, the follow-up Lila (non-fictiony semi-autobiographical novels)
      A Confederacy of Dunces (novel)

      • John Nerst says:

        Care to elaborate on what you liked about Confederacy of Dunces? I read it last spring and found it more sad than funny, a classic farce that might work as a movie or play but in book form mostly felt like a description of something funny. Like a friend telling you a story ending with “well, I guess you had to be there”.

        • Well... says:

          It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember thinking it was just hilarious, and written in a very lively way. Yes, it was sad-funny…in the same way as Seinfeld maybe. Later I read Tortilla Flat and thought I sensed a lot of similarities there too.

      • psmith says:

        Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

        Was not a fan, but I enjoyed this review enough that reading the book was worth it.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Master and Margarita (Bulgakov).

      Roadside Picnic (Strugatsky Brothers).

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Seconding these (though, re: Roadside Picnic—imo Hard to be a God is even more impressive).

        The Cyberiad and The Star Diaries (Lem).

        Bend Sinister (Nabokov) and Darkness at Noon (Koestler).

        The Adapted Mind (ed. Barkow, Cosmides, Tooby).

    • J Mann says:

      Al Franken – Why Not Me? A forgotten gem and sort of farcical take on Primary Colors. Franken’s author recounts the story of how he battled Al Gore for the 2000 Democratic primary.

      Since Franken basically likes Gore, this has his best humor chops on display without the sour meanness that he has developed for Republicans.

      The Alfred Appel Annotated Lolita – Lolita is the best work of literature I know, but unless you are also a genius, you need to read it at least one time with the annotations, even if about half of them are “It’s QUILTY!! THAT’S QUILTY OVER THERE!!!”

      The Applause Editions of Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s text on the left page, staging notes on the right side, including comments by famous actors and directors of how they saw a scene. Will open your eyes similar to the previous entry.

      • shakeddown says:

        Aside about Lolita – I enjoyed it, but didn’t find it all that brilliant or trangressive. I wonder how much of that was me just not getting it, and how much of that was me coming in disinclined to judge the protagonist (apparently one of the things that are supposed to be amazing about it are how Humbert manages to convince you to sympathize with him against your better judgement, but it wasn’t really against mine*)

        *Obviously I don’t support pedophilia, I just think he’s understandable, that all love stories are kinda creepy if you look at them sideways, and that criminals in general deserve as much sympathy as we can manage to give them so long as it doesn’t harm our ability to stop crime.

        • J Mann says:

          My experience was I sympathized with HH at the beginning, when he’s a hyper-articulate intellectual snob insufferably bored with middle American life. (He had me at “you can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.”).

          However, once he meets Lolita and begins grooming her, he becomes first horrifying, then also pathetic. Discovering that he’s an unreliable narrator made me go back and question everything he had told the reader beforehand – is he really handsome and admired? Even smart?

    • Well... says:

      Oh, I forgot:

      Dante’s Inferno (translated and annotated by Mark Musa)

    • Brad says:

      Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey
      East of Eden – John Steinbeck
      Man in Full – Tom Wolfe
      American Pastoral – Phillip Roth
      In the Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
      Ananthem – Neal Stephenson

      I’ve had mixed results among people I’ve managed to convince.

      Of your list, I liked and read all the Culture books. I enjoyed the first several Aubrey-Maturin books, but lost steam mid-way through. I didn’t like the The Shadow of the Torturer at all. I haven’t read, or heard of, The Last Samurai.

      Interesting how two people can both love some of the same books but have very different reactions to others.

      • Similarly in my case. I liked the Aubrey Maturin books, read one of the culture books and didn’t like it, started one of Gene Wolfe’s books and didn’t finish it.

        Favorite books include Casanova’s Memoirs, the four volume Orwell Letters and Essays, Curse of Chalion by Bujold. I am especially fond of The Paladin by Cherryh, which caused me to dedicate my first novel to her (and to the author of Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army).

        Kim by Kipling is another favorite. Also the complete poetry. I like Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. Also Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries.

        • Anaxagoras says:

          Curse of Chalion is really good; it does a great job playing its cards close to its chest and shifting the premise and genre midway through. It’s such a meticulously constructed book. The Father Brown mysteries are really good. Though Father Brown is a mouthpiece for Chesterton’s views, Chesterton usually weaves the religious elements fairly well into the plot so it doesn’t feel like it’s the author interjecting a speech.

          The Culture books, I found really variable. About half of them were pointless and boring, but the other half were fun and interesting. Factoring in his non-Culture books, Banks has a poor enough record for me that I’m unlikely to seek out more of his work, but it’s possible there’s books in that universe you’d enjoy. Gene Wolfe, I really don’t know how to evaluate. He’s trying to be a sort of cross between Jack Vance and Jorge Luis Borges, but he’s more cryptic than both and nowhere near as good as either. That said, those two are good enough that that doesn’t make him bad per se.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            I’m re-reading the Book of the New Sun, and and happy to report that it really does reward second reading (rather than just looking like it might). I also read Urth of the New Sun between reading BotNS for the first time and now, which helps a lot.

      • Anatoly says:

        I like Eco’s The Name of the Rose, but I love his Foucault’s Pendulum – I think of it as a life-changing book in my personal case, though that’s probably exaggerating it somewhat. Disappointed by his later novels, however. I also really like Anathem and think it’s the best of Stephenson’s novels. Haven’t read the rest from your list.

        I think what makes me so passionate about the books from my list is how I feel that they in some very real way stand far above the typical-good novels of the same genre or kind. There’s a hackneyed phrase “transcend the genre”. I just reread The Player of Games and I can’t help feeling that it exists somehow on a completely different level of vividness, depth of character, beauty of style, imagination and convincing world-building than just about any other contemporary SF author I may quite like and appreciate (Stephenson, Stross, Vinge, Swawick…) It isn’t _merely_ a very good SF novel, or a very good novel. It’s in a whole different league.

        I feel the same way about the Aubrey-Maturin series – I’m having trouble reading historical fiction after O’Brian. The degree of vivid immersion in the culture, thought and everyday life is so high, the immersion itself so immensely convincing and satisfying that everything else feels like chewed-up cardboard. I can’t understand people who compare the Aubrey-Maturin series with the Hornblower series and aren’t sure which is “better”. There’s nothing wrong with the Hornblower books, they’re perfectly entertaining adventure novels, but they might as well have been written in a completely different universe from the O’Brian novels as far as I see it. Not the same sort of thing at all.

        • Brad says:

          I like Foucault’s Pendulum better than In the Name of the Rose but it is a long and somewhat challenging read. I have a better chance of convincing people to try the latter first. If they like it then Foucault’s Pendulum is the obvious follow up recommendation.

          A similar argument could be made regarding Anathem but while I enjoyed them both Diamond Age and Snow Crash aren’t really the same types of works as Anathem and the ending problems with them are particularly acute. Plus genre fiction is more of an uphill battle to begin with.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Seconding Foucault’s Pendulum. Pairs well with the Library of Babel.

        • Vermillion says:

          In The Name of the Rose also has about 60 pages of medieval church history before turning into an amazing literary mystery novel. I think if people aren’t prepared for that it can be a tough sell.

          Also just remembered If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler as something I love love love getting other people to read. So good and weird.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Currently I’m trying to buttonhole people with Plato’s Timaeus and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. A while ago it was White’s The Great Big Book of Horrible Things.

    • geekethics says:

      The Diamond Age. It is #Aesthetic. But also wonderful politics and education philosophy.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I don’t know anyone else IRL who likes to read the kind of books I like to read. So I’ll give a list of books that I think people on here should read.

      Why the West Rules–for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future This book is a lot of fun. Morris creates his own data to measure civilization and ends up talking about the Singularity.

      Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650
      The time period in general is fascinating. But you can also see some similarities in our time.

      The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century
      Talks about the economics of automation.

      The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society
      Great primer on developments of political philosophy in the last 40 years. Also advocates his own political philosophy which suggests that a diversity of political perspectives will actually lead to a more ideal world than any one perspective.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I tend to do this about nonfiction more than fiction. READ WAGES OF DESTRUCTION Y’ALL.

      With regard to DeWitt’s book – I’m most of the way through it (no spoilers please) – and while it’s compelling, I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it to people. What did people like about it? It’s OK to say “you’ll know once you get to the end.”

    • shakeddown says:

      Unsong, for the last year or so.

      Before that, it varies. I’ve American Gods phases (it’s a weirdly good description of America) and Murakami phases (Especially Underground, for whatever reason).

    • Rock Lobster says:

      Here is a book that was very influential to me but the two friends of mine (both smart curious people) couldn’t even finish it when I convinced them to try it: John Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. I read it when I was trying to learn about international relations and was reading some books on the topic, and this was the one that really gave me a framework for how to think about IR.

      It seems like the book is not very widely-discussed, and I’m honestly not sure why. I’m curious what people here think of it, especially what might be wrong with it.

      I used to think that international relations was this really complicated thing before I knew a lot about it, but now I think that it’s actually pretty straightforward at the meta-level. There are a lot of object-level differences between situations but they’re mostly just cosmetic.

    • Vermillion says:

      I’m a big fan of all those books except I’ve never read The Last Samurai, so guess I gotta check that one out now.

      The Demon Haunted World is one I’ve given out a lot.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Vernor Vinge’s classic novels. Marooned in Realtime, A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        I’d put the first two well above A Deepness in the Sky. The latter is way too long, and doesn’t have nearly as striking an alien civilization as A Fire Upon the Deep offers. I guess the different human societies fill a similar role, but not as well. Marooned in Realtime is a fun bit of mystery and science fiction, and A Fire Upon the Deep is two good science fiction books stuck together to make one better than the sum of its parts.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          I’ll give you that Fire is a much broader-scale novel and has way more crazy ideas clashing with each other than Deepness, but Deepness does a(n even) better job at thoroughly developing and exploring the alien civilization at its focus, as well as the multiple human cultures colliding with it. I felt it was one of Vinge’s most mature books in that way, and it earned its length because of that.

          Too bad about Children of the Sky, though. 🙁

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Tao Te Ching. More in the sense of “this is really appealing despite being the exact opposite of everything you probably believe” rather than “I endorse all of this.”

      • keranih says:

        Which translation?

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          D.C. Lau. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but at least it isn’t all… hippy-ish. In particular Lau does not try to make it tastier for moderns (it is totally plausible to me that Lau was consciously bringing out how alien it is):

          [In] governing the people, the sage empties their minds but fills their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones. He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire, and ensures that the clever never dare to act.

          • keranih says:

            hmmm. I have long appreciated both Stephen Mitchell’s more free verse version

            15


            Do you have the patience to wait until
            your mud settles and the water is clear?

            And Tsai Chih Chung’s illustrated versions, which I personally found kinda mind blowing. (His version of Confucius is worth checking out as well.)

    • suntzuanime says:

      I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to all my friends and relatives, because it’s pretty mathy, but Causality is really important for understanding the world.

    • psmith says:

      Robert Caro’s The Power Broker and the second volume of his LBJ biography.

      Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake.

      Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class As Soulcraft.

      David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are actuaries or accountants or things like that.).

      • cassander says:

        I’m curious why only the second volume of LBJ.

        • psmith says:

          It struck me as a lot more exciting than the first (which was still pretty good) or the third (stalled out about halfway through.). If Caro hasn’t sold the movie rights to the story of LBJ’s 1948 Senate election, he’s sitting on a gold mine.

          • cassander says:

            I’m not sure how you make an interesting movie about stuffing ballot boxes in Texas. Granted, I’m even less sure about making an interesting movie about mastering senate procedure and knowing where deals can be cut.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            @cassander:

            I’m even less sure about making an interesting movie about mastering senate procedure and knowing where deals can be cut.

            But that’s exactly what made The Phantom Menace so compelling!

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      I’m always nagging my friends and family to read
      Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748).

      Its the longest novel ever written in English so I haven’t had much success with my nagging but its definitely the most rewarding read i’ve ever had.
      You essentially spend an almost realtime 8 months in the life of the title character as her family turns on her, tryng to force her to marry a man she despises, and her eventually being tricked by the rogue Lovelace into fleeing her family’s home.
      Here the novel really gets twisted as Lovelace traps her in a series of lies and fake relationships (there are entire casts of characters that she thinks are upstanding friends of her family/other gentry trying to help her get reinstated to her family, but who are really prostitutes and thieves putting on an act for her) to try and seduce her, before eventually raping her, at which point she escapes and descends into penury, ruin and death.
      Its probably the furthest anyone has taken any genre, with morality plays, she tragedies, epistolary (letter writing) novels, picaresque novels, bawdy comedies, martyrdom tales and others genre’s really stretched to their limit in it.

      Its really interesting because Richardson, despite being a straight laced puritan, gives a ridiculous amount of care and attention to Lovelace, essentially creating a paragon aristocratic and classical virtues to play the Rakish tempter of the Christian and middle-class Clarissa.
      Lovelace is quite possibly the most charismatic character ever put to page, with a lot of contemporary (female) readers wanting Clarissa to marry him even after he rapes her (some going so far as to write there own death bed redemptions and dramatic recoveries for him). So that by the end of the novel you have two tragedies, a Christian tale of martyrdom and and later day pagan tragedy about a Rake who could seduce anyone, except the the only woman he ever wanted.

      Its an amazing slice of 18th century life, a beautiful and beautifully written story, and regularly ranks on lists of the best novels of all time.
      (also because its so long every other book you’ll ever read just flies by)

  28. Wander says:

    For the Unsong/general-Semetic-mysticism crowd, how do you feel about Angelarium? The guy is mostly an artist who does interpretations of angelic beings, and has just finished a set on Ein Sof. Despite his skill being in digital art, his writing can also be absolutely golden:

    Enoch reached out, not expecting to make contact, but instead found his fingers pressing firmly upon the rough surface. It felt like wood. He laughed abruptly and pulled away.

    “The Tree of Life. The thing that is all things is literally made of wood. That’s…I don’t know. I thought of it as a metaphor.” He touched it again, with reverence. “But it’s not wood, is it? Nothing in this place is anything.”

    “You are correct.”

    “What’s inside?” Enoch asked, leaning his weight against the Tree as he turned to face it front on.

    “More wood.” Announced Raziel.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “…has just finished a set on Ein Sof”

      I wonder what part of “incomprehensible thing that remains once you subtract everything that can be understood or represented or related to anything earthly at all” sounded like “try to draw a picture of this”.

    • Forlorn Hopes says:

      Those angels all look humanoid, nothing like angels are portrayed in the old testament. I much prefer something like the angels of (Spoiler warning!) Kill Six Billion Demons

      • Wander says:

        They are all indeed humanoid, though there’s something strange about them in general. I like the ones that are also portals.

        Maybe I’m just a sucker for giant, unfeeling beings hanging in the sky.

    • Loquat says:

      I dunno about their Armaros – I liked the dancing version from El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron much better.

  29. chariava says:

    Thoughts on the Oscar winners? And that crash and burn at the end?

    • shakeddown says:

      I’m mad, but not as mad as I was about frickin’ Birdman.

    • Wrong Species says:

      It was terrible but I can’t stop laughing. But that’s just my inner contrarian.

    • Didn’t watch, but heard about the hilarious failure.

      I absolutely loved La La Land–one of my favorite movies of the last *decade* or more–and really don’t get the backlash. I will admit to two non-trivial flaws:

      – Neither Stone nor Gosling are the best singers/dancers out there. (Seriously, Anna Kendrick wasn’t up for this? The hell?) I maintain that the music and the dancing was still great to watch.

      – “Audition” is a dumb song they stole flat out from Cabaret (seriously, it’s like directly cribbed from “I used to have a girlfriend known as Elsie…” I think La La Land deserved best song, but would have given it to “Another Day Of Sun”, which wasn’t even nominated (WTF?)

      But that aside, I just don’t get why people think it’s overrated. Gosling and Stone act the hell out their parts, the story is–if not entirely original–at least interestingly plotted, and the whole thing is beautifully composed in every detail from the first frame to the last.

      (Part of it is bullshit Blue Tribe identity politics, but it didn’t lose *just* because OMG NO BLACK PEOPLE.)

    • SUT says:

      RE: Must grow diversity faster in this industry of ours.

      My outsider understanding is that the Chinese market alone now dictates tastes and what dealbreakers are for most blockbuster style Hollywood productions. And also that China has been eyeing a heavily state subsidized competitor to Hollywood. Throw in the whole fastest growing, largest economy. And the previous administration’s strategy for some years being officially a “pivot [militarily] to the Pacific.”

      Given all these rapidly moving trends, was there even a single East Asian movie nominated for Foreign film or something? I think Jackie Chan got a five second applause though. If we look back in forty years at Oscars2017, I think the ‘not having their story told’ crowd might not who we think it is.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Let’s say that China does build a state-subsidized competitor to Hollywood and it is successful. Is there any way this could have a silver lining in that Hollywood would no longer let China dictate its content?

        • Loquat says:

          Well, how likely do you think it is that a successful Chinese Hollywood would cause China to no longer be the most important foreign market for our own Hollywood?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Not very likely, I’ll grant you, if the markets are open. Due to the sheer size of China relative to the United States, if nothing else.

            I suppose if China decided to get all protectionist movie-wise, that would do it, but it would be a change in trajectory for them and not very smart — right now they’ve got all the propaganda organs of their biggest national competitor wrapped around their little finger, they’d be crazy to toss that away.

            A massive swing in American public opinion against China and cooperation with China would do it, but it’s hard to picture that happening outside the context of a shooting war. And even then, I could see circumstances where Hollywood would be taking China’s side anyway.

          • shakeddown says:

            Could shift to India, which is getting more populous and richer. They currently have their own giant movie industry, but if China also gets one it could neutralize that advantage.

        • Cypren says:

          From what I’ve read, the most likely outcome would be that Hollywood collapses. China is dictating the content because the traditional theater distribution model in the Western world is dying rapidly; people prefer to watch movies at home on demand now instead of going to public theaters for releases. This seems somewhat inevitable given the declining cost and increasing quality of home theater equipment; you can get a 65″ flat screen TV and a full speaker system to go with it for about what a typical television set cost 30 years ago. It’s well within the financial reach of typical American middle-class homes.

          On top of that, Americans have far more entertainment options than they did even 15 years ago. Netflix has roughly a 40% penetration in American households; video game consoles just over 50%. Both offer on-demand options that are far more immediate and cost-effective than a trip to a theater.

          These factors don’t really apply to China yet. Chinese standards of living are still much lower and most households cannot afford home theater setups and video game consoles; traditional movie theaters and other out-of-the-house entertainment options are more prevalent and cost-effective there as a result. Ticket prices are also considerably cheaper than in the West, though they are more expensive relative to median income; the issue is that the competing entertainment options that are siphoning off so much viewer attention in the West are even more expensive relative to median income. (An Xbox costs the same in both countries; a movie ticket that costs $10 in the US is less than half that in China.)

          The future of Western content is likely being charted by Netflix, Amazon and HBO right now. We see them siphoning off creators from the traditional studio models and producing content that’s arguably of a higher caliber and quality than the traditional studios. They are monetizing it for niche audiences with targeted analytics that the studio system could never match; they don’t need the same kind of mass audience appeal that Hollywood has typically relied on. As long as China remains open to Western audiences, the studios will survive in their current form making big dumb blockbusters (and don’t get me wrong — I like big dumb blockbusters just fine!), but the more intellectual content has already moved on and is probably permanently gone from the traditional model.

          This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just technological evolution in action.

          • cassander says:

            >From what I’ve read, the most likely outcome would be that Hollywood collapses.

            Does Hollywood collapse, or just the business model centered around whatever you want to call the post-studio system, replaced by a model that looks more like HBO (which actually looks kind of like the studio system)? Because as much as I like to lament the dumbing down of movies for international appeal (not because foreigners are dumb, but because nuance gets washed out in translation), it’s hard to argue we aren’t seeing some of the best television ever made.

      • SUT says:

        Interestingly, this comes up on HN today:

        (PDF):

  30. James Miller says:

    Geert Wilders, running to be the Dutch Prime Minister in their March 2017 election, is promising to “Close All Mosques In The Netherlands.” Wouldn’t this kind of action basically create a civil war?

    • Viliam says:

      I guess it would depend on implementation details, and whether his non-Muslim opponents would decide to start the civil war over this.

      For example, I can imagine a change like “all mosques will remain functioning exactly as they are now, except they will no longer be officially called ‘mosques’, but ‘private property’ or ‘private clubs'”. You know, something that would change the map but not the territory, so that some voters would be happy, but no one would be harmed.

      I am not saying that this is the likely outcome, only that this is a possible outcome that doesn’t have to lead to a civil war. (Well, unless someone would really desire the civil war and use this as a pretext anyway.)

    • Aapje says:

      1. It goes against the constitution, so he’d need to change it. This requires a majority in both chambers and then after new elections, a 2/3s super-majority in both chambers.

      2. The Netherlands is a coalition country and Wilders is never going to get a majority by himself or a super-majority, unless something really extreme happens. At that point, chaos in society will presumably be so substantial that it’s not Wilders’ actions that are the cause, but more the outcome.

      3. The militarization and homicide rate is far, far lower in The Netherlands than in the US. There is a tiny group of semi-Nazi’s patrolling the streets called ‘Soldiers of Odin’ and when there was an asylum seeker who was harassing women, they hunted him down and… called the police and didn’t use any violence at all. So when even the extremists show this much self-control*, I’m not worried about an imminent civil war.

      * Not that there is no anti-immigrant violence, but there seems to be no coordination, just lone wolves.

      PS. Note that during the reformation era, Minority religions often had to worship in clandestine churches which were tolerated if they were sufficiently covert.

  31. Alex Zavoluk says:

    I saw this link posted, claiming to propose a possible link between (flu) vaccines and autism, based on legitimate research into immune activation and aluminum adjuvants. How legitimate does this look? To me the logic seems rather tenuous, especially since we know how many papers turn out to be wrong, and investigating this topic reeks of privileging the hypothesis. But I’m hardly qualified to judge the individual papers or some of the connections drawn between them.

    • keranih says:

      For the mouse Maternal Immune Activation study, I was frankly disturbed by the failure to quantify n right off the bat. Reading deeper, it appears that the groups of mice had “at least” five pregnant mice per group. It seems to me that this is rather…low.

      I am also a bit…concerned by the passion of the author of the compilation article “Finding out why this happened to my son was vitally important to me and my wife.” As you noted, this is not indicative of a person who was going to accept the null hypothesis as correct.

      That Jenny McCarthy’s autism nonprofit has shifted from focusing on mercury to focusing on aluminum is…well, it’s not encouraging.

    • Vermillion says:

      Well a lot of that article is not wrong per se, but it is hella misleading.

      So the first section about maternal immune activation in animal models and autism like behavior is pretty much right on. There’s been a lot of research in a lot of different labs and different models so it’s pretty convincing. Then at the end of that section he switches from summarizing peer-reviewed literature and pops in a paragraph of what sounds like a scientist just idly musing in an interview, implying that that speculation is on par evidence wise as the rest of the section, it’s not. It’s an interesting idea, the type of idea that calls out for study.

      Oh great, here’s a study of ~200,000 pregnant women, they did not find such a link*.

      On to the second section about aluminum (or aluminium if you prefer). Not a chemist, but I’m skeptical about the mechanism for how it’s getting into the brain. From what I’ve read peripheral immune cells can enter the brain but generally that happens following injury. On the other hand maybe the blood brain barrier isn’t fully developed at the point when that can happen. From the last paper cited in this section as most damning, I went through the methods and they said they used a Bonferonni correction for multiple comparisons but…they were looking at 3 different doses, 8 different behavioral tests (with multiple measures in at least some of those), 4 different brain regions…honestly I have been struggling a lot to figure out what the best way to correct for these comparisons (a lot of papers don’t correct at all FWIW), so I don’t know if what they did was sufficient.

      For the third section I’m not really sure what the point he’s trying to make there is, yeah aluminum can cause IL-6 activation, but the study he cites was using a different form of it than is in vaccines. Also the dose is about 40 times higher. Again, not sure how it’s relevant.

      Right after that he writes

      If vaccines cannot cause a “reorganization of brain architecture” after a child is born, then vaccines are unlikely to be the cause of autism (however, vaccines given to a pregnant women may still pose a risk to triggering a Maternal Immune Activation).
      If vaccines given after birth can cause the brain to “reorganize”, then we have a serious, serious problem with vaccines.

      And I got hopeful, maybe he’ll update his beliefs with some science! Spoilers: He does not. The specific timing of vaccines that he references (he’s switched now to childhood vaccines but whatever) could concievable affect synapse formation of neurons, but that would mean that neurons that are already in place and ready to be wired up could have say higher or lower rates of connections. What the article describes is differences in the arrangement of the neurons themselves, across milimeters not nano-meters. It’s too much basically to be altered that late in the process.

      For the paper on how post birth IL-6 activation can cause autistic symptoms, he neglects to point out that this elevation comes via an injection of gene editing viruses into the brain. Which is very very different from any of the other means of immune activation that have been discussed previously, and probably triggers a whole lot of different compensatory mechanisms and responses as a result. It’s really not comparable.

      That acquired autism study is 3 kids from the 80s and it looks like they all had pretty massive brain damage. And as they recovered a little of their brain function their ability to recognize their parents or whatever recovered too. So yeah, I wouldn’t give it too much credence.

      The fourth section on Hep B vaccination, one thing that jumped out at me reading it

      Newborn pups were injected intradermally in the back with 50 μl/rat of BCG suspension containing 105 colony forming units (CFU) or 50 μl of sterile PBS according to a previously described procedure (Kiros et al., 2010). The dose was originally chosen because it successfully induced an immune response and cytokine production in the periphery. In the HBV group and matched CON group, newborn pups were intraperitoneally injected with a total volume of 100 μl/rat of HBsAg-aluminium-vaccine (20 μg/ml, yeast-derived, Kangtai Biological Pharmaceutical Company, China) containing approximately 2 μg HBsAg and an equal amount of PBS. The doses of HBV (2 μg/rat) and BCG (10^5 CFU/rat) were chosen based on our pilot experiments because they were effective without causing obvious body weight changes (Table S1 and Table S2).

      How does this compare with a dose in a human baby? Prenatal dosage is (if I’m reading this right) is .2ml of 50mg vaccine that’s suspended in 2ml of saline. That dose is the same number of CFU as mentioned above (~4-16 x 10^5), so…I think the rat is (birth-weight about 25 grams) getting the same dose as a baby (birth-weight 3.5kg). Which uh…seems like a lot!

      Then there’s a lot of summing up and speculation and I’m pretty tuned out at this point. I’ll take another look if anyone else finds something interesting in there. Generally speaking, don’t believe anything that’s proposed as the one unifying theory causes of autism to rule them all. There’s probably almost as many causes of autism as there individuals with autism. The fact that for now we really only diagnose based on behavior means that they all get lumped together.

      *With the possible exception of vaccination in the first trimester, though after correcting for multiple comparisons that’s not significant. The first trimester, when the neural tube is closing, is the most vulnerable stage of development, so that might really be a risk. It’s a 20% increase in ASD, which isn’t nothing but comparably, the link between paternal age and autism seems much stronger.

      • Vermillion says:

        Re: my footnote, I was misreading how they calculate the risk from a first trimester flu vaccination. If that is a real thing (and again, it did not survive correction for multiple comparisons) it would account for about 4 extra cases of ASD for every 1000 births.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you are going to look for culprits, adjuvants are a good suspect. And naturally enough people reacted “Thiomersal – what’s that? Hang on, what do you mean mercury???” And since we were given Dire Warnings that cooking our food in aluminium cookware would give us all Alzheimers’, no wonder aluminium is now the enemy du jour.

      But I dunno. I think part of the increase in autism/autism spectrum is due to an increase in diagnosis of what would have been undiagnosed cases back in the day. As I say, I strongly suspect my paternal family are all over the autism spectrum, and that’s in the days before there even was a measles vaccine (I wasn’t vaccinated myself because there was no mass vaccination programme in Ireland when I was young, and I caught measles the old-fashioned way).

      • Vermillion says:

        But I dunno. I think part of the increase in autism/autism spectrum is due to an increase in diagnosis of what would have been undiagnosed cases back in the day. As I say, I strongly suspect my paternal family are all over the autism spectrum, and that’s in the days before there even was a measles vaccine (I wasn’t vaccinated myself because there was no mass vaccination programme in Ireland when I was young, and I caught measles the old-fashioned way).

        I think that’s the largest part of it, a lot of kids who would never have been classified, or were thought to be mentally retarded are now (correctly) diagnosed as autistic. The definition has also expanded a lot (that’s the spectrum part of ASD), so kids and adults who would just have been thought of as weird before might be classified as ASD now. Finally there’s a lot more awareness of autism, and a lot of that is thanks to Rain Man.

        All that said, it is also possible there’s a secular increase in autism and that’s something that can be tough to tease out, at least when just looking at overall numbers. Vaccination adjuvants might be part of it, I just don’t think they’ll be a big part of it.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Very useful. Thanks all!

  32. For the past few months, I have been reading everything on the various allegations that have been made about Trump and Russia (i. e. the reports published by private cybersecurity companies, the articles in the press and the posts on specialized blogs, the reports published by the US intelligence ag encies, etc.), taking notes along the way. I have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of professionalism of the media in relation to that story and, as a result, I recently decided to write something about it.

    The result was a very detailed piece in which I review the evidence about the various allegations regarding Trump and Russia that have been made in the press. It’s approximately 16,000 words long and contains 137 hyperlinks. I have provided at least one source for every single factual claim I make. As far as I know, it’s by far the most thorough discussion of those allegations, at least among the things which have been published.

    This topic has already been discussed on Slate Star Codex in a recent open thread and Scott claimed the evidence was pretty strong in his latest post, so I figured that some of you may find my posts about that interesting.

    Since it’s pretty long, I have decided to make it a four-part series of posts, which I published on my blog last week:
    – Trump, Russia and the media – The hacking of the Democratic party and private cybersecurity companies (part 1)
    – Trump, Russia and the media – The administration makes its case and it’s the red scare all over again (part 2)
    – Trump, Russia and the media – The Buzzfeed dossier and the bankruptcy of journalism (part 3)
    – Trump, Russia and the media – The deep state against Trump and the threat on democracy (part 4)

    Among other things, I discuss the following issues:
    – the evidence given by various private cybersecurity firms that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic party and releasing the stolen material publicly
    – the evidence, or lack thereof, provided by the Obama administration to justify the sanctions it imposed on Russia in December
    – the dossier published by Buzzfeed in January and the way in which it colored the reporting of many journalists who had access to it prior to that
    – Flynn’s resignation and what led to that outcome
    – the recent story published by CNN according to which US investigators had been able to confirm some of the claims of the dossier published by Buzzfeed
    – another recent story by the New York Times according to which US intelligence officials had determined that some of Trump’s associates had been in contact with the Russian intelligence

    In addition, as I discuss those issues, I examine the way in which they were reporting and find compelling evidence of bias and incompetence. Indeed, I argue that despite the clear insufficiency of the publicly available evidence and the many reasons to doubt the claims of the Obama administration, the media by and large jumped the gun and reported the allegations against Trump and Russia as established facts.

    I also provide context, which is usually lacking in discussions of the allegations regarding Trump and Russia, even though it’s badly needed. For instance, people hear that Russia intervened in the US election, but most Americans don’t know that the US intervenes in elections abroad in ways that are far more egregious than anything Russia is being accused of having done in the recent US presidential election.

    I also argue that people in the US intelligence community are trying to undermine Trump in a way that should concern anyone who values democracy, including people who oppose Trump, because it sends a clear signal that some foreign policy issues can’t be part of the democratic debate.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      Hi Philippe,

      The article titles are a pretty huge red flag, but I took the time to read your treatment of Flynn’s resignation, since I had followed that pretty closely and was confident I could use it to gauge your overall accuracy.

      In this section, you repeatedly refer to Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador. In fact, Flynn spoke to the ambassador five times, in addition to a number of text messages.

      You do not mention Flynn’s denying having spoken about sanctions to the FBI, which is a criminal offence.

      You do not address the time lag between the White House being informed that Flynn had mislead Pence and the FBI and Trump’s decision to request his resignation, or the fact that Flynn was removed only once his lies became public. You do not mention Trump’s denials in the period between his being informed and the the information becoming public.

      Instead, you suggest that Flynn’s lies about his conversations with the Russian ambassador were the media’s fault, because it would have reported mean, but accurate, things about Flynn and/or Trump if the truth about his actions were known.

      This is not an accurate nor a fair minded treatment of this issue. It is, rather, a tendentious, partial and somewhat sloppy partisan defence of the Trump administration.

      I do not, therefore, imagine that you will have done a better job with the material with which I am less familiar, and I do not encourage others to place much reliance on your review, however many links it may contain.

      • I talk about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak because my understanding is that the topic of sanctions only came up during one of them. If I’m wrong about that, I’d be happy to stand corrected, although it wouldn’t change the fact that, even if Flynn talked about the sanctions with Kislyak, there would be nothing wrong with that.

        You’re right that I think that, if Flynn and other people in the administration lied about the nature of his conversation with Kislyak, it is no doubt because the media would have presented that as outrageous even though there would be nothing shocking about this. This is why I criticize the media, not because “it would have reported mean, but accurate, things about Flynn and/or Trump if the truth about his actions were known”.

        Indeed, nowhere in my posts do I blame journalists for accurately reporting the facts, and it’s a gross mischaracterization to suggest that I do. I blame them for misreporting the facts on a number of occasions, something which I thoroughly document in my posts, and also because even when they report them accurately, they spin them in a dishonest way. Flynn’s resignation, in my opinion, is a perfect example of that.

        For instance, when Thomas Friedman is asked about Flynn’s resignation on Morning Joe and says that “Russia hacked the election”, then compares that to Pearl Harbour and 9/11, he is completely hysterical and creates an environment when it’s basically impossible for the administration and people who support a détente with Russia to make their case. (Note that he explicitly says that he doesn’t care what Flynn told Pence, and that it’s not the real issue for him.)

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      I read your article on police racism, and wanted to say that despite your use of the phrase “unbiased estimator,” it is terrible.

      Specifically, your argument that there is selection bias by cops for “white criminals” over a wider net for blacks is basically begging the question.

      Let me ask you this: what would have to be true of cop’s stop behavior, by your lights, in order for it to not be racist (say whites vs blacks stops, for simplicity)?

      The way I phrased this is because “non-racism” is the null hypothesis — the space of most behaviors is almost certainly generally racist, if only a bit. Only a very special balancing act, unlikely to occur randomly, would probably result in something we would intuitively think is “not racist.”

      The optics on the Sun King’s motto are kind of terrible.

      • Specifically, your argument that there is selection bias by cops for “white criminals” over a wider net for blacks is basically begging the question.

        That is not my argument. I just offer this as a plausible reason why the estimator I defined might not be unbiased, to illustrate the logical/statistical point I make, which is definitely correct. The argument, at bottom, is a purely logical/statistical point and is fairly limited. In particular, I never say anywhere that cops aren’t racist, because that’s not the point of the post.

        Let me ask you this: what would have to be true of cop’s stop behavior, by your lights, in order for it to not be racist (say whites vs blacks stops, for simplicity)?

        I don’t really know, which is why I explicitly say in my post that I won’t even get into that debate, by using a definition of “racism” that may not be any good but is sufficient for my purposes…

        The optics on the Sun King’s motto are kind of terrible.

        Well at least I agree with that 😀

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      “people hear that Russia intervened in the US election, but most Americans don’t know that the US intervenes in elections abroad in ways that are far more egregious than anything Russia is being accused of having done in the recent US presidential election”

      Based only on skimming your articles, Philippe, I think you’re talking here about the Ukrainian coup the CIA engineered. I’ve been polite enough not to put scare quotes around any of those words, but only because I think they’re a poor substitute for argumentation – they’re definitely there in my mind.

      I think you, and the enemies of US foreign policy generally, need to be much more careful about throwing about the word “coup” in relation to any and every unscheduled handover of political power, particularly in borderline democracies.

      By that measure, the Ukraine undergoes many more coups than the CIA can realistically be interested in orchestrating. Generally speaking, when an even semi-democratic government shoots protesters dead, it is at risk of collapse. The situation with the Venezuelan coup which briefly ousted Chavez was pretty similar.

      Russia is accused of illegally acquiring private information from persons close to a presidential candidate and then selectively releasing it in order to (successfully) reduce their chances of winning an election. That feels like it’s in the same spectrum of egregiousness as even the worst CIA-picks-Ukraine’s-President scenarios, even if we pretend Russia doesn’t also do that from time to time. We’re not talking polonium or face-scar-poison here, right?

      • I do briefly mention the coup against Yanukovych in 2014 later in my posts, but in the passage you quote, I didn’t have anything in particular in mind and was just referring to the long history of CIA-engineered or CIA-abetted coups all over the world. (I don’t even think what happened in Kiev in February 2014 was particularly egregious, compared to what the US and, for what it’s worth, Russia or the Soviet Union did in the past.) It would take another post to discuss in details what happened in Kiev in February 2014 and the events that led to it. (However, since you mention the death of protesters on Maidan Square, you should know that it’s not clear at all that they were killed by the government’s forces. Again, I don’t have time to get into the details although perhaps I will in a future post, but look up the investigation by a German television whose name escapes me right now if you want to know more about this.)

        • pdbarnlsey says:

          Fair enough, I will stipulate to past, deeply undesirable CIA interventions in other nations’ politics.

          I would have some interest in the Maidan revisionism, though I note that exactly the same thing was (implausibly, in my view) suggested following the protester killings in Caracas.

          Shooting unarmed protesters is understood to be a bad enough idea that it will always almost be suggested to be someone else’s fault. There’s a similar line of Tienanmen revisionism, for example, and I struggle to believe that they are all the doing of agents provocateurs.

          • I don’t know enough about what happened in Caracas, so I can’t comment on that. But I think the evidence that the snipers who killed protesters on Maidan Square were not acting for the government is pretty strong. Like I said, I may write a post about what happened in Kiev in February at some point, but I don’t know when because it would be a long post and it would take time to write it. Especially since, in order for such a post to be really interesting, I think I would have to talk about what happened in the decade before that to explain the events that led to Maidan and not just what happened on the square in the days before Yanukovych fled.

    • 27chaos says:

      This takes a pretty partisan stance, which was disappointing to me. I agree that there are many people who exaggerate things on the left. But you are basically just doing the opposite in defense of the right. Maybe the problem is that you’re assuming your audience is already intimately familiar with all of the left’s strongest arguments?

      • May I ask what specifically you thought was unfair about what I say in those posts? It’s true that I don’t try to hide what my view is, which may turn off some people although I think I’m just being honest by not trying to pretend I have no stake in this, but I did make a serious effort to review the evidence objectively. People who disagree can draw their own conclusions from the evidence I discuss and, indeed, at least one person already has in the comments of my blog.

  33. shakeddown says:

    Has SSC blocker stopped working for anyone else?

    • Acedia says:

      Yeah. I posted about it on the support section of the store page a couple days ago. Not sure whether that reaches the extension author or not.

      • Bakkot says:

        Apparently it does not.

        Not sure what changed; I’ll look into it.

        Edit: ah, the extension was only expecting SSC to be served over http, not https. Updated. (Might take up to an hour to show up in the web store, and some time after that to get updated.) Unfortunately, it looks like it will forget who you had blocked, since that list was tied to localstorage, which isn’t shared between http and https.

        For reference, the project’s github is a more consistent way to reach me.

  34. doubleunplussed says:

    Is it normal that I haven’t seen the massive cloudflare data leakage being reported on in mainstream media? Have I just missed it? I noticed it on hacker news when the news broke, and was just waiting for it to blow open and to see it everywhere, but…barely anything. Nobody except me posting about it on facebook, didn’t see it make the front page of reddit (only the technology and programming subreddits), and I haven’t even had a single site advise me to change my password. Google logged me out, but all reports are that that was a coincidence.

    Am I going crazy or is this a profound underreaction to the situation?

    • Montfort says:

      I also thought that was strange. Maybe they’re taking cloudflare’s assurance that it did not appear to be exploited at face value?

      Looking through the shortlist of the most-visited possibly affected websites, it might be they lack good headline-grabbing potential victims.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        Maybe they are taking that assurance, but it seems like they’re wrong to. I can find a fragment of cloudfare SSL traffic in my own browser cache, it must be in lots of places other than just the caches of google and bing.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t remember, did heartbleed show up much in the non-tech press?

    • Evan Þ says:

      One fanfiction website I’ve got an account on has advised everyone to change their passwords, so there’s one data point.

    • cthor says:

      The nature of the vulnerability makes it hard to say how worried anyone really ought to be. Worst case scenario is all data sent over Cloudflare backed sites is compromised. Probable case is that barely anything meaningful was.

      Basically, sites using Cloudflare aren’t particularly interesting and the attack vector was ephemeral. The data spewed into caches was mostly garbage. A targeted attack, if it occurred, would hit high-value targets, i.e., people who don’t get their security advice from BBC.

      No meaningful compromise is reported to have occurred yet. Even a few hundred credit cards being pwned isn’t going to be newsworthy, since that’s barely above baseline. Sporadic Discord chat logs are barely a tier above garbage.

      Not to underplay the severity of the leak, but as far as the average user is concerned it’s pretty much not newsworthy. Cloudflare users, sysops, high-value targets, etc. should be more concerned, but they’ve already got the news.

  35. paranoidfunk says:

    I genuinely had a dream this week that the girl I plan on marrying have a crush on posted profound and highly researched articles on Slate Star Codex.

    I’ll leave this one up to the psychoanalysts. (And refill my Nyquil.)

  36. Atlas says:

    (I would normally include a lot of sources for my claims but previous comments including multiple links have been flagged as spam so I’m just going to provide sources if asked specifically.)

    I hate, hate, hate, hate, the meme/argument “immigrants have lower crime rates than natives.” Not because it’s completely factually wrong, or because, I (necessarily) disagree with the broader political point about the material effects of immigration, but because many of the people making it are being shockingly, if possibly unintentionally, inconsistent/hypocritical.

    What I mean is, whenever anyone voices any criticism of the cult of diversity, the defenders of diversity generally grant themselves the liberty of taking them “seriously but not literally” (to be a little ironic), insofar as it means interpreting their arguments with minimum charity and getting to accuse people of racism. (Kind of like the point in “Against Dog-Whistleism”.)(And, more specifically, while Trump has been accused of “open racism” for his comments about illegal immigration by the media [citation needed], bizarrely many of the articles purporting to rebuke his claims have weirdly chosen to interpret them in a very literal non-racist way.)

    E.g., “I think maybe our immigration policy should take culture int—” “HA! Got you, you racist bigot! You say you’re talking about culture, but I’m sure that deep down you actually mean race, and are speaking euphemistically!”

    “What if our immigration policy considered IQ, a highly relevant predictor of success in a modern socie—” “Wow, just wow, the Bell Curve, Nazism, KKK, 1924 immigration act, you’re a racist. Oh, wait, I almost forgot, we’re allowed to punch people we decide are Nazis now!” [suckerpunch]

    But when it comes to immigration and crime, for some reason progressives turn extremely literal.

    “Oh, you’re saying that immigrants commit crimes more often than natives? I’m going to interpret this as literally comparing people born in the US and people born outside it. I mean, if you were a racist, I would interpret this claim as saying ‘the native-born and immigrant populations are both very heterogenous, so we should really separate things by race, because I’m a racist, and if we do we’ll find that black people and mestizo Hispanics, many of whom are native-born citizens, commit crimes at a higher rate than whites and Asians.’ But I would never impute bigotry to an opponent of diversity under anything less than the highest standard of proof.”

    Of course, this is probably because if you do interpret this claim the way a racist would make it, it goes from being basically false to being basically true (even when controlling for age and gender.) And it’s also worth noting that, for whatever real or statistically illusory reason, second generation immigrants seem to commit crimes at considerably higher rates than first generation ones.

    Also, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that people who make this argument are arguing in bad faith, I am a little suspicious of how important the crime rates of immigrants actually are to their support of diversity. That is, this argument seems to go “immigrants are in this sense more virtuous on average than the native-born, and if immigrants are virtuous we should accept them into our community because it will benefit us in addition to them.” But the argument about immigration and crime is only made in the context of America, as it’s just obviously untrue of Muslim and African immigration in Europe. And yet for some reason I don’t think the people who say that the alleged low crime rates of immigrants to America are a reason we should have immigration would make the reciprocal argument that the fact that immigrants to Europe commit crime more often per capita is a reason to oppose immigration. So it seems like the actual reason that people support immigration is something different.